Home Education, Other Thoughts

Plan Now and Prevent Energy Squandering Later (a Low-Energy Homeschool Moms Post)

July 11, 2016
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] do extensive planning in the summer (at the bottom of the page, I’ll include a list of links to the most important of my planning posts from years past). I lay assignments out for every day of the year. At least, I do this to the best of my ability. I don’t print it until the week of, because I know changes might come up, and that means “corrections” in my spreadsheet. But if I have the basics already done, weekend prep consists in little more than comparing the plans to our actual week, making a couple adjustments, and pressing print. I don’t have to make that many decisions, and that helps a lot.

Because Decision Fatigue. It’s a thing.

But you know what else is a thing? Squandering energy through multitasking.

How I save energy by doing my homeschool planning in bulk in the summer -- because planning week to week involves switching costs I can't afford!

A while back, the American Psychological Association did some research on multitasking. Their conclusion was that multitasking involves something they call “switching costs” and the result is unnecessary time lost — up to 40% of your time lost!

What does this have to do with school planning?

Well, here’s how I know it works for me:

If I plan each week as we go, I spend a long time planning — it takes me at least two hours per week making decisions about which book will be read on which day or what have you. It would actually be more than that because I haven’t tried this approach in years, back when I only had one or two students to plan for. With four students, it’d take even more time!

You see, every time I plan a week, I have to spend time switching back into planning mindset — I have to get my bearings, think about where we’ve been and where we’re going (for each child!) Then, I have to make decisions about what to do each day. Then I have to make sure the spreadsheets were correct. Then I have to print. And so on and so forth. There is energy loss through decision fatigue here, yes, but more than that — there are hours and hours of time lost as well.

In fact, I estimate that, compared to my current method of designing matrices and plugging my curriculum into the boxes, the difference is HUGE! What I do now takes about five hours per child in the summer, plus half an hour total per week — or 48 hours over the course of the year. My guess is that, with all four students, I’d spend about three hours per weekend if I planned week to week, making that 108 hours over the course of the year. That is SIXTY HOURS MORE spent on planning!

Do you think I’m saving energy doing my planning in bulk? You better believe it.

The efficiency of my method has to do with the lack of task switching — meaning I pay little to no switching cost. I spend one day making a time matrix for each child. After those are ready to go, I plan for four hours of time for each child, uninterrupted. I schedule it so that I start after breakfast, for example, and end around lunchtime. Or I start after lunch and end around dinner time (and I order pizza!). I tell my children to play nicely and try not to interrupt because Mommy Is Planning. And then I start. I familiarize myself with the lengths of chapters and other necessary details as I go, and pretty soon, I’m zipping along, plugging in assignments quickly and easily.

(If you have no clue what this all means, there will be links at the bottom, as I said.)

My point is this: I have heard it said that “we are not really managing time; we are managing energy.” The truth is that we’re managing both. Time spent is energy spent, for the most part. If I can spend SIXTY less hours per year on scheduling assignments, that is really saying something.

Now, I’m not saying that my way is the only way. If you have something that is working for you, don’t change it.

But if you feel like you’re spending hours and hours each week on planning out your assignments … maybe you are. And maybe there is a better way. My way is one way. If it doesn’t sound like something that would work for you, I refer you to my friend Pam, homeschool planning expert extraordinaire. Her whole premise is that there is no one right way to plan, which is why she explains every way she can think of!

And now, for my collection of planning posts. These aren’t all of my planning posts, but they are the ones I consider to be most essential, and most representative of what I’m talking about here.

