Time management tools. Philippians 4:8, "I can do all things through Christ which strengthens me."
Chapter 4 of Godly Stewardship addressed recognizing the season of our life, accepting the season of our life and prioritizing the absolutes in our lives. Which ever season we find ourselves in, none of us are exempt from the temptation of busyness. We live in an era of convenience. We flip a switch and lights come on. Most in today's America do not know how to use an oil lamp or make candles. Transportation is faster than it's ever been in human history. The vast majority of Americans do not know how to saddle a horse, hitch up/drive a wagon or realize that it takes 15-20 minutes to walk a mile. We have pre-prepared meals at our convenience. Very few Americans grow and store their own foods, most don't even know how to prepare foods from scratch/raw food products. We have others to educate our children via public and private schools. There are a few home educators who still research and compile their own lessons but in today's era of convenience, most home educators opt to purchase prepared lessons and curriculum. With all these conveniences, Americans still find themselves searching for more time each and every day.
It seems convenience has become the door that opens to the curse of busyness. Because of convenience, we try to pack more and more into our schedules. As I observe, I see an entire nation of pink energizer bunnies, always going, going, going. Trying to see whom can outlast who. I see sleep deprived people everywhere I go (I used to be one of these people, myself). It is so sad that as a society we've packed so much into our lives that we tell ourselves, year after year, "I can make it on 5 hours sleep." Our irritability from lack of adequate sleep shows up in rudeness at the grocery check out lines and road rage. Our stress levels from constantly going, going, going has shown up in an epidemic of heart disease. When compared to past generations, the relationships within our families would be considered non-existent. Does anyone else see a problem when families have to go on vacation so parents can "get to know" their own children?
Prior to home educating our three younger children, I worked outside our home and I worked a lot. Just recently, I had an opportunity to visit with a very dear friend and she mentioned that when she first met me I was working THREE jobs (1 full-time, 2 part-time) outside my home. The path that home education has brought me down has me looking back and asking, "Three jobs? How did I ever do that?" There were others who praised my hard work ethic and were very impressed that I somehow managed to juggle three jobs and a family. However, I was never impressed. I knew the truth. I knew that I always had to say no to my children. "No, I can't take you", "No, we can't do that", No, because if you go then we will loose our 2 hours of family time this week." (We literally had only 2 hours every Sunday afternoon.) I was always grumpy because I was always exhausted - I had run on only 4-5 hours sleep each 24 hour period (sometimes only 2 at night and then 1 on the commuter bus to my daytime job and 1 on the commuter bus home from that job - why? laundry, dishes, vacuuming, weekly meal preparation and scrubbing toilets happened at night while my children slept) for more than a decade. Although I was a productive employee (I'd won numerous employee of the month awards, etc.), I know that if I had not been so exhausted I'd have been a better employee and would have had more advancement opportunities. I know that if I hadn't been exhausted I would have had more patience with my children. I know that if I hadn't been going, going, going I'd have developed a closer relationship with the Lord. Yeah, I wasn't impressed because I knew the truth - I was not a full-time anything. I was a part-time everything. I didn't have time to give my best at work. I didn't have time to give my best to my family. I didn't have time to give my best to the Lord.
Now, I know that most are not in my past situation of HAVING to work three jobs outside the home. But, I see many folks filling their schedules up with enough busyness to equal my previous work schedule. How does one stop all this going, going, going craziness? Well, as mentioned in chapter 4 we must recognize AND accept the season of our life AND we must prioritize our absolutes. Once this is done we can then access the many organizational tools available to assist us in managing our priorities. During my first year as a stay at home mom and wife, I realized how exhausted and fatigued working two and three jobs for more than a decade had made me. My poor husband and children probably wondered what had happened to their energizer bunny. My batteries finally went dead and I slept for an entire year. (not literally, but I did sleep about 10 hours each night and another 3-4 hours of nap during the day. no, I was not depressed - I was exhausted.) After a year of sleep, the Lord began directing us to home educate our three younger children. When we first began this adventure, I made sure to attend a HUGE home education conference in a neighboring city each year. Not only did this conference provide a plethora of curriculum vendors, but it also hosted various workshops geared toward teaching methods, learning styles AND time management. I have found that home educators and other stay at home moms/wives often have more temptations to the curse of busyness than working moms. Why? Because we and others assume that we have an abundance of "extra" time. In reality, we ALL have 24 hours per day whether we work away from home or work in our homes.
The habit of busyness is a hard one to break. After my year of sleep, I found myself navigating the uncharted waters of home education, teaching a Jr. high school Bible study class, cooking meals for the funeral ministry, volunteering for the Angel Food ministry, volunteering in the church nursery, volunteering in children's church, assisting with the Bible quiz program, driving to and from athletic practices/games and field trips. Yep, I and others had found a host of things to fill my calendar/schedule with until the proverbial light bulb clicked on in my head. One day, I realized that we didn't have time to be spontaneous. We didn't have time to take a day off and goof around or be lazy. My sleep time had been reduced to 4-5 hours each night. My relationship with the Lord was not growing and had began to spiritually stagnate.
