Is your life so chaotic right now that you can’t even begin to get organized? If that’s your situation, you’ll appreciate these six steps you can take today to break through the chaos and get organized.
#1 Stop and pray
Too often when our lives are chaotic, we are in the midst of spiritual warfare and we don’t even know it. If it seems like everything is going wrong, we ought to consider the possibility that we are engaged in battle with the enemy. The day the post on marriage was published, my husband and I had a big disagreement (a.k.a. fight) that made no sense to me. A friend of mine pointed out that this was likely spiritual warfare. Of course it was! My husband and I were trying to strengthen marriages — something the enemy opposes.
When we are doing God’s work (and homeschooling is God’s work), we may find ourselves oppressed and challenged at every turn. The most powerful thing to do when we are in the midst of spiritual warfare is not to pick up another organizing book or to find another cleaning list on Pinterest. Instead, it is to stop what we are doing and pray for God’s strength, for His protection, and for His wisdom. This is step number one.
#2 Do what you absolutely, positively have to do today
When we are in chaos, we imagine that we have 100 things that have to be done today, and of course there isn’t enough time to do them. The truth is we have very few things that absolutely have to be done today. First let’s define what “absolutely has to be done today” means. It means that you would be willing to stay up very late to finish this task. You couldn’t stand to go to bed without it being finished.
I have created a list to help you find these tasks. Use this form for subscribers or a notebook to record your tasks. In order to find those things that are critical for today, we need to first check our calendar. What do you have coming up later today or tomorrow that requires any work on your part? Write it down. Next go through your inbox or wherever you keep physical mail. Make a list of any of the items you find that require action. Next look in your purse. Look for anything that requires your action and add it to your list. Next look at your phone text messages and listen to unanswered phone messages. Write down any tasks that have to be done. You are going to want to check your email inbox for things that absolutely positively have to be done today. Make a list of these. Finally, check social media. Did someone message you, tag you, or invite you to an event that requires your action today? Make a list of these things.
On the form I’ve created for you, you can add these tasks to a list based on where you found them. Then write only those tasks that have to be done today on the Tuesday list (or whatever today is). If you used note paper to make your list, star the items that must be done today and rewrite them on a separate list. This should be a short list. Remember that it should not include “like to get done” tasks, but “have to get done” tasks.
Now that you have your list, get to work on them. Do them in any order you please. Do the easiest first or the worst first. You can even roll a die to choose the task to do first. Whatever you do, get them completed as quickly as you can. You will feel so much better when they’re done.
#3 Plan dinner
After you have prayed and have tackled your critical task for today, you can breathe a sigh of relief. However, if you really want to break through the chaos to get organized, it’s important that you also have a plan for dinner. Even if your plan is to order pizza or to go out to eat, your plan will give you tremendous peace of mind. There will be no last minute scramble to determine what you’re going to eat with your family. If you will be eating at home, make sure any necessary preparations like thawing is done.
#4 Do the dishes and clear the table
I once visited elderly people’s homes as part of a research study I was doing. The tell-tale sign of an older person who was living in chaos was dirty dishes stacked in the sink and on the counters. Dirty dishes are a distraction and a discouragement to us. Getting them clean, whether that is loading them into the dishwasher or washing them by hand, will go a long way to helping you feel organized. Doing the dishes does not have to be something you do alone. Get your family involved to help you get them done.
In order to have that peace of mind that comes from being organized, you also need to clear your primary table. If there are dirty dishes on the table you will want to wash those. But if you have leftover school books or experiments or newspapers or just clutter on the table, you need to remove it. Don’t even worry about getting everything put away. Just get the stuff off your table. Your table is like your brain. The more clutter there is on the table, the more chaotic you are going to feel. This is also critical for your family’s peace of mind. Now you can enjoy dinner at the table if you’re cooking or having takeout.
#5 Declutter for 15 minutes
Set a timer for 15 minutes to clean or de-clutter an additional area of your home that is robbing you of peace. You definitely want to get your family involved in this. Don’t spend a lot of time deciding which area to focus on. If the kitchen counters need attention and that’s what you were looking out at the moment, choose to start there. If the family room or bedroom or school room are robbing you of peace, go to work there. If an area of your home is cluttered, declutter it before focusing on deep cleaning chores. Always work on visible clutter before tackling hidden clutter. Get clothing off the bed and floors before decluttering drawers or a closet, for example.
To begin getting organized when things are in chaos, you don’t want to make difficult decisions about what to keep and what to give away. If something is obviously trash, throw it away. You may want to have a trash bag with you as you work. If something does not belong in that room of your home, put it in a box or laundry basket to be moved later. Do not waste time walking from room to room to put things away. Stay in the room you are working on the entire time — and that includes your children. If you find something to give away and you are emotionally prepared to give things away, you can also use a box or bag for giveaway items. But this is a very quick organizing sprint. Do not concern yourself with where you’re going to put things, where you will donate items, and certainly not with selling things. Stay focused. I recommend listening to upbeat music while you work.
#6 Take time for self-care
Set a timer for 15 minutes of self-care. One reason our lives get to feeling out of control is because we try to mix self-care time with work and family time. This doesn’t work. This is a common form of multitasking which leads to discouragement. If we are on Facebook while our kids are asking us to help them with their math, we won’t feel like we’ve had a break and our child will be frustrated by not having our full attention. We need set boundaries for our time. If you haven’t heard the podcast on self-care I did with Andy and Kendra Fletcher of Homeschooling in Real Life, you will want to listen to that episode. We need time for ourselves to be refreshed. It’s the most loving thing we can do for our families.
Some of the things that I do during my self-care times are reading the Bible, journaling, reading other books, exercising, spending time on hobbies like scrapbooking, or socializing through a variety of online sites and apps. Of course, it’s very important to set a timer for our personal time, just as it’s important to set it for work. Personal time without boundaries creates guilt which works against the refreshment we are trying to achieve. Teach your children to take personal time at the same time you do. You could encourage your child to nap, play with Legos, listen to an audiobook, play an educational game, or watch a favorite television show while you are having your time. If your child trusts you to abide by the time boundaries, you are more likely to get his cooperation.
When your self-care time is up, you can choose to do another 15-minute organizing sprint or work on tasks that don’t absolutely have to do be done today. Follow your 15-minute work period with another 15 minutes of self-care. That may sound crazy to you. The Pomodoro technique that many of us are familiar with recommends working for 25 minutes and then taking a five minute break. The reason I am being so liberal on the self-care time is because if your life is in chaos, you need extra rest. You’re likely overwhelmed and burned out. Short work periods followed by liberal periods of rest are healing. Once you’ve regained your equilibrium, the work-to-rest ratio can be increased.
When things calm down, I highly recommend my book, The Organized Homeschool Life. You’ll get 15-minute missions to complete four days a week that are designed just for homeschoolers.
These six tips are survival strategies for today. The Bible tells us not to worry about tomorrow but to focus on today. If you simply repeated these six steps tomorrow, you would be well on your way to getting organized, regardless of how chaotic things feel right now. You can do this! I’m cheering you on.