After I read Overwhelmed, I realized that a lot of the ways I work on balance are derived from lessons I’ve read about and internalized from books. My experience is not (at all) normative–when it comes to reading about other people’s balance it’s a good idea to remember that we all have different callings, temperaments, and circumstances. And yet, sometimes it’s helpful to see what other people do, if only to be able to smugly assert that you’d never be caught dead doing such a thing!
Reading 168 Hours helped me think of time from a big picture perspective. Any given day might be really, really rough. But when I think of my time in terms of weeks, months, school terms, trimesters, or years, I am freed up to see balance. My work tends to ebb and surge–sometimes I’m up to my eyeballs in deadlines, other times I’m coasting. Sometimes school is going fabulously, and sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall. But because I zoom out, when work is nuts I can pull back on other things knowing there is plenty of time to catch up later and when school is not working I can calmly assess issues without throwing in the towel (tempting though that sometimes is). Zooming out frees me to see things cyclically, which allows me to get more done over time than if I only did things I could commit to daily.
I think God gave me five children because He knew that otherwise I’d be a Tiger Mom. I’ll admit that I take some things really seriously, but I let a lot of modern parenting requirements slide. I don’t hover over my kids while they play outside or sit next to them while they practice piano. The only extracurriculars we do are things they can all do at once and that meet a family priority (for a needed skill or long-term value). So the oldest three take piano lessons at the same place one afternoon a week. This summer they are all in swimming lessons at the same time. During the school year we do a homeschool co-op that offers electives so they can try different things but we only have to drive to one spot. This helps us do things we value (reading aloud before bed, having relaxed evenings, doing meaningful work) and avoid things we don’t like (living in the car, eating on the run, overscheduling).
I also set aside chunks of time for work and school. We have a fabulous babysitter/nanny for 10 hours a week–one afternoon and one morning. She has a teaching background so on the morning she’s here she supervises the kids’ independent work assignments (math, handwriting, copywork, sometimes grammar or Latin or a composition). According to the experts, most knowledge workers only put in 4 hours a day of real work. So when we have the babysitter or it’s naptime, I maximize it and put in a full work day–not always completely successfully, but I try. With those 10 babysitting hours plus daily quiet time (only the baby naps but everyone else has to read or play quietly) and some Saturday work time, I can carry a full-time workload without keeping a chair warm every day from 9 to 5.
Because I am working one morning a week, we batch a week’s worth of school subjects (other than the previously mentioned independent assignments) into the other four days. We cover the same amount of material, and no one seems to notice that I bumped their work up 25% on the other four days.
Sort the rocks.
You’ve heard the story about how you can get more into a container if you start by putting in the biggest rocks, then fill in with smaller and smaller rocks, then sand, then water. I think I first read about this in Eat That Frog. Everyone tells this story because it’s so incredibly helpful to sort your rocks. I keep a loosely defined hierarchy of tasks for all of my roles so I can do the most high impact items first. If I have a chunk of work time, I tackle big projects rather than churning around on little stuff like email. If I find a small window of free time I read, because I keep books strewn everywhere. This helps me use time more effectively and take advantage of windows of opportunity, however long or short they may be.
Know the why.
As a questioner (see Better Than Before), I find that I really only follow through with things when I have identified WHY I’m doing them. Consider housework. I truly think that people sleep better in clean sheets, but I have found out from personal experience that you do not get kicked out of the human race for not changing sheets on a weekly basis. Changing sheets on five beds is not a quick job and as previously mentioned I do not retain a domestic staff. So I change sheets every other week or so, enlist the kids to help, and that works for us. On the other hand, I get stressed out by visual clutter. So I make it a point to keep our main living areas picked up and swept every day, even though I don’t mop the floor very often and absolutely never vacuum my ceilings or wash windows. I keep a clear view of my why for work tasks, for each subject we do in our homeschool, and for every activity I sign up for. It helps immensely in prioritization, and if I can’t articulate a why, chances are I’m not the person for the job anyway.
From a logistical standpoint, there is a lot going on in a homeschooling family of soon-to-be seven where both parents work, even though we don’t do a ton of sports and lessons. Any one of my roles (mom, teacher, worker) would be enough to lead to periodic burn-out, and the combination requires some finesse. That’s why I have to spend my Fringe Hours on something restorative. For me, that means I try to get regular exercise, I read a lot, and I try to make time to hang out with friends when I can. I rarely get 15 minutes to myself and think, “Self, we should scrub the shower with a toothbrush.” I love a clean shower as much as the next person, but it doesn’t feed my mind and soul like a great conversation or a good book. When I’m restored mentally and physically, I’m better able to find balance.
We all do life differently, but I’d love to hear what works for you! What books or resources have particularly helped you define the balance you’re shooting for?