Episode 309 | Planning by Looking Back and Looking Forward
Sitting down to plan priorities for the new year can be simple and fun. I hope you'll be able to find a quiet afternoon when you can look back at the previous year and forward to the next. Join us today for a few simple questions and ideas that can help you create a more peaceful, priority-focused year.
Janice Campbell, a lifelong reader and writer, loves to introduce students to great books and beautiful writing. She holds an English degree from Mary Baldwin College, and is the graduated homeschool mom of four sons. You’ll find more about reading, writing, planning, and education from a Charlotte Mason/Classical perspective at her websites, EverydayEducation.com, Excellence-in-Literature.com, and DoingWhatMatters.com.
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Janice Campbell [00:01:09] Hi, I'm Janice Campbell, and today we're going to talk about planning by looking back and looking forward. One of the things I love about the New Year is the opportunity to look back at what has been working well, to look forward to what I might do to keep our family priorities in focus. I don't do this just at New Year's, though. I also revisit this type of planning in June after our school year is typically over. There are three parts to my year-end planning. First, looking back at the previous year, asking some questions to see what worked and what didn't. And then second, choosing three priorities for the year, the week, and the day. And finally, adding in or refining a few of my simple routines to make repeating tasks happen almost without thinking about them.
[00:01:58] First, let's walk through a few of those questions that I like to think about at the end of each year. Sometimes I just skim through them and jot a few notes. But if it's been a hard year, I'll usually journal through the questions that seem most challenging. So first, some questions that are more, well, philosophical in nature, perhaps. And then a few practical questions. You'll probably have other questions you want to add that fit your family situation.
[00:02:27] First: what were the greatest joys of the past year? This is an opportunity to think about what I'm grateful for, what I would like to repeat, what was amazing and who contributed to our family's life in the past year. Second: what were the most difficult challenges of the past year? Was there anything that I did that contributed? Is there anything that I can do in the coming year that might help us avoid some of those challenges? Do we need to get outside help in order to avoid some of the challenges, especially if they were academic challenges for the children? Third: was I able to stay focused on the priorities set at the beginning of the past year? If so, how did it work? What did I do right if I didn't stick with those priorities? What changed? Did the priorities change? Or did something go wrong and make it really hard to stick with it? A lot of times we feel like we have maybe failed over the past year when something didn't go as well as we were hoping. But if you really look at it, a lot of times you realize there were certain things that change that made your ideal vision quite impossible. But you know what? There's always a new year. So keep going. Figure out what happened and help yourself move forward.
[00:04:01] Number four: have you remember to work toward a home atmosphere that encourages love and learning? And do you have any special ideas for doing more of this? You know, Charlotte Mason said, "Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, and a life." And I remember that, especially when planning, because atmosphere comes first. Atmosphere is something the environment in which we swim, the air that we breathe. Everything that happens creates an environment. Children remember how we make them feel more than the things that we do a lot of times. So if there are things in your home atmosphere over the past year that you feel could use a little work, maybe make a little plan for addressing some of those things. And if there are things that are wonderful, encourage them, do more of them. It's a simple thing, but atmosphere changes a whole lot of things.
[00:05:03] Number five: what small things can you incorporate in your daily routine to express love to your husband and to each of your children? Sometimes it's a small thing, just like having coffee ready when morning happens. That's one of my love language things. I told my husband early in our marriage that if I wake up and there's coffee ready, I know somebody loves me, and there always is coffee ready. But communication does help with that. But how can you help your husband and your children to each feel loved? Or anyone else that you live with if you're caregiving for an older relative or whoever. Expressing love and helping others feel loved is contagious, and it helps to create that home atmosphere in which everyone begins to more easily express love for one another.
[00:05:59] A little bit harder question is number six: are you carrying any burdens of anger or unforgiveness? I've had to look back at previous years and find whether those things have been a stumbling block to me because releasing those things free you to focus and to grow. And you can't change anyone else's attitude but your own. But love, kindness, and forgiveness in the home can eventually be contagious. If there's difficulties of any kind, you may need help with releasing those difficult things. And that's okay, too. A wise and trustworthy older friend, a pastor, a counselor can help you find your way. It's really worth trying to release anger or forgiveness or the things that hold you back, because there's nothing gained by dwelling on any of those things. And there's so much gained by focusing on the atmosphere of love, caring, and joyfulness in the home.
[00:07:06] And then three practical things. The first: have you remembered a schedule in a bit of time alone each week to refresh your mind and spirit and renew your focus? I'm an introvert, and so I really had to do this in order to survive, maintain my sanity, whatever. And my outside time actually sometimes coincided with the boys' outdoor time. And so you can coordinate those things to give yourself a little bit of quietness and relief, even if you're an extrovert. Sometimes it helps to have that quiet space just to recapture your vision and refresh yourself for the second half of the day.
[00:07:50] Second, what outside activities is your family doing? What have you done over the past year, and do any of those things need to be pruned so that you can refocus on family priorities? One of the things that I have found is that activities tend to multiply. I find it easy to say yes a whole lot easier than saying no, and sometimes I do too many things. And then my priorities suffer. And so what I'm hoping is that if you look at your past year, what things have helped you do more that appeals to your priorities and what things have been a stress and distraction or a burden? When our boys were young, I rarely did co-ops. We didn't do a lot of going out because I found that all of those things distracted from having serene school days. The outside time, the thinking time, the keeping time, and the reading time that was important for the boys' development at that point. You might find something similar. Being at home is a wonderful thing, and you can get so much done and you can create a lovely atmosphere.
[00:09:04] So third and final of the practical questions: if you're working towards something special for your family, such as a long road trip, what steps have you already completed? What remains to be done? How can you prepare even if this is a goal in the future? It takes a long time sometimes to plan, and one of the things that we did when my boys were young was to take a long road trip around the country. We were on the road for two months, and that was just me and the boys, not my husband who bravely stayed home and worked so that we could afford to do this. But we retraced the Erie Canal. We saw lots of the historic national parks and things like that. But it took a bit of planning, and it was so much fun when we did it and we were on a teeny tiny, teeny tiny budget. So we had to plan how to camp and make our own food and all of those things as we traveled. It was well worth doing. But if you plan far enough ahead accumulating what you need and doing the things that you need to do can be spread out and not be stressful.
[00:10:23] So once you finish thinking through those questions and any others you want to ask, you'll have a snapshot of where you've been and where you would like to go in the coming year. The key to moving in the right direction is to not overwhelm yourself with a thousand new things to do, but to begin with only three simple priorities for each day, each week, and each year. So your yearly priorities are not a to-do list at all. They won't instruct you to fold the laundry or do 15 sit-ups a day or teach lesson 31 in math or whatever. Instead, they keep your mind focused on outcomes that reflect your heart's desire for your family.
[00:11:08] Your weekly and yearly priorities are where you decide on the activities that move you toward the heart's desire. The weekly and daily priorities Sorry, but your yearly priorities can be something as general as show love to husband by making his favorite cookies or show love to children through various ways. Just a small list of things that you can choose from. Or just create a nourishing home environment by having a tidy-up period before each afternoon before dinner. Something of that nature so that you can just have ideas in your head for what that year should hold. Perhaps you can also have in your yearly priorities, "take that long road trip" or "do another big building project" or something of that nature.
[00:12:07] Your weekly priorities will be more specific, perhaps help Jimmy with job hunting. Teach Adry and Anna how to load the dishwasher. Finish reading Charlotte Mason a philosophy of education. All of that are general things that can happen through the course of a week, and you don't have to