I decided it was time for some serious changes. I eliminated the volunteer activities one at a time. I began making my relationship with the Lord my first priority. I now spend time everyday reading my Bible and various Christian life study materials for my personal growth. I used to do this as research for my Bible study class or other projects - I didn't have time to focus on personal growth. I began working to make my relationships with my family my second priority. My husband's job comes with an extensive travel schedule. When he's home, I make sure the children and I are home. I no longer accept long-term volunteer projects that will interfere with dad's time while at home. I no longer schedule appointments outside our home early in the mornings as that's my time with the children. When asked to do something at the church I literally began praying about whether or not to accept. (Yeah, I know ... I recently had a preacher tell me that if I have to pray about it, then that's my Christian way of saying "no". He asked someone else to volunteer. I find this sad, because I am one of those who is serious when I say I'd like to pray about it first. He hasn't asked me to volunteer for anything since. I wonder how many others this man has brushed aside because of impatience?).
Of all the changes I have made, observing a Sabbath has been the most important and prosperous change to date. Deuteronomy 5:12-15, "Keep the Sabbath day to sanctify it, as the Lord thy God hath commanded thee. Six days thou shalt labour, and do all thy work: But the seventh day is the Sabbath of the Lord thy God: in it thou shalt not do any work, thou, nor thy son, nor thy daughter, nor thy manservant, nor thy maidservant, nor thine ox, nor thine ass, nor any of thy cattle, nor thy stranger that is within thy gates; that thy manservant and thy maidservant may rest as well as thou. And remember that thou wast a servant in the land of Egypt, and that the Lord thy God brought thee out thence through a mighty hand and by a stretched out arm: therefore the Lord thy God commanded thee to keep the Sabbath day." Since I grew up in the Bible belt and I am old enough to remember the "blue laws", (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blue_law), I remember a time when our society was not a 7 day a week, 24 hour a day hustle and bustle. I remember spending Sunday mornings at church and Sunday afternoons at home with my family. I remember taking a nap after dinner on Sunday afternoons. I remember extended family gathering together for dinner, picnics, softball games, etc. I remember neighborhood bar-be-ques. A few years ago, the Lord convicted me about observing a Sabbath and returning our Sundays to a day of rest. [very brief Sabbath history - the original Jewish Sabbath was on the seventh day of the week, Saturday. The early Catholic church moved the Sabbath to Sunday in an effort to combat paganism (in the past many pagan sects performed rituals to their sun gods on Sundays). During the reformation era the Protestant churches continued to observe Sunday as a Sabbath because of a lack of historical education AND all of their society was geared toward a Sunday Sabbath (Jewish communities were segregated communities thus allowing business, education, trade, etc. to be conducted among themselves based on a traditional Jewish Sabbath of Saturday). When the immigration to America began, the Protestants and Catholics brought their tradition of a Sunday Sabbath with them to the new world. Thus, the old "blue laws" and most Americans equating a Sabbath with Sundays.] Since I attend a denomination that meets on Sundays, my husband often has to work on Saturdays, America's historical culture recognizes Sunday as the Sabbath, I've selected Sunday as my Sabbath, (I am open that there may come a day when the Lord convicts me to observe my Sabbath on the Jewish Saturday). God has given us explicit instruction to rest one entire day each week. Why would He do this? I think it is so that we will take time to focus on observing who He is and what He's done for us? I think it is because He recognized that if we were to get too busy or too tired our relationships with each other AND Him would suffer.
For just a moment let us look what we have allowed the enemy to do to our society. We've allowed the "blue laws" to be repealed and in doing so we've become a 7 day/24 hour society. We are constantly going, going, going. Few of us have time to rest. We may attend church on Sunday mornings but we rush out to dine in restaurants, shop, attend movies, engage in recreation activities, etc. And let us not forget all the employees in these restaurants, shops, movie theaters, etc. who are working for us. When will they have an opportunity to attend church? Although the restaurant, shops, etc. may not open until the common hour of church letting out, those employees have been there preparing for your arrival since early morning. They could not have attended a church service if they had the desire to do so. By serving the public they have one less day to spend with their families (most children are out of school on Saturdays and Sundays). By business owners conducting business on Sundays, even Christians are spending less time with their families because everyone is out and about doing something. How many times have you skipped church because you had things or errands you absolutely had to get done before the work week begins on Monday? How many Sundays have you forgone time with your family because you had things to get done? When I was a girl these things were done on Saturday because that was the last opportunity to get it done before Monday. Sunday was the Sabbath and we spent our day worshiping the Lord and in fellowship with our family.
