How I Keep Sane: My Recipe For A Satisfying Day


Exhaustion. Never ending to-do lists. Neglected kids and spouse. No strength to move forward. No strength to say no. No time to recover.

Juggling the demands of family life is no easy task. I’ve been searching for years for the perfect system and have written extensive explanations about the complicated systems I’ve used.

There is a time and a place for systems complex enough to cover nearly every aspect of life, but today I want to share the basics that keep me sane.

When the most important things seem to be slipping through the cracks what we need is something simple we can start today that let’s us know we’re on the right track.

We need something that gives us hope that our most important projects and relationships are moving forward – something that lets us fall into our pillow at night with satisfaction and peace that we did well today and will do well again tomorrow.

All my life I’ve worked hard, but many times I’d ask myself at the end of the day, “I’ve been working all day and have nothing to show for it!”

I used to believe that the little breaks I took, or the few indulgences I succumbed to were the reason I didn’t get everything done. If I just worked harder and more steadily, I’d be able to accomplish it all.

Over the span of 20 years I struggled to work harder and grow in self-discipline – to focus on what really matters and never indulge in time-wasting, unhelpful activities.

I came close enough to success to realize that even if I eliminated the small fraction of times I wasn’t productive, I would still never get to everything on my to-do list.

So forget trying to do it all, and forget beating yourself up for not getting it all done! It’s not possible – and this is very good news!

I’m still far from getting to everything I care about, but I have much more peace at the end of the day, much more joy during the day, and a great deal more hope for the future.

(Important note: my kids mostly let me sleep at night and that is the biggest difference. If you still have little ones keeping you from quality sleep – be extra gracious with yourself – you have permission to cut your to do list by half at least!)

If you’re already organized and at peace – congratulations! Don’t learn from one who is still has much to learn – and do add your tips in the comments!

If you’re struggling, I hope this sketch helps you. Let me know where I should elaborate for next time. I want you to have the same peace and confidence I’m finally experiencing in my life!

My Recipe For A Satisfying Day

  • Rest
  • Quality time with my kids
  • Time to work
  • Time to plan

There are many things that should be on the list: exercise, quality time with my husband, healthy meals . . . the list goes on and on.

I find that many of these things can slip a little and life goes on. I survive when my husband is on a business trip; I survive a day without exercise. I don’t want to get in the habit of neglecting these things, but the basic four elements I listed above have immediate and serious consequences if I neglect them for even one day.


This is the most obvious, the most neglected, and the hardest to be self-disciplined about.

Everyone knows how important rest is, but nobody admires the person who stops work or play to go to bed. It doesn’t seem heroic, productive, or sexy, but it’s the most essential prerequisite for being any of those.

Quality time with my kids

Kids don’t need much to feel special. Just us fully present. Listening. Being there.

Why is it so hard? Because we’re “doing nothing” and there is so much to be done! Organization is a way to silence the voice that says “get back to work or you’ll regret it” when we’re hanging out with our kids.

When we are organized enough to know with certainty that everything can wait 15 minutes, we can infuse our children with love and care with relatively little effort. When our kids feel loved and a part of our day then they are much more able to take care of themselves for longer stretches and survive even the busiest of days.

It can even be a way to get in some rest!

Time to work

Each day is only one day. Each week is only one week.

“We tend to overestimate what we can do in the short term, and underestimate what we can do in the long term” – Gretchen Rubin

Understanding this is key. If each day is only a day then don’t put a week’s worth of tasks on the schedule.

I discipline myself to work on my top-priority to-do list (which only has one to three things on it) when I am least likely to be interrupted. For me this is the morning before the kids are up, but it could be after they’re asleep or when someone else is watching the kids.

This is hard. This is heroic. This is where the magic happens.

How often do you procrastinate? You’re too exhausted, too intimidated, and have every excuse to take a break. But imagine you actually sit down, focus, and DO the task that will have the biggest impact.

It’s done! Now celebrate and DON’T think you have to go back to your to-do list for more. You slayed the procrastination dragon – enjoy the rest of your day! Today is just one day and you rocked it.

Tomorrow you will do another high-impact hard tasks, so relax.

“Right,” I hear you say, “and what happens to the other million things that I have to do to keep the house running?”

Think back to the last time you finally did something you’d been avoiding. How invigorating did it feel to have it over with? Remember the energy you had? Imagine having that energy every day!

When the most important forward-moving tasks is complete, all the other work we have to do looks easy.

I also use the two-minute rule to knock over a lot of tasks before they even hit my to-do list. I do whatever comes my way if I think it roughly important and it will take less than two minutes: wipe a sink, snuggle a kid, or answer one email.

I’ve stopped planning housework. Sorry, FlyLady, I just couldn’t keep up when we moved to a larger house, and really, the toilets will survive if not cleaned every day.

Instead, I hang out where my kids are and keep my eyes out for housework I can do nearby – fold laundry, swish and swipe the bathroom, wipe blood off the wall . . .

