Tuesday, August 18, 2009

The Checklist

Yesterday, I introduced readers to my organizer. Now I will be explaining how I used it.

First, I had to find a place or two where I could set the organizer. It had to be near me and near the places where I might jot notes, in order for me to use it. Generally, it sat on my desk in the school room or by the phone in the kitchen. During busy seasons, I took it with me when I moved from the school room to the kitchen for supper. When I was out of the house for more than an hour, I carried it in my book bag or tote.

On the front page of the organizer, I usually kept my current checklist. When things were really busy and crazy, or I had my hands full with a messy project, I sometimes posted the list on the refrigerator, where it would remind me every time we ate. This was simpler for me when I was too distracted to keep up with my organizer notebook every day.

I mention all of this because each person has to decide what is comfortable for the current situation. The ages of the children, location of the school room, afternoon activities, size of the family, and working hours of the husband can change what works best. Flexibility is key. It's best to experiment a bit.

I learned, by trial and error, that daily checklists are too detailed and have to be updated too often in the home school. They couldn't allow for all the unexpected things. It was frustrating to keep updating lists of things I simply couldn't accomplish. Monthly checklists didn't carry enough details and weren't updated often enough to be relevant. The perfect frequency was to make a checklist every one or two weeks. The weekly list had enough recent information and enough details, but didn't push me to make too many promises or shoot too high. I got a better picture of our life this way -- what really needed to be a focus, what we were able to accomplish, and what had actually gotten done.

My weekly checklist page had a space for a weekly to-do list, scheduled events, and supper menus. For some years, I used a weekly checklist form that came in the Blueprints Organizer Masters from Hewitt . I ordered my set 15 years ago. At that time, it contained almost all the forms I needed to get started with organizing school and household.

A second option I recently discovered is a free download of the Homeschool Mom Weekly Planner . The weekly page is just about right. There is a second planning page below it with menus and notes and grocery lists, if you would like to use it. You could use the two pages together, one on the left and one on the right, so you have a two-page spread for each week.

Here is what I wrote on my weekly checklist:

1. Any scheduled events from my calendar.

2. Any tasks that I really had to get done that week.

3. Suppers, if and when I knew what they would be.

4. Any phone calls, emails, or correspondence that needed to be done.

5. Any special preparations that were needed for our home school, such as a library trip, ordering a book, or planning for an event.

6. Special events or projects for school -- like birdwatching, chess club, art day, co-op class.

After all of this, if there seemed to be space for it in our busy lives, I added one to three additional tasks for the week. I found that I could handle one focused task, above and beyond daily chores, on most afternoons. That meant I could bake a birthday cake OR vacuum the house OR go to the library OR work in the yard. Just one task. It was important to select activities that were high priorities and not overload the day with unrealistic expectations.

Here is what I did not put on my checklist:

1. My lesson plans. I needed a different system for those.
2. Routine tasks that I would not need to be reminded to do -- things like laundry, dishes, etc.
3. Things my husband was doing, unless they dramatically affected life at home.
4. Events from the homeschool support group, unless I was planning to participate.
5. Events in community and at church, unless I was planning to participate.
6. Detailed supper menus.
7. Fun possibilities just because I liked to keep them in mind. This only cluttered my mind with too many options.

I made very brief jottings for supper, things like "chili" or "spaghetti" or "chicken/rice/veggies." Doing this helped me take advantage of my crockpot, rice cooker, and bread machine -- which saved me a lot of time each week. When I looked at my list, I was reminded to put something into a machine in time for it to be ready for supper that day. But I did not make meals a major event. I did not cook the full meal more than one day ahead. I did, however, make ample use of leftovers. Overall, I found that simple ingredients, simply prepared, at the time they were needed, were the sensible choice for us.

I filled out the weekly checklist over the weekend, some time between Friday afternoon and Monday morning. Then I ran with it for the week. As I went, I added updates and special notes with post-its and stuck them to the page. Things I needed to remember after this week went on a post-it note and were attached to a margin on the appropriate month on my monthly calendar. Each weekend, I made a new checklist. This chore took me about 20 minutes, but it saved me hours during the week, because I was focused properly.

This was so cheap, so quick, so easy it's still hard for me to believe how much a difference it made. The one catch was, I had to make the list and use it. If I didn't, there were no benefits to my system. So if you want an easy way to organize, try it.

If you feel like you are making lists too often, you can always switch to making them for two weeks instead. If you don't want to use a notebook all the time, you can put your list on the refrigerator. You can put your list on a clipboard that goes with you and sits above your pile of papers. If the organizer notebook seems too large, you can use a smaller one and make your own weekly page.

The important thing is to find a system that works for you.

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