What should I be spending my time doing and how can I get those things done? As a mother of six with four children I’m still homeschooling, a blogger, a podcaster, a curriculum writer and business owner, a wife to a self-employed salesman who always needs technology assistance, a tennis player, and scrapbooker, I have struggled to answer those questions. While I am by no means a master, I do have answers that have made a huge difference in my life. I can’t wait to share them with you.
The first question we have as busy homeschoolers is what should I be spending my time doing?
This is the first question because it makes no sense to improve our ability to get the wrong things done. What are the right things? As you would expect, there is no one-size fits all answer. To find the answer for you, you need to look to the Lord and look at your life.
First we should look to the Lord. If we spend time looking to God first, we can save ourselves a lot of time and confusion.
Ephesians 5:15-16 reads:
“Look carefully then how you walk, not as unwise but as wise, making the best use of the time, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.”
I pray over this Scripture daily. I recently learned that the phrase “the days are evil” means that everything outside of the Lord’s path seeks to take us off His path. The path is His will for us. But that’s confusing, isn’t it? No matter how much I’ve prayed, God has never given me a complete 5-year plan or even a schedule for the day!
So looking to the Lord leads us to another question: How can we know God’s will? There are more ways than what I have listed here, but the first way we can know His will is through the Holy Spirit. He teaches us all things. He is the inner voice, the feeling deep in our souls that tells us we’re on the right path. Have you experienced this? The second way is through His Word. It’s a light to our path. Being in the Word daily allows the Lord to give us specific direction. It’s amazing how often the book we’re in relates to the place we’re at. The final way I want to share that we can know God’s will is through other people. At one time I was praying about whether I should do a mom’s Bible study. That day a friend asked if I was going to do one because she hoped that I would. When the Spirit and the Word and other people’s advice come together, we can be fairly certain that what we’re doing or considering are God’s will for us right now.
Well that’s just clear as mud, right? We’re not going to be 100% certain of God’s will for us because He gives us the wisdom we need for today — not for the week, this month, or this season. What we CAN be sure of is that if we get off track, He will take great pains to bring us back.
Isaiah 46:11 says, What I have said, that I will bring about; what I have planned, that I will do.
We simply aren’t powerful enough to ruin God’s plan for our lives, so we can relax. We can know what to spend our time on by looking to the Lord.
We can also look at our life. Psalm 90:12 says, Teach us to number our days that we may gain a heart of wisdom.
Mandy Kelly‘s death at 34 was a stark reminder to all who knew her that our time here is short. Mandy was committed to leaving a legacy behind for her children. I know that if you’re reading this post that it’s your desire, too. When we number our days, we realize that the spilled milk really isn’t worth crying over.
But it’s hard to keep that long-term perspective in mind. I spoke at the 2:1 conference for homeschooling bloggers on time management using an object lesson that proved to be very powerful. I want to share it with you. You’re going to want to download the free worksheet I have for subscribers as you complete the following exercise.
Imagine that I hand you 24 $1 bills. Each dollar represents one hour in a 24-hour day.
I’m going to ask you how you want to spend those dollars with a couple of rules. First, you can’t spend less than a dollar. And second, you have to spend the same amount every day. So when making decisions, average the time and select based on an ideal school day.
The first thing I will ask you to spend your money on is sleep. Sleep is like taxes. It comes right off the top. How much sleep do you need to be at your best? Not how much do you get, but what would be ideal? Write that amount on your form.
The second thing I will ask you to spend your money on is God. We won’t include Sunday time because Sunday isn’t a typical school day, but any time you spend in devotions, worship, Bible reading and Bible studies, church service, or charity work apart from Sundays should be averaged to come up with the amount. Write that amount on your form.
The third thing I will ask you to spend your money on is your husband if you’re married. For this category, I’m not asking you to include family time or meal times. This is time alone with your husband each day. The time could be divided, like a half hour in the morning and a half hour in the evening. Put that amount on your form.
The fourth thing I will ask you to spend your money on is your kids. This is likely to be a large category, though it does not include homeschooling time. Here you would include meal time, family time, child care time, time in the car, time spent at kids’ activities, appointments, etc. Average this time out to come up with an estimate and write it down.
The fifth thing I will ask you to spend your money on is personal time. This includes hygiene time, exercise, and any appointments you have for your own care averaged out. Do not include leisure time in this category. Write it down.
The sixth thing I will ask you to spend your money on is homeschooling. Do not include time that you are not actively teaching or tutoring. If your kids are working on their own, that isn’t included. How many hours do you ideally need of your teacher time to homeschool a day? If you teach in a co-op setting or volunteer for a homeschool organization, average that time out and write down a total.
The seventh thing I will ask you to spend your money on is homemaking. This is the average amount of time ideally that you would spend on meal planning and preparation, grocery shopping, laundry, cleaning, chores, bill paying, running errands, and organizing. Don’t include time that your husband or kids spend, but only what you spend. Write that amount of money that stands for hours down.
