Hey, homeschoolers! I have learned a lot in this busy season. Homeschooling is more popular than ever. That means that business has been booming for me. That’s a good thing! But it has presented me with new time management challenges. What I’ve learned is that I need margin. That’s what I want to discuss in this episode: what margin is and how we can create it in our homeschools.
Before I do that, I want to share a resource you can use to create margin in your day: my book A Year of Living Productively. The book is my review of more than 80 different time management approaches. With this one book, you won’t have to read dozens of other books on productivity. Instead, you can turn to the approaches that are most likely to work for you, read the instructions, and give them a test yourself. I’ve been doing more experimenting during this busy season and my reviews in the book keep me from trying things that I know aren’t likely to work. You can find the book on Amazon or at grammargalaxybooks.com/shop.
Now for this week’s topic: How to Create Margin in Your Homeschool.
First, what is margin?
You might call it buffer, unscheduled time, or rest. Whatever you call it, it’s essential that we have it in our days.
God created the Sabbath as margin.
The Israelites were constantly looking for ways around the Sabbath–as though it were a punishment or a way to ruin their weekend. Instead, Sabbath is a gift. Jesus said the Sabbath was created for us, not us for the Sabbath. Sabbath is for rest. Sabbath is for time with God. And Sabbath is to remember that we are not God.
When we don’t have a day off each week, the likelihood of burnout and illness is high. Our kids need a day of rest, too. That day doesn’t have to be Sunday. If you serve the church, Sunday is a workday for you. Another day could be Sabbath for you. Yes, we tend to have other commitments on our Sabbath day. But Sabbath commitments shouldn’t be the same as other days’ commitments. So a time to visit family, attend a Bible study, or even volunteer can fit into a day of rest.
But we also need Sabbath for time with God. Attending church is an excellent way of spending time with the Lord and fellowshipping with believers. But we can use the time to do more Bible reading, prayer, and journaling. If you sing or play an instrument, Sabbath is the day to make time for this. Listen to music that fills your soul. Go for a walk. Spend time in nature.
Finally, we need Sabbath to remember that we are not God. So many times I have been tempted to work on Sundays, and honestly, I have given in. I do not trust that I can get everything done that must be done without doing that. This is my lack of faith in God. He hasn’t given me more to do than can be completed in six days. Yes, I can fritter away the time that should be dedicated to working. But even when I’ve done that and confessed it, God has been faithful to enable me to get the important things done without working on Sundays. When we take a day of rest, we are reminded that we aren’t essential. Only God is. He will accomplish His work with or without us and He commands us to rest and renew. I want you to know that I am preaching to myself here!
Establish a margin day.
Decide on a day a week that will be your Sabbath, but also give yourself a day for added margin. When we plan to accomplish too much in six days, there is no place but the Sabbath day for the overflow to go. So start planning five days of work, leaving one day as your margin day. Or, if you are planning a 5-day school week, plan four days of work, leaving a fifth day as your margin day. Saturday is my margin day.
The most difficult part of this is refusing to plan how to use your margin day ahead of time. It can become like a tax refund. A tax refund should be margin money–bonus money that adds more cushion to your account should you need it. But tax refunds are typically already spent by the time they’re received. Often they’re spent many times over! That’s what we can do with a margin day if we aren’t cautious. We can tell ourselves that we’ll skip math, that we won’t meal plan, that we won’t start on that work or volunteer project now because we after all, we have the margin day! Now we can relax. But more things will come up to interfere with our plans for the week. We tell ourselves we’ll just do our regular homeschool schedule on margin day, but what about all the other projects that have been allocated for that day? We can end up so overwhelmed on margin day that we don’t want to do anything. We blow everything off and either have to stay up late to complete time-sensitive tasks, or we begin a new week feeling behind and cranky. We may even blame our families for our predicament.
The solution is to do our best to complete our planned activities each day. At the end of the week, any legitimately unfinished tasks can be completed on margin day.
Plan a time block for margin.
To make effective use of margin day, we need margin in the rest of our days. If we try to squeeze too much into a day, we will never finish what we plan. Margin day will be overloaded. Interruptions and technical problems and underestimates of time required happen to every homeschooling family. So our days have to take that into account. Plan a block of time that will have nothing scheduled but is specifically for unfinished tasks from the day. Like margin day, this time can quickly become planned when we don’t feel like doing something now. Avoid this habit and keep your margin block open. I think of this time like a professional keeping time for walk-in customers. If you don’t keep that time unscheduled, you won’t be able to address the things that come up. You’ll be stressed out and overwhelmed.
I have struggled with keeping my daily margin time unplanned. I either tell myself I can use my margin block for tasks I don’t feel like doing now or that I’ll use it as free time. I can certainly use the time as free time if nothing has come up, but some task usually comes walking in. One of the things I’m doing to create margin in my days is to be very focused in the mornings. I am not using a traditional homeschool schedule with two high school students at home, so I have the morning hours to do my work. I have signed up for an accountability time-blocking program called Caveday. If you are motivated, comfortable being on camera via Zoom, and thrive with structure and accountability, I think you would love it. Check out caveday.org.
Create margin in your workload.
Finally, we can create margin in our workloads. I interviewed Amy Michaels about the 3-week month. I love the concept. You make progress on your goal 3 weeks in a month, leaving the half weeks of the month available as margin. Honestly, I have struggled in implement it because I have tried to stuff 5 weeks plus of work into those three weeks of a month. I keep thinking I’ll have the half weeks as margin, but I don’t. The solution is to focus on getting less done.
I’ve made some decisions about my workload that I think will help. I’m not going to produce a podcast during the margin weeks. That means I will produce 3-4 episodes a month, but never five. I am considering a haitus of my weekend newsletter and instead only sending out the podcast notifications.
Making decisions about what to eliminate in my homeschooling was always painful for me. I wanted to do it all! But I don’t want the negative effects of trying to do it all. I suspect you don’t either. When decluttering clothes, the advice is to put items into a maybe or review box for later. You’re not saying no forever but just for now. Put curriculum and activities into a maybe box to review next semester. If you need more help with this, I’ll link to my episode on curriculum overwhelm in the show notes. I’m going to put my weekly newsletter into a maybe box for next year. That feels so much better than saying I’m not going to write a newsletter anymore.
I’ve heard from several families who use Grammar Galaxy that they’re concerned it isn’t enough work. That’s what we want. We want to feel like we have margin to add other reading and writing and even fun grammar exercises to the regular curriculum. Feeling like it’s not much is what motivates our kids and us to continue. Look for ways to decrease your workload so it feels like it’s not enough. Then you’re on track to creating margin in your day. It’s easier to add than to take away.
When we have sabbath, a margin day, a margin time block within our days, and a decreased workload, we will experience the peace and productivity we crave in our homeschools.
Join me next week as we discuss how to use personality to overcome perfectionism in our homeschools.
Have a happy homeschool week!