How to Plan an Effective Schedule to Make Your Week Run Smoothly

How to plan an effective schedule to make time for your real priorities.

If you’re anything like me, the way you feel at the end of the week is often determined by how smoothly the week flowed. Did you feel anxious and frazzled? Or did you feel accomplished and organized? Did something slip through the cracks or were you prepared ahead of time?

Though our success in life isn’t based on how much we do in a week, life certainly feels a lot more peaceful when we aren’t constantly racing against the clock. The best way to ensure that we feel organized is to plan an effective schedule for our time.

Whether you have children or not, whether you work outside the home or not, whether your kids are in school full time or not, we all have one thing in common: we only have 168 hours each week.

Those hours may look vastly different depending on your circumstances, but the key to feeling calm over chaotic is in how you use your time. In her book, 168 Hours: You Have More Time than You Think, journalist Laura Vanderkam explains that when we don’t think about how we spend our time, we tend to spend it doing things that don’t really align with our priorities.

“We don’t think about how we want to spend our time, and so we spend massive amounts of time on things – television, Web surfing, housework, errands – that give a slight amount of pleasure or feeling of accomplishment, but do little for our careers, our families, or our personal lives.” – Laura Vanderkam

So how do we plan effectively? How do we set up our schedule so that we’re running our lives and not the other way around?

Here are a few things to consider when planning your week.

Pick a time to map out your week in advance

By looking ahead at what the week holds in terms of time commitments, you’re jogging your own memory. Seeing that it’s your aunt’s birthday on the calendar gets that in your brain and reminds you of any associated tasks, such as sending a card or remembering to call.

You’re also forming a picture of whether the coming week will be busy or slow-paced. You can allocate important tasks to days that have fewer time commitments. Rather than feeling like you have to squeeze things in, you’re giving time to what needs to be done.

Sunday evening is an ideal time to look ahead at the week. You’ll wake up Monday with a clear picture of how the week will go. Obviously life isn’t entirely predictable, but at least you’ve got a fighting chance when you know what to expect outside of the fluke events that throw a wrench in our plans.

Batch your tasks

Studies show that when our brain has to switch between activities frequently, we accomplish less. We get in the flow of one activity, and then disrupt this flow when we start doing something else.

For example, if I’m writing blog posts and decide to stop and clean the kitchen, it takes my brain more energy to get back into the flow of writing than if I hadn’t stopped. The solution to this problem is batching your tasks.

Some people like to batch by days, while others prefer a time blocking method each day. Either way, your goal is to focus on one type of task at a time before switching to a new activity.

For me, this means that instead of cleaning up after breakfast, then spending time writing, and then vacuuming, I do the bulk of my housecleaning chores in one sitting. I’ll empty the dishwasher, load breakfast dishes, do a quick tidy-up and vacuum. Then I sit down to work on blog posts.

Routines help us to be more productive and efficient because we know what to expect and how to balance our schedule accordingly.

Incorporate Routines

We often have routines that are so ingrained in our daily life that we don’t even think about them. For instance, every time I shower, I follow roughly the same steps in the same order out of habit.

Routines minimize the brain power needed for a specific task. I don’t need to remember to put shampoo in my hair in the shower so my brain is freed up to focus on other things. By incorporating routines in other areas, you’re allowing your brain to spend less energy on the mundane so that you can focus on higher priority tasks.

For example, if you empty the dishwasher every morning before breakfast, not only do you not have to remember to do this task, but you also know that it’s ready for loading breakfast dishes. You’re saving mental energy AND crossing two jobs off your list: emptying and loading the dishwasher.

My typical daily Schedule

Since it can be helpful to see how other people manage their schedule, here’s a peek at my day.

6:00 Wake up, have coffee & quiet time
7:00 Get breakfast for the kids & get ready for school
8:00 Drop off at school, walk with the dog
9:00 Pick up the kitchen & do any other house cleaning tasks
10:00 Shower
10:30 Work on writing/blogging
12:00 Take a break for lunch
12:45 Errands, household chores, or work
2:20 Pick up kids at school, afternoon activities
6:00 Dinner, family time
7:00 Kids shower & get ready for bed
7:30 Read with the kids & put them to bed (usually by 8:30)
8:30 Time w/ my husband, read, watch tv
9:30/10 Bedtime

Not every day flows like this. Sometimes I have appointments or commitments at school. Other days are more laid-back and involve brunch with friends or a pedicure. The general flow is what helps me to predict my day though. I’m allocating time to my family, to work, and to myself.

What’s your key to an effective schedule?

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Easy tips to help you plan an effective schedule to make time for your priorities.
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Why We Make Our Kids Write Thank You Notes

thank you notes

I have a confession. I’m not the one in our house leading the charge on thank you notes.

I’m married with two children so I’ve written my fair share of thank yous. I don’t mind writing a note of gratitude, but I am perpetually slow to get this job done.

Second confession: I’m actually really bad at sending packages and cards for other occasions on time too. I’ve even been known to forget entirely. I feel awful about it and it’s something I’m really working on this year.

Needless to say, when it comes to enforcing this task with our kids, my husband is the one who keeps us all accountable.

We may drag our heels a bit, but eventually it gets done. The kids are a little less than enthusiastic about writing thank you notes, especially for gifts they’ve received in person. My daughter argues that she’s already thanked that person for the gift, but we still put the pen in her hand.

So why am I trying to instill a habit in my kids that I’m not very good at myself?

It’s important to show our gratitude to others.

When someone invests their time and money in a gift, it’s worth at least a few minutes of time to show our appreciation. Have you ever sent a gift to someone and wondered if they ever received it?? It’s not a nice feeling.

In our family, we try to send handwritten notes, but it can be just as nice to get a simple phone call or email. Even a text tells someone that they are important enough for you to take a minute to acknowledge them.

