One day, after a particularly stressful morning, I stumbled upon this post from Jen Fulwiler, and it seemed like an answer to my prayers. She wrote about how she was inspired by Mother Teresa’s schedule for the Missionaries of Charity. Mother Teresa had created a schedule that was peaceful and focused. I wanted my days to be more peaceful and focused, but I wasn’t sure if I could adapt a schedule centered around prayer and working for the poor to a life of working in an office and raising kids. I decided to give it a try though. I picked a day of the week (I realized quickly I needed a different schedule for each day of the week because some days I’m in the office, some days I’m working from home, some days it’s just me and the boys, and some days the whole family is together), and I started with the morning. It took some working and reworking, but eventually a draft of a schedule started to form. As I looked at my day more closely, I could quickly see why I was overwhelmed so often. I was trying to fit way more into my day than I had time for, so I was constantly feeling frustrated that I couldn’t balance it all. I ended my days exhausted and too often without making time for what was really important. I made some progress on this when I tried to free myself from the grip of my to do list, but developing a balanced schedule took my progress to the next level. There is something very powerful in the simple exercise of laying out your day on paper. For me, it drew my attention to so many things I had never noticed before.
If this is something that interests you, here are my recommendations for creating a peaceful, priority-focused schedule:
1. Create a routine that improves your sanity
One of the first things I noticed when I started to layout a schedule for us was that it didn’t make sense to have my husband taking the kids to school in the morning. He had started doing school drop off when I went back to work after maternity leave so that I could get into work earlier and thus get off earlier. I wanted to be able to have more quality time with my family in the evening. When I switched jobs though, I could no longer get home early enough to do pick up, so he ended up being stuck with both drop off and pick up. That needed to change, but I realized that meant I was going to need to get up even earlier… yikes. As I started to think about what time I needed to get up at, I was shocked to discover myself deciding to get up at 5:00– an hour earlier! Keep in mind I’m not a morning person… like at all… I even slept in as a baby. However, it seemed to me that I should try to get ready before the boys woke up in the morning. That way when they wake up I can focus all my attention on them and on getting them ready. I was surprised to discover how awesome this would be. Don’t get me wrong, I still have to drag myself out of bed in the morning, but once I’m up it’s great. It’s nice and quiet, and I can even do a little reading while I get ready. Then, by the time my family is awake, I’m in a fairly decent mood. I hadn’t realized that not being a morning person meant I take longer than most to get going in the mornings, so ironically I need to get up earlier than a morning person needs to. Making these changes has made for a more peaceful morning routine for all of us.
2. Build in a cushion so that you don’t have to stress
I never used to be the type of person who leaves in plenty of time and arrives early. I would usually arrive on time or a little late. It was only when I met my husband, who is a very timely person, that I learned the value of timeliness. I tried to apply this concept to my schedule and build in some breathing room so that I wasn’t constantly rushing and worrying about being late. For example, I know it takes me about 15 minutes to get the car loaded up with the boys and all our stuff in the morning (true story), so I allowed time for that. I allowed time for traffic on the drive and plenty of time for dropping the kids off, so I could take my time settling them in at school. This has worked so well! Most days I arrive at work early and can have a few minutes of downtime before I need to head into the office. Even when the morning is a crazy mess, I still arrive to work on time. This has reduced the stress of my morning incredibly!
3. Make time for what is really important
Growing up I used to pray before going to sleep at night. As my life exploded with parenthood though, most nights I would hit the bed exhausted and thus I was not good about praying consistently at night. I prayed as I went about my day, but when I created my schedule I wanted to set aside time specifically for me to spend with God. My faith is a priority, and I wanted my days to reflect that. Now at night I have time that has been designated for religious reading and prayer. By taking this time I find I sleep so much better. No more tossing and turning as I fall asleep… most nights I drift off to sleep peacefully. Amazing, right? An unexpected fringe benefit!
4. Focus on one activity at a time
It is a goal of mine to spend quality time with my husband without multi-tasking, so as I planned my schedule for the evening, I made sure to build in time for that. One thing that was great about listing husband-wife time on the schedule was that it helped me avoid feeling distracted by thoughts of how I needed to be doing this or that. After all, there was a time set aside for those other activities, and this was my time for my husband. I was surprised what a difference designating time for each activity made in improving my mindset.
5. Identify ways the day can be structured better to create windows of available time that previously did not exist
One of the biggest breakthroughs that resulted from my schedule was figuring out how I could structure the day so that the boys would nap at the same time. As I started laying it out, I thought there is no way that Austin can make it until Parker’s nap time. Then it occurred to me… if he took a short nap early enough in the morning that would probably take the edge off just enough so that he could take his main nap of the day at the same time as Parker. Hoorah (pronounce who- raw)! It used to be that there was little, if any, overlap in their sleep schedules, and now I can often get 1-2 hours of overlap!! That makes a HUGE difference as you can imagine. I can take a nap and get stuff done… awesome!! Now that Austin is getting older, I just restructured our evenings so that the boys are in bed by 8:00 instead of 8:30 most nights, which means I have more evening time… hooray for downtime!
6. Plan to take better care of yourself
Most of us have a tendency to overextend ourselves. It’s easy to do. There is so much to be done, and so we stay up too late trying to squeeze just a little more into our days. This may seem like a good idea, but of course we know it’s not. When we’re exhausted, we’re less patient, less efficient, and generally not at our best. God has important work for us to do each day, and we cannot do that work well if we are not at our best. This is one of the hardest ones for me, but with the schedule I tried to set a reasonable bed time for myself of 10:30. That’s still only 6.5 hours of sleep, but it’s a lot better than what I was getting before. I have found that when I combine that with naps that it works pretty well. Of course the amount of sleep each person needs to function well varies, so find what works best for you.
7. Know when to throw the schedule out the window
The schedule should be a stress reliever, not a stress inducer. If the particular circumstances of that day get you off schedule, don’t worry about it. Having a schedule makes it easier to identify how you can get back on schedule. For instance, if it looks like we’re going to have a late dinner then I know I need to either do bath time before dinner or skip the bath. Previously, I would have to just tried to do everything, keeping to our usual order and duration of activities, meaning everyone would go to bed late. The schedule makes me more aware and therefore makes it easier for me to adjust for the unexpected. Sometimes though it’s not just a crazy day, but a crazy month or more. Recently we had some things going on that made it impossible for me to keep our usual schedule up without making everyone miserable. So we kept some parts of it (me taking the boys to school, nap times, etc.), but for the most part we tossed out the schedule for a while. Now that life is beginning to calm back down, I am working on slowly getting us back on track again, while modifying the schedule as needed. Speaking of which, if the schedule isn’t working quite right for you anymore, don’t be afraid to change it. It should never be set in stone. In fact, I use a Peel & Stick Dry Erase Calendar, so I can easily view and modify my schedule.
I hope you find the schedule exercise to be as life changing as I did. Also, if you haven’t already, I do recommend reading the post from Jen… much more wisdom on this topic there.