How to Create a Daily Schedule that Lets You Breathe
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In my mind, everything is 10 minutes from my house. All of our favourite libraries are a 10-minute drive. Last year’s science coop was 10 minutes away. Back when I worked, our store was a 10-minute drive from my house. Coming home was twice as fast, though, thanks to a handy one-way street — just 10 minutes. Swimming lessons over in the next city? I don’t know, 10 minutes? We can walk to the neighbourhood deli in 10 minutes. Our church is halfway to the deli — about a 10-minute a walk. Our favourite park is 10 minutes up the highway, and there is a Starbucks just 10 minutes beyond that. If we stop to get a latte on the way to the park, it’s about a 10 or 15-minute trip altogether.
I figure it takes me 10 minutes for me to pack up the kids and get in the van. If I have to pack snacks, I do it while I’m getting the kids in the van, so it bumps my time frame up to … about 10 minutes? Oh, and it takes me 10 minutes to make coffee, which I can do while I pack the snacks and find the shoes and refill the water bottles and locate the car keys and change the diaper and download the podcast and apply the sunscreen. So 10 minutes total.
Nony from the podcast A Slob Comes Clean calls this Time Passage Awareness Disorder, and I’m pretty sure I share her affliction.
Some people aren’t phased by always being late, but it really bothers me that we can’t get anywhere on time ever. I hate feeling frazzled and two steps behind everyone else. So, last summer as I planned out our homeschooling year, I decided that we would do better — and to do better, I would schedule everything. EVERYTHING. I would make a schedule and print it off and laminate it, and then we would just do whatever the schedule told us and never be frazzled again. Lamination is the key, my friends, to a new and more organized life.
I opened a blank spreadsheet … and stared at it for a good half hour. How do you even start? Rather than making life-altering scheduling decisions, I spent the next half hour breaking the day into one-hour segments. Then I changed it to half-hour increments, and then 15 minutes, and then half-hour again. I gave each child a column on each day. Okay, good. I was finally making progress.
I plugged in the activities that we were already committed to — coops, swimming lessons, dance classes, evening clubs — and I highlighted those cells in red so that they would stand out. Then, based on what was left blank, I scheduled in meal times so that we would eat at the same time every day. Meal times were highlighted in bright orange.
I decided that we should have a daily nap time/quiet time (blue), but my schedule didn’t leave much room. No problem — I bumped both breakfast and lunch up by half an hour so that I’d have a bit more time between lunch and our afternoon activities.
This left a blank chunk in the morning, which became our main homeschooling time. I picked a few main subjects for my nine-year-old to work through each morning (highlighted with dark yellow), and then I added in a Morning Time for my younger two (light yellow). I also added in a (fuschia!) daily morning activity for them as well, so that I’d never need to come up with something creative before my morning hit of caffeine. Every single activity was highlighted with bright colours so that the quickly shrinking blank spaces were obvious.
In the evenings, I scheduled in our regular game night and movie night (light blue), and then I added a few activities in that we rarely get around to doing — things like badge work for my daughter’s girls club, or online ukulele lessons. In the afternoons, I scheduled in free play time (pink) and then park time/library visit (emerald green), stopping just short of scheduling which locations we would go to each day. I even scheduled in family chore time (aqua), with a rotating list of which rooms we will clean together each day.
I stepped back to admire my work. So colourful. Every spreadsheet cell was filled in and I couldn’t be happier. If we could live our days like this, I would be delighted. Not too rushed, with time for everything that we love. I even scheduled myself a hike one afternoon a week, all by myself (well, with a toddler on my back).
The next day we put our plan into practice. I quickly discovered that I didn’t schedule in any travel time at all, not anywhere in the whole schedule. Apparently, we tele-transport to swimming lessons and then back home again, where a hot supper awaits. Oh, that too — I didn’t schedule any time to cook meals. And this is where all my work on a tedious daily schedule paid off.
