New Year Preparation

I love fresh starts. It seems like most people do. And obviously many use the good ol’ January 1st for that purpose every year. I don’t claim there’s anything magical about that day in particular, but our family does join with the rest of the country to do some re-evaluating and goal setting. It’s a quieter time when the craziness of the holidays is dying down, and it’s the middle of the school year. So why not?

Here are some things we do to prepare for the new year:

  • Go through Don Whitney’s “10 Questions to Ask at the Start of a New Year or on Your Birthday.” Psst, there are actually 31 questions… This just gets the good ol’ noggins going regarding priorities.
  • Clean out our file folders. It’s a great time for it since we’ll start getting new tax forms in the next few weeks.
  • Evaluate our budget from the previous year and rework it to suit our needs.
  • Plug into our calendar a long (7-day) and short (extended weekend) family vacation, four personal retreats for Bill and me (two each), a weekend getaway for Bill and me, and a dudes’ weekend and a chicks’ weekend (for Bill and our boys and then me and our girls). These get planned to intentionally set aside time for memory making, reconnecting, rest, and evaluating.
  • Prioritize big purchases we plan to make.
  • Make one overall family goal (this year it’s prayer), and one goal for Bill and me (this year mine’s doing one thing at a time, no multi-tasking; Bill’s is moving more slowly, not being too quick to act).
  • List books we’d like to read in the next year.
  • Take a fresh look at our daily and school schedule, deciding what needs to change.
  • Come up with blog goals (these will be posted tomorrow).
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In Defense of Schedules (and My Wife)

So, something interesting has happened since Court and I both posted our schedules—and it was the opposite of what I expected.  You see, I’m constantly joking that I’m the poster boy for adult ADD (never tested, mind you) because I can’t hold onto a thought to save my life.  Thus, the whole idea of scheduling is incredibly foreign to the way my brain wants to work.  I usually consider that a bad thing, especially since I find it so hard to get anything done.

That’s just to say that I feel like the aberration.  I figured people would resonate with Court and mock me for being a big hot mess.  What’s been odd about the post is that it has come across like Court’s the crazy person and I’m the perfectly normal one.  On the one hand, I’m glad to know I’m not alone in my pathological inability to stay on track.  But on the other hand, I don’t want to watch my wife get treated like some kind of freak show for having a schedule that pretty specifically details our day, nor do I want to minimize how important scheduling is to how our family operates.

Here’s the deal: I don’t like how I am.  I drive me crazy and I constantly fight with how I am.  I read time management and organization books with the hope that by absorbing the information, it’ll actually bring about some change in the way I do things.  So far, not so much.

But here’s what I do know: even though my “schedule” is funny and somewhat enjoyable, it drives me nuts for our family to live “my” way for more than a day or two.  I’ve found that I enjoy my routinelessness as an occasional contrast to our structured life, not in place of it.  Because when we do things that way I laid out Friday, we don’t get the important things done.

You see, Court makes a schedule to help us stay focused.  There are only so many hours in a day and only so many things we can accomplish.  My haphazard way of living is somewhat fun, but incredibly selfish.  If given the choice between working on a project or vegging, I can tell you what the clear choice is every time.  That’s because I’m giving myself a choice and my sinful, selfish heart always chooses what sounds best in that moment—which usually is NOT what is best over the long haul.

We have the schedule Court posted in our family because we want to live well.  We want to set aside time to do what’s important and not just live willy nilly lives that seem fun but are ultimately empty.  I like that we have a schedule like we have.  Every day I struggle to actually follow it, because it is so counter to how I think.  But it’s how I want to be.  Sure, it may not be for everyone, but I really can’t imagine how our family would work any other way.

But that’s just from my perspective.  I’m not even sure how I can explain how much our schedule serves our kids and others around us.  When we don’t follow our own schedule, our kids get shifted to the side because I always make selfish decisions on the fly.  Our schedule is about planning to make the time for the kids and to know when we have time for others, like our church.  Without our schedule, we’d be like a little boat tossed around in a storm at sea.

But the schedule gives us a foundation and structure around which to fit the materials of our lives.  The schedule helps us to build lots of time into the stuff that matters.  The schedule helps us see where we’re wasting time on frivolous pursuits.  In many ways, a schedule helps to reveal how selfish we are with our own time, because we constantly in the moment choose ourselves over others, including our kids.

