Focus: One at a Time

When I wrote this post about the power and necessity of a healthy dose of the negative, I began to think seriously about how saying “no” consistently affects specific personalities and why sometimes we (me included) are so averse to using that dreaded n-word.

My biggest fear in telling my children “no” is that they will assume I don’t love them. That seems to be the biggest fear in any kind of discipline, period.

I hate saying “no” to myself often enough until I remind myself consciously that one of God’s first commands was “Do NOT.” Also eight out of the Ten Commandments are essentially nos. But I firmly believe that God loves His people. Then why the abundance of nos?

I’m beginning to learn that certain personalities do react differently to being told to wait, or being told that they cannot have something. Some people need more time to learn to bend their will to what is good and others learn quicker. I happen to be one of those people who don’t react well to a “no.”

But in learning to manage time and money effectively, I have begun to have a better appreciation for negation as well as affirmation. Sometimes, it is necessary to show them why the no exists. This is how it is and you must obey doesn’t work well for too long. Either through consequences or through their own learning (and I would argue that parents use discipline as a way to hurry up learning of the natural moral consequences the children will suffer anyway) they must be shown why they need to mind.

When I have to refuse to do something that I really want to do, I use this technique: I emphasize one yes and one no at a time. If I want to change certain behavior, it helps to bring it down to its very basic essence. My current “no” battle is disciplining my children without raising my voice. My current “yes” battle is writing this blog and e-book. That’s it.

Everything else is currently on the back-burner.

It’s important to do just the same but if I have managed to do just these two things, I’ve won the day. I realize this is not always possible. Things intervene that must be dealt with and can throw us off but by and large this technique works. And it especially works with the children.

They each have a “no” battle and a “yes” battle currently. It’s on our calendar, our fridge and in constantly in the front of our minds as we discipline them. As long as there is focus, it is unlikely they think we’re being overly critical or that we don’t love them.

As long as there is one focused no and one focused yes, the rest of the time is free to shower them (and each other) with all the affection we need and want to give.

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Stepping Back: Or How to Begin a Time Budget

I remember the day we began a financial budget.

So many bills! No uniform paychecks. To top it all, there were those pesky bills that came at different times of the year – some annually, some monthly, some bi-monthly and some at some random moments of the year that could only be remembered by mnemonics. (No Darn Fooling Around – Due in November, late in December, due in February, late in April. Those are your property tax bill installments. You’re welcome.)

The task seemed huge if not impossible.

I was supposed to turn this tome of information into a coherent whole that could be managed and, more importantly, controlled? What did I look like? Super accountant woman? Look! There in the spreadsheet! It’s the gas bill! It’s the mortgage! It’s expenses! Down, down and balanced!

I am beginning to think that managing time is a lot like managing money.

We don’t really know where it’s going unless we take a good long look at the regular expenditure.

As in budgeting money, there is little to be gained in trying to save it without knowing the amount that is currently being spent. It takes us longer to get ready to go anywhere with three children, so it helps to know how much longer and set aside a budget for it.

This budget must be worst case scenario, not best case. There will be so-called “last minute” spills and diaper changes. Someone will begin a fight with someone and discipline will be necessary. Budgeting for worst case scenario is the only way, in my experience, to never be late.

Often we try to fit our daily routine into someone else’s time arrangement only to feel like colossal failures. I would argue that this is like trying to download a financial budget of someone else’s income and try to make it fit. It’s just not going to work.

There are only 24 hours in everyone’s day but there are individual routines, personalities and, for lack of a better word, family cultures we encounter. Some families take their food seriously, some don’t, for example. Some take longer for school, some take naps, others play video games. The same 24 hours must be divided according to what we want to accomplish and how long it takes us given the personalities of the children and the adults with whom we live.

The first step then is not to save time or even to manage it. The first step is backwards: observing and noting how long it really takes.

Budgeting is a necessary step, but it’s the second one.

I had a friend in school who didn’t understand how to take notes. She would listen to lectures and try to write down every word, which was impossible.

“Just write down what’s important!” I told her. “It’s simple!”

“But how do I know what’s important?” she asked.

She hadn’t taken the first step, which in this case was to research the kind of questions most likely to be on the test. Without that necessary research, everything seemed important. Without taking an inventory of how long it takes us to accomplish a specific task, especially the repetitive ones that are so common in our lives, adopting any time table or schedule will be doomed to failure.