The Lord has blessed my observance of a Sabbath. Since we don't have any plans to go anywhere after church, we are not "watching the clock" hoping the praise/worship and preaching doesn't go late. We are able to enjoy our time during praise and worship and focus on the message the Lord has sent forth that day. We no longer have a need to rush away from the Lord's house. As long as we stay home and rest after church on Sundays, we have an adequate amount of energy for the rest of the week. When we fail to rest on Sunday afternoons, I find us needing naps and becoming irritable throughout the week. Having an entire day where our family just hangs out together at home, no specific agenda, has brought us closer together. The slower pace of observing a Sabbath is like a cool refreshing rain on a hot summer afternoon poured upon our spirits and our physical bodies.
What sort of tools have I found to be most beneficial in helping me maintain my priorities? Of all the gadgets and whatnot out there, I have found a simple daily/weekly routine and pocket sized (6"x3.5") academic calendar to be the best. I've tried the big wall calendar where everything is written down so everyone can see it. Unfortunately, it was too big to take with me when I left the house and I'd loose all the little slips of paper that I wrote appointments down on, so they ended up getting missed. The pocket sized calendar fits well into my purse. Otherwise it sits open on my desk. I've tried typing up the daily schedule at 30, 45, 60 minute intervals for our entire day and posting it on the refrigerator. Unfortunately, there always seemed to be a glitch in the day and everyone ended up getting behind and stressed out trying to catch up to the schedule. Many professionals carry around a blackberry or something similar, however, I occasionally don't have access to electricity to charge the battery on the thing, like when visiting my dad who lives off-grid in a mountain cabin, it, like a laptop, becomes useless.
Yes, the pocket sized academic calendar has worked out best for me. I cross Sundays off on the calendar as soon as I get it. The big line through the day prevents the temptation to forgo our Sabbath. A few years ago, I noticed that various appointments continued to conflict with schooling, chores and the general flow of our day. One child would have a dental cleaning on Tuesday at 10 am, another would have a doctor's check-up on Thursday at 1:30, etc. I noticed that almost everyday of the week required that we leave the house for something, slicing into our school time and causing chaos and confusion on a much too regular basis. I decided to stop that insanity. Since many banks, dentists, doctors, etc. are closed on Saturdays, I selected a specific weekday and designated it our errand day. We don't have school on errand day, we run errands. When making dental appointments I specifically schedule all the children, myself and hubby on errand day with back to back appointments. I do the same with doctors. I also go to the post office, grocer, bank, etc. on errand day. On some errand days we will leave at 7:30 in the morning and not return home until supper time. I love this because I get all my "running around" for the week out of the way in one day. By stubbornly sticking to this weekly routine, I have found that most things can and will wait until errand day. Occasionally something urgent or an emergency will arise and I'll have to adjust, however, leaving the house each and every day or even 2-3 times per week is not the norm. Some wonderful benefits of this once per week errand day has been a HUGE reduction in fuel consumption, being a one car family is no longer the inconvenience it used to be, chores and school are completed more adequately, and my stress level has been GREATLY reduced. I also like using the pocket sized academic calendar because it contains only six lines per day, which is itself another tool. With only six lines, I am limited to how much I can schedule on my errand days. If I have more than six appointments, I prioritize and push something(s) ahead to the next weekly errand day.
Another tool I use regularly is the meal schedule. Several years ago we discovered that one of our children had terrible reactions to many food additives (artificial food colors/flavorings, mono sodium glutamate, bleached flours & sugars, artificial sweeteners, high fructose corn syrup, etc.). This forced me to make/cook everything (including condiments and bread) from scratch. Although not difficult, this can be time consuming. Thus, I found it important to find a way to reduce the hours I was spending in the kitchen each day. By making up a two week meal schedule, I know each day what sort of kitchen prep work needs to be done for that day's meals or meals later in the week. I no longer find myself standing in the kitchen for 20 minutes wondering what to cook for supper. If preparation for our supper meal is time consuming, I will begin preparing a little bit here and there (washing/chopping vegetables, making cream soup for the casserole, etc.) throughout the day (errand day is left over night), so as to reduce the actual prep time come supper. Not only has the meal schedule resulted in a healthier diet, by making it for two weeks at a time, it has also reduced my grocery shopping to once every two weeks - a time saver, fuel saver and budget saver (less temptation to impulse buy).
For me, more simple time management tools have resulted in a more simple schedule. I realize that there is not a one size fits all when it comes to time managment. But I hope that the information and personal story I've shared will assist you in recognizing and accepting the season of your life, evaluating and priortizing absolutes and trying various time management tools until you find what does fit your family. Learning to be a good steward of one's time is an area that we as Christians need to learn to excell. By doing so, we will find that we have more patience and time to minister to our families, the body of Christ and our neighbors. (Now, if I could only conquer the 15 minute late thingy ... )