And that’s not to mention the way the schedule helps us as a large family to work together and actually, well, be a family.  It seems like the only other alternative is some version of anarchy where everyone does what they want from moment to moment because no one knows what’s coming next.  Some of the most disobedient times our kids fall into come when we’re not structuring our lives, because the kids think the same way we do: I do what I want when I want.  And when I tell them that’s not actually the case, it doesn’t go well.

The funny thing is, we get asked all the frickin’ time questions like, “How do you do it with all those kids?” or “How do you even get out the door?” or “How do you handle all those kids without going crazy?”  Simple: my wife, Structurer Extraordinaire and love of my life.  God, am I grateful for her!

Bill’s “Schedule”

So, to start with, let me begin with showing you what my schedule looks like before I explain:

 

<INSERT IMAGE OF BLANK PAGE>

 

While Court might be tempted to treat schedules like a savior, I tend to treat them like an allergy.  I can’t be linear to save my life.  If I had a schedule, it would probably look something like this:

  • Get up on a Saturday when a kid finally makes so much noise that I can’t avoid dealing with it
  • Hang out until all the kids are starving and then decide to make homemade pancakes and waffles
  • Possibly clean up the dishes (why do now what I can do later?)
  • Hang out again till I declare out of the blue, “Let’s go to the library!” 
  • Unlike every other day, the kids didn’t start by getting dressed, so they’re still in their PJs—guess we should take care of that before going into public
  • Once home from the library, let the kids at their new books
  • When everyone starts to get a little cranky and moody, I’ll think “What the heck is going on—wait a sec!  It’s almost nap time and I haven’t even given you guys a snack yet!” 
  • Pull together a snack
  • While the kids eat said snack, start working on lunch prep
  • Give kids lunch immediately following snack
  • Head into the afternoon with the kids taking a nap an hour late
  • Et cetera  

Even if I started the day with a Courtney-esque schedule, it would end with a huge black X through it and scrawled words across it saying, “Just do whatever randomly pops into your head at the moment.”  Welcome to my schedule.  And, yes, for those of you who are horrified at how my mind works, you’re right: each day is just like a ride on the tilt-a-whirl.  But at least I think tilt-a-whirls are fun…

Barely related P.S. – Nate Wilson’s Notes from a Tilt-a-Whirl is one of the few books that I can highly recommend with no caveats or reservations.  Go read it.  It’s worth your time.  You’ll rejoice in God and his goodness in new ways.  And its total non-linearity makes me feel warm and cozy. -B

Our Weekday Schedule

So here it is. You can click on it to see it larger.

A few notes: First, this is only a sampling of one day for us. In reality I have a separate schedule for each day of the week. Bill wants me to let you know this is actually much more toned down than what it used to be. See, the mocking has already started. Second, I have another schedule for school hours. This changes each day because it also functions as my lesson plans. Third, my day never, and I repeat, NEVER, goes as planned. Some days it’s difficult to even compare what you see below to what actually took place. This routine is simply a goal, one that is easily changed or scrapped when the need arises.

*Update: It’s important to know that I make no schedule for Bill. To say this is his schedule is somewhat laughable (see next post). I roughly threw in some things to show you what this might look like; however, people pay much closer attention than I expected. It seems many are curious how Bill only works seven hours a day. He doesn’t. He works eight. I quickly tossed Humana in there paying no attention to the times. I say this for clarity and because, well, I have no desire to get my husband fired. 🙂

Making a Schedule

So, ironically, I forgot to schedule this blog post to be published. Hence me being a liar about posting it on Monday. Note that it is Tuesday today.

Here is roughly how I go about making the schedules we have in place. Want to remind you that there’s nothing magical about it. Some of these tips may work for some of you and some or all may not. I will only be embittered toward you if I find out you don’t follow my advice to a tee. So the best solution for avoiding that is to lead me on to believe my tips have changed your life. 🙂

1. Do a time budget. I was introduced to this by one of my favorite frugality blogs, Money Saving Mom. As it sounds, it’s similar to a money budget. You start with how many hours you have in a week, 168. Then you make a list of all the things you would like to include in your week, including sleep, meals, pre-scheduled obligations (job or school, meeting with church, soccer/piano/basket weaving practice) & commutes. She even recommends adding in at least two hours of marginal time a day so you don’t get so easily behind and to deal with any unexpected circumstances. Next, I try to guess how much time I would like to give to each of the things on my list and do simple math to see if I have enough hours to spend on everything, weeding as you go. This is always revealing to me because it helps me see I don’t actually have eight hours to spend cleaning the house every week and that three hours of sleep a night isn’t enough.

