HELP! The School Year’s Coming

Getting Ready for SchoolEvery August the commercials begin… “back to school” is everywhere you look. This time may bring mixed feelings, but regardless of how you may feel, it’s important to be intentional in how you act. A bit of planning can ease the transition to a new schedule and maximize everyone’s productivity. If there are students in your heading back to school, here are a few ways you can help…

1. Set up a central calendar.
Every family needs a central calendar which captures activities, events, work schedules, etc. for the whole family. This is a place everyone (or at least those who read…) can look and be reminded of what is going on when. Remember to:

  • Choose a format that works for you (dry erase, paper, electronic such as Google calendar)
  • Color code activities by family member
  • Put EVERYTHING on this calendar (the more committed you are to keeping the calendar complete/accurate, the better it will work.) Encourage older family members to add their own activities & commitments to this central calendar.
  • Train family members to check this first before calling Mom to ask “am I free?”

2. Designate and stock a homework station.
Remember that each child is different. Some like working on the floor, some on the kitchen table, and a few even like the desk in their rooms!

  • Have all the needed supplies available wherever they work, such as sharpened pencils, pens of different colors, colored pencils, ruler, tape, highlighters, calculator, scissors, etc. (the exact contents will vary, depending on the age of the student)
  • Check this periodically (e.g. when students are at school) to make sure it is in good shape.
  • Set up a separate supply closet/ shelf/drawer where you will keep the “extra” supplies (notebooks, poster paper, extra pens, erasers, index cards, etc.) so that the “workbox” doesn’t become too crowded.
  • Be sure the space has an outlet to plug in a computer and has internet access.
  • If your students use a common space, have a bin/box/rolling cart that they can bring to the workspace for studying, and then quickly clear away when the space is needed for something else.
  • Clear a section of a bookshelf nearby for keeping large textbooks, dictionaries, etc.

3. Set up files for the year.
Beginning at about middle school age, everyone benefits from filing (until then, it may be easier for the parent to keep the files.) You don’t need a large filing cabinet… any file box will suffice.

  • Set up a file for each class. This will give you a place to put “old” papers at the end of each quarter, helping to minimize backpack weight and disorder.
  • Create a file for each activity, such as a sport, a club, church group, etc. Again, when paper comes home, it can be easily put away.
  • Create a “memorabilia” folder for the current school year for each student. This is the place to quickly stash photos, ticket stubs, show programs, awards, or whatever else walks in the door that the student wants to keep.
  • For smaller children who mostly have artwork, establish a display area for new pieces, and switch them out regularly. You can also keep a file, bin, or box for artwork. An app like Artkive can be a terrific tool for capturing, sharing, and archiving artwork electronically.

4. Establish a staging area for each family member.
This is where each person should put the items they will need for the following day (read more here.) For younger children, it may be helpful to have a rotating chart (e.g. cards on a flip chart hung on a hook) reminding them what special activity they have (e.g. gym, art, library).

5. Set up a “last minute prep” station for younger students.
This is a place in a downstairs bathroom where students can brush their teeth or get their hair brushed before heading out the door. This can save time, especially for those who get distracted when upstairs and out of sight of Mom and Dad.

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Like it or not, the school year is coming. By taking these few steps now, you will be ready for a smooth start.

What tricks have you found useful for busy school days?

Timing Matters

Time ManagmentWhen I was little my father used to tell me, “timing is everything.” Each year this phrase has made increasingly more sense, and I’ve come to realize that when we do things can matter as much as what we do.  Reflecting on this truth, I’ve identified three time-related principles that can increase your productivity and success.

Each person has a unique internal rhythm which impacts factors such as:

  • what time of day we feel most productive (morning person vs. night owl)
  • how much sleep we need (5 hours vs. 9 hours)
  • what environment we work most effectively in (e.g. inside vs. outside)
  • how we learn/produce (e.g. sitting down vs. standing up/moving)

If we want to maximize efficiency, it makes sense to be self aware and schedule our tasks accordingly. Some musicians I know are at their most creative in the wee hours of the morning. Many athletes I know enjoy the pre-dawn hours for a workout. There is no wrong time, as long as it feels right to you. Admittedly, many of us must work within an employer’s/family’s constraints, but to the extent that we can choose when/where to work, it makes sense to go with- rather than against- what our bodies want.

We all have a series of tasks to complete in any given day. Many times we perform these tasks at the time we feel we “should,” instead of when we would be most convenient. A simple example is dinner preparation. We wait all day and start making dinner at 5 or 6 (or 7…) because this is what we’ve always done. In reality, however, the 5 o’clock hour is often the most chaotic time of day, when we may be driving kids around, bouncing a colicky baby, or dragging in from a long day at work. Instead of waiting, consider tackling the chopping/measuring/table setting/prepping at a calmer time of day. Ever watch a chef prepare a meal on a TV show in about 5 minutes? It’s because most of the work is already done. Maybe chop veggies as you are eating breakfast, or consider pre-measuring all ingredients during naptime. With a bit of planning, you can even do a fair amount of prep work over the weekend to carry you through the week

This concept can be applied to many of our daily responsibilities. Take a look at the tasks you regularly perform, especially those that seem stressful, and ask yourself “Can I do any part of this at a time which would work better for me?”

Many items on the “to do” list require participation from another person. This is a tough one, because we can’t control when & how others behave. However, we can increase our odds of success by being intentional and thoughtful.  Always ask yourself, “When is the best time to ask this person for help with this request?

- It’s probably not the moment he first walks in the door,
…but it may be when he’s stuck in the airport, waiting for a flight, and has time to kill.

-  It’s probably not the night before the complex deliverable is due,
…but it may be 2 weeks in advance, when he can meet your need without throwing his own schedule off.

- It’s probably not when your teen is trying to get to practice, study for 2 tests and tackle an unexpected project,
…but it may be on the weekend or the Friday night when she’s got no plans.

The key here is that by respecting other people’s time, you actually increase your own productivity.

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There may never be enough time to leisurely accomplish all you need to do, but a bit of intentionality can help you make the most of every minute you’ve got.

What tricks have helped you make the most of your time?


photo credit: John-Morgan via photopin cc



Introducing “Polly Tries”

Introducing Polly Tries, a new comic by Seana and cartoonist Emily Evans. Polly is a 30 something woman who is trying hard to keep it all together. She is intelligent, thoughtful and hard-working, but she struggles to get and stay organized.

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