Summer is one of those natural “restart” points of the year. The weather is warmer and particularly for those of us with children, the change from school schedule to summer schedule is a chance to rethink our life goals and priorities.
As I sat down thinking about my goals for the summer, I felt overwhelmed. I began creating calendars and checklists but realized that with a major life change (the addition of another child), I needed to upgrade my time management system. In my current system, I put things in my calendar, write project-based tasks down in multiple places and keep a lot of stuff in my head.
So, I am turning to the experts for help.
Recently, I attended Stever Robbins’ excellent webinar
Stever has a great approach to time management, realizing that it is not just about logistics and planning but also your goals, personality and general approach to life. You can listen to the webinar yourself for free at the above link.
In the webinar, Stever emphasizes 3 necessary behavior changes to be an effective user of To Do lists.
1. Create a capture system and carry it with you. You have to have one and only one spot where you “capture” your to do items as they arise. For Stever, this is a hard copy moleskine notebook. It could be an Evernote tab, an Excel spreadsheet a phone app of various kinds or a sheet of paper. Whatever you use, you should have it with you at nearly all times. So, when you think “Oh yeah, I really should get around to doing X,” you write down X in your capture system.
2. Create and maintain a Master To Do List. You should have one and only one master to do list where you organize and prioritize the projects you have captured. Again, this can be paper or electronic but probably electronic is going to work best for most people since this document will be updated continuously.
3. Use your Master List. When you want to know what to do next, you need to get in the habit of referring to your list rather than checking email or addressing whatever “emergency” has just arisen.
I am just in the baby steps of this system. I am still “capturing” tasks in my head and in random places. I am trying to put them all in Evernote. Evernote is currently also serving as my “Master” list but also my Google calendar where I schedule in specific tasks. Over time, I will experiment with different To Do list formats to see what works best.
My broad goals for the summer include:
weight loss – losing most or all of my pregnancy weight
managing the renovation of the exterior of our home
homeschool – finishing testing and this year’s curriculum as well as planning for next year
Any one of these could be a “To Do” for an entire summer. Naturally, I am trying to do all three!
As with all organizing tasks, this one is likely to take a while to adjust to my lifestyle but I am committed to improving my time management skills.
Do you have a capture system and master to do list? What challenges do you face with to do lists? Please share in the comments.
Do you homeschool on the same calendar as public schools — 180 days a year? I can see where many subjects could be enhanced with ‘more days’ if there is a need or an interest. (And some subjects with fewer days!)
Yes and no. We don’t follow the public school calendar per se but we do in some ways.
First, we use the natural boost of back-to-school enthusiasm in the fall to fire up our homeschooling and transition to the next grade level or start new curricula. So, we generally do start each year of homeschooling with the public school system.
But there are many places where our schedule and the public school calendar don’t match up. When the public school system might be taking a teacher work day, holiday or a snow day, we just press on. A lot of the curriculum we use (especially the Daily Language Review and Daily Math Practice books), have assignments marked Monday through Friday. While you don’t have to do them in order, it is somehow unmotivating to be doing the Monday assignment on Tuesday. So, we try to stay regular with these assignments doing them every single day. We have also found that you need to be doing them every single day if you want to finish them and still have time to prepare for standardized testing.
If we get behind during a week, we really try to catch up as soon as possible. This might mean that we end up doing some schoolwork on a weekend or over Thanksgiving or Christmas holidays.
We tend to end much of our formal learning for each grade level in line with the public school timeline as well. The Commonwealth of Virginia requires that homeschooled students submit evaluations or standardized test scores by August 1 of each year. To meet the deadline we generally end our studies by June 15 and begin our test preparation workbooks at that time.
In summer, we do continue our learning activities but they change nature. Summer is the prime time for my children to participate in camps to learn from other teachers and meet other children. For the last two summers, we have also continued a bit of our Singapore Math curriculum in the summer because we just couldn’t get it all done during the school year. Sometimes we do a workbook over the summer to keep skills sharp.
I’m sure this makes it sound like we homeschool all the time. We don’t. If there are fun things we want to take advantage of, like a field trip or a playdate with friends, we do it. If there are things we need to do like repair the car, or attend a doctor’s appointment, we have to break from homeschooling to do that too. We just have to make sure that if we aren’t homeschooling on a Monday-Friday day for some reason, that we are catching up at some other time.
Bottom line: When all is said and done, we probably put in slightly more hours of instructional time than the public school system does in a year but in terms of overall time spent at school, including riding the bus, eating lunch, etc. I wouldn’t be surprised if we come out even or less.
As for changing up the schedule based on the subject matter, I don’t feel experienced enough as a teacher to know how to manipulate our schedule in this way. For now, we just set a weekly timetable for each subject and stick to it throughout the year. I expect more experienced teachers and homeschoolers can better gauge how to skip certain topics or spend more time on others and perhaps in time I will too.