I’d like to do better, but the cleanliness of my house is not something of eternal value. If I happen to vacuum every 10 days instead of every week nobody will care – maybe not even myself.

Time to Plan

In order to use my working time well I need to plan well so that nothing important slips through the cracks. Next week I’ll write more about how to plan, but here’s the key:

Only organize and plan the most important things in your life. Let the rest organize themselves.

See you next week!

See the other posts in this series: daily planning, weekly planning, and E-mail.

The Antidote To The Checklisted Childhood: Raising Self-Directed Learners


How often do you read something that convicts you as a parent but fails to provide sufficient help on how to change?

It happens to me all the time. I can see problems myself, people, what I need is help and solutions!

I recently watch this engaging TED lecture about How to raise successful kids – without over-parenting.

Julie Lythcott-Haims’ critique is good, but her solutions just scratch the surface.

She points out that over-parenting sends the kids the message “Hey kid, I don’t think you can actually achieve any of this without me.”

“[O]ur overhelp, our overprotection and overdirection and hand-holding, deprives our kids of the chance to build self-efficacy, which is a really fundamental tenet of the human psyche, far more important than that self-esteem they get every time we applaud.

“Self-efficacy is built when one sees that one’s own actions lead to outcomes, not one’s parents’ actions on one’s behalf, but when one’s own actions lead to outcomes.

“So simply put, if our children are to develop self-efficacy, and they must, then they have to do a whole lot more of the thinking, planning, deciding, doing, hoping, coping, trial and error, dreaming and experiencing of life for themselves.”

So if we shouldn’t micromanage and limit our kids to the checklist of things that we personally deem as important in life, what should we do?

“[A]m I saying every kid is hard-working and motivated and doesn’t need a parent’s involvement or interest in their lives, and we should just back off and let go? Hell no.

“What I’m saying is, we should be less concerned with the specific set of colleges they might be able to apply to or might get into and far more concerned that they have the habits, the mindset, the skill set, the wellness, to be successful wherever they go.”

But how?

In her talk, Julie Lythcott-Haims goes on to discuss the importance of kids doing chores and parents providing unconditional love, and that’s a very good start.

But does requiring chores train kids to “think, plan, decide, do, hope, and cope” or develop the “habits, mindset, skills set, and wellness” necessary for success?

That’s asking a lot of chores.

Happily, this time I won’t just leave you with questions, I can point you to a resource that addresses this very question of how we train our kids in their self-efficacy so they become makers, dreamers, and doers full of hope and grit and ready for success wherever they are.

And you can buy it from me for just $987! – JUST KIDDING!

This stuff is so valuable it should be available to every parent, and it is.

Lori Pickert writes at Camp Creek blog and volunteers countless hours to help parents learn to be mentors in their children’s self-directed learning.

She has a book that explains her ideas and gives concrete steps on how to start NOW wherever you are, whoever you are, whoever your kids are, whatever your budget.

She is also one of the most encouraging people I’ve ever met. Her standards are high, but she believes everyone can take that next step toward raising self-directed learners.

The book is Project-Based Homeschooling, and don’t let any word in that title intimidate you. The book is about how to support that part of your child’s life that he or she is in control of, and you as the parent gets to decide how big that part is – this is not about letting go of all control or giving your kid one type of education!

Lori’s book explains how to be a supportive mentor in the work your child does apart from the checklist you give him.

There’s nothing wrong with a checklist. Put chores on the checklist, put hiking or family time or whatever aligns with your deepest values on the checklist, but make sure you pay attention to, appreciate, and encourage the work your child does apart from the checklist.

When you learn to appreciate your child’s work and see how important you are in supporting it, it will be much easier to know how to cull the checklist so you don’t ruin your child with the “checklisted childhood”.

So don’t worry about your lengthy checklist now, just do the next right thing.  Skim the blog, read the book. Contemplate how the ideas might fit well with your situation and family life.

Remember, you are in charge, you are wiser and more knowledgeable than your child in many things – but not everything.

Then let’s enjoy the journey! It’s anything but easy and well-defined, but it is every bit as exciting as a great adventure story!

“My job is not to make [my children] become what I would have them become, but to support them in becoming their glorious selves.” – Julie Lythcott-Haims

Full disclosure: I write this of my own free will and won’t earn a cent from it. Lori’s ideas have challenged and encouraged me like no other so I’m happy to pass them on!

An Experiment In Obedience


We are three weeks into a six-week experiment with training our kids in the habit of obedience.

I prefer to secure the child’s will, give him lots of choice within boundaries, and give him time and space to make a decision. But sometimes a child just needs to obey because a parent knows better.

Our kids weren’t bad about obeying, but sometimes it took some convincing. Convincing takes time that we sometimes do not have.

Then I ran into this quote,

“Tardy, unwilling, occasional obedience is hardly worth the having; and it is greatly easier to give the child the habit of perfect obedience by never allowing him in anything else, than it is to obtain this mere formal obedience by constant exercise of authority.” Charlotte Mason

Over time we’ve tried various methods to “exercise our authority,” but no matter what the method used, Ms. Mason is right, it’s a terrible burden.

