Daily Consistency Is A Myth

Daily Consistency is a Myth
Photo by Jackman Chiu on Unsplash

Consistency gurus always get me down. That is when they’re not making me feel like an automaton.

“Wake up early every day.” “Work out / meditate / read / write first thing in the morning.” Continue for forty years.

If that is the measure of success, I’m afraid I’ll never reach it.

Life isn’t Consistent

I realized the idea of daily consistency was insane when I came to the conclusion that as a family we tend to eat way more on the weekends. We also tend to be out of the home visiting friends or doing things on the weekends as well. And no one (least of all, me!) wants to cook.

So I designated a day late in the week as a a big cooking day. We do no school on that day. We pretty much do nothing else except cooking and laundry.

This one day makes our week look ridiculously lopsided. But it’s the only way our life works smoothly.

Scheduling: Still a Good Idea, If It Works

I write much about scheduling and using a template to organize your homeschool and overall it is a good idea to have a vision. But trying to stick to daily consistency is a recipe to make yourself feel guilty and burnt out in no time.

Nothing, but nothing in nature is that consistent. (Okay, yes, the sunrise. But I’m not the sun.) Or we’d all still be mowing our lawns in the winter. So why do we insist on it from our schedules?

Instead, find out if you’re one of those people who thrives on a routine and how best to work with your personality. Take the time to find out your children’s personalities. And then craft the ideal homeschool.

Unless you want to buy into that waking up at five a.m. to work out for forty years advice. In that case, rinse and repeat.

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Scheduling: Something’s Gotta Give

Some days are easier than others. As I write this, it is six in the morning and I have no desire to do any school. We have been trying to sell our house and move and, so far, we have not managed it.

I don’t take well to transitions. If anything, this attempt has shown me my weaknesses: inflexibility, a certain lack of being able to tolerate hardship and a tendency toward depression.

Add in the holidays and it is a fatal combination for getting anything done.

The One Rule of Scheduling

One thing that has helped me is knowing this: we have limited time. And thus, we must have priorities. This one rule of scheduling has saved me hours of heartache.

Sure, I don’t always want to do what needs to get done. I’d much rather procrastinate or chase the shiny new thing that grabs my (current) interest.

But then I remember that I can’t do it all. I must choose.

The Good News

I know, I know. All that sounds awfully serious. Limited time, priorities – I might as well be your mom.

So here’s the good news: the fact that we don’t have all the time in the world means that when it’s time to have fun, we literally stay away from all work! 

If something’s gotta give, when it’s time to play, it’s time to give up on work. The fact that you have already allotted a time slot for work means you are now free to spend your leisure time as you would like.

I have to remind myself of this often.

In the evenings and during my down time, I sometimes catch myself acting what I call “lazy.” I might be lazily thumbing through Instagram or Facebook.

“Get up and do something!” I hear my internal voice command.

But I tell it to shut up. Because this is what scheduling means. As long as I stay on task through the day, my leisure time can be indulged in guilt-free.

And so my weaknesses do not hold me back. Even through this difficult time.

Sometimes, inflexibility can be a good thing.
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Use a Checklist for your Homeschool

I recently had the unfortunate experience of running into someone who functions in the world in an “Oh by the way” manner. You know the kind I’m talking about. Oh, I just need one more thing from you. And, oh by the way I just noticed you need this. And this.

The good news is our interaction taught me about the best tool for scheduling no one talks about: the humble checklist.

I have written about how to schedule an effective homeschooling day. I have also in the past written about a time budget and even putting together your own customized homeschooling curriculum.

However, if we are not careful, these same tools we use to customize education for our children can hurt. I don’t like being told (in what I see an arbitrary manner) what to do in an endless stream. And neither do children.

So even if you have a vision, it is important to convey it to your children via a checklist.

It’s been more than a few months now since I’ve read it, but perhaps the best book on how important it is to use a checklist has been written by Atul Gawande.

While it tends to focus on life-saving situations like those of airline pilots, nurses and surgeons, the checklist can nevertheless make your homeschool a better place as well.

