Are you working hard every day, but can’t figure out why you never seem to be able accomplish every task? Feeling frazzled and wondering if you’ll ever be able to get on top of all that you manage? Well, you are not alone! All home educators at some point feel that they are falling behind and are not meeting the demands of managing home, family, and homeschooling.

When I was just out of college and entering the working world, I had a manager who gave me a bit of advice that I have never forgotten, he said, “Work smarter, not harder.” That word of encouragement has always stuck with me. In times of busyness, with too much to do, and not enough time to do it, it’s a good idea to ask and answer some key questions to help you determine whether you are being “smart” with the ordering of your day and the meeting of your responsibilities.

Here are some revealing questions to ponder to help you get control of your schedule, increase your productivity, and make your days run smoother:

Have you planned more things in your week than you can realistically fit?

From a certain perspective, managing your schedule and what should be in it is simple math. Every day has twenty-four hours, and every week has seven days. If you can’t seem to keep up, you may have too much on your plate. When planning our schedules, we tend to greatly under estimate how long things actually take, most especially when dealing with children. And we often forget to factor in time for things like driving back and forth to activities, tending to house chores and meal preparation, getting the kids out of the door with shoes and socks on, etc. If you are committed to more things than you have available hours in the week, then it’s time to reevaluate. Here are some steps to follow:

  • Create a time budget. A time budget works much the same way as a financial budget does. Income minus expenses equals discretionary funds. Similarly, when it comes to our weekly schedule we have 168 hours in a week; once we subtract out the time it takes to meet our non-negotiable commitments, things like meal preparation, attending church, family time, homeschooling, sleep, etc. we can learn how much discretionary time we have left to spend on other things. Do the actual math and see how much time is left to add additional activities like sports, outings, or play dates. This simple exercise can be quite revealing.

 

  • Be sure to accurately calculate the items in your time budget. It’s easy to miscalculate how much time certain tasks take. For example, you may have your child’s piano lesson as taking up just an hour of your week, but in reality, you should also factor in the time it takes you to help your child prepare for their lesson, gather their books to head out to lesson, and the driving time back and forth to the lesson, accounting also for traffic. Something that you have thought takes just an hour of your week, may actually take two hours. These underestimations of your commitments can add up once you begin to examine everything that you do in a week.

 

  • To accurately calculate the items in your time budget, think about your responsibilities, identify what broad categories they fit into, and estimate how much time you need to devote to each of the categories. A typical homeschooling mother will usually need to have time in her week to manage household duties, homeschooling academics, and personal items. Homeschooling duties might include time for lesson planning, teaching, and grading. Household duties will likely consist of laundry, cleaning, cooking, organizing, and projects. Personal items may be made up of things like keeping up on family birthdays, fitting in exercise, going to doctor’s appointments, etc. Estimate and record how much time each of these big categories take per day/week.

 

  • Determine how much discretionary time is left after going through the exercises above to accurately assess how long it takes to accomplish tasks in each of your broad categories. This discretionary time is what you can “spend” on extra things like music lessons, sports, volunteer opportunities, or social events. Deciding what is considered a discretionary activity can be tricky, since most of the things that you are spending time on are good and important. Every family’s priorities will be different, for some families, music lessons are considered part their child’s educational experience, so they will be higher on the priority list and not necessarily considered “discretionary”. Others may feel strongly that play dates are necessary, providing their children with an opportunity to learn important social skills, while others may feel playing on a sports team teaches children important life skills and provides healthy physical exercise. The things you spend your discretionary time on can all be good but remember that saying yes to one thing will usually require that you say no to something else, even if that something else is beneficial. Chances are if you are always running behind, you may have said yes to too many things.

 

Have you established a regular daily/weekly routine?

As a stay at home mother and educator it can be a temptation to approach your days in an overly relaxed, haphazard way. While one of the benefits of homeschooling is having the ability to create a calm and flexible atmosphere for your students, it’s important to remember that establishing an orderly rhythm to your days can provide security and accountability for your students and can also help you feel like you are managing your responsibilities well and staying relatively caught up.

Get up at the same time every day. Schedule blocks of time to move between tasks; for example, use the mornings for school work, and the afternoons for household chores and outside activities or time with friends. Put in a load of laundry every morning before you begin the school day, put it in the dryer mid-morning, and fold and put it away after lunch. Work with your younger children in the morning, while they are fresh, and save the late morning or afternoons to connect with your older children.  If possible, designate the same day every week to do your grocery shopping. Divide cleaning tasks between days and delegate age appropriate jobs to your children. Remember to schedule in time to keep up on things like email, sorting bills and other mail, phone calls, and making appointments. Make a comprehensive list of all the tasks you do in a week and try to devote the same day and time each week to getting them done. Benjamin Franklin once said, “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Prepare for success in your days by managing your time well, making a plan, and executing it consistently.

 Are you sabotaging yourself with these typical time-wasters?

You may love the convenience of keeping in touch with family and friends through emails, or using social media, but let’s be honest, checking Facebook or Pinterest intermittently can derail your momentum and eat up more time than you realize.

Do you tend to spend too much time on the phone during the school day? Screen phone calls; take important calls that can’t wait, but for those that can, let them go to voice mail and return the call later. It may seem like a small thing but taking 10 minutes for a phone call in the middle of when you are working with your elementary student on his English lesson will usually take more than 10 minutes, when you factor in the amount of time it takes you to refocus your student after you get off the phone. It’s amazing how quickly things can fall apart when mom is on the phone! Getting everyone back on track when your phone conversation is done can eat away minutes.

Are you multitasking too much? If you are constantly switching back and forth between tasks and never finishing what you started, valuable time and energy can be wasted. Do one thing at a time and then move on to the next thing.

Do you spend too much time looking for things like the math answer key, protractor, or compass? We’ve all heard the old expression, a place for everything and everything in its place. Invest some time in keeping your home organized. If you can find what you need when you need it, you’ll save lots of time and aggravation. There are lots of resources available to help you get more organized.

Do you have enough margin?

Remember that time budget we talked about? Make sure you have margin in it. By margin I mean, time in the day/week that is not accounted for or scheduled. It’s important to leave margin for things like getting caught up on unfinished household tasks, a lesson that your student needs to spend more time on than originally anticipated, a phone call from a friend who needs a listening ear, chauffeuring your teens around to important social events, or time to rest and recharge. If you don’t have margin in your schedule, then every contingency will feel like a major disruption to your week and will leave you feeling exhausted and defeated.

Let me assure you, managing a home, raising children and educating them is no small thing! You have chosen a very noble task, one that is assuredly time-consuming and demanding. No doubt, this a busy time of life. It’s normal to fall behind at times and to feel overwhelmed, but it is possible to get control of your schedule and to stay relatively on top of the daily demands if you are willing to ask and honestly answer the questions posed above and come up with a plan for success. Write a time-budget, establish a regular routine, be wary of time-wasters, and leave room for margin. Work smarter, not harder!

Mary Ellen is a devoted follower of Christ, wife to a wonderful husband, and mother to three amazing people. She is a passionate advocate for home education and loves to encourage and empower others to give it a try. A life-long learner herself, she appreciates all the incredible educational and faith-building opportunities homeschooling has afforded her family. Mary Ellen holds a bachelor's degree in Missions and Bible. In addition to homeschooling, she currently serves as a part-time missionary alongside her husband. She loves photography, spending time at the ocean, reading, and watching British mysteries.