FAMILY: Family planning is the key to a happier 2010

Stacia BriggsIt's a New Year resolution that's easy and fun to achieve and which will pay dividends over an entire lifetime. STACIA BRIGGS discovers some easy ways to make more time for your family.Stacia Briggs

It's a New Year resolution that's easy and fun to achieve and which will pay dividends over an entire lifetime. STACIA BRIGGS discovers some easy ways to make more time for your family.

You live with them, you love them, but do you actually spend very much time with them?

New research has revealed that the average family spend less than 45 minutes a day doing things together as a family, which is less than five hours a week, including weekends. Half of all families wish they could spend more time together (the other half probably have, or are teenagers and therefore can't bear the thought of spending a moment longer in each other's company).

If your family is anything like my family, you'll face a daily schedule that would make the best personal assistant on the planet baulk - an endless round of social engagements, school assignments, housework, after-school activities, shopping and childcare that leaves little room for family time or any relaxation whatsoever.

School holidays are scheduled with military precision as, like most 'relay parents', my partner and I hand each other the childcare baton for separate weeks looking after the children and then rely on the goodwill of their grandmother and various clubs and play schemes to make up our shortfall.

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When we are all together, the adult members of the family are generally so exhausted that 'spending time together' involves watching EastEnders at the same time or arguing about whether we get a takeaway from Pizza Hut or the local Chinese restaurant.

But there are ways to claw back time in order to enjoy your family while your children are still young. The key is organisation and time management - it sounds like even more work to pack into your daily life, but once you've mastered it, the rewards are great.

Think about the way you run your day and try and build in as many short-cuts as you can to make life easier - in addition to making sure your children aren't over-burdened with extra-curricular activities, make sure you're not overburdened, too.

Here's our simple guide to time-saving tips to win back more time for your family, easy ways to enjoy time with your family and simple ways you can make even the mundane seem special.

How to claw back time:

Sit down with your partner and work out ways you can make your working life and non-working life more organised and productive. Could you use a lunch hour to organise an online shop to be delivered so you don't have to spend hours walking around a supermarket, queuing, driving home and unpacking your groceries? Or perhaps you could arrange to pay bills while you're eating your sandwiches at your desk?

If you know other parents in the same boat, think about organising a mutual childcare circle so that everyone can have a break every so often without paying for an expensive babysitter.

Organise your house so that everything has its place. How many hours of your life have been lost to hunting down a lost PE kit or lunch box? Keep keys, important documents and key items you use all week in the same place, all the time.

Rather than spending hours tidying up, make a simple rule: every time you enter a room, tidy away five items. It takes a matter of moments, but each time you complete a small task it breaks down a big task into something manageable.

Think ahead: if you find yourself with a few spare moments during your lunch hour, look at your calendar and work out what time you need off during school holidays (you can check term times online). Book your holiday in advance, so there's no last minute panic and book activities and courses as early as possible to eliminate stress.

If you're making a meal that can be frozen, cook twice as much as you need and then freeze ahead so that you've got a meal ready to be eaten on a busy night.

Take a few minutes every night to get everything ready for the day ahead. Make sure the dreaded PE kit is clean and ready and that the lunch boxes are packed. Check with your children that any homework due is completed, get uniforms ready and make sure coats are dry and ready to be used. Do the same with your own clothes and belongings so that mornings can be less stressful.

Make sure that the parents are running the household rather than the children. If your children respect you and behave, life will be less stressful and you'll have more time to spend enjoying each other's company.

Plan as far ahead as you can. If you find Christmas horribly stressful, start buying stocking presents or bits and pieces for friends and family as early as possible. Put them in boxes on top of the wardrobe and by the time it gets to Christmas 2010, you'll have a huge head start. This is also a great tactic for birthdays and prevents any last minute worry about sorting out gifts for birthday parties and such like. In the worst case scenario, if your child is going to a birthday party and you've forgotten to buy a present, the failsafe option of �5 in a card always goes down well!

Make a commitment to your family to leave your work at work and don't come home preoccupied with your job or with work you need to finish for the next day. Being physically present but mentally absent doesn't count!

Teach your children to help you with simple chores, and get them involved in the kitchen. Although it may initially take more and not less time, it's important that your children learn how to cook and look after the house. You can encourage them by pointing out that if they help out, you'll have more time to play with them or take them on a special treat.

Encourage your children to look at the calendar and see what is planned for the next week, or month. This prevents arguments when they arrange to do something which clashes with another activity and means they learn time management themselves.

Accept that you can't have it all. For a long time, we have all misguidedly believed that we can have whatever we want if we work hard enough for it. The price we pay is stress and exhaustion - be happy with your lot and encourage your children not to be overly materialistic (I'm working on this one. Thus far, the message isn't getting through, judging by my children's Christmas lists!).

If people offer to help you, say yes. There are no prizes at heaven's gate for super heroes.

Look after yourself: get enough sleep, enough exercise, enough time with your partner and eat well. The fitter and happier you are, the better equipped you are to deal with your busy life.

For tips on how to make the most of your extra time with your family see today's Norwich Evening News (on sale Wednesday January 6, 2010).