My previous posts have chronicled my family’s “too busy day” and addressed how we can use our schedule and conscious priorities to avoid them. What does this all have to do with organizing and simplicity? When you begin from a place of general organization and simplicity, you have a much greater ability to weather the complex, overwhelming days and emerge intact on the other side.
Think of it like a flu shot. While it won’t always prevent you from getting the flu, it will reduce your chances, and reduce the severity of your symptoms. I don’t have a magic wand or formula to prevent all of the “too busy days,” but I know that my organizational systems, built-in wiggle room in my schedule, and overall awareness of not doing too much help me bounce back more quickly and more effectively than if I did not have these things.
Your general level of organization and simplicity are your baseline, your touchstone of where you want to be most of the time. With a solid foundation, you will spring back to this baseline relatively easily. Without this you will find yourself straying farther and farther from your ideal with each unexpected bump in the road.
As we head into summer, I hope you will take a little time to reflect on your schedule, priorities, and overall level of busyness. Adjust a little where necessary, create awareness in areas that have been on autopilot. Summer is a season made for lazy days, and tough choices like “pool or sprinkler?” I wish you a summer where you have created a bit of space to relish some breathing room in your schedule!
In my previous two posts, I talked about my family’s “too busy day” and made some schedule suggestions to avoid them. At the heart of the discussion is making a satisfying schedule, one that doesn’t just jam in one more thing but rather supports your values and goals. This is, in essence, prioritizing. Why? Because what we prioritize is, by default, what we value. It is where we choose to place our time, energy, and care.
The reality of life is that we can’t do it all, and we certainly can’t do it all well. Part of creating a livable schedule is to take an honest look at your priorities. It is worthwhile to take a “big picture” look sometimes, but for the purposes of this post, I am talking about a more ground-level weekly look. Reflect on where your priorities should lie for this upcoming week. Maybe one of your children is struggling with school, and you want to clear your afternoons to spend with them. Maybe your work has been stagnating, and you want that to be a high priority. Maybe you simply need every bit of free time to spend cleaning and organizing your house.
Once you know what the top one or two priorities for the week are, use them to guide your time. Write them down and post them somewhere where everyone in your house can see them. Cut out what doesn’t need to happen at all, and streamline things that do need to happen but aren’t an identified priority. For instance, if work is your high priority for this week, line up friends and neighbors to help transport your kids to activities. Reciprocate on a week when spending extra time with your children is your top priority. Give yourself permission, and be conscious of it, to be average at some things. We often think of average as a bad word, but we actually can be average at many things without impacting our lives very much. An average laundress is fine, and won’t do much to change your family’s quality of life.
Where we get stuck is when we use our time unconsciously, skipping from task to task, or emergency to emergency. This is when we get to the end of the week and have regret about what we didn’t do, or how time felt “wasted.” There is always more to do, more things to spend time on, more work or house tasks to complete. And some weeks each of those categories will be where your heart and your time will lie. If it’s not this week, that’s ok. Make time for your top priorities AT THIS MOMENT and you will feel good about your time management at the end of the week.
The best way to avoid having overfilled days is to be planful. Spend some time over the weekend looking at your calendar for the upcoming week (or the family calendar, if that applies). Assess which days will be busy and prepare for them. Have quick and easy meals on those evenings (a sandwich with some fruit or veggies is a perfectly healthy dinner) or get takeout. Enlist your family for some cleaning and prep help over the weekend. Make sure laundry is done, any special outfits are ready, supplies for projects are purchased, and so on. If you have a family, talk with your children about this process so they can learn about time management. They can then talk through their upcoming week with you, ensuring that they have also organized their week of activities and schoolwork.
Sometimes things change at the last minute, and now your carefully designed week has taken a turn. Then the best approach is to liberally edit your original plan. Drop the complex meals and substitute pancake night. Look critically at your schedule for commitments that could get postponed or canceled altogether. Let the cleaning go until the weekend (just don’t let it go indefinitely!). Say no to any last-minute additions like playdates or dinners with friends, even if it sounds fun. It will be fun next week, too, when you have the room for it. It’s better to adjust goals and expectations and be more relaxed and positive with yourself and your family, then to force yourself to power through every calendar item. You may even surprise yourself with which things you didn’t even miss.
The planful approach works well when every week isn’t jam-packed. However, if you notice that you and your family are in “busy” mode all the time, you may need to reflect on the overall pace of your life. Create a calendar so that you can accurately track how many activities, events, and commitments your family has. Sit down and discuss the current pace as a family – Would people prefer less running around and more free time? Is anyone stressed out by the current level of busyness? What are the pros and cons of keeping the schedule as-is? If you decide that some schedule pruning is in order, ask everyone to rate their commitments and activities in terms of how much they enjoy or value them. Depending on your unique family situation, you can then set the criteria for what stays and what goes. Perhaps each child keeps only their top 2 activities. Maybe only commitments rated 7 out of 10 or higher in terms of value get to stay. Alternately, everyone commits to 2 shared commitment-free evenings each week. There are no set right and wrong answers. The value comes from awareness and discussion, with ongoing revision as needed, until a better balance of busy exists.
For additional tips and tricks please check out my other blog pages or contact me to see how I can support your goals and family schedule management.