The eighth thing I will ask you to spend your money on is friends and extended family. In this category, include face-to-face friend and family time, phone calls, texting, and social media that is purely relational. If you provide care for someone outside of your immediate family, add the time here. Average this time per day ideally and write down the amount.
The ninth thing I will ask you to spend your money on is hobbies. This includes reading, surfing the web, television, crafts, sports, and optional shopping. Add this amount to your worksheet.
The final thing I will ask you to spend your money on is work or potential work. Do you work or have a business in addition to homeschooling? The number of hours you are committed to would go here. If you have considered working or starting a business but aren’t yet doing so, now is the time to total up the hours you’ve written prior to this category. Do you have time left for work or a business? If you already work, do you have enough hours left over?
If you’re like most people, you will be out of money before you get to the work category. Is all hope lost? No. Now you know, however, what sacrifices must be made in order to continue working or in order to add something else to your life. Talk over your worksheet with your spouse and with another homeschooler if you don’t know how to make everything fit. I recommend listening to How to Homeschool in Less Time if you suspect homeschooling is taking too much of your time. If homemaking is taking too much of your time, could you delegate or hire out some of these tasks? These are just a few examples of where to free up time. Pray about your use of time and you may gain wisdom for what to change.
Be aware that I put the categories roughly in order of importance. If you don’t get adequate sleep, everything else will suffer. If you aren’t spending time with God, you won’t have the spiritual strength and wisdom to do everything you’re called to do. If you neglect your marriage, your homeschool will eventually suffer. If you don’t take care of yourself with exercise, you won’t have the energy you need to manage your responsibilities.
Once you have balanced your time budget for an ideal day, you are ready for a schedule.
Of course, in real life we can schedule half an hour for things, we can combine things, and we may do some things just one day a week. But now you have a guide for creating your schedule. I recommend that you schedule blocks of time.
For example, in the morning, I have blocks of time for my time with God, my personal time, time with my husband, business, homemaking, and homeschooling. In the afternoon I have blocks for kids, friends, homemaking, and business. On Thursdays I have a combination of friend and hobby time in the afternoons. The evenings are for homemaking in the form of meal prep and clean-up, kids, husband, and hobby time in the form of reading. I sometimes spend time with God in the evenings as well.
Any schedule you create for yourself should be considered a draft. You can constantly work on improving it. If you discover a way to combine more things, you can free up time. You may discover that you have scheduled activities at times that don’t fit your energy levels. Move things around and experiment.
I had such success with doing this personally and with the bloggers I spoke with that I decided to do the same thing with my kids. The final category for them was screen time. I asked them how much time they needed to do their schoolwork and chores, and to have time with friends. The result was a schedule that has helped them a lot. It’s even resulted in them having regular game time with their siblings.
The Problem With Schedules
This just sounds great, doesn’t it? You should have a schedule you can use to accomplish all the important things in your life. There’s just one problem. Schedules are like diets. As soon as you’re on one, you resist it. When you’re scheduled to do something, it’s suddenly the last thing you want to do. It’s just like when you’re on a no-sugar diet. Then sugar is all you can think about.
When you eat the donut that isn’t on the diet, what do most of us do? We say, “Oh well. Might as well eat everything because I’ve already blown it.” We do this with schedules, too. “I was supposed to be teaching math for the last hour and I’ve been on Facebook instead. I’ve blown it, so I’ll get on Instagram next.” If we didn’t have the “I’ve blown it” mentality, we wouldn’t binge on things that aren’t the best use of our time.
So here’s what I recommend:
Create a schedule. It can be an ideal schedule and even a detailed schedule for today. I have an ideal schedule but I also create a schedule for each day to help me see exactly what I can get done. I use the Panda Weekly Planner for this that is informed by Skedpal. But then I put the schedule away. I give myself permission to go off schedule without guilt. If I’m supposed to be teaching history and get caught up chatting with a friend instead, I don’t feel guilty. I don’t rewrite the schedule. If I’m not sure what I had planned to do when I’m done chatting, I’ll refer to the schedule again. But only if I want to. The more guilt I feel, the fewer important things I will do and the more I’ll resist the schedule.
Jesus said the Sabbath was made for man and not man for the Sabbath. I think the same is true of the schedule. We make the schedule for ourselves. If it isn’t serving us right now, it is okay to override it. I prefer to teach my kids at the same time each day. But I might end up chatting with a friend instead. If I find that I’m spending more time with friends than I allotted on a consistent basis, I’ll need to reevaluate. Even with a great schedule, I’ll never be perfect in how I spend my time. But I can feel good about it and I do. I believe that if you follow these steps, you can be successful with your schedule, too.
How many hours did you have left over when you did the exercise? Let’s chat about it on Facebook.