Freakishly efficient is a phrase my daughter invented to describe me. Because I am freakishly efficient, I take pride in the label. It certainly has its dark side, and over the years, I have learned how to temper my task driven nature to appreciate rest, prioritize self-care, and relax into fun. Being freakishly efficient can be taken to a very destructive extreme.
Nevertheless, being a good manager of time is a key to staying a sane and successful homeschool mom who also works from home. Although we all have different life situations and natural giftings, we each are given 24 hours each day.
It’s how we use that time that matters.
Figure Your Non-Negotiables
Obviously working and homeschooling are two big chunks of most days. But the other priorities vary from person to person. Some of your non-negotiables may be
- regular date nights
- church participation
- sufficient sleep
- cooking from scratch
- watching the evening news
- watching certain television programs
- daily meditation
- spending time with extended family
- having girls nights out
- keeping a very neat and clean home
- family game nights
- serving in a local homeschool co-op
- taking your children to multiple extra-curricular activities
You need to do some soul searching to determine what are truly non-negotiables and what are ideals that you are willing to fudge on if necessary.
For example, sleep is a non-negotiable for me. I must have 8-10 hours each night of uninterrupted sleep in order to stay healthy and clear headed. I don’t steal from my sleep time to do work or homeschooling. (By the way, being freakishly efficient is not about getting up at the crack of dawn. I get up whenever I want to each morning and go to bed when I want to every day. I honor my body’s requirements of sleep and consider flexible sleep hours a huge perk of working from home.) I have also learned how essential exercise is for my wellbeing, so I don’t skip it.
I like to cook from scratch and keep a neat and clean home. Those are ideals I strive to achieve, but I allow myself to set other things as priority above them from time to time. My floors often need to be swept, dishes stay in the sink overnight, and we sometimes eat out when I’m too tired to cook.
As a homeschooling WAHM, you must be ruthless about protecting your non-negotiables and releasing all guilt for the other areas. If you have any taint of perfectionism, you need to do the hard work to root it out. We homeschooling WAHMs must teeter on that high wire of excellence without falling into perfectionism. You are not perfect. You cannot be perfect. And you need to stop trying.
Suck the Life Out of Every Moment
The way to be freakishly efficient is to be mindful. Simply being aware of the moment is the way to make the most of every moment:
- knowing how I feel emotionally and physically
- knowing what are the most important things for me to do right now
- offering my full attention to whatever task is before me
Knowing how you feel is important because feelings are a clue when things are out of whack. Am I breathing in a shallow pattern with shoulders clenched and one eye slightly twitching? Am I hearing an internal voice urging, “More! More! Faster! You are behind!” Those signs of stress are an indicator for me to stop, do some deep breathing, re-focus myself, and maybe head to the gym for my daily workout.
Yes, anxiety is a motivator! But I find for me it’s a very negative one. It robs me of inner peace and results in sloppy work. This is why I do everything in my power to avoid last minute projects and procrastination. Some WAHMs say that they surge with creativity and productivity in those last minutes before a deadline. I hate that feeling of being up against a time crunch, knowing I have no buffer if something goes wrong. I don’t work at my best like that, so I let my clients know that I need advance notice on everything we do. I have been known to say no to something that is simply too last minute for me to feel peaceful and confident about.
The next key for me is knowing what I should be doing in that moment. This comes with some experience and getting into a routine with your work. But once you know what you need to do each day to stay on track, you can plunge into that schedule with a feeling of accomplishment instead of dread.
When I get that scary feeling that too much is hanging over my head, I stop and write it all down. I have a very simple notebook and paper calendar system. Anything that has a strict deadline or start/end point goes on the calendar. All my tasks go into a spiral bound notebook with one client or project per page. Sometimes I spend up to 30 minutes listing and prioritizing everything I need to do from immediate to short-term to long-term. As I complete things, I mark them off. (I love that part!) And periodically when my lists start to look messy, I rip them out, rewrite whatever didn’t get accomplished, and create new lists.
To be honest, it’s very rare that a page is torn out with everything marked off as complete. That’s just life. I’m always recycling tasks onto new to do lists. (Maybe I make too many lists!)
When I see a job get written on new lists three, four or five times, I give myself a pep-talk:
- Does this need to go into the long-term idea list and off my to do list?
- Does this need to be forgotten altogether?
- Do I need to sit down and do this pronto and stop the procrastination?
Obviously, deadlines and routines determine what you do each moment of your working time. But another trick that I love to use is to ask myself, “What from this set of lists will give me the greatest feeling of relief or accomplishment once it’s done?” Usually it’s that task that I’ve written down multiple times over and over without getting it done. Tackling that kind of job is a real attitude booster!
When I’m in tune with my emotions, exercising and sleeping enough, sticking to my routines and lists, I can then direct all of my attention to my work. Fortunately I have a nice workspace, great equipment, and a quiet home in which to work. When I work, I give it my all. And when I stop working, I am still doing something productive.
- Sleeping is productive when I’m getting my required 8-10 hours.
- Self-care is productive when I need it to recharge.
- Reading the newspaper or a book is productive when I need a break but still want mental stimulation.
- Cooking a great meal is productive when I need a creative outlet. (And we always need to eat!)
- Chatting on the phone is productive when I need connection with a friend.
For me it’s all about knowing what I need. It’s not about working 24-7 or being a martyr. It’s about savoring every moment to do something that will benefit me in the way I most require in that moment whether that’s investing in my daughter, earning money through work, attending worship services, working up a sweat at the gym, or eating a piece of chocolate. It all fits into a healthy life.
Cut Out the Nonsense
To be freakishly efficient, though, you do have to eliminate a lot of extraneous things that don’t help you reach your goals. That may be cutting out television or girls night out or the homeschool co-op. It probably means going to bed and sleeping instead of putting off bedtime with distractions that don’t accomplish anything and aren’t truly restoring your spirit.
It may mean getting more organized with meal planning and bill paying so that you are minimizing your trips across town. It may mean a simpler, low-maintenance appearance that requires less upkeep and daily attention. It will certainly mean saying no to offers that benefit the other person but put you farther away from your own goals.
In 2014, I kept a resolution to stop working for free. That year, I increased my income by 8% and had more leisure time for investing in self-care than I had ever had before. 2015 was a continuation of that trend with more income and more balance between work and restorative pursuits. I said no with resolve in 2014 and established a new norm for my life, one that brought me margin and peace.
Yes, my heartstrings were tugged to volunteer with my church’s tutoring project in the inner city. But I said no. Yes, I was tempted to chime in with free professional advice in a Facebook thread of people who would never pay me for it or value my opinion. I kept my advice for my paying clients instead, knowing I have nothing to prove to strangers and don’t owe them my experience.
On the other hand, I don’t have a cute spring wreath on my door, and I don’t even have a plan for my barren flower beds. I ate a banana sandwich for dinner, and my daughter reheated some leftover kale and sausage saute. But I wrote this 1500 word blog post! And I consider that freakishly efficient.