As seen in Mishpacha Magazine, Family First Feature issue 762
Is your family hopelessly disorganized, or is it just a management mismatch?
Current situation: Mom rambles and Dad forgets
“Sweetheart, on your way home from work, can you pick up the medicine from the pharmacy? And can you call the plumber, the sink is still leaking. Also, did you ever speak with Shlomo’s rebbi? I think he needs a tutor, you should discuss it with him…. And oh, the picture in the hallway fell down again. Can you put it on a stronger hook?”
Dad wants to be helpful, but he’s not adept at multitasking nor at multi-listening (did I just coin a term?). If he processed anything from Mom’s rapid-fire requests it was either to make a phone call or to run an errand, but definitely not both. If Mom is smart, she’ll learn the way Dad processes and records information so her requests will be filled.
Mom and Dad should sit down over a cup of coffee. Instead of kvetching about Dad’s forgetfulness, Mom should ask Dad when and how he prefers to hear about her requests. I recommend she divide up her requests into three categories: calls, errands, and tasks.
She may be surprised to find out (even after many years of marriage) that Dad has a different preference for each type of task. During the week, he’s too busy to think about fixing anything, but he’d like a list of jobs clipped to the fridge, and on Sunday he’s happy to check the list and get everything done. He tends to make his phone calls while he’s driving, so any call reminders should be programmed into his phone. If she wants him to run an errand on the way home, the best thing to do is to hand him a list in the morning, or have him call Mom when he’s on the way home.
After a week or two of practice, Mom is overjoyed! What else can she add to Dad’s list?
Current situation: Always busy, not doing much
Shira, age15, is great at baking and folding laundry. She’s happy to help Mom around the house when she’s available. She’s also bright and, in theory, should be doing well in school. It’s quite frustrating to Mom that every time she asks Shira for help, Shira claims she’s too busy, and it’s not with her homework….
Between schmoozing on the phone, outings with friends, and a variety of extracurricular activities, Shira can’t be relied upon to do much. Her homework is suffering, and she rarely helps out at home.
If Mom would ask other MOTs (mothers-of-teens; there should be a support group like that!) or her local chinuch habanim expert, she’d understand that this is normal. A teenager doesn’t feel as committed to her responsibilities as an adult does. She’s not against them, she’s just not focused on them. She needs some help putting a schedule together, using some of the fun and creative time-management tools on the market.
Girls usually love the pretty wall calendars, decorative message boards, and cute planners that match their notebooks. Let Shira choose a classic time-management product that she connects to and hang it in her room. Seeing these pleasant decorative reminders on her wall helps a lot. She may need a typical homework tracker as well — get one she likes, even if it’s pricey. Then dedicate two weeks to encouraging her to use all these items and see how it goes.
Current situation: Anti-time management
Eight-year-old Yossi hates being told what time to come home from his friend’s house and when he has to eat supper. Why can’t he come home when he’s finished and eat when he’s hungry?
Yossi has lots to do, things to build, and people to see. Without structure, he’ll never do his homework or eat dinner, and there’s no chance he’ll get to bed on time. Mom doesn’t want to put him on a stopwatch, but she can’t give him free rein either.
Instead of imposing a tight schedule on Yossi by the hour, present to him healthy habits or a certain pattern of events that need to happen each day. First eat something when you get home from school, then do homework, and then you can play with a friend.
Ask the friend’s mother to send Yossi home at a specific time and then compliment Yossi’s “decision” when he arrives at home at a normal hour. When he’s riding his bicycle after a long day at school, ask him to check in when the sky starts to get dark, instead of pinning him to a time to come home. The more he follows this pattern successfully, the better he’ll get at “keeping to a schedule.”
ADHD 13-YEAR-OLD ESTIE
Current situation: None
Energetic Estie can’t be bothered to help for Shabbos or do household chores each evening.
Estie’s sisters are resentful that they do all the work while Estie gets away with doing nothing. Mom agrees with their protests, but doesn’t have the patience to argue with Estie. Honestly, Mom doesn’t even want Estie’s help because it so often backfires, but shouldn’t Estie learn to be responsible and helpful?
Estie can and should be helpful and can manage it on her own ADHD terms. Mom should find tasks for Estie to do that aren’t dependent on a specific time. She can fold the laundry or iron the shirts at some point this week, and she can go to the supermarket to do the Shabbos shopping sometime on Wednesday.
Generally, many ADHDers are also happy to be the ones to watch the kids in the park and run some errands outside the house. Finding tasks that suit Estie’s personality and allowing her to do it on her own schedule will bring her on board as a family helper. Her sisters will be happy that Estie joined the team, and knowing Estie only too well, they’ll probably understand why she’s the one in the park and doing the shopping.
Current situation: Deal with the person or thing that screams the loudest
Spending the day putting out fires isn’t an efficient way to manage time. Mom needs a way to manage multiple levels of to-dos for everything from daily maintenance, laundry and meals to birthday parties, important phone calls, and Shabbos preparations. Sleep and exercise also need to make it into Mom’s day, and if she’s working, then she also needs to juggle her job — bringing the multitasking up ten notches.