Now, I tweak our schedule several times a year, but I only do this first step once a year or so. It’s a big time commitment but one well worth it to help you make decisions about where priorities should lie. It can serve as a beautiful evaluating tool, but I don’t find it necessary to work through this step super often.

I was going to show you my time budget from a few months ago but couldn’t find the file. So instead I borrowed one from the Money Saving Mom blog I mentioned earlier. Hers was actually for 24 hours instead of 168, so I multiplied her times to show what this could look like as a weekly budget:

3 1/2 hours Bible reading/journaling
7 hours with Jesse [her husband]
28 hours of homeschooling, reading and playing with the children
7 hours of exercise
3 1/2 hours shower/dress
14 hours cleaning/home management
49 hours sleeping
14 hours meals/meal preparation
28 hours blogging/computer work
14 hours of extra/”margin” time

2. Begin to plug your items into your preferred schedule. Start with your pre-scheduled items as mentioned above. You have no control over these hours, so you’ll have to work other things around them. Then begin to work in the rest of the items on your list. There will be more tweaking once you see how it practically divides among your days. For example, Sundays are particularly heavy for us with pre-scheduled events, so though I would like to have two hours of marginal time per day and technically have enough hours in the week for it, it doesn’t actually work out that way on Sundays once I see it on paper.

As far as the form of your schedule, anything goes. As I’ve mentioned, mine is pretty much the extreme of details. I’ll be posting it tomorrow (if I remember to schedule it), so I won’t go into many details today. I use an Excel spreadsheet broken into eight columns, one for hours of the day and the other seven for each member of our family. I divide the day anywhere from hour-long segments to fifteen minute segments. I can’t emphasize this enough. This kind of detail doesn’t work for most of my friends. They find it stressful. So don’t think this is the bee’s knees. It’s not. It simply works for my personality.

There are many other ways you can do schedules, so I’ll just mention two other favorites. One is to break your schedule into larger time increments and list what you hope to accomplish during that time period. A good example of this was done at the Girl Talk blog several years ago. One of the authors, Kristin, listed a simple summer schedule for her boys.

A second idea is to break your day into three segments—morning, afternoon, and evening—and have goals of what you would like to get done during those times. I even know some who don’t break down their day into any time periods. They simply list the items of their day in rough order. All are good options. If you’re new to this, you’ll probably need to play for a while to find out what works best for you.

3. Let it go. I know I’ve probably gone overkill on saying something along these lines, but your schedule is a tool, preferably one that helps point you and your family to Christ. If you find yourself getting frustrated that your schedule isn’t going the way you planned, you are becoming the servant and the schedule is becoming the master. As parents, we all know that NO schedule ever goes as planned. There are explosive diapers, random tears, discipline that needs to happen, teachable moments, little “helpful” hands that seem to take everything three times as long to do. One of my favorite authors, Carolyn Mahaney, often says that all interruptions come from God. We can choose to see it as an annoyance or joyfully and expectantly go with it. Let’s hope, through Christ’s work, that we can choose the latter.

If It’s a Hindrance, Why Do It?

Wednesday I confessed how schedules oftentimes become a savior to me. I develop a dependency on them that convinces my heart that the schedule itself is somehow solving life’s problems. But schedules aren’t the only thing that can block my view of the cross.  Exercise, reading my Bible, talking to my husband, teaching my children, cleaning my house, hospitality, serving others, managed finances, reading the right books, buying the right things, saying no to the wrong things.  I’ve got more.  But when I’m trying to safeguard against temptation, is my only option cutting these things out entirely?  If so, I would have to drop all the things I just listed along with many others. In fact, I might just need to lock myself in a padded white room for the rest of my life, though I’m sure I would find the color white to eventually become a stumbling block as well.

