Sunday, March 9, 2008

Order from Chaos - How I Get It All Done

So, I sat down last weekend to review and revamp my "system." The moms among you know exactly which "system" I mean. The "system" (and, yes, I'll stop using quotation marks now) is what gets things done around here. It's the way I ensure that somehow or other, amidst playdates and potty training, I manage to keep people clothed and fed, and maintain a (somewhat) orderly environment. I have two systems actually - one for Home Management (capitalized 'cause it's important) and one for everything else. I tend to think of the Home Management tasks as requirements and my non-houseworky tasks as goals. Goals are those things that somehow move me forward in some area of my life, be it career or art or simply the pursuit of happiness, as opposed to those housewifey-type things that require hours and hours of work just keep things the same. Up to this point, my system for accomplishing goals has consisted of a list of projects I'm hoping to get to - paint that rocking chair, make an appointment to meet with that shop owner, mock up that invitation, get that scrapbook done for my dad's birthday... Not particularly formal, but it does help to have it all on paper.

Just recently, I've added a couple of important elements to my extra-mommy activities. First, I opened my Etsy business and began promoting my stationery line in earnest. Second, I've been volunteering with a local womens' group. While I very much enjoy these activities, I've noticed an appreciable increase in TV time around here. As you mommies know, TV time is the best indicator of the attention you either are or are not giving to your children. If the TV is on, you're probably doing something else while your kid is parked in front of it. Personally, I don't much like TV time, so when I see it becoming our primary at-home activity, I know it's high time to sit down with a pencil and get my priorities in line.

To get us started, let me show you what my system looked like before (and I apologize in advance for a couple of cheesy mnemonic devices). The tasks you see outlined below are those tasks that I generally save for naptime or early morning before anyone else is up. While my daughter's awake, we do our daily chores, i.e. general picking up, laundry, errands and dishes. The system just helps me organize those things that only need to be done once a week. The idea is to get through the task-of-the-day and then use any kid-free time I have left over to get cracking on my goals list.
  • "Money Monday" - pay the bills, balance the budget
  • "Trashy Tuesday" - collect and take out the trash and recycling, scoop up the dog poo
  • Wednesday - clean the bathrooms
  • Thursday - dust and vaccuum
  • Friday - clean the kitchen and sweep/mop hardwoods and tile

At this point I should also mention that I cook only once a month, usually the first weekend. I get a big list together beforehand, head to the store on Friday, and get to cooking Saturday morning. By Sunday night, I have 30 two-person meals prepared and frozen. When my husband comes home, which is often fairly late, I just defrost and throw together a salad. The cooking system evolved after lots of trial and error. I just found that, although I generally enjoy cooking, I don't enjoy cooking after 8 PM, and we don't have the money to constantly order out. The cook-ahead thing has been a huge money and time saver, and I highly recommend it to moms that are looking for more time for artsy stuff.

Aaaaaaah, artsy stuff... That brings me to the problem I encountered when I tried to fit all my brand new 2008 activities into my otherwise foolproof system. All the little "tasklets" related to my volunteering and entrepreneurial endeavors seemed to require my constant attention - database updates, emails, outreach, networking, shop maintenance, design - and there simply were not enough hours in the day. Plus, when I tried to do a little of everything every day, I found that I wasn't able to focus enough on any one thing to feel that I'd actually made any headway. And then naptime was over, I felt frustrated and (yes, I'll say it) resentful that I couldn't seem to succeed at the things that were important to me. Having never been one to stick with status quo when it's obviously not working, I knew that I had to make some changes before I became completely overwhelmed and gave up on all the fun stuff.

Hence, the revamp. I'm banishing the chaos and spiffing up the system. I will GET IT ALL DONE if it kills me! And I'll enjoy every minute because I'll know that I'm WINNING the battle for balance. To get started, I had to prioritize. First, I made a list of all the activities related to my business and volunteering, and determined how often each needed to be done. Then I took a look at my goals list. If an item on the list wasn't directly related to my business, I immediately moved it to the bottom of the list. Since the business is still in start-up mode, I have to expect that certain things will take more time. Once I feel like I'm really up and running, I can get back to things like painting those chairs. The process was sort of painful (I really wanted to believe I could do ten things at once), but I'm extremely optimistic about the result. The idea is that, each day, when I find myself with time to focus, I will first attack the Home Management task-of-the-day and then move on to my business/volunteer tasks. If something doesn't get done on a particular day, I just push it to the next day until I get caught up. And so, without further ado, here it is, complete with brand new mnemonic devices to help me keep it all straight.
  • Daily (early AM and late evening) - email, social networking, promotion, shop maintenance, add new listings
  • "Money Monday" - do the Macaroni and Glue books, purchase supplies
  • "TDWCC (the name of my womens' group) Tuesday" - focus on volunteer activities
  • "Working Wednesday" - assemble orders, package, and ship
  • "Thinking Thursday" - put together outlines for blog posts and cue up as many interviews/features as possible for the coming week
  • "Forward Friday" - map out next steps for the business, research new avenues for marketing, set up meetings
  • "Wonderful Weekends" - design, assemble and photograph for the week's listings

And there you have it! It sounds like a lot, but I swear it's manageable! I'm one week into the new system and, not only did I keep the house running as usual, but I made it through my new weekly list AND got two handmade gifts out the door for family birthdays. Woohoo! And I only stayed up until midnight........ Ok, I stayed up until 1:00 a couple of times. Ah, well. What can I say? It's a work in progress.


ElegantSnobbery said...

Kelly, this is such a great system you have laid out! My days are just so chaotic and a great big mess of stolen moments to accomplish anything! The only time I have my head on straight is the dinner cooking, which luckily I love to do. Other than that, my entire life is a free-for-all!

I think I will have to slow down and take a moment to organize my life! Thanks for the push, this post was just what I needed!


Nikki said...

Wow, this sounds like a great system. I too am tired of the free-for-all that has been lurking at our house. I've come up with a system, but I'm working on tweaking it. This is great!

Whitney said...

What a great system! Which reminds me I need to balance the budget...sigh...oh well. I don't suppose you have any tips for adding care of an 8 month old in there?

Kim said...

I feel like you were speaking my thoughts!! Having just started up my Etsy business also, I have been feeling the chaos grow in my house, from the undone household chores to my 2 girls spending more TV time and then never feeling like I am accomplishing anything. Oh and those lovely feelings of resentment of having to push aside my goals which for me only lead to deeper feelings of guilt. YIKES!! Thank you, you have given me the bop on the head I needed to realize I just need to reorganize and prioritize again!!

CozyMoments said...

Excellent read, wonderful advice! I have been trying so hard to manage everything too, without much success. This was exactly what I needed to read!! I esp. love the idea of cooking and freezing the meals - I am going to try that. ;)

Crafty Mama said...

I love how you coordinate the day's activities by letter. I'm always doing that to help me remember things too!

Lara said...

Great system!! Love your advice! I, too have been trying to cook ahead. (Not a whole month yet, but a few days at a time...any little bit helps, though, right??)


Mintage Home said...

wow, there are other out here like me. I keep a life list, i write it all down or i'll never remember it all, i like your tips,