Thanks for a great question!
Please feel free to weigh in with your thoughts on public school versus homeschool scheduling in the comments.
I never intended to be away for quite so long but I essentially ended up taking a blogging summer vacation! Since I started writing this blog, I have never taken such an extended absence.
Sometimes when bloggers take a long break there is something terrible or dramatic or exciting going on behind the scenes. Sorry to disappoint but there is nothing like that going on in my case. It was, as predicted, a truly busy summer.
I took some time to be fully present with my children, to escort my daughter to her summer camps, to arrange and chauffeur the children to multiple back-to-school checkups, to continue the coordination of the master bath remodeling effort, to plan our homeschooling curriculum, to work on some projects for myself, our family and our home and to enjoy the summer. Most importantly, I was on high alert as my son took his momentous first steps this week.
Organizing is an evolving strategic process that changes as your life changes. Sometimes the best organization is no organization.
Getting outside of my regular routine gave me a new perspective on a lot of things. With all I have experienced and thought about in the last several weeks, I could probably sit down and type out 100 blog posts. I have a new appreciation for the art of reflection and I think that I probably should take off at least one month each year just to think.
Life doesn’t always afford us time for reflection and thought. There were days this summer I felt life coming at me as fast as the full blast of a fire hose and all I could do was react. Some days are like that. But I also realized that sometimes we make our lives like that. We are afraid to stop and slow down and just think for a bit.
I just finished watching Suze Orman’s latest show and she closed it with this word of wisdom about how taking care of yourself is sometimes the best gift you give to those around you. It is something we all need to remember.
I hope that my break has allowed me to be rested and recharged and ready to write better and have better insights to share with you as we enter one of the busiest seasons of the year.
Thanks very much for your patience and for sticking with me!
"Christmas shoppers in the Bullring." Photo by Mark Kobayashi-Hillary. From the Flickr Creative Commons.
"Putting the kids to work." Photo by justj0000lie (Julie Vasquez). From the Flickr Creative Commons.
"Fun at the Airport." Photo by lunchtimemama. From the Flickr Creative Commons.
Now that we are past the big November holiday, Thanksgiving, the frenetic Christmas season has begun. Managing your time well when you have a lot to accomplish is essential. It should be simple and intuitive for us to realize that when we are adding a lot of extra duties on top of our already busy lives, the smart thing to do would be to cut out some other activities so that the number of added and deleted tasks balance each other out.
Yet, most of us fail miserably at this task. Sometimes there is nothing to cut. Sometimes we just can’t let something go. The typical result is that we add and add and add and overschedule and stress ourselves out. Below are some suggestions on managing your time this holiday season.
If you are looking for time in your holiday planning, look to your shopping time budget first.
This year, due to the present “truces” on both sides of our families, we only have to purchase for ourselves and three small boys. In general, I don’t mind Christmas shopping. It doesn’t stress me out. I enjoy picking things out and finding new discoveries in the shopping universe. Because of our limited shopping lists this year, we didn’t participate in Black Friday sales and just did a minor amount of online shopping. I am still in shock at how much time this saved me!
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, we had time to go for a walk, put up the Christmas tree, chat with family and clean the house. The weekend seemed long and relaxing.
Shopping, particularly holiday shopping, becomes a black hole of time wasting. We are all looking for the “perfect” present at the “perfect” price. Even if you manage to find the perfect present, it often is too expensive, sold out, in the wrong size or color or can’t be delivered in time. You then start all over finding another “perfect” present. I realized this last night as I searched diligently for the best quality children’s art supplies for my daughter. I like what I ended up finding but I am embarrassed to tell you how many hours were spent in the process.
How can you save time on your shopping? You could get gift cards for everyone and spend your time writing a thoughtful message in the card. You could donate to charity (but be careful to choose one that the recipient likes). You could get everyone the same thing (there is a $10 box of Costco Belgian chocolate cookies that is wonderful and you can use the tin afterward to store letter-size paper or other objects—an organizer’s dream) or just send cash.
If you are hosting guests, cleaning your home is not a small consideration in your holiday budget planning. I truly wish there were some great shortcuts to share here. It is tough. Unfortunately, the main timesaving options you have with cleaning are: 1) hire/ask people to help you or 2) streamline your stuff so there is less to clean in general.
You could of course quickly box up excess “stuff” and rent a storage unit, or stow it in your garage or basement. Far better, however, would be to get rid of as much as possible by donating or selling. This will save you cleaning time in the future and will also free up space for all the incoming presents.
Traveling during the holidays is extremely stressful. In addition to the regular challenges of airport security and traveling with children, you often have to manage a ton of presents, extra luggage and navigate large, agitated crowds. One way to make your travel a little less stressful is to either ship your presents ahead or go the luggage-minimizing gift card route. That also saves you the stress of worrying about lost luggage or extra baggage fees.
