Imagine your schedule right now.
What does it look like?
A hodgepodge of disorder, clean and consistent—or maybe you don't have a schedule and just go with it?
Whether you're one of those "naturally organized" people or you're on the other end of the spectrum—we all need a little order to run our lives and keep up with our families.
If you're anything like me, keeping up with multiple children while working from home requires lots of planning and scheduling.
With this, I'm able to keep the kids happy, the Mama sane, and tantrums and meltdowns to a minimum.
The following tips, techniques, and examples have been milked from my 7 years as a mompreneur.
I hope you enjoy them as much as I enjoyed meticulously developing them for you.
SETUP STAGE: Time Boxing
Also known as time blocking, time boxing is when you block off a fixed period of time to do a specific activity within.
To effectively time box, you need to know how long it takes you to do any given task professionally and personally.
EXAMPLE: I run my family's laundry through the washer and dryer in the evening, 2 days a week. (The delicates are also run twice a week, but I'll try not to overcomplicate the process here.)
The following mornings it takes me about an hour to fold and put away 2-3 loads of clean clothes—distributed upstairs and down.
Really, it takes me 45 minutes, maximum, to get all the clean laundry folded and put where it needs to be.
I add an extra 15 minutes to every activity to allow for distractions.
If you finish earlier than expected, then SCORE! That's some luxury time there, Baby.
When you're planning out your schedule, remember to add a little more time than it actually takes you to do something.
Not only is it helpful in keeping stressors to a minimum, but it's also a way to help you commit to your schedule—a simple win for time boxing.
EXAMPLE: Say you'll take your kids to the park for an hour at 9:00AM.
Set your time box for 8:45AM to 10:15AM. That way you allow for travel time to and from the park, plus any hiccups or distractions popping in to potentially knock your schedule off course.
To track your professional and even personal time, you can use the Pomodoro Technique, setting alarms on your phone, or setting calendar reminders to alert you when it's time to stop, go, switch, and so on.
STAGE 1: Set Boundaries (And Stick to Them)
As exhaustive as this may sound, you should do the same things each week—within reason, of course.
I'm talking about building strong business habits that create a natural flow to your workweek, not replicate the exact same daily schedule. But, you should be consistent with the activities you do on each, specific day.
EXAMPLE: On Mondays during the summer, we go to the mall to play in the kids area, walk together in the air conditioning (what? It's Florida...), and have lunch.
We'd leave the house at 9:30AM to get there by 10AM—when the mall opens.
The girls knew that "Mommy and Daddy don't work on weekends", and Monday served as their mental marker to the beginning of the week.
Each week we had the same activities (whether official—as in swim lessons or gymnastics—or simply family activities that are on the same days, at the same times).
Weekends are when we'll be more spontaneous.
With a set schedule, everyone knows what to expect each day. (Which makes life and work a heck of a lot simpler.)
Where boundaries come in is when it's time to stop, stop.
When we read a bedtime story, it's one bedtime story.
During the summer when we watch a movie or 2 educational shows on weekdays, there's no more TV after that.
Clinical Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Science, Jean M. Thomas, M.D. says, "[Repetitiveness] increases [children's] sense of security because they know what's coming next."
Sure, it can be annoying at times, but if your kids are anything like mine, lack of structure leads to meltdowns and stretches of poor behavior.
When those rough moments or streaks lessen (or cease entirely), the repetitiveness and predictability of a structured schedule becomes much less annoying.
No matter how old your children are, have a [colorful] weekly schedule displayed in your home and / or tell them each step of the day as it comes up.
(Although I've found that my kids love the visual reminder they can see for themselves. It makes the feel more responsible and a part of the process.)
EXAMPLE: Our summertime Tuesday morning would start by reciting the daily schedule like this:
"Girls, it's Tuesday! Aneliese has swimming lessons later this morning. We'll play with our projects now, have a snack in a bit, then we'll go to the pool for her lessons. And after the pool we'll have lunch, okay?"
They're young. Specifically my youngest doesn't understand time yet so I don't waste any of ours by spouting "at ten-thirty we'll have snack time and at eleven we have to go to the pool..."
Break down the day into small bites.
Instead of telling my kids each step of the entire day (which goes in one ear and out the other), I tell them each segment of the day's activities.
