• Why it’s valuable to manage our time
  • How I do this using:
    • my desk
    • a wall calendar
    • a day planner
    • for reading materials
    • for grocery shopping & errands


Do you ever feel like you’re just jumping from one thing to the next without time to think? Without being able to keep track of planned events and making sure that you’re energetic and ready for them when they happen? Do you have a place for important papers and information where it can be located quickly and easily? Are you able to utilize those 5 minutes that you suddenly have, without wasting them just trying to think of how to use them? *chuckle*  *wink*  Do you manage things like grocery shopping so that it can be efficient and easily manageable; and home maintenance with vitality and the help of the family? Well these things are very possible…and so much more.  *smile*

So far I have written over 47 posts for you just on the organization of home and family alone.   *smile*  I have been asked many time how I manage my time at home with a large family, so in this post I’ll share with you why it’s valuable for moms to manage their time, and then how I do that using my desk, a calendar, a day planner, how I organize reading material, grocery shopping & errands.  And after I published this post the first time I was asked what my strategies are for organizing bills, mail, and coupons, and I realized I should have included those as well!  So in part 2 I cover those additional ways I manage my time.

If we desire to live life ON PURPOSE we can budget our time just like we would our finances.  Deciding in advance how our time should be most wisely spent, and creating a plan for how to manage our time with all the dynamics each day encompasses.  Working proactively rather than re-actively through our days, weeks, school years, summers, seasons of pregnancy or with a newborn at home, etc…  But we only have 24 hours to work with.  

When I think the amount of time I have in a day I’ve learned to envision it with boundaries, since 24 hours if the limit.  *smile*  But still it can feel like we don’t have time for real life to happen while keeping up with the important or unexpected things that come along in every day. Things like a child (or several children!) that needs extra behavior and character training one day, someone getting the flu, 4 kids needing their diapers changed simultaneously, or even the nice opportunity to join friends at the park on an unexpectedly warm, sunny day.  And my hyper-responsible, first-born self says, “How am I possibly going to fit in a trip to the park – without letting go of important responsibilities – and when I’m already maxed out?”  …But my heart says, “…But playing with the kids at the park is important, too…” 

Well sometimes the problem is being maxed out by clutter, disorganization and a general lack of clarity about what we should be doing.  It’s okay – don’t pull your hair out.  *smile*  We actually do have the time we need to take care of the extra things that come up, the problem is that there is no way of getting the time together into large enough blocks to be useful. The time we lack is in the cracks of disorganization.  (While this post is about how I manage my own time directly, if you want more information about how I manage our home and family, please see “You Cant Have Your Cake and Eat It Too“.)

Below is a visual my husband created of how a day looks when it lacks organization and planning.  This person just doesn’t have time for anything.  Her activities are actually spilling out of the day’s boundaries into the next day and she’s having to make compromises in the important areas in order to handle the urgent things that come up.  This equals stress – guaranteed.  And not just for Mom, but for her husband and children as well.

While it certainly is possible to simply have more things in your life than one day can fit, most of the time it is a matter of organization and prioritization.  The answer can be found in re-capturing all the time that is lost in the cracks of disorganization and clutter.  When things are organized they fit together within the confines of a plan.  The right amount of time at the right time can be laid out in advance so that I know what I will be doing at about any given time of the day based on our family’s schedule.  Some think this sounds like prison, or bondage, or just plain unrealistic.  But the truth is that freedom lies within taking charge of our days and activities. When we plan in advance then we don’t expect 28 hour days out of ourselves, and time is not wasted.  We have time for all of the important things (and by this I’m including relaxation and play, Bible study and peaceful, adequate amounts of sleep) – and even have a little time left over.  This left over time is called “margin” and it is for the little bumps that come along and try to crash my day.  And believe me, they will always come. 

Here’s an example from a morning a few years ago at our house filled with “bumps”.  The girls over slept their alarm clock in the morning, so now the oatmeal that Karen (12) loves to fix for us is not started, young kids don’t have their water bottles filled or vitamins out and they’re asking repeatedly for a drink, people are needing to shower at the same time and arguing about who should be able to go first, and young kids are not productively and happily occupied with breakfast but instead are getting out tons of toys which will need a big clean up now before we start homeschooling for the day.  Tyler (2) has pooey pants and has wriggled his hands down into his diaper and now has those contents on his hands while he is touching toys – major clean up now for not only him but the 17 toys he’s touched, etc…  Maybe you can relate.  *smile*  Not my favorite beginning of a day.  

