You don’t have to reinvent the wheel

Maybe our hospital season knocked if out of me or maybe it’s the wisdom of getting older, but I no longer feel the need to create every routine and solution for scratch. As I thought through my priorities for 2021 and our phrase “DOUBLE DOWN,” I pondered a new (to me) question.

How much of this planning can I outsource?

Here are a few things that I came up with that are making a big difference.

1 // Planner

I started the year off with no intention of getting a planner. I had a system of 5×7 notebooks that did different jobs inside a traveler’s notebook that I thought would be sufficient.

Ahem. But it wasn’t.

Because the 5×7 notebooks don’t lay open flat (particularly when banded to others and swaddled in a cute, sparkly traveler’s notebook), I would make plans for the week and never check them again.

So when a friend told me she was using a Sol Planner for the second year in a row, I found myself opening a browser tab to check it out on a regular basis. Clearly, it was time to take the plunge.

photo by Sol Planners

There’s just enough help with habits and routines, places to check boxes, space to brain dump and plan for the upcoming week–and even repetitive writing of priorities to help them sink in–to make this feel like the closest-to-ideal planner I’ve come across.

Now, my traveler’s notebook still houses my prayer journal, regular journal, and book log/commonplace, but this hefty planner can sit open on the kitchen counter, and the Enneagram wing 1 in me gets the satisfaction of checking things off throughout the day–without constantly remaking printables or trying to tweak things to make them perfect. Done over perfect is the key here.

(It helped tip me to buy when the planner was first marked down. Now, it’s even cheaper! Click here to see.)

2 // Fitness Guide

I’ve noticed my body feels quite differently on days that I exercise and days that I don’t. This is largely due to my goofy foot length discrepancy, which affects the way I walk and stand (when I sit, I can hold my muscles in a more symmetrical way, but as sitting is the new smoking…). So as much as I love a good long walk, I have to counter my regular steps with regular exercise.

We work out as a family about three times a week, usually cardio but also sometimes yoga. To help me the rest of the week, I purchased a Fitness Guide from a YouTuber I’ve watched and connect to. Mari recognized years ago that she had unhealthy habits and worked to change both her diet and fitness; she comes across as knowledgeable but kind and relatable.

The fitness guide is a PDF with strength circuit workouts, 4 days a week for 5 weeks. I’ll likely only get to 3 of these per week, but having a plan and moving in the right direction matter more to me than doing it perfectly. And again, I don’t have to think or plan: I just have to show up.

(Like the planner, I also made this purchase because of a sale. Mari is having a big sale that you can check out here.)

3 // Sonlight Core/HBL

This school year was a strange one–to say the least. When the pandemic ended the kids’ homeschool academy last March, we had to pivot. With new curriculum in hand, we set out to make up for lost time: we schooled without taking a summer break.

I’m happy with my choices overall, but I’m recognizing the value in someone else choosing our read-aloud titles. Right now, my approach feels a little messy as I picked the books, ordered them, and placed them on a shelf together, but I don’t have a great system for tracking or scheduling them.

So I turned to Sonlight for next year–already dreaming of being the perfect homeschool mom with the perfect schedule. Sigh. It won’t happen that way, but I’m excited anyway about what we’re going to read and that it’s already organized for me. Or at least ready for me to tinker with and tweak between now and July. 🙂

4 // Autonomous School Subjects

Teaching my kids to work autonomously matters to me. It also allows us to get more school done in less time: kids can keep working down their list, even while I work with someone else. And honestly? It just feels kind of good to outsource the stuff I don’t know (piano) or don’t love teaching (math). Let me show you how we’re doing it.

Hoffman Academy

image from Hoffman Academy

Hoffman Academy provides online piano lessons. Anyone can watch the videos for free, but the magic sauce has been in paying for the premium service–and at $18/month for the first student and $9/mo for subsequent students, it’s pretty darn cheap for really great value.

With the premium version, each child has a dashboard that keeps track of what they have done, remembering where they are every time they log in (Ellie got really into it in the beginning and did several lessons a day, so she’s ahead of Claudia at this point).

