The SEM Effect: plan to be efficient and you will be more productive!

annabel-merzOk, it’s 9am and I am sitting at my desk at work reading through today’s emails. The person next to me is yawning as they sip on their latte, crunch on their toast and complain about how tired they are, how much work they have and the fact that they don’t know where to start. They haven’t even logged on yet—in fact I think they may have only been awake for about 20 minutes and achieved only a shower and navigating public transport!

In fact there is much more than 20 minutes of morning time before hitting the office—and that includes that public transport navigation (plenty of time for planning)! With three kids, a demanding career, a busy family life and a passion for family, friends and fitness I have learnt to use my time wisely, especially those precious hours when the sun itself is only starting to rise. And that’s when I find I can be most effective in my day.

My typical pre-9am morning (like today whilst my colleague has continually hit the snooze button and now snoozing in their latte) entailed a six-kilometre run, shower, blow-drying my hair, hanging out a load of washing, making four beds (a “tidyish” house is great for clarity of the mind), made three different breakfasts (different tastes and one with a food allergy), cleaned up from breakfast (see earlier note re a clean house equals a clean mind), loaded and turned on the dishwasher, packed bags, brushed teeth and hair (including a fancy Disney-inspired plait), fed the dog, and dropped three children off to daycare/school; all before arriving at the office to have a brief morning chat with colleagues and then logging on to start responding to emails (the best way I find to start the work day is allocate some morning email time).

You may think this morning regime is exhausting, but in fact it actually energises me and by 9am, I am firing on all cylinders and ready to plough through the list of actions I wrote yesterday before leaving work (yes that’s a big part of the plan). So how is this achievable and how do I find the motivation to be like this every day (well OK, most days)? I strive to be super efficient mum (SEM)! I plan what I have to do every single day in the most efficient way so as to be as productive as possible!

Let me firstly clarify here that you don’t have to be employed to be a SEM—many mothers don’t “officially engage in paid career work” however they do clock up the hours by managing the house, ferrying multiple kids (and often friends of kids) to activities, and volunteer—whether reading or tuckshop duty at the school or in other forms of community engagement.

So what is a SEM? She is a woman who has carefully planned and implemented a series of systems and processes that help her to be productive and efficient in her world—that is by accomplishing as much as possible with the least waste of time and effort. It may be an overused word, but the truth is, multitasking is key—wipe down the bathroom sink whilst brushing your teeth!


If you are reading this you are more than likely a super SEM with your own amazing routines in place, however I have a few tips that work for me that may help you further cement your SEM status.

  1. Plan each and every day: Review what you need to achieve every morning and evening. Avoid the trap of sitting in front of the TV, rather plan to do 30 minutes of chores before you sit down—you’ll enjoy the relaxation afterwards so much more.
  2. The one touch rule: Touch something once and action it. It is that simple. Don’t have the “I will get to it later” pile—for example, when the post arrives and it is clearly a bill put it into a pile and once a week (set a regular time slot) sit down and open all mail/bills and then sit at the computer and pay them.
  3. Washer woman: Put a load of washing on every night (set to go off peak if you can—good for the household budget) and alternate dark and whites. Even if it is not a full load it is more efficient to keep the flow of washing going. Then each morning as you wake up, hang out the washing and put what is needed in the dryer (early means you are off peak too).
  4. Mind fitness: Exercise most days. Even a 15-minute walk is good for the mind as much as anything–use this as your “time out” to plan the day or week ahead. Start by setting your alarm five minutes earlier (and move it to another room)—it will get easier, I promise and you will so much better for hit!
  5. Smart food: Make yours and the kids lunches (and pack lunch boxes) the night before. Leave them in the fridge and put in school bags in the morning.
  6. School rules: Get the kids’ school/childcare clothes out night before and pack their bags (except for lunch)—all ready to grab on the run tomorrow.
  7. Meal planning mum: Regularly look in your fridge and pantry to see what you have (I mean an inventory—there is always more in there than you think to make a meal). Then plan your meals for each night based on what you already have, and only then should you write up your shopping list. This avoids double ups in the pantry and facilitates using up your ingredients.
  8. Go paperless: Use Paperless Post for party invites and get togethers—it manages RSVPs, messages to those attending and avoids the need for more paper clogging up the fridge door! And be smart with using your smartphone—you can sync your calendar with your partner and other important people.
  9. Share the load: Get a little bit of help at home if you can afford it. Make sure you really consider what help you want and make sure it is what you need not what you think you need. Do you need a babysitter or someone to fold the washing? It can be quite cost effective if you weigh up the value of your own time.
  10. Make it a habit: Many of the daily mundane tasks feel like a chore. If you set up a regular pattern it becomes second nature or a habit. Turn the chore into a habit and you won’t avoid it! For example that little bit of daily exercise!
Remember plan to be efficient and you will be more productive.