homeschool, organizing, planning

The Family Calendar

How do you coordinate a busy family’s schedule when everyone seems to be going different directions at the same time? The most efficient way I have found to deal with mine and my teenagers’ ever-changing, full-to-the-brim schedules is to have a large, dry-erase calendar in a central location–ours is in the kitchen, on the pantry door because it came with nifty mounting hardware. Each person is assigned a different color in order to 1) tell at a glance who has an outside activity at any given time, and 2) save time and writing space. Every event must be written down on the calendar, especially if it involves the mom taxi; otherwise there’s no guarantee that it will happen. I also have an “all” color to designate events (such as church or Bible studies) in which we’re all involved.

This calendar is also magnetic, which makes it easy to put event tickets right on the day they’re needed. No more scrambling around to find out what time that birthday party starts! In addition, I love that there’s a small bulletin board alongside of the calendar. I use it for coupons and other such time-sensitive materials that don’t necessarily belong on a particular day.

The magnetic feature also allows for a small, magnetic eraser (top, right corner) and a colored arrow magnet (middle of last week), which make using my fabulous family calendar so much easier.

Q4U: Do you use a large family calendar that’s easily accessible by all?

homeschool, organization, organizing, planning

It’s Calendar Time!

Have you bought your 2013 calendar yet? If not, stop reading this blog post. Go buy a wall calendar, a purse calendar, a desk calendar, a family fridge calendar, refills for your Day Timer, whatever you use. Right now! Yes, really! Then come straight back. Now are you ready?

First, make sure you have your current calendar beside the new one. Then, go through and add in all the birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, and holidays. Use a pen for all these dates. Next, find all those scraps of paper stuffed under the couch cushions and scribbled on the edges of the old calendar that have the events scheduled for this coming year. Write all these events in your new calendar. Use a pencil for these events. That way if there are last minute changes, you won’t have a scribbled out mess on your calendar. Be sure to update all your calendars (including the family one on the fridge) every time you make a change.

The next most important tip is to use your calendar FAITHFULLY! Never commit to an appointment without consulting your calendar. Train your children (and hubby!) to do the same thing. Don’t forget to write down each and every new event right away, otherwise you’re likely to forget about it.

My absolute favorite calendar organizational item is my smart phone (it goes EVERYWHERE with me and syncs with my Google computer calendar, too). I realize not everyone wants one of those (or could have one), but it’s what I use. My next favorite tool is a monthly, magnetic, dry-erase calendar. All family appointments, classes, and other events go onto that calendar. Each family member has her own color marker to designate personal events. Each child also has her own small student calendar, and I am training them to put long-term homework assignments as well as schedules into these. We also have a few wall calendars by our desks, mostly for long-term reference.

Now, go get organized for the year ahead! Then come back and leave me a message telling me about your favorite calendars.

anxiety, encouragement, homeschool, planning, writing

What’s Next?

What should I do next? That question has often left me in a tizzy trying to figure out which item on my very-important-to-do-right-now list ought to be the next thing to receive my attention. Yes, I’ve read the books on prioritizing. Yes, I usually make a physical, written list of all that needs to be accomplished in a day. But, my lists always seem to have the word urgent beside each item. How do I choose what to do next?
A few months ago as I was cleaning out some files, I can across a copy of a page out of an old devotional book that was sent to me by my mother years ago. It contains an ancient poem that sums up what one must do on those occasions when it seems impossible to do anything. It simply says to do the next thing. I’m going to take the liberty of quoting the poem in its entirety here. The original author is anonymous.
          Doe the Nexte Thynge