So take a step back. Research. It’s the most effective way to begin.

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Say “No” to Save Time

One of the first words most children learn – next to their name – is no. No, mommy, I don’t want to eat the peas. No, daddy, don’t make me sit in the corner. No, I won’t do it. No, no, no.

Is that why the word “No” gets such a bad rap? Why are there so many parenting articles that recommend the use of the word “later” or “maybe” instead? A training in saying “no” is as essential as the freedom to say “Yes!”

For all my optimism, I have grown to love the negatives in life. No is a very important word. No, you may not touch that – it’s hot. No, you cannot treat your sister like that – it hurts. No, you cannot have a whole pound of candy – you will get sick.

No focuses us on what’s important, not just what is urgent. If we never eliminate anything, we will never be nourished with what really matters.

The difficulty is that unlike choosing between the lesser of two evils, we usually have to choose between the good and the better. And of course it all sounds good, because it is. But often a no is not just necessary, it is desirable.

Steve Jobs may not have been a nice man to know or work for, but he got this one thing right. “People think focus means saying yes to the thing you’ve got to focus on,” he’s been quoted as saying. “But that’s not what it means at all. It means saying no to the hundred other good ideas that there are. You have to pick carefully. I’m actually as proud of the things we haven’t done as the things I have done. Innovation is saying no to 1,000 things.” 

The same is true of time management for moms. It’s not only saying no to your kids when they want to do something potentially harmful, but also saying no to yourself. No, I cannot stay up late too often because I will be tired tomorrow. No, I cannot skip homeschooling today. No, I have to do laundry because no one will have clean underwear tomorrow if I don’t wash clothes today. No, my work isn’t drudgery because people depend on me to get these important things done and if I don’t do them, they will not get done. 

As a mom, I already know the art of negotiating with my children while never giving in. Turning it around on myself is an art and ultimately self discipline

Saying “no” often and at the right time can help you save time.

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Indecisiveness and the Modern Mom

See that meme? I spent about ten minutes working on it because it had to be perfect. Because I wanted it to say exactly that.

It would otherwise reflect an image of me that said I allow carelessness, that I somehow have forgotten how to pay attention to detail, that, somehow I don’t care. And I do care. All day, whether at home or out and about, I care.

And when it comes to my children, this caring is carried to the penultimate level. I care what my kids eat, what they wear, what they do. I care what they think, I care how they behave with each other. I care that they have friends, entertainment, school in the right amount. I care that all of this exists in their lives in the perfect amount – just enough, not too much. Of course I care.

I care entirely too much.

When I spent what was just ten minutes on that meme, that was ten out of the twenty-five minutes I had carved out for myself in the morning to be able to write this post. Did I succeed? Hmm. Yes. I like what I’ve done there. Clever, if I may say so myself. Was it worth forty percent of the time I have set aside for blogging? That’s debatable.

I think my life as a modern mom often reflects this dilemma and it affects how I spend my day and whether, when I lie down, I feel as if I have accomplished what I set out to do or if I’m just marking time.

There’s a connection. Time management is not something only corporate types need. As a mom, I especially need to number my days, hours, minutes so that I truly apply my heart to wisdom. And often I have found there is one thing that stands in the way: the embarrassment of riches.

The tyranny of choice has been well documented. Given the plethora of options, moms today are often at a loss about how to navigate their way through the day.

So many decisions! What to make for dinner? What curriculum to pick for school? What to wear? What to do for school? Which room to organize and clean first? How to teach the reluctant child? And sometimes, what approach is best? Am I harming my children by letting them play computer games? Am I hurting them by not teaching them to read early enough? Am I giving them enough time to play outside?

Here’s the thing: big questions need answering. They need big answers. I’m not denying that.

Convictions take time to form. You should, by all means available to you, take the time to form convictions, deep convictions, unshakable ones. Everyone needs to know the hills they’re willing to die on, battle lines that will not be passed if only to know what isn’t all that important.

And here’s another thing: what isn’t all that important isn’t all that important. I know I’m sounding redundant. But it needs to be said. I know because I’ve said to myself often. The thing we get stuck on is this: what isn’t all that important isn’t all that important – but it still needs to get done. It doesn’t need to be perfect. Life in this world is inherently messy. Mistakes cannot be avoided. You’re not going to get it all right.