When everyone is up on time in the morning, kids are dressed and ready for the day and sitting at the table with everything they need (water, vitamins, food), no toys are out, no one is bored and sticking their hands in their diaper, and we clean up breakfast in a timely manner and move smoothly into school.  *Aahhh*  Much better.  But when bumpy mornings happen, with some margin in our schedule we can re-group and get back into our plan without the stress of missing a large portion of our school time and other important things and spiraling in to more chaos as things progress.  If you look at the next picture you can get a vision for how eliminating the wasted time in a day can equal more than enough time to do what we want and need to with some left over for the extras.

Our refrigerator door is Organization Central for the family (Click HERE for more on home organization.), and my kitchen counter is Organization Central for me personally.  *smile*  It’s not ideal to have my desk be on the kitchen counter near the sink, but in our current small house this is what I have so I make it work, and it serves it’s purpose.  I personally only have so much working-memory space in my head available for managing our large family so everything has to be written down or printed out to be remembered – my counter “desk” is the place to keep it all organized. 


Flat on the counter I keep an 8×10 spiral notebook as my “To-Do” list.  It is organized into three categories:  people & places to CALL, things to DO, and places I need to GO.  This way if I have a few minutes available I don’t have to read through the whole list to find something I could take care of in the next 5 minutes, I can just skim the section of phone calls I need to make, for example, and quickly select one; instead of spending those 5 minutes just reading the list trying to decide how to best use those 5 minutes!  *chuckle*  (I even had this organized notebook idea published in Marriage Partnership Magazine once, kinda fun. *smile*)  I cross items off my list as they’re completed.  When the notebook page is full in any of the 3 categories and there’s no more room to write down additional things, then I re-write the page with only the remaining items that are not yet crossed off.  Occasionally something stays on my list for months and never gets done as I’m prioritizing my time, and that’s okay.  Sometimes it just keeps getting re-written on new lists until it’s done, and sometimes I decide that I’m just not going to do that thing after all and it drops off.

