Wednesday, March 10, 2010

How to Conquer Time Stealers

Teaching classes, homeschooling, writing my book and blogs, assisting my husband with his Personal Chef business, managing my household, finding time with God, designing curriculum, preparing to teach Sunday School and miscellaneous other details in life all occupy my day. Now, before you begin to think that I am some super woman who has it all together, let me insert a major disclaimer here…I am so not altogether. However, my God is and He is where I derive my strength each day! Over the years, as a homeschool mom and in multiple other roles, I’ve noticed little thieves attempting to control my life and steal my time!

Some of these thieves appear due to my own weaknesses while others arrive without being invited. Nevertheless, as I mature (and this seems to be a long process), I am discovering ways to eliminate or at least somewhat control them. Do you have any of these time stealers in your house? I’ve included some ideas for conquering them that I hope will help.

1.     Disorganization – one of my least favorite scenarios is when I’m trying to locate something in my home, knowing that I have it, then waste tons of time looking for it. While I’m not a neat freak, I do find that by starting Monday morning with my house neat and reasonably organized, the rest of my week really ends up being so much more productive and peaceful. My son seems to work much better in a neater environment as it allows him to find what he needs more easily to get his job done.
     Possible solutions to conquer this thief:
·        Take a little time on Sunday evening to just straighten up from the weekend and make quick lists for those items that are a priority. I avoid leaving dirty dishes or other chores to be done on Monday morning that could be done quickly on Sunday night. Also, by making lists on Sunday evening, I wake up on Monday morning with my goals already set for the week and ready to roll.
·        Have a easy to reach place for things. We have two large drawers in our television armoire in the living room and all of my son’s school books are stored there. It’s easy to take out materials and put them away. If they get too cluttered to close, we know it’s time clean out the mess. Basically, that happens about every other month. I have a basket that I use for storing my school materials and that’s about it. For many of you, with multiple children, more sophisticated methods may be need to be implemented, but make it as easy as possible. Baskets and other containers with leads allow for quick clean ups with losing vital books and materials. I was a fan of shelves at one time until I realized that I could always see them and they never seemed neat. Now, I’ve converted to covered containers because it can be neat without being perfect. We live in a very small house so keeping things in their place is an essential. Again, I lose time when I have to hunt for something or spend an entire afternoon cleaning up because we haven’t put things away for a week.
·        Keep an all purpose notepad or notebook – I previously kept a separate notebook or notepad for every aspect of my life. At one time I was a huge fan of The Well Trained Mind and I attempted to apply those organizational techniques to my entire life. Ugh! Big mistake…I ended up with a bunch of binders, half used and half organized. Now, I keep one small soft sided journal that I can throw in my purse or bag. My journals come from Barnes and Noble because they have them in packs of three for about $9. Red is my preferred color, not because I am a fan of red, but because it’s easier to find when I am looking for it. I keep all notes and lists in one notebook for any given time period. I write the applicable dates on the front of the journal and store them according to date as I finish with them. I do sometimes use paperclips to sort pages, as needed. When I put something away in an unusual place or I am afraid I might not remember, I note it in my book. I’ve learned to write down details from phone calls in it to avoid having a bunch of scraps of paper. I use an unlined version, although there are lined versions, to provide the most flexibility in case I want to sketch something or need more space than a line offers. Of course, if I ever lose my book, my brain might explode. J That hasn’t happened yet, praise God!
2.     Overly organized – Is this possible? Definitely! This little thief deceives you into thinking that you’re working on being organized when you’re really just procrastinating on doing what’s on your list. Thriving in my home for a period of years, this thief had me fooled into doing silly things like rewriting and reorganizing my lists continually or constantly reorganizing shelves, closets, etc with the latest storage containers. Okay…so I do have a storage container fetish, but still, I have learned that just because it’s new doesn’t mean it is better! How can you prevent yourself from being overly organized?
·        Keep lists uncomplicated and remember you control them, not the other way around. To prevent stolen time, I don’t rewrite any lists until all but 1 or 2 of the items are completed or I’ve had the list for at least a week. I like lists clean and neat, but in order for them to be useful for me, I know I have to cross off items and make notes as appropriate. In my journal, I keep six different lists to stay on top of my life. The last one is miscellaneous because I need a catch-all list. If something is time sensitive, I note a completion date with it, but I don’t put a date on everything because some things can wait until the next week. I review my lists on Sunday evening and adjust my priorities for the next week. Since I put things on my list as they come to mind, I don’t panic over not completing all of my lists each week. I used to, but I’ve grown a little in that area. I’ve learned that it is okay to transfer list items to a later time as long as you find you’re making progress.
