My Strategy

For as long as I can remember, I have enjoyed taking standardized tests. I know that this makes me somewhat of an anomaly, but it’s true. When we were without internet for a few weeks after Hurricane Ike hit in 2008, I went to the library and got some GRE prep books. I had already taken the GRE – I just wanted to take the practice tests, for fun. Part of the fun of it, for me, is in the strategy involved in taking these tests – I’m definitely NOT one of these people who scored 1600 on my SAT, so my strategy isn’t perfect by any means. But I love the challenge involved in figuring out the patterns of the test, how to solve a problem without really knowing the answer, and deciding which information is important and which information is superfluous.

One of the strategies that I used when I was taking important tests – the SAT, GRE, etc. – was to answer all of the easy questions first, circling the difficult ones to come back to later. I found that this strategy worked well for a couple of reasons. First, it was encouraging to finish a large chunk of the questions in a relatively short amount of time. Second, I made sure that I would get credit for the answers that I knew! Third, I was able to spend the remaining time on the harder questions. Lastly, sometimes just stepping away from a problem that was not immediately answerable allowed me just the right amount of time to figure out how to solve it later.

A recent mess in our playroom - yikes, where to begin?!

This Monday morning, as I stare at a long to-do list of chores and a messy house, I am thinking of my strategy. Start with the easy stuff, I am telling myself, and maybe the task won’t seem as intimidating after all. I include everything on my to-do lists, from the simple to the more complicated, for two reasons: 1) If I don’t write something down, then I will forget to do it!, and 2) I am very encouraged by crossing tasks off of my list. So this morning, I will start by making a couple of phone calls, and then I will put the kids in the car to run some errands. Encouraged by crossing off these simple items from my list, I will come home and try to involve the kids in some cleaning – all of the tasks, from dusting to bathrooms, are listed separately so that I get to check them off 🙂 Also, if I don’t finish everything, at least I know that I have accomplished a lot and that I can come back later when time and energy permit.

I’m not trying to say that being a mom is the same as taking a test. There is more than one correct answer to every problem that we encounter, no one is grading us on our performance, and at the end of the day, what really matters cannot be measured in the form of numbers and statistics. However, it is also true that we can use many of the same strategies in our daily life as wives and mothers that we have found helpful in other environments – the classroom, the workplace, doing volunteer work, etc. What we do inside our homes, and how we do it, doesn’t need to be separate from what we do outside of our homes. In fact, the more we can connect the two, the better off we will be.

This week might be a good time to reflect on the work that I do every day – what is going well, and what needs some tweaking? Am I able to find joy in my daily tasks, even when I face many difficulties throughout the day, or does it seem like there is a dark cloud looming constantly over my head? How can I draw from past experiences to improve my attitude – what has brought me joy in the past, when I have found success, and what has been most discouraging to me? What are the connections to my life today? The answers to these questions will look very different for each of us, and they may be complicated. I have found it helpful to write in a journal when reflecting on these types of questions – it helps me to order my thoughts and to be honest with myself.

Blessings to all of you as we begin this week! Special blessings on Texas Mommy and her family as they prepare to welcome their newest little boy any day now – we are praying for you, Tex!

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  • Juris Mater

    Kat, interesting comparison between test-taking and home management strategies. Sometimes, though, I think I have to tackle hardest tasks first while I still have my grit. For instance, I read your post after dinner and was inspired to clean out the minivan before dark just now… you know that old filthy sticky acrobatic task that undoes itself in a week : )

    And as I cleaned, I was reflecting on your suggestion of making a very specific to-do list so that you can cross more things off. Although I might wake up in the morning and have a heart attack to see 25 things on my morning to-do list, I think it’s especially beneficial to break things into very small chunks like that because of the constant interruption of the kids’ needs. If the list says “clean upstairs bathroom sink/counter” instead of “clean upstairs bathroom”, I’m much more likely to be able to cross at least that one thing off before my 4 year old accidentally spills a full Brita pitcher on the kitchen floor. And that’s a good feeling! It’s very easy for me to feel defeated these days because of all the moving parts and frequent interruptions, I feel like a ping-pong ball, but breaking things down into small, manageable tasks could do a lot for mental health. Thank you!!

  • maryalice

    I am working off of a really detailed list this week too, and it is helping me to have a nice sense of accomplishment. I usually have the best shot getting harder things finished first, because my children work and play better alone earlier in the day. When mulching our beds this weekend, we started with the furthest bed and pushed the wheelbarrow far while we were full of energy, so that the job got easier as the day went on.

    It’s interesting, also, that you call “making phone calls” the easy things, for me those are the hardest part of my to-do list and often get pushed off. I cannot stand being on the phone trying to do business around my kids, but perhaps I should use my own strategy and “just do it” early while they are engaged with something else. I usually hold phone calls until quiet time when I am ready to sit down for a bit.

    This week, I am also grouping tasks — I have medical forms to fill out for several camps and sports, for example, and if I do them all at once they start to go faster, I can copy insurance info from one form to another instead of searching for the card each time I need to do a form.

    Oh, and I LOVE standardized tests, too! When my husband was in law school, my big personal night out would be to go up to the library once a week and do LSAT prep — then, I took a weekend alone and stayed in a hotel and took the test — with little intention of going to law school, it was just so refreshing for me to have a mental challenge when my days were all cheerios and Elmo!

  • I agree – sometimes it’s nice to get the big things tackled when the energy is there! I think that I’m talking more about Monday morning, when I wake up with a list of many things to accomplish – I could either throw in the towel and do nothing, or start small and work up the steam to tackle the harder jobs. But everyone’s personality is so different, and what works for one person doesn’t work for the other. That’s why it’s so important for us to be honest with ourselves, and to work with our strengths in all areas of life!

  • Anything that gets you going on a Monday morning is worthwhile! We have several classes outside the house on Mondays, so that we can begin our school week without actually having to do school at home, then by Tuesday we are all in better shape.

  • Just another thought about strategy, I was looking at your messy playroom picture and thinking about how I find tasks like that totally overwhelming and so I don’t start. I learned something with the weeding and mulching this weekend, though, which is parallel to your detailed “to do” list, which is to divide the area into small spaces. So, I would just sit down and think, I am going to weed this little patch right in front of me, and not think about that patch as part of a huge, overgrown bed. One little patch at a time, we got it done. This also made me more appreciative of the children’s contribution, because every little patch they could do was one less for me! By the end, we were estimating how many wheelbarrows of mulch left to finish the bed we were working on, and that made it sort of fun, I always guessed one over so that we would finish early and feel like we got off easy! Also, built in treat breaks, so we would say “finish this bed and then popsicles” or “work for 15 more minutes and then water break” That helped a ton with motivation on a huge job — it took us 4 days!

  • Kellie “Red”

    I like this approach. I tend to try to tackle some smaller things first so that I can start to feel some sense of accomplishment. I also like a very detailed list because it is so satisfying to cross things off!