The tension between being organised and being present with the family

Today’s post answers a reader question. You can read previous answers to readers’ questions here.

Struggling with constant tension between getting things done or feeling on top of everything around the home and garden, and being able to sit, relax and be present with my children. I am always going to bed either feeling like a failure because my house is a mess or because I’ve ignored the kids to get house or garden chores done – so hard to find that happy medium!!

I can completely relate to this question. In years past I have tried so hard to do both and if by chance I managed to do it, I was so exhausted by the effort that I couldn’t even enjoy the being present part!

A hard truth about productivity and organisation is you will not get everything done that you want to. We simply want to do more things that we have time for. Each week I write a brain dump where I write down every single thing that is floating around in my head – I will never get all those things done in the week (but that isn’t the point of writing it down!).

Being productive doesn’t mean doing it all, it means choosing wisely where to spend your time, energy and attention to help you achieve your goal.

Know your goal

I do write about this part quite a bit, but I can’t emphasis enough how helpful it is to have a clear goal so you can navigate the tension between being organised and being present.

Like me you will most likely have a huge list of things you could possibly do and it can be overwhelming knowing where to even start. A goal can be your decision making framework and help you choose what to work on first.

For example last year my goal was to allow space in my life or creativity and calm. When it came to my list of things I wanted to do, I used my goal as a filter – would the activity help me achieve my goal? If the answer was no then it wouldn’t take priority.

Of course there are some things that have to be done regardless, like cleaning the toilet or doing the shopping. However for me to do these tasks and still achieve my goal, I need to approach them in an effective and efficient manner – by creating a weekly schedule.

Further reading: How to set one personal goal

Create a weekly schedule

A weekly schedule doesn’t have to be rigid and it can be as detailed or as broad as you need it to be. A weekly schedule allocates the tasks you need to complete, to times across the week. I start with this in an excel spreadsheet that I print out, but it doesn’t take long before I know exactly what I need to do and when.

When I was creating a weekly schedule when I had three little ones at home, it was very detailed. For example I would know that when I came in from the school run on Monday mornings, I would clean the bathroom.

When the kids were little I would work in small blocks of time to get stuff done. I needed to know what the task was so I could get straight to it. The schedule was my guide. It took the thinking out of it for me – sometimes after a sleepless night thinking would be a tough ask! The schedule meant I didn’t waste time procrastinating, didn’t waste time working out where to start – I could just start.

Not all tasks would be on my weekly schedule, but the key for me was to have my “must do tasks” on the schedule. These were the tasks that were either essential to the running of the house or would drive me crazy if they didn’t get done.

Streamlining your workload through a weekly schedule allows you to determine ahead of time what you must get done and what you are prepared to let go – allowing more time for being present with your family.

Further reading: How to create a weekly schedule

Create an effective to do list

Seeing that we know we won’t be able to do everything on our to do list, we need to make sure we have an effective to do list to work from so we are working on the right things. In brief my to do list process is as follows:

  1. Each Sunday night, I write in my notebook everything that is on my mind that I know I need to do or would like to do for the upcoming week.
  2. I then turn over the page and write at the top of the page, my goal for the year.
  3. Underneath the goal, I then write what key project or habit I am working on at the moment.
  4. Then underneath that I write the key tasks I want to complete the next day. I try to limit this to three tasks, maybe one or two more if the tasks are small.
  5. At the end of the day, I review what I have achieved compared to what was on the list. If there is a big disparity I analyse whether the list was off target or if I was just distracted from the tasks.
  6. Visualise my day.

If being present with your family is your goal, then the key tasks on your list will need to be reflecting that not necessarily every day, but most days.

Further reading: How to create an effective to do list

Share the workload

Being present with your family benefits everyone. Being organised at home also benefits everyone and therefore it is completely reasonable to ask for all of the family to contribute to getting and keeping the house organised so you have more time to be present.

The primary tool we use for this in our home is the family contribution schedule. This is the way we allocate household tasks to all of the kids.

Over the years my husband and I have worked out ways to share the workload. It is not set in stone and we can and often do the tasks the other usually does, but knowing who does what just helps things run more smoothly. You can see an example of our night time routine and how this works here – 10 Things To Do Before You Go To Bed.

Also I must note that while I love the idea of gardening, I don’t do anything in our garden – my husband does it all and does an amazing job at it.

Additional to this though, if there is a lot to do around the house and I want to spend sometime with the kids, I will ask them to help out. For example during the school holidays so we can play a long game of monopoly and get the shopping done, one child will come to the shops and help me with the shopping, then when we return home, the remaining kids will put the shopping away.

Further reading: Family contribution schedule.

Embrace the undone

As we know that we cannot achieve everything on our long to do list, we need to learn to embrace the undone! It is much easier to embrace the little undone things if you know your goal and know you are working towards it. It is easier to embrace them because through your goal filter and to do list, you have chosen to do the things that are most important to you and allowed the others to wait.

For those of us who love to tick off everything on the to do list by the end of each day, it is an uncomfortable feeling to let things go. It is something that I still have to consciously work at but I am getting better at it and it gets a little easier because you see it is worth it to be present with the kids.`

Further reading: Embracing the undone

How do you cope with the tension between being organised and being present with the family?