 


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19 Comments

  • Reply Handing Over the School Planning (Homeschooling High School) | Afterthoughts August 8, 2018 at 1:33 am

    […] When my son started AmblesideOnline Year 1 back in 2008, I created a simple spreadsheet. (At the time, AO did not provide the PDF schedules that are available now.) I made it for ME — it was easier to divide up the weeks and spread them out over multiple days before school started, rather than trying to figure it out and make decisions on the fly. Too many decisions made during the course of a homeschool day can really burn me out. […]

  • Reply Danielle August 3, 2016 at 1:10 pm

    I can see this working with the AO readings and such, but can you really do this with mastery-based subjects? I feel like for piano, math and handwriting especially, I am always planning on the fly based on what someone did or did not “get” yesterday or last week or whatever.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel August 3, 2016 at 4:01 pm

      Well, with those subjects I just plan to do the next thing — or review if necessary. So it’s more about setting aside a specific time in the day. My husband corrects the math for my oldest child, so that is between the two of them. Latin would be harder for me to pull off, which is why I’m happy we have Mr. Thomas. 🙂

      The general goal is to make as few decisions as possible. 🙂

  • Reply Jenny July 13, 2016 at 2:48 pm

    This. You nailed it: Switching Costs. I feel like this is LIFE with Littles. We call this start-up costs in our house. And yes, it takes so much longer. But wow! it is so eye-opening to see your math.

    And you just tell your kids to play nice and try not to interrupt?! I can’t even imagine. I’ve been trying to get chunks of time where they are supervised by someone else, but that’s really tough to arrange. So, I settle for small chunks here and there, and I’m “always prepping” says Husband.

    My questions for you… Did I miss the part where you went from plugging in the actual assignments to your average day and CT schedules? and what you adjust and print off each week? I have been using the grid on the AO site, and just cross off for the week and sometimes we have a reading or two to catch up on from the previous week. Do you use that AO grid as a starting point and print your own weekly plan?

    And a small aside, I have relied heavily on the weekly plans on the AO site, but sometimes it just happens where we don’t have a completely full week’s worth of time (a single day holiday or field trip), or we want to do exams at the end of the term, but that doesn’t take a whole week. I find myself scrunching it all into a week, but gets stressful. How do you work out partial weeks?

    I find that a huge part of my prep is researching the curriculum we do need to choose, learning about the books we will be studying (gathering tips and supplementary stuff, usually by reading hours on the forum). I hope that this will lessen one day, but I will always be doing a new year for my oldest, so maybe not.

    Sorry for the long comment. I find your blog so helpful. Thanks for helping those coming behind you! 🙂

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 13, 2016 at 3:20 pm

      Ha! “Switching costs is life with littles.” Well, put that one up on the wall because it is TRUE. This is why your husband can home after all day and (when you’re first starting out at the whole motherhood gig) you’re still in your PJs and have no idea what you did with your day. Switching costs with littles pretty much = disorientation. It’s like a state of being! Anyhow, I feel your pain. Or, at least, I remember those days and I still wince. 😉

      It has only been in the last couple years that I can tell them not to interrupt for that length of time. I guess it was once my oldest was about 12 — he could handle most things that came up, and I paid him in good food. 😉 You have to remember my youngest is almost eight, so I don’t have a bunch of neediness all over the place, for the most part. 🙂

      I don’t think I ever made a video about doing an adjustment for a week, so I think when that comes up during the school year, I’ll make one. I’ll try to find a week where I have to make a major overhaul. I’m sure that will happen once or twice. 🙂 I will say that as far as partial weeks go, I have a couple things that help. First is that I do Sabbath Schooling, meaning six weeks on and one week off. While I try not to do school during that one week, I *have* used it to finish a reading or two in the past year. Also: I don’t always do exams. I think they are an ideal, but when life gets too stressful they are, I admit, the first thing to go. Second, I also try to anticipate our schedule as much as possible. So, for example, when I’m planning, I make a note of where our weeks off are, when I’ll be traveling to speak, and so on. I know there are sometimes emergencies, but I’ve found that it is easier for me to make decisions about that type of thing in the summer versus during the year, so I try to compare my weekly charts with my annual calendar as well. Third, I *have* used a Saturday every once in a while, just to get us back into a good place. Like using break weeks, it’s something I will never make a habit of, but sometimes the best way to use a Saturday is to relieve that stress by getting things back in order, whether that be my house or our assignment schedule. 🙂

      • Reply Jenny July 13, 2016 at 6:57 pm

        So, the step of going from scheduling Average Day and CT to planning your week…. where you plug in assignments, make your chart… did I miss that part? Do you use the AO weekly plan for the most part?

