There's a stack of thank-you cards on your desk that you haven't gotten around to sending, even though it's been six months since your baby was born. And a recipe for spice-rubbed pork chops (torn from a year-old magazine) that you've been meaning to try lies buried beneath dog-eared catalogues of baby clothing and gear that you haven't yet ordered.
Sound familiar? Between feedings, diaper changes, work, laundry, and all the myriad demands of motherhood, there just doesn't seem to be enough time in the day to fit in thank-you cards and gourmet home-cooked meals, let alone quality time by yourself or with your partner.
But take heart: Busy women like you are a resourceful bunch. We rounded up some highly organized parents and asked how they find time for all that they do. Add their time-saving tricks to your arsenal and you may just find a few moments to make those pork chops -- or to at least finally throw out the recipe and relax in front of the Food Network instead.
Cooking ShortcutsA crock in the plan
Cut up meats and veggies in the morning and toss them into a crockpot. Plug it in before you head out so the food will cook while you're at work or doing errands.
- Charmaine Markus, New Scotland, NY
Make a weekly menu
On the weekend, plan your dinners for the whole week, then shop accordingly. Be sure to make room for leftovers and sandwiches so you only have to cook a few nights a week.
- Julia Baker, Chicago, IL
Whenever you cook, make more than you need and store the extras for another night.
- Caroline Power Gangl, Hershey, PA
Stock your pantry with a variety of canned tomatoes, olives, and beans to spruce up dishes and boost your nutrient intake. Use the tomatoes and beans in a chili, toss the beans or olives over a salad, or mix any of them in a rice dish.
- Jessica Mandell, East Brunswick, NJ
The big chill
Invest in a second fridge or freezer (secondhand will do). Stock it with frozen veggies, meats, and healthy leftovers. You'll always have the food on hand and ready to cook.
- Jen Grogono, Austin, TX
Cut it out
Buy pre-chopped onions and garlic. They're more expensive, but the time you save on chopping is worth it.
- Jennifer Mileti, Shaker Heights, OH
Wok this way
Chop up veggies and meat in the morning, and store them in the fridge. When it's time to make dinner, toss everything in a wok for a fast stir-fry. Experiment with different combinations to keep it interesting.
- Charmaine Markus
Make dinner at lunchtime
While you're getting things out for lunch, gather the ingredients and utensils you plan to use for dinner as well. Cut up veggies for a salad or throw together a lasagna (with precooked noodles) that you'll cook later.
- Dorie Valenti, Delmar, NY
Grab a Moment for YourselfPower lunch
If you work in an office, rather than eat lunch with colleagues or friends, head out to a quiet park, library, or mall, and enjoy the time by yourself.
- Julie Carr Smyth, Worthington, OH
Leave the driving to them
If you commute by bus, train, or subway, take the time to read or meditate.
- Lisa Skarzynski, East Brunswick, NJ
Give yourself a time-out
Break away from everything for a few minutes -- even if it's an escape to the hall closet while the baby's asleep in the crib -- to take some deep breaths.
- Donna Parker, Voorheesville, NY
Put it on your calendar
Take one night a week to do something for yourself, be it a bubble bath, a movie, or a good book.
- Julia Baker
Privacy in aisle five
Do your grocery shopping in the evening, alone. It'll get you out of the house for the night.
- Jessica Mandell
Take the long way home
If you work away from home, drive the scenic route to your office, and use the extra time to listen to music or a book on tape.
- Jan Hanson, San Rafael, CA
Power in numbers
Get together with another mom and take turns enjoying private time to do whatever you want. When you come back from your outing, it's your turn to babysit and her turn to venture out alone.
- Shannon Harris, Aurora, Ontario, Canada
Skip the brown bag
If you're lucky enough to work near where you live, go home at lunchtime. Savor the time to eat in the comfort of your home. Use spare moments to finish chores or prepare dinner, if you must. Better yet, use the time to meditate, relax, or read a good article.
