So I need to give credit to flylady.net before I begin. Everything I do with this series was inspired from that website. I modified and customized her methods to fit my needs because one, she utilizes a flight journal and an office in a bag which only worked for me while I was in college – it might work for you so I provide the link. I mean I still have them, but I barely ever look at them.
The other thing I didn’t like about her system is how everything she does is centered upon housework and keeping the home perfect. Fuck. That. I refuse to be a slave to my space. I’m not saying that keeping your home clean isn’t important but when I first started doing her thing and got it rolling I found that while it did help get my life organized it felt like all I did with my time was clean, run errands, do school work, and had NO time for play. I didn’t have time to enjoy my children. I didn’t have time to enjoy being alone. I can’t handle that. So I had to modify it for me and the needs of my family.
I strongly encourage you to do the same. If her system appeals to you and works for you, then own it and rock it. I will cheer for you and be happy for you. I promise. If my system works for you then I’m honored. If there is another system out there that works for you, I’d love to know about it so I can share it here. This is about finding the things that work. This isn’t about me having the “one right path” for everyone. I know better than that. Life doesn’t work that way. Life is messy and complicated and everyone is wired differently. Different paths are required for success.
Now that I’ve said all that, I can dig into my system of visual routine charts.
The first thing that needs to be done is to know what your typical day looks like. I’ve created a blank template using Open Office (so it should be compatible with any office program) you can download here if you’d like, but really any day planner using 15 minute time intervals is all you need for this. And of course you can make your own but you risk falling in to the trap of the time sucking that is perfectionism. Really, keep this part as simple as possible. I’m guilty of making this entire process an all day event from start to finish. This template will serve a couple of things for you later, which we’ll get to as we go.
This is what my template looks like to start with:
Since I manage and juggle the schedules of four people, I’ll copy and paste the columns so I have a total of four for each person. Now my template looks like this:
Now we’re going to figure out our sleep first. Good sleep hygiene means getting up at the same time every morning no matter what. So the earliest time you need to get up on your typical day is what dictates that. The boys need to get up at 6:30am on school days to have enough time to get ready and be on the school bus on school days. So guess what? This means in order to keep their circadian rhythms on track, they need to get up at that time every morning even on days that isn’t a school day – every day, year round. Me? I like to get up half an hour before that so I can have a cup of coffee in peace first. It’s always a good idea to clear the fog and soothe that pesky toad hulk that HATES the morning and HATES sleeping at night before dealing with the boys. I have never been one to wake up well or even remotely pleasant. So let’s put in our wake up times now and pick a background color for it. Be HONEST with yourself on how long it takes you to wake up and what steps it involves. Feel free to dot those steps down on a slip of paper and call the list “Morning Routine” and save it for later. Now fill in the number of 15 minute blocks you need for that routine. Yes, I really do need a minimum of 30 minutes just to wake my ass up with a cup of coffee. Bad things happen if this fails, trust me. I’m choosing yellow because sunshine, but pick whatever color you’d like. Remember this block for later. Now my template looks like this (made a correction for Tuxedo Cat’s new morning routine he’s started recently):
Now visit the National Sleep Foundation’s research report on the amount of sleep each age group needs. You’ll find that on Table 2.
I land in the Adult category needing 7 to 9 hours of sleep. Little Bear and Tuxedo Cat fall into the school aged group so for them it’s 7 to 8 hours. Scholar Owl is a teenager so for him it’s 7 hours. So I’m looking at 7 to 9 hours as a family if I want to keep everyone together – which would be a good thing where everyone is getting up at the same time.
Oddly I’m noting here that I’ve been sending my boys to bed at 9pm every night for years and my dad thinks that’s too late at night. Going by this table here, 8 hours is the maximum amount of recommended sleep which would put them at 10pm. Funny thing is I know it takes about an hour for them to fall asleep after they get into bed. So keep that in mind too when you plan for sleep. How long does it take to fall asleep after going to bed? Plan for that accordingly to save yourself and your family the stress. Sleep needs to be free from “performance anxiety” and yes, it happens. Do not turn sleep time into a battle or war zone. If you do, it won’t happen. Period. I plan the 8 hours for me, but the reality is my entire life – even according to my mother – my average has always been 6 hours per night.
Decide on your goal of sleep, then count back from the time you get up. That’s your hour of sleep. Fill all the spaces in between with gray. Those times are now not available to you for regular scheduling. Not negotiable. Yes, exceptions happen but should they become the rule you’ll need to re-evaluate your schedule. Honor and preserve the sacredness of your need for sleep.
