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12 Ways to Get “Back to School” Right

12 Ways to Get “Back to School” Right

Back to School

    This week or next, your kids will be heading back to school. If your house is anything like mine, that means terror, trauma, and chaos – and that’s the good stuff!

    The first few weeks of school are probably going to throw you some curve-balls, too: your child gets bullied, the bus schedule is rearranged at the last minute (we lost a 6th grader for two hours the year before last when they changed the bus routes at the last minute!), or the teacher is “a big old meanie!” You can spare yourself the time to deal with those sudden crises by making sure that you and your children have set up an efficient system to deal with the everyday stuff of going back to school.

    Especially if the adults in your household are all working, just making sure the kids are up, fed, and ready to go to school – and home, fed, and ready to do their homework – can be a hassle in itself. Try some of these tips to take the hassle out of Back to School time, and save your energy for the unexpected crises around the corner.

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    1. Plan meals a week at a time.

    Make a list of the things you regularly make for breakfasts, lunches, and dinners, and pick 5 of each off the list every week. This will help you a) put together a shopping list that doesn’t have you running to the store every other day to pick up whatever you forgot, b) make sure your kids get a balanced diet, and c) save money by avoiding unnecessary shopping or wasting food.

    You can also save some time during morning crunch times and post-work exhausted times by cooking or otherwise preparing food in advance. We do up 5 lunch bags for each child with all their non-perishable foods – cookies, crackers, muffins, whatever. Then we only need to make a sandwich or whatever and drop in a bag of veggies and they’re ready to go.

    2. Set up a Snack Drawer.

    Instead of mounting a 24-hour death guard on the pantry door to make sure that unauthorized snacking doesn’t occur – and that authorized snacks don’t consist of piles of sweets every day – make the pantry (or cupboards, or wherever you store food) a “No Kid” zone. Instead, designate a drawer, cupboard, or even a basket on the counter as a “Free Zone” and stock it with enough treats for the week. Make sure to balance sweets with plenty of healthy foods like apples and bananas.

    Once your snack drawer is set up, let your kids pick their own snacks every day from whatever’s in the drawer. If they want sweets every day, that’s fine – after a day or two, though, there won’t be any left, and they’ll have to pick something healthier. If they want to gorge themselves on Monday, that’s fine, too – by Wednesday there will be nothing left, and they’ll face the rest of the week snack-free. Giving your kids control over their own snacking (within the parameters you’ve set up) will help teach them to regulate their own eating habits and be responsible for the amounts they eat.

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    3. Clear the bulletin board.

    Or set one up if you don’t have one. Ours is in the kitchen, and announcements and stuff needing a parent’s signature goes there – or it doesn’t get signed. The corkboard is also a “brag board”, for posting the latest masterpiece from art class or the letter announcing someone made the Dean’s List – which keeps our refrigerator door a little less cluttered.

    4. Set up the Landing Strip.

    A landing strip is a point at or near the front door for kicking off shoes, hanging backpacks and coats, and clearing the pockets. We have an entry table across from the coat closet – it’s the last thing to check in the morning and the first thing to check when you get home. Packages go there, as does mail (when the kids get it), and anything else that needs grown-up attention. More importantly, although the landing strip gets cluttered, it’s easier to straighten out the entryway than to look all over the house for a missing sneaker or dropped keychain.

    5. Start a Weekly Review and Homework Buddy time.

    Schedule a block of time once a week to sit down, with or without the kids, and go over the upcoming schedule and iron out any problems that have emerged over the week. We do this when we plan meals and write up our grocery list.

    Also, schedule at least one block of time each week for homework help. Spend some time helping, or just reviewing the work they’ve done recently. This is your chance to take an interest in what they’re learning – and maybe to show them that it’s not all quite as useless and stupid as they think, especially if you can show how you use the same topics in your own work.

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    6. Do a false run.

    If you have the time, get up one morning as if it were a school day and run through your morning routine. This will help you identify any bottlenecks (our 12-year old is going to take a little longer this year because she has discovered eyeliner!) and also start getting the kids into the habit of getting up early again. In fact, it’s not a bad idea to do a full morning routine each morning in the week leading up to the start of school – so that, while  you’ll still have to deal with all the trauma of actually going back to school, you won’t have to deal with it at the same time that the kids are recovering from a summer of sleeping in.

    7. Update your emergency contact and pick-up information

    Make sure the school has current information to reach you at work or on your mobile phone if they need to. Also, designate a couple of trustworthy adults – a boy- or girlfriend, a grandparent, a close neighbor – to pick up your kids in case you can’t, and give their information to the school. Some schools require information like Driver’s License numbers or photos – make sure they have whatever you need. The time to discover that your best friend can’t get your kids from school is not when you’re in the Emergency Room following a workplace accident.

    8. Set up a Homework Zone

    Clear a place – in their room, in an unused room, in a quiet corner, or even at the kitchen table – where the kids can do their homework, and stock it well with pencils, pens, markers, paper, and other supplies. Put everything into a basket that can be easily moved if the Zone is needed fro something else (like actually eating on the kitchen table). Establish clear rules for behavior around the Homework Zone – for example, kids that don’t have homework have to stay out of the Homework Zone until everyone is finished.

    9. Update your address book

    Get the phone number and email of all your kids’ teachers, and their room number (in case you have to have a child pulled out of class in mid-day, it will save time if you can tell the school what room they’re in). Also get the front office, principal’s office, and nurse’s contact information. All this goes up on our bulletin board, and also into everyone’s phones.

