About a year ago I started writing an ebook that I thought would simply be an expanded and improved GTD for Homemakers. The more I got into it, the more I thought an ebook really wasn’t the best way to present the material. How many ebooks do I have just sitting on my hard drive? eBooks inspire, but they aren’t handy when you want one specific piece of information or encouragement from them.
Productivity and organization talk for homeschooling moms, especially those with young children, is perplexing and often frustrating. Advice from moms who haven’t experienced it is often not applicable or practicable.
Our life at home is not the kind of world where things are often finished. You might check off “laundry” for the day, but before the day is out, there will be more dirty laundry in the hamper. You might check off “make dinner,” but dinner will have to be made again tomorrow. Not only that, but because you made dinner today, there are now dishes in the sink to wash.
How do we not sink under the weight of all the daily details? How do we lift our eyes above the mundane while still getting to the mundane necessities day in and day out?
I’ve been asking these questions for years. I don’t even know how many books I’ve read on the topic. I do know – from experience, unfortunately – that deciding housework is a necessarily evil leads to thinking housework is plain evil leads to thinking it’s not something I should be doing.
We simply must tell ourselves the truth about what we’re doing.
What if repeating ourselves was actually a way we imitate and image God?
We get all frustrated as if the necessity of repetition is part of our finiteness and fallenness, but when we look to Scripture, we see that even the infinite and perfect God delights in the repeating cycle of day and night, of seasons, of sustaining the world today in the same way as He has since the beginning. On top of that, we see that He repeats Himself to us, as well, giving us story after story, example after example, admonition after admonition, patient hearing after patient hearing.
Perhaps there is actually glory in repetition, if we had the eyes to see it.
All these little, trivial details often wear us down. But perhaps that is because we are operating under a false paradigm, one that does not see how much repetition (breath in, breathe out, breathe in, breathe out) is woven into existence itself.
If we want things all done, over, ended, is that not in a way wishing for death? Life is not only full of, but built with and upon, repeated actions and processes, change upon change.
Every morning when we get up and make our beds, we are making a statement to ourselves: I am the sort of person to brings order from chaos, who cares for her environment, who beautifies what she touches. Every evening when we clean the kitchen after dinner, we are making those same statements again. Every time we perform any act of housework, this is what we are saying, what we are living.
Learning to love what must be done is not only 1) knowing what must be done, and 2) learning why it must be done, but also 3) feeling affection for and delight in the what and the why.
~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~
After a sick week, it’s good to be getting back into our school routines which hadn’t even had a chance to get normal again. September is nearly here, though, so then it will get really real and really normal. Actually, I’m looking forward to it. I’m looking forward to jeans-and-tshirt-and-sandals weather again after an exceptionally hot summer.
~Pretty Curls ~
Too darling, if I do say so myself. And I do, even though those curls have been spending half of every school morning in bed, where fussy babies go.
~ Happy Shown Work ~
The one writing out the work might not be happy, but I am happy with the choice to give him graph paper for showing his work. So far place value is more easily kept correct and handwriting is more neat. Worth it.
I’ve been having the kids make their own index cards when we go over the day’s agenda before Circle Time. I think the toddler likes it the most. She always, always pulls the pink pen out of the jar and gets right to work.
~ Real Napping ~
Knox was sick over the weekend and still recovering Monday. He listened to The Blue Fairy Book in the living room for his quiet time, and this is how I found him fifteen minutes later.
A Method for Prayer by Matthew Henry has been great. Most of the book is reference, showing scriptural phrases and categories for prayer, but the back of this edition includes sermons on the topic by Henry as well. I copied out these quotes from the “Second Discourse” on spending the day with God.
We must expect the tidings and events of every day, with a cheerful and entire resignation to the divine providence.
Later, in the same paragraph:
While we are in this world, we are still expecting, hoping well, fearing ill: we know not what a day or a night, or an hour will bring forth, but it is big with something, and we are too apt to spend our thoughts in vain about things future, which happen quite differently from what we imagined.
And after various admonitions about when we are confidently hopeful and when we despair, he ends the second with this succinct summary that I want to make one of my life mottos:
Hope the best, and get ready for the worst, and then take what God sends.
This week we’ll discuss assessing and then next week we’ll wrap up with “Aim”: how to set good goals and target our attitudes.
Assess for a Humming Home
I’m always in the future, and assessing means looking back, so I’m not very good at it and I prefer to postpone it.
However, looking back is the best first step in moving forward. You can’t know what tweaks you should make unless you examine how things went and why they went that way. And I do like to make tweaks.
