This is the first of a two-part excerpt from Too Busy for Your Own Good: Get More Done in Less Time--With Even More Energy by Connie Merritt.
Wouldn't it be nice if your only task was conquering busyness at work? But many of us have second (or even third) jobs waiting when we get home from work. During my speaking engagements, I ask a simple question: "What makes you busy?" The answers have convinced me that taking control of your "busy" at home presents a set of challenges different from those that you must face on the job. Home responsibilities as a working parent--single or married--will tip you into the "busy danger zone."
If you're trying to do it all at home, take heart! With a little planning and tweaking of your at-work strategies, you can transform your crazy busy to a designed busy at home. I've heard all your excuses why you can't change it.
- "I've always been this way."
- "I'm from a dysfunctional family."
- "My spouse doesn't help out."
- "My kids need to (name activity) to get into (name school)."
- "There aren't enough hours in the day."
No matter the excuse, though, your new goal should be taking the lead in making your home a sanctuary. It will take recruiting family members to organize and schedule your home to get you out of the "busy danger zone."
Round Up the Troops
The best way to make a change in the tone of your home is by setting realistic goals. Is your household in chaos? Shoot for ordered messiness. You don't have to be a dictator, killjoy or tyrant to institute a less busy, more peaceful home. It begins with a mandatory household meeting--you and all the household members, including your partner, housemates, children and boarders. Tell everyone something that they'd like to hear: "We're going to have a family meeting so that our lives will start to be more fun." It's mandatory attendance. Don't worry if you get lots of sighs, gripes and eye rolling. Your attitude here should be "too bad, we're having the meeting anyway."
This meeting can be the start of you getting some help from your family. Tell them why you need their help: Your busyness around the house is starting to take its toll in a major way--but if everyone pitches in, it won't be so bad. Promise them that the changes you ask for have one goal in mind--a happier home. You're on your way to undoing months (or years) of busyness damage and creating a sanctuary for yourself and every family member.
Another order of business for a family meeting is for each person to map out his or her schedule for the next six months (or year). This is important to do because you'll not only be giving each person a voice in the family, but also teaching valuable life skills. Each person needs to list every important, save-the-day event he or she has coming up, as well as all the regularly scheduled activities. You and your mate know your holidays, vacations and mandatory attendance activities. Every child's school has a master calendar. Don't forget to produce everyone's sports schedules. (Soccer can monopolize so much time that some of my friends have admitted to praying that their kid's team doesn't get into the finals.)
Each person will make his or her own weekly schedule, Sunday through Saturday. Include all the details that are part of each family member's separate daily routine:
- Wake-up time, morning meal
- Leave for school, job, activity
- After-school activities
- Evening mealtime
- Homework, office work
- Free time
After individual schedules are made, get everyone on the same page, literally. Post a master calendar in the kitchen so each family member gets a better view (and sense) of working together as a team. It also gives everyone a dose of reality--how much time you actually do or don't have. You'll see how fairly you're dividing your time between family members, your job, commitments and yourself. Other family members will discover that they are receiving their fair share of family resources and attention.
Most families post a paper or dry-erase month-at-a-look calendar with large boxes for each day. It's best when only one person writes on it--others can make requests (with stick-on notes or verbally), but this keeps it honest. Keep different-colored pens on a string for nearby use. Here is how it should be filled out:
- Activities involving everyone are written in black.
- Note birthdays, anniversaries and special days.
- Mark holidays.
- Add scheduled vacations with leave-the-house times (i.e., "4:30 a.m. leave for airport" not "flight at 8:30 a.m.")
- Each member has a specific color for his or her activities.
- Note scheduled doctor appointments and professional visits.
- Note after-school or extracurricular activities and times.
- Note all save-the-date appointments.
- Times are posted to include departure and arrival times. That is, "4:15 to 6:15 yoga" includes 15 minutes for travel time each way for a 4:30 to 5:30 lesson plus a half hour for your grocery run.
- Put parentheses around any posting that is tentative or unconfirmed.
- Erase parentheses when it's permanent.
You may already do this and have it all plugged into your handheld, but once it's up there for the whole family to see, they'll better understand your methods. (They might even learn when they can and cannot push you.) Print out the calendar and evaluate what needs to be curbed, altered or eliminated.
Family members will learn to piggyback on each other's activities, saving not only time but also money on gas and with multiple-user discounts. They will start self-regulating and managing their own time when they realize that in order to pursue a new interest, they must give up another. Everyone will choose those activities that align with goals and time available.
Unleash Your Inner Bitch
I believe that we've been afraid of our inner bitch for too long. In the literal sense, a bitch is a female canine that does not yield to scorn from her challengers--she'll stand her ground until they back down, especially when protecting her pups. If your "busy" is out of control at home, it's time to flaunt your healthy inner bitch. I know, you've probably already tried barking and snapping at your family or housemates. The problem with this is they all know they just have to outlast you or ignore you and you'll back down, give up and go away. It's time to be consistent--set your house rules and stand your ground.
