Now, this is where the cycle loops. As you go along the way, you’ll probably end up adding more stuff to your collected items, changing around your container/list-management set-up, and then that means more organizing to get through. But you’ll start to get pretty good at it, the more you do it. Not needing to do it is not the sign that you’re getting someplace. You will have to go through this process again and again, whenever you feel that ambiguous mental stress.
As you spill everything out of your head onto paper and sort through it, you need to have an idea of where you are going to know how to process all those pent up ideas, ideals, and obligations.
Aim for the habits and the actions, not the outcome.
We are often encouraged to set SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound. It sounds great, and those goals do have a place. But when much of our lives is about developing people (ourselves and our children), we can’t put ourselves or others into such neat little boxes. We must treat people as people instead of as projects. So for many of our hopes for the future, we’d do better to focus on our processes – what we do today and tomorrow and the next day – rather than on reaching a particular outcome.
Instead of setting SMART goals, look at your responsibilities and decide on one key change you could make in the way you work it that would make a huge difference. You do not control other people, circumstances, or the future. You do control your responses to people and to disappointments, your actions in a day, and your attitude along the way. So focus on what you do control, not what you don’t. This doesn’t mean the results won’t happen, because they probably will, it means you’re allowing the space for them to happen – happen bigger, happen different, happen better, happen longer – who knows? This is working and living with an open hand. This is living and working with faithful trust in a good God.
Focus on habit-building rather than goal-reaching, and your abilities to reach goals will be dramatically increased as a side benefit. The truth is that we quickly run out of discipline and will-power. We can’t sustain it constantly long-term. What we need instead is system and habit. System means making decisions about how you do things up front so that you don’t have to consider all your options and make a decision every single time. A habit is an action that no longer takes mental energy to perform; it is an action that has reached automaticity. So, what we need to do as we go along is to slowly establish systems for areas of our life that are draining us, then work at them until the system is a habit. It could be anything from making your bed after brushing your teeth to hugging your children as they get their breakfast to always putting bills to be paid into your inbox. A system does not have to be impersonal and cold and rigid, it is simply “the way we do things here.” You bring the life to them. Your wisdom can bend and change them. But having them reduces the mental effort required to sustain a busy, active household.
When you feel overwhelmed with all the details of life, see what decisions you can make upfront and then follow-through on them until it is habit. Work on one habit at a time for a sustained period of time, then add another one. Gradual, steady growth will pay off more than bursts that lead to busts.
Aim for the big picture.
In order to decide what you should cut or add to your plans, routines, and schedules, you need to know what end you’re striving for. There are many opportunities for us that are true, good, and beautiful, that are excellent, pure, praiseworthy, and lovely. But we cannot do it all. So we have to filter what our own big picture must contain.
Now, I don’t actually think every person needs to be committed to a single, written mission statement. However, we would still benefit from having those sorts of conversations, from knowing what is important to us, from understanding what gifts we have and how best to invest them. Thinking about your hoped-for end before you decide what to do is traditional, proverbial wisdom. One such maxim I found is from the Greek philosopher Epictetus:
First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do.
So, a written mission statement is fine and dandy, but I’m not going to push that. Still, do think about where you want to be, about who you want to be, and then make choices holistically based on that end rather than on immediate expediency. To live holistically, one does need a unifying principle. And for the Christian, that unifying principle will be some variation of “Glorify God, grow in wisdom and holiness, and use my gifts and talents to further His kingdom.”
Then, somehow, we have to take that big picture guiding principle for our lives and translate it into what to do today. I’ve been doing this by making an action plan for every 6 weeks to correspond to our year-round school schedule. I call this 6-week chunking an Interval Plan.
Breaking up your year into intervals is a simple way to sharpen your focus and stay engaged with projects and the things that need to be done to keep life at home rolling along. Instead of looking ahead over an entire year and making goals, try looking only at the next six weeks. What has to happen in the next six weeks? That’s a lot more clear usually.
The truth is, you don’t know what your life will be like in another 12 months, or even 6. Especially if you are still in the phase where your family is young and growing, you might not know if you’ll be pregnant, what the toddler’s nap routine will be like, and a million other variables. Instead of trying to control the details and plan out your life for an entire year (or more!), look at the next 6 weeks and determine what is most important in the phase that you are actually in right now rather than where you hope to be in the future. Faithfulness happens in the now, not the future, and God works with us where we are, not where we should be or want to be.
So embrace the now and work with it. Live it. And know that you’ll be able to handle the unpredictability of life by applying faithfulness and obedience as you go along.