A SAHM typically works well with a classic family information center in a central location in the home. This means a large white board divided into sections for today’s to-dos, ongoing nonurgent tasks, a running shopping list, and important phone numbers next to an oversized calendar. If Mom goes out a lot, then the daily planner in the pocketbook may be the ideal first go-to time-management tool.
The same concept can be accomplished on a computer or phone using basic Google add-ons like Calendar, Keep, and Tasks.
If your Gmail is regularly open, you can pin your favorite time management features to the right sidebar and have them glaring at you all day. Some popular ones are:
Google Tasks is the old fashioned to-do list, but this one can be categorized (and has a fun ding when you check your boxes).
Google Keep is the Gmail version of sticky notes, but these don’t get lost.
Google Calendar is especially helpful for its scheduled reminders.
Google has many more useful add-ons like Trello for managing larger projects and Evernote for storing lots of random information in an organized way. And these all sit in your side bar on your Gmail account, ready to help you manage your time and increase your productivity. Beware not to get too app- happy. Stick with one or two favorites.
To keep track of the gazillions of details in your brain, the old-fashioned spiral notebook is still popular. If you’re often on the computer, then Microsoft OneNote, which mimics the spiral notebook, is a great choice.
Manage Minutes like a Pro
Eight time-management tips that really work:
Healthy habits — If schedules make you nervous, develop healthy habits or daily patterns instead. Try a new one each month. Every time you find yourself on the phone, go fold some laundry. Don’t check your computer in the morning until you’ve davened Shacharis. Instead of putting a dish in the sink, wash it. This takes some self-discipline, but it’s well worth it. A collection of good habits leads to a highly productive day.
Make commitments — Get a part-time job, register for an exercise class, and hire a girl to do laundry folding. The more commitments you have in your week, the more accomplished you’ll be during the rest of the week. If someone is coming to fold your laundry, you’ll be sure to wash it. If you come home the same time as the kids, you’ll prep dinner the day before. If you pass the grocery store on the way back from exercise class, you’ll do your food shop.
Just say “no” — For every “no” you give, there’s a “yes” hiding behind it. When you say no to unnecessary activities (i.e. browsing Amazon and AliExpress), chitchatty phone calls, or no guests this week, you’re saying yes to extra time for what you really need to do and the people you need to focus on.
Downtime — Workaholics don’t necessarily get more done. When they finally lose steam, they take unusually long breaks to make up for the prolonged exertion. When you schedule short breaks throughout the day and week, you maintain a healthier and more productive work pattern.
Declutter — the more stuff that’s in your way, the slower you move. The more you declutter your home, the clearer your head and home will be, and the quicker you’ll get things done.
Don’t fight your personality — Instead of trying to be someone you’re not, work with what comes naturally. Find creative ways to get your tasks done and delegate the tasks you truly hate. Online grocery shopping, supper in the park, and a bath time/bedtime helper are all solutions to be proud of.
Time-estimation chart — Time yourself on three different occasions doing any given task. The average of those three times is the amount of time you need to allot for that task. Use this information to plan your supper-bedtime-bath time routines, your Erev Shabbos, and any time when you repeatedly run late.
Add 20 minutes — Not sure how much time you need? Take an educated guess and then add 20 minutes for a regular-size activity, and a more significant chunk of time if you’re working on something major, like filing your taxes.
What’s Your Style?
Want to know your time-management match? Choose the answer closest to the truth:
Honestly, I’m not a big believer in quizzes — everyone is different and can’t possibly be diagnosed by answering ten questions, but if I had to take an educated guess….
Most of your answers are in column one — you’re super organized. You have a well-run home, but may not appreciate the family members who just don’t get your systems. You yourself don’t need to try any new time-management methods, but experiment with the time-management matches here for family members. Keep up the good work! Make sure you get in some downtime. And if you want others to like you, don’t share with others how early you bentsh licht or start cleaning for Pesach.
Most of your answers are in column two — You have a healthy attitude toward life, you mostly meet deadlines and fulfill responsibilities, but feel they need tweaking. To improve your time-management, you may want to try an updated version of the conventional daily planner or family information center, or you can go the more holistic route by establishing healthier habits and making more commitments.
Most of your answers are in column three — You know exactly where your time-management skills are holding. As a child, you were probably the Estie and Yossi mentioned here. You used to manage okay, but at this point in life, you’re in over your head. You’ll never keep up with the “Start Shabbos on Wednesday” plan or the “Keep your house Pesachdig from Chanukah” program, nor should you, so don’t bother. But it is crucial that you aggressively declutter your home, say “no” more often to the requests thrown at you, develop some healthy habits, and clear out Friday from all distractions so that you can run your Erev Shabbos marathon on high speed. And please start in the morning, not the afternoon!