As one of my favorite teachers in college loved to say, “You have to be comfortable with not figuring it all out.”

In my day, there are a million decisions to be made, but some of them are already in place because of my convictions. The rest are routines, which give our family the familiarity we need to be able to relax. And the smallest of things that don’t matter very much at all have the niftiest of tools: timers and stopwatches.

The real art – my true wisdom, and yours – is in knowing which decisions of the day fall into which category. That will be our legacy because that, after all, makes a life.
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Interruptions and the Art of Managing Mom Time (Part 2)

Routine. It’s a word with which I have a love-hate relationship. I think there’s a picture in Pinterestland that says, “I crave excitement, until I’m worn out and then I want routine. Until I get bored and then I crave excitement.” My life is often like this.

One thing I’m convinced of with children though – they need a routine. And they need it to the point of me wanting to set my own hair on fire for something new to happen around here. What I have to get my head around is the fact that to one, four and five year old eyes, everything is already new.

They wake up with a sparkle in their eyes, they love sitting around the dinner table learning that 4 + 2 is 6, every day is an adventure, going to the store is fun. There is so much to look at, feel, sense, hear: the world does not seem boring to them. And routines or predictability and familiarity, if you prefer, are the branches on which they hang their burgeoning world.

“It’s two! Time to watch TV. It’s nine! Time for chores and then school.” My daughter knows. And while it drives me crazy on days when we’re out and about and she complains that two o’ clock came and went and she didn’t get to watch her precious My Little Pony, I also know that because she only watches TV at two p.m. and not at any other time in the day, that time is now free of pleading, begging, trying to wrangle it out of me or fighting and misbehaving for it.

That leaves us with the day free to pursue other things.

My son hasn’t quite grasped that yet and so he will occasionally ask me if he can play video games, but I tell him that video games don’t get played until three p.m. He is allowed educational games on the computer however before then. And there are specific times in the day when we do not allow screens and have mandatory outside free play time.

How does this figure into time management? Even though I will say I absolutely hate routines, the truth is I perform better and get more done in a day if I know what is coming, what is expected of me and if I have allotted myself time in the day to do it.

These little people are not that different. They want to know what’s coming and when they can have it in a way that does not anger their parents. It’s a little like budgeting money: I can get what I want, I can even have a little discretionary “fun” money, if I learn to discipline myself to wait and not spend haphazardly.

Of course I fail, but when I do at least I know I’m not on track and then have a plan to get back in control. If I have no plan in place for our daily schedule, I have to begin each day over with each child and if that is enough to drive an adult up the wall, imagine what it does to children to whom everything is already new.

Work on establishing a routine, even if the only joy you get from it is looking forward to breaking it. It’s worth it.

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Interruptions and the Art of Managing Mom Time (Part 1)

(This post picks up where yesterday’s post about the real reason moms don’t manage time well left off. So if you haven’t read that one, you should go read it first.)

As I was writing it, I realized that in spite my warnings to my children not to interrupt me, I had to stop and talk to them about three to four times before I could finish the piece. This was three or four times within fifteen minutes.

And each time I noticed my mounting frustration, my need to have to go back over to read the sentence I had just written, how I couldn’t finish my thought and how easy it would be to throw up my hands and quit. I don’t because this is important to me. It may not be the keystone habit that I’m working on but it is nevertheless important to me to be able to have time to write.

I was never good at multitasking. As it turns out, it’s not the most efficient way to do things anyway.

When it comes to writing, however, I find that in some ways my mind is already on overload because I’m pulling disparate things together and putting them into some kind of a coherent whole. To then have to pay attention to children as well through it makes one big mess.

Those of you who make things with your hands have a little more leeway but interruptions make everything last twice as long if not longer. It becomes easier to think, “I’ll just get back into [writing, knitting, reading, insert whatever hobby makes you feel alive here] when the kids are older.”

In my case, when my oldest child was almost a year old, I thought I would have time when she went to school. Well, we all know how that ended – we’re homeschooling.

But then I reasoned, surely education encompasses having to learn to control oneself as well. I must teach them to manage their time as well. The children need to learn that sometimes they cannot interrupt me, cannot get what they want immediately, that I am here with them all day long but that does not necessarily mean I do nothing else but stare into their eyes lovingly and get nothing else done.