Beside the note book I stick post-it notes of things that must be taken care of today, or notes of things I need to recall quickly.  (Side note: I do get flack from sweet friends who tease me about being the post-it note queen – just because I always keep 5 different sizes of post-it notes on hand in our desk drawer.  *chuckle*  They’ve even given me post-it notes as a gift!  I love-love post-its – lists and notes that can’t escape me because they’re stuck down!  Yay!  Brilliant design!  They’re all over the house.  Anyway…)  Examples of what I use post-its for on my counter might be a reminder note that one of the children is to miss a privilege for however many days for a poor choice they made, or a note that I need to call my mom to discuss the family birthday party coming up this weekend.  Easily pealed off and thrown away when it’s completed.
I have a vertical file box for all of the paperwork I need on hand (file drawers are in the garage for all other paper work).  Now I’m not a pile person, but for some reason if I turn what would be a pile and stand it up vertically it doesn’t look like or feel like a pile any more.  *chuckle*  Go figure.  So this box holds things like recipes I plan to try or ones I’ve taken from my recipe binders (Organizing Recipes) because I’m planning to prepare them that week and I’ve already shopped for the ingredients.  Stickers for homeschooling rewards.  A pen (that big pink daisy is my happy pen – just makes me smile), pencil, and a highlighter for quick and easy access.  Extra copies of the consumable charts that the children use (See Charts and Lists for more on this).  Papers of online resources for buying modest clothing, or for help with the girls’ crocheting.  A “Children’s Catechism” (which we started teaching but haven’t taught the children completely yet but still hope to).  A website print out of some music I’d like to buy some time.  My Cuisinart food processor manual and Blendtec manual for quick reference. A list of things I need done around the house so when someone desires to earn some extra money, or someone “earns” an extra job for more practice in serving with a good attitude *wink-wink* then I have those ideas on hand.   “Medical Release Forms” for when I need to leave any of the children with someone other than my husband, brochures from about 6 local malls so I can reference what stores are available there, what the phone number is for that store, and what times they’re open (to avoid wasting any time at the mall and avoiding going there at all costs unless an item I need is there for sure and even held for me *laugh*).  And other such papers.  My box even has picture frames for photos of our children.  I love it.  
There is a little mini vertical file stand for things that are in process right now; especially smaller items that would get lost in the bigger file box.  For example, receipts I need to hold on to, the library print-out list of books we have currently checked out, print outs of anything I’ve ordered online so I can make sure to watch for it’s arrival, a gift card to be used, etc.
Between the larger file box and the wall, I stand up reading material I’m working on.  A couple books I’m reading or plan to read soon, the chapter book I’m reading aloud to the kids at night, the current Taste of Home’s “Simple & Delicious magazine to look through for new recipes. This is a source for excellent recipes, quick and simple yet very tasty, and with photographs of every recipe!)
Beside my counter is a wall calendar that serves as my month-at-a-glance day planner.  I used to use my actual day planner for this but it was too much trouble to be pulling it out and flipping to the correct month all the time, so I changed to a darling wall calendar which I just love.  All appointments, birthday or holiday reminders, guests coming over, what days the fish were fed, when the library books are due, kids can check the date for their school work, and younger kids can learn all about calendars by using mine – everything for the family goes here.  It’s kept in one place so I cannot accidentally double-book anything because plans were kept in more than one location.  I write most everything in pencil, because when plans change I like to erase them completely; for my calendar I don’t like to see a mess of pen ink where things have been changed, I like to see simplicity – it makes me feel calmer, not overwhelmed or confused.  I write birthdays very small in red ink, and I write when books are due at the library in blue so that those two things stand out (and neither 0f these things will change), but everything else is in pencil.  I circle appointment times so that I can see those at a glance easily and they stand out as well.  When I write something down that will happen in the morning on a certain day, I write it at the top of that day’s box on the calendar; if something will happen in the afternoon, in the middle of the box, and in the evening, at the bottom of the box.  If the calendar is uncomfortably full of activities or stressful over a week or a few weeks then I’ll sometimes put a penciled ‘X’ over a weekend or two after that to remind myself not to plan things on those days.  I need to be sure our family has the rest we need, and make sure the kids have enough of Daddy & Mommy that they need.  My husband has been good over the years to periodically remind me that I’m not a victim of our schedule – it’s totally in my control, I can make it whatever I would like.  *smile* 

I do still have my day planner, it just no longer holds our family calendar.  In it I keep two sets of address & phone tabs:  one set for friends, and one set for businesses.  This way I can keep track of businesses phone numbers and the times that they’re open so I don’t have to spend time looking them up more than once, and I don’t waste time making trips to stores that are closed.  (Hate that.)  In a pocket of the planner I keep directions to places I go (where I haven’t driven myself at least 10 times so that now I remember how to get there exactly *laugh*).  I have business card pockets for Doctor’s business cards.  And at the back of the planner are four tabs for additional information. 
– A “Loaned Out” tab for listed items like books or messages on CD that I’ve loaned out or borrowed, so I don’t have to rack my brain trying to remember where that book went that I loaned out months ago when another friend borrowed it.
– A “Gift Ideas” tab for keeping track of gift ideas for each person in our immediate family.  As ideas present themselves I always write them down so I don’t have to try to recall those great ideas later.  We always strive to buy each other and the kids something they really need or would like to have, not just any ‘ol thing.
– A “Businesses” tab for keeping track of extra details from certain businesses, such as The Picture People:  the name of the gal who did a great job of taking our large-family photo; or information on Jungle Play Land:  the address & phone number, times they’re open, prices for several different age groups, and information on the membership we purchased.
– A “Misc.” tab for more random information such as a list of books I’d like to read; a list of educational videos we’ve enjoyed from the library; the authors names of our favorite children’s books at the library; the phone number for our local Animal Control (we’ve had dangerous dogs in our neighborhood); or a list of ideas on how to throw a wonderful ladies tea, which I wrote down when we attended a church who did this often.
I also intentionally manage my time with the weekly errands and grocery shopping.  And by the way this errand can be done efficiently, without wasting time, with enough energy so that you’re not dragging (because you got enough sleep at night), and thoroughly enough that you rarely need to make extra trips because things were missed.  *smile*  Our family uses a “Master Grocery List” on the refrigerator for keeping track of what needs to be purchased at the store that week.  This is a list of all of our staple one-stop-shopping needs:  food, diapers, household items, etc.  I write in italics beside some items how many of that item we need and what brand we buy, so that if Bob does the shopping for some reason that week then he’ll have all the information he needs.  When we run out of an item someone simply highlights it on the list.  This way I don’t need to waste time creating lists each week that contain mostly the same regular items, and by skimming the list before shopping I can make sure nothing was missed which would then require an additional trip to the store – total waste of time I could have spent with my family.  I also write down the ingredients for the dinner recipes I’m planning on making that week.  Items on the list are also put in the order of how we find them in the store so there is little if any back-tracking (i.e. front of the store to the back of the store).  (See our post “Charts and Lists that Save My Sanity” for more information on this.)  This also helps me quickly locate an item on the list when I need to highlight it, because I know which items are near each other (i.e. at Costco, the string cheese is right after the baked breads, so when I skim the list on the refrigerator and see the bread items listed I know the string cheese will be listed immediately after that). Click on the list below to enlarge it if you’d like.
You can have energy with your jobs at home!  *laugh*  And you can involve the children so that they help maintain cleanliness and order. It does not have to, and should not sit on mom’s shoulders alone. To leave it up to mom solely is not good form mom or for children.  You can have motherhood with vitality!

