Ahhh…time management. I love to speak and write about so many things—weight loss, teaching language arts and writing, ballroom dancing, parenting, marriage, life coaching, relationships, grandparenting—oh I just love it all! But there is a reason that three of my first homeschooling workshops were about “prioritizing, organizing, and scheduling”! Be still my heart….
When I was sixteen years old, I watched this old black and white movie called Cheaper by the Dozen. In it, this father of many was a self-proclaimed efficiency expert. He ran his home like clockwork—even having all twelve of his children’s tonsils removed in their own home! While he did some wacky things, my greatest take-away was that: I wanted to be an efficiency expert. (Isn’t this the dream of every sixteen year old?!) From that moment on (and even to this day), I called myself an “efficiency-expert-wanna-be.”
I have tried so many time management, organizing, scheduling, and prioritizing tips through the years. Many failed. Many succeeded. Many are still being tested. But when you swing for the wall that many times, eventually, you hit a home run. And so it has been with me and my time management strategies.
Here are several of my best/favorite/most effective:
Start tomorrow tonight. Don’t wait until morning to load the dishwasher, clean up today’s school, put away that laundry, etc. My husband and I have always reminded each other: A good tomorrow starts tonight. This approach saves time when we need it the most—at the beginning of the school day. (It also saves a lot of frustration!)
Build in systems. As a language arts curriculum author and teacher, I have way too many favorite words. But one of my many favorites is definitely the word systematizing. I love the spelling. I love that it is five syllables. I love its root. But I also love what it means. Every time I had a problem to solve in terms of time management, organization, chore problems, meal issues, school day schedules, etc., I tried to solve the problem with a system, not just a one-time answer. It took lots of experimenting, but eventually, I would hit on the system that worked (for that time period—my systems changed throughout the years based on kids’ ages, husband’s availability, etc.). When we put a system in place (i.e. twenty minute chore sessions by all before breakfast and before lunch; one load of laundry, dishes, and trash every day; family calendar meetings every Thursday night; all items on school checklist done before computer time or sports practices; etc.), we save enormous amounts of time. The time robbers of chasing our tail, redoing something, scrambling because the things that need done before the next thing are not done, etc., are eliminated, or at least greatly reduced.
Have a Weekly Hour One for yourself. I learned this through life coaching school a few years ago. While I realized that I have always done a form of this, giving it a name and a time and an exact purpose made it more likely to happen. Weekly Hour One is a sixty minute time period in which I reconcile digital and print calendars, block out the scheduled things in time slots for next week (on my “daily” calendar page), make my task lists for next week, etc. I am ready for the next week when I do Weekly Hour One!
Use a timer AND a task list. A task list is a list of wishes. Putting the tasks in my calendar like appointments (as opposed to on a “sticky note of hope”!) is the first step to actually doing those tasks. I give each task a time slot. When I sit down to do that task, I set my timer for the time that I have allotted for that task. Once I click on my timer, my phone and devices are not even problems as I am racing the clock now! I keep my bottom glued to my seat and focus!
Be realistic in planning your time. I have had so much difficulty with this. As an eternal optimist, I am always sure I can get more and more and more done! Experts say that it is best to plan two or three additional things besides the “regulars.”
And…do the regulars first! I break my ongoing tasks into dailies, weeklies, etc. I always tell myself that I can’t do a weekly, a monthly, or an “extra” until I have done the dailies. When it comes right down to it, it is the dailies that lead to our success in all areas (reading aloud, math meetings, daily laundry/dishes/trash, answering emails, language arts sessions, meal preps, spending time with our family, tying heart strings)—all of those daily things are truly the most important!
Leave breadcrumbs. I love to go to bed with everything done for the night—dishwasher humming, that day’s laundry put away, counters cleared, lesson plans ready. But I love it even more if I have left “breadcrumbs” for myself for the next day. Since I write, record broadcasts, teach sixty writing and language arts students, spend time with grown kids, babysit lovies, and create new curriculum all the time, my breadcrumbs look different depending on what is happening that day. For example, last night before I went to bed, I laid out all of my student papers that I had edited and graded, ready to return; I set up the tables for today’s classes; I wiped down the bathroom that students use; I laid out my sticky note where I jot things down that I think of as I’m teaching; and more. I left myself little breadcrumbs for today. If it is a writing day, I lay out my rough drafts, outlines, etc. all across my desk. In both of these instances, all I have to do is follow the breadcrumbs to the next task then the next task then the next task.
Do the next thing that is “due.” I never lack for ideas of what to do next. Just like when I was a student and I wrote the paper that is due on Friday in literature class before I made the history poster due the following Tuesday, so it is with my tasks today. Every day I literally ask myself what is the next thing that is “due.” This saves time as, once again, we are not chasing our tails, trying to do something without the prep time we need for it. I have heard it said that time management is not so much managing time as it is managing myself. I truly agree with this. Tools and tricks have helped me become a master of my time, but mastering myself has been the greatest help in becoming a manager of my time. Oh, and putting people before things…always people before things.
Donna Reish, curriculum author of over one hundred books totaling 50,000 pages, homeschooled with her husband in Fort Wayne, Indiana. They continue to teach kids via their homeschool cottage classes, private tutoring, and online group classes. They also love spending time with their kids, babysitting their ten “lovies” (grandkids), traveling, and ballroom dancing! Donna runs a broadcast called “How I Teach” (podcast and videocast) and two blogs, Character Ink and Language Arts Lady. All of her books (including her prioritizing planner) are available as digital downloads.