- Wade Costello, Fairfield, CT
Fit In ExerciseBook it
Schedule your workouts on a calendar. Put it in writing, and you'll commit to it the way you would to a business meeting or dinner date.
- Diane Sadak, Joppa, MD
Keep a pair of weights by the phone. Do a few reps while making appointments or chatting with your friends. You can also try doing a few squats while on the phone.
- Jan Hanson
Trade time with your spouse
Let him babysit while you work out, then do the same for him.
- Nanette Nopwaskey, San Jose, CA
Sneak it in
Walk at work whenever you get the chance. Walk during lunch. Park in the farthest corner of the lot, or get off the bus a stop early and walk. Take the stairs and visit coworkers in person.
- Lisa Skarzynski
Do it in the morning
You've heard it before, but it's more true than ever now that you're a mom. Get up half an hour early and exercise first thing, be it a walk, run, or yoga tape.
- Lisa Parker, Albany, NY
Bring the baby
Find a gym with babysitting and start going now. Your baby will become accustomed to visiting the gym, and you'll be getting regular workouts.
- Shereen Tate, Niska-yuna, NY
Resuscitate Your RomanceMeet him halfway
Pick a restaurant between your offices or near home, and meet for a romantic lunch.
- Nanette Nopwaskey
Better late than never
Once a week, after your baby goes to bed, have a late dinner that's just for the two of you -- even if it's a frozen pizza. Put on the answering machine, light some candles, and play your favorite music.
- Charmaine Markus
Start dating your husband again
Once a month, hire a sitter and enjoy a night out with the man you married. To keep it interesting and fun, take turns choosing what to do.
- Jennifer Mileti
The gift of time
Next time someone says she doesn't know what to get for your baby, ask her to babysit one night while you and your husband go on a date.
- Donna Parker
Do double duty
Wash the dishes together after dinner. Share the task of folding laundry at night. Tackle yardwork as a team. You'll get a chance to chat and speed up the cleaning process at the same time.
- Joanne Patrie, Voorheesville, NY
Chat and chew
Set aside the mail and turn off the television during meals together. Concentrate on talking and sharing.
- Jessica Mandell
Take a day off
Leave your baby with your childcare provider, and enlist your spouse in playing hooky with you, even if it's just for an hour or two and a simple stroll through the mall.
- Jennifer Anderson, Wyoming, RI
Get baby on a schedule
Once your baby's hours are regular, you and your husband can enjoy some private time alone every night.
- Lori Leavey, Ladera Ranch, CA
Get a "Clean" StartDo it now
Pitch junk mail into the recycling bin as soon as it arrives. Fold clean laundry right when it's done. Put everything in its place the minute you're done with it to avoid a big cleanup job later on.
- Jana Bell, London, OH
Invite a friend over every two weeks or so. The prospect of other people seeing your messy house will encourage you to tidy up.
- Diane Sadak
You go, grill
Use the grill year-round to make dinner if you can. The best part? No stove, pots, or pans to clean up afterward.
- Sylvia Wood, Saratoga Springs, NY
While doing housework, wear an apron with large pockets. Put it on over your clothes to guard against stains. Stuff the pockets with those wayward items that need to be put away.
- Jennifer Anderson
A little at a time
Rather than clean the house in one giant sweep, try doing it in 10- to 15-minute spurts. Next time you catch your baby quietly playing on her own, sneak away to clean the bathroom.
- Jessica Mandell
One day, one room
Dedicate half an hour to cleaning one room every day instead of cleaning the whole house on the weekend.
- Erin Doland, Washington, DC
Put everything that needs to go upstairs in a pile and haul it up in one trip. You'll save yourself some time and energy.
- Wade Costello
If you work during the week, devote Friday nights to cleaning the house. It will clear your weekend for more fun things.
- Karen Freid, Rahway, NJ
Invest in a cordless headset telephone so you can tackle chores while you talk.
- Shannon Harris
Vacuum when your baby is sleeping. The noise may soothe a cranky baby while sucking up those dust bunnies.
- Jennifer Anderson