Organization & Time Management for Homeschoolers

Organization and Time Management are often the most difficult aspects of homeschooling. When asks homeschooling parents what their biggest challenge is, the overwhelming response is:

#1 Finding enough time to do it all, and
#2 How to motivate the kids.

In this article we’ll give you some ideas on how you can organize your home and your schedule so that it fits your family’s homeschooling style.

A friend of mine once humorously suggested that I seemed to have a “high tolerance for chaos. “I’m not sure what gave her that idea. One child was playing the piano, one was potting plants on the kitchen counter for a growing experiment, our youngest child was painting with her feet out on the patio. The microscope was out on the kitchen table and books were strewn on the coffee table. Everything looked normal to me!

In our house, there is always something going on and more likely than not, there are extra children running around too. And that’s just the way we like it. But I do hate wasting time looking for things and I do find it peacefully comforting when things are tidy and organized.

So I contacted three organization and time management experts, Cheryl CarterElizabeth Hagen, and Sunny Schlenger, and asked them for their advice.

Getting Organized

At the root of the word home-school is the reality that your home (or at least part of it) is being used for a second purpose. And if, like many homeschoolers, you also work from your home, this means that your home is now being used for three purposes. Because of this triple threat, clutter, disorganization, and chaos often becomes the norm instead of the exception.

Organization experts agree the key to gaining control is to formulate a plan that meets your specific needs, to work with what you have, and to organize around your homeschool and lifestyle.

“An individualized approach is best for ensuring long term change and adaptation because you’re more flexible when you’re more aware of what your strengths and weaknesses are” says Sunny Schlenger of, and author of How To Be Organized In Spite Of Yourself.

She also notes the importance of paying special attention to idiosyncrasies “because it’s important to do things in a way that is right for you.  Don’t blame yourself if you can’t reach idealized goals, but rather take steps that work for you.”

Cheryl Carter agrees. Carter, Executive Director of Organize Your Life, says “Homeschoolers have a lot going on [in their homes] — working, eating, living, schooling.”   She says to adjust for that, you need to “make your home more purposeful for you.  Purpose precedes order.”

Which means that you need to know the purpose of something before you can organize it.  To apply this to a home, every room in the house has to be purposed for the activities that occur in that particular room — which sounds like a lot of work.  So, why organize at all?

“The benefit of being organized is that you can focus more and not be distracted by the environment,” according to Elizabeth Hagen, professional organizer and speaker.  You also gain peace of mind because you have calmed a lot of the chaos that takes place every day.

According to Hagen, clutter costs us:

  • Time – spent looking for something
  • Energy – both physical and emotional
  • Money – we sometimes buy duplicates, just in case
  • Peace of Mind – we worry that others might see the clutter

By clearing up clutter you also gain time and energy for yourself.  “You can’t give back something unless you take care of yourself,” says Schlenger. “It doesn’t take away, it adds to, what we’re able to give.”

“You should not have a goal to get organized,” says Carter. “It is a step to a bigger goal, perhaps start a new business, have more time to read, etc.”

The ability to have some time to focus on you, a more organized household, and a chance to work on bigger goals is great incentive.  But, how do you know what to organize?

As defined by Hagen, “Clutter is anything you own, possess, or do, that does not enhance you life on a regular basis.  This does not refer to items in storage, only things around the house.  It also includes activities that are not adding to your life in a meaningful way.”

A great way to start is with an overall picture.  Try this activity, recommended by Schlenger:

“Walk out of your house, shut the door, and pretend it’s not your house but a house that was given to you by somebody else. It’s now your house and your family and you get to look at it with fresh eyes. Anything that’s broken, or not done, etc. is not your fault, you just have a chance to fix them.

This will allow you to focus rapidly on what is most important.  Give yourself adequate time to focus on each area.”

Once you’ve identified areas that you would like to work on, take another walk through the house carrying a sheet of paper with three columns on it:  Room/Space, Purpose, and Activities.

Cheryl Carter, who recommends this task, suggests “Go through the house the way it is now and ask yourself the purpose of each room and what activities are happening there.  Be sure you focus not on what you want it to be but what it is used for.”

If there is a lot of disorganization you may have to work backward and look at the activities happening in the room first.  That will help you to define the purpose of the room.  For instance, if there are toys in every room there is no set place to play.

Once you have the chart completed take a new piece of paper with the same three columns but eliminate duplicate places (where to play with toys, where you can put books, etc.)  Re-purpose the rooms and restrict the activities to those rooms, as much as possible.  Try to create practical rooms with items placed where you usually use them and they work the best for you. Some rooms can be multipurpose, you just want to be sure you have a system for changing them.

Now that you’re ready to begin organizing, you can try the START method, developed by Elizabeth Hagen.

Throw, Give, or Recycle
ppoint a Home
estrict to a Container
ake Back Control

Choose a room, or section (closet, etc.) or even a drawer to begin with.  If you’re feeling strong you can start with the most complex project. If not so strong, then start with something simple.  Take a personal approach. What bothers you the most? If it’s too big, break it down.

