If I can be totally honest, I've struggled at times with feeling like I am not accomplishing that which is most important.
Don't get me wrong, we are busy all day, and our days are full of good and necessary things, but don't you ever have the feeling that when the end of the day comes you never really got anything done? I think part of that is just motherhood. I mean, is the laundry or the dishes really ever done?
But some of that has to do with the way our time can drag us through a day like a dog dragging a child desperately hanging onto its leash. In the end, you end up with a case of bad grass stains on your knees and wondering why you tried to hang on so long when letting go would have been a lot easier…..
Now I am not suggesting that letting go of those things we want to accomplish will somehow make us feel better, or is even good for us. It isn't. People who say you should keep your lives simple for the sake of ease are selling you a lie. The Bible tells us we are to:
Nothing about this list suggests a life of ease or comfort. It is hard to remain steadfast in the way we spend our time! Not only do we have so much to do, but we also throw in the many distractions surrounding us, and it is a recipe for discontentment – feeling like we should be doing more, and yet not accomplishing even the basics!
So how do we do that which God has called us to do and still maintain our sanity? How do we make the most of our time without feeling more frantic and overwhelmed?
Well, it may seem counter-intuitive, but the best way to do this is to fill your day.
"Don't you know my day is already more full than I can handle?" I can hear it now…. In fact, I think I was the one screaming it the loudest when this concept first came to my attention. But I can assure you, this technique has fully revolutionized our household. The days I abide with our schedule are still full of many interruptions, responsibilities and long to-do lists. My situation has not changed, but the way I handle it has. And when I am disciplined enough to follow my schedule, our days are filled with much more peace and joy. You see, the Lord does not call us to labor and toil in strife, but in joy! How many of us can say we do that? Work was supposed to be a blessing, not a curse! It was there before The Fall – when God told Adam to tend the garden.
So, how does it work?
Filling Our Days:
Step 1. Decide what is most important that should be done daily, and how much time it takes you to do it on a normal day. Do this for each member of your family (except your husband – trust me, He probably won't think it is a blessing when you try to fill his day for him! 🙂 You should also separate your list between what has to happen, and what would be nice to have happen.
My daily list includes things like:
- What has to happen: sleep, personal bible study, prayer, exercise, dishes, laundry, meal prep, eating and clean-up, cleaning, book work and family devotions. These are the things that must be done daily no matter what. I also need to teach school, but that is more dependent on my children's schedules than mine.
- What would be nice to have happen: Individual time with each child, personal reading time, project time for me such as sewing or virtual scrapbooking, teaching the kids a craft, etc.
I establish the amount of time it takes to get each of those done in a single day. Then I do this same list for each of the kiddos (including the baby – who mostly gets naps and play time – come to think of it, I want his schedule!!!):
- What has to happen: sleep, daily habits (getting ready, cleaning their rooms, chores, etc.) school work (I broke these down by subject for each kid), naps (if applicable), free play (this is something I feel is important for them), baths, prayer, and family devotions.
- What would be nice to have happen: Projects, learning new trades, one-on-one time with mom or other child.
Once their list is made, I approximate the amount of time to complete each one.
The trick is that each persons' time slots cannot add up to more than 24 hours. I know, I know – this should be a no-brainer!!!! But seriously, when I made my list I knew that between what I had to do and what I wanted to do, that my list would be over 24 hours. I knew that what I want to do is so much more than what is feasible!!! But what surprised me is that the list I made for my daughter added up to 32 hours!!! Any of you homeschool moms out there feel like you want to DO EVERYTHING with your kiddos? There are so many great studies and projects out there – great educational things! And sometimes it seems like moms are doing it all! And we want to do it too! But this was truly a wake-up call for me. It was exactly what I needed to do to feel good about saying "no". It gave me permission to turn away when I saw that next great pinterest idea, or that fun art class in the homeschool co-op. I now knew what was healthy for our family to undertake and what was not for this season of our life. I could say "no" knowing our days were full of that which I had already set as a priority!
Go through your list and modify the amount of time you spend on each activity so that your total is 24. You may choose to combine items in order to make your schedule work. For example, if sewing, crafts, free time and reading time are all things I would like to do and I only have 30 minutes available in a day, I might combine them all under "free time" and later pick a day of the week to do them (Mon & Thurs-sewing, Tues & Fri-reading, W-projects, etc.). (I suggest creating these charts in Excel, that way the totals automatically adjust as you edit each day – I have a free excel template for you to use HERE!). Now that you have your list of what you need to do each day, and you have cut it down so you are at least getting 7 hours of sleep (prior to setting up this schedule I tended to steal from sleep to try to "get more done"), you are ready for the second step:
Step 2: Schedule your "day":
Now you will chart out your day in 30 minute increments. I suggest you schedule your own day and the kids day with the most important items first, if possible. That way if your family is struck with illness, or has a field trip or other plans for the day, the main priorities are still accomplished. For me, that means the first thing I do in the morning is switch the laundry, exercise, bible reading and prayer, daily habits and breakfast. The kids have to do their habits (think getting ready & chores) before breakfast. They like to eat, so it is the most effective way to get them to complete them. Plus, on days we have to fly out the door (like CC days) I know they have been trained to get ready and pick up the house all before breakfast. We get to come home to a clean house, and on days we stay home, we start the day with a clean and orderly house. Everyone is more happy. Don't they say when Momma's happier, everyone is happier???? For me, that means starting the day with a basic sense of cleanliness and order – not "eat-off-the-floor" cleanliness, but "no-Legos-on-the-floor-that-really-hurts-momma's-bare-feet" clean, or the "no-surprise-toothpaste-on-the-bathroom-door-handle" clean… I digress….
