Does it ever seem like life can only get busier and crazier? I find myself thinking, “Ok, next week will be nuts, but after that, it will calm back down.” But then it doesn’t?!? In the last few years, my family has tested different systems to help keep us more organized and, in turn, keep our lives calmer.
Here are 4 tips to help you schedule some sanity:
1) Use a meal planning monthly calendar.
While not a revolutionary new idea, this was a game-changer for my sanity. I absolutely hate the “What’s for dinner?” question around 4 pm when my mind is still focused on 2,304,982 other things I have to do, and I have no idea what ingredients are in the house. The assumption is that I, super mom, will make something magical appear on the table before we all get hangry. As someone who stresses the idea of just winging it with ingredients, meal planning is essential.
When I started meal planning before becoming a mom, it helped mainly keep my budget under control. As our family grew, the plan became more complex. Which nights was someone working late? What nights do we need to eat earlier because of night grad school classes? How many times have we had that soup already?
Now, we’ve gotten into a good routine. Planning for the month means I can reduce extra thinking power on busy weeknights.
Our meal plan consists of super quick meals, slow cooker, and made ahead. For us, recipes take too long to do on weeknights. Instead, I make meals with longer recipes on the weekends. By looking at a month at a time, I can rotate one soup a week, one pasta dish a week, etc. It really helps to make sure we aren’t overeating the same thing over and over.
It may seem daunting at first, but I promise it is easy after the first month. By the second month, you’ll know which recipes were too terrible to keep again, which meals were a hit, and could be repeated extra times, which need more make-ahead meals or quick meals. And then you just copy and paste! Every couple of months, we get super tired of the same recipes coming up again and again. Then I get to bust out my ridiculously long Pinterest board of ideas and switch out for something new.
2) Plan everyone’s day.
Working from home for the past few years in various positions means I’ve had many chances to figure out how to schedule my time efficiently. I know I work best early in the morning with a great cup of coffee. The middle of the day is when I’m easily distracted by laundry or some other household chore that suddenly seems more interesting than the intellectual task I need to finish. And for me, bedtime is about 5 minutes after my little one passes out.
Now that we’re a few months into my husband also working at home and my little guy looking to be entertained all day, we needed a way to keep us all happy. For us, it meant figuring out how to show all of our schedules in the same place. I drafted a super quick chart in Excel that breaks up our day from 8am-6pm. During this time, we have space for “Parents” which consists of any work meetings requiring us to be fully present on phone or video calls.
After that is sorted out, I plug in anything that my son is doing that is time-sensitive. Sometimes that is virtual classes; other days, it was watching the live space shuttle launch.
From there, we play “Who’s-watching-the-kid” themed Sudoku.
Any empty boxes for my son are filled with which parent could take him to the playground, help practice violin, or play a game together. We try to schedule this time first, so we give him as much attention as possible.
When we have scheduling conflicts that require both parents to be in a meeting, that’s when my son gets really excited: screen time! Yep, even this mom who restricted all screens until he was 2, is now on board with allowing some forms of screen time. By trying to plan activities, classes, and time with a parent first, it really helps to make sure he isn’t just on the iPad endlessly.
3) Create chore charts.
Is it just me, or is the house constantly dirtier since quarantine started? Now that we live, work, and play in the same rooms pretty much 24/7, this house needs constant attention. As much as I like to be supermom, there aren’t enough minutes in the day for me to do the bulk of the housework. This is where the chore chart comes in.
Everyone can help in some way, even toddlers. Young children can help with basic tasks like putting dirty laundry into a basket, putting books back on a shelf, or feeding the pets (with supervision, of course, don’t want to accidentally kill the fish from overfeeding!) Kids can do whatever we teach them. I expect shoes to be on the tray by the front door; my son can put his shoes away when I give a reminder. Dirty dishes need to be placed in the sink after meals (make sure the dishes are non-breakable for young kids to fully help themselves.)
For my family, the toys need to be in my son’s room by the end of the day. Maybe not all toys are in the right spot, but at least they’re out of the common areas and back into his room. Once a week, there is a huge clean-up that happens. For this big clean up day, every toy must go back in its place so we can see the carpet. That’s the deal. Once a week, entirely cleaned up for vacuuming. If I tried to enforce this every day, I’d fight a losing battle. As long as I can plop down on the couch after dinner without fear of being stabbed by a Lego or dinosaur tail, I’m a happy mom.
The chore chart has actually helped my marriage too (who knew!)
Are you familiar with the “I do everything around here, and you are just sitting on your phone not helping” argument? It’s usually followed by, “Seriously? I help all the time, just tell me what to do.” We were tired of this pointless, endless bickering. We divided up the big chores with clear expectations of who was doing everything and how frequently. This schedule included laundry, cutting the grass, weekly toilet scrubbing, etc. Then we agreed whoever doesn’t cook has to do all of the dishes which can’t be left overnight. To help track who does the million other little things, we chart them. Clear, unbiased charts help when one of us feels like they are doing more than the other person. We can look back together to see if the responsibilities are shared or where one person needs to step up more. Less arguing!
4) Schedule me-time.
Mamas, you just gotta do it. Schedule your me-time. To be the best mom you can possibly be, you have to make time for yourself. If you don’t schedule it, it probably won’t happen. Our days are filled with 20,394,372 things to do from the moment we wake up (or are woken up by the mini-me’s) until we pass out. It’s easy to have your days consumed by other people’s demands or needs and put ourselves last. While it may seem selfless, it can have some adverse effects on ourselves too.
My favorite me-time happens way before the sun even thinks of rising. If I’m up at 4 am, I’m excited. It means I have hours before anyone else in my family will ask me a question. Mornings are when I can do my best reading/writing for my doctorate classes. When I’m motivated to workout. And it’s coffee time!
For you, it might be staying up after the kids are in bed. Maybe you work early mornings and late nights, so daytime is your flexible time. If you have a partner also at home, perhaps you sneak away while the kids are eating lunch or napping.
In the past, I’ve heard moms looking forward to running every day. That’s their escape and my form of torture. Other moms love cooking; it soothes their souls. I cook to feed and avoid hangry housemates. Whatever it is you love to do, schedule it. Put a block of time set aside for yourself. It may be 5-20 minutes while you have an infant. Great start! Little by little, it will become longer as they become more independent!
Of course, this list is not exhaustive!
I’m sure there are tons of other schedules you can use to help structure your days. Don’t be afraid to try one out, modify it to your family’s needs, and change when it’s not working. Every family is different. Maybe the monthly meal plan is impossible, but weekly meal planning is possible.
The ultimate goal is to find more sanity in your days. Schedules are just a tool to help make this possible. I’d love to hear what works for you and keep expanding this list!