Most of the battle here for moms is with their own selves, their thinking. If we go back a generation, most older women advise me to teach my children to manage themselves. It’s the younger moms who want to handhold one moment and complain of not having time to themselves the next. I think it’s time to ask yourself some hard questions.

This isn’t about being sentimental or selfish. This is about a workable solution.

There are some moments of the day I do not allow interruptions. I do punish the older kids for them. With the baby being one, those rules are relaxed a tad for him but not for the older children. This might seem harsh but only if I think that the children will never encounter a time when they cannot do as they wish. You see where this is leading, right?

Smoke or blood, I repeat. If there’s smoke or blood, come and get me. Otherwise, don’t interrupt. It works.

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The Real Reason Moms Don’t Manage Time Well

Boredom. Yes, I said it. And before you throw a brick at me, let me start with saying that I’m speaking from personal experience.

The real reason I don’t manage time well is that old b word.

Boredom grabs a hold of me as soon as I open my eyes in the morning. It’s the real reason I want to grab the covers, pull them back over my head and go back to sleep. I’m bored. What have I look forward to after all? Getting the baby’s diaper changed? Making breakfast, lunch and dinner? Going over 2 + 3 drills? Sounding out h-a-t one more time? Yawn. Let’s go to bed already.

In my desire to give my children a good upbringing while managing money wisely, I am often bored. And because I’m bored, I squander time.

I mean, why should I care about how productive I can be in doing dishes or meal planning for twenty minutes if the rest of the day stretches intolerably long in front of me with never-ending squabbles between siblings? Who cares how quickly I can get done with school if there’s nothing else to do but make dinner, clean up and plan it again for tomorrow in an endless loop? Isn’t Facebook drama then way more exciting?

But wait. Here’s the thing. Once I realized boredom was the real reason for my lack of desire to manage my time well, it was relatively easy to fix.

So today think about this: what can you do (besides get embroiled in drama of the social media and/or streaming kind) that will make your life less boring without spending tons of money? What are your passions that you have supposedly set aside after having children?

I’ll tell you mine. I love learning. I have a few pet obsessions, if you will, that I cycle through on a pretty regular basis: history, finance, teaching, theology, weight lifting, planning, organizing, business, psychology. I’m pretty sure I’m forgetting something.

However, I find that I can usually find something to work on every day that grabs my interest in this pile. And the sooner I get done with my usual routine, the more time I have to devote to these. And in today’s internet age, you can learn anything you want online. Podcasts, internet radio, books, blogs, e-readers, streaming videos – frankly, it’s an exciting time to learn!

Some of my friends like to make things and if you’re crafty, it’s even more important to manage your time better to get that big chunk of time to make something, to build, to create. You are after all made in God’s image, too. I’ll end with this quote from Edith Schaeffer that I found particularly relevant:

“It is true that all men are created in the image of God, but Christians are supposed to be conscious of that fact, and being conscious of it should recognize the importance of living artistically, aesthetically, and creatively, as creative creatures of the Creator. If we have been created in the image of an Artist, then we should look for expressions of artistry, and be sensitive to beauty, responsive to what has been created for us.”

There is beauty all around you. There isn’t enough time to be bored.

I’m guessing you’ve probably said this to your children. Now say it to yourself and take it to heart.

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Saving Time on Record Keeping

One of my biggest jobs in almost every aspect of what I do as a homemaker and my children’s educator is record keeping.

The sheer amount of time can takes to meal plan, keep school records, make a budget, manage it, keep track of investment options for our retirement as well as chasing down those pesky customer service issues related to all the aforementioned things can be overwhelming. It is no wonder that moms find it hard to manage it all.

One of the descriptions in my Google profile is “Keeper of the Little Things” and it couldn’t be more apt. I am a micromanager, I am detail oriented. I am easily upset if something isn’t organized quite right. Oh yeah, and I also have three children, five and under. Yeah. That.

This is where I truly appreciate and embrace every technological advance that simplifies my life. Specifically, these are the tools I use the most:

Blogger: I keep a blog of my children’s school worksheets. I also use it to organize and log all the “extra curricular” things they do that I would count as school. I do not like clutter, so as soon as I take a picture of the latest relevant worksheet (I don’t take pictures of every worksheet) I throw it away.

