How to Do All the Things.

How to Do All the Things.

Invariably, when someone puts together pieces for the first time – that we homestead, homeschool five kids, have a brand new small business, have an active spiritual life including church, and that one of us is chronically ill – the question that flies from their lips is “oh my gosh, how do you get all that done?!”

You’re right. I’m absolutely an expert at doing ALL the things, so I thought I’d write you this informative blog post so that you too can do all the things.

That statement might have been tongue in cheek, just slightly. My stepmother was visiting a couple of weeks ago and asked if our landlord was going to put up screens on our house windows so we could open them without the rural massive plague of flies (we live between a bunch of cow farms) assailing us. And I said “well it’s on my list – we have the screens – but did you notice how dirty my windows are? So I vowed I wouldn’t put up the screens til the windows were clean but before I can clean the windows I have to fix the SEO on our company website ( – pardon my tiny ad!) and before I can do that I have to have all the pages organized because I don’t really want a search engine to find them in their current state of total disarray and really in any free moment I have I need to be making soap so…”

Needless to say we still have no screens on our windows and yesterday when my son shot muddy water from his squirt gun onto one of them I was able to smile in a totally nonchalant manner because it’s not like he’s going to make them any dirtier.

I am usually a stickler for cleanliness and organization. Part of that is just me, but part of it is that it makes my life easier and I’m lazy. I try to pare our possessions and our calendar down to as little as possible. Fewer things in my life means fewer things to clean because clearly I don’t have time to do that (sadly we aren’t getting rid of windows any time soon). 

The thing is, you don’t have to search far to find a million mommy blogs claiming to tell you how to get it all done. And I can offer a few tips, and maybe I’ll do a series at some point, because time management is a skill that can be learned. But what I want to offer you here is a little more global than tips. If you’re in a hurry to implement a system tips are good. But life is not one-size-fits-all, which means tips I offer you might or might not apply to your unique situation.

Right now I’m reading Angela Duckworth’s book “Grit.” I highly recommend this book, by the way. It’s a fascinating study on why some people succeed at their goals and others don’t. Caveat: I am not all the way through this book yet. The chapter I read last night, however, struck me as a good description of how I manage to get it all done.

The big secret is (and maybe you guessed it): I don’t. I don’t even try.

Duckworth observes that successful people tend to select a few priorities about which they feel strong convictions, and they align everything else to those priorities. Yeah, it’s a fancy way of saying “prioritize,” but it’s so much more. It requires some deep reflection and then a lot of practice implementing it. But it’s so much more effective than time management tips. For one thing, I find that when I’m doing this I have a whole lot more time to manage because prioritizing means a lot of unnecessary things (things that otherwise look really important) simply fall off the schedule.

A recent case in point: we started a new business a couple of weeks ago and for the past six weeks it has eaten up every second of spare time I have. We also have five kids who we homeschool, and educating them has been one of my top priorities since they were born. When my mind was completely absorbed by the business startup, though, our usual homeschool schedule fell by the wayside. Ok, homeschooling is incredibly flexible – that’s one of its supreme virtues – so I said for a season, let’s just put it it down. It’s summer, other kids are on summer break, ours can be too. And I know kids are never not learning, right?

Well, if anyone ever set out to prove that idea, we have. They’ve asked ten million questions about every aspect of starting a business, about soap, about soap science, about customer service, about web design and how the internet works, about money. At the farmer’s markets they’ve met a cross section of the population I could never have contrived to expose them to, made connections with people whose social circles we’d never otherwise cross, and learned things no curriculum could hope to teach.

Ask me if I still feel any stress about the disruption to our school schedule.

But what’s the takeaway? Observe the priority in this situation: education. We strive for education, not “schooling,” and education is available everywhere, so I’m not struggling to cram worksheets and books into our schedule on top of the farmer’s market and business startup and homesteading.

In our family we have a handful of high priorities. They probably boil down to spiritual life, education, and health. For anything we do (Duckworth’s research supports this), we ask if it gets us somewhere with these goals. If not, we scrap it. Now, keeping the house clean actually supports all the goals, because for me, having a cluttered and dirty environment distracts me from everything (and uhh, hello, health?). But if washing windows takes away time from the other goals and isn’t a big distraction then it falls off the list, or at least it drops way down below a bunch of other things.

The struggle for me, in all this, is it means things generally look less perfect than the picture I have in my mind. I love it when my house is sparkling and my windows are crystal clear. I love it when our schedule is perfectly orderly and we get up and do the prayers together as a family and then move on to the chores and eat breakfast together and do our schoolwork and in the afternoon maybe work in the garden…that’s the ideal day I have in my head. But arranging your life around your big goals, the global priorities, means sometimes radically accepting that the picture isn’t going to look perfect – at least not right now, maybe.

Maybe you say your prayers on the way to the farmer’s market in the morning and you listen to a scripture podcast rather than sitting down with your Bible in a quiet moment. It’s not my ideal, but it is still in line with my big priorities. Insisting on getting up even earlier than I do (sometimes 3 am) so I can have a quiet moment with my Bible would result in me getting even less sleep, probably being cranky and ineffective, and ultimately affecting family harmony because my personal wellbeing sets the tone in my home. So if listening to the scripture podcast is effective at supporting my overarching goal without making issues elsewhere, that’s what I’m going to do.

What are your big priorities? Secondary priorities? What things seem really important but maybe, actually, need to get sacrificed to your big goals? Talk to me in the comments!

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