Changing With the Seasons
In what seems like the blink of an eye this year, summer has given way to fall, and fall is gently ebbing towards winter. The more time we spend outside, the more I notice this gentle trajectory of all living things, pushing through different cycles of growth. Families aren’t so different. As our children grow, one thing is certain: this too shall pass.
In the early years of motherhood, every thing was laden with a lingering, short sighted expectation. Whatever trial was current was all absorbing. It was difficult to look beyond the days of sleepless nights and dirty diapers. But, after some time passed, I started to realize that things change within a family right along with the seasons. Sometimes more frequently, but at least a few times a year, the tectonic plates rumble and things slide around. Children grow and change. Needs among different children are all unique and varied at different times. Shockingly, even our pet routines sometimes need to be tweaked to best suit our lives.
Surprisingly, I haven’t yet made it away from sleepless nights. However, that notwithstanding, I’ve gleaned a few things from these golden days and as I’m going through another routine shift right now, I thought I’d share my process. How I know I need to move things around in my day, how I analyze what I want to change, and how I start to implement a change. It’s a very manageable, surprisingly quick process, and always very profitable.
When things get sketchy
How do I know when these seasons are changing and my routines need to change too? There are hundreds of different factors that can affect our day to day life, and not all of them require totally upsetting the boat. However, when the routines that should be making my responsibilities easier to accomplish, are making things more difficult, there’s a problem.
Again, a myriad of things can cause this demise: child development, new responsibilities and outside engagements, different education demands… the list could go on. What causes the problem is less important than diagnosing it and analyzing what needs to change.
If a particular time of day has become a pain point, if we’re struggling to accomplish what we need to in a certain time frame, or meet certain goals, I know it’s time to reevalute.
How I reevaluate
When I’ve established that certain systems or routines aren’t helping my life, I take a few minutes to sit down with pen and paper and pick over what I think possible issues are. When I have a pretty good idea of what the issue is, I jot down what I think the ideal day/time/situation would look like and work backwards from there. My best, and probably single most important tool in this process is a time log. More on that later.
Recently, I realized that Sieg was not taking good naps any more. When he did take good naps, I was able to lay down with him to get him to sleep for his nap, but that would only take 15-20 minutes–a perfect length of power rest for me–after which, I was usually able to get up and do some writing, reading, or housework. It was great, when it worked. But it stopped working sometime in the past few months. He was taking an hour to go to sleep (and I was having to be very involved with him during that hour), or not falling asleep at all. I was losing prime working hours in the afternoon, getting frustrated, and going into the evening feeling like I was behind.
The problem was that Sieg was no longer napping consistently. Sometimes he would sleep later, other times not at all, but his nap needs had changed. I’m a big believer in having a universal quiet time, for my own sanity, so that is my goal. I want to have the kids quietly occupied on their own between 2-3 PM.
I made a plan for what I wanted the kids to be doing, and decided that I would sit in with them on their quiet time the first few days to make sure it went well. Another issue appeared while I was contemplating the first issue: we were not managing our time well in the afternoon. Mornings go pretty well because we have a solid budget for our time. I like having the afternoons more flexible, but still need to make sure we’re getting things done. Enter the best productivity tool in the world…
A Time Log
Laura Vanderkam’s awesome book on productivity, ‘I Know How She Does It’, was my first introduction to time logging. I first read it about 2 years ago and it radically changed how I view my days and evaluate my own productivity. It’s simple. You set up a grid page and have each line labeled with a different 15 minute block throughout an entire day. I like to keep mine handwritten in one of my household keeping books, so I can go back and look over it when our days start to slip or I’m reevaluating our routines. Or you can print a free one off of Vanderkam’s site here. You’ll want to keep the log for a period of 4-7 days. Much longer than that and it doesn’t really tell you anything new, and (at least in my experience) you’re likely to get lazy about logging. With less time, though, its hard to get a clear picture.
I find that the first day I log my time, I work really hard to get the results I want to see. By day 3 and 4, I’ve simmered down and it’s a better picture of how things actually are. Once I’ve filled out a few days, I start to look over the data and start tweaking things.
I might write out a new routine for a pain point and start implementing it. I might try different focusing methods during the periods of the day where I tend to lose focus. Really, the solutions are as varied as the problems–that is to say, very.
In the end, it really is that simple.
Time logs have never failed to illuminate whatever I’m working through in my homemaking life. When I’m in seasons of motherhood where the invisible busy work is most of my day, taking notes on what is actually happening every fifteen minutes has been encouraging. But also, time logging keeps me brutally honest. Am I actually working, but it’s invisible? Am I working, but not making progress? If that is the case, do I need to change my process, or is it just a season? Or am I scrolling on social media and wasting my time? That one frequently smarts a bit.
In this particular case, using the time log is helping me to get our new afternoon routine going, complete with quiet time and projects. I started this process last Wednesday. Almost a week later, I am pretty pleased with our progress so far. I have gotten back to writing in the afternoon, worked on house projects, practiced violin, and (with the exception of a shocking pile of clean laundry) stayed mostly on top of the house keeping. Of course, it’s all fun and games until we break up the routine for the holidays, but we’ll cross that bridge when we come to it 😉