After they watch the lesson–which is always helpful, engaging, and includes a silly finger puppet skit at the end–the program guides them through practice exercises, practicing what they’ve just learned as well as reviewing previous material and completing worksheets on the theory side of all they’ve learned.

My girls’ musical knowledge and vocabulary has boomed, and in less than three months, they have already started adding chords. I have no idea if that’s typical compared to traditional instruction, but we are all very much enjoying Hoffman Academy!

Teaching Textbooks

We are enjoying our online math…ahem…a little less. But not because of the program itself; math is just hard. But the lectures are taught with on-screen demonstrations and audio to explain them, which the girls seem to respond well to and are learning. And they get to customize their background, congratulatory stickers (from a huge collection), and “buddies” who linger nearby like that paperclip used to in Microsoft Word.

May he rest in peace.

Ellie is eager to do anything with a computer, so she leaps at doing her math (even if she feigns “hating” it to match her sister’s attitude), and Claudia and I don’t clash much ever over math now. When she hits a snag (long division at the moment), she asks for help and I’m on her team rather than the teacher/adversary.

So at $3.59/child/month (but paid annually), it is beyond worth it for my kids to receive quality math instruction in my home while I work with Roger on other subjects (TT doesn’t start until third grade math).

5 // Kid Lists

(some formatting issues in scaling it down, but you get the idea)

Just as it’s been helpful to outsource certain subjects, it’s been very freeing for my squirrel brain to outsource all of the “what are we doing today?” and “what do I have left?” questions to a simple spreadsheet on a clipboard.

If I have other things I want/need them to do on a given day, I’ll put a Post-It on top. For example, yesterday, I had Claudia start doing multiplication flash cards with Ellie. Ellie needs to learn them; Claudia needs to review. It’s a win! I also put “match socks” on both Post-Its as we have half a laundry basket (HALF!) of loose socks…and I loooooooooooathe matching socks. Anyone else?

Ellie and Roger are expected to finish their school subjects by lunch, unless there are extenuating circumstances, or they don’t get their 20 minutes of computer/Kindle Fire in the afternoon. Claudia has too much work to finish before lunch, but she has to finish before she has that screen time.

I spend so much less time being the bad guy. The list is the bad guy. We can collectively blame the bad guy. Until bad attitudes spill over into other arenas; then, I’m back to bad guy duty.

6 // Writing Accountability Partner

The only reason I’m actually working on this post is because I know I have to email Diana on Friday to tell her how many words I wrote. I don’t know her, we don’t write about the same things, and it’s perfect because those things don’t matter. Just knowing that I have “email Diana” on my weekly to-do list makes me write more. And her academic work is fascinating to me in an armchair way, which is another win.

I still haven’t met my weekly 2,000 word goal in 2021 yet, but tracking and having accountability has made me write more than I would have otherwise (if I had bothered at all). And I’m on track to finally hit that goal this week!

Small wins add up, my friends.

In Conclusion

PHEW! That was a lot! Our days are full, but these are the things that make it manageable for me and my easily-overwhelmed-by-choices brain.

I love the Lazy Genius podcast/book/Facebook group. The author, Kendra Adachi, talks about “being a genius about what matters so you can be lazy about what doesn’t,” and I feel that that’s what I’ve accomplished with this list:

  • Teaching math myself doesn’t matter, so we outsource it.
  • Teaching writing so I know they know it way down in their bones does matter, so I’m a smothery mother on that one.
  • Reading great literature together matters to me, but picking each title and scheduling out the reading doesn’t, so I trust Sonlight to put together a great list.
  • Writing this year matters, so I created accountability; what I end up writing this year doesn’t matter (though maybe it will in the future?) so I don’t need clearer goals than word count.

And on and on and on. I highly highly highly* recommend Kendra’s book The Lazy Genius Way to help you figure out ways to make space in your life for your priorities while getting the other things done or off your plate with as little effort as necessary.

*Shameless word count filler 😉

Published by MK Jorgenson

Thinking, writing, and talking about Christian stewardship in all of its facets.

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