Developing a Simple Framework to Day Helps Get Things Done

McCullough, based in Colorado, is the author of five books on home management.

In the last month, how many times have you heard someone say, "I can hardly wait for school to start again so we can get back into the routine of things"?

They are expressing the need for a little bit of structure, which helps get things done. You don't want a routine that tells you what to do every five minutes, but a simple framework makes it easier to attach other basic responsibilities.

The two most important elements in this routine are getting up at the right time and having an appointed dinner hour. Those two activities are the primary supports for the whole framework.

Going to work or school gives additional deadlines, which set parameters. Although it may seem confining, you'll notice that people with built-in time structures seem to get more done. People who don't have a forced schedule and still accomplish a lot have learned to create their own deadlines.

What time do you have dinner? With a predictable schedule, everyone knows when to be home, what time to have chores done and when to break from homework or TV. An established dinner hour divides the day from the night. It makes a tremendous difference in what you can do in the evening. You don't lose time waiting. You can predict when evening will begin and do some planning. Those who can arrange their life to have a set dinner time find it quite stabilizing.

Available for Parenting

In my particular stage of life, I need to organize my work schedule so that I am available for parenting between 4 and 7 p.m. Those are the most important hours for school-age children. This is not a good time for me to be cleaning a closet. I must be in the general living areas of the house. While I am cleaning the kitchen and preparing dinner, I am available to supervise TV, play, homework and chores. I use that opportunity to visit with the children about school and with my husband about work. This is not a good time to be shopping unless it is with the children and for their needs.

Eat together, with the TV off. Talk with and listen to each other. Studies show that families who eat together have fewer problems, the children get better grades in school and earn more scholarships.

You not only want a daily routine, you need a simple weekly routine. If you were looking for Grandma 50 years ago at 10 a.m. Monday, she probably would have been washing clothes. She had a well-defined time to take care of household chores. Everyone knew when the bread would be baked and when to expect clean clothes.

Activities, jobs, modern appliances and convenience foods have moved us away from formal routines. We do not want to go back to outhouses, wood stoves and scrub boards, but there are some lessons to be learned from Grandmother's method of handling the weekly necessities.

If you set up a reasonable routine with enough structure to carry the basic chores, you can concentrate on other things.

It is like trying to get a child to practice the piano. If you have to find the time every day to get them to practice, every single day you have to concentrate on that effort until it is done. But if you and the child agree that practice will be at 4 p.m. every afternoon, you don't have to deliberate all day. Yes, you have to capture the child at 4 p.m., but the rest of the day you are free of that concern.

The Reward Is Freedom

This rewarding system offers freedom. If you set Wednesday aside to do the wash, and you take care of it then, you won't have to fret about it at any other time; you are free for six days. Imagine how nice it would be if you allowed yourself several hours every Sunday evening to take care of paperwork, write letters and plan goals for the week.

The same is true with most other weekly needs. Set up a simple routine. Do not wait until things scream to be done. The problem with the demand system of housekeeping is that all the needs surface at the same time. A general routine can give strength to life.

If you are behind because of summer activities, sticking to a routine will help you gradually get caught up. It may be necessary to put in a little overtime while you move down the list of things to do. Give yourself a chance by holding off new projects while you are trying to work your way back to the regular life.

Two or three times a year, usually January, June and September, when schedules shift, I draw up a seven-day chart and take a look at the whole picture. I set aside a time for laundry, for baking and for cleaning. If I am trying to do a special volunteer job or am working in an outside job, I figure out how it will all fit into my life. This paper exercise gives me a great deal of insight.

I set aside a time for fun, treating it like an important appointment. If I don't designate a specific time for relaxation, my work and other commitments will take over and life will pass.

The first time I tried to build a schedule for myself, I drew the seven-day chart and filled in every cleaning job recommended by typical organization teachers of the day. When I got all the work put in the calendar, there was no space left. I took out a clean piece of paper and started over by first designating a time for myself, for me to be with my children, and for my husband and me alone, but together. Then I set aside a time for household work.

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