One of the least “organized” decisions we can make as adults is to become parents. Is there anything less neat, orderly and predictable as having children in the house? And if you can show me a mom who, without missing a beat, can juggle the school field trip schedule, remember who likes what cold lunch fixings and recall if she brushed her teeth that morning…I’ll show you a mythical Greek Goddess.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not complaining about the messy business of parenting. I adore my kids. In fact, I relish the unpredictability of their fights, their ever-changing school and activity schedule and the impromptu playdates. It keeps me on my toes and mentally sharp. And it challenges the “J” in me to find an even better strategy to not lose my head amidst the ongoing chaos.
According to the Myers-Briggs Personality Inventory I am a “J,” which stands for “Judger.” That sounds terribly uncomplimentary, and would expect that those at the opposite end of the personality spectrum, the “P’s” (or “Perceivers”) would agree. But apparently these descriptive terms are from the Carl Jung school of thought so maybe he was just a bit of a jerk. Anyway, in a nutshell, “J’s” like order in their lives. They like schedules and plans. “P’s” subscribe to the “fly by the seat of my pants” school of being, to “see what happens,” explore and discover.
My kids’ dad is a “P.” So I find myself in a cold sweat when we discuss our weekly game plan and he won’t even have his smart phone calendar at the ready to get it all down. On the other hand, my mother-in-law is a planner, a true-blue “J.” We get along famously, especially on family trips. We have it down. Except when we are doing our “J” thing about different things. Then I break out in another cold sweat. Still, I “get” her and she “gets” me. And that’s why we leave the men out of the planning of stuff.
Sorry, I digress.
It’s not that fly-by-the-seat-of-their-pants people aren’t organized. It’s not that we list- and calendar-lovers don’t enjoy a little unpredictability. But there are times when a stepwise plan of attack is necessary, and we adults may not even realize we are doing it. If you think about it, how do we get from the 6:00 am alarm to heading out the door in the morning? How do we get make and get dinner on the table? It would take some effort to write out the step-by-step because things like this are so second nature, whether you attack life as a “J” or a “P.” But accomplishing these tasks is an art, something we had to learn and practice.
Perhaps the “second nature” of completing daily skills is what makes us parents so frustrated when our kids, for example, can’t get ready for school in the morning, or sit down to do homework in the afternoon. Of course, kids don’t want to do either of these things, but part of this may be having trouble getting the process started.
And this is where parents can help them, whether we are “J’s” or “P’s.”
Start with a family pow-wow. Sit down with your kids and put together a short list of things to work on: homework, getting ready for bed…whatever the struggles are in your daily routine. Then chose one thing off the list to tackle first. Talk about how working on getting the task done will make family life better (as in more time to play outside) and make sure your kids know you will help them to be successful…but that you also expect their best effort.
Write it out (Sorry “Percievers.”). An article on understood.org recommends breaking the task down into a beginning, a middle and an end. Otherwise, a task will be pretty overwhelming to plan out. For example, let’s say the problem is getting homework accomplished after school. The “beginning” of the task could look something like this:
- Homework time starts at 4:00, at the kitchen table.
2. To do homework I will need: a pencil, an eraser, scratch paper, and the assignment.
3. Write the due date at the top of the page so I know which homework to do first.
The “middle” part of the completing homework, or of any task, is the actual “doing,” the execution. This is the challenging part, which kidshealth.org calls the “Focus” step. Who wouldn’t want to play Nerf guns instead of taking out the garbage or doing grammar? (parents, admit it…). But an easy first step is to give kids an easy mantra: just say “no” to distractions. But keep that carrot dangling…a bit of fake apocalyptic mayhem after an exercise in dangling participles is a great motivator. But if that simple mental “no” isn’t enough to stave off temptation, suggest next your kids ask themselves, “Is that what I’m supposed to be doing right now?” Help kids remember these questions and supervise at first; they will need support getting through this step. If you can, set an example of “focus” by sitting with your kids during homework time and read, or balance the checkbook, or write a grocery list. This way, you are readily available to offer prompts (So what’s next? Remember what to say to yourself if you are distracted?) Avoid your screen…if your kids are like mine they are like moths to lightbulbs and the temptation to peek over my shoulder is too great. In other words, do something that looks like “homework.”
“The End.” Again, write in your master task plan the steps for crossing the finish line. That could be wiping out the garbage cans before replacing them in your house. In the homework vein, that’s the proofreading, correcting, and putting the pages in the right folder to be returned to school. In short, the task is done, so answer the question, now what?
Time to Party. Ask your child how he thinks he did with the task and troubleshoot any problems that occurred along the way. Perhaps the homework space was too distracting…maybe we shouldn’t do homework in your room where your toys are, so let’s brainstorm another spot for you to work in. Praise your child for a job well done (if he did do it well). Then reward. Have those Nerf guns ready.
Suggestions to keep the organizing organized:
~Keep a jumbo desk calendar on the wall. Each family member gets a “color” for their appointments, field trips, etc. Kids will love writing their “things” on the calendar, be able to look ahead at what’s coming up, and be more excited about the day-ahead prep (More on that below.) Plus they will go nuts for the ripping-away of April to look at May, and so on and so forth.
~Gaming. Make a game out of estimating how long it takes to complete tasks. Write down the guesses and see how much time it actually takes to wrap it up. Not only can this be a “everyday” math exercise, it can help you and your kids plan accordingly for the next day.
~Lists! Post a colorful list (have your kids make it) by the door to help kids remember what they need in their backpacks for school. Tape a Saturday morning “honey-do” on the kitchen table. Some kids love the idea of ticking the jobs off a list*** as a motivator to finish their responsibilities, and you don’t have to go into “nag” mode.
~Speaking of backpacks…plan a Sunday night backpack check. Understood.org recommends cleaning out the junk from backpacks, double-checking for permission slips or MIA homework, etc., once a week. What better time than Sunday night, to start the school week off on the right foot. And on the same wavelength, pack up the night before. Have completed homework and show-and-tell items for the next day zipped in and ready to go so nothing gets left behind on that rush to the school bus.
~And my favorite: Cook (or bake)! There’s making the shopping list. Getting the ingredients. Reading the recipe. Completing each step in order. Time management. What better way to learn organization and get brownies at the same time?
***One final word on organization: entlistungsfreude. Of course there’s a German word that means “gratification of accomplishing something by crossing it off a list.”