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! At some point all home educators feel that they are falling behind. Meeting the demands of home, family, and homeschooling is a challenge we all face.

When I was just out of college and entering the working world, I had a manager who gave me a piece 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, there are some key questions you can ask yourself to determine whether you are being “smart” with the ordering of your day and the meeting of your responsibilities.

As you seek to get control of your schedule, increase your productivity, and make your days run smoother, try pondering these questions:

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

In a way, managing your schedule is simple math. Every day has 24 hours, and every week has 7 days. If you can’t seem to keep up, you may have too much on your plate. Here are some steps to help you evaluate your time usage:

Create a time budget. With a financial budget, income minus expenses equals discretionary funds. Similarly, when it comes to our weekly schedule we have 168 hours in a week. Once we subtract the time for non-negotiables like church, family time, homeschooling, meals, and sleep, we can see how much time we have left for other things. Do the math, and see how much time you have left for additional activities like sports, outings, or playdates. This simple exercise can be quite revealing.

A typical homeschooling mother will usually need time in her week for household duties, academics, and personal items. Homeschooling duties might include lesson planning, teaching, and grading. Household duties will likely consist of laundry, cleaning, cooking, and organizing. Personal items might be family birthdays, exercise, appointments, etc. Estimate how much time each of these big categories take per day or week.

Now determine how much discretionary time is left. This is what you can “spend” on extra things like sports, volunteer opportunities, or social events. Deciding what is a discretionary activity can be tricky. Every family’s priorities will be different.

For some families, music lessons are considered part their child’s education, so they will be high on the priority list. Others may feel that playdates are necessary, providing valuable time to hone social skills.  Some may prioritize sports as a way to learn life skills and get physical exercise. Remember that saying yes to one thing will  require that you say no to something else. 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, you may be tempted 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 help you feel like you are managing your responsibilities well. Here are some ways to bring structure to your days if an overly relaxed schedule is causing you stress.

Get up at the same time every day.

Schedule blocks of time to move between tasks. For example, use mornings for school work and afternoons for household chores and outside activities.

Put in a load of laundry every morning before you begin the school day. Put it in the dryer mid-morning. 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.

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, bills, 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.

Are you sabotaging yourself with these time-wasters?

You may love the convenience of keeping in touch with family and friends through email or 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 your 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 your elementary student’s English lesson will 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? Constantly switching back and forth between tasks and never finishing what you started wastes valuable time and energy. 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 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 many 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 and 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 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 stay relatively on top of the daily demands if you are willing to ask and honestly answer the questions posed above. Write a time-budget, establish a regular routine, be wary of time-wasters, and leave room for margin. Work smarter, not harder!

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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.