Why? Here are a few reasons:

  • With a checklist, your children are never in doubt whether they’re done or not with their work. They don’t need to check in with you constantly. It gives them autonomy over their work.
  • It helps you organize your homeschooling
  • It creates mental space. Once you’ve put something down on paper, you can “forget” about it.
  • It smooths whatever friction you might be facing with your child. When expectations are written and set out in the outset, you remove the tension out of the situation.

Preferably, put the checklist in a public place where the children as well as you can see it. For my personal use, I like the ColorNote App, but that remains on my phone, so in this case, it is useless.

For more ideas on time management and scheduling, go here.

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How to Make Your Homeschool More Efficient

I might be a teeny-tiny bit obsessed with time management. This is the reason for my love of business books. If I can find out how to do things more efficiently, I will be the first to embrace the idea.

All this is also, by the way, the reason I appreciate educating my children at home. Homeschooling is just vastly more efficient.

A few months ago, I wrote a blog post about juggling well inspired by Michael Gelb’s book More Balls than HandsIn the book, he differentiates between two management styles. He calls them the project finisher and the time allocater, adding that the latter is far more efficient than the former.

Efficiency in Homeschooling

All this led me to think: Well, too bad for the project finishers! Ha! No, just kidding. While I understand the draw of being a project finisher, I began to think of ways that I could incorporate aspects of time allocation into our routine.

The easiest way to do this is by using a checklist.

If you’re one of those homeschoolers who loves to finish a project, a checklist can be incredibly helpful. I have mentioned the importance of a template in our schedule before. Topping off that schedule with a checklist might just be the icing on the cake.

Why?

There are a few reasons this works. As someone who likes to see things get done and stay done, a checklist just feels right. There are people who are happy to touch a project here and another one there and let go. But I am not one of them. At least, leaving things undone leaves me with a sense of incompleteness. That translates itself into stress.

A checklist resolves that stress. Checking something off (or giving the children a sticker – or signing off on something – anything that works for your family) helps incredibly in managing my time. I know I will do the same tomorrow, but at least for today, the task is finished.

And voila! The project finisher just became a time allocater.

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Time Linking – A Technique to Stay on Track

I write much about schedules, templates and other ways I use to stay on track, not just with homeschooling but also with blogging. I have many fingers in many pies, it seems. But if there is one thing that has helped me to stay on task with these various activities I undertake, it is this: time linking.

It works because it uses associations.

Associations are powerful drivers of action and memory. Ever feel compelled to eat or cook just because you smell food? Who can’t recall an exact memory from years ago because of finding oneself in a childhood home?

This happens because that place, that time has developed strong connections in our mind with a specific thing. We can use that same strategy to stay on track in our homeschooling.

How to Use Time Linking

If you think about your day, chances are you are doing certain things at specific times. For me, I have to write in the mornings. I work best that way. I can’t, for instance, pick up a book and read at five in the morning and I cannot write at seven in the evening. In my mind, each of those time blocks are linked with specific actions.

It’s the same with homeschooling. The hours between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. are the hours when we deal with difficulties the children might be facing and move on to more involved work in science or history.

We don’t do anything else during those hours. If we want to watch something that is related to those subjects, I still prefer that we wait until after 11 a.m. to get it done. It doesn’t “feel” right to turn on the television before noon. In my mind (and in my children’s minds) that time block is linked strongly with sit down work.

Customizing Time Linking

It is best if time linking comes together organically, but that doesn’t mean you can’t impose any structure. Take your normal day and see how it unfolds naturally. Then see if you can tweak it a bit.

I will warn you against getting started too soon on this. Toddlers seem to march to the beat of their own drummer, so if you try to impose time linking on a toddler or preschooler, it could be rough. We don’t do formal sit down work until the child is ready, which is much later. Time linking for a toddler works for nap times and lunch/snack times. No more.

Customizing time linking to your schedule will get things done, but keep you from feeling like you have to be the one pushing your children to get things done. Instead, it will begin to feel habitual and incorporated into your lifestyle.

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I’m Planning Next Year’s Curriculum on Snapchat

Oh look, it happened – we’re out of things to do. Between the motivational chart and the burn out sessions and the readalouds – in the midst of life and whining and being bored, learning happened. We’re done.

We’ve exhausted all our planned, available resources. It’s happened sooner than I imagined. Not that I’m complaining.