My schedule clearly showed me that I do not live in reality, where lunches need to be packed and shoes need to be found and diapers always need changing at the very last minute.
What’s more, when I reviewed my colourful spreadsheet, I realized that I have almost no spare time, either. No wonder my oldest is always complaining that never have time to teach her to sew. I literally do not have time available to teach her to sew.
Suddenly I understood why I was always, always frazzled last year — because I took on way too much. Last year, I saw free afternoons as eternally open for field trips or clubs when I really should have been guarding them for naps and schooling. Last year, I kept telling my kids that we’d do all the things, and I was just as frustrated as they were when I wasn’t able to follow through on those promises.
I had to redo my schedule.
I consulted the book Teaching from Rest by Sarah Mackenzie, which offers tips for creating a schedule that lets you breathe. She first suggests that you figure out how much time you have to work with; calculate the hours of the week — 168 for everyone — and then subtract time for the non-negotiables, like sleeping and eating. What you have left over is all you’ve got to work with.
She compares it to a financial planning: you don’t look at your modest paycheque and then put new cars, exotic vacations and large mortgages in your budget, right? Yet for some reason, we often try to cram 300 hours of activity into every single week. I think I was on the right track then when I made my blank schedule with the days broken into half-hour increments.
Mackenzie goes on to say that once you’ve figured out how much time you have in your daily budget of hours, fill only 80 percent. For example, she needs 105 minutes to teach Math, Latin and Phonics each morning, so she gives it 120 minutes on the schedule. Morning Time needs 60 minutes, so she gives it 90. 4.25 hours of schooling is allotted 4.4 hours on the schedule. Just like books need white space around the words, our lives need “white space” around the activities. Our lives need margin.
By adding margin into the schedule, a missing math book doesn’t derail the whole morning. A schedule with margin acknowledges that life happens and lets us be prepared for it.
I love the C.S. Lewis quote near the beginning of the book:
The great thing, if one can, is to stop regarding all the unpleasant things as interruptions of one’s “own.” or “real” life. The truth is of course that what one calls the interruptions are precisely one’s real life — the life God is sending one day by day; what one calls one’s “real life” is a phantom of one’s own imagination.
Life is made up of all the little, unplanned events that happen in our day — once we stop viewing these events as interruptions and start recognizing them as the fabric of life itself, they won’t stress us out as much. Adding margin to our day is one of the ways that we can expect the unexpected.
I turned back to my schedule, looking for activities to cut and places to add margin — not to mention time for meal prep and travel. It was harder than I expected. How do you know what’s too important to cut? How do you know when you left in the right amount?
I remembered the advice of Nancy Kelly, a blogger and Charlotte Mason consultant. She spoke at a Charlotte Mason conference that I attended a year or two ago. When someone asked her how you know how much to cut from your schedule, she replied that you “keep cutting back until there is peace in your home.” But what if that’s a lot? She repeated that we need to keep cutting, cutting until we have peace. We can always add more activities in as time goes in — but start from that baseline of peace.
What did that mean for me? I cut out the book club and the gymnastics lessons that I had hoped to sign the girls up for. I scheduled some subjects less often, and I combined geography and history. I but back on English in the schedule, and I’ve gave my nine-year-old more books to read independently instead of working through them together.
This year is the first year where I feel like we’ve been keeping up with my expectations. Yes, I wish we were further ahead in every subject, but I know that we’ve done a lot too. The modified schedule that I made back in August has been our baseline for the year, and even as we add and cut activities as the seasons change, I have a general sense of how much we can handle.
If you feel behind all the time, I’d like to suggest that you do what I did — open a spreadsheet program and make a detailed schedule for your week. Add everything: when you sleep, when you eat, when you clean, when you cook. Add your travel time and your work time, your exercise time and your Netflix time. Does it all fit? Cut what doesn’t, and then cut more until you have margin in your day. See if it doesn’t let you breathe a little easier.