Creating Routine… When Every Day is Different

posted by Andrea | 01/27/2017
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As a self-employed, work-from-home mom of 3 energetic, non-school-age children, my days can be very VERY unpredictable. 

This is not necessarily bad — after all, I almost always have the freedom to change plans or do something last-minute as we aren’t tied down to any specific schedule; but for my Type A personality, the lack of daily structure or routine can start to wear on me after a while!

I know a basic routine and rough structure allows me to be more productive, less stressed, and even happier… and my kids actually function better with a fairly reliable routine too. However, as any parent of young children knows, a super strict schedule or routine is basically a recipe for disaster. I’ll end up stressed because we’re not on schedule, the kids will be crabby, we’ll constantly feel rushed, and we’ll all be frazzled by the end of the day.

Instead, I’ve taken a few simple steps to implement BASIC structures and routines into our days and weeks while still allowing for LOTS of flexibility — because, much to my dismay, I’ve learned that life with kids must be flexible!

I know my specific ideas won’t work for everyone, but if you’re craving a little more structure to your every-day-is-different schedule, I hope some of the concepts in today’s post will help you see how you might add a bit of structure and a general routine to your ever-changing, always different days.

FIRST… I plan my day the night before.

I know, I know — I sound like a broken record. I’ve probably mentioned my nightly planning sessions 30 times on my blog already — but I truly do make my next day’s to-do list EVERY SINGLE NIGHT before I go to bed. No questions asked.

I make my lists right in my planner, and (in my opinion) this tip is THE MOST important thing I do every day to increase my productivity, decrease my stress, and allow me to have a good mix of fun and function in everyday.

My mini nighttime planning sessions not only allow me to think through everything I have to (and want to) accomplish the following day, they also act as a springboard to jump start my mornings AND provide a basic framework for the next 24 hours.

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THEN… I utilize daily time blocks.

Every single day is different for our family — not hugely different, but different enough that I can’t just make a weekly schedule or a Monday schedule that will work week after week.

However, over the past 2 years, my daily routine has morphed into roughly 6 time blocks throughout the day. These are NOT super strict and they can be easily changed or tweaked as necessary.

BLOCK #1: Wake Up and Get Ready for the Day (6:30 – 8:00)

The kids are usually awake by 7:00 and my goal is always to sleep as long as I can but still get up at least 20 minutes before them so I can be ready when they wake up! (Read more about my general morning routine here)

I usually have pancake or waffle mix ready to go the night before, so I can get breakfast on the table fairly quickly.

Then I get the kids dressed and ready and they play for a bit while I clean up the kitchen.

BLOCK #2: Morning Stuff (8:00 – 11:30)

This is the time of day when our daily schedules are the most different. Nora has preschool 2 mornings a week, Simon has speech therapy 1 morning, we go to Coffee Break at our church 1 morning, there’s a free story hour at the library 1 morning, and there are often local play groups that meet on Fridays.

I usually get groceries one morning while Nora is at school, I try to schedule any Dr. appointments for this time frame, and if we invite friends or neighbors over, it’s almost always in this morning time block.

However, since we know we are almost always home for a while after this time block, it’s easier for everyone to be OK with a little running around and different morning schedules.

BLOCK #3: Lunch (11:30 – 1:00)

I start making lunch around 11:30 (we try to pick up the house fairly well before lunch). We’re usually finished eating and have everything cleaned up by 12:30.

After lunch we play a couple games, read a handful of books, and then I put James and Simon down for naps around 1:00.

BLOCK #4: Nap / Afternoon Time (1:00 – 4:00)

While the boys are sleeping, I try to do something just with Nora for a bit (a small craft, painting project, cooking, baking, reading her American Girl books, etc.) but then I often let her do her own thing for a while so I can cross a few things off my to-do list. Some days she’ll play with a neighbor, other days she plays with Playdough or gets to watch a movie.

Since I know I almost always have a bit of time every afternoon, I try to keep handful of quick projects to work on whenever my “Afternoon Time Block” rolls around. These are projects that aren’t a big deal if I am constantly interrupted (either by Nora wanting my attention or by the boys waking up from their naps). I rarely try to do any focused work at this time.

Once the boys wake up (usually around 2:30 or 3:00) we have a snack, and then play until Dave gets home from school.

BLOCK #5: Wrap-Up and Dinner Time (4:00 – 6:00)

Dave is usually home between 3:30 and 4:00, so by 4:00 I often have another chunk of free time to respond to comments and emails or wrap up any little projects I was working on throughout the day (fold laundry, finish a blog post, clean out the dishwasher, vacuum, etc).

