Mar 7, 2013

Decrease Stress by Working Ahead {it's a skill that can be learned}

Now that my kids are fully into the swing of two sports, I'm feeling overwhelmed by all that it adds to my plate. My kids adjust better to these changes than I do, and I like to think it's because my husband and I make it easy for them, but still ... I now have more to do and less time to do it, with the new practices and games added into our schedule. It's got me thinking a lot about time management and the joys of working ahead.

Teaching the Benefits of Time Management and Working Ahead

My oldest child is now in second grade, and has to do a monthly project, a weekly book report, and "regular" homework. Plus he's got the two sports, which means multiple practices and games each week.

Not surprisingly, we've had a tremendous opportunity to teach our son about time management, and how planning and working ahead can make life easier and less stressful.

For example, his teacher sends the book report form home on Monday and expects it back on Friday. But at our request, she gives it to us ahead of time so my son can do his book report over the weekend. That gives us one less thing to worry about during the week. And seeing how much easier his homework load is when he does his book report ahead of time has been an eye-opener for my son - it's a tangible demonstration of the benefits of working ahead.

Another example: The students are given about a month to complete their monthly projects, so it seems natural to us to start as soon as possible to get it done. Because of our busy schedule, there really aren't that many days that can accommodate extra work, but whenever there's a big block of unscheduled time (usually over the weekend), we tackle the project. Sometimes my son has to be reminded that he has to work on the project when he can because there aren't that many opportunities. He gets back on board with the plan whenever my husband or I point out how happy he will be to have it done and not be stressed the week before it's due because there's so much left to do.

That's why I'm shocked by how many of his classmates don't work ahead when given the opportunity - toward the end of each month, I discover that some of them haven't even started, and that others are less than half done.

At this age, projects are still very much parent-driven because they can't be completed without adult assistance and participation. And it's the rare child (though I hear they do exist) who bugs his or her parent to work on the school project.

I wish all parents would take the opportunity to teach their children time management and the joys of working ahead.

Working Ahead Works for Adults

Of course, as adults, many of us don't have great time management skills, and we often don't work ahead. And it's hard to teach what you don't know (or practice). I have to admit, that even though I have the ability, I often fail to manage my time well and don't fulfill my intentions to work ahead.

But I've discovered that Flylady's philosophy of I can do anything for 15 minutes works really well in helping me manage my time and get ahead. I started by managing my "hot spots" on a regular basis: I deal with the mail every night instead of letting it pile up on the dining table, I clear my desk (almost) daily, and I put away laundry right away. I've also developed an evening routine that makes my mornings easier.

Keeping these tasks off my plate has given me more time and energy to focus on other areas. Consequently, I am getting better at working ahead in the kitchen, and on this site, and at other projects. It's been interesting and rewarding to experience this trickle-down effect - and just as interesting (and far from rewarding) to see how quickly my productivity drops off (and my stress level rises) when I stop working ahead.

It's all a work in progress, but by consistently working ahead at one area of my life at a time, I'm increasing my productivity and decreasing stress!

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