In this part 1 we will look at:
  • Why I began scheduling
  • How I began scheduling
  • My overall scheduling framework
  • Additional benefits to scheduling
In part 2 I will cover:
  • Winging it vs. planning it
  • The blessings of planning
  • Common road blocks
  • Additional benefits of scheduling

You can’t have your cake and eat it, too.  This is what we desire in life, though, isn’t it.  To have the fruit of a well-disciplined life, yet to be whimsical and do whatever we want simultaneously and without accountability?  *smile*  Well here’s how I faced the reality of this dilemma with parenting & marriage, and learned a great strategy for success – living life ON PURPOSE.

Why I began scheduling

In 1997 I married the love of my life, and 5 months later Bob and I learned we were expecting our first baby…and then our second baby… 13 months apart!  I was struggling with trying to learn to be a parent, working through difficult pregnancies and deliveries, and learning to be married simultaneously.  We had always wanted children, but this pace of adjusting to marriage and parenting was also driving me into fear of my inadequacy and anticipation of failure in both areas.  I called a dear friend and said, “Help!”  She thrust into my eager and desperate hands a book called, Managers of Their Homes, by Steve & Teri Maxwell, a strong Christian homeschooling family with 8 children of their own.  It was life-changing for us, literally.  It gave scripture and wisdom for how to successfully approach my days with the children, which then freed me to be the wife I always wanted to be.

My first personal dilemma was, “How do I get it all done??”  (Incidentally, this is also the most common question I get from moms.)  I had great stress in trying to keep our home clean, trying to decorate it with things I could purchase inexpensively or make myself, train and nurture the children, provide them educational experiences at home, make sure they had adequate exercise, shop for and prepare low-budget yet healthy meals, participate in church ministry, develop friendships, practice hospitality, get exercise myself, study God’s Word, and make sure I got enough rest to avoid sickness!  Needless to say I was not a peaceful wife and mother, patient, calm, or quiet.  I was stressed out, and full of fear of failure… and not at all the wife and mother I always thought I would be.  And it was breaking my heart.
How I began scheduling
My daily plan used to be my single-woman-without-children strategy, making long to-do lists for myself and plowing strait through it uninterrupted.  *chuckle*  I would end up brushing the children aside out of frustration most of the day while trying to accomplish my goals – not what the Lord had put before me, but what I had put before myself.  I was expecting 28-hour days out of myself, and of course then failing.  Not only did the children not have my heart, but my poor husband had a wife who did not smile very much, who was not enjoying life, who only saw the difficulties, and struggled greatly with depression.  Our expectations in life completely and hugely effect how we approach it.  As I’ve walked through the learning-to-schedule process step-by-step I’ve learned a far better plan.  I initially did not think I would learn very much from this book, but in actually I was spinning way too many plates to do any of them well.  But I was pleasantly surprised to learn so much.The book is written with principles that can be applied by any one, whether they love organization or know nothing about it, whether they are an urban family or rural, large or small.  I learned why being in a regular schedule and routine is valuable, why it is scriptural, and how different families can apply these principles in their own home.  This understanding gave me great hope and determination to create a weekly plan that would be a blessing to my husband, to our children, and to myself.   

I learned how to be proactive in planning our time instead of reactive; how to not let the urgent take place of the important.  I learned to have the freedom to live on purpose.
Beginning this process, before making changes, my days were so chaotic and stressful that I could not even find time at home to read the Managers of Their Homes book!  So I made some weekday evening and Saturday day trips to Starbucks where I could study and plan uninterrupted, while my wonderful husband took care of our children.  I prayed and asked the Lord for direction and guidance – and He was so faithful to do this, as he always is when we ask him and then submit ourselves to him. 
First, I took time to analyze all that I was doing, all I desired to do, how to prioritize, and how to begin to puzzle together a balanced week for the children and myself Monday through Friday.  I did not presume to schedule my husband, but he was very supportive and excited about our new plans and he chose to participate in the routine when he was home – activities after afternoon naps, during dinner time, bedtime routines, etc.  Now I had time for house cleaning, exercise, Bible study, enough sleep, a little reading or scrapbooking, and homeschooling the children (and we were now expecting our third baby).  I had time to cook healthy meals, enjoy quality time sitting on the couch with my husband in the evenings, and I could rest in the fact that all of the things I wasn’t doing at that very moment had a time scheduled for them to happen so I didn’t need to worry.  And I no longer went to bed every night with so many regrets, not being able to remember the last time I simply sat and read stories to our precious children.