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    10. Stick a box of school supplies in a secret place.

    Avoid the inevitable “I have to do this by tomorrow, we have to go to the store now!” emergencies – instead, keep a box full of school supplies in a “secret place” (your bedroom closet, for instance). Put pencils, paper, spare scissors, glue (stick and white), a ruler, and anything else they need in the box and forget about it – until the emergency comes, when you can just say “give me a minute” and pop upstairs to get whatever’s needed.

    11. Add school dates to your calendar.

    Add the dates for Parent-Teacher conferences, Teacher Development days, and any other school holidays to your calendar now, so you won’t have to count on the kids to bring notices home later. Also add any field trips, school events, or recitals the school informs you about at the beginning of the school year.

    12. Assign “first thing” chores

    If you can’t trust your kids to have the good time-sense to get their chores done before dinner or before bedtime, assign them “first thing” chores – chores to be done “first thing” when they get home. In our house, take out the trash is a “first thing” (and bring the trashcan in on trash days), as is clear the dishwasher and straighten the downstairs bathroom. They won’t always remember, but after a few reminders they’ll start to get things done without being told. One small step for parenthood…

    Do you have any tips for the first week or so of the school year? Let us know in the comments.

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    Last Updated on September 10, 2019

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    How to Master the Art of Prioritization

    Do you know that prioritization is an art? It is an art that will lead you to success in whatever area that matters to you.

    By prioritization, I’m not talking so much about assigning tasks, but deciding which will take chronological priority in your day—figuring out which tasks you’ll do first, and which you’ll leave to last.

    Effective Prioritization

    There are two approaches to “prioritizing” the tasks in your to-do list that I see fairly often:

    Approach #1 Tackling the Biggest Tasks First and Getting Them out of the Way

    The idea is that by tackling them first, you deal with the pressure and anxiety that builds up and prevents you from getting anything done—whether we’re talking about big or small tasks. Leo Babauta is a proponent of this Big Rocks method.[1]

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    Approach #2 Tackling the Tasks You Can Get Done Quickly and Easily, with Minimal Effort

    Proponents of this method believe that by tackling the small fries first, you’ll have less noise distracting you from the periphery of your consciousness.

    If you believe in getting your email read and responded to, making phone calls and getting Google Reader zeroed before you dive into the high-yield work, you’re a proponent of this method. I suppose you could say Getting Things Done (GTD) encourages this sort of method, since the methodology advises followers to tackle tasks that can be completed within two minutes, right there and then.

    Figure out Your Approach for Prioritization

    My own approach is perhaps a mixture of the two.

    I’ll write out my daily task list and draw little priority stars next to the three items I need to get done that day. They don’t need to be big tasks, but nine times out of ten, they are.

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    Smaller tasks are rarely important enough to warrant a star in the first place; I can always get away without even checking my inbox until the next day if I’m swamped, and the people who need to get in touch with me super quickly know how.

    But I’m not recommending my system of prioritization to you. I’m also not saying that mine is better than Leo’s Big Rocks method, and I’m not saying it’s better than the “if it can be done quickly, do it first” method either.

    The thing with prioritization is that knowing when to do what relies very much on you and the way you work. Some people need to get some small work done to find a sense of accomplishment and clarity that allows them to focus on and tackle bigger items. Others need to deal with the big tasks or they’ll get caught up in the busywork of the day and never move on, especially when that Google Reader count just refuses to get zeroed (personally, I recommend the Mark All As Read button—I use it most days!).

    I’m in between, because my own patterns can be all over the place. Some days I will be ready to rip into massive projects at 7AM. Other times I’ll feel the need to zero every inbox I have and clean up the papers on my desk before I can focus on anything serious. I also know that my peak, efficient working time doesn’t come at 11AM or 3PM or some specific time like it does for many people, but I have several peaks divided by a few troughs. I can feel what’s coming on when and try to keep my schedule liquid enough that I can adapt.

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    That’s why I use a starred task list system rather than a scheduled task list. It allows me to trust myself (something that I suppose takes a certain amount of discipline) and achieve peak efficiency by blowing with the winds. If I fight the peaks and troughs, I’ll get less done; but if I do certain kinds of work in each period of the day as they come, I’ll get more done than most others in a similar line of work.

    You may not be able to trust yourself to that extent without falling into the busywork trap. You may not be able to tackle big tasks first thing in the morning without feeling like you’re pushing against an invisible brick wall that won’t budge. You might not be able to deal with small tasks before the big tasks without feeling pangs of guilt and urgency.

    My point is:

    The prioritization systems themselves don’t matter. They’re all pretty good for a group of people, not least of all to the people who espouse them because they use them and find them effective.

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    What matters is that you don’t fall for one set of dogma (and I’m not saying Leo Babauta or David Allen preach these things as dogma, but sometimes their proponents do) until you’ve tried the systems extensively, and found which method of chronological prioritization works for you.

    And if the system you already use works great, then there’s no need to bother trying others—in the world of personal productivity, it’s too easy to mess with something that works and find yourself unable to get back into your former groove.

    “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

    In truth, this principle applies to all sorts of personal productivity issues, though it’s important to know which issues it applies to.

    If you thought multitasking worked well for you each day and I’d have to contend that you are wrong—multitasking is a universal myth in my books! But if you find yourself prioritizing tasks that never get done, you might need to reconsider which of the above approaches you’re using and change to a system that is more personally effective.

    More About Prioritization & Time Management

    Featured photo credit: Sabri Tuzcu via unsplash.com

    Reference

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