I’m constantly trying to tweak my schedule to successfully balance my priorities. It’s an art-form, for sure, since every season is unique and every day looks a little different from the day before. But, recently, I’ve settled into a great routine that works for most days and allows me to accomplish what’s important to me over the course any given week.
Last week, I attended the Storyline Conference and heard best-selling author Donald Miller share a similar strategy. He based his technique on tons of research. I based mine on trial and error and moments of sheer desperation. This tells me I’m onto something. And maybe I should submit my findings to important people who publish research, and such.
This will work for you whether you are a stay-at-home mom (like me), work from home (kinda me), or work outside the home. It goes like this:
STEP ONE: IDENTIFY YOUR THREE THINGS
Basically, for about seven hours a day, my kids are in school. This is my “work day.” During those kid-free hours, I set out to accomplish three categories of things: Housework, exercise and writing. I do a lot of other things every day, too, but I save those other things for early morning, after school and weekends. These three categories of things are my top priorities during my work day. You can plug whatever three things are priority to you.
STEP TWO: CHOOSE ONE TASK TO ACCOMPLISH IN EACH THING
The night before, I decide one thing I’ll work on in each category. This takes me about one minute. I don’t over-think this. Sometimes I try to decide first thing in the morning, but my days go much more smoothly if I know where I’m heading from the moment I open my eyes. Plus, if I wait until morning to decide what to do, I may get sucked in to emails and laughing baby videos. (If getting sucked into emails and laughing baby videos are top priority to you, then, by all means, go crazy with that.)
So, for me, a typical day, choosing one thing in each category would look like this:
Housework: Girls’ laundry and vacuum (technically two things, but I can do laundry while also doing other things).
Writing: Work on “Letter to Christmas” post.
STEP THREE: PLACE IN ORDER OF PRIORITY AND ASSIGN GENERAL TIMES
I am most productive, creative and energetic in the morning, before 11 am. Therefore, the thing with the highest priority goes first. My mental acuity generally peaks mid-morning and decreases steadily throughout the day, so that by bedtime, my brain resembles little more than a pile of mashed potatoes with gravy. This is true for most people. I’ve been told there is research to support this. Feel free to look it up.
Based on my anticipated brain function, I split the day into sections. I’m not married to these times, but it helps me to know generally when to stop and how long I have for each thing. I work better with a time limit. I think most of us do.
Now, my schedule, in order of priority with times assigned, looks like this:
#1 Writing: 8 am-11am Work on “Letter to Christmas” post
#2 Exercise: 11am-12 pm Yoga
BREAK: 12 pm-1 pm shower and lunch
#3 Housework: 1 pm-3pm Girls’ laundry and vacuum
STEP FOUR: ROTATE THINGS EVERY DAY
Now, here’s the revelation that helped me so, so much: I have discovered that my first priority always gets done, my second one gets done–but not as well, and my third one sometimes falls off the list entirely.
For a long time, I’d write first, exercise second and leave housework till third, every day. Guess what happened. My writing was great, my workouts were meh, and my house was trashed, every day. True story.
So, that is why I ROTATE the categories each day. (I know. I can’t believe you are getting this advice for free either!)
So, if Monday is
Tuesday will be:
And then Wednesday will be:
And so on, and so on, and so on…
This helps me keep my highest three priorities in constant rotation. By the end of the week, I’ve made significant progress in all three categories. If something falls off the wagon one day, it becomes highest priority the next.
On Fridays I try to plan my errands that require me to leave the house, like shopping, meetings, lunch/coffee with friends, etc. This is so I don’t become a recluse or forget how to interact with other humans. But it also helps me use my time more wisely because I’m not always running around on small errands.
At the end of each week, I can look back and see progress in every area, nothing falls off the agenda completely, and I can direct my full attention to the needs of my kids and husband when they are home in the evenings and weekends.