How to Plan an Effective Schedule

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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Use Your Phone to Stay Organized

Here are several ways you can use your phone to stay organized and tackle your to-do list.

Welcome to my 14 Days of Organization series where I’m sharing tips, tools, and strategies to help you organize your home, your family, and your personal life!

Modern technology can handle a huge workload. Smart phones can assist with everything from managing your schedule to finding restaurant reviews to paying bills.

Technology is also portable in a way that wasn’t possible until fairly recently. The trick is to make our gadgets work for us in a way that actually helps us, rather than creating distractions. So how can you use your phone to stay organized??

Here are 5 ways I use my phone to keep my family organized.

1 | Reminders/Alarms

Personally, I prefer an old school planner for managing my schedule. I think more clearly when I write things out on paper. However, I also enter appointments into the calendar on my phone and set an alert.

I use the alarm feature to remind myself about important tasks, like giving one of my kids medicine. It’s a simple way to jog my memory so that if the day gets busy, things don’t slip through the cracks.

2 | mobile banking & money exchange apps

Gone are the days when you have to make a trip to the ATM or write a check to pitch in for a group gift.

With mobile banking and money exchange apps like Venmo, the process has been simplified tremendously. If you need to deposit a check, most major banking apps can handle this too.

3 | Coupon  & Store Apps

Who likes saving money?! I’m not a big coupon-user in general, and I am notoriously bad at remembering to bring coupons to the store.

Having an app that I can quickly search for deals while I’m at the store, is much more convenient. I also love the apps for stores like Michael’s that display current coupons and sales.

Instead of having to carry coupons around in case I happen to stop at Michael’s, I just check their app to see if there’s a coupon available.

4 | camera app

The camera on your phone can be used for a lot more than just snapping pix of your vacation. I use mine all the time to help me remember things when I’m out and about.

When we were renovating our kitchen, I’d snap a quick photo of the price and model number of a particular appliance or fixture that I liked. Back at home, I could take the info right from my picture to compare prices, look at reviews, and check dimensions.

5 | Shared Calendars

One tool that has been super helpful in our family is a shared calendar. My husband and I use a Google calendar, and I added the app on my phone.

Whenever we have an event or appointment that we both need to know about, we add it to our joint calendar. It’s much easier to make plans when I can quickly check the family calendar for any conflicts.

These are all simple ways to use your phone to make life easier. You don’t have to be super tech-savvy to find an app on your phone or set a reminder. Each of these tools will help cut down on paper clutter and make it easier to stay organized and tackle your to-do list.

Go HERE for a full list of posts from the 14 Days of Organization series.

How do you use your phone to simplify your life??

Here are several ways you can use your phone to stay organized and tackle your to-do list.
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3 Elements for a Killer Morning Routine

How to create your ideal morning routine.

It took me a long time to get to a place where I enjoy the morning. I was a perpetual night owl, even after my kids were born. I woke up every morning wishing that I could stay in bed just a little longer.

Eventually I realized that staying up late and waking to the sounds of my kids getting up wasn’t working. I hate to say it, but I was often grumpy and snappy in the morning until I’d had a chance to fully wake up.

It’s hard to open your eyes to immediate demands, even if they come from someone unable to meet their own needs. I didn’t like that I sometimes felt resentful that my children had woken me up. In yet another example of God’s perfect timing, that’s when I discovered Hello Mornings.

I found a community of moms who felt just like I did. They didn’t want to be grouches, dragging themselves out of bed in the morning. Just like me, they wanted to greet their babies with smiles and hugs. So I retired my night owl tendencies (mostly) and worked to create my ideal morning routine.

Do you want to make your own mornings more effective and pleasant?? Here’s what I do:

1 | I wake up early.

If there’s one element that has been a game changer for my morning outlook, it’s getting up before my kids. Sometimes I’m only up 15 or 20 minutes before my oldest, who typically wakes around 6:30, but it really makes a huge difference.

The key to getting up ahead of my family is getting to bed at a reasonable time. I am a sleeper. Just ask my husband. Most nights I get about 8 to 8 ½ hours of sleep. If I get less than that, I either need a nap or a second cup of coffee.