Then, I'll forewarn them when an activity is almost over and what's going to happen next.
EXAMPLE: Share the morning's activities in the morning. Stop at lunchtime.
About 10 minutes before the next activity begins, let your kids know what's next and what they need to do to get ready for it. Like, "Girls, we need to clean up projects now and we'll have a snack after it's all picked up!"
(At least for my kids, the reward of the next activity is encouragement to clean or wrap up the current one.)
They know exactly what to expect which equals less meltdowns and poor attitudes.
STAGE 2: Be Prepared (Always)
Just like you should prep your plan after you've finished working the day before, prep whatever you can the night before, too.
"Go Bag"—an older kids version of a diaper bag
Supplies for activities at-the-ready
After a horrible day-trip to Disney World back when I was pregnant with my youngest... Okay, I've got to share some details here:
I'm talking the oldest vomited milk on herself and the [now] middle's diaper burst in a major traffic jam to Orlando.
We had to pull over from the left lane to the right in near dead-stop traffic.
... And only had one outfit packed between the 2 of them.
No towel or anything to clean them or their carseats up with. And I can't forget the nail(s) in my tire from the side of the road—I vowed then to never "fly by the seat of my pants" again.
The poor girls were cranky and gross the entire time.
Not only was it a last-minute, "let's go to Disney!" trip, we didn't prepare enough for emergencies, in general.
To avoid ill-preparedness in surprise situations, always have a "Go Bag" or some form of storage in your car.
Okay, so I had enough people ask me: what's a "Go Bag"? so here are some details on that:
It's a small bag (maybe one up in your closet you're no longer using?) with extras appropriate for your child/ren's age(s) that's always in the primary family vehicle.
EXAMPLE: With 3 girls ages 3, 5, and 7, we carry:
Extra plastic grocery bags (just in case)
A few coloring books and colored pencils
First aid stuff
Spare beach towels
Snacks, and so on
If you have the room or a crossover-type vehicle, you can use vertical plastic drawers instead of a bag or seat-hanging compartments, if you prefer.
Also, I put away my pretty purse and traded it in for a Vera Bradley tote—converted to my "Prepared Mom Bag" with less bulk than a diaper bag.
Okay, that went a little off-topic, but tips are tips.
And preparation is key.
Here are a few vehicle organizers you might like:
STAGE 3: Adjust Your Routine As Needed
If you've been working with a schedule for a few weeks and things aren't working out or your routine isn't steady, it's not that you're doing anything wrong.
It's just not the right schedule for you. Adjust your routine wherever needed.
Like I mentioned in an earlier time management post, when I was working myself into waking at 5:00AM every morning, I'd had my workout on the schedule as the first activity.
Some mornings I'd get up. Others I'd crawl back into bed after turning off the alarm.
My brain is on high in the morning. My body is still waking up. A workout wasn't motivating enough to stay up for.
So I had to adjust my routine.
Writing first. Workout second.
Try a set schedule for at least 2-3 weeks. Make small adjustments as needed—don't change up your entire schedule to try to perfect it.
When you're comfortable with it, leave it alone.
There's no perfect schedule. If it's working, just go with it.
Start with time boxing (or segmenting) chunks of your day.
My schedule and daily themes took a couple months to adjust the way that works best for my business and family.
And still, I could stand to do some adjusting at times.
Be patient with getting organized and making things work with and for your family. It's tedious, but completely worth it in the end.
And never forget that life is unpredictable.
Never forget that things will pop up, whether they be emergencies or otherwise.
If you're conscientious like I am, surprises can be tough to handle.
(Trust me, I know...)
In these cases, you'll have to deviate from your schedule sometimes. It happens. That's what my Friday is for.
Choose a chunk of time or two each week as a completion or overflow time box.
But as a piece of advice, don't let one "bad" or rough day jilt the next.
If you have generally even-tempered children, some deviation may not affect you and your family like it does more hot-tempered children.
As someone with the latter, deviation doesn't really fly unnoticed in my house.
Just be prepared, and work the way that best suits your family.
P.S. Comments, emails, running a business and being a mom of 3 were just too much for me to handle all together, apparently. But the lack of a comment box doesn't mean I don't want to hear what you think! Share your thoughts with me via @GoffCreative on Twitter or directly via email.
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