Thursday, July 17, 2014

A New Season

Our Family is Going Places
Photo by Grace E. Mears, Copyright 2013.

Winter has passed, and the aching sting of death has eased (somewhat) with its passing. Spring has also passed, with its endless possibilities and the hurried rush that accompanies all that promise. Summer is now upon us, and along with the warmth and sunshine, a new life season has definitely made an entrance.

This new season is clearly marked by the end of contemplating new ideas and the beginning of actually making a few of those ideas become a reality. While other folks are out there water skiing, camping, and touring the US, I'm about to enroll in my own personal university--Life U--and fall semester starts on July 23.


For a long time I've tried to find my own rhythm within the rhythm of our family, to understand what derails me and what keeps me on track toward meeting my goals as a wife/mother and as a writer. And to understand how to work within the often chaotic demands of my husband's schedule which can sometimes make it feel impossible to keep any kind of routine going for more than a few days.

That's what this spring has been about. One by one, I've been facing my own personal speed bumps and detours looking for ways to end the constant sense of road construction so that I can get up to speed and put on the cruise control for awhile.

Honing In

After countless hours spent trying to harness my own energies, corral my varied habits, and hone in on the few things that really matter right now, I've chosen the goals that will receive the most attention in the next four months:

  1. Business Plan. I am developing a business plan for a media group which will encompass my varied writing projects, including the launch of my first book, my own press, a series of writing/creativity workshops, and the expansion of my jewelry writing.
  2. Three Pillars of Health: Food, Sleep, Order. As a family, we are dedicating our efforts to learning how to eat for health, to optimize our sleeping hours, and to bring order and functionality into our home. After more than a year of believing this home was temporary, we have accepted the now-ness of our situation and are now transforming this house into a home where we can work from rest. 

School Mode

As I mentioned, in order to streamline all my efforts toward the realization of these goals, on July 23, I'm putting myself on "school mode," named for the last time my life was divided naturally with organic breaks in between.

Between July 23 and November 17, I will pretend I'm in college. When I was in college, I kept a regular schedule, rarely missing a class and using the majority of my free time to complete my homework. I did not allow myself to get sucked into novels, computer games, or late nights out with friends on school nights. And I kept a regular bedtime and wake-up time, so that I would not have trouble getting enough sleep each night.

I mapped out my projects and worked on them incrementally and never turned an assignment in late. I was externally motivated to do all these things, as I feared failure. I'm no longer in college, and I no longer have a syllabus handed to me at the beginning of the year. No one is going to pass or fail me, and no one is going to give me a test at the end of the semester.

However, I can create my own syllabus in the form of a detailed outline of my goals and the steps I need to take in order to accomplish them. And the reward for a job well done will be far richer than a grade on a piece of paper. By the end, I will have placed a solid foundation beneath my business, enriching our income potential and paving the way toward the next season's goals. I will have learned the value of the steady administration of my intentions and that I can trust myself to work when I need to work and rest when I need to rest.

Here's to my final days of summer and to the onset of a season of work and rewards!


Tuesday, April 8, 2014

A Schedule

Time Management
Photo Credit: MindMed

by Angela Magnotti Andrews

About a year ago my friend Lindsey asked me to write a post about making a schedule. Just a few months prior, I had perfected one that would provide just the right amount of structure without being too rigid. Eric and I had a few meetings about it, agreed and disagreed on some things, and I took it back to the drawing board about three times before I actually printed a copy for both of us.

That schedule failed after two months of use--it was still too rigid and did not account for the random acts of small children. I attempted to take Lindsey's advice, thinking that if I was forced to write about it, then I would be forced to keep the schedule I came up with. I remember working tirelessly on different plans last fall, hoping I could make a post out of the whole ordeal.

My mom had shared with me about biorhythms and how each of us has a window of time between 45 and 90 minutes which is optimal for working on one task. She uses this method at home, setting her timer (one of my favorite home management tools) for 45 minutes and changing tasks each time the buzzer goes off. This works great for her, and she's shared the idea with me several times. I decided it was time to find out for myself why it works.

I spent an afternoon researching these biorhythms and even started a post about it, but I abandoned it. Several months later, I called Mom, still complaining about not having order in my days. She told me about the timers again and invited me to bring the kids to her house for Labor Day weekend. I dropped the kids off on a Friday and used her timer method every time I was home by myself. It worked fabulously! I got so much done and felt so much freedom.