This short-term focus also allows for bursts of energy and for slower periods of recovery. Setting aside time for rest and recuperation and a slower pace is a key practice for avoiding burnout, for maintaining your engagement with the present, and for sustaining an intentional approach to life. We weren’t made to just keep going and going and going at a frantic, perpetual clip. We were made in God’s image, and God set the pattern for us in working and resting. The rest is just as important a time as the work itself.
After Labor Day we start our full load. We’ve had some trial-run weeks and made some tweaks to the plans, and I think we’re ready to really roll now. After the push to finish my course, I am ready for steady rhythms and routines to prevail. Time to live it out myself (again), and I am looking forward to it. I think we’re going to have a great year.
We always open with prayer, but I started opening our prayer time with one of the very brief but rich prayers from Lifting Up Our Hearts: 150 Selected Prayers from John Calvin. I love it when the right time and use is suddenly found for a book that’s been on the shelf for awhile. Brandy, cover your eyes: I do amend on the fly all the thees and thous to you and your. :)
Two-thirds of our morning memory work time is spent in review, but this is our new content we’ll cover daily all six weeks:
Every day we’ll open our binders after prayer and begin with the Apostle’s Creed.
I believe in God, the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth, and in Jesus Christ, His only begotten Son, our Lord.
Lord, Our Lord, Thy Glorious Name (blue Psalter Hymnal, #13)
New Memory Work Content
Psalm: still doing 34
Passage: Hebrews 2:14-18
Me: Happy The Man by Dryden
Hans (11): Henry V’s speech at Agincourt by Shakespeare
Jaeger (9): Song of Drake’s Men by Noyes
Ilse (6.5): Brown and Furry by Christina Rosetti
Knox (4.5): Purple Cow
I never saw a purple cow; I never hope to see one. But I can tell you anyhow, I’d rather see than be one.
All-Year Memory Work
This year I’m trying something a little different. I put some new content behind the day-of-the-week tabs in our Memory Work binders that we’ll recite on that day of the week all year. It adds up to a similar number of times recited, and I’m curious to see how it plays out.
I want us to learn and internalize the 10 Commandments this year, so I broke it up like this:
In addition to the picture book they get to choose for reading aloud, I want to read through Leading Little Ones to God with Ilse & Knox. We’ve gone through bits and pieces of the book, but I want to be more consistent with it this term and next and try to read the whole thing with them before the end of the year.
What I have to remember is that if it doesn’t work out to do it during our couch time (because I don’t push them beyond having to repeat their current letter sounds – we just do what they are excited to do, because that’s when they’re in learning mode, which I can’t force), we can still do it some other time, even at bedtime. I tend to slot in too much for one block and then just throw it out if it doesn’t fit, but the truth is that I can find other times to fit it in throughout the day if I am open to it.
We’ll do some simple artist study with DaVinci this term. I’m still waiting for the library books to be held for me, but in addition to simply strewing some books about him and his art, we’ll spend 5 minutes (with a timer!) looking at a famous piece then talk about what everyone saw. I was really surprised last year how much conversation and noticing they all got out of this simple, short activity. Artist study doesn’t have to be involved.
I’ll be posting next week about some of the changes to our plan I made after a few weeks’ trial run. After all, we, the mothers implementing the plan, are the ones in the driver seat, as I wrote about this week at Scholé Sisters: On Driving Your Curriculum.
~ Capturing the context of contentment in everyday life ~
This week we’re doing light school as we prepare for beginning our full load and a new term next week! Because it was a shortened term already and then we were sick for a week of it, I didn’t take it all the way off. We’ll have Friday off for a long weekend break, but begin next week with a full school schedule.
These last couple weeks have given me insight into how to tweak my plans to make them more effective and manageable, so I’m actually looking forward to ironing out the details Friday & Saturday, finishing the set up for the next term, and really getting down to brass tacks.
I think we’re going to have a great school year.
~Pretty Circle Time ~
I admit, Circle Time used to be the Hardest Part of Our Day, not the Best Part of Our Day. But in our seventh year now and we have a groove and it is just an absolutely beautiful and amazing thing. I stuck it out on faith that Cindy wasn’t wrong and that reading Scripture together wouldn’t return void, and it was so worth those hard days. Not, of course, to say there won’t be hard days this year or hard years again in the future, but our current good days have already paid for the trouble in the past, in my accounting.
~ Happy Back-to-School-Day ~
Tuesday the local schools started up, so a friend hosted a “Ha, ha: we homeschool!” pool party in their neighborhood pool. It was a blast, even though I spent the time mostly keeping a hawk eye on my little ones.
The effect was perfect, because we drove by a local elementary school during recess on our way. We had finished our school, eaten an early lunch, and were off to swim while those kids had only finished half of their day, poor things.
