16 July 2011

Finish the Job, Finish the Job, Get It DONE!

Dear Lissy,
We worked hard today!  The boys and I trimmed all of the grass and pulled weeds on the narrow strip outside the fence, and then we reworked the area where they pulled out the sidewalk last year.  Moving rocks is good exercise!  We spent a little time in the garden weeding and harvesting, too.  You and I banked over 60 cinnamon rolls for the freezer, and pushed through Saturday housework.  I'll touch up our Sunday clothes and pack totes for the trip north before I turn in this evening.  As we worked and cleaned, I thought about this simple principle I learned when I was first trying to keep house.

There are three parts of every task:  Prepare, Perform, and Put Away

Whether you're making cinnamon rolls or doing yard work, you need to spend a few minutes in preparation for the task so you won't have to break your concentration and rhythm to go get something halfway through.
Cinnamon Rolls 
Pull out the recipe.
Put on an apron to protect your clothing.
Draw a sink full of hot, soapy water or make sure there's room in the dishwasher.
Gather ingredients.
Prepare the pans and clear space in the freezer.
Gather tools and check that they are in good condition.
Put on work clothes, sunscreen, and a hat; fill water bottles
Line a trash can for weeds and refuse.
Bring a gathering basket and the tote of garden tools EVERY TIME you step into the garden.  There's always something to be done/harvested.

Any task from ironing clothes to making cookies will go much more quickly and efficiently if you take just a minute to make sure everything you need is at hand.

Multi-tasking is highly overrated.  Focus on the job and you can get done in a quarter of the time it takes if you're trying to do three things at once.  If you're waiting for a load of laundry to dry or bread to rise, set a timer and begin the next thing you need to do.   One of your brothers was using my cell phone to listen to Pandora while we worked and kept stopping to see the names of songs he liked.   No, Sir!  Not on my time. In home education there's a huge temptation to sharpen pencils, find the red-purple crayon that's missing, take a water or bathroom break, or just daydream. Resist the urge.  Stay focused and finish quickly.

The ability to focus and work hard until a job is finished is one of the most important lessons you will ever teach your children.  

Need a few more minutes in your day?  Learn to perform work ahead.  It takes the same amount of time to prepare and put away whether you do one day's worth of work or five.  We made 64 cinnamon rolls today, which took the same amount of time to prepare and clean up from as making 16.  I'll have enough frozen cinnamon roll "pucks" for Sunday breakfast for the next 6 weeks, but I only added the extra time rolling and slicing -- about 10 minutes.  If I made cinnamon rolls every week, I'd have added 30 minutes preparation (times 6 weeks =  3 hours) and 10 minutes of clean-up (times 6 weeks = 1 hour).  By quadrupling the recipe and freezing extras, I've given myself over 4 hours of extra time on Saturday for the rest of the summer....and that's just ONE thing I've done ahead.   

Put Away
The job isn't done until everything is cleaned up and put away in it's proper place!  Can you even imagine the mess at the end of the day if we left everything out we had used to complete all of our tasks?  

This is probably one of the biggest frustrations I face as a parent, and I have to re-teach it several times a week.  The same brother that kept checking Pandora came in and made a pitcher of lemonade.  The pitcher, the spoon, the lemonade, and several spills from pouring lemonade for everyone covered the kitchen table when I came back in.  I appreciated his heart in serving his overheated family refreshing beverages, but he had to come back inside and "finish the blessing" by cleaning up the mess he made.

"Put Away" was my Waterloo as a young bride.  I'd iron our outfits, and leave the iron, the spray bottle, the starch,  and the ironing board set up in the middle of the living room.  Laundry got run through and then left in baskets instead of being folded and put away.  I'd bake cookies...then dinner....then t.v. snacks and leave all the dishes in the sink full of water -- a BAD idea in Florida. I was working full time, so you can imagine what our house looked like by the end of the week.  It took all day Saturday just to clean up.
  • Washing dishes?  They need to be dried and put away, too!
  • Yard work?  Dry and put away all the tools.
  • Gardening?  Wash and process the vegetables and put the clippings in the composting bin.  Dry and put away tools, garden clogs, and baskets.
  • School time?  Grade and record all papers, file any work for portfolios, and make sure all work areas are neat and ready to go for the next day.  
  • Getting ready in the a.m.? Put away nightclothes, hangers,  hair tools, make-up, and wipe down the sink.
  • And the list goes on forever...
Teach your children at a young age when they're done playing with one toy/game/puzzle that it has to be picked up before they move on to the next toy/game/puzzle and you won't have a playroom or bedroom mess that takes hours to clean up.

You aren't "done" until you've put everything away!!!!

This is another place you can "buy" time.  If you put things away grouped together how you'll use them the next time, you've got half of your preparation already done.  A cleaning tote instead of a shelf with cleaning supplies, setting up a baking center in your kitchen, placing outfits together (complete with accessories, Anne Ortlund style) instead of individual garments are all examples of this principle.

I'm at a busy stage of life right now and need every extra minute I can find.  With five people living in our home, it gets cluttered quickly if we aren't all careful to keep picked up after ourselves.  But the biggest messes are often caused by half-completing tasks and then leaving the clean-up for later...school, meal preparation, laundry, crafts, and yardwork all contribute to the disaster.  We have to do all three parts of our tasks, or we'll be neck deep in debris.

Love you bunches, my little worker bee,


  1. Thank you so much for this post! I really needed to hear this, and I'm determined to start applying these three steps to my daily tasks.

  2. An excellent post, one my DH dearly wishes I would finally learn. Thanks for the reminder lesson.

  3. Thank so much for this Idea. I have 4 sons and I homeschool them. I was NEVER taught how to do really anything by my mother. So now I am seeing the sad effects of that in my life. I am having such a hard time keeping anything together these days. We are in Chaos and it is hard for me to train myself this late in life. Although, I know I can do all things through Christ how gives me strength! praying I can pull it together! I really do appreciate you caring enough about your daughter to teach her these important trates, trust me her husband will thank you! Well your 3 idea is great, Im gonna start doing that. Thank you so much! Blessings from Colorado :)

  4. When my husband pastored he made a point during both preaching and counseling that God only gives commands where our flesh will tend to go other ways. Managing a home well, the elusive meek and quiet spirit, loving (literally "liking" or "friendliness" toward)our husbands and children are not natural to most women, including me.
    Satan knows the power of a well-run home, a tranquil, controlled mother, and a devoted wife. He will actively work against us in all those areas, as will our flesh with simple self-indulgence.
    If you feel overwhelmed, I highly recommend the Beautiful Life Manager program from hisgraceworks.com. It was written by a young lady who married a widower with 4 teenaged kids and then had three of her own in just a few years. The seminar CD's take the better part of a day to listen through, but you could do it in the evenings or early mornings if necessary. The Day Planner is far and away the best I have seen for stay at home moms. It focuses on relationships, not accomplishments and is very gentle to an overwhelmed soul. That said, it keeps the home looking very nice and getting better each day! The initial cost is about half of a Franklin Covey or Daytimer type system - $40.00 or so, but the refills are very inexpensive.
    I hope at sometime in the near future to write a Dear Lissy letter that will give her a tool for the future when (not if...it will happen!) she's weeks, months, or even years behind and overwhelmed.
    Keep in mind as you read along with my letters that I'm training her over the course of years and that my own home goes through cycles, too. It matters less where you are and more where you are headed!