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Time Management for Busy Families

By Vicki Bentley
HSLDA Early Years Coordinator

Time management is not about finding the ultimate planning notebook or a calendar with stickers or adopting yet another list of to-do’s to get you caught up. Time management is about identifying what is important to you and then ordering your days to reflect those priorities in such a way that you can accomplish what God has for you for today.

There are lots of great resources to help you develop routines and systems that will work for your individual needs; a partial list follows. I surely don’t need to re-invent the wheel; even if I did, it would be my wheel, not yours. And time management is something you have to tailor to your own unique personality and family, not fit into my cookie-cutter calendar (although that certainly won’t stop me from giving you samples throughout the site).

Our goal is to give you some practical ideas for starters and to give you encouragement that you can do this!

Margin is the distance between where you are and your personal limit (emotional, physical, financial, time, etc.). This will be different for everyone (for more on this topic, read Margin by Richard Swenson). Just as everyone has a different threshold for pain, we all have a different threshold for margin (or lack thereof!). But we all need some measure of it—and usually a lot more than we have! I once saw a t-shirt that said, “If you aren’t living on the edge, you’re taking up too much space.” Boy, does that say a lot about where some of us are! Some keys to margin are:

  • Order in your day;
  • Proper nutrition;
  • Exercise;
  • Plenty of rest (okay, so you’re a mom—we can modify it to adequate rest)

(We can take our cue from the children of Israel, for whom the day began in the evening with rest, family time, and meditation/worship.)

Organization is all about stuff and time. We will cover “stuff” in another article, but for now, just visualize a cluttered closet or a cluttered drawer (some of us may not have to “imagine” too hard!). That’s the equivalent of a cluttered schedule.

Let’s look at some practical ways to unclutter the schedule:

Develop a daily schedule or routine. Even if you don’t always stick to it, at least have a plan! Children feel more secure with a routine.

Set goals. “If you aim at nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” What do you want to accomplish this year? Don't get so caught up in doing school that you neglect to teach your children.

Prioritize. Which items on a to-do list would be most helpful in getting you to those measurable goals you set?

Spend some time planning and organizing. “If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.” There are many how-to-organize books and websites available; find what makes sense to you, but do something. You could use a notebook planner, a CD planner, a calendar, a PDA, index cards, or whatever works for you.

What have you tried, or considered? What has worked and what has not? Why?

Use a to-do list. I was forever jotting notes on yellow stickies, on napkins, on corners of envelopes, and other never-to-be-found-again paper items, “just till I get home and put it somewhere for real.” To help me keep from losing all those little scraps of paper, I bought a little four-by-seven-inch-ish black binder at Wal-Mart and divided the loose-leaf paper into the following sections (from the 70-Day Challenge):

  • To Do (short-term): Things that need to be done in the next 60 days and take one step (check on cell phone bill, return shoes, etc.)
  • Short-Term Reference: Information I may need in the next 60 days (phone numbers, appointments to transfer, orders to track, books I want to check out, measurements for curtains I am buying, etc.). Numbers or dates get transferred on “office work” days to my main notebook or calendar.
  • To Do (long-term): Things to remember to do more than two months from now; for example: Buy adjustable screens for front windows—15” high/21-37” wide—Marvin brand at Wal-Mart, or: Make dental check-up appointments.
  • Long-Term Reference: Things I’ll need to know months from now. For example: Cell phone numbers I often need on the road, gift ideas, room numbers of the gals we visit in the nursing home, the square footage of one acre, potential speakers for our convention, etc.
  • Short Term Projects: Projects, speaking ideas for in the next two months; these are bigger than “to do” items (generally take more than two steps to complete, and need to be broken down into to-do sections)
  • Long Term Projects: Projects, speaking ideas for more than two months out; these are bigger than “to do” items (generally take more than two steps to complete, and need to be broken down into to-do sections)
  • Delegated: Items that need follow-up
  • Emergency Information: Emergency phone numbers for me and/or for someone who might need to help me in an emergency. Includes designations for each person (for emergency workers who would not know our relationships): Jim’s work (husband), My office, My mom Barbara, Daughter Rachel, Roadside Help, etc. I admit that the pizza place is listed, too!

Know when you work best. I know that I do my best writing after most people are in bed, so I don’t plan my productive days to include heavy writing times in the morning. Because I am not a morning person, I also know that I must prepare for the morning in the evening before, while I am functioning most clearly—I will lay out clothing, have library books or co-op materials in one place, all ready to go out the door, with a list of any last-minute items that need to be added (well, on an ideal day!).

Relax your standards a tad, if necessary. While we all seek excellence in all things, sometimes our perfectionist tendencies can cause us to put off accomplishing anything if we can’t do it all perfectly. Let’s re-evaluate “perfection” in our homes. We have a saying, “If you don’t have time to do it right, you sure don’t have time to do it over,” but it is balanced with, “Our house is clean enough to be healthy and messy enough to be happy.” When the refrigerator repairman spends the day in your kitchen, you may need to be content that the children played Monopoly (math skills!) and Set (logic) and performed a puppet show (language arts and drama). Or maybe they spent the day cleaning up their rooms—organization and classification are language arts and science skills, after all!

Don’t procrastinate. Tackle the biggest challenges while you are fresh and motivated, breaking them up into small, manageable tasks. Get them over with and feel good about your accomplishment!

Just say No. We all go through seasons of life. Maybe this is not the season for you to coordinate that particular activity or teach that class or fill that volunteer slot. Or maybe there are some items in your schedule that you can delegate.

Expect the unexpected. This is when margin is critical! (If the unexpected is lasting longer than, well, expected—read “Finding Normal Again: When Life Broadsides Your Homeschool.”)


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