We’ll start our full load next week, so it was a great way to still have some fun summer this week.
~ Funny Boy ~
My oldest is getting to the age where he’s actually quite funny when he makes an original joke.
My poem this term is Wordsworth’s “The World Is Too Much with Us,” which contains the line “For this, for everything, we are out of tune; it moves us not.”
So, right after I read my poem, we sing a hymn. That hymn, on Monday, we did not have accompaniment for. As we ended and turned the page, Hans said in a “poetry” voice: “For this, for everything, we are out of tune.”
Ilse (6) is still working through Pathway’s First Steps, with persistence and, most importantly, good cheer.
Jaeger (9) is reading and rereading the new Landmark series books I purchased for this school year. He says his favorite is The Story of D-Day
Hans (11) read the third Harry Potter after listening to the first two and part of the third on his trip to camp. He and I agreed it’d be best for him to wait to finish the series, though he does like the books.
I am more and more of the opinion that learning about personality types is a great way to learn to be a better parent and teacher. Here’s a section I have dog-eared in Gifts Differing by Isabel Myers:
The thinker’s natural process is inappropriate when used in personal relations with feeling types, because it includes a readiness to criticize. Criticism is of great value when thinkers apply it to their own conduct or conclusion, but it has a destructive effect upon feeling types, who need a harmonious climate.
Both my husband and I are thinkers.
The feeling types have a great need for sympathy and appreciation. They want others to realize how they feel and either share the feeling or at least acknowledge its value. They want others to approve of them. [...] Uninhibited criticism makes life stressful for feeling types.
I have at least 2, possibly 3 or 4, feeling children.
People who are conscious of such damage and want to avoid it can improve matters. [...] Thinkers can do three things to limit the damage their criticism may cause.
To summarize the three things:
Refrain from criticizing in the first place, recognizing it won’t help.
Be careful not to exaggerate faults to make a point. Everything you say will be ignored because of the outrage this causes.
Play by the feeler’s rules: “Remember how feeling types respond to sympathy and appreciation; a little of either will greatly tone down a necessary criticism, but the thinker must express sympathy or appreciation first.”
How shelves generally look at our house….
It means they’re being used, which is good, right? That’s what I tell myself to keep from hyperventilating, anyway.
Get more great quotes & recommendations at ladydusk!
The problem with organization is that we treat it like a short-term project when it is actually a way of life. We treat productivity as a few tricks to read about when it is a mindset. Both begin with our attitude.
As a self-paced ecourse, Simplified Organization is always there for you, with bite-sized pieces of encouragement, action steps, and guides. You can return again and again, as many times as you need to, to continue on the journey or to get back on the path.
The course has audio messages, habit plans, action steps, a blueprint project, and many tool guides, all to help you wrap your head around your life and live it to the full. In addition, there’s a private G+ community with live chats every 6 weeks where we can chat about how we’re doing, ask questions, and get ideas from one another.
I’d like to give you a little tour of the course, so you can see what it looks like and all the content you’ll receive. Watch this video to get a peek into the course:
In this course, you will
learn why your attitude is the key to organization and productivity.
practice tools to change your attitude.
walk through the material at your own pace.
get the information you need in manageable, bite-sized, easy-to-navigate chunks.
set up the support tools and systems you need.
build the habits necessary for organization to stick.
interact with fellow participants and help each other brainstorm strategies for specific situations.
have the opportunity to live-chat with Mystie every six weeks about how things are going.
Here are what some people have said about the course so far:
Mystie has outdone herself with this Simplified Organization eCourse! If you, like me, need all the help you can get in the home – and life! – organization department, you won’t want to miss this. Not only will Mystie’s words inspire you, but her application and action points will give you the motivation and how-to you’ve been needing. – Candace Crabtree from His Mercy Is New and author of Hope: The Anchor for My Soul
You know that moment when every stressor in your day, every undone thing, every nook and cranny of your home and life cry out for attention and all you can do is beg God for an answer? Simplified Organization was that answer. – Amy Roberts of Raising Arrows, author of Large Family Homeschooling
Mystie combines her welcoming kindness with her razor-sharp intellect to create a program that will give you the wakeup call you need without leaving you feeling discouraged. This course is packed with life-changing insights, heavy doses of encouragement, and practical tools that you can apply to your life right here, right now. I recommend it to any mother who feels like her life could use a tune-up. – Jennifer Fulwiler of Conversion Diary and author of Something Other Than God: How I Sought Happiness and Accidentally Found It
From now through September 2, use the discount code backtoschool to get 30% off!
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.