So here I am scrambling to find more things to put on the agenda. Okay, okay, not scrambling exactly. While we’re enjoying the easy days of “just one sheet of math” and Minecraft broken in with some reading and writing, I’m beginning to start the search for next year’s (whatever that means!) curriculum. (whatever that means, right?)

In the upcoming weeks, I intend scouring the books/resources I have, checking off what I want them to learn in the upcoming months, gauging where they currently find themselves and working to engage them as much as possible in their education. As someone put it, homeschooling is of course “trying to work yourself out of a job.”

Only this time I’m doing it on Snapchat.

If you haven’t been on Snapchat, you should definitely check it out. The idea is that the content there only lasts for 24 hours. So come find me and watch the videos I put up. They can only be 10 seconds long, so I’ll try to make the most out of each snap.

I’ll provide you with a good idea of how to pull from many places depending on what you and your kids like. And you know I’m cheap, so I’ll do it frugally. If nothing else, you’ll come away from my snaps with your mind bursting full of ideas for your next curriculum planning session.

I’ll show you places I shop and what I buy and don’t buy. And also (to my great sadness) what I have bought in the past that was a complete disaster. And some curricula that looks nothing like curricula but teaches real life skills and even some – sigh – worksheets and flashcards. Because much to my disdain, I have one kid who likes them.

If I’m feeling really brave, I might even let you into the sit down work part of our day. Ten seconds at a time. Eep.

So come find me on Snapchat. Let’s have some real fun planning curriculum! Why should our kids have all the fun?

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A Homeschooling Mom’s Burnout Journal

I have been defeated, beaten by the clock.

I have been to bed the past few days out of exhaustion. Sleep has been quick and almost dreamless. The night passes like a flash and then the alarm sounds its four notes. My phone buzzes, the smell of coffee is filling the house. It’s time to be awake again.

It’s time to do the same things I did yesterday, in pretty much the same way and not get them all done. Again.

Who said “insanity is doing the same thing again and again and expecting different results?” Because, you know what, on some days, I actually like the results I get. Some days, my schedule is just perfect. Things hum along, check marks abound on my little notepad where the to-do list sits.

It’s those in-between days that have the power to devastate me.

It’s those days when I forget to set out the meat to thaw in the morning as I had hoped to do, those days when my child seems to have forgotten her math tables and we have to go over them one more time for review; it’s the days I burn dinner, the days when no matter what I do, the toddler refuses to obey and it feels like all day long I’ve done nothing but correct and discipline and does that count as school?

Those days.

Those are the days I have run into lately. And I am exhausted.

Now please don’t get me wrong. We’ve have a wonderful January. I certainly do not need advice. We are actually doing really well in our homeschool. The children are learning far more than I ever teach, they are independent, self-assured learners, they are curious, creative creatures, everything I want them to be at this stage. So, no, we are not struggling homeschoolers.

It’s just this small string of days we’ve had with no sun, heavy gray clouds oppressing the horizon. They too shall pass but for now they’re here.

Do not jump in with advice.

The worst thing you can do right now is give me offhand advice. Because I know, I know – in my bones – that this is temporary, that it doesn’t require an overhaul of my time budget and it certainly doesn’t need to call my teaching or mothering skills into question. 

The best thing you can say is this: “Sometimes doing all you can means that some things don’t get done.”

Because you know it’s true. And I know you’ve been where I am.

It’s a truth every homeschooling mom has to admit at some point in her life. She’s not failing and neither is she asking for sympathy. She has just hit a rough spot. It will be different a week, a month from today. 

Ask her to see farther down the road; don’t ask her to pull over and check her map. Don’t tell her to put her kid in public school. She’s on the right track. Remind her that she’s working hard enough. That sometimes doing all you can means that some things don’t get done.

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Why Educating My Children Does Not Scare Me

A long, long time ago, back when I used to watch TV, there was a woman on one of the (very tame) reality shows of the time who had said that having lots of children did not bother her because she ran her household like a business. 

It was powerful to hear that said. It stuck with me.

Homeschooling is a lot like running a business, too. And that’s why it does not scare me.

David Allen, productivity consultant and author of Getting Things Done writes

You don’t actually do projects. You only complete the actions related to them.

Educating my children is just one of the projects I do. Just like making dinner, keeping a home running smoothly, writing this blog, writing a book.