While you can’t necessarily save time on holiday travel (because most of us are traveling in the same time window) you can make the travel more enjoyable by planning ahead. If you have the option to travel during an off-peak day or time, by all means take it!
Make sure you pack some entertainment in your carry-on or car. If traveling by plane, streamline your outfit to be something stylish and comfortable with shoes that are easy to remove and with few metal accessories. Treat yourself to a compelling book to read while waiting for your flight or a book on CD for your car. Find great videos or quiet toys to entertain your children (a treat for you and other passengers). We always pack ear plugs and an eye mask on long airline flights for a touch of first class even in coach. Small blankets and soft pillows also help you (and children) to relax in flight or in the car. A few snacks also help to keep everyone in good spirits when you are tired or mealtime is delayed
If you are an excellent cook and you will settle for nothing less than the best on your table, then you need to budget time for cooking and spend less time on something else (decorating, shopping, cleaning, etc.). There are so many options to save time (and sometimes money) on food, however. Potluck is a great way to spread the cooking time and cost out across several people. Your grocery store can help you here too. There are so many great prepared meals you can purchase fresh or frozen that only require a little heating. I have been served many of these foods at elegant lunches and dinners where the hostess managed her time by serving some homemade dishes and some purchased. Going out to eat at a restaurant can be fun too and sometimes can save money over making it yourself.
If you already have a house full of things, it often comes as an unpleasant surprise each December to add a large tree to your décor. While you are moving or storing furniture, pause to take a moment to determine whether that item of furniture is really needed. Recently we removed several items of furniture from our family room and the extra space is addictive! We now have room to exercise, put up our tree and imagine new possibilities for the room.
Your decorations don’t have to be time consuming to have a big impact. Buy an inexpensive wreath of fresh greens for your front door, put out some candles and a small tabletop tree and you can be done with decorations in under an hour and have something that is easy to store.
You wouldn’t know it by the response to Black Friday sales, but many people this year are struggling just to get by. Many people on tight budgets get all caught up in the holiday advertising and the chance to “buy” a reprieve from everyday worries. Yes, sometime we need to treat ourselves but holiday giving purchased on credit comes at a very high cost. Remember that you will be paying on all of these purchases for months to come–long after the joy of receiving this new item has worn off.
If you are struggling financially this year, consider asking for a present truce, set budgets for holiday items (like a dollar store gift exchange) and explain to your children why they can’t have everything they want right now. Kids are more resilient than most adults give them credit for. Yes, they might be disappointed at first but often they will bounce back and surprise you.
Few of us have the option to shrug off work responsibilities during the holidays. If you are also slammed at work, you have to be extra careful with your time management. Do your best to not take on any more projects at work during the holidays and just focus on finishing existing projects. If necessary, create a list of “future projects” and tell people that you will get back to them in January. If emergencies pop up, try hard to offload an existing project or delay it as you take on the emergency project. You want to do a good job but you are only one person! If you expect you will be overly stressed at work, reset your expectations at home that you are likely to do only the bare minimum of holiday preparations. It’s ok! You have to put your energy where it is most needed.
Where are you spending the most time this holiday season? What are you willing to cut out to decrease your stress? Have a timesaving tip? Please share in the comments.
First, who is Stever Robbins? He is a self-described “reformed nerd.” He is very well-educated, earning his Bachelor’s at M.I.T. and M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He founded numerous start-ups and created the Get-It-Done Guy brand and its popular podcast. But there is a lot more to Robbins. What really grabs me about Stever Robbins is that he adopts such a human approach to his coaching and he is really funny and endearing.
So, like the title says, Robbins has condensed his strategy into 9 Steps, which include things like “Stop Procrastinating,” “Stay Organized” and “Build Stronger Relationships.” Step one, however, is in Robbins’s view (and my view) the most important:
Live on purpose.
As I was reading along, I was really sucked into this book on page 10. Everyone can relate to the scenario below (whether from the parent or child perspective).
Michael was mortified. His teenager Skyler’s room was, to put it mildly, like an antechamber from the inner circle of heck . . . Michael’s solution was simple; Ask Skyler to clean up. When that didn’t work, he resorted to yelling. Soon, Michael was nearing a nervous breakdown. Skyler, however, just turned up the stereo one notch and went back to whatever it is that teenagers do inside their lairs.
As Michael told this story, I tried to imagine his life. My time is spent dancing through life, smelling daffodils and singing songs. Michael’s time is spent obsessing about his teenager’s room. . . .
Michael doesn’t wake up thinking, ‘My life purpose is having a kid with a clean bedroom.’ At some point, he decided a clean bedroom was important. He thought it was the path to some other goal. Sadly, he’s forgotten the other goal and is fixated on the whole room thing. . . .