        You’re so encouraging about the phase of life. We’re about to have #5, so I guess this won’t be changing anytime soon, but my oldest is now 9 and I have some hope with the progress he’s made:)

        Good pointers about flexing your weeks. This is our 3rd year doing AO (starting Y4, Y2), and after all this online inspiration from various sources, we’re taking the plunge into Sabbath scheduling!!

  • Reply Karen @ The Simply Blog July 11, 2016 at 6:20 pm

    I definitely prefer to plan the whole year up front and then make any necessary adjustments along the way. I am currently doing just that for my youngest daughter who will be doing Year 3 this year. (I’m now only homeschooling one, since my oldest graduated in May.) Getting the charts planned out for the overall term-at-a-glance (I start with the AO chart and then make any changes I need to), hopefully typing up week-by-week schedules, and getting as much pre-reading done as I can before we start school for the books that my daughter will read on her own.

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 11, 2016 at 7:38 pm

      Did your oldest graduate?? I didn’t realize! Congratulations! ♥

    • Reply Toni July 12, 2016 at 8:19 am

      AO chart? Is there a chart for each year that I have missed? If so, can you link to it? Thanks!

      • Reply Brandy Vencel July 12, 2016 at 8:31 am

        On any 36-week schedule page, there is a chart at the top that you can print. One example is here: http://amblesideonline.org/07sch.shtml Hope that helps, Toni! 🙂

        • Reply Toni July 13, 2016 at 5:39 pm

          Somehow I had missed that. Thanks so much for the info and the link!

  • Reply Dawn July 11, 2016 at 5:52 pm

    Before reading your planning posts last summer I was scheduling out our lessons every week. I have 3 children, and between us I had 4 planners: one for myself, and one for each child. Every week I would sit down and write out my plan for each child in my planner, then I would copy their assignments into each of their planners. I know, it was crazy. I was so tired of planning. Last summer, I read your planning posts, loved them, and got to work planning out our whole year. It worked and was wonderful! Our year ran so smoothly, and my planning took maybe 15 min. each week to adjust assignments and print. Such a time saver. This year I have simplified it even more, and I’m hoping it works because if not, I may be planning the rest of our year in the middle of term 1. ? Thank you so much for sharing!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 11, 2016 at 7:37 pm

      Oh, Dawn! I love that it worked for you! ♥

  • Reply Debbi July 11, 2016 at 5:06 pm

    I didn’t mean to LOL when I read this. Really I didn’t. But I did. At MYSELF! ? I was oh so skeptical of your summer planning strategy last summer. So I planned Term 1 and told my husband that if it went well I would sit down at the end of Term 1 and plan Term 2 and 3. I’m sure you can guess what happened. Term 1 was fantastic. Terms 2 and 3 didn’t get planned – and while not total disasters there were things skipped that didn’t need to be, I wasn’t prepared for the needed Year 7 discussions, etc. Today I nearly completed Year 8 planning and am so stinking happy and excited about it. This low energy mom is now looking forward to our hardest year yet with excitement and that excitement is already spilling over in to the kids. Thank you for putting yourself out there and encouraging us mom’s!

    • Reply Brandy Vencel July 11, 2016 at 7:36 pm

      Hahaha! Now I’m the one laughing! That would totally happen to me! I usually plan Circle Time one term at a time, but this year, Term 3…was never planned! So this year I’m going to try to do even all of that up front as well. As you can see, what happened to you would totally happen to me. 🙂

      And congrats on putting Y8 together! It is a great year and you’ll totally love it. 🙂

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