I try to have dinner ready for the oven before Dave gets home so I can use this time block to get a bunch of stuff accomplished, but if I didn’t make dinner during the day, I use this time block to do it.

We eat at 5:00 and are finished cleaning up shortly after 6:00.

BLOCK #6: Bath and Bedtime (6-7:30)

After dinner, Dave and I often both play with the kids for a bit… but we are quick to get them in the bath around 6:30pm.

They LOVE playing in the bath together, so that’s a great way to kill 30 minutes. Then we tag-team and get them dried off, dressed in PJ’s and downstairs for a quick snack. They eat their snack while we read them books and they all are in bed by 7:30pm.

Hallelujah!

The beauty of using time blocks is that even though we don’t do the same thing during the same time blocks every day, we have roughly the same basic routine each day.

So even if we are gone running errands one morning, at a church event one morning, or playing at home another morning, we still eat lunch and move on with our day at 11:30 pretty much every single day of the week. We have that consistency each day, and I think we all benefit from it.

It might not sound like a huge deal, but for someone who strongly values structure and routine, it is very helpful for me to have these time blocks in the back of my mind, offering structure even in the midst of a crazy day!

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FINALLY… I Don’t Schedule Evening Commitments.

In my current stage of life, the evening hours from 7:30 – 10:30pm are literally the ONLY hours of the day that are even remotely predictable for me. I know that I can almost always count on these hours as the time I need to finish my to-do list, do something I enjoy doing, watch a show with Dave, go for a walk with a neighbor, or work on a project that’s been on my list for too long.

If I’m consistently gone during these hours (for meetings or obligations), I start staying up later to accomplish more, I don’t sleep well because I’m over-tired, I don’t get up before my kids wake up, and I’m crabby and stressed all day because I’m trying to squeeze in too many to-dos while also trying to be present with my kids.

I fully understand that evening commitments are unavoidable for many of you — but it doesn’t have to be evening commitments. Maybe you have a couple hours every day while your kids are in school to do your “stuff”, or maybe your spouse is home for a few hours in the morning, or maybe you hire a babysitter for a couple hours one afternoon a week.

For me, the key is to have a somewhat consistent chunk of time that I can almost always utilize in whatever way I want to utilize it. If you can find a chunk of time like that, guard it and cherish it, and do NOT schedule commitments during those hours!

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Like I mentioned above, I know my specific examples won’t work for the family with 2 teens working different hours but still trying to coordinate a little family time, or for the family where one spouse travels for work or is in the military, for the family with a brand new baby, or even for the family with 3 young children and parents who work outside the home.

HOWEVER, I think the concepts and ideas here COULD be implemented in so many different ways to accommodate lots and lots of different family situations.

By planning my day the night before, utilizing time blocks throughout the day, and guarding my cherished evening hours, our entire family thrives — even when every day is different!

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21 comments

  1. Megan

    02/05/2017

    When your children are awake, are you typically playing with them throughout the day, or are they mostly playing with each other? I’m finding it really difficult to have a balance between playing with my son (3.5) and accomplishing the basic household tasks like laundry, cooking and cleaning. It seems like I can only manage to either give him my attention OR do stuff around the house. I’m just curious what you (and other stay at home mom readers) do. My son hasn’t napped for over a year and I have a 4 month old daughter who typically naps only 45 minutes at a time (and nurses every 2 hours), so I don’t have much “kid free” time during the day to accomplish tasks. Thanks in advance! Your blog is my favorite.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Hi Megan,
    I think it’s REALLY different when you have a small baby, because they need you ALL THE TIME!
    Right now, all 3 of my kids play really well together — especially if I get them started with an activity, game, or just playing with toys. Then I can slip out and throw a load of laundry in, vacuum the crumbs from under the table, or start preparing dinner.
    Also, Simon only takes a nap a couple days a week now — but when he’s not napping, he and Nora often entertain each other for most of James’ nap time (glorious!) I often have to pop in and out, give them more ideas of what to do, help them get out more games, help them get a costume on, get out a craft for them, or help them get into their snow gear, but I can get a few things done in the process too.
    Obviously, I do still spend a fair amount of my day playing with, and caring for, my kids — BUT more and more, I’ve been noticing pockets of time where no one needs me and I can accomplish something from my to-do list, eat a snack in peace, check my email, or whatever the heck I want to do!
    I guess that’s the perk of having 3 kids pretty close together 🙂 There were a couple years where I literally had zero kid-free minutes until they went to bed. Now it’s so much easier. Give yourself another year (or 2) and you’ll probably notice a huge difference too!