I’ll leave it as a teaser as to what exactly Robbins advises Michael to do to handle his son’s bedroom cleaning problem but the discussion evolves into contemplating the entire purpose of your life.
Wow! The purpose of your entire life? Scary, eh? Some people never ask themselves that question. Some people find it too overwhelming, too final, too big. Robbins doesn’t. He wants us to keep asking the question, “Why” about our lives until we uncover what our “big” goals are. What truly motivates us? Our biggest goal is ultimately the same across our business and personal lives.
“Remember, without knowing what you want out of life, you can’t construct a Life Map to help you get there. And without knowing your purpose, you won’t know what to work less and do more of.”
Robbins shares tips on how to discover your life goals as well as his own Life Map charts. He maps from his biggest goal down to the more mundane day-to-day items. As an example, his Home Life Map starts with the top level goal, “Help the world be sustainably happy.” and maps down in the “Friend” category from Present: “Socialize in person at least 1 night/week.” to Dream: “Find or create my ‘tribe.’”
These goal/purpose maps should be absolutely required for top-level managers at big corporations. A corporation could create a giant wall-sized version relating each department/function into the big goal and post it in the work area so that every employee knows how each job relates to the big goals. It sounds so simple but it really involves quite a bit of thought.
I started this exercise for myself. I came up with several higher level goals for my life but had trouble finding one over-arching purpose. Perhaps that will come in time. At a minimum getting “out of the weeds” of the day-to-day activities and thinking longer-term and higher level is helpful.
This is not just a business activity either. If you find yourself taking on too much in your personal life—too many volunteer activities, too many social events, etc. etc. sitting down to ask yourself “why” using Robbins’s Life Map strategies, may be exactly what you need to cut back without guilt.
In “Step 4: Beat Distractions to Cultivate Focus,” Robbins discusses this same point in a different way:
“Sure, saying no has real consequences. It’s just that saying yes does too. We’re often way too scared of the consequences of no and not nearly scared enough of the consequences of yes.”
The organizing chapter (Step 5) was of clear interest. Robbins gives many helpful tips and strategies to dig yourself out of a mess both physically and mentally. Like Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman of “A Perfect Mess,” Robbins believes that mess and organization are not polar opposites.
Many people confuse ‘organized’ and ‘neat.’ I’m not a neat person . . . It takes me a mere nineteen weeks to put everything away and three hours later, my office looks like a cyclone blew through it. My brain doesn’t do neat.
But I see things a little differently from Robbins’ operational strategy.
“Physical organizing is easy . . . There’s only one simple principle . . . Make a place for everything. . . . When you stumble over something that doesn’t have a place, either throw it away or make a place for it . . . Don’t you dare rent a storage unit! They’re a waste of time and money, and it seems like people are always discovering dead bodies the previous owners left in them, which causes all kinds of annoying legal complications and media attention.”
While at a core level, this is a sound strategy, I disagree that physical organizing is “easy.” If it really was easy, no one would need to read a book (or blog!) about it. It takes a lot of time, effort and thought. “Make a place for everything” sounds simple but sometimes it takes research, construction, money, or materials to create the “place.”
Robbins has many clever ideas about organizing though. Robbins’ strategies to “organize on paper” are interesting and are something I will be testing out for myself. His “rescue” strategy is another tip I will be experimenting with:
“Don’t save everything and toss what you want to get rid of; get rid of everything and rescue what you want to save!”
Robbins suggests a chart technique to work through perfectionistic tendencies to find more time-efficient alternatives.
In Step 8: Build Stronger Relationships, he makes several points about how having a strong network of friends will really help you save time in the long run. It made me reconsider whether people who spend a lot of time on Facebook or Twitter are “wasting time” or making an investment in their future.
The one thing I want to emphasize about this book is that it is funny. I laughed out loud several times while reading. It is not just a boring discourse on efficiency. It’s personal, it’s real and it will help you. I would strongly suggest that you read it and consider creating your own version of the following Robbins charts as a life-enrichment exercise.
Life Map (pp. 26-27)
80/20 Rule Chart (p. 138)
The following Robbins charts are an ongoing work that you can start and keep adding to over time:
Wealth Inventory (p. 40-42)
Absolute Lists (p. 143-144)
Learning Log (p. 166)
Resource Book (for specific projects) (p. 171)
There are even more tips and exercises that I didn’t mention. The book is really a great resource for a variety of goal-setting, project management and organizational topics.
If you want even more of a taste of Robbins’ personality, below is a clip of the author himself discussing time management.
Stever, if you are reading this, thank you so much for choosing me to share the good news of your book! It challenged me, taught me and made me smile! Best wishes for your future success and please count me as a member of the tribe.
Did you enjoy this gift from the Get-it-Done Guy? Please share in the comments.