This post was first published on March 23, 2009.
Reader Marilyn asks:
“I am struggling to set some kind of schedule for my family. I’m new to the SAHM thing (I went back to work after my son was five months) and have a five-month-old and a three-year-old who is now at home with me. I’ve been kind of going with the flow, but that is losing its effectiveness, and I have to take a bit more of a proactive approach. I’d love any tips on balancing the bedtimes, eating, naps and various activities of two different-aged kids.”
I had a five-month-old and a three-year-old at this time a year ago, but no matter the ages, I think it’s always a struggle to juggle multiple kids throughout the day.
The key is to just plan something. As the COO of your home, it makes complete sense to have a work schedule to your day.
Just as zero-based budgets require a name to every dollar coming and going, I think the best routines put a name to every hour (even if that name is “nothing time”). Kids thrive on a routine as well — it’s comforting for them to know what’s next in their day, even those things they don’t like.
Now, I’m not talking about planning every single minute of your day, nor am I talking about the weekends. We all know that moms work 24 hours a day, but I suggest allocating tasks to total a roughly 40-hour work week. This will help you direct your energy appropriately throughout the day.
Photo by Lindsey T
There’s nothing magical about any one particular routine — it’ll probably change in a month anyway, as routines often do with little ones in the house. But simply having some sort of written-out plan helps me know what’s next, how to stay focused, and not feel like I’m running in a hamster wheel.
Here are a few observations from my routine.
1. Write a set-in-stone schedule, but keep it soft as clay.
The planner in me likes creating a weekly schedule of my work, and if you were to see my color-coded spreadsheet, you would think I was a schedule nazi. Not so. I write it with specific times in mind, but rarely does it work exactly. I say we do story time at 4:00. Many times it’s at 4:30, or sometimes at 3:00, or even at 5:30, while dinner’s in the oven. Dinner is really the only thing to which we try to stick a hard-and-fast time. Everything else is subject to change.
2. Re-visit it weekly.
Just because your schedule worked well last week, it doesn’t mean it will this week. You may have a play date when you’d normally pay the bills, or your son has a dentist appointment right during your younger one’s nap time. There’s no rule that there has to be a “master schedule” – just make a new one each week.
3. Touch base with your spouse.
Sit down with your spouse for 30 minutes on the weekend to discuss the upcoming week.
It helps me so much when my husband and I touch base with each other about our upcoming work weeks. I ask him if there’s anything I can do for him, and he’ll find out if I need anything from him.
4. Do what you can to have your little ones help you.
Marilyn, you specifically asked me about handling little ones. Most preschoolers think chores are great fun, so have your older one help. He or she can put away silverware, fold towels, pick up toys, and even wash dishes (just put a bit of watery soap in the sink with some safe dishes and a sponge).
Photo by Rolands Lakis
5. Teach them the value of waiting.
Along with the suggestion above – it’s okay for kids to learn that Mom has a job, and she can’t play all the time. The world doesn’t revolve around them, and this is a good truth to learn as early as possible.
6. Clean as you go.
Completely clean from each mealtime before moving on to the next task. Loosely straighten up a room before heading to another. Set a timer for three minutes, and have a fun pick-up blitz with your child. It may sound stressful to clean so often during your day, but I’ve found it to be much less stressful than tackling the entire house at one set time of day. It’s usually much more chaotic if I wait, and it feels overwhelming before I begin.
7. Find your three MITs.
Out of a ten-item to-do list, identify your three Most Important Tasks, and focus your energy on those. Don’t try to get your to-do list completely scratched off, because it’ll very rarely happen – accept the fact that in this stage of life with littles at home, the to-do list doesn’t end. But you can probably accomplish three things each day. Pick the three things that, if finished, would make you feel like you had a productive day. Work on those when your energy is at your highest, and if you accomplish anything else – well, those are just gravy.
Photo by Nadia Badaoui
8. Write things down.
Have a brain dump at least once during the day – transfer everything swimming around in your head on to paper. I usually do this during or right after breakfast, and I immediately feel so much better. Don’t bother trying to do this neatly – just jot it all down as it comes to you, and then you can organize your ideas.