·        Examine your motivations when reorganizing. Is your reorganization really serving a purpose or just stealing your time? Is spending two hours organizing the school closet really more important that going over long division with your child or writing out the bills? Believe me, I even catch myself doing this with my computer. I look at all of the files and folders and think, rather than grading my students’ essays, I really should clean up my computer. Really?
3.     Email, blogging, tweeting, etc – Technology offers wonderful opportunities and often gets promoted for saving time. However, when it turns into a time thief, technology loses its value. So, what can you do to keep technology in its place?
·        Determine whether you need to utilize every form of technology. I purposefully do not have email access on my phone. I could easily be an email junkie so I realize that there are times when email access just isn’t necessary. I also tried tweeting for a time and realized that as a wordsmith, I get pretty annoyed with such a limited number of characters for communication. As well, I spent way too much time each day checking to see if someone had tweeted me and typically, the content just wasn’t worth the time. For some people, tweeting offers an excellent way to network and allows them to keep up with people and events without too much time investment.
·         Keep thieves at bay by having technology guidelines. I have technology guidelines for my life including only writing my blogs once a week (although I do check for comments daily so I don’t leave anyone hanging), not tweeting at all and checking email no more than three times a day (in the morning, in the afternoon and before bed). Occasionally, I will turn on my email to pop up as it comes in if I am working on a project with someone. I have my email set up to automatically file into folders as it arrives, allowing me to read the highest priority first and save others for when I have more time. My friends tease me because I only check my Facebook account 2-3 times per week, although I am trying to be more consistent with that network because it is the only way some distant family members know what’s going on in our lives. For a while, Instant Messaging on my computer about drove me insane but I learned to limit the number of people that I allow to IM me. Texting can still catch me off guard if I’m not careful. If it seems like a long conversation, I call the person.
·        Evaluate your reasons for utilizing certain technology and prioritize how you use each form. It’s interesting if you think about it and I did to determine what I would keep and what I would discontinue concerning technology. Tweet was an easy dump. I feel that email is an essential communication tool, but then I had to put it in perspective by creating a schedule. It’s the same for my blogs (all two of them) and my social networks (Facebook and The Homeschool Lounge or THL). I do need some time with family and friends whom I can’t always call. I do enjoy getting know other moms online since I live in a rural area. I do learn from others as I am exploring blogs and networks. Even when I start to make a phone call, I evaluate whether my time would be better spent texting or emailing that person. Depending on my goal, it’s nice to have some choices. However, perspective and priorities promote principles. Realizing how much time I realistically have to devote to each of these areas put a huge smackdown on those time thieves!
4.     FatigueDana Wilson and I were just discussing the other day how allowing yourself to become overzealous about a particular project can really affect the quality of your work. I tend to be an obsessive worker…I like to get a project done in chunks. My problem occurs when I don’t know when to stop. Time gets stolen from other important areas of my life as I obsess over one particular goal. Not only can I wear myself out by working too hard for too long, I also lose sleep thinking about working on the project! God has been teaching me to break my projects into workable pieces rather than huge chunks that take all of my energy.
·        If you find yourself regularly tired, examine the possible sources. It could be your diet, lack of exercise, stress or if you’re like me, just taking on too much at one time.
·        Schedule time to rest. I know many homeschool moms who don’t get more than five hours of sleep a night! I would be useless if I tried to operate that way. The time thieves convince you that by less sleep you’re accomplishing more, but the reality is that by less sleep, the quality of your life and accomplishments become diminished and your body is much more susceptible to illness. You also need time to rest in God; to just be still in His presence and rest your soul.
·        Break larger projects into reasonable pieces. Don’t be like me and turn into a chunk junkie!
5.  Winging It – do you find yourself getting up each day without a plan or a routine, just going with whatever comes up? Some days school gets done completely, other days you don’t know where the time went? We all have those days occasionally, but if you do this most days and you feel like time is just flying, it might be! Even if you’re unschooling or really laid back about life, you could be having your time stolen because you’re not really thinking about how you’re utilizing what you’ve been given.
·        Map out your days for a week. I’m not talking about making a schedule. Just write down what you do for a week. It won’t take you long to realize where your time is going. Did you go to the store five times because you never sat down and just made a list for one trip? Did you only teach two days of Algebra because your neighbor called seven times and you answered the phone every time? So many time thieves trample over our days like it doesn’t matter. In a world that seems to be constantly changing, we have to develop an awareness of who and what demands our time throughout each day.
