Part of the Calendaring for Stay-at-Home Parents Series. Find Part 1, Part 3 (the actual calendaring part), or Part 4
Part 2: Laying the Foundation
Stay at home parents face unique challenges when it comes to setting a schedule, when compared to people who work outside the home.
Most of Kara’s UFYB clients are women who work in an office setting and need to schedule things like phone calls, email, and paperwork.
She challenged us to actually measure how often we need to be available to our coworkers/employers full-time at a moment’s notice. One of her clients who was really struggling with the idea of using the calendar did just that and found out that it actually only happened twice in a week.
When Responsiveness is Key
The biggest difficulty for me when it comes to putting things to the calendar is my kids. I never know when exactly they’re going to need something.
This isn’t one of those “parenting is the hardest jobs there is” things. Working is hard! Whether it’s paid or unpaid or at home or in an office. And this doesn’t just apply to parents. Ask an ICU nurse how important responsiveness is in their job. A code can’t really wait until your scheduled task is finished.
But since this post is about parenting, I’m going to keep at it from that angle.
My “employers” need me a lot. Multiple times a day, sometimes on an instant’s notice, often when I’m in the middle of something important.
Kara’s suggestion for when you have something on the calendar: do that thing, do thought work, or do nothing. Sit bored or else do what you told yourself you would do.
Again brilliant. Again not really an option when you hear “I’m hungry!” about 212 times a day. When you need to be on-call almost all the time, calendaring can be hard, but that doesn’t make it less important.
Following are some work-arounds to help you learn how to put things down on the calendar even when you know you’ll be regularly interrupted.
Because of my specific parenting philosophy, I don’t let my children cry uncomforted when I can help it. I believe it’s important to respond to them as quickly as I can when they ask for my help. Now, Kara would say that’s just a thought, and I could choose to think something different if I want, and I agree.
In this case it’s a thought I’m choosing consciously, and one that is serving me and what I want for myself as a parent. Which means that I do need to be available on-demand most of the time, at least while I still have a young infant.
It’s up to each of us to set our priorities. Do that first, because that will inform how you personally set up your calendaring system. Maybe your kids are a little older and can wait a little longer. My priorities say that the kids’ needs come before the housework, which means that I have to…
You may have to change what your scheduled activities look like compared to someone without kids. For me that means writing this blog post in the bed while contact napping with the baby. And so, so much babywearing.
Babywearing while washing dishes. Babywearing while building with Legos. Babywearing while playing the Sims…
It also means having my gal Friday help with the household tasks. I’ll do a post soon about age-appropriate tasks for kids. (Here’s a preview: they can probably do more than you give them credit for, and the earlier they start the more it just seems like normal everyday stuff for them and not a “chore.”)
Make a Yes Space
This is a term that usually applies to babies and young toddlers, but there’s no reason it can’t apply to preschool or grade school aged kids. Make sure they’re set up with everything they need in an environment where they can’t get into too much trouble.
This is a case of an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure. If you don’t want to add cleaning crayon off the walls to your calendar, brainstorm ways to keep the kids entertained and also safe while you’re doing something else.
Combine this with getting creative: let the big kids run around at the playground while you get some work done on your phone, or even just take five minutes to listen to a podcast, read a book, or meditate.
Break Up Big Jobs
Break down bigger household tasks into smaller chunks of time and reward yourself with some play time with the kids after it’s done. Don’t put “clean the kitchen” on your list – instead put “load the dishwasher,” “unload the dishwasher,” and “wipe down the countertops.”
Switching back and forth between different tasks can definitely lose you some productivity. Being able to concentrate on just one thing for an extended period of time is far more efficient – but remember that we’re taking it as a given that that’s not possible. That’s the whole point of this post.
If you can just predict when you’ll have large chunks of time without interruption (and you actually have enough focus to devote to a large block of time), then schedule big jobs that you need to do all at once for that time. Which brings me to…
Get Some Help
Let’s face it – some tasks just can’t be interrupted. And these may vary from person to person. It’s not only okay to ask for help when you need to work on these things – it’s absolutely necessary. Get a babysitter, put the kids in daycare one day a week, or wait until a co-parent is home to watch them.
Schedule these tasks when you know you will have help – and make sure the other person knows how long you have blocked off, and not to interrupt you during this time.
One of my favorite things is to send Dr. Nerd out of the house with the kids so I can get things done. I can know for certain that they won’t be running into the room or calling for me to come help because they’re not even home.
Usually they go to the gym, the mall, or maybe Target, so they’re having fun.
There will be people who read this and think it’s impossible. If that’s you, find someone who knows the specifics of your situation and brainstorm with them, because you are likely having a really hard time seeing your own life with perspective. I can recognize that because it’s so me.
Maintain Trust in Yourself
If you put things on your calendar and just ignore them – especially if they come with reminders – you’ll end up losing integrity with yourself. Each time you ignore an “event” it gets easier (Ask me how I know.) until you don’t even see them anymore.