Evernote: I love this app! I use it to write random ideas, meal plan ideas, book ideas, homeschool ideas, and so on in my phone. I go through and also edit mercilessly and delete old notes. As I said, I get overwhelmed easily.

Google Drive: I keep a current copy of our budget on Google Drive and can now (thanks to Google Sheets!) carry around our investment portfolio details and edit them as well. Most of our budget is pretty much the same month in and month out. The variables that need to be controlled are logged weekly. I’m not as regular about this as I would like to be.

Pen and Paper: Ha! For meal planning. I give myself fifteen minutes to plan meals before we head out grocery shopping. It usually involves sitting with some of my favorite books and looking through them. I have tried almost every other method and it either takes too long or it brings out the obsessive-compulsive in me and I get nothing done.

If there’s an app that has made your record keeping easier, I would love to hear about it!

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The Power of Fifteen Minutes for Moms

We all, especially moms, need basic time management skills.

But based on what most moms obsess over and what, anecdotally speaking, I have encountered is that moms need time management almost as much as entrepreneurs do. And here’s the caveat: A mom’s life is sometimes very similar to that of an entrepreneur.

Think about it. Managing a business involves doing some very disparate tasks to reach a specific goal. The goal is usually defined, but the way to reach it needs some pretty boring stuff along the way. Both involve dealing regularly intractable and sometimes unreasonable humans.

Also, both involve selling.

It’s no wonder I find myself scouring business books on a regular basis.

My post about breaking up the day into fifteen to twenty minute chunks struck a chord with almost everyone, but especially moms. So here are some ideas about how to put that to practical use:

For homeschooling:
I have found that my children’s attention span peaks at about fifteen minutes. So I keep lessons to about the same time. If they want to do more, I require that they take a break, go play outside, then come back and sit down. We rarely go over twenty minutes, even if they want to do more. I find that the little bit of craving to do more keeps them coming back and being excited to come back to it the next day.

For chores:
Sometimes, I set the timer for chores. This can get counterproductive, but it helps them visually to be able to better organize their own time. I also offer a reward if something is done on time. Otherwise, they spend their minutes daydreaming.

For leisure for me:
My eight o’clock hour is for writing and other aspects of our home life that requires me at the computer. I break that into my own fifteen to twenty minute chunks and do not allow interruptions. I send the kids out to play and let them know that nine o’ clock is time for chores. That way play time is out of the way and done when we get to chores. Also, this helps them get along with each other. If there are fights and arguments, everyone gets punished, regardless of who started it.

For naps (for me!):
I set a timer. Yup, I said it. I sleep on a timer. I set it for thirty minutes during television time. I put the child lock on the front door and I take a guilt-free nap. I tell the kids not to wake me up unless there is smoke or blood. I usually wake up refreshed.

For reading:
Many people ask me how I find time to read. I really love the picture in my head of reading all day, but not only is that impractical with kids around, it also bores me to death. So again, I set the timer. I read in twenty to thirty minute chunks. I can usually read a page a minute, so two or three of these chunks and I can easily read a book a week.

And there you have it. You don’t need all day; you only need fifteen minutes.

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How Much Time Does It Really Take? The Power of Fifteen Minutes

Focused attentive work in most cases, like writing this blog post for instance, typically does not take more than fifteen minutes. I have found that I work best in chunks of time of about fifteen to twenty minutes. Put a short checklist with that and I’m golden.

Why twenty minutes? Most people divide their tasks into thirty minutes. I remember school classes when I was a child used to be divided into thirty minutes. Then why twenty? One reason: it creates a sense of urgency. Watching the minutes tick by focuses my attention which otherwise would be frittered away checking Facebook all the while telling myself I was doing research.

The difference between a half hour and twenty minutes, even twenty-five minutes, is more than mere semantics. (Twenty minutes is also typically the time it takes for my children to eat breakfast. Another good reason for focused work.)

The other reason I like twenty minutes over thirty or an hour is because I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Sometimes thirty minutes seems like too long a time, so I tend to waste ten. Fifteen or twenty gives me the ideal amount of time to get one task accomplished.

What do you do if there’s more than one task? Simple. Take a five minute break, then tackle the next fifteen to twenty minute task. Pretty soon, you’ve accomplished an hour’s worth of work!

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