Now this transformation of learning to budget our time and plan proactively took time.  It took me trial and error, practice, perseverance, faithfulness, and several drafts of schedules over the course of a few weeks until I worked out our first schedule that was a comfortable fit for us.  Soon, however, I was able to do a new schedule in a couple of hours, and then make one revised copy before it’s good.  I create an initial schedule, give it a few days for every one to learn it, and then determine what changes need to be made – and there are always changes.  (Here’s one of my posts on how I create schedules.)

In a new routine the first couple of days or so are usually spent just learning what should happen when.  We’re practicing, preparing for activities and cleaning them up, learning the routine, without often getting anything of substance done at all because all of our time goes into the practicing!  *laugh*  When we begin our homeschool schedule for the year we don’t get very much done academically for a couple of days because we’re just learning the schedule first.  Then things begin to flow.

With the first draft of a schedule I usually find that I did not allow enough time in certain places, and I need to go back in and create more realistic time frames.  Learning to create these schedules means the development of a new skill.  I develop a plan for our week, and for that season of the year, for the children at their current ages, or until our next baby is born and then things need to change to incorporate baby as well.  I need to make appropriate adjustments as these things change and then settle in to a slightly different schedule again.

Sometimes our schedule lasts for many months without change, sometimes for only one month before we would need to make some adjustments.  For example the baby drops a nap and spaces his feedings out more, or the school year ends and summer begins.  I then spend a couple hours at the computer with the schedule template I made (next paragraph) to create a new plan and then we’re rolling along again.  I make a hundred choices for our days in advance, and then I am able to rest in those decisions and go with the flow all week as long as we’re in that schedule (usually now our whole school year).  *smile* This frees up so much time and energy it’s really astounding. 

The children and I can see from our schedule on the refrigerator what everyone is supposed to be doing at each time of day.  They know what to expect and what is expected of them, and it is predictable and consistent – and as a result, successful.  I can avoid planning two people to be on the computer simultaneously for example, make sure every one has done all of the most important things for them in their week, and make sure they have balanced amounts of time for work, school, play, serving, family, Bible, etc.  I can plan proactively what each person is doing when I need to feed the baby and make sure younger children are productively occupied with something specific instead of being free to disobey, then requiring me to stop feeding the baby to discipline when necessary.

My overall scheduling framework

So here is the overall framework for how I create our family’s schedule in the computer.