Good manners are important.

Sometimes it seems like there’s a growing perception that good manners are not a big deal. Have you ever made a point to hold the door for someone only to have them walk through without even a nod of thanks? That’s just plain rude.

Sending a thank you note is about extending courtesy to the gift-giver. It’s a simple gesture that says a lot. We expect our kids to use good manners. While they may need frequent reminders, my hope is that someday they will be polite and respectful adults.

Life is full of necessary tasks you won’t always enjoy.

Hardly a day goes by when I don’t have a chore that I’d rather not do. I like having a clean kitchen, but it’s not as if I look forward to the magical moment when it’s time to load the dishwasher.

I’m reading a great book called Cleaning House: A Mom’s 12 Month Experiment to Rid Her Home of Youth Entitlement by Kay Wills Wyma. She talks about a growing trend in which younger employees tend to leave a job as soon as it becomes less interesting or enjoyable.

The reality is that all jobs have an unpleasant element no matter how much you love your work. I don’t want my kids thinking they can bail as soon as a job is less than ideal.

The bottom line is that we want our kids to be aware of how extraordinarily blessed they are and to remember to be grateful for all that they have. Writing thank you notes is a tangible way to teach them that gratitude is important.

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Sweating the Small Stuff

I know the popular catch-phrase is “don’t sweat the small stuff.” There’s a whole book about the concept of not worrying about the little things that don’t matter in the big picture.

As a mom, my overall goal is to raise my children to become kind, loving, responsible adults. But in the day to day, my life is heavily focused on the minor details.

All those little things that moms do every day add up to the big successes in their families.

I want to ensure that my kids know they are loved, and to help them grow physically, mentally and emotionally. The small stuff in my daily routine is what adds up to the big picture for my family.

At face value, doing laundry is about making sure everyone has clean clothes to wear. But keeping up with the laundry is also a way of showing my husband and children that I care. I’m teaching my kids that doing simple chores is a way of caring for others.

I couldn’t tell you who the seventeenth president was, but I can tell you that Fancy Nancy & the Posh Puppy is the purple book and that if a certain lovey isn’t in the bed, it’s probably on the couch or under the dining table.

If necessary, I could recite The Lorax, Horton Hears a Who or How the Grinch Stole Christmas on demand. I remember the name of every doctor my kids have ever seen. I know that the easiest way to give them medicine is to pretend to give a dose to their stuffed animals first.

I’ll never be a world leader, but I can tell you that every president our country elects had someone in their lives who taught them to brush their teeth, blow their nose, and use the potty. Someone made sure they had clean socks, ate breakfast, and learned to read. Someone knew their favorite story, their allergies, and their most ticklish spot.

My attention to these details gets us from one big moment to the next. By handling the small stuff, it allows our family to enjoy the big stuff.

My kids may not recognize it yet, but somewhere down the line (probably when they’re raising their own kids) they’ll realize all the things I did for them. Because I love them.

 

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5 Tips for a Great Babysitter Experience

Every parent needs a little time off occasionally. Parenting is a joy and a privilege, but it’s also a lot of work. Whether it’s a break for yourself or time alone with your spouse, it’s smart to make time to recharge. If you don’t have family or friends that can help you, you’ll need to find a babysitter. Over time, I’ve discovered a few tricks that make the experience easier on everyone.

Prepare the Kids Ahead of time

Whether this is the first time you’re using a babysitter or the same old sitter who always comes over, it’s always a good idea to prep the kids. Let them know that someone special is coming to take care of them while you go out. My kids are young with a limited concept of time so I usually do same-day prep. Be sure to emphasize how much fun they will have while you’re gone. For a first-time experience or with a new sitter, I sometimes even provide a special treat. I remember loving babysitters as a kid because it usually meant pizza and renting a movie.

Provide Information

This might seem obvious, but I’ve had sitters thank me for taking the time to show them around and walk through the basic plan before leaving. Even if it’s a regular sitter or a relative, don’t assume they remember your kids’ routine. I usually leave some notes with a simple schedule, including any specifics such as snack or meal options. I also leave a contact number aside from cell numbers. We also keep an emergency info sheet on our command center, which includes insurance info and our pediatrician’s details.

Keep kids involved as you prepare to leave

If there are two times when kids are most likely to lose it with a sitter, it’s when they realize you are actually leaving and at bedtime. Make the bedtime routine a priority when you are giving instructions. The more familiar the bedtime routine feels to little ones, the better they respond. Don’t send your sitter in blind and expect it to go smoothly. Letting your kids accompany you as you show a new sitter around the house helps them feel involved and doesn’t make goodbye seem so sudden.

Make a quick exit

When the time comes to leave, don’t turn it into some long, drawn-out ceremony with your child. Make sure you have everything ready: your coat is on, your purse is in-hand and you have your keys and phone. Give hugs, kisses, and remind your little one how much fun they will have and that you will be back soon. Then hit the road. They might cry, scream, cling, or have a full-on meltdown, but you should still leave. Separation anxiety is normal. The few times we’ve had any sort of crying, the sitter assured us it stopped within minutes of our leaving. The longer you linger, the harder it is for them to understand. Once the door is shut, do not go back in! This is why you want to be sure you have your keys, etc before the goodbyes start.

Do some follow-up

After the sitter is gone, talk about the experience. Ask specifics. Which games did they play? What did they eat for dinner? What did they like best? Be encouraging and enthusiastic about the time they spent with the sitter, “wow that sounds fun, etc.”

With a little prep and a lot of encouragement, even the clingiest child can have a good babysitting experience. The first time is often the hardest, but don’t let that discourage you from getting a well-earned break for yourself and time alone with your spouse!

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