If I was paid a dollar for every time someone said to me, “How do you get anything done?!” or, “My, you have your hands full!” my house would be built by now.
Despite the fact that anyone with a full time job knows how busy life can get, the fact that a mother has more than two children apparently means that she suddenly doesn’t have any time at all. Yes, kids do keep us up at night. Yes, their needs are unending when they are little. However, by applying a few rules about time management from any other job to the full time job of motherhood, it is quite possible to have (most of the time) ample room in the day to accomplish one’s duties as well as extra projects.
Keeping up appearances is easier to do on the blog than it is in real life though. I can selectively choose what to talk about and what to show you, while piles of laundry or dirty dishes remain hidden out of the view of my lens. In other words, just because I can show you some cool projects we are working on, or talk about our daily schedule doesn’t mean my home is always neat and tidy. Ha! I have four kids undoing my tidying while at the same time I’m doing it up again for the millionth time that day. Well, okay, maybe not the millionth.
I am nothing close to a perfect homemaker, homeschooler, and whatever other roles I play. What do I do? I keep my kids as healthy as possible, giving them stimulating things to do, provide a mostly tidy home for my family to be comfortable in, while also prioritizing my own personal hobbies, like this blog.
(Porky the porcupine, a frequent visitor here)
With all the things I have dabbled in, it’s no wonder that people have asked me how I manage to do so much. The trick seems to be, that not only do I not try to do everything at once, by taking little bites at a time, I also use a flexible schedule to keep track of our life. In this way, most of the things I put on my to-do list actually get accomplished. And the rest? Well, the rest can wait another day or two and no one’s the wiser.
The magic thing about creating a flexible schedule is that the simple act of planning out your time somehow makes it feel like you have more time on your hands, at least that is how it has worked in our home.
I’ve had a mixed history with daily plans. Usually I set a lofty goal for myself, starting with getting up much earlier than I usually do, and I’m doing great if I get through the first day. Over time I’ve learned that in order to benefit from a plan I need to first notice how I already order our days naturally, and make small adjustments to make our time more efficient. In the end our schedule might look completely different and much more efficient than it was when I started the plan, but it happened one little step at a time.
Now that Chickie is getting a little older (20 months) I have found that it is much easier to work with a plan than it was when she was less than one. In those days, flexibility and focusing on core responsibilities was where it was at. If everyone was dressed, the dishes were washed, and the floor was swept each day I was doing good.
Probably most stay-at-home parents have found at some point that they need some tools for organizing their lives. Contrary to what careerists believe, being a stay-at-home parent is a full time job. Actually, it’s a minimum-wage salaried job with overtime, which is to say, you work a lot without much pay! Of course the benefits are numerous – you maintain relationships with people in your family, kids grow up more confident, more intelligent, with more common sense, your home is more relaxed with less rushing around… while the monetary pay isn’t great, the non-monetary pay is excellent. Anyway, off that soap box now.
Because staying at home with your kids is busy work, having a plan for each day makes life more peaceful and accomplished – if you use the plan right. The key is using the plan and not letting the plan use you. If at any point the schedule we are using stops working for us we change it up to make it work.
Here’s what our daily plan currently looks like ~
5:45 am Papa rolls out of bed and heads to work.
7:00 My alarm goes off and I hit the snooze button a couple of times before getting up. I head outside, let the chickens out and give them fresh water, than come back in to clear the table and prepare breakfast.
7:30 The kids (who have been awake for at least a half hour) fly out of bed as soon as I give them the all clear. We eat breakfast, I have a cup of coffee, and pjs are exchanged for day clothes.
8:30 Clean up time! Yesterday’s laundry, dishes, and toys are taken care, the floor is swept and school supplies are laid out. Some of these chores are shared, others I do while the kids play.
9:30 School starts. I used to do school with Buddy and Girlie while Chickie slept, but I’ve been finding that most days it is more peaceful to work through school projects during the morning while she and Pal play. When each of the kids are doing their individual work with me (math and language arts) the other plays, then they switch places, and at some point we share history, science, arts and crafts, music, and reading time together, though not all in the same day!
11:00 Free time for kids indoors or outdoors while I clean up from school and play activities and prepare lunch.
11:30 Lunch and clean up.
Noon Chickie goes down for a rest. She sleeps about 50% of the time now. Our kids have all given up naps early. While Chickie “naps” everyone else watches PBS for one to one and a half hours, depending on the quality of our battery charge that day. I have my second cup of coffee and do a little writing or reading. If I have any phone calls to make this is when I make them.
1:30 pm If there are extra things on my to-do list I wrap them up after our midday break. Otherwise the kids and I often work on an extra project now – sometimes an outdoor project, sometimes indoors. On Wednesdays we pack up and head out for the library, laundromat, and to make egg deliveries.