Assessment in Two Steps: Retrospect & Review
So, here are two parts of the assessment process and three times to run through it. This is the integral part of staying on top of what you have going on that makes all the difference.
The first part of the assessment process is the retrospective step. This means looking back over the time that has elapsed since your last assessment and doing a little analyzing.
Socrates said that the unexamined life is not worth living. This is the time we examine our lives and make them worth living. The reason this examination makes a life worth living is that we look at where we are and we look back to see how we got here. What do we like about where we are? What did we do or not do that made it happen? What do we not like about where we are? What did we do or not do that brought that about?
Now, this could quickly spiral out of control into a self-critical mess; at least, that’s what happens to me and is perhaps part of the reason I avoid it. However, we can pull out of that nose dive by starting off with this goal for our assessment:
Identify the one practice or habit that had the most positive effect.
Identify the one practice or habit that had the most detrimental effect.
Then, think about this:
How can you encourage that good habit still more? How can you cultivate it and help it flourish – thereby continuing to flourish yourself?
What habit or practice should replace the detrimental one?
You can’t just cut a bad habit; it must be replaced. What small steps can you take to make it harder to practice the bad habit and easier to practice the replacement? Step up your environment for success, don’t try to do it by sheer willpower. See my Switch series for more ideas in that regard.
You are looking for two answers only, not a complete life inventory: What good practice will you cultivate and what bad practice will you replace?
That’s it. Small, steady changes made incrementally over the long haul will get us farther than booming and busting.
The second part of the assessment process is to review. This is the time to set yourself up for the coming day, week, or interval.
During the review (according to a GTD set-up), three key tasks are performed:
Empty your inboxes (especially whatever you use for ubiquitous capture) and make sure nothing you need is about to slip through the cracks. Make sure everything is on the calendar that needs to be, your current project lists are up-to-date, bills are paid and not lost, and notes you want to keep are where you keep such things.
Set aside a certain amount of time (15-30 minutes) to just do as many of the little nagging things that pop up on your radar as you can. Pay the bills, answer the email, file the papers, shred the junk mail, clear your desk – whatever small tasks you tend to put off, use this time to batch-process them. However, the way you do this fast and avoid procrastinating is to use a timer and limit yourself to only doing each batch-process task for a set, short amount of time. You’ll be amazed how much of a difference this makes!
Get your lists ready: Depending on which review this is (daily, weekly, or interval), you’ll have different lists to print and prepare, but at each review, you want to look at them all:
Looking these things over this frequently will help prevent things falling through the crack and will help you make wise in-the-moment decisions, because you’ll have a clear sense of what you have going on.
Assessment Three Times
There are three key periods to perform an assessment in order to keep your stuff conscious and your mind clear.
Late last year I tried using our six-week school terms to set boundaries around my own projects and habit-building efforts. I have been so happy with the results! Six weeks is the perfect period of time to try to learn a new skill, reinforce a habit, reach a small goal, or get something done. If I try planning anything specific or concrete any farther out, chances are high that something is going to happen which will alter the situation significantly enough to derail the goal. However, six weeks is predictable enough and a close enough deadline to promote that “nearing the deadline” motivation necessary to beat procrastination.
So, before beginning a new term or interval, I sketch out an action plan: One house target, one project goal (because I love projects and always have something going), and one habit.
David Allen, of GTD fame, maintains that the weekly review is the key to the entire GTD methodology. An hour on the weekend to go through the three steps above is the practice that will make your systems work for you.
Every morning we need to look over our lists and see where we are and what needs to be done. I like using an index card for this daily list-making, as I talk about in this Simplified Organization hangout:
Simplified Organization The Course will be available Friday!
If you really want to work at establishing these habits in your life, do it with me at Simplified Organization. The self-paced course will hold your hand through setting up the support systems and the attitude shifts we need to cultivate to make long-term change. There will be exclusive, deep discounts available by email only this weekend, so make sure you’re either subscribed to Simply Convivial’s email feed (form below) or sign up for the notification on the course page.
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Inspired by The Living Page, I keep my favorite ballpoint pen & mechanical pencil (that’s actually my artist-sister’s favorite sketching pencil) in the bag and add commonplace entries long-hand as I go. I am just using a 17-cent spiral notebook, though, to keep the perfection pressure low. Plus, I like purple. And I like spiral bindings that lay flat. And I like college-ruled lines. So, I am resisting the calls of people encouraging nice notebooks and being happy with my cheap choice.
However, I’m still the paperless organization girl, and so I’ve added time in my weekly review on Saturdays to scan or type my favorite quotes from the week into my quotes notebook in Evernote. If the quotes are in Evernote, they are searchable and actually findable and useable in my thinking, writing, and plan-making (I like to write out quotes on my planning sheets).