Once you figure out the time you plan to wake up, count backwards the number of hours of sleep you need. That’s your bedtime goal. For me, I set my alarm for 6:00 so I’m usually lights out by 10:00pm. That might seem really early to some people, but it works for me so that I feel rested and ready to get up in the morning.

Start slow. Try getting up 15 minutes earlier than normal. After a few days, try 20 minutes. Keep working incrementally until you’re at your ideal wake time.

2 | I’m intentional with my time.

The idea behind getting up before your kids is that you start the day with intention. Waking up ahead of schedule means that you have time to do something for YOU before you have to do anything for your family.

The first thing I do when I come downstairs is make my coffee. I actually wake up looking forward to it. Am I the only one who does this?!

After I’ve got my coffee, I sit down with my Bible, journal, and my Bible study. I spend anywhere from 20-45 minutes soaking up some good study time. If I don’t do my quiet time in the morning, it just doesn’t happen, no matter how good my intentions might be.

I can feel a difference in my day when I spend even a short time reading my Bible and devoting time to studying God’s word. I’m calmer, more at peace, and more aligned with God’s direction when I start my day with even a short time in the Word.

If that’s not your thing, there are plenty of other ways to get your day off to a good start. Journaling, reading, yoga, and meditation are all ideas for purposeful self care first thing in the morning.

3 | I assess the rest of my day.

On Sunday, I map out the week so I can see all my appointments, kids activities, and important dates ahead of time. Each morning I review what’s on the schedule for the day.

It helps me remember any time commitments, and I also write down tasks that need to be done. Before I launch into the day, I have a good idea of what it’s going to look like.

In the past, I wrote things on a monthly calendar, which I still do. But if for some reason I didn’t look at the calendar in the morning, a commitment or appointment might slip through the cracks. Now I’m just taking some time to refresh my memory so this doesn’t happen.

Having a routine to start off my morning improved my attitude, not only as a mom, but personally as well. I no longer dread the sound of my alarm. Actually I’m often already starting to wake up before the alarm goes off. If you struggle in the mornings (and you have kids who sleep through the night most of the time,) developing a morning routine can be a huge improvement.

One final reason I truly believe in the power of my morning routine… if I’ve been off the regular pattern for a few days, I look forward to getting back to it. Even if I’ve been on vacation, I’m still excited to put my habits back in place. To me, that says it all.

What does your morning routine look like??

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How to Create White Space in Your Life

Be purposeful with your weekly commitments and responsibilities so that you can create white space in your schedule. This allows time for rest and self care.

I’ve been on a productivity and time management reading binge lately. Part of my interest stems from the goal-setting process I went through before the year began. Using Power Sheets for the first time opened my eyes to a lot of my own behavior patterns.

Looking back at what worked last year and what didn’t work, I was able to see that time management is an area where I really want to grow and improve. I have an abundance of time, but I can be a very poor steward of those hours.

While you may not feel like you have plenty of time to accomplish all you need, you probably recognize that there is some time in your life that gets squandered. I don’t believe that every minute of the day should be productive. However, I also know that I waste far more time than I’d like to admit.

What is White Space?

If we use our time wisely, it creates the opportunity for what I call “white space” in our weekly schedule. Some call it “margin” or “breathing room” or simply “free time.” The idea is the same. We need to have time available for rest and self care so that we don’t burn out.

Be purposeful with your weekly commitments and responsibilities so that you can create white space in your schedule. This allows time for rest and self care.

In the same way that the white space in this image allows you to focus more clearly on the different elements, white space in your schedule gives you the opportunity to find rest so that you can more easily concentrate on your priorities.

Related: Self Care – What, Why and How?

Far too often, I see moms who don’t feel as though they can prioritize their own needs. It seems selfish or like it just won’t fit into their schedule. They’re so used to worrying about everyone else that they don’t leave any room for themselves.

Here’s a little tough love: we often use the excuse that we don’t have time for certain activities when the truth is that we don’t make time for those things. Being a mom is a round-the-clock job. If we let it, the demands on our time and energy will be all-consuming. It’s up to us to find time to recharge our batteries.

How to create white space

You might be thinking, “how on earth am I supposed to make time for myself when I can barely keep up with the needs of my family?” Trust me when I say that I get this. It can be incredibly hard to carve time out of a busy schedule for something that doesn’t seem like a necessity.