List the non-negotiables: Schedule your meal times. Next schedule any blocks of time that you have committed to outside the home (try to structure your schedule that the things that are lowest in priority take place during the time you might be out of the home on a certain day each week. For example, if you usually have piano lessons at 3pm every Monday, try to set the 3pm time slot up for free play. That way your schedule can remain consistent each day. If that won't work for you, you might want to set up two schedules if this is common – for example, one schedule for Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays when you are home, and a different one for Tuesdays and Thursdays. This adds a little complexity, so try to keep it to one schedule first before you create one for specific days of the week).
Schedule the people: start your schedule with the baby – sounds crazy doesn't it! Shouldn't we start with our schedule??? Nope – Mom's schedule gets done last! The baby probably naps at around the same time each day. Schedule them first. Then the toddler. Then the next oldest. You get the picture. When you get to school-aged kids, schedule their schooling last. Schedule their sleep and morning habits. Then schedule the MOST IMPORTANT school subjects right after breakfast. That way, if everything goes wild one day (does that happen to anyone else???) that which is most important has been accomplished. Since I told you about our mission for a one-piece life, our school day begins with Bible and Character training. All else is secondary. It helps me to remember where our focus is, and even in a bout of family-wide stomach flu, we can do this in bed together. I have already blogged about how we keep most of our school subjects to 15 minutes, so 30 minute increments works great for our school schedule as well, allowing us to cover 2 subjects in each block. I have 2 school-aged kiddos, and a third in basic pre-preschool activities. For the 2 school-agers, I tried to flip-flop their subjects so that one student was working on something they could do independently while the other received instruction from me. We do this for 15 minutes, then swap. For example, one might do their copywork while I teach the other piano. Then we switch. This keeps them away from the table at the same time (which leads to less productivity – can I get a witness?) and balances my teaching responsibilities. We can get a lot done in 15 minutes of focused time when we do it consistently each day! I will try to write a post about how our 15 minute philosophy (I am just borrowing some wisdom from Charlotte Mason) works wonders in our house – more about that next week! Go through your schedule for the kids and re-work it until everything seems to balance well. For items you have combined, just type in which days of the week. For example, I wanted to have one-on-one time with my kiddos. There just isn't enough time in the day to do that! But I did have a 30 minute slot that I could schedule one kid each day in. So on Mondays I spend 30 minutes with the oldest, Tuesday with the younger, etc.
Schedule Mom: Now you can fill in your schedule. A lot of your schedule will be determined by what you listed for the kids. Fill in what is necessary for instruction time first. (HINT: You can't schedule laundry time for yourself if you are supposed to be teaching piano – although I have tried to multi-task doing that. It didn't work.) Then schedule what you have to do in a day – meal prep, clean-up, personal devotional time, and SLEEP! If you are unbelievably fortunate enough to have any time left, add in the "what would be nice stuff" to your schedule!
WHEW!!!! Trust me, the planning is well worth it! Are you ready for the REWARD of joy and peace??
Step 3: Implementation!
Once your schedule is done, give it a test-drive! First try to stick to the first few hours for a couple of days. Then get through lunch. After a week of using your schedule, if something isn't working – change it! It would be surprising if you were able to get the perfect schedule the first time around. But after a few tweaks, you will find much more peace in your day. The trick is YOU MUST STICK TO THE SCHEDULE!!! This is sooooo much harder than it sounds! It means if you are in the middle of a project that will only take 5 more minutes to complete, you put it away and finish it tomorrow. It means if you are supposed to be teaching spelling, you are not surfing the web for the next great science experiment! You will learn what I did – on the days that I most diligently follow our schedule, we have so much more joyful, patient, happy days. Plus, I feel like I get more done by 11am than I get done on other days! It is hard to be diligent in staying on schedule, but as you see the reward, you will desire more and more to stick with it! Remember the verses above which talk about perseverence!
WE LOVE IT! You can see a sample HERE – that we continue to "tweak" for this school year…
Lastly, two words of caution:
1. In an age of available transportation and an abundance of activities, it is so easy to get involved in a lot of great things. Examine what you are involved in and what in your life is your highest priority. Remember our scripture above which reminds us to be aware of the season we are in, and to use that which we have been given wisely. You might need to stay home more and say "not now" to some of those activities and pick them up during another season of life.
2. I think one of the most unfortunate things in this generation is its' addiction to media. Limit your time on Facebook, and stop watching television. The Lord has given us this great gift of brief moments. Don't waste them. Call your friend. Read a book that encourages and leads to spiritual growth. Read your Bible. Pray. Pray for your husband. Pray for your kids. Stop texting while your kids swing at the park.
Just. Be. Awake.
Oh Lord, in the midst of our minutes, help us to spend them wisely – to invest them in eternity, and reap eternal reward. Amen.
At the Foot of the Cross,
Looking for the Free Excel Template to create your schedule – find it HERE!