From an old English parsonage down by the sea
There came in the twilight a message to me;
It’s quaint Saxon legend, deeply engraven,
Hath, it seems to me, teaching from heaven.
And on through the hours the quiet words ring
Like a low inspiration: “DOE THE NEXTE THYNGE.”
 Many a questioning, many a fear,
Many a doubt, hath its quieting here.
Moment by moment, let down from Heaven,
Time, opportunity, guidance, are given.
Fear not tomorrows, child of the King,
Trust them with Jesus, doe the nexte thynge.
 Do it immediately, do it with prayer;
Do it reliantly, casting all care;
Do it with reverence, tracing His hand
Who placed it before thee with earnest command.
Stayed on Omnipotence, safe ’neath His wing,
Leave all resulting, doe the nexte thynge.
 Looking to Jesus, ever serener,
Working or suffering, be they demeanor;
In His dear presence, the rest of His calm,
The light of His countenance be thy psalm,
Strong in His faithfulness, praise and sing.
Then, as he beckons thee, doe the nexte thynge.

Did you have plans that got shot out of the water before 9 a.m. today? Me too. “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). Is your hand empty? “For I, the Lord your God, will hold your right hand, saying to you, ‘Fear not, I will help you’” (Isaiah 41:13). Still not sure where to turn next? Isaiah 30:21 makes it clear that God will show you which direction to go—if you listen to him. “Your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, ‘This is the way, walk in it.’”
So, what’s next? Is the baby’s diaper emanating a stench? Change it. Is your fifth grader stuck on the mysteries of making equivalent fractions? Teach her how. Will your husband be home for dinner in an hour? Put supper in the oven. Find the next thing to do, and then do it. The longer you spend agonizing over what to do, the more time you waste. Just do the next thing. 

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A New Way to Use To-Do Lists

If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you know how much I love my to-do lists! And all of my other lists. I have yet, however, to find the perfect to-do app that will sync with my android phone and my Google calendar. I’ve tried a few that were supposed to sync between the two, but didn’t work properly. I finally settled on one called “Out of Milk,” a free android app (found in their market). It doesn’t sync with my Google tasks, but I found I was rarely looking at my task list there anyway. It will sync with the cloud if you’re a pro member (I’m not), but it should be okay just stored locally on my phone.

Anyway, it supports three categories of lists: to do, shopping, and pantry. I’m not using the pantry lists (maybe I’ll work myself up to that level of kitchen organization someday), but I am using the other two categories. Notice I said categories; that means that I can have multiple lists in each category. I can separate my shopping lists by store (very handy). And, I can have more than one to-do list–woohoo!!

So here’s what my second to-do list is: my ongoing prayer list. I already write in a journal (when I have time), but my phone is always with me and makes it so much easier to access my prayer list when I have just a few moments throughout the day. It keeps those requests in the forefront of my mind. Plus, I can’t wait for God to cross off an item!

I’m sure I’ll be adding different types of lists to my “Out of Milk” app as needed. The app really is very easy and intuitive to use. I didn’t think I’d like re-entering my grocery list, but it doesn’t take much time and I can reorder the items according to my path around the store.

Take a look at the free market for whatever type of phone you have and see if you can find a to-do list app that will work for you. I’d love to hear what you’re using and how you’re using it!

Disclaimer: I am NOT receiving any compensation for this post or endorsement.

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How to Speed Up Pokey

Timers are my favorite tool to prod along a slowpoke and to teach autonomy to a clinger. For my dawdlers, I figured out about how long each subject should take (plenty of resources are available online for this, or you may be able to figure it out from your teacher’s manuals). 

After we had our instruction time together, I would set the timer for the appropriate length of time (say, an hour for math). If the child stared out the window the whole time, then she had that subject for “homework” later. When the timer dinged, we went on to the next subject. That freed up my time and kept pokey from asking for the grammar lesson just as I was about to start dinner. One of my kids liked to race the timer; she tried to finish each subject before the timer went off. Dawdling solved! 

Timers also teach autonomy. Kids don’t even have to be able to tell time to use them. I didn’t have to keep telling my kids to hurry up and they didn’t have to keep asking how much time they had left to finish. 

