Almost every day, I’m asked the same question: how do you get it all done? To be clear: I’m no Wonder Woman. Far from it. All I am is a mom trying to have it all – and get it all into a single day. On average, I work between 16 and a half and 18 hours a day. This includes housework and school but even so, there’s not much time for “me time”. Now, I’m not advocating an eighteen-hour day. Far from it! I believe proper planning and focus can allow any of us to achieve our most important goals.
The thing is, some things are important. Investing in my relationship with God is important. Reading to my children is important. Exercise is important. Work is important. The question is, how on earth can anyone fit it all in?
For me, I find anything I aim to do is far more achievable if I start out with the premise that the thing I intend to do can be done. Because, you see, if it can be done by anyone, it stands to reason that it can be done by me. All it takes is a plan. A planny plan. Here’s mine:
Get your priorities straight
First of all, decide what is important. Be specific. Choose the five things you can’t NOT do in a day. These are your priorities. There are a hundred things I’d like to get done each day. Only a handful of these is non-negotiable, however. For me, that handful includes, in no particular order:
- Housework and meal preparation
- Home education
- Time with God
- Billable work
- Research, management and non-billable work
I’ love to include exercise, arts and crafts, and long walks with my kids in my list. I wish I could find time for charity and home visits, and time to invest in making my Sunday School classroom appealing. But I have to be realistic. My work happens every single day of the week, and if I don’t prioritise, I’ll end up out of control and in chaos. Which does happen from time to time!
Get up early
It’s only a cliché because the truth of it has stood the test of the ages. The Bible speaks of the value of an early start. Idioms and sayings from around the world explain that
“early to bed and early to rise make a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
The reason we all know these sayings is because they ring with truth. Little beats the productivity I find myself able to tap into when I’m up early. Before the rest of the family is up, I get my thoughts in order. I get myself ready for the day. I spend time with God. And even if I get nothing billable done, I get a little of that precious me time that seems so elusive in our frenetic lives. It is so important to get that time to recharge, and if we don’t make a concerted, intentional effort to achieve that, we are robbing ourselves of a significant source of energy and well-being.
Get up before the hustle and bustle of the day begins, and sort out your lists. List the three things you absolutely must achieve today for today to be labelled a success. More than that is a bonus, less than that is a disaster. Three important things should be a manageable goal for any day, so be sure you know, before the day starts, what your three things are. I don’t mean choosing three of your priorities. I mean, within the confines of those priorities, what three items simply cannot go undone today? This simple act will give your day focus, your work purpose, and yourself energy.
Conflicting studies discuss the pros and cons of multi-tasking. Theories such as Critical Chain explain the negative impact multi-tasking can have on productivity, pointing out that if we focus on one task at a time, not only do we finish all the tasks at least as quickly as we would have had we attempted to do them all at once, we also perform better in each task individually, and report lower levels of stress generally.
That’s fair enough, and in fact my on research supports this view – for the most part. However, there are pockets of “dead time” in our days that can be better utilised. For instance, I have a mild back condition as a result of exceptionally low muscle tone and very poor posture. If I don’t do at least 200 intensive abdominal crunches each and every day, I am soon in so much agony, I can barely walk. Even sitting becomes painful and, needless to say, my productivity plummets. However, fitting that amount of exercise into an already full 18 hour day can be a challenge. My solution? Multi-task. When I wash my hair in the morning, while I wait for the conditioner to do its thing, I do my crunches. (The added benefit here is that the bath water provides my back with the support it needs!) I do calf raises and lunges while I fry the eggs for breakfast. I do tricep dips on the kitchen counter while I make supper. Once you get used to it (and make it a priority), it’s really not that hard to do.
We do the Bible Time and History segments of school around the breakfast table in the morning. I incorporate English language studies into History by printing out the day’s text and creating a treasure hunt for verbs and adjectives and predicates and those other faithful friends of the fanatical word nerd (guilty!). Art happens organically and continually with my creative brood. Geography is the very natural spin-off of a rich history curriculum, with us looking everything up on the globe and the girls spending hours poring over the atlas. At dinner, we’ll watch great movies to do with our literature, or play games that secretly stimulate learning – and friendly family competition.
Work is work, but if I work in a central space I am always available to my children, my clients and my staff. It can be distracting, but it is also necessary. After all, this is the life I chose, and the only way I’ll succeed at living my dream is to make it all fit together, rather than squashing things into ill-formed boxes.
Zen and the art of home maintenance
Housework is my least favourite task, and I know for a fact that I’m not alone here. A sinkful of dishes has the effect of a dementor on my soul, sucking every happiness from my being and leaving me cold and terrified. I find that there are two solutions to my sense of joyless dread, namely The Sneak Attack approach, and the wilful application of Zen.
The Sneak Attack approach
This is my own personal legacy that I am bequeathing to the world. Seriously, it’s genius. If other people are doing this, they sure aren’t talking about it. And they should, because it works. It’s brilliant. It goes like this: when I face a task I loathe, (or just don’t prefer), I tell myself not to do it. I reason that I don’t need to do it, and shouldn’t have to do it, since I already do so much. I let myself off the hook for that task, and take all the stress, guilt and urgency out of it. I turn around. Then, when my mind isn’t looking, I sneak in and do it quickly before I realise what’s going on. I’ve effectively removed the sense of burden from the task, and made it almost naughty to go ahead and do it. It’s artificially-applied fun, and it works! I’ve been doing this for years, but only recently discovered that this is actually a scientifically documented productivity tool called Structured Procrastination. Try it – I dare you!
Now, sometimes the task at hand takes longer than it takes my brain to catch on to my sneaky trick. Then I’m in trouble, because the overwhelming drudgery of the task at hand seeps into my consciousness and saps my will to live. Or at least my will to keep doing what I’m doing. This is where the next part of the approach kicks in:
The Wilful Application of Zen
I have learned to sublimate the mundane , to elevate the banal to an art form. I honestly believe this is one of the most useful and effective uses of one’s time. Because, let’s face it, the dishes must be done. The laundry must be folded. And if not by you, then by whom? You’re it. So it’s important to find ways to grow and bloom in these minor trials, rather than giving housework the power to make us unhappy. Take back that power! Housework most certainly does not deserve that kind of a hold over your life. Instead, recognise that time alone at the sink is time alone. It’s that “me time” you’re hankering after. And you get the privilege of changing things for the better – making them clean and shiny and ready for use – without having them complain about your interference.
In fact, the simple acts of folding laundry – instilling order in chaos – and washing dishes – creating hygiene and health where before there were only germs and disease – are very therapeutic. It’s necessary work. It can be fulfilling work. It’s a great opportunity to get your thoughts in order, and the necessity of the situation creates a virtual bubble around you. No one can demand frivolous things from you while you’re busy with these important things. You learn, grow and rest in the mundane busyness. Enjoy.
Take breaks – productively
And finally, take breaks and get rest. But use these wisely. A break is not the time to check texts and catch up on emails. Those long walks I said I wanted? Now’s the time to take one. Step away from the computer. Get outside. Read a page of a well-written book. Grab a cup of bulletproof coffee or some refreshing tea. Spend time talking to your kids – or drawing with them! Build a fort. Go for a run. Wash the dog. Even doing filing can be good, because it is so soothing to instil order in your chaos.
And make sure you get the sleep you need. If worry is keeping you awake at night, supplement with Vitamin D, Zinc, and CalMag. Get regular, mild exercise. And talk to the One who promises to take all your worries, because He cares for you.
These are my secrets for a successful and effective day. What are yours? I’d love to hear how you fit everything into your day. And if this was helpful to you, let me know! I really hope I can make your life a little easier, and a little happier.