Sunday, March 14, 2010

Time: Always available, but never enough!

For disappearing acts, it's hard to beat what happens to the eight hours supposedly left after eight of sleep and eight of work. ~Doug Larson

This week's Blog Cruise question is, "How do you find time for everything?"

My answer: I don't.

Time is what we want most, but... what we use worst. ~William Penn
Time management has been my biggest obstacle to homeschooling. I cannot meet my own perfectionist goals of having an immaculate house, well-educated children, and ample time for myself - all in a stress-free environment. I'll admit, much of my problem is self-created. There are just too many wonderful opportunities for homeschoolers.

When my kids were younger, I embraced learning by doing. We did awesome field trips and I enrolled them in fun and unusual classes. They played sports, danced on competition teams, and joined clubs. I started a homeschool support group with friends. It seemed like we were never home. We weren't. It worked for a time.

Frankly, it was exhausting. The only time I had for myself was during a monthly kid exchange I had with a friend. One day a month I'd take her kids for 3 hours and another day she'd take mine. It was blissful 3 hours, but was often spent doing housework. After a few years of this, I quickly burnt out.

There is one kind of robber whom the law does not strike at, and who steals what is most precious to men: time. ~Napoleon I, Maxims, 1815
I used to think that when my kids were older, time would be more easily managed. I was wrong. Some areas have become more manageable, but others have not. While the household work has increased because we've added four furry members to our household, I also have two older children that can help more. As far as time for myself, that has improved because my children are old enough to leave at home if I need to get out. However, the academic workload is heavier and there is even MORE available to them now that they are older, usually with more involvement. A theater production for a 6-year-old that involves only a few lines is a much less commitment than one that involves hundreds of lines for an older child.

Also, I've noticed that others are more inclined to ask for involvement of my older children in various activities, partly because there seem to be less older kids homeschooling and partly because older kids are simply more able. Can they be on this team? Would they write an article for a newsletter? Would they like to be a mother's helper for a day? Can they participate in a learning group?

Now that I have a tween and teen, our time is guarded more carefully. While I'm nowhere near mastering time management, I have improved. If I weren't homeschooling, I'd have plenty of time to clean house and have tea with friends. Therefore, my focus in answering this question is to how to better manage the time involved in homeschooling activities. I'm not going to give tips on better organizing your housekeeping. Kids can get educated in a dirty house (smiles).

For activities outside of the home, I have two simple steps.

1) Learn to say no, even to great opportunities.
2) Carefully evaluate each and every opportunity before committing.

No! No! No!

One must learn a different... sense of time, one that depends more on small amounts than big ones. ~Sister Mary Paul

Have you ever been guilted into doing something? I have. Or maybe it was something that you really wanted to help with, but realistically you'd have to give up something more important in order to do it. What about that non-defined project that you knew had the potential to grow and grow into something much larger than the original request? In all of these cases, I've learned the artful skill of politely saying no. I've also had to do this on my kids' behalf. Their time is just as valuable as mine.

What if you don't *want* to say "no"? This is my biggest problem. It all sounds great, if I could just squeeze it in. I've gotten myself into trouble so many times by not saying no, just because I didn't want to say no. If it is an activity that you really, really want to do, but just don't know if you have the time, you need to analyze the pros and cons.

Evaluate the Exchange

The Future is something which everyone reaches at the rate of sixty minutes an hour, whatever he does, whoever he is. ~C.S. Lewis
Everyone has 24 hours in day, yet the list of potential tasks and activities is endless. For each activity, you give up the opportunity to do something else. What do you give up and what you get in exchange? When deciding whether or not to participate in an activity, consider the following:

1) The Wow Factor
This term was coined by a friend of mine. The Wow Factor is the amount of Wow (as in "Wow, Mom! This is great") you get in proportion to what you give up. Your kids may enjoy that 3-hour program 50 miles away that leaves your wallet $25 less, but perhaps you'd get more "Wow" from an hour of free play at the local park or a playdate with a friend. Which one is time best spent?

2) Finances
Oh, how important this is with the current economy! Just as time, most of us have a limited amount of money to use. Are there less expensive activities that will accomplish the same end result? What activities would you have to give up if you participated in this one? When my kids ask to do an ongoing activity, I ask them if there is something they'd be willing to give up in exchange. If it is a one-time activity, I ask if they'd be willing to pay for all or part. This also helps me gauge how badly they really want to do an activity. If they are willing to give up something else or pay for part, I know it is high on their list (and a high Wow Factor).

3) Level of Commitment
Carefully evaluate the time involved to get an accurate picture. It may seem an obvious answer, but I have misjudged this many times. For years, I didn't properly evaluate the time involved in doing an activity. Sure, the program was only an hour. However, it took 20 minutes to get the kids out of the house, 1 hour drive time round-trip, 15 minutes for an unexpected conversation on the way out and 30 minutes to get the kids refocused upon returning home. My one hour commitment quickly turned into a 3+ hour commitment, which added stress to the day if not properly accounted for.