·        Follow a simple schedule. I don’t advocate overly complicated schedules, but creating a simple schedule and following it can stop those time thieves in their tracks. For example, I am not a fan of dusting, vacuuming, etc. In order to prevent those chores from creeping up on me as a burden, I simply delegate one or two a day during the week. I map out what my son needs to accomplish each day, between school and chores, and highlight it as it’s done. I used to work on complicated color coded, sticky note schedules, but I realized that my schedule making was actually stealing my time! So, I simplified and gained time in the process, sending that thief out the door! One note about scheduling: don’t let guilt mess with you as you’re making your schedule. I used to feel like if I didn’t schedule every minute of my day, except maybe Sundays, I wasn’t doing my best. After years of working on this, I now realize that open times in my schedule mean I am allowing myself some flexibility to help others, spend more time in the Word or just rest.
6. Play Time – Okay, I might get burned on this, but I feel like someone needs to say it. I love having fun, especially with family and friends. Whether we’re just playing board games, tennis, going to the movies or simply relaxing together, fun is a good thing. However, more and more, I notice that parents play video games without their children and often, without their spouses. Facebook offers any number of ways to be amused with games such as Farmville and I am a little surprised at how many adults are on these games for long periods of time and spend a lot of time talking about them. Television appears to also distract many people from interacting with one another and using the time they have in a healthy way. Now, to be fair, I am not saying that such games or television are foolish in themselves. For some people, that may be how they relax. However, examining how much time you devote to such things might be helpful. I know of homeschool moms who clearly spend time on these games and such, but struggle with getting their kids to finish school. I am not making a judgment call…it’s really not my place, but we have to model what we want our kids to do. It’s that basic and if we allow the time thief of foolishness to steal from us regularly, how can we expect anything different from our children?
·        Prioritize play time. Evaluate how much time each week you spend on playing video and online games, then compare that time to how much you spend enjoying your family, with God, helping others, etc. Where do you want that time to fall in the priorities of your life?
·        Model appropriate play time for your children. They’re going to see what you do, even when you don’t realize it. If you like time alone, make sure your children and your spouse understand that you’re not just randomly choosing to not spend time with them, but that you need a little down time occasionally. Be sure to communicate why you’re spending time doing what you’re doing.
7. Not having relationship margins – some of the best advice I ever received was to have margins in my life. I overachieve, diving into situations, projects and other people’s lives giving 150%. While God does want us to love one another and be there for each other, margins in relationships aren’t options, they’re requirements. When you’re tied to other people through a strong, common bond, such as homeschooling, it’s easy to take on the burdens of others. If you don’t have relationship margins with your friends, your spouse and children could suffer. If you aren’t a very good friend, those relationships suffer. If you meet every new need at church or take on every leadership role in your homeschool group, that time has to be robbed from another relationship in your life, whether it’s your marriage, your children or God. I had a friend, Jessica, who had four small children she was homeschooling, when a mutual friend began have serious marriage problems. Every day, the mutual friend would call Jessica to talk. She soon realized that she was getting behind on school and household needs. Jessica wanted to be there for our friend, but she had to establish some boundaries, so she set a timer each time the friend called and then ended the call when the timer went off. Our friend never knew about the timer, but it helped Jessica, in a very practical way, to create essential margins in that relationship.
·        Make your map do double work. As you map out your days, also notice who you are spending time with on those days. Is your time being spent in profitable ways with those people who are most important to you?
·        Build margins. If you discover relationships that you’ve allowed to get out of control, begin building margins now. You can reasonably begin limiting and controlling your time without jeopardizing relationships. If someone in your life can’t accept your margins, you may need to evaluate where that relationship belongs in your priorities.

It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. 
Acts 1:7
 We do not know the time we have on this earth, but we do know how precious that time is and what a gift it is! Time thieves attack all of us at some time or another. We have seasons when we’re more vulnerable and seasons when we are ready to do battle! If you have discovered ways to keep time thieves from interfering in your life, please be sure to comment and share those ideas with the rest of us.

May God bless your family and help you multiply your time!


  1. Great blog Beth! Super ideas and wonderfully written! Thanks!!

  2. Thanks, Stephanie! You're such an encourager...I really appreciate your sweet words.