To enable the children with their individual responsibilities we have several charts and lists on the refrigerator to help me manage my time with them as well.  Once kids have been carefully instructed and taught to do a certain job, and I’m confident they know what to do, I do not waste a ton of time repeating myself every day re-explaining the details of the job they have before them – they reference a list or check list for this.  (See our post “Charts and Lists that Save My Sanity” for more information on this) For example, when they have the responsibility of cleaning up the kitchen after dinner what does that mean exactly?  I can tell you it means different things to me than it does to our teenagers.  *chuckle*  So I make a chart with the details for them to check off, and they learn to pursue excellence in their work. And instead of listing on my fingers and saying, “Have you done…have you done…have you done…”, all I have to say is, “Have you checked off your chart?”
When we have a continual problem of a child “forgetting” the reasoning behind certain family rules, and I’ve explained it to them over and over and over again yet they’re still not “remembering” why that thing is important, then I make a list and they get to copy it down to help them retain the information.  This helps them recall why we do what we do. *smile*  Here’s an example of a list they get to copy down (the number of times is determined by their age and ability) when they’re continually tossing clean clothes into the laundry hamper:
Also on top of my counter I’ll keep any small projects I need to work on, such as mending, thank you notes to be written, or small toys that need to be glued.  I don’t like piles of things, but if they’re not on my counter then they’re not “on my plate” so to speak and they don’t get done.  Sometimes I’ll intentionally make a pile of clothing items that need mending, for example, right in the middle of my counter because then I’m inclined to get it off of there and I complete what I’ve been putting off! *chuckle*
I completely rely on my “desk”/counter to keep us all functioning smoothly.  Unfortunately the older kids do see it as a place to get lots of information, too, so I’m often chasing them away and forbidding them from asking a hundred questions about what they read!  *smile*  Not that it’s secret, but I do reserve the right to change any of the information on the calendar at any time, and do not desire to re-explain the changes to the masses and deal with so much disappointment.  I just tell them that they’re on a need-to-know basis and right now they don’t need to know. I reassure them that  I’ll tell them things that pertain to them when the time is right.  

So!  *smile* If you’re feeling stressed and need your time better managed – first breathe into the bag.  *wink*  Then I encourage you to look forward to your future plans of organizing your time with hope!  If you’re reading this and trying to imagine where to begin towards creating a more organized life style, I encourage you to pick just one strategy to implement at a time.  Don’t take on so much change that it takes all of your energy just to try to remember how you wanted to use each tool or strategy, because that will likely bring feelings of “I can’t do this”, discouragement, or confusion.  When the one strategy you choose is comfortable, then choose another one if you need to.  Give yourself grace.  *smile*  And I’d love to answer any questions you may have about how I organize my time.

If you would like to have any of my charts, lists, or schedules that I’ve shared you can download those from this link.