    [Reply]

  2. Debbie

    01/30/2017

    My lifestyle is totally different from yours but this block time could still work for me in the weekends. That’s mostly when I accomplish things on the home front as well as to be able to enjoy some relaxation.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    well that’s good to know. I know this concept of block time worked well with many of the families I worked with in the earlier years of my in-home organizing and coaching. I do think there are parts of it that could be integrated into almost any lifestyle!

    [Reply]

  3. Mara Yager

    01/29/2017

    This is a great post!!! Ty for sharing!

    [Reply]

  4. Nena S

    01/28/2017

    I agree with night time commitments! I need to get better at planning.. thanks for the great blog post 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    maybe just start by planning your mornings. I’ve often found that if my mornings get off to a good start, the rest of my day follows! That’s a way to start small 🙂

    [Reply]

  5. Jenna

    01/27/2017

    That’s so funny, your schedule is EXACTLY the same as mine (3 little kids at home). Same time blocks, same things we do during those time blocks. It’s good to hear that I’m not crazy when I say, sorry I can hang out between 1:00-4:00 because that’s my work time Great post! Thanks for the look into your daily schedule!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Jenna! and no, you’re not the only one who turns down activities between 1 and 4 🙂

    [Reply]

  6. Catherine

    01/27/2017

    Hi Andrea,

    I just wanted to say thank you for another great post sharing your advice and tips. I started following your blog over a year ago, not long after my daughter was born. I have always found your blog posts helpful, fun and informative and they have helped me immensely as a first time Mum.

    I’m from Queensland, Australia and it doesn’t snow where I live. So it’s really fun to see all your pictures with the snow too. I’m 36 and have actually never experienced snow. One day…It will be exciting when it does happen as we will take our daughter so we will both share the experience for the first time.

    Take care and a BIG thank you!
    Catherine 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Catherine!
    We look like we’re in the middle of a pretty snow globe tonight with HUGE snowflakes falling all around us — you and your daughter will love seeing snow (especially since you won’t have to live in it for half the year!)

    [Reply]

  7. mm

    01/27/2017

    such a fun time!
    im really wondering how you keep your sofa white?!! and where did you get it so nice!!

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    haha — it’s from IKEA and it’s a slipcover so I can wash it 🙂

    Here’s the whole blog post I wrote on that topic: http://andreadekker.com/yes-we-have-a-white-couch/

    [Reply]

  8. Beth

    01/27/2017

    Andrea,
    Your kids are crazy cute. It’s so hard when they’re all little though because they need you so much. I had a good friend tell me once that when your youngest is 4, you start to get “the old girl back” (more of a return to your pre-kids life and personality). My youngest will be 5 next month, and it’s true. You’re managing this season of you life so well and I gain so much from your website.
    Beth

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    yes, I would agree with this too. It’s amazing how many more things Nora can do now that she’s 5!

    [Reply]

  9. Paulette

    01/27/2017

    Andrea, you are wise beyond your years. I so wish I had been able to follow you when my children were small, but you weren’t even born!!! I am sure you are a great encouragement to many mothers out there.

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks Paulette 🙂

    [Reply]

    Shan Reply:

    Andrea, I agree with Paulette. You are wise beyond your years. Although my life stage is vastly different from yours, (my husband and I are enjoying retirement, with two little boys visiting every Satruday) I read your posts and find your examples very helpful. You little ones are adorable and so lucky to have you and Dave as parents! I’m especially inspired by your passion to live a simple, organized and productive life to benefit your loved ones as well as yourself. Because of you, I have gotten off to a great start this year with meal planning! Just the other day, as we settled down after dinner to enjoy some TV in the evening, I took out the cutting board to prep some fresh green beans I just bought on sale. My husband asked with curiosity, “What are you doing?” I replied, “I’m doing what Andrea says to do…” Thanks to you I’ve able to have meals prepared ahead of time this whole month 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    Thanks so much Shan! I’m ecstatic that some of my posts have helped you get your year off to a good start!! And yay for meal planning 🙂

    [Reply]

  10. Heidi

    01/27/2017

    We do something very similar, even with both of us working outside the home. We have a clear morning routine, our work day, an afternoon routine of homework, laundry, and dinner, and an evening routine of bath and bedtime. Like you, I avoid any evening events at all costs during the week- except Friday night high school football during the fall! 🙂

    [Reply]

    Andrea Reply:

    good, glad this type of thing works for other families too! Thanks for sharing!

    [Reply]