Implementing big changes in the structure and regulation of your household might seem so, well, military. But I've found one consistent thread of long-lasting marriages and families that are inoculated against chaos in the midst of crazy busyness--they are vigilant watchdogs of their values and standards. In rough economic times or during health challenges, they had rules, which everyone could rely on to be consistent. You want your home to be a touchstone of consistency upon which all family members can trust, rely and receive comfort.
The pups (family members) may rebel at first, but display your healthy inner bitch and stand your ground for the new house rules.
The inner bitch sets a regular time that is absolutely, positively no-excuses family time without interruption, meaning zero distractions--phone ringers off, no TV, no texting, no earbuds. Make consequences for absence or infractions, such as losing a privilege or exacting a financial penalty. Start with the same night each week and work up to more. Most families start with "family dinner night." Communication and connection come "in the spaces" during offhand questions, brief comments and silences. You may be chewing in silence with sullen teenagers, but stick to it: You're building a tradition. You're building something valuable--a running dialog. Create those spaces, because communicating now means less acting out to be heard later. To the inner bitch, family time saves time, energy and busyness in the future.
The inner bitch makes meal shopping routine and meal prep possible for everyone. Teach everyone how to nourish himself or herself quickly, without a drive-thru. Start by having a whiteboard on the fridge with the week's menu and prep assignments posted. In the beginning, you will have to be the diet dictator until the family starts taking initiative and responsibility. For example, the whole chicken can be washed, seasoned and put in the oven by a teen; the frozen veggies can be microwaved by a preteen; the rice directions can be followed by your mate; and even a young child can concoct a dessert with flavored yogurt and fruit. In the summer, you can teach everyone the basics of grilling, and wintertime is perfect for an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink soup in the slow cooker.
Assign each family member to plan a dinner each week. Post the weekly shopping list. Tell everyone that if it's not on the list, it doesn't get bought, including TP, toothpaste and tampons. Teach everyone how to shop and follow the list. Not only can this list save money on impulse buying, but it can also cut down on the need for frequent grocery store trips and fast food. Just think how much your busyness will be decreased when you're not the only person in charge of meal planning, shopping and preparation.
Harness your inner bitch by instituting rules that include surfing the internet, gaming, instant messaging, e-mailing and social networking, whether on a desktop, laptop or handheld device. House rules apply to everyone, and some examples are "no electronics during meals," "black screens from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.," or "30-minute shopping sessions." You can waste so much time electronically tethered that your home tasks take longer, you don't get enough sleep, wake up groggy and make hurrying out the door the norm. Is it any wonder you start your day rushed and busy? When you and your mate follow these rules, your kids will benefit in many ways--you will be modeling good behavior and saving the next generation from the "busy danger zone."
We buy these complicated surround-sound, large-screen home theater systems, and they become the centerpiece of our homes. With digital recorders, we can even zoom through the commercials (except for the ones with a cute puppy). But do we really have to watch reruns of Two and a Half Men every night and have the nightly news as background noise for dinner? Turn off the tube. Nielsen Media Research reports individual television viewing in our nation is more than four hours a day. That is equivalent to a part-time job! Besides wasting time, watching television is sedentary and brain deadening--leading to a plethora of health troubles from obesity and diabetes to attention and cognitive problems.
Watching too much television is a lot like smoking; people know the side effects and do it anyway. Let your inner bitch regulate television.
- Make rules for hours of operation. It can't be the background soundtrack for your homelife!
- Trade no-television time for other activities. Take a walk after dinner instead.
- Use viewing time to barter with the kids. Read for 60 minutes for 30 minutes of TV.
- Leverage viewing time as a reward for chores done by teens and children.
- Make family night at the movies an event. Get a brand-new DVD that everyone can agree on, prepare some movie munchies and have fun.
Your inner bitch makes no excuses for her need for privacy and solitude. The home should be the place where each family member can recharge his or her batteries--especially you. Institute the four Rs for quiet time:
- Pick a regular time when you are not disturbed--except for emergencies involving bodily damage or fire.
- Reinforce your rule. Make consequences for interruptions, such as losing a privilege.
- Respect others' quiet time. Give them time to re-establish their own equilibrium.
- Reward them for respecting your quiet time. Emerge from your private time a more pleasant and refreshed person.
Often you think you need a week's sleep when all you need is a long bath with some quiet in the house. A quick recharging of the batteries ensures you'll be much more present for the rest of the night.
Connie Merritt is a nurse, speaker, business professional and award-winning author. Her new book is Too Busy for Your Own Good: Get More Done in Less Time--With Even More Energy.