What does “never allowing him in anything else” mean? Charlotte Mason suggests taking six weeks to train a new habit and she views obedience as a habit.

Six weeks sounds excruciatingly long to work on one thing, but it sounds blissfully short if it means never struggling with our kids over obedience again.

I won’t go into all the details, partly because I don’t like to make suggestions when an idea has not stood the test of time, but here’s a little bit of what we’ve discovered along the way.

Week 1

We saw lots of progress in the first week. I was thrilled to have obedience be a positive interaction with my kids. Since we all discussed the new idea and the advantages it would bring, they were eager to be on board.

I yelled much less, we all celebrated when a child was prompt, cheerful, and lasting in his obedience, and often it only took one child to obey promptly and receive praise to inspire the others to do so, too.

At the end of each day I was exhausted, but not worn out and frustrated, just exhausted like I’d done a hard day’s labor – and I had!

It was work to not give out too many commands, interrupt my work to be sure my command would be heard and obeyed, deal calmly and firmly when someone did disobey, and find my way in this new experiment.

Toward the end of the week the kids rebelled a bit, as if to say, “That was a fun experiment, Mom, but can we go back to doing things our own way when we feel like it?”

It was the first sign that maybe six weeks are necessary. Normally I revel in the success and start to coast. I coast until I wake up one day later and realize I’ve coasted right back to where we were before.

Week 2

We’d been fooled to thinking our work was mostly done because we’d seen so much fruit, but week two revealed that my husband and I weren’t fully on the same page. When he was lax, I was more likely to be lax and we all fell back into old habitual ways.

We had to work details out and remotivate ourselves.

We read through our list of motivations for this obedience experiment that we’d made at the start. We discussed the advantages with our kids again. Obedience brings liberty. Mom and Dad yell less. Not yelling was probably the biggest reason for us all.

We struggled this week, but we got back on track.

Week 3

We’re finding our rhythm. Stephan and I still have to find full alignment, but it’s getting easier for us all to require and deliver obedience.

The house is a bit of a mess. In order to train the habit of obedience, I haven’t been nagging about everything, which means pick-up time hasn’t happened because I’ve wanted to avoid an obedience fight over it.

Yesterday I asked Vivienne to pick up the beads that were scattered all over the floor and to tell her siblings to help as well. She said, “Oh yes, Mommy!” with a smile and ran off.

Stephan and I nearly fainted. Is Charlotte Mason right? Can obedience really become such a habit that it is really no great effort for the child?

I don’t know. This time Stephan went in to help them all pick up and keep a positive atmosphere, but such help in the past would not have been enough to prevent the kids from whining and complaining about the difficulty of the task.

This week I’ll try making more frequent requests for small pick-up tasks and see how it goes.

At this point, three more weeks doesn’t sound horribly long and I’m starting to hope that we really have habitual happy obedience at the end of it!

Have you ever focused on one aspect of parenting over a long period of time? If so, how did it go? If not, why not? The idea is new to me, so please share!

Living in the Moment

red light

For a long time now I’ve been trying to live more in the moment.

I want to enjoy my family and not be worried about tomorrow or stuck in the past.

Why is it so hard?

Then it hit me: I DO live in the moment. I’m actually very good at it.

“When is this stupid red light going to change?” “Look at the traffic!” “Come on, go already!”

Waiting for my d e l i b e r a t e and s u p e r  s l o w preschooler to put on his shoes is an exercise in torture. It feels like an eternity.

Isn’t that what living in the moment is? Being so present that now feels like all there is?

Maybe living in the moment isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

When I’m razor focused on the most obvious thing in the moment, I often miss the important.

When I focus on my son’s task of putting on his shoes, I’m blind to him as a person, to the beauty of nature outdoors, to appreciating how the older ones have learned to get themselves ready and out the door on their own.

I’m so focused on the task at hand that eternity of the moment is forgotten.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “the present is the point at which time touches eternity.”

But surely that red light will not be there in eternity.

Maybe living in the moment means focusing on the part of the moment that is eternal: the good, the true, and the beautiful.

Not the shoes, but the boy-turning-man.

Not the traffic, but the people I’m with.

Not my problems and my troubles, but the blessings I’m thoughtlessly taking for granted.

Maybe planning the future and reflecting on the past aren’t the enemies of living in the moment, but rather a way to use the present to connect with the eternal parts of the past and the future.

Or maybe planning and problem solving are only helpful in that they make the path smoother so we can focus more on the eternal part of the present moment.

I can’t enjoy my son as a person when we started to get ready too late.

Or can I?

Can I still enjoy the scenery when we’re late and in traffic?

Only if joy is a higher priority than punctuality.

Ouch. I want to be joyful and punctual, but if I have to choose . . . I usually choose being pissed off because we failed to be punctual.

Like I wrote last week, I’m no longer pretending I have more solutions than questions, so this is where my thoughts end and yours begin!