I’ve been homeschooling for over 20 years now. We have 10 children—1 adult child that is out on her own, 2 adult children that are at home pursuing post-secondary studies, and 7 children that are being homeschooled.
I’m halfway through an undergraduate degree, I take piano lessons, I run an e-commerce business, my elderly mom who’s in a retirement home needs my help with things, I volunteer in the church nursery, and I do this homeschool newsletter. It probably sounds like an awful lot—it does to me too—but these things were added to my plate gradually over 28 years of marriage.
As my life filled up with more and more responsibilities, I remember looking to blogs and reading books to figure out how these other busy moms were getting so much done. I didn’t learn it all at once. Some days are still inefficient and unproductive, but somehow I’ve learned to keep more balls in the air than I ever thought I’d be able to. I’m guilty of taking on more than I probably should. But when everything I’ve committed to is deeply important to me, then the only option left is to learn to manage my time more efficiently.
Here is a little peek into some of the habits I’ve developed that help me get things done:
1. I write everything down in a planner. I’ve used a digital planner or a paper planner—both work fine, but I prefer a paper planner. I open my planner every evening before bed to add everything to the next day’s list that I want to get done, or sometimes plan out an area of my life, and I check it first thing in the morning and throughout the day to mark things off and decide what to do next. Check marks make me smile.
2. I don’t trust my brain to remember anything. I have a grocery list app on my phone, and a running to do list in my planner that I check in the evenings to see what I can fit in for the next day. Some things, like resew those front curtains, have been on the list for a while, but most things make it into my daily planner. I sometimes put a sticky note at the top of my desk or on the front door, and I often set alarms on my phone. By having lists and reminders, my brain energy is freed up to focus on the task at hand.
3. I have a section or page in the planner for each area of my life: homeschooling, meal planning, home management, projects or holidays I want to plan for, any courses I’m taking, my home-based business, fitness and self-care, etc. This is the place to set goals and create a plan for accomplishing those goals. I set S.M.A.R.T goals—specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely.
4. I declutter often. It’s hard enough to have 11 people living in one house and keep things tidy, but this is a lot easier when there isn’t so much stuff to deal with and everything has a place. I have a bag I toss things into, and when I’ve got a few bags full, I make a quick stop at the thrift store. When a closet or other area of my home starts irritating me, it gets an efficient going over to eliminate anything that doesn’t need to be there.
5. I’m aware of my energy level throughout the day and plan activities accordingly. I used to stay up late to get this newsletter out on the 30th of each month. By going to bed on time and doing it in the morning instead, it gets done a lot quicker because my brain is fresh then. I save exercise for the late afternoon or evening, when my brain is too tired to think well anyway. This often helps me have a more productive evening too. I try to do my coursework in the morning before the kids start needing my attention. Not everyone is a morning person, but being aware of peak energy times gives you an opportunity to capitalize on those.
6. I eliminate distractions. I still check my Facebook more often than I need to, but I made the decision a long time ago that the games on my phone or tablet had to go. I will not put games on my devices because I’m the kind of person that can easily get sucked into the Tetris vortex. I’d be wise to delete Netflix from my tablet too (I binge-watched far too much this summer), but a nice show makes the tedious task of sorting inventory for my business a little more enjoyable and relaxing.
7. I make time for exercise and try to eat healthy. Sometimes I’m better at this than other times (and the weigh scale lets me know), but when I’m starting to feel like I’m not staying on top of things very well, this is always the first thing I get back to. Going for that brisk half hour walk after dinner, making sure to drink enough water, or choosing a fruit snack over a candy bar helps me focus better and have more sustained energy. Taking care of your body is really the key to doing everything else in your life better.
8. I try to get enough sleep. I get almost enough sleep, but this area of my life should definitely be improved. At least I’m conscious of it, and when I know I’ve got a lot on my plate the next day, I do make an effort to go to bed earlier. When I had babies, I found having a 20 minute nap while they napped (I’d set my alarm for 20 minutes) gave me a much-needed boost for the rest of the day. My watch tracks my sleep hours, so I can look back on the week and have that accountability too.
9. I use music to do chores quickly. Listening to Abba or my running playlist helps me do the mundane household tasks like laundry or tidying up a lot quicker. I often put tunes in my ears when I have a lot of orders to pack too. Getting these things done quicker not only saves time, but also provides some health benefit by raising my heart rate.
10. I use daily routines to make sure the important things get done. I’m sure everyone has at least one routine in their day, a wake up routine that they do the same every day. When I have something new I need or want to get done every day, I will pair it with an already established routine and that way I’m more likely to remember. You can make routines for after supper, before bed, first thing when you come downstairs in the morning, etc. Then the things like water the grass seed you planted, take that multivitamin, make your bed, do those flashcards, or brush your little girl’s long tangly hair can get done a lot more consistently.
11. I don’t try to do it all. Homemade bread was lovely when I had only a couple of homeschool students and no business to run, but now making food from scratch is an occasional treat. I rarely do the dishes—that chore is shared among the children. Taking the time to teach them to do some of the household chores saves you time in the future when you’ll have skilled helpers. We have several children doing chores, but I don’t rotate those chores much—this way each child gets good at doing their assigned chore quickly and well. As I’ve gotten older, I’ve become a lot more intentional about how I want to or should spend my time.
12. I have a few systems for knocking off that task list. I use whichever system I feel will suit me best that day.
• 1-3-5 rule. I do one large task, then three medium tasks, then 5 very quick tasks. Then I start over again.
• Time blocks. I do have a general pattern to my day—study, work, homeschool, chores/errands, more homeschool, dinner, practice piano, exercise/family, littles to bed, more work or study, go to bed—but sometimes I’ll sit down the night before and plan my day in blocks of time. Then, in some of those blocks of time, I will batch several things together. For example, I might plan a language arts block, a math block while I feed the kids lunch, an order packing block while I listen to a homeschool podcast, or a motivational video, a treadmill block while I read for my coursework then have a quick shower, a block to get several errands in town done at once, a time to get all the email, bookkeeping and desk work done at once, etc.
• Eat the frog. Those important things I’ve been putting off, because I’d much rather do something else, I just do first.
• Most Important Task First. Sometimes I go through the list and mark each task with a number for most important to least important, and then I tackle them in that order.
• Motivation-based. Sometimes I just go through the list doing the thing I feel like doing the most first.
Bonus. Have a growth mindset. I never get everything done that I want to. Homeschooling never looks like it does on the detailed homeschool plan I make. Life gets in the way. People get in the way. My own shortcomings get in the way. At the end of the day, I simply put a line through the items that didn’t get done and fit them in the next day, or on the weekend, or next week even. Sometimes they are crossed off permanently. It’s okay. Saying no to something means saying yes to something else more important. Instead of feeling like I didn’t do enough, I reflect how I’m staying on top of an area better than I used to, or consider how I can do something more consistently or improve on it tomorrow. I’m a work in progress, so I try my best not to focus on those failures that will inevitably be a part of my imperfect life. If you’re struggling to manage everything you’ve got on your plate, I hope this little peak into my day gives you some ideas to reduce that overwhelm. There was a time, years ago, when I thought putting them in school would get rid of that overwhelm, but truly it was just as much work to do lunches, pickups, teacher meetings, fundraisers, homework help, etc. Having them in school for those two years still involved getting myself a lot more organized. After I did that, we brought them home again, because I deeply believe that homeschooling is best for my kids.
You can do this—stay strong and homeschool on!