This is my first year back in the classroom full-time now that my daughter is in Kindergarten and whew, this year won't leave much wiggle room, especially in the mornings.
I have tried to be strategic about how in the world I will manage my time, energy, and focus so that I don't get too burned out at school, start bringing too much work home, eventually forgetting my boundaries between work and home, and ending up a frazzled, stressed, and not-fun-to-be-around mama.
Several words have been guiding me that have helped me keep my eyes on the prize: being intentional, setting boundaries, and "Stop, Look & Listen".... I'll explain!
Being intentional is a very big shift for me. I used to be a multi-tasker, and would have several spinning plates going at any given time, none of which were related to the other. I would skip from grading papers, to laminating something, to going to Facebook, to scheduling an appointment for the car or my daughter, to being reminded that I had an upcoming meeting, to emailing a parent.... it was no wonder I often forgot important deadlines or let the truly important things (like experiences with my daughter) fall through the cracks.
I read an article over the summer from Clean Mama that taught me all about Block Scheduling and I immediately knew this was a system I could get behind. Instead of doing a hundred random things, I would set aside blocks of time to focus only on one thing until it was finished, or until the time was up (and yes, I set timers on my iPhone all of the time!), and then I would move on to the next thing.
This shift of thinking was often painful (especially when the timer when off and I was nowhere near done), but the payoff was so much greater! All of a sudden, things were finished, crossed off of the list, and ready when I needed them! I was no longer trying to play a catch-up game with myself and my to-do list, I was prioritizing and found I had energy to enjoy time at the end of the day with my daughter.
Here are some things I am extra intentional about:
- Setting my clothes out for the week ahead: All five days, ironing, and including shoes and accessories (I do this for my daughter, too)
- Packing lunches & snacks the night before
- Prepping the coffee (a non-negotiable!)
- Prepping breakfast & dog food
- Prepping dinners for the week ahead: I meal plan and use an Instapot (amazing, but look for it on sale!) to cook meats quickly. I also prep my veggies and meats and leave them in plastic baggies marinating, ready to be tossed on a baking sheet at a moment's notice.
- Clean sink: I read somewhere to never go to bed with a dirty sink and it's amazing how this simple act makes my morning so happy!
Setting & Keeping Boundaries
This is also new for me, but my time and energy are far too important to give away to anyone and everyone who demands my attention. At the end of the day, I want my daughter to have a happy mama who can walk the puppy, laugh, have chats about school and life, and who is available, not stressed and buried in other people's problems (as I have been known to do for years and years).
I highly recommend Rachel Lee Stafford's books Hands Free Mama and Hands Free Life. I saw her speak and read both of these this summer and wow-- they are food for my tired soul! The simple act of saying no to what you don't need (and yes to what you do!) is so hard, but so important, especially as a mother. Focusing on love, and on loving yourself, has been empowering and has allowed me to create boundaries out of this love, not out of spite or anger or hurt.
Some of my new boundaries include:
- Not checking school email after 5pm (I let parents know this at Back to School Night): I want and need to be a parent at that time and nothing is so pressing that it can't be addressed in the morning when I get to school.
- Being in bed by 10pm: I have to get sleep or I am a grumpy bear, no matter how much caffeine I consume. When I set strict bedtimes, I usually miss it by a few minutes, but being in bed by 10? No problem! In fact, it's usually well before, but I end the night feeling victorious around 9:30!
- Planning Time & Quiet Time: These times are carved into my day and are appointments with myself (and with God), that I cannot miss. My planning time at school was created for just that: time for planning my lessons and upcoming week. When I use it for social media, chatting with everyone, reading tabloid articles online, I am not filling myself up and I end the day playing catch-up with a tired daughter.... no fun! While I love to socialize, it's now a treat when my planning is done, not something I mindlessly wander and do when I'm trying to avoid work. Quiet Time with God at the end of the day is another non-negotiable. I need that time and always feel better for it.
- Prioritizing physical fitness: Why is it that this is always the first thing to get tossed off of the plate when life gets busy? I am so guilty of this! I love and adore CrossFit-- I have a great gym with wonderful coaches and it's become a huge part of my life. Things get busy? Bye gym! By creating this as a priority for myself and by setting aside three times a week to get to the gym, I will no longer let random wants and distractions take me away from something so important. If it really needs to get done, it will have to happen before or after my class.
Stop, Look & Listen
We live across the street from a huge park and my daughter and I take our puppy there at least once a day. When we get to the edge of the sidewalk, she reminds me to "Stop, Look, and Listen" and it has really resonated with me this year.
No matter how hard I try and how many things I attempt to do right, my mind seems to be my own worst enemy. If I get derailed, have a bad day in class, yell when I should listen, experience mom guilt... you name it, I am reminded to Stop, Look, and Listen.
- Stop: Take a breath, quiet my mind for a second, and get off the crazy train that it's riding.
- Look: Take another deep breath and look around. Is anything in serious danger? (Probably not, it never is!) What can I notice at that moment that I can be thankful or grateful for? What is my actual reality, not the craziness I am stirring up in my mind?
- Listen: What do I know to be true? What is the still, small voice of God telling me? What is actually being said, and is there hurt, anger, loneliness, or tiredness that could be coming into play?
Taking this little breather in the chaos helps me to recenter and to get back on track and away from the black hole my mind tends to send me down when I feel things get too overwhelming. It's also helping me be transparent with my daughter when I may find myself in a tired and stressed-out place. Even though she's five, I know she's watching and learning from what I do, not just what I say, so modeling how to work through this in a positive way is so important.
What are some ways you are all managing your own work-life balance? Please share any strategies in the comments below!