Written by Sarah Mackenzie of Amongst Lovely Things.
It’s 11am. The twins are emptying the tea cupboard onto the floor, the 2 year-old is fussing, and I’m standing at the fridge, trying to decide what to make for lunch. Just then my 11 year-old walks into the room. “What should I be doing right now?”
As the volume of the din steadily rises, the 9 year-old whizzes past me, flinging his math book onto the kitchen counter and tossing a comment about making a break for the basement. Somebody pulls on my pant leg and I rub my head.
“Mom? What am I supposed to be doing?” She’s getting more persistent.
“I… don’t know,” I sigh, exasperated, “Just… we’ll figure it out later.”
Sound familiar? It’s a classic case of homeschooling mama decision fatigue, and I can predict it’s arrival in my house (and yours!) like clockwork every day of the week.
By now enough studies have proven that making decisions is exhausting, and as a homeschooling mom, you’re probably making a whole lot more of them than you realize.
My friend Pam came to this conclusion not too long ago. She was recently trying out my spiral notebook hack and said that as she sat and wrote out those checklists, she made about 20 different decisions that she hadn’t at all anticipated.
“These were 20 decisions that were now already made and did not have to be made in the heat of the moment while we were doing school,” she said.
Here’s why I think those spiral notebooks work so well- they force us to make decisions ahead of time, before we’re knee-deep in a busy homeschool day, thereby reducing our in-the-moment stress and frustration. We don’t have to decide every little detail in the throes of a hot moment because most of it has already been decided. [Exhale.]
So how does a homeschooling mom actually combat decision fatigue?
If we have a million decisions to make each day, how do we set ourselves up for success? I’m pretty sure I can’t avoid decision fatigue entirely, but here are a few ways I’m minimizing the number of decisions I make in the heat of a homeschool day.
1. Write out assignments the night before.
I’m currently doing this using simple spiral notebooks, and I can’t believe how much more productive we’ve been in our little homeschool since implementing them. I’ve come to realize a hard truth about myself: when the house is loud (and it is always is) and the day is long (and it often is), I tend to default to, “That’s enough for today. Class dismissed.”
It’s hard for me to be objective about what a reasonable amount of work is when I’m being bombarded with requests for crackers and help over a grammar lesson.
Writing out each child’s lessons the night before has made all the difference.
2. Make a schedule and (try to) stick with it for a set amount of time.
Choose a length of time to make your “term,” if that’s helpful, and then just be as consistent as you can be for its duration. You aren’t committing to a whole year or even a quarter- just try 4 or 6 weeks!
Anne tells us that a schedule is just “another way of narrowing choices,” and narrowing choices reduces decision fatigue. Once your term is over, adjust your schedule as necessary- you’ve given it a fair shot by this point, and it very well may need a little mindful tweaking.
3. Put ideas into a queue.
To counteract my incredibly impulsive nature, I’ve started a discipline of recording ideas into a place I call “The Idea Shelf.”
Stop laughing, it’s a real thing. It’s just a sheet of paper in my notebook, really, but it’s a very, very important sheet of paper. 😉 Here’s how it works: whenever I get the urge to change directions or toss one curriculum in favor of another, I write it down on my Idea Shelf page first.
I write the idea and the date it burst into my brain, and then I let it sit. If I wait a week before doing anything with it, I end up saving myself a lot of headaches (and often a lot of money, if my brilliant idea was buying something new!). The things that really do need to change- that math curriculum that’s just not working, or the grammar book that is about to melt my 12 year old into a puddle of woe- are still a good idea a week later.
If it’s just some bright shiny curriculum I’ve seen on someone else’s blog (and must! try! right! away!), I may not feel so exuberant about it a week later and can cross it off entirely.
4. Encourage your kids to eat their frogs first thing.
There’s an old saying that if the first thing you do each morning is to eat a frog, it’s probably the worst thing you’ll do all day.
Basically, it tells us that tackling the most challenging task of the day can free up a lot of mental space and energy and help us get more done.
Your kids are at just as much risk for decision fatigue as you are. I tend to let my kids choose which order to tackle their daily assignments, but I encourage them to choose the hardest/most loathsome task first (math, anyone?).
It can be so freeing to know that your hardest task is already done for the day by 9 or 10 am, and you may find your kids making better (more cheerful) decisions if they get their frog swallowed bright and early.
What have you done to reduce decision fatigue in your homeschool?