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What Happens

Oops–just noticed that it’s been over a week since I posted anything! So, it’s time for a true confession: that’s what happens when life happens, even in the home of the very organized homeschool mom. I just ran out of time to write ahead, so my blog was the first thing to go.
Maybe that’s the real lesson here. Sometimes it’s okay to let the non-essentials slide for a short season. It’s okay not to obsess about doing everything to perfection all the time to the detriment of, say, one’s mental health and family obligations.
Q4U: What’s the first thing you let slide when you just run out of time or energy?

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The Value of To-Do Lists

I love lists. I love them so much that I have lists of my lists. I have lists in several different spots. The two most important things that lists do for me are to keep me on track and to give me satisfaction when I can cross something off of one.

Without a list, I flounder through the day. I can’t remember which of my editing deadlines comes first. I forget an important writing deadline. I even forget to blog! I’m unlikely to forget to make dinner with 3 other people asking me “What’s for dinner?” and “When is dinner? I’m starving!” although it has been known to happen. I forget that I needed to spend time rehearsing music for upcoming events. I’m unlikely to forget to take a shower or to do school with my children, so those things don’t usually make it onto a list.

My lists focus on things that I need to work on and am likely to forget. If a particular item has a specific due date, I note that. If there’s no set due date, but it’s something that needs attention, I note it on my list to work on when I have time. The list gives me a framework of items that need my attention while the kids work on their schoolwork independently. I use my BlackBerry to add things to my list whenever and wherever I think of them, since I don’t always have a pen and paper handy. Then, I transfer things to the appropriate list later. The list helps me to focus on the next thing that’s due. Occasionally, the list overwhelms me, but that’s a different topic!

The next best thing about lists is the satisfaction of crossing items off! This is especially helpful for days (or weeks!) when I feel like I haven’t accomplished anything. I can look back at the list and see things crossed off and know that I did, in fact, complete important things. One of my lists is on my BlackBerry, so while I don’t use a physical pen or marker to cross off the completed items, it will put a cute, little, green check mark next to items I’ve finished. That is equally satisfying :-).

The list pictured here is on a small write on/wipe off board that I keep on my desk. I use it to detail all of the writing and editing projects I have coming due. I put specific due dates where applicable and use the list to prioritize my time to make sure that everything gets completed in a timely manner. Sometimes I work until I finish a whole project, sometimes I figure out how much I have to do of one project each day for a certain number of days. Sometimes I just work while I have inspiration for something, then move onto something else.

Q4U: How many to-do lists do you have? What is your favorite thing about utilizing a to-do list?

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Dream Time Management or How Does the Very Organized Homeschool Mom Do it All?

I bound out of bed full of energy at 6:00 a.m. I do my daily devotions, breeze through my exercise routine, and put on my newest size 6 J. Crew outfit. As I stroll into my gleaming kitchen to make omelets and fruit cups for breakfast, my darling children, perfectly groomed, joyfully help set the table and care for their pets. Schoolwork is quietly buzzing along by 8:00 a.m., so I decide to start the first load of laundry. After hanging the clothes out to dry, I sweep off the deck and water my lush, fall flower garden. While the children contentedly self-teach, I work on an editing job. At mid-morning, we pause for a healthful snack and a poetry recitation. After our morning recess comes more learning for the children and more work for me. For lunch, my children whip up a delicious recipe from their home economics course. Following a general clean up of the kitchen, we’re ready for our art history lesson accompanied by our classical listening music time. Every afternoon includes a different extra-curricular activity for each well-rounded child, so mom’s sparkling minivan is always on the move. A home-cooked meal followed by family devotions sets up our relaxed evenings of enjoying each other’s company as we play educational games until bedtime.

Buzz, buzz, buzz!! What’s that? Oh, time to get up. That’s the third time I’ve hit the snooze button on my alarm clock. Too bad, I was having such a lovely dream . . . Maybe next time I’ll be a little more practical about real time organization tips.