Hagen describes the process:

“In your mind draw a circle around your feet, called an Elizabeth circle, and tell yourself that you can’t get out of the circle until the job is complete.  Any items you find that need to be moved somewhere else you should put outside the circle for sorting later, only work with things relevant to the organization area.

Be sure to use black garbage bags (so you can’t see what’s inside) and sort the items in front of you. Use one for throwing things away, one for giving/garage sale, etc.  Follow the START method until you have gone through all the items.  You will get a peaceful feeling.”

You would then go through each space or room on your list until everything has been repurposed, reorganized, and sorted.  Even with the process broken down the idea of organizing can still be overwhelming, especially if time management is also a problem.  Fortunately there is help in that area as well.

Time Management

To begin, you will need to decide which type of personality best matches your time management style. Everyone has elements of each of these but can identify with one more than others. The importance of identifying your style is that while styles can be modified, they generally don’t change.  If a person accepts their style they can find products, systems, and support that specifically work for them.

These categories, created by Sunny Schlenger are.

  • The Hopper is someone who likes to have lots of irons in the fire but frequently jumps from task to task, running the danger of not completing any of them.
  • Perfectionist Plus person thinks they can do anything but get so involved with doing things right that they have trouble finishing, and are usually not satisfied with the results.
  • Someone who is Allergic to Details would much rather formulate plans than carry them out and is often weak on following through.
  • Fence-Sitter leaves everything to chance because they are worried they will make the wrong choice.
  • The Cliffhanger person thrives on excitement and delays everything to the last minute because they need outside time pressure to finish, which often causes them to not complete tasks on time.

Fortunately, Schlenger also has some hints for each style to help get time under control.

Tips for Your Individual Management Style

Hoppers should slow down and try to eliminate distractions and interruptions whenever possible.  A great tool for hoppers is an alarm clock or watch, which along with a schedule, can create more structure and help to set limits.

A good way to get a better handle on hopping is to identify the reason behind it.  Ask yourself why you jump from task to task – do you enjoy change?  Are you angry? Frustrated?  By working on the underlying cause you can minimize the problem areas.

Create a To Do List with 4 columns.  At the top of each column, list projects you want to work on and write down all the steps involved for each project in each column.  That way you can shift from project to project but not lose where you are.

Perfectionist Plus people should focus on things you enjoy doing the most; things that give you the most energy to tackle the other things.

A good rule of thumb is to look at the bottom line first; ask yourself what this really requires. As you plan for tasks, distinguish between high and low priority activities and allow yourself to put your perfectionist tendencies (energy) into high priority, long term items.

Say no to new tasks

Allergic to Details personality types want to create simple routines and set specific dates to do things.  This type of person will greatly improve their memory by writing things down and organizing materials.

Find someone to help.  Divide up follow-up procedures and carry them out.

Fence-sitters need to learn to evaluate their needs and desires so they can recognize opportunities when they come up.  It’s better to break things down; divide decisions into small steps with individual deadlines.

It’s helpful to get input from a knowledgeable friend or professional but also important to pay attention to your instincts as well.

Use a ranking system when comparing a number of alternatives.  Mark #1 as “essential”, #2 as “nice to have”, and #3 is everything else.

Cliffhangers do well when they create 2 deadlines; one for when it should be done for final checking, and another as the absolute deadline. A cliffhanger should think ahead and use backward planning to include all the required steps and time for each.

Keep a time log / record of how long things really take to better help plan for future tasks.

The Next Step for Homeschool Organization

Once you’ve identified your style and modified it to work in your favor how can you find a balance between what you must do and what you like to do?

Cheryl Carter offers this system: “Plan backward. Think to yourself, ‘if I want to read for 1 hour at night and go to sleep at 10, then I need to get into bed at 9, which means I need to get the kids to bed at 8 pm, which means they have to take their bath at 7 pm, which means we have to have dinner at 6 pm. In order to have dinner at 6 pm, I have to stop homeschooling by 4 pm, which may mean I have to cut down on afternoon activities, etc.”

You would plan your day all the way back to what time you need to wake up. This allows you to create a schedule that does include the things you really want to do. By giving yourself time to focus on yourself, you are able to give back to others, as Schlenger suggested.

To learn more about these methods, and to hear some great specific tips for organizing meal preparation, paperwork and mail, the clothes in the closet, and cleaning the house, as well as how to get your kids and your family involved, check out these hour-long recordings from the experts themselves:

  • Fast & Easy Organization Tips for Homeschoolers with Cheryl Carter
  • Calming the Chaos of Clutter in Your Home with Elizabeth Hagen
  • Creating a Time Management System That Works for Your Style with Sunny Schlenger was listed as a Forbes’ favorite!

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Homeschool Tips for Frustrated Parents