I’m also thrilled that Dawn (ladydusk) is going to revive (with Cindy’s blessing) the Wednesday with Words link-up!
So all this conspires to create a blog posting change: Wednesdays I’ll post my current reading stack, a quote from my commonplace, and a shelfie (because those are super fun).
Maybe I’ll be more motivated to finish the books that have been in my stack for months. :) One can always hope.
Around the ‘Net
This week was quiet at Simply Convivial, but I had a 5-day series at Simplified Organization that was fun to write:
The Humming Household Habits series is pretty much a reworking and abridging of GTD for Homemakers, and as I’ve been editing and condensing it for that series, I’ve also turned it into a free 6-part email course you can sign up for! Pam made the awesome graphic for me. If you like the series or GTD for Homemakers, I’d really appreciate it if you’d share Declutter Your Head on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter or wherever you share things online.
Next week I’ll be sharing bits from Simplified Organization: Learning to Love What Must Be Done in anticipation of its unveiling on Friday! I’m really excited about it. I might have to stop adding things if I want to get it out there, but the beauty of it being an online course is that I can keep adding things and everyone has access immediately. I think you’re going to love it.
On to step three! After assembling and acting, it’s time for arranging – my favorite part! Arranging is organizing: putting things in their proper place.
What is organization? It is being prepared. It is having a home for everything and everything in its home. It is not having color-coded lids or chalkboard labels. It is not making everything magazine-beautiful, but making everything fitting and useful.
Why you organize – your motivation – matters quite a bit. Organizing so that we can take on more and more or impress everyone with our skillz will never last long and always backfire, because pride sets us up for falling and failing. Rather, we should organize our stuff and our actions in order to achieve peace of mind, clarity of thought, and faithful stewardship of our resources.
Arrange for a Humming Home
One thing to keep in mind as you go about organizing is that this really isn’t a process that can happen all at once, even if we did have the time. As you use your system, you’re going to see ways to improve it, so tweak it as you go and don’t get bogged down in setting it up “perfectly” from the outset. Just focus on arranging things so that it is easy for yourself to find what you need when you need it.
Don’t get caught up implementing someone else’s exact set-up, but step back and look at your own home and current systems and way of doing things and set up your system in a way that will complement your style and situation.
As long as you know where to find what you need when you need it, quickly and without stress, you are organized.
There are a few key homes you should consider setting up from the outset:
An inbox: our inbox is where stuff or notes go before you can process them. Ideally, your inbox(es) are emptied at least once a day or every other day, but honestly, getting it done monthly is pretty good for me. This is a temporary holding spot, not a storage container. Your email inbox is one inbox; that is, it is not a storage spot. File, archive, or delete emails in your inbox if you’re done with them; don’t let them collect. You also need one or two physical inboxes for stuff like church bulletins with dates or info you need, your notes, bills to pay, etc. My inboxes include my email inbox, which I try to keep less than 10 emails in — only emails requiring action stay in the inbox; a magazine file in a “command center” cupboard in the kitchen to hold papers until they can be processed, and my purse is my on-the-go inbox to hold papers until they can be processed. I am still not good about cleaning out my purse, but at least that’s only two places notes to myself or other papers I need might be.
A launchpad: a launchpad is a magnified outbox. It is some sort of container or shelf near where you leave the house that you keep stuff that needs to leave the house: a bag of stuff to take to Goodwill, a bag of books to return to the library, a bag of hand-me-downs to give to a friend, your purse, etc. It’s crazy how much time it can take to gather stuff up to get out the door some days. Setting up a launch pad means your keys, purse, and whatever else you need to take with you has a place where you can gather stuff ahead of time, as you think of it, where it’s easy to grab on your way out the door.
Most of our stuff that we need to organize falls loosely into the category of “reference”: That is, you only pull it out when you need it. It is useful, but it doesn’t involve or generate tasks (usually). The key principle to use for organizing all this stuff is to put it where it is most often used, and put the most frequently used items in the most convenient spots. Less-often used items should go in the hard-to-reach storage areas, but the things you pull every day should be quick and easy to grab and to put away.
How you set these things up, how much you keep, what you keep, where you keep it, is all a personal logistical issue that you’ll have to figure out for yourself and your own context.
However you set up your stuff, your goal is to make it an under-two-minute task to file incoming stuff or put something away when you’re done.
That means that when something comes in or whenever you use something, you just put it away, you don’t put “file stuff” as an action item on your to-do list or let items stack up on your counters. The goal is to not let a nebulous stack of papers, magazines, or whatever accrue.