At one point, I set the timer and set out on a big walk. I got home with about 15 minutes left on the timer. I used that extra time to lay out on the floor. I did a bit of stretching and then soaked up the sun for the remaining minutes. No kidding--about one minute before the timer went off, my eyes popped open. I sat up, ready for the next thing!

The same thing happened when I sat down to research. I was going along at a steady clip, my 45-minute timer set so I didn't have to wonder when to stop and take a break. All of a sudden, this wave of exhaustion swept over me. Sure enough, there was about one minute left on my timer. Apparently, my biorhythms are set to 44 minutes!

Well, I was stoked. It was easy! It worked! And I felt great going from one activity to the next with energy to take on each task. Surely, the kids and I could make this work for housekeeping, my writing, and homeschooling. My mom was right, again!

My mom really likes being right, and I secretly adore affirming her every chance I get. Somehow it just makes me so happy. I told her about how well her system worked for me, and I could hear the big smile in her voice. I told her how excited I was to try it with the kids when she brought them back.

I'm sure she's guessed by now, since she called on one of those really bad re-entry days following their return, that it didn't work out so well. I don't think the kids are on the same biorhythm I'm on, and I don't think they have the same enthusiasm as I do for getting the housework done and being quiet while I write.

That magical moment of "waking up" after being able to concentrate for 45 minutes was sorely missing from my attempts, primarily because I never had the chance to actually sit uninterrupted for 45 minutes. After a weekend of constant activity and the full attention of their grandparents, my kids were bored with the mundane routine.

I wish I could say I went back to the drawing board to come up with a new plan, but frankly I gave up. I had tried everything, and nothing seemed to bring the peace I longed for. The plans I made were either too rigid for our lifestyle, or they were too easy to fudge with a late night here or a late morning there (usually both at once).

I didn't give up altogether, as I did continue to pray (and sometimes complain) about the lack of order and the stress I felt trying to juggle homeschooling, playing with the kids, getting outside, and getting my four hours of work done each day. And just a few days ago, we had another round of energy-draining formlessness to our days and a meltdown from Zara, "Mommy, your work is making everyone unhappy."

I brought them together and explained why Mommy's work is so important and how it is imperative that we find a way for me to get my work done in chunks of time each day without interruption and without interfering with learning and having fun together. Together, we agreed that with a few important tools (a clock for the living room and one for their bedroom), we could choose a schedule that would work for all of us.

Sorry, Mom, but it's not based on your biorhythms method, though it is closely related. It does require that I get up earlier than I have been, but since I got the children to fully cooperate with an 8:30pm in-bed time, it should work out in the long run for me to get to bed earlier.

Here's what we decided:

Mom wakes and works for an hour. Orion is in the living room working on a quiet activity chosen and prepared for the night before. Zara is in her bed, reading and doing the quiet activities she chose. They both have a clock they can watch and read, and I have a timer set for one hour.

The timer goes off, and the kids and I eat breakfast together.

Orion returns to the living room with his activities, and Zara returns to her bedroom with hers. Mom goes to the computer, sets the timer for one hour, and proceeds to work. Interruptions are greeted with a gentle reminder, "Uh-oh, the timer hasn't gone off." OR "Sorry, Mom's not available right now." OR "Remember, the house is quiet until 10am."

10:00am - 3:30pm
Mom and kids, and Dad on his days off, spend time doing things together without Mom having to wonder when she's going to get her work done. Yesterday, we assembled their new toy shelf together, put up fun snow flake lights on Zara's upper bunk, and played a game Orion made up. We watched a movie together while we put the shelf together, and we had a fairly stress-free time together. It was the first time in a long time that I haven't wondered if I should be working or doing school or cleaning house instead of whatever it was I was doing.

3:30 - 5:30pm
Mommy works while the kids watch a movie or play together quietly.

This is a great schedule, and it worked like a charm for a brief season. Now, though, it does not seem to fit the changes Eric's spring season brings to bear on our life. I've once again abandoned the notion of keeping a regular schedule. I'm living one moment at a time, and it actually feels really good most of the time I suppose you could say I'm learning to trust the process. Despite the inconsistency in my schedule, the housework, the schoolwork, and my writing all seem to get done miraculously at the end of each week (or at least by the end of the month).