Whether we realize or acknowledge it to be so or not, we are constantly making choices about what we consider to be the best use of our time on a daily basis. Sometimes, what we do is not so obvious, sometimes because we can break it down into smaller actionable steps in our heads, it is.

Think about it this way: you don’t actually have to educate your children, you just have to read to them, discuss important subjects with them, provide opportunities to learn, and help them be diligent with practicing. In other words, you have to complete some actions on a consistent basis.

If you have a reasonable sense of control, organization and time management skills and are good at communicating with a normal human being, you can educate your children.

I think a lot of fear comes in when people think of homeschooling because they’re seeing the entire “project” in their head and thinking, I could never do that. 

But you don’t have to.

You don’t actually do projects. You only complete the actions related to them.

See how simple that all makes it seem?

I’m not saying it’s easy; I’m saying it’s simple.

I recently came under fire on Reddit for saying that teaching was not much harder than opening a book and following instructions. I stand by my statement. It’s not much more complicated than that, even though we like to overcomplicate matters.

Of course educating my children is a huge task! It’s a project, a big one. But don’t look at the end result. Consider that is consists of small, daily actions.

If you focus on doing the actions that lead to the end result, it’s doable, and dare I say, simple?

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5 Reasons Facebook Makes You Miserable

We recently had a wonderful visit with family from out of state and one of the more interesting discussions centered around everyone’s frenemy Facebook.

Some refused to use it, some deleted their accounts and others were in favor of limiting their use, even removing them from their phones to do so.

I too in the past have been one of those people who deleted my account. I decided I would never come back to Facebook, that I would be happier (not to mention, productive!) without it. Clearly, I came back. (Follow me here!)

So what is it about this social media site that makes everyone love to hate it? I have a few guesses, five to be precise.

#1 It “Shoulds” All Over You

You really should put down your phone, you know, you should observe and watch your kids because, God forbid they ever look up at you for approval and you’re reading/checking your screen, or, you know, doing dishes or cooking. How dare you, mom? You should be watching them all day long with adoring eyes. (I hope the sarcasm is coming through. I’ll stop. I will, I promise.)

But the “shoulding” unfortunately doesn’t end with making you feel guilty about your screen time. There are other forms of shoulds so common on social media, we almost don’t even notice them.

You should be more loving, you should be eating ice-cream, no, wait, that’s not healthy. You should be eating healthier, you should be working out. It’s your birthday? It doesn’t matter that you want to stay home and read. You should be out having fun.

It’s not that anyone comes out and says it to you per se, of course. It’s just that social media in its highly selective (all your friends) and yet universal (all your friends from everywhere you’ve ever been) creates an environment that fools you into believing that all those opinions matter.

It shoulds all over you.

#2 It Creates a Community of Sufferers Suffering Together

How many times have you been so angry you had to go to your Facebook page to vent and later regretted it?

You’re not alone.

Unfortunately so.

Angry vents make up quite a bit of my personal newsfeed and I imagine yours as well. What does that do to your emotional state and how you respond to your world? After all, remember this experiment conducted by Facebook?

The researchers found that moods were contagious. The people who saw more positive posts responded by writing more positive posts. Similarly, seeing more negative content prompted the viewers to be more negative in their own posts.

Perhaps the worst thing that does is justifies your bad mood by commiseration. Now think about what would happen if you didn’t share that experience. You would probably brush it off. You would maybe even forget about it.

But now that you have five hundred of your closest friends commenting on it and discussing it days after it happened, you’ve prolonged your indignation.

#3 It Interrupts Your Day

Which leads to the next reason for my frenemiship with social media: interruptions.

I noticed that ever since I downgraded from a Samsung Note to a Motorola, (thanks to Republic Wireless for bringing down my phone bill to $10 a month!) my Facebook notifications are hit-or-miss. And you know what, I couldn’t be happier!

Turning off notifications meant I wasn’t interrupted throughout my day. As I have written in another blog post, I already deal with interruptions through my day and they have a way of draining me and leaving me with a feeling of not having accomplished anything through my day.

Social media notifications add one more interruption to the mix. It’s hard to ignore the flashing light when the children are doing their math drills or writing practice for the day. It’s easy to pay attention to the urgent and ignore the important.