  •  I use Microsoft Excel (see photo below) to create a template and I work from that each time.  This way when I need a new schedule it’s easy to make changes without wasting time creating a whole new framework.  Much of the schedule stays the same all the time:  meal times, nap times, sleep times, baby feeding times, morning routine with daily jobs before breakfast, etc.
  • When I was first learning to schedule out time I wrote down for every person – each of the children and myself – all of the things I would like for them to do in a week, and about how much time each of those things take.  Then I use the Maxwell’s strategy (taught in their book) to puzzle all of those pieces together into one family schedule.
  • I put the children’s names & ages across the top of my Excel chart, and times of day in 30 min. increments down the left side.  Not everything we do takes 30 min., but very little takes less time realistically when we include transitions in and out of the activity, getting things out and cleaning them up.  (There are examples of many other types of families schedules in the book, too, which I thought were very helpful).
  •  If there are short activities to be cone then I plan two 15 min. activities together into one 30 minute block (for example a spelling lesson with one, and then reading-aloud to me for a kindergartener).
  •  I choose to shade-in the baby feeding time blocks so that I can easily see them and plan everyone else accordingly.
  •  I also choose to shade the 3 meals of the day because this helps me see the day in over all chunks: before breakfast time, then the main homeschooling block between breakfast and lunch, then the between lunch and dinner time, and then the evening after dinner.
  • If multiple children are doing the same activity during one block of time, I try to blend those cells into one large cell just to simplify the appearance of the whole page, rather than writing the same thing on all 3 or 6 cells.  This enables me to quickly see at-a-glance what a group of kids is doing.
  • Every morning the children do one cleaning job which takes less than 30 minutes.  On my schedule it looks like more time because there’s a list for each day Monday through Friday in that block, but most of the morning jobs don’t need to be done more than once-a-week.
  •  I type the school items on the schedule in bold so that I can easily see how much school we’re doing.  It was easy for me to feel like it’s all just business – but when school is in bold I can say to myself, “Oh look, we actually did a lot of academics today.”
  • We have cleaning times every day, but what we clean varies per day and week (here’s my post on how we do chores for kids).  We have creative time, but not always painting; exercise time, but varying types; play-alone time, but with different toys each time.  The children have time to do their school work, to have a table activity, to have “towel time” (here’s my post on managing small children’s time during homeschool hours), to play in a pack-n-play, spend time with a sibling, have some play-alone time, etc.
  •  And I print one copy of our schedule for the refrigerator and one for my binder where I keep old schedules for reference.  I often refer to these to remind myself what children were doing at specific ages.  For example what age they were when they dropped a nap, or to remember what activities a 2-year-old child is able to do so that I can plan well for the next child that age when it’s time.
Here is a sample schedule showing what divided up boxes in mostly 30-60 increments can look like. And which children are sharing the same activity in a certain block of time, as it spans two or more children’s columns. I like to shade the meal time areas because it helps me at-a-glance to see what is happening during blocks of time between those meals. (Click to enlarge one or two times)

Additional benefits to scheduling

There are additional benefits to having a weekly schedule in place.  For example, when my mom watches the children for 2 days while we attend the annual Christian Heritage Homeschool and Family Discipleship Conference, we have a great plan already in place for her – she loves this and relies heavily upon it.  Our schedule helps her know what the children are used to doing and when, how long to expect things to take, when they are used to eating, napping, playing, what their responsibilities are that would help her out, and the children stay in their natural flow of things without chaos.  It could be very difficult for an outsider to step in to a family of 9 children and know any of this otherwise, and this would not only cause that person stress but the children as well.

When we have a baby sitter, she also knows what to expect and what the general plan is.  If I am sick in bed with the flu and Bob is home with the kids, he can still have a peaceful, enjoyable day with everyone.  When I was on bed rest for 5 weeks during my pregnancy with the twins, the friends who came to help me during the day could also easily step in to our day and really enjoy themselves and the children.  I received so many thanks and words of praise from those friends who were pleasantly surprised at how easy it was to step into a large family and really enjoy them selves.  (Not that our children are well-behaved all of the time. *chuckle* We have plenty of character training going on over here just like any family needs to.)

So if you are interested in creating a schedule for your family, I would like to reiterate that there is much to be learned about the reasoning behind scheduling, and about how to fit a schedule to fit your particular family’s needs in order to be successful.  I had one friend try to just jump in and make something up without having read the book, but she felt unsuccessful until she got the book for Christmas and then she said she really was able to take off.  I am sharing with you here how we create schedules for our family – but you will probably do things differently to fit your own family.  I really encourage people to buy the Managers of Their Homes book and learn for themselves.

Note:  With the purchase of a new copy you will also have the benefit of participating in the Maxwell’s online help and ideas resources (if you purchase a used copy you would need to pay $10 extra to receive the online help when you need it – which would probably then bring you up to the cost of just having purchased a new copy). Blessings on your efforts with your family.  *smile*  *hugs*

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