Friday, 12 August 2016

Planning to plan.

So.. if it isn't obvious by now, I am a single mom of 5 children. I cook their meals, wash their clothes, bathe them, play with them, read stories, kiss owies and do bedtime. I also make sure they have clean dishes, a clean bathroom (or 2!), an organized playroom, and generally tidy house to live and work in. I homeschool said children, teaching (in 2016) from preschool to Grade 7. I also work from home, as a business researcher and virtual assistant.

Obviously I do a lot of planning.

I plan daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and yearly.

It sometimes feels like I do more planning than living, but the planning is the key to my living, and still keeping my sanity. I know I talk a lot about planning and organizing and schedules and routines, but that's because I honestly believe that no one who wants to do everything they need to do and not be overwhelmed with it all can do anything without a plan.

Planning is the first step to doing anything. But how do you plan when you're in the middle of actually trying to live and work and keep house and eat and still have time to sleep?  Children have the most annoying habit of needing you right when you need most to concentrate. Planning around kids takes .. a plan.

It seems counter-intuitive to plan to plan. I get that. Preparing to plan actually doesn't take that much work, but just a little bit of forethought, and the right tools.

For me, the planning starts with my yearly plan. Once a year, I take 2-3 days to lay out a foundation for the planning of the rest of my year. Right now, this coincides with the week or so that my children spend with their father over the Christmas holidays. But when I was still married, and in the middle of having babies, I still took the time to plan, if loosely, a year in advance. It took me a bit more time (usually a week, instead of 2-3 days), and it did require some help from family (usually my mom), but it still happened.

This kind of planning happens best when you can have someone else watch the kids. That's why I usually do it over the holidays. I actually find it restful, because I'm away from my daily routines, without the sink full of dishes, crumbs on the floor and kids yelling in my ear, even though I'm still working.  I use a vision planner (I like the one from Kimberlee at ThePeacefulMom.com) to help guide my thinking, but sometimes just a notepad and pen, and some quiet time to think, is all that is needed, along with a year-long calendar, so that you have an idea of dates.

What do I plan for my year? I plan out a vision. Or rather, I refresh the vision I already have. Did you know you can have a vision for your family? Most likely, you already do, even though you may not have verbalized it. I have articulated and specified what my vision is for my family, and I refresh myself and my vision with review every year. (This is best done with your partner, if you have one, by the way.) Then I plan out our holidays. For me, this is also our homeschool calendar, so if you have children in school, be sure to include that in your plans. Last, I plan out any major changes I know in advances, like having a baby, or moving, or work changes.

The planning continues seasonally. Every 3-4 months, I look ahead to the next season and update our calendars. Usually I'm at my parents, where my children are occupied, but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes I have them at home, and it ends up being a few days of movies, playdates, or indoor playground time. I arrange something to occupy them for at least 2-3 hour blocks, so that I can have the uninterrupted time to plan. This planning happens in my PlannerPad, where I look at the monthly calendars over the next few months.

So what gets planned here? This is where I plan our extracurricular activities - swim lessons, baseball, dance class or martial arts. I think ahead about what family activities we want to do, such as barbecues to invite the neighbours to, birthday parties, beach trips or sledding days, field trips and festivals, concerts and movies. I plug these into my monthly calendars, and compare to my budget for those months. This way, there are no budget surprises or missed events, and I know ahead of time whether or not we can say yes to that impromptu visit to the zoo. And I make sure that everything fits in with my vision for our family. That makes it easy to say no, even when it's "good". Good doesn't mean best fit.

Monthly, I take a Sunday afternoon, usually on the last weekend of the month (or maybe the first), to look ahead. I make notes about doctor's appointments, the planned fun things and opportunities, and how that fits in with visitations and social needs. I check our church's calendar, and our homeschool group's calendar. I look for days that I need to shop on (for special things like back-to-school or birthdays) and I plan out my budget for the month. It works for Sunday afternoons, because we have a regular quiet time every Sunday afternoon, where I insist that everyone sleeps (even the 12 year old!) If you have a partner, this is a great time to reconnect and make sure you're both on the same page with what you want to do as a family.

Weekly, I have a quick glance over everything on Monday morning/Sunday evening. I check for my cleaning routine and adjust for the days we might be out. I write out the top goals for my blog, work, school and personal development that I want to do that week. I jot down the reminders for the ongoing projects I might have going on. And I meal plan, taking into account days we're out versus days we stay home. Again, if you have a partner, this is a perfect opportunity to check in on priorities and plan the logistics of living together while raising a family.

Daily, as part of my morning routine, I look over the day, and the next day. My PlannerPad is usually left open to the week at hand, or bookmarked at that spot. I hand out chores to my kids, pull out meat or prep for meals, and make sure I'm ready to go out, if that's what's on our plan. I jot down reminders to call for appointments or upcoming classes, webinars or work deadlines. My children will often ask questions and I take advantage of the teaching moments, including them in the details of what's happening that day. If you have a partner, leaving out a daily plan or having shared calendars will help keep everything running smoothly, and even make it easy to work as a team, instead of running into each other or forgetting things.

You see that by the time I get down to my daily plan, it's more a case of following the plan than actually planning. I've already done all the hard work before. Planning is a priority, so our daily routines are adjusted to allow for the time to plan. All you need is a system to calendar, a notepad to jot down reminders and goals, and a little bit of regular time to do the work. Start with a year, and work your way down. Even if you don't get to plan every day, just having a month in advance or even a season will help you stay more on top of the things you want to do, and less about being overwhelmed and frustrated.

Having a plan will get things done.

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