Thankfully, this one is easily fixed. Turn off notifications.

#4 It Forces You To Think In Snap Decisions

If you’ve ever read historical letters, you would likely be struck by how well-argued they were. These were times when people sat down and thought through their theses, took pen (or quill!) to paper and – most importantly – formed a coherent opinion.

We all know about the “type Amen” or “Pass it on – God is watching” posts and, rightfully so, ignore them. But how many of us repost or hit the thumbs up “like” on things in a hurry in our newsfeed just because they agree with our knee-jerk response?

Worse, how many of us are found forced to form opinions in the midst of cooking dinner – or teaching reading – about big things like guns, life, death and the next Presidential Election and then trying to write about them on a small screen letter by painstaking letter?

We can only be passionate about a handful of things at a time and they’re probably all related. But they show up on our newsfeeds as a constant barrage. Write a book or a letter; avoid sharing them on social media. Just a thought.

#5 It Offers the Perfect Life

We all know about this one. We’ve all read the post about why yuppies are unhappy and how it relates to social media.

Of course no one puts pictures of sad things and things going wrong on Facebook and I would argue that doing so –  far from giving you a sense of balance – would seem equally glorifying of the lazy, ugly and unruly side we all possess.

Just the fact that something is on a screen and being watched gives it value in our minds. Just like putting something in a book gives it a certain respect. No matter what. (I don’t know if it’s years of media exposure or what, but changing what we put on the screen to reflect reality just does not work. Because ultimately in choosing one or the other, we edit, opine and otherwise stitch things together to present to an audience.)

And, honestly, I find it takes much less time to clean up a room than to take pictures of it and post it to show how “real” I’m keeping it.

Final Thoughts

All this to say, I still love Facebook and see it as an integral part of my day. But I try to remember that nothing is perfect and trying to keep the above five things in perspective helps me distance myself from much of what would otherwise be a small annoyance or probably just ruin my day completely.

How do you keep your sanity on Facebook? I’d love to hear!

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How Discipline Can Help You Predict the Future

Name one thing you can do today – for your self or your children that can predict the future. No? Okay, how about you name one thing that will make you happier tomorrow or a week from today?

The answer might surprise you – it’s discipline.

Discipline can help you predict the future happiness of your children as well as your self.

Whoever wrote discipline is freedom was definitely on to something.

I have written in the past about the necessity of a time budget and how to begin one. There are various articles online about how to do the same with money, but curiously not many talk about how these restrictions and rules instead of making us feel constrained and miserable as we think they will, actually make us happier. (Clearly, I have to write one.)

Mea Culpa

Remember when our family was flirting with the idea of unlimited screen time not too long ago? Yeah, well.

Let me put it this way. It didn’t work.

While I still am fairly liberal with our use of technology for school, I have come to the conclusion that I do have to limit its use in the morning to create a distraction-free environment in which the children learn.

In big ways and small, I have come to realize that Charlotte Mason was right. The habits of the child do produce the character of the man.

“Every day, every hour, the parents are either passively or actively forming those habits in their children upon which, more than upon anything else, future character and conduct depend.” – Charlotte Mason.

It’s a sobering, sobering thought.

 Not Just For the Kids

Parents sometimes tend to make the mistake of thinking that discipline is only for the children. And as such, if they haven’t cultivated it in themselves (or have had a hard time doing so) they assume they will never be able to teach it to the children.

However, if you’re even remotely introspective, the very act of teaching it to the children will make you start to apply it yourself.

And if you think discipline is about being miserable all day, read this.

Discipline Can Predict Future Happiness

I had wrongly assumed that having a routine that we stuck with no matter what and having definite boundaries that even I wouldn’t cross (for example, no snacking until two hours after a meal, no more than one soda a day, no screens until 2 pm) were arbitrary rules we didn’t need, but I was wrong.

Just like a money budget gives you the freedom to spend on the things you have planned for, and a time budget helps you get through the day feeling accomplished but not constantly rushed, discipline predicts the amount of satisfaction you will experience with your given task. 

Without a plan, it is easy to get sidetracked, feel hurried or worse, waste time on trivialities. Learn to cultivate discipline, add some necessary, clear-cut guidelines and bring lasting freedom to your homeschool days.

Now, go make some rules.

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