But in this case, attitude is half the battle. If you don’t believe that you deserve time to rest, recharge, or invest in your own interests, then you will struggle to find the time. On the other hand, if you recognize that you can’t do all the things without some time of your own, then you will make white space a priority.

Here are the 5 steps I take to make sure that I carve out white space in my schedule so I don’t end up feeling exhausted and overburdened.

1 | Determine static commitments in your schedule.

Some elements of your weekly calendar are consistent the majority of the time. Aside from vacations and snow days, the kids are at school for the same duration each week. Music lessons, sports practices, and clubs generally meet at the same times. If you work outside the home, you most likely have some regularity to the hours you spend at your job.

Enter these static time commitments into your calendar first since they are the most predictable. Since there’s less (or no) flexibility in these activities, you’ll need to work around them.

2 | Schedule time for other responsibilities.

Aside from static commitments, we all have responsibilities that require our time each week. Household duties like cleaning, grocery shopping, and meal prep all demand our attention.

Make a list of all of the extra responsibilities you need to address in a normal week. Then divide these tasks into 3 categories: cleaning, errands, and personal.

Cleaning and errands are self-explanatory. Personal tasks might include things like exercise or daily Bible study or journaling.

Now put these tasks into your weekly schedule. For example, Sunday might be when you plan your weekly menu and grocery shop. Monday could be the day you vacuum. A less structured option is to schedule a block of time each day for household tasks.

The idea is to have these responsibilities worked into your schedule so that you know when you actually have time available for white space activities.

3 | Block out time for white space.

It might seem counterintuitive to schedule “free” time. But, the reality is that if we aren’t purposeful about planning time to rest, we often don’t do it at all.

White space doesn’t need to be hours and hours or every day. Planning 30 minutes to eat lunch and read a book in peace is a perfectly good way to recharge for me. Mindlessly scrolling on social media is not. It’s not that I don’t like to do it. It just isn’t what refuels my tank.

When you know that the rest of your commitments and responsibilities are accounted for in your schedule, you’re less likely to feel guilty about doing something for yourself. Having coffee with a friend is much more pleasant when you aren’t feeling like you should be doing x, y or z.

4 | How to Find time in a busy schedule.

If you put down your static commitments and your extra responsibilities, and you don’t see any additional time, there are a couple things to think about.

Are there activities that you’re committing to that bring you zero fulfillment? Saying no to an opportunity might be hard in the moment, but beneficial in the long run. I know this is easier said than done, but it’s also too easy to spread ourselves thin.

While you can’t say no to raising your children, you don’t have to be on every fundraising committee at school. Just because someone asks does not mean you have to say yes if it means giving up your only free morning.

Another trick I use is to make otherwise wasted time more beneficial or enjoyable. Instead of just watching my kids’ 40 minute karate class, I pop in headphones and listen to a podcast. It makes the time pass in a more interesting way where exactly zero participation is required from me as a parent. I do the same when I’m in the car running errands.

When my kids were home full time, we had a babysitter come every other Friday. She arrived in the afternoon so I could have a couple hours on my own. Then my husband would come home from work and we’d go out for a date night. Yes, it cost money, but it was worth it. Swapping time with another mom is a great option if you’re on a tight budget or don’t have family nearby to help.

5 | Focus during your white space.

My final tip is to make sure that when you go through the steps to block out white space in your schedule, use it wisely. Don’t channel surf or scroll through social media unless that is truly what recharges your batteries.

Don’t do “just one more thing” around the house that eats into the time you’ve allocated. While you’re in charge of your own schedule, we all know how quickly those little things add up. Give yourself permission to use that time for you.

This is a sample of my weekly schedule:

Be purposeful with your weekly commitments and responsibilities so that you can create white space in your schedule. This allows time for rest and self care.

Pink is for free time, personal responsibilities, or time with my husband. Yellow is time primarily devoted to kid-related stuff, although dinner technically falls under family time. Purple is for work/blog-related tasks and household duties. Green is family time. Blue is sleep.

