May 7, 2015

How to De-Crazify Your Life

Last week I talked about establishing priorities and taking control of your life or it will control you.  Over the next few weeks, I'll share ways to do just that - starting with managing your time.

Image courtesy of stockimages at FreeDigitalPhotos.net
"Managing my time? What time?"

I get it.  Your day is filled from bottom to top with who-knows-what.  You practically live in your french-fry littered car going from one thing to the next.  Laundry piles up on the couch and in the corners of your bedroom and you're no longer sure which ones are clean and which aren't.  You don't know the last time you had a night out where you didn't have to apologize to the babysitter for the dishes overflowing from the sink.  Heck, you don't even know when you last had time for a night out!

It's time for that to change.

I struggle with time management.  Making schedules is easy for me.  In fact, I do it all the time.  Sticking to said schedules?  Not so much.  I would do great for a day or two, but then the rigidity would get to me and everything would fall apart.  After creating hundreds of daily, weekly, and monthly schedules, I've learned that my schedule has to be organic and flexible with LOTS of unscheduled time.  Not only that, I have to tweak it almost daily.

Since I've had so much practice in creating a schedule, I'll recreate mine and you can follow along.  I adore using tables in Word to do this because I can make them pretty while I'm using them.  You can use a spreadsheet, an online calendar, a calendar app, a paper planner, or even a piece of paper.  Do what works best for you.

The first thing I do is create a daily calendar with a column for each person in the family.  Everyone has a different favorite color, which makes color-coding easy for me.  Until they decide they no longer love yellow, they love red.  No black.  No blue!  Kids are awesome that way.

Our week begins on Monday.  We try to have a family meeting on Sunday night so everyone knows what's going on and there aren't any surprises. (Who am I kidding?  There are ALWAYS surprises.)  Also, I usually break my calendar up into fifteen-minute intervals rather than thirty, but my computer screen isn't that long and I have no idea how to screenshot anything that big.

You'll want a calendar for each day of the week since no day is the same as the next.  They just seem that way sometimes....sigh....

The first things you'll enter into your oh-so-beautiful calendar are static items - things that don't change.  This includes things like work, school, practices, lessons, etc.  Don't forget to include travel time!  I allow anywhere from 15-30 minutes travel time, depending on how far we're going.

You can see my husband is gone most of the day, as is Son #1.  Tends to happen when you have work or school.  Go figure.  Monday mornings are pretty full, but afternoons are usually open.  We try to have family night on Mondays.  It doesn't always happen, but at least it's planned and we know not to schedule anything for that night.

Tuesdays look a little different.

Since I'm the one who drives Son #1 to his martial arts lessons, my time is blocked out during that time as well.  Son #3 is too young to go to school and is my constant companion, so his time is blocked out when he goes with me.

Obviously, my week isn't just two days long.  Since this is just an example, I'm doing just enough to make my point.

Now that I've got the static items entered, it's time for the rest.

We'll start with priorities.  My priorities include family time, personal health (already included), home maintenance, and dream-chasing (writing time for me), so let's stick those in there.

See all that white?  LEAVE BLANK SPACES!  Do NOT fill up your schedule.  That's the fastest way to burn out.  I keep time free in the afternoons to help with homework or any of a million things that demand my immediate attention.  It also allows for doctor appointments, play dates, and last minute errands.  If you don't have blank spaces, you're trying to do too much.  Prioritize and eliminate anything you don't need or that doesn't make you happy.

For me, scheduling play time with my boys was essential.  I found I forgot to play with them if I didn't add them to my list of to-do's.  Things would get crazy or I'd get busy doing something and the next thing I knew, it was bedtime and I didn't spend any quality time with them.  That's a huge no-no for me.  

I've also noticed that when I take the time to play first, my boys allow me time to do what I want.  Most days, anyway.  We still have days where I'm interrupted every two minutes and nothing gets done, but it's not nearly as bad as it used to be.

Housework and errands are scheduled, too.  Thursday mornings are dedicated to grocery shopping and any other errands I need to run.  Tuesdays are deep cleaning days.  I have a cleaning and laundry schedule to keep on top of the housework...assuming I stick to it.

And.....we're done!  Anything else I need to add to the calendar will be "penciled" in.  Only my priorities deserve a permanent place in my schedule.  

A few tips to help you organize your time:
  • Always include travel time in your schedule.  Unless you like to be perpetually late to everything.  Being late stresses me out, so I avoid it at all costs.  Even if it means arriving thirty minutes early and waiting in the car until it's a more appropriate time to arrive.  Not necessarily something I recommend unless you're my kind of crazy.
  • Learn to say no.  If it's not one of your priorities, don't commit.  "I've got too much on my plate to give it the attention it deserves."  Say it.  Mean it.
  • Reduce time wasters!  Social media, TV, video games, and everything else that sucks up precious minutes in your day without adding to the quality of your life should be limited to certain times.  Use it as a reward for when you've completed your to-do list.
  • Set alarms.  I live by my alarms.  They're set with a five-minute warning so I know I can grab what I need and get out the door in time.  I double up alarms on things I tend to forget, like chiropractor appointments (three times in a row - oops!).
  • Be flexible.  If the only time your friends can get together for lunch and shopping is during your grocery shopping time, rearrange a few things and make it happen.  Speaking of which...
  • Schedule time with family and friends.  If it isn't scheduled, it generally doesn't happen.
  • Look for double duty options.  I brainstorm my blog while waiting to pick Son #2 up from school, fold laundry while watching TV, and edit my WIP (work in progress) during Son #3's martial arts lesson.  Unless I get talking to one of the other parents.  It happens.  A lot. 
  • If your schedule doesn't actually work for you, don't fret.  Adjust it accordingly.  I have to reset and tweak my schedule all the time.  As life changes, so will your commitments and demands on your time.  What works one week, month, year may not work the next.
  • Reward yourself for good days.  It could be as simple as a piece of chocolate or going to the store without kids.  Or you can indulge in a girls night out or splurging on a few guilty pleasures (composition notebooks, mechanical pencils, and post-its - oh, my!).  
  • Shrug off bad days, no matter how insane they get.  They happen to everyone.  Commit to being better tomorrow.
  • Make time to chase your dreams.  It doesn't need to be hours each day.  Even just ten or fifteen minutes can help.  You deserve to have something to look forward to, something that propels you forward.  Don't wait for the perfect time.  The perfect time is NOW.  Trust me.  No matter how hard it gets or how long it takes, dream chasing is worth it.
  • Keep kids' activities simple.  Let them have time to just be kids.  One or two activities per kid is plenty.  Son #1 does martial arts twice a week and scouts once a week.  It's plenty.  He gets to do what he loves, but doesn't feel overwhelmed.
  • Schedule housework, meal prep, errands, and household maintenance.
  • Post your schedule where you can see it.  At least until you've got it down.  Visual reminders are good at silently nagging.  We all need to be nagged every so often.  I know I do...
Now it's up to you.  Take a few minutes and hammer out a schedule that works for you.  It won't be perfect.  That's okay.  What's important is that you get started.  Just do it.  You'll be glad you did.  

Next week - Do you want to know how to always have a clean house?  I'll go over what a cleaning schedule (otherwise known as a household maintenance schedule) is and how to create one.  You'll be fooling everyone into thinking your house is "always clean" in no time!

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