Help! I’m Organizationally Challenged!
By Vicki Bentley
As I’ve spoken with many of you on the phone or via email and shared with you in person at your state conventions, a recurring theme has been: Help! I’m committed to homeschooling, but I’m feeling overwhelmed just by everyday life!
For those of you who were “born organized,” you either picked up the necessary skills sort of by osmosis, or you are quickly able to assimilate the ideas found in the typical organizing book. But for others, standard organizing tools sometimes don’t make sense, and we wonder what’s wrong with us. So this month, I’d like to share with you some tools that have helped this mom and other busy moms across the country to homeschool and get dinner on the table. . . on the same day. (Even if you are organized by nature, you may have a child who can benefit from this newsletter!)
Hope for the Organizationally Challenged
I am not naturally organized, at least not on the outside. I am fairly organized in my head, but I have trouble translating that to the physical realm because I am very visual, and if I can’t see it, it doesn’t exist (i.e., I can’t put that away someplace; I might forget to deal with it). Boy, can that make for a mess!
What I share with you here is not the only way to approach time/life management or organization, but it has been successful for me and many with whom I’ve shared it, so I hope it will encourage you. Here are three tools that have helped me clear most of the clutter from my desk and my mind:
Start with a Routine
When you feel so incredibly overwhelmed, just start with the basics. What is getting dropped that just can’t? Meals? Bedtimes? Basic housekeeping? Revisit your routine—I don’t mean the sort of schedule that has you checking the to-do list every eight minutes, or dinging a bell to move from lunch to naptime. I mean covering at least the basics and having some regularity to your day. Knowing what comes next, without having to make one more decision, can be a relief. Children find security in routine, and we moms can find emotional freedom in having a basic structure for the day or week.
Don’t know where to begin? Mealtimes and bedtimes make a great framework for a routine. For example: “I’ll make a great effort to have breakfast by 7:30 and then lunch ready at 1:00 and supper at 6:30, and everyone has to be in their rooms by 9:00 p.m., whether they are in bed or quietly reading or something else safe (depending on ages).” Then plug everything else in around those times.
It helped us to have a morning start-up time of 8:45 to meet in the living room for 15 minutes of family devotions. I would drop all else at 8:45 to put on a praise and worship recording, call the kids in, and we’d just close our eyes and sing one or two songs. Then we’d have a quickie devotional or Bible/character lesson for about 10 minutes (from a book and the Bible—no major planning or thinking required), then pray together, either one of us or anyone who was led to. This gave me a consistent, prayerful, focused start to my school day, got everyone in one room, and gave us a launching point. That doesn’t mean we didn’t occasionally crash and burn later, but at least we started right!
What has to get done in a typical week in your house? What recurring activities can you plug into a repeating weekly routine? My goal is to run on autopilot as much as possible, so I needed a routine that helps me not have to think too hard.
I made columns on a paper and labeled them Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and so on through the week, and then plugged in each of my essentials on a day of the week. For example, learning time (homeschooling) was a daily activity, as were meals, but I could schedule most of the other items on specific days. The most fundamental household tasks were already part of our household management system (chore chart), so we already had dishes, daily bathroom tidying, and other chores covered.
(One important reason for me to have assigned days for most tasks was to give me liberty on the other days. If Tuesday and Friday are my laundry days, I don’t have to feel “behind” on Wednesday or Thursday when the pile is three feet high; it isn’t laundry day yet!)
I typed each of the daily routines onto a 4x6-inch card and put the cards into an inexpensive photo flip album; you can often find vinyl versions at the local dollar store. This flip-album sits in a conspicuous spot—in my house, near my computer—so I will often be reminded of my routine for that day. At the end of the day, I simply flip to the next page to be ready for tomorrow. It is vertical, so I cannot easily lose it or pile anything on top of it.
A Visual To-Do List
For many years, a notebook-style to-do list worked well for me. I don’t know what happened, but over the years, digging through a notebook or having to keep a steno-pad list unburied on my desk became more and more challenging. Setting my month-at-a-glance calendar upright in a decorative cast iron cookbook stand on my desk was a starting point—so it couldn’t get buried—but turning the pages for multiple to-do lists was difficult (and we know what happens if we don’t make it easy to do the to-do list; we don’t!). I needed to be able to see multiple upcoming tasks and projects. Enter: The Pocket Chart.
The particular model I found is an 11x12-inch vinyl easel with five rows of clear plastic pockets into which I can insert three 3.5-inch squares of paper (standard memo cube size) per row. The cards in the left column (see photo)are household related, while the center column cards are work related and the right column are home-business related. I jot tasks onto the cards as I think of them, and cross them off as they are completed. When the card is filled, I can turn it over to use the other side; then the card can be trashed. Because the cards aren’t dated, there is no transferring of tasks from day to day, unless the card gets almost filled and you want it to look nicer or have more space.
In his book, Getting Things Done, author David Allen discusses context lists. While that terminology was foreign to me, my daughter says this is basically the same concept, just using cards in the pockets instead of pages in a notebook.
Several moms have commented on how helpful it is for them—or for their children—to have their to-do lists outlined vertically like this in a tangible, accessible, and easily compartmentalized format. If a pocket chart is not an option for you, large self-stick notes on an easel or standing picture frame could be substituted.
Time Flies When You’re Having Fun
My good intentions, routines, and lists did me no good if I didn’t notice the time. I have an incredibly nonexistent concept of time. I could get something out for dinner, have wonderful intentions, and still get blindsided by the arrival of my sweet husband at dinnertime. I needed to set an alarm to start dinner. Better yet—one of those “his and hers” alarm clocks with two alarms, or more!
What I finally settled upon was one of those alarms designed to remind elderly patients to take their pills (some of them have up to 24 alarms each day!). The model I eventually found not only works simply and easily and has six—count ’em, six!—recurring alarms, but I can record a 10-second message for each alarm setting. At 7:30: “Beep, beep, beep…Good morning! Time to exercise and pray for your family.” A bit later: “Beep, beep, beep…8:30. Did you take something out for supper? It’s time to start work and pray for the homeschooling families.” And so on throughout the day until, “It’s 5:00—time to start supper for your wonderful husband and pray for his drive home.” (This might be even more effective if I have my wonderful husband actually record the message!).
Maybe you have children who could benefit from impartial “third party” reminders during the day. They could even record their own so they would be nagging themselves along the way!
Another homeschooling mom invested in a clock with quarter-hour chimes to remind her of the passing of time. Another programs her phone to call herself during the day, and yet another utilizes her computer’s features to send herself timely reminders. Whatever you might choose, the important thing is to be realistic and consistent.
Make Time for what Matters
Our goal is to glorify God. We can do that better in an orderly home because we can be more gracious to our children when we aren’t rushed or hunting for the keys or always behind, and we can be calmly hospitable. We can start our teaching times without the stress of undone tasks looming large, so we can concentrate on really being with our children.
Look for ways to bring order to your home, but don’t allow organization to be an idol. Get organized to give you the time and liberty for relationships.
Gotta go—time to make supper!