I purposely kept the descriptions vague so that it would be easier to envision your own life broken into these categories. Obviously they sometimes overlap. Saturday and Sunday include household tasks, date nights, and kids’ activities on a regular basis. However, those days are typically spent together as a family in some capacity.

Also, remember that this is a work in progress for me too. I don’t stick to a rigid schedule every day. Mapping out my week is my attempt to stay focused and purposeful about how I spend my time.

If you’ve been struggling to get things done, this might help you as well. Think of it as a game plan for the week. It’s not going to go perfectly, but it provides a starting point.

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How to Get Out of a Rut and Into a Routine

Four ways to find balance and get out of a rut.

The past couple months have been busy for our family. Between Mother’s & Father’s Day, my daughter’s birthday, a camping trip, and end-of-school stuff, it’s been pretty crazy. I’ve been productive out of necessity, but it’s completely thrown me off my routine and I’ve been feeling beyond frazzled.

I know I’m not the only one who feels a little less than motivated by this time of year. Jen Hatmaker’s post “Worst End of School Year Mom Ever” will literally validate everything you are thinking about the last month of school when we must do ALL THE THINGS. Field trips, plays, socials, projects. It is thanks only to Amazon Prime that my daughter even had a costume for the second grade play about bugs.

As much as I want to throw in the towel, we all know that’s not reality. We might have said adios to all of our school responsibilities, but we have now entered the all-inclusive entertainment package that is summer break. For a stay-at-home mom, summer break is similar to tax season for an accountant. It’s a whirlwind of activities, sunscreen and a never-ending stream of wet towels.

Thanks to some, umm, gentle prodding from my husband, I’ve had our kids signed up for a handful of day camps since March. In the summer, it doesn’t take long before my little ones are tired of spending every waking minute together. Then the good times stop rolling and the bickering starts. “Referee” is one of my least favorite mom roles so I’m doing everything I can to head this one off at the pass. The quickest way to kill summer break is a tired, cranky mama so I’m working on getting back into my own routine.

So what does that look like exactly? Here are four things I’m doing to take back my sanity.

Get an early start

I really see a difference in my day when I have some time to myself first thing in the morning. Now, if you have a baby who still wakes during the night, you are probably shooting the screen with lasers from your eyes right now at the very suggestion of sacrificing sleep. Before you stop reading, let me be clear that I never did this when my kids were babies. I was taking advantage of every minute of sleep that I could get (and sometimes I still do). My kids are now 5 and 8 which is a completely different season of life and makes this an actual possibility. Take a look at some of my tips for waking up early here.

Get plenty of rest

My habit for a long time was to take advantage of the time after my kids’ bedtime to get things done or have time to myself. Two problems result from this habit. First, it makes getting up early a lot harder and I’m more likely to be tired the next day. I’m not a morning person so waking up even 15 minutes before them means a few sips of coffee, some time to gather my thoughts, and a much happier mom to greet them. The second problem with burning the midnight oil is that it doesn’t leave much time to spend alone with my husband. We need that uninterrupted time to reconnect after a busy day. Whether it’s meaningful conversation or watching tv and quietly unwinding in each other’s presence, it’s important. 

Get moving

Admittedly, this is not my strong point, but getting regular exercise really does make a difference. It took a long time for me to recognize that I feel better overall when I’m getting even 30 minutes a day. Still, when there are a lot of other things competing for my attention, I tend to drop exercise first. I’m trying to get in the habit of exercising first thing in the morning because then there’s not as much risk of plans changing, but this is definitely a work in progress.

Get a break 

One thing that my husband and I have always done is make sure that each of us gets time to recharge. This looks different depending on the phase of life we’re in, but even a couple hours to relax, hang out with friends or just go to the bathroom without someone hammering on the door asking for a snack can be worth it. Too often, we feel guilty for needing time away from our family responsibilities, but raising kids is incredibly demanding. Taking time to do things on my own keeps me from burning out and actually makes me enjoy my kids more.

Whether it’s kids or a job keeping you busy, it’s easy to feel like you have no control over your day. For me, doing even one of these things helps me feel less frazzled and more balanced. A combination of the four makes a huge impact, but trying out even one of these suggestions can help you get into a better routine. When you feel like you’re in charge of your time, it can make all the difference in your overall attitude.

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