The stress of getting back into fall routines is starting to weigh heavily on me. I’ve had this jazz classic “It Don’t Mean a Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing” stuck in my head for the past few days, and I’m begging the song police to come nab it from my brain. It could be that it’s already mid-September and my mind is telling me to “get into the swing of things”. September marks the end of summer, the start of the school term and a definite return to “normal” after a more relaxed summer schedule.
Late summer and early fall can be the most challenging time of the year for busy families. Everyone has to shift gears. We may have lofty goals about how things are going to run smoothly this year, but already they are threatening to turn into a mud slide. Where do we start and what can we do to get back into a more organized routine? It’s not too late to step back, take a deep breath (or three!) and make plans to get into the swing of things again.
Here are some steps you can take that will help ease your return back into fall routines:
1. Get the Ball Rolling
It’s overwhelming to think about the mountain of things that need to be done. When we’re overwhelmed, we often don’t even want to start. The solution? Do something small.
Set yourself a task, just one single task, of doing something very easy that you can accomplish in 15 minutes. For example, organize a cupboard of containers for lunch supplies. Once you get started, you feel more motivated. Set another easy task, and then another, until you’re at full steam.
2. Use a Calendar
Put up a family calendar in a central place. Using different coloured markers for each person, write in everyone’s schedules. If everyone in your family uses a computer, you could also put a copy of the calendar or schedules in a family file on the computer.
Review household chores with everyone in your family. You might have a family meeting to talk about all the chores that need to be done and divide up the tasks together. Add them to your calendar!
3. Do Less
“Don’t do a lot when a little will do.” Does this proverb sound familiar? As paradoxical as it seems, when we do less we often accomplish more. Most importantly, when we focus on doing less and doing it well, instead of doing more and assuming it’s better, we’re less scattered, more deliberate, less harried and more present.
And really, isn’t that what we want? As much as we visualize the goals and the outcomes, it’s the happiness and satisfaction we imagine we’ll experience when we get there that motivates us. When we do less, we create more space to enjoy those things now.
4. Take Three Conscious Breaths
Renowned Buddhist teacher Pema Chödrön suggests something she calls Pause Practice – taking three conscious breaths at any moment when we notice that we are stuck. It is a simple but powerful practice that each of us can do at any given moment.
If you are standing in a grocery store lineup, or you are washing dishes, or you are driving home from work in rush hour traffic, just pause and take three conscious breaths. As Pema would say, “Let it be a contrast to being all caught up. Let it be like popping a bubble. Let it be just a moment in time, and then go on.”
5. Learn to Say No
It’s okay to say no to events that you don’t have time for or that you’re not really invested in. If you tend to say yes without thinking when you’re asked to do something extra, don’t answer straight away. Say you’ll get back to the person, then use that time to think clearly about whether to say yes or no. If you want to say yes, fine. But if you want to say no, say no and keep saying it. There’s no need to be rude, but you also don’t need to justify your actions or give excuses.
6. Get Organized
Getting out of the house on time in the morning will be easier if family members make a habit of putting things, such as signed school forms and completed homework assignments, in a designated place the night before. Give each member of the family a place to store things for school and work. This could be a spot on a hall table or a shelf or container near the door.
7. Ask for Help
We often expect of ourselves that we have to be superhuman, that we have to do everything for everyone. In reality, it’s important to accept that you can’t do everything by yourself. Create a family dynamic where everybody helps. That could mean making daily chore lists for your kids so that the laundry is done and the garbage is taken out by the time you get home from work. Or it may mean asking your partner to make dinner and offering to take care of the cleanup yourself.
8. Carve Out Down Time
Along with scheduling time to relax, you need to find time to spend with others, whether it’s with your partner, kids, parents or friends. It’s a good idea to make rules for this quality time. For example, agree to keep your phone turned off when you’re spending quality time with family and friends. Use your calendar to plan down time with yourself and your loved ones.
9. Forget about Perfection
Sometimes, if you’re overworked, explicitly tell yourself that what you’ve done may not be perfect, but it is good enough. Don’t put extra pressure on yourself when you don’t need to – at work or at home. Give yourself a break. In the long run, it doesn’t matter if your home isn’t fresh out of House and Garden or that you left work realizing you haven’t done something as well as you could.
10. Look after Yourself
When you are busy, it’s important to eat well, sleep well and exercise. Plan meals on the weekend and make them ahead so you don’t stress about it every day. Involve your children in the planning and prep. Develop a good sleep routine and turn off the electronics at least an hour before bedtime. Make time for regular exercise, something that you enjoy doing by yourself or with a friend – put it in your calendar. Get outdoors – breathe!
Getting back into the swing of things… it’s a dance all right! Even if it’s two steps forward and one back, you are moving in the right direction. Keep dancing, and best of luck getting back into your fall routines!
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