4) Does this activity fulfill a particular need?
I used to sign my kids up for activities just because they sounded fun or their friends were going. I'm much more selective now and look at how they fit into the big picture. Even better, I try to better define the needs of each child at the beginning of they year before activities and opportunities start up. Each year may be different, whether it be music lessons, sports involvement, or simply more unscheduled time. Regardless, it gives me a more focused approach in deciding whether an activity is something we decided to set aside time for.

If possible, I look for activities that fulfill several needs. Theater has been one area that has fallen into this category. For my quieter child, it has provided a chance for public speaking and self-confidence. For my more rambunctious child, it has been more of an outlet. For both, it provides time with friends and opportunity working as a team.

5) Frequency of Opportunity
Is this a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity or can it easily be recreated another time? Many times I have jumped at an activity because I knew it was now or never. While it may have not been a convenient time, I was glad for my kids to experience the opportunity. However, if this is a program or class offered often, or it is something that you could easily coordinate on your own another time, it might be better to pass.

6) Who Benefits?
Activities that benefit both of my children rank higher. My children both participated in First Lego League this year and gained a lot from it in very different ways. What was important is it was time well spent for both of them. If an activity does not benefit the majority, yet takes time away from others, be extra cautious. Is there a way that those not benefiting can be productive at the same time? For example, can you do school work with the child not participating while you wait during the activity? Is there an activity available for the other child that runs concurrently? You'll not only need to consider the time of the child participating, but those not as well.

7) What other commitments will suffer?
Being stretched too thin is never a good thing. Too many times I have agreed to something because we could fit it in, but it was not without something else suffering in the end. Will academics suffer? Practice time for a sport or instrument be cut short? Or will you be cutting out much needed down time?

How pleasant it is at the end of the day,
no follies to have repent,
But reflect on the past, and be able to say
That my time has been properly spent! ~Jane Taylor
I can't afford to commit to activities on a whim, so the above works well for me. After using the above analysis, there are many times that I've passed on items that I know my kids would have really enjoyed. I've also committed to things that I would have otherwise not considered as heavily because of the time involved. Also, because I am more selective with activities, there are openings in our schedule to consider unexpected events when great opportunities come along.

As an example, my daughter had opportunity to participate in a theater production this fall with a professional theater company. It was a huge time commitment, but making the decision was easier by going through these steps.

1)The Wow Factor - This was huge. She lives for the stage and it was a dream role. Plus
2) Finances - The major expense was gas money with a 60-mile round-trip, 3-4 times a week.
It added up, but the resulting theater training was well worth it. I could not have provided the level of training supplied with a theater camp or class, let alone at that cost. Plus
3) Level of Commitment - Huge. Having done this before, I had a good idea of what commitment we were in for. Time, not including driving and at-home practice, involved 10-25 hours a week for about 6 weeks. Driving time was about 40 minutes one way, adding another 4-6 hours a week. Con
4) Does this activity fulfill a particular need? Yes, it did. Creative outlet was a particular need. Working with adults with a similar passion was a desire and hard to come by. Theater is great for self-confidence! Plus
5) Frequency of Opportunity - Extremely limited. This theater group didn't offer parts for children often, especially a role this size. Plus
6) Who Benefits? Since there was only one part, only one child benefited. I then had to move to what that child not participating would need to give up. In this case, it worked to our benefit for the most part. I dragged along schoolwork and some very productive time was spent in the library just around the corner from rehearsals. Plus, but had potential to be a con if it weren't for the available library.
7) What other commitments will suffer? This was the biggest con, because we had other time sensitive activities going on at the time, including academic classes. However, because of the huge Wow Factor, my daughter was willing to put in time on the weekends and evenings to make it work. She also gave up evening karate (about 5 hours a week) for 2 months. Con

As you can see, the pros outweighed the cons in this case, even though the cons were very big cons.

I'm late. I'm late. For a very important date. No time to say "Hello." Goodbye.
I'm late, I'm late, I'm late. ~White Rabbit, Alice in Wonderland
I don't have it perfected yet and still over-commit myself, but I am getting better at choosing the best activities for my children. Now if I could just get the house cleaned and have time for tea with a friend on a regular basis!


6intow said...

So many great words of wisdom in this post, both your own and from notable historical figures (love the quotes).

I especially appreciate your thoughts to consider the frequency of the opportunity. That is so important, but something I had not articulated before.

Thanks you for your concise list of points to weigh.

Debbie said...

I love the "Wow factor" principle. That is so true--sometimes the simple and cheap activities provide just as much "wow" to a kid.

Debra said...

Oh, I shouldn't have read this. Now there is no reason for me to write anything for this week's blog cruise. You covered it perfectly. :)