Tuesday, January 10, 2012

My Organization System for Motherhood

I have a big post coming (in response to a kindred spirit's big questions) about motivation and passion and goals. But I decided that I would start with something related yet simpler: my daily organization system.

I could write a sonnet to my daily organization system. It is the reason I'm able to accomplish anything.

In general, my organization system is a binder that includes my yearly goals, my monthly goals, and then my weekly to-do lists. I detail the whole system on the Organization page. (And I'd be remiss if I wrote a whole post about organization and didn't mention my mentor Maia and my favorite book about organization.)

Although my overarching system stays the same from year to year and job to job, my daily to-do list changes in response to the nature of my daily demands. Now that I'm staying home with Henry full-time, my system is simple, simple, simple: I combine my monthly calender with my daily to-do list.

Here's how I do it:
  • On my calendar page for the month, I put a sticky note for the week that lists out everything I need to do for the week. I add to this list throughout the week as things come up.
  • Then on each day, I block out chunks of time to tackle various things. My day with Henry generally looks like this: Awake time (7-9:30am), Nap time (9:30-11:00am), Awake (11am-2pm), Nap (2-4pm), Awake (4-7:30pm), Bed (I have time from 7:30-9:30pm). Of course there are days when he sleeps an hour rather than 1.5 hours in the morning, or he's so tired he has to nap before 2pm or gets overtired and skips a nap altogether. But, in general, he's pretty predictable from day to day.
I write the following abbreviations on every weekday to represent what my time with Henry looks like.

On Sunday, I look at my to-do list and plot tasks into each chunk of time. This weekly meeting with myself is very important. I use it to look at my calendar for the week, look back at my monthly goals to see what small piece I want to tackle this week, reference my lists of "Things I Want to Do Someday," etc.

Our first awake time is always breastfeeding, playing in bed, solid food breakfast, and a walk. During Henry's nap time, I plug in things like writing blog posts, working on Montessori For All, etc.

That way, when Henry goes down, I don't waste a second trying to scan a list and see what I should do (or, worse, scan my head). I just look at my plan and get started right away.

The trick to making this system work for me is making sure that I curb my optimism. I always think I can get more done than I actually can. I try to account for my inability to estimate correctly by purposefully overestimating. If I think it's going to take me three nap cycles to write all my blog posts for the week, I schedule set aside five nap cycles. That way, if a nap gets messed up or something else urgent and important comes up, I don't have to get frustrated. I just remind myself that I have a cushion. If I think I need time to decompress instead of cramming in work, I can schedule that, too.

This system works really well for me because it helps me get everything out of my head. I don't waste any time re-remembering things I have to do. (Sometimes I get sick of my system and refuse to write things down, but those mini-tantrums are temporary.) This system also helps me set goals for myself and then follow-through on all the action steps needed to make those goals happen.

A note about "scheduling" a baby: I don't make Henry follow my schedule. I pay close attention to his needs and then draft a daily rhythm that reflects and meets those needs. Our day together has changed many times as his awake time has grown longer and his naps have decreased down to two. Having a rhythm to our day helps both of us. It's easy for me to anticipate and meet his needs when I know where he is in a particular cycle, he can feel more secure because he knows what to expect, and I know when to schedule work time or phone meetings.

Again, the trick to all of this is being open to revision. My system changes depending on the demands of my job, and my work times vary in response to Henry's needs. When he is awake, I am fully present (although I do work on chores around the house to facilitate his independence). I put away my computer (unless something truly urgent and important comes up). When he's napping, I get right to work (after showering), so I'm able to pursue my passions and make progress toward my goals.


Today on 2000 Dollar Wedding: A shout out to a book about delineating your strengths.

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Kelsey said...

Love getting insight on how other people organize their days! I like your system and even though I always use a day planner I feel my system needs some tweaks and I could be more intentional. I received Stead Days (by Jamie Martin) for Christmas. In the book she describes her approach for "professional, intentional motherhood" which really resonated with me (well, I'm not a mother yet but I think it's how I'll want to approach motherhood!). She recommends a similar outline system that you use. It's also similar to the Daily Docket, for download at simplemom.net

My friend recently shared a cool one-page document that is an overview of yearly, monthly, and daily goals, to be filled out each week. I'm hoping to make it a download on my blog soon!

Anonymous said...

Totally random, but your abbreviations spell Banana! He he!

Carrie said...

Out of curiousity, do you ever just say "forget this" for the day, and sit back and relax (and let yourself be OK with that)?

Amy A. said...

Love the idea of pre-planning nap times so I'm not wasting half the time doing random but not productive things or trying to remember what important things I actually need to get done! I like your work organizational method and was wondering how you've adjusted it for full time motherhood, so thanks for this post!
As a side question, do you have any issue with Henry not adjusting well to environments that are not "prepared?" For example, since you removed the books from the lower shelves in your home, does he try to take them off the shelves at friends' homes or the library?

Sara E. Cotner said...

Awesome links, Kelsey!

@ Lilly: That's the perfect acronym for my schedule!

@ Carrie: Of course I do, but I'm actually more likely to schedule time for me to sit back and relax. I try to monitor my stress and fatigue levels and then make a schedule that meets my needs.

@ Amy: We try to use "No" when we're in environments with stuff he can't touch. We also try to put out stuff that he can touch.

Bridey said...

I love seeing organising systems, especially by planners and super organised people!

At the moment I have three systems, and I'm wondering if I need to consolidate into one or two. I have recurring tasks on a to do list app, written to do lists in a journal (so I don't keep losing them), plus a diary for keeping track of appointments.

Your life binder is a good idea, but my journals are so pretty I don't know that I want to give them up :)

Heather Lynn said...

I'm optimistic that this will be really helpful. I just had my first child, and we don't have a regular schedule yet at only 2 weeks old. And he doesn't sleep as much as I expected a newborn to sleep. So I'm pretty busy with just feeding both of us and changing diapers. How long was it before you were able to implement something like this?

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, Bridey: No need to give them up if they're working for you! By the way, I loved your pictorial goals for the new year on your blog!

Hi, Heather Lynn: Henry didn't fall into a pattern until he was three weeks old. At that point, he would breastfeed for about 45 minutes(!), then have about 15 minutes of awake time (on his back under his mobiles or on his stomach looking at black and white images), and then I would put him in the Moby and he would sleep on my chest for 1-2 hours. He would wake up and we would start the eat-play-sleep cycle all over again. I don't remember what I was doing with my free time then. Probably napping! Be easy on yourself. And congratulations on your expanding family! I hope you are connecting with other new moms. That's the best thing I did for myself in the early days.

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