Next, go through that list of pending items you made last time and disperse them into their appropriate places. What list does it belong on?
If it has tasks associated with it, make sure the next task that has to be done is on your to do list or tickler list, and date-specific tasks and information is on your calendar or to-do list as you sort and organize your project materials.
A well-kept task list prevents situations like beginning to wash the dishes, getting everything all set and wet and sudsy, then realizing out of the blue, “I have overdue library books!” “I needed to pay the bills today!” “I said I’d call ____ about ____!” and feeling like you have to do that more urgent or higher-priority thing right now before you forget again.
When you can calmly review all things you are responsible for doing, you can make a judgment call and feel confident in your choice.
Of course and unfortunately, simply having the lists doesn’t actually make us in control of ourselves. Sigh.
After you have these lists, you still actually have to do those things, and you still might not even want to. No system is a key to self-control and discipline. I know. I’ve tried. And so far most of my systems have crashed and burned under my lack of self mastery. The focus needs to not be on finding and creating the right system, but setting up a “good enough” one and actually working it.
In Getting Things Done, Allen claims most people have between 30 and 100 projects underway at any given time. If a project is “anything you have a commitment to make happen that involves more than one task,” I’m sure we could all come up with at least 30: birthdays, holidays, outside volunteer projects, planning a homeschool year, each is something about which you are working toward a definite outcome that has multiple tasks associated to it.
Besides the basics, we each have our own pet projects and personal involvement projects like church responsibilities, decorating projects, craft projects, reading or writing projects, and such. However, housekeeping, laundry, meals, household goods & grocery upkeep, lawn, exercise, and budgeting are not projects because they are – I’m sorry to say – never finished.
The first and probably most important step is to define what “finished” means for all your projects. Make sure all your project outcomes are concrete and attainable.
What constitutes “enough” or “finished”? The point is that you want to know when it is accomplished and can be dropped. How many projects have rattled around in your head, not giving you peace, because you had done all you were really going to do on it, but knowing you could do more and do better, you didn’t let it go and call it “finished”?That is what we are out to avoid this time around.
So, what end do you want to reach before crossing it off your project list? Write it down, of course. That’s not to say you can’t change your mind and your list later, but avoid ambiguity as much as possible.
Checklists are also the lists you keep to remind yourself either of steps to a procedure that is not yet habit or of areas of responsibility that you want to keep in front of your face. The trick is to not add unnecessary complexity as we do this.
Even packing lists and shopping lists fit the “checklist” categorization. So are freezer or supply inventories. They aren’t really a task in themselves, they are a reminder, so you can keep such thoughts pinned down and useful rather than jumbled and vague.
These are a reference to use as we learn the routines and habits we want to learn, so make the lists and have the lists, but only use them as needed and as they are helpful to you.
This is where you will keep some of your most creative thinking, your wishful thinking, and the ideas that are still in percolating mode. This is where you can keep an idea without it becoming a pressure or stressor. It’s a place to let thoughts incubate or to hold ideas until their time comes. They don’t need to nag you, because you have acknowledged them and you have said, “Not now. But I will consider it again in the future.”
Maybe you want to keep a list of activities you’d like to consider when all your children can get their own shoes on, get into the car, and buckle themselves up without anything more than a “Go!” from you. Maybe you want to keep a list of people you want to have over, but can’t right now because of short-term circumstances. Maybe you want to keep a list of books you’d like to read or movies you’d like to see or places you’d like to go. This is a no-pressure place to keep them and let your imagination run free. There is no obligation that you ever will do anything on this list, but at one point you had the thought, captured it, and now you can wait and see if the time ever becomes right for that idea.
However, remember that the point is to write it down and let it go. It can be easy for the someday/maybe list (or Pinterest boards) to become a list of how we wish life looked, a list of grievances and discontents all lined out for constant review. Guard your heart and keep a list of future potentialities, not a list of current discontents.
Develop the routine of going over your projects and moving next-action tasks onto your daily radar, and you will dramatically reduce stress and mental drain.
Arranging as a Habit
Organization is more like laundry and dishes than like a craft project: It is never complete. It is like swimming. You are either treading water or slowly sinking; progress is getting yourself back to the surface before you drown, not arriving at a destination. However, treading water at least becomes easier the longer you do it. At first it takes concentration and focus and energy simply to stay afloat, but eventually you get into better shape and can breathe evenly again. However, you never get so good at it that you can stop. Stop, and gravity and entropy will immediately begin pulling you down again.
So jump in, ready to get fit and stay fit, knowing you can make it to the surface now and repeatedly.
Sinking isn’t failing; it’s part of life’s reality. Drowning times will always come, but so will the time to swim your laps.