This was the problem the Pharisees had. They put their hope in all the boundaries and rules they set up for themselves instead of in the promises of God himself.  The moments I begin to worship some routine I have in place, the issue is not the routine itself. The issue is that I’ve taken my eyes off Jesus and have placed them on my own works. Therefore, the solution is not to drop the routine so it’s no longer an obstacle for me. The solution is to remember who I am and what has been done for me, to keep my eyes there and then just let the routine (or lack thereof) be just that: a routine.  No one needs a routine. We only need Jesus. Sure, sure, I have things like Bible study worked into my schedule, things that can be helpful to keep my eyes on the cross, but those things have the same function as the schedule–a tool that can help keep my eyes focused.  And a tool is only as good as it is actually useful.  And there’s never any confusion about if the tool serves the worker or the other way around.

Here’s the deal: I’m not gifted in many organizational areas (look in anything that’s covered by a door or drawer in my house), but I am gifted in time management. It’s not laborious for me to whip up a routine for my family.  But I’m not not not gifted at keeping up with all the kids and what they need to be doing along with my own workload, sans schedule. When the kids are off from school for a week here and there, I almost always drop the schedule just to give everyone a break. It’s super fun, but I become kind of like a baby who sits and drools all day. I get to enjoy the kids in out-of-ordinary ways which is completely worth it, but my family tends to live without clean clothes, home-cooked meals that move past PB&J, and baths. While that’s actually awesome for a week or so, it obviously wouldn’t work on a regular basis. I have many friends who are super stars at having zero routine in place and get more done in a day than I can in a week. And I despise admire them for it. I was not gifted for the same calling.  And I’m good with that.

We use routines and schedules, but only so far as they help us.  Bill and I later in this series are actually going to post what the day would look like if he stayed home with the kids instead of me to display how absolutely different we are in this area. And you know what? Our family often follows Bill’s “schedule” on the weekends, and they are some of the sweetest, most gospel-centered moments we have together. Regardless of whether you use a schedule, the goal of each day is seeing Jesus more clearly.  If schedules help us do that, then great.  If not, then great.  And despite my temptation to savior-ize schedules, they still help keep me from just sitting and drooling while the kids rampage the house.

Monday I’ll pick up with some tips on how I go about plugging things in my beloved excel file.

Schedules, Routines, Time Management, Oh My!

One of the biggest topics I get asked about, and coincidentally one of the biggest topics for which my close friends pick on me, is the routine I have with the kids. I have one. It’s a detailed one. Like really detailed. And some of my kids are obsessed with it, which means they may grow up to be like their mama. Oh boy.

Schedules can be great. They add order, help everyone understand what’s coming next, show you how much time you actually have, help you accomplish your to-do list.

Schedules can be terrible. They can add stress, rule you so you forget what’s really important, take away flexibility and spontaneity, cause dependency issues like one has to crack.

I have struggled with schedules and routines for many years. Early on, I understood God had gifted me in time management. I am super blessed to have a mother who is a rock star at this stuff, and many of those genes were passed down. I have applied those giftings since the day Liam (firstborn and so far only man-child) was born. I can put anybody’s day in an excel spreadsheet and make sure all priorities are in order.

EXCEPT, almost always schedules become a savior to me, and that’s just dumb because there’s only one Savior, and it seems moronic to try to substitute him with anything, especially a Microsoft product. Nonetheless, when I feel down or stressed, I don’t reach for a Hershey’s bar. I reach for the computer so I can brainstorm. Here’s my line of thinking: “Things aren’t going well right now. The kids and I are really jacked up. It feels like constant chaos. I know if we were more focused on Jesus things would be better. Oooo! I know! I’ll rework our schedule. I’ll make sure to add more order and more Jesus. Then all will be well!”

It seems to go well for a few days. Then we’re back to the same jacked-upness.

As Bill has been talking about in his last posts, we want to parent by faith in Jesus and nothing else. Schedules are fine and can work as great tools for our family, but only if they spring from an admiration for Christ, not as a means to force that admiration or to produce joy.

Over the next few days, we’re going to be talking about the blessings and dangers of schedules, why our family uses them, give you some pointers on how you can go about making one for your family if it seems to be a good fit for you, and eventually show you our current schedule. That way you can join with my close friends in their snickers…