9. Be happy with partial solutions.
Meredith wrote about “good enough” on Friday, and I’m certainly learning this in my own life at the moment. I call these things partial solutions – it’s not exactly how you’d have things if life were perfect, but it’ll work for now. So you wanted to scrub the bathroom, but you only got around to tidying it up. Or you planned to roast a chicken for dinner, but you didn’t get a chance to thaw it, so now it’s taco night. That’s okay. Don’t aim for perfection.
10. Identify daily chores, weekly chores, monthly chores.
You probably have a general rhythm of doing repeated things each day, week, and month, and you might not notice it. Jot down those things you find necessary to do each day, and when you create your week’s routine, make sure you’ve allocated daily time for those tasks. Make a master list of weekly chores, and fill in your week’s routine with them – check them off as you go. And make sure you put those sporatic-yet-important jobs you do only monthly (paying bills or menu planning, for example) on the calendar.
11. Create a calendar-type system.
Speaking of – find a good system for maintaining your schedule, whether it’s using a manual Home Management Notebook or a digital calendar like Google Calendar (I happen to use both). There’s no right or wrong way to do this. It just needs to fit your lifestyle.
12. Don’t try to do everything.
I’ve read some rumors on the internet that I can do everything. This is allegedly based on this blog, but I can promise you that it isn’t true. I suppose there are a few things that I can do pretty well, but the flip side to that coin are things I freely admit to not doing well. No one can do everything. There are probably lots of things you’re good at, and with other things you’re… not so good. Welcome to membership in the human race. We still need to do certain essential tasks, even if we don’t feel up to par, but play up your strengths, and don’t sweat over your weaknesses.
13. Don’t watch much TV.
I’m still amazed at how much more I got done once I stopped watching most TV. Cut back to only those few shows you really love. You won’t miss the rest.
Photo by Lauren Ventriello
14. Make naps and quiet times essential.
Don’t blow these off – little kids need lots of sleep, slightly older kids need to learn the value of alone time, and mama needs a break to do grown-up work.
15. Have everyone eat, sleep, and play at the same time.
This isn’t always seamless, depending on your kids’ ages, but you can tweak ideal situations a little to have everyone down at the same time, eating at the same time, and playing together as often as possible. If your baby needs his nap at 1:00, and your daughter really needs some rest time at 2:00, have nap and quiet time start at 1:30.
16. Accept the messes.
Okay, I’m telling myself this as much as you, because it really is hard to accept the fact that most kids don’t care about the messes as much as you’d like. They need to learn the value of work, and we home managers need to model that hard work by keeping our home neat. But that doesn’t mean our homes are never messy. I have a friend who has this quote hung on her fridge – “Cleaning house while kids are growing is like shoveling snow while it’s still snowing.” It’s true.
17. Know your energy levels.
Are you a morning, afternoon, or evening person? When do you hit your slump? I’m a morning person, so I make every effort to rise before my kids and get my much-needed quiet time in then. I hit a wall at around 3 p.m., so I know I’ll be spinning my wheels trying to get anything significant done then. In the morning, I focus on tasks that require full brain engagement. In the afternoon, I fold laundry and wrestle with the kids on the floor. Make the most of your energy.
18. Think of your job as a job.
Don’t apologize for keeping a thorough work routine. Don’t feel guilty for turning down a friend for coffee because you have work to do. Just as you’d have those limits with a paycheck-earning job, so you need to create boundaries with your job at home. It’s a job. Make it a priority, and do what you can to excel in your vocation.
Photo by Chris Scott
19. Have intentional down time.
Right along with that, schedule in down time, and make it really good down time. Don’t answer phone calls while you’re taking a walk with your family. Only check your email during certain times of the day, and certainly don’t use down time for your inbox. Treat relaxation as a vital part of your schedule, just as you would cleaning or cooking.
20. Get enough sleep, water, and exercise.
Finally, don’t forget to take care of yourself. How silly that we all often forget to take care of ourselves while we take care of others under our roof. Get rest. Stay hydrated. Make your health a priority.
You’ve all learned your own tips and tricks for getting things done around the home with little ones underfoot. What else can you add to the list?