4:00 The kids play while I begin preparing supper, in between more straightening up.
5:00 Papa comes home and we sit down for supper. After supper I clear the table (I’ll wash dishes in the morning), sit down on the couch for family worship a couple times a week (hymn singing and family devotions), then pjs are put on and teeth are brushed. (The exception is Monday’s when one family we are friends with come out to share dinner with us and visiting for a couple of hours. On Mondays the kids stay up till about 8:30)
6:30 All kids are in bed, with lights on till 7ish. I’ll get out my project for the evening, whether blogging, letter writing, genealogy, or something else.
9:00 Papa and I watch a couple of TV shows, and then lights out. For a couple hours anyway, until a child wakes up crying or the fire is going out. After a few times of repeating that cycle the alarm goes off and we start all over again!
The weekends are a little different. We often have some gathering to attend or a homestead project to work on. Sunday afternoons we typically have dinner with Papa’s parents. Sometimes we mix it up and throw in an adventure, but either way, our weekends involve slightly less routine than our week days.
I do try to stick to the plan. Unless it just doesn’t make sense, keeping up with a plan ensures that there will be time each day for important activities. For example, if I get carried away with cleaning project in the morning (which believe it or not does happen on occasion) then either school time doesn’t happen that day or it runs into dinner prep. If we don’t finish what we set out to do in a certain time, it usually gets saved for the next day.
On the other hand, if something important comes up that requires more time right then, such as a good learning opportunity, we do carve out more time for it. I’m not a stickler for following plans exactly. They do have merit and that’s why I use one, but if it isn’t followed exactly it’s not the end of the world.
The next question would be…
How do I keep track of our days?
The organizational tools I use are our monthly calendar, a 2×3’ dry erase marker board, a notebook, and our daily schedule printed on an 8.5×11” sheet (as described above).
The monthly calendar ~
We use a standard 12 month calendar to keep track of the big stuff. It is hung in our living area so everyone can see it, even though Mama is considered the secretary and coordinator of the family.
Anytime something is due, such as letters to be mailed, books to be returned, or phone calls to be made. Or anytime a guest is expected, or we are to be guests somewhere else, these dates are noted on the calendar. Birthdays and anniversaries are also noted here.
Though I have dabbled with keeping small calendars on me when I leave the house, I have found that keeping one main calendar helps to keep us all on the same page about what is going on, without risking certain appointments being noted on one calendar and not on the other.
The marker board ~
In our bedroom is a magnetic dry erase marker board which I use for multiple purposes. If I have a quick thought about something that needs to be done, I put in on the board so I won’t forget. When I have more time, that note may be put in a better place depending on what it was, or it may stay on the board until it is no longer needed.
Working grocery lists, extra to-do’s, notes I want to include in the journals I keep for the kids, and seasonal priorities are the four major things I regularly keep on the board.
Since the board is magnetic, special notes or pictures the kids make for me also end up here. Whenever a drawing is made for me, the child who drew it happily suggests, “I’ll put it on your board for you!” And when there are so many pictures collected that I have no room to write I usually end up putting this pictures in the art section of their school binders.
My notebook ~
For more extensive lists and planning I keep a notebook. Christmas lists, menus, plans for blog posts (when I’m saving battery on my laptop), plans for family events, and sometimes notes from books I’m reading, are examples of what I keep in this notebook.
At one time all my scheduling and planning were recorded in a notebook, but because that required always having it out, even when I didn’t have room for it, I decided to use the marker board for more immediate plans and reserve the notebook for things I didn’t need to refer to several times a day.
One more word about prioritizing ~
There is always something that needs doing. If you lose focus on the long term goals, either for the day or a longer period of time, the short term needs of your kids and home will take precedence every time. I find that by keeping a short list of priorities, including hobbies or personal projects, I am reminded that it is necessary to carve out time for those things to be done.
As I write this, the kids are having their afternoon rest time and I could be washing dishes or picking up toys. Instead I am writing this post because I know thoughts will come easier to me now while it is quiet and I am awake than it will after they go to bed. I’ve tried that and it doesn’t usually work.
The dishes will get done, but it is easier to push aside “unnecessary” projects indefinitely than it is to push aside a load of dirty dishes. If I’m going to write, I need to give myself permission to write when I am best able to do so, instead of pushing it to the end of my to-do list and find that it never gets done. This is not a matter of finding an excuse to avoid dishes, it is simply a matter of figuring out how much you can accomplish by playing around with the order in which you do them. By taking the time to notice how you arranged your day when it is going really well, you can repeat the techniques you used on a regular basis.
How about you? What organization tools do you use to organize your family’s days?