Here is what my template looks like now:
Okay, remember to honor and preserve the sacredness of your sleep. This means you need to plan getting ready for bed before the hour of sleep.
It just so happens that last school year Scholar Owl and I covered sleep hygiene in his health class and we found this really helpful PDF file from UMHS. It includes a sleep hygiene journal to track your sleep habits along with tips on how to improve your sleep experience.
The biggest take away in all this is that we need to program our brains when to start relaxing and prepare for sleep. Essentially we need to build an evening routine before the hour of sleep that is relaxing, calm, and predictable that is the same every day. On a slip of paper, write down the steps you think that will work for you, label it “Evening Routine” and save it for later. Mark your evening routine one hour before bed on your schedule now. I’m going to color it blue.
Now it’s time to insert all the uncompromising things that MUST happen in your day: medications, work, school, regularly reoccurring appointments, etc. Next stick in everything associated with that: travel times, meals eaten with the meds, etc. You have to plan for the total package in your schedule. Put all of that into your schedule now, including the stuff that happens weekly or monthly if it’s on a fixed day you can count on.
Add in meal times now if you haven’t already, including prep and clean up times as well.
Sit back now and consider the empty spaces you have remaining. This is what you have left to work with for everything else when you’re home such as:
- Choosing a fixed time to clean
- Choosing a fixed time for home office stuff (you know bills and paperwork)
- If you homeschool, choosing a fixed time for lesson planning, etc.
- If you homeschool, choosing a fixed time for teaching
- If you are in school, choosing a fixed time for studying and course work
- Choosing a fixed time for medical self care (mood charts, refilling pill boxes, etc.)
- Choosing a fixed time for some exercise (it doesn’t have to be intense, just enough to get you going)
- Choosing a fixed time for some quality personal YOU time (and this is important!)
- Choosing a fixed time for some quality time with loved ones (be it family or friends, also important!)
- And for all you writers out there: WRITING
Some of these things can be done weekly or monthly while others are daily. YOU decide and put them in. Keep in mind you can do ANYTHING for at least 15 minutes. That’s all you need to get something done. Commit yourself to at least that much – no less or your schedule becomes a mess. If you find yourself having difficulty fitting everything in, then it’s time to start clearing away commitments that aren’t truly important to you. Put your foot down and do not let others dictate what’s important. This is your life and your well-being. Preserve it. Keep it sacred. You cannot afford to allow others to turn it into a living hell. I’ve been there. I know.
Right now my schedule is looking mighty empty but last spring it was pretty hellish with no time to spare – no time to clean, barely time to eat, and just enough time to get home and crash, only to start the cycle over again. This was while Little Bear was in the intensive out-patient treatment program. I had NOTHING in my schedule to clear away to give me room to breathe during that time. Scholar Owl’s schedule was full with his homeschooling stuff. And Tuxedo Cat’s schedule had just ramped right into the Special Olympics. And EVERYONE had appointments for their health on top of it all. So my schedule was filled with nothing but driving to get everyone where they needed to be. It SUCKED. Nothing was negotiable. Everything had to happen and sometimes I had to be at two places at the same time for two different sons in two different towns. And the state of my home suffered for it. And you know what? That apartment never recovered until we moved out. Sometimes that happens and all you can do is hang on for dear life and pray. The biggest mistake I made was only asking for help with transportation.
If this is where you are at: ASK FOR HELP. Get some extra pairs of hands with you on that shit. Show someone – ANYONE – this schedule you have just made and tell them what you need help with. Tell them you need them to do laundry, do dishes, or cook meals, or whatever else it is you need to lighten that burden. Do not let yourself drown in this.
So now my schedule looks like this for the moment and I’m sure it will need to be tweaked as I get things settled in at my parents’ house but it’s a start at least:
So this brings us to listing out the routines you’ll need for making checklists or visual charts. Mine are:
- Bedtime Routine
- Evening Routine
- Morning Routine
- Afternoon Routine
- Cleaning Routines
- Home Office Routine – just a checklist for me
- Homeschool Management Routine – just a checklist for me
- Writing Routine (if you need/want one? – for me it’s just a fixed place and time with a daily word count graph to fill in)
Write down the ones you want and need to go with your schedule. For some people, having this schedule may be more than enough to work with. That’s fine, but for me and my boys it’s not enough to know when things happen. We sometimes need reminders of what happens in those time blocks too. The visual charts help us with that. Now you can place this schedule in a place where you can see it regularly. This will help you stay on track each day. I have a cork board on the wall in front of me at my desk for this purpose.
So stay tuned for the first visual chart coming up: the Bedtime Routine. For now I hope you find value in this template.