Block Scheduling: a flexible, gracious & productive approach to your day.

Judging by the amount of my posts involving schedules & spreadsheets, I’m beginning to think I’m more of a schedule person than I thought! Shhh, don’t tell my inner hippie who’s busy twirling in a field of flowers. That being said, reading about someone else’s schedule can be tricky.  It can be tempting to cram your life into someone else’s template because it feels like the magical missing link to life becoming more ordered, happy, perfect, clean, healthy, etc. On the other end of the spectrum, peeking at another’s schedule can serve as a way to feel horrible about yourself. Man! Why can’t I do all those things in a day, too? I should be doing x y z. Why can’t I get my act together??

There are as many approaches to scheduling as there are humans, and one size- or spreadsheet- does NOT fit all. Or all of the time. I think the very fact that I have several schedule templates for various seasons of life and energy levels might just confirm this! Perhaps the best thought I’ve heard lately on the subject went something like: Every project seems perfect and effortless on paper. But remember, every project needs a project manager. As the parent/adult/responsible party, you are that project manager. It has to work for YOU.

That being said, I’d like to share a particular template I find myself continually revolving around: the block schedule. Again, there are endless variations, but I find this basic structure to be very flexible, gracious and productive. In fact, just today I shared it with a loved one wanting to improve their college workload. I will share this glorious spreadsheet in a moment (noting that I’m new to using Numbers to create spreadsheets and so it’s not perfect), but first I would like to flesh out my perspective.

1. Let your limits determine your schedule rather than letting your schedule dictate your limits. We can allow ourselves to fall victim to the demands of daily life, and this can tempt us to plow through limits like energy, finances, emotional reserve, skill level.  And this, in case you’re wondering, results in a hot mess for all involved. A few examples (theoretical, of course) of schedule/demands dictating limits might be:

  • Even though I’m tired and it’s past my bedtime, I have to stay up because the dishes aren’t done.
  • Even though we can’t afford it right now, we have to take that vacation because my relatives expect us to be there and we go every year.
  • Even though I’m feeling irritated right now, I have to answer the phone because, well, the person I’m feeling irritated at is calling.
  • Even though I don’t know how to use Numbers on my new Mac to create a spreadsheet that I need by noon, I’m going to keep working (i.e. banging my head against a wall) and forget to eat breakfast in hopes of figuring it out without any help. What hungry kids swarming around me?

On the other hand, examples of limits determining schedule might look like this:

  • Even though the dishes are still in the sink and that bothers me, it’s bedtime and sleep is more important. There will be more time and energy tomorrow to wash them. That, or I’ll ask my husband to help.
  • Even though we take this vacation every year and we really enjoy it, our finances don’t allow for it this year, so we’ll do something within our budget that’s fun & creative. Maybe it’ll even become a new tradition.
  • Even though this person is calling, I’m feeling irritable and would like to get my emotions calmed down before I answer. I’ll hit ‘ignore’ (gasp!) and give myself 20 minutes/2 hours/2 days before engaging in that phone conversation. And I’ll politely tell the other party through a text so they aren’t left hanging.
  • Even though I don’t know how to use Numbers on my new Mac to create a spreadsheet, I’m going to do the best I can up until breakfast, and then I’m going to stop working and feed myself and my family before googling “how to embed a Numbers spreadsheet into WordPress.” *Spoiler alert, I ended up taking a screen shot.

2. Embrace the mentality of “This Is The Best I Can Do”…and be done! I’ve learned this one the hard way as I’ve plowed through countless bedtimes, mealtimes, budgets, etc in hopes of achieving a standard imposed by self or others that just wasn’t realistic. Having toddlers has helped me understand this concept more clearly. As they set out to achieve something like put on their own pants or aim in the toilet or feed their baby brother, it’s of course never done ‘perfectly’.  But they’re doing the best they can and I’m proud of their effort and that’s just more important.

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Caramia feeding baby Judah. 2013

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Kids dressing themselves for the gym in April. 2016

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Mommy keeping baby Micah contained and entertained at the pool. Last week.

3. Care for all areas of my life. I can easily become an “all work, no play” kind of person. And I can also become an “all Netflix, no grocery shopping and now we’re eating rice cakes for dinner” kind of person. As I grow, I’m seeing more and more the importance of living a balanced life.  Work, play, exercise, sleep, nutrition, indulgence, solitude, socializing, serving, being served…they’re all important in their rightful places, and I must account for them in my schedule.

So without further ado, here’s my block schedule template. The times are simply guides and I adjust them as needed.

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A few notes on this block schedule.

  1. Personal Care. I’m growing to love early, dark, quiet mornings.  I don’t think I’m naturally a morning person, but 8+ years of babies has changed that. Coupled with my recent breakup with sugar, and I’m really enjoying the early mornings. For me, Personal Care can mean anything from a cup of coffee and reading the Bible, getting dressed and putting on make up, doing my hair, or just sitting on the back porch wrapped up in a blanket listening to the birds.
  2. Blocks. The Blocks are used to accomplish a task, run an errand, or carry out any other job with maximum probability of success and minimum possibility of stress.
  3. Breaks. It’s important for me to take regular, scheduled breaks to eat, breath and move. Literally. Gotta keep this brain and body going as it works hard to help me!
  4. Overflow. This block is reserved for any task left incomplete from an earlier Block but that I’d reeeaaally like to check off my to-do list for the day. So I give it one more go before saying, “I’ve Done The Best I Can….and I’m done!” Phone calls, housework, blogging….
  5.  Home & Rest. In this season of life with little children, it’s helpful for us to start winding down our day at 7. There’s a lot of bodies to bathe, teeth to brush, and bedtime kisses to dish out. And though we keep bedtime short and (usually) sweet, it still takes time.
  6. Plan & Pack. This is where my Nighttime Self helps my Tomorrow Morning Self by planning and packing for the next day. Discussing the schedule with my husband, making to-do lists, getting school supplies out, packing bags and prepping food, grinding the coffee beans for the morning…it all happens here.
  7. Bedtime. I’d like to think I can stay up late and still have a quality life the next day. Tis not the case. And since I don’t want to subsist on caffeine, I make sure I go to bed at a decent time. For me, that’s 10:30.  And since I’ve recently tweaked my nutrition (and I’m wondering if all this Southern vitamin D sunshine also has something to do with it) I’ve went from needing 9 hours of sleep to 6-7.
  8. Weekends. Saturdays and Sundays are their own species.  I hope to share my gentle approach to weekends in a later post, but suffice it to say I leave them as blank as possible in order to be as flexible as possible. Yup, this means no organized sports for the kids. At least not yet. It also means politely declining most invitations so we can rest, stay in pj’s, play outside, and be bored.  Seems like simply being a family of 7 requires lots of down time to rest and recover, and I like to guard that.

I can’t promise this will be my last post on scheduling, but I hope this one helps you approach your day with flexibility, grace and productivity!

 

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