Saturday, April 25, 2009

Three Secrets to Solving Problems

One friend told me, after reading my posts this week, that she feels she has plenty of joy. What she needs is to be more organized.

We all have things we wish we could do better. I understand how she feels, and I thought some of you might, too. Here are some ideas that might help all of us deal with those tricky areas where we want to make improvements.

First, my friend admits that organization is not her strength. Kudos to her for this! Honesty is a great place to begin. We have to be honest about what's happening if we are going to grow. But here is her problem. She has tried a number of methods and techniques. Nothing has worked consistently for her.

I did suggest Flylady, which seems to work well for people who are not natural planners, but she had already tried it. I could also recommend Time Management for Unmanageable People. Many of my friends who are looking for a fresh way to get organized have found in this book a friendly voice and some tips that really do help them. It's still my favorite time management book, especially for home schools. One of the things that the author talks about is the dilemma that occurs when we are managing people -- the more our work focuses on people, the less traditional time management techniques work. I agree!

For that reason, most of the time management books, courses, and paraphernalia are frustrating to homeschoolers. This is the primary reason that nothing my friend has tried has been very satisfactory. Her environment is highly interactive and unpredictable.

Sometimes, the problem is not that you have a great weakness. Instead, it's an outcome of your environment. If that's the case, the answer will come from a fresh approach. If you are honest about your weakness and identify the problem, that's the first step. Next, think about how your situation or your environment is also contributing to your dilemma. That's important information, because, most likely, it isn't all your fault.

Second, my friend is focusing on her area of weakness. This is what we all do. It's not bad, but we can only do so much with an area of weakness. Ultimately, we are who we are. Change comes slowly, and we can only handle small amounts of it while we are keeping the big yellow school bus rolling along. She has great strengths -- networking, spontaneity, doing things with other people, creativity, having fun, taking initiative, a high level of intelligence, generosity, a global perspective. She automatically delegates in every single situation. She responds well to momentum in a group setting and to shared accountability. Like most of us, she knows her strengths, but wishes she could do things differently. In her attempts to grow, she focuses on acquiring the things she doesn't have. This is what we all tend to do, and it's admirable.

But there is a better way.

If my friend thinks about her strengths, it will show her what works for her consistently and what she does best. She will be happiest and have the surest results if she leverages her strengths to solve her problems, rather than focusing on what she lacks.

How can she use her strengths to solve her problems?

Here is one example. If she is generous and likes to network and delegate, perhaps she find a high school student who needs to earn some income. She could pay this student to regularly clean and organize the house for her once a week, and during this time she could go to the library and do some planning and thinking. ( Actually, I did this myself for several years and it worked like a charm for us.) This weekly appointment would provide an automatic accountability for a planning time, ensuring that it happened in spite of everything else. It would let her turn down the volume on outside stimulation (something all of us need). She could move forward on the household organization -- by delegating tasks, rather than trying to do more. Since this helper would be a student, and therefore be learning herself, my friend would not have to pay an extravagant amount to have her help, but she would find great joy in providing for a need. The once-a-week appointment would create a definite event with another person. This is a far better choice for her than attempting to do a difficult job alone. It's even possible that this could be fun. She could do the creative work of coming up with charming household organizational ideas, but leave their application in other hands. The changes would create a sense of momentum that would create enthusiasm which could, in turn, motivate her to make more changes.

Another idea that might work for my friend is to have someone who knows her well come to her house and work with her. She and her buddy could alternate, going to her house one week and the buddy's house the next. Movies could be rented for the kids, and a good time could be had by all. This leverages her great strengths of networking, being sociable, having fun, and a global perspective. She and her buddy could even start a support group of moms who read Time Management for Unmanageable People and meet once a month on a Friday evening to discuss it over coffee and dessert -- momentum and shared accountability!

You see, for my friend to work consistently, without people around, with on a single list of mundane tasks is boring, boring, boring. Although she likes the results, it's just not her thing. It's unlikely that doing it that way will ever be satisfying. And with a house full of busy, curious boys who create a multitude of distractions, she probably wouldn't be able to find the time and space to get some real work done, anyway.

Third, my friend needs to make peace with who she is. This is hard to do, but there is no substitute for it. Organization for her is just not going to look like it does for other more structured moms. Guess what? That's okay! Her home school is going to be successful because of the strengths she brings to it, and it's not going to look like anyone else's. She will do it differently than I did, than you will. That's the beauty of homeschooling -- the best thing about it is the custom fit. That includes mom's lifestyle, too. She's ideal for her children, because they are her children.

How much organization does she need? Just enough. Are the kids steadily moving forward and learning new things? Is she energized and content? If she feels comfortable in her little world, then all is well. And what's comfortable for her may not be the same as it is for others. That includes all her friends and relatives, too!

It's important to remember that none of us who are playing the homeschool game have the perfect hand. I am missing some of my face cards. Maybe you don't have two of your aces. We all have things we don't do well. That's not going to change. The best thing is to use our strengths every single time we can and to outsource what we don't do well, as often as it's practical and economical. It reminds me of some wisdom from another homeschooling friend of mine: every homeschool has things that get done well, and things that just get done.

Welcome to the club.

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