You don’t want to get in the habit of ignoring reminders because it’s a really hard one to break. How do you avoid this? Well for starters…
What, that’s the third time this has come up? This might be a hard one though.
This time I’m challenging you to pick one task from your list to be the one you want to focus on developing as a habit right now.
You probably want to do most of them, if not all.
You’re probably thinking, “Okay, but in my case I have to pick six things at the very minimum because I absolutely have to do them every day.”
Are you doing them all now? Have you been doing them for a long time already? If so, then it sounds they’re already habits. Since you already have a handle on those things, pick one more.
Oh, what’s that? You aren’t already doing them? So it’s not actually imperative that you start doing them every day as of right now with no margin for error, right? Because you’re surviving so far.
I recommend choosing one that is foundational – not the one that is the most important, but the one that is most likely to make your life easier. Because once you’ve got that established it’ll make it easier to add more.
I have things on my list like washing the dishes, reading to the kids, and even some basic personal care on my list. Those things all need to be done every day (at least according to my values.) The problem is that if I insist that they must all be done every day, they’ll never actually get done. Does that sound counterintuitive? If you also struggle with everyday tasks, I bet it actually sounds pretty familiar.
I narrowed it down to either getting to sleep before midnight or preparing my schedule. Both are laying the groundwork for me to make forward progress on everything else. If you’ve read other posts you can probably guess I really didn’t want to pick the former.
I went with the latter. I’m committing to putting aside time every day to process my inboxes and make a daily schedule. Even if there’s nothing on it because that’s the only thing habit I’m working on right now.
None of this means that you can’t also do other things on your list. It just means that you only pick one to be the “I’m going to start doing this thing every day” focus. Anything else you get done is a bonus. After a few weeks go by and your new habit starts to feel like second nature, start thinking about adding a second one.
But don’t overdo it. Be someone you can count on.
Try not to overschedule yourself in the first place, but expect that the calendar you start the day with won’t be the same as the one you finish with. We’ve got kids who don’t understand how calendars work and have no respect for them. Luckily, digital calendars are excellent for letting you drag and drop to change times. Change them around based on your needs.
Try to commit a minute here or there through the day to keep your calendar updated to what you’re actually doing (like the retroactive calendaring from part 1.) Delete the things you won’t get done today, reschedule the things that actually need it.
Remember to forget your all-or-nothing thinking. Don’t expect perfection. Moving events and rescheduling is responsible. Ignoring them or overloading yourself is not.
You won’t lose integrity with yourself if you have unloading the dishwasher scheduled for 9 AM but the baby needs to eat and you move it to noon. Or even if you reschedule it for tomorrow. It’s if a notification pops up and you swipe to dismiss it because you don’t want it staring you down that you’ll stop trusting yourself.
More on this in part 3.
The Home Dashboard
Use your home dashboard! This is where this device thrives. Throughout the day check to make sure you’re staying on task. The home dashboard allows you to do this at a glance without the need for that ultimate productivity-killing productivity device: your smartphone.
Get out of the House
Especially when you’re staying home, it is important to get the kids out of the house on a regular basis, for their development and your mental health. Time block a few hours a week for spontaneous trips about town, just for fun.
Make a separate calendar of events around town you may want to attend occasionally, like library storytimes. Don’t include things you know you plan to do. Those should go on your main calendar.
Turn off all alerts for this calendar. It’s only to help you come up with things to do when you have spare time. It’s there for your convenience which means you only need to hear about it at your convenience.
You may have noticed the large block of time on my ideal daily schedule that was delegated “Free Time.” That block is there for a couple reasons.
One: it’s to give me some time to catch up on anything that had to get pushed back earlier in the day or week.
Two: it’s so I can occasionally have some unplanned time. Because unfortunately, unless I plan my unplanned time, it’ll get lost in TV and Facebook the same as the chores do.
I value being able to make last minute plans. I wrote the first part of this post from the local children’s museum. Because we have a membership, we are able to just wake up in the morning and decide we want to go.
But only because I have space on the calendar to do something, even if I don’t have specific plans yet for what that thing may be.
A host from another show I listen to, Taking Control: The ADHD Podcast would refer to this as the difference between blocking and gating your time. Blocking is setting aside some time on your calendar to commit to certain kinds of tasks (personal, professional, household, etc…) where gating is actually putting specific tasks into that space. Allow yourself to sometimes put off gating until the last minute.
Make sure your ideal daily calendar has a block of ungated time. At a minimum, use that time once a week for something spontaneous and fun. You may not get all the cleaning tasks done that day, but if you’re out of the house the kids won’t be making such a mess either.
Are you going to try calendaring? Did you do yesterday’s background work? What kinds of things do you have on your ideal schedule?
Was this post terribly hard to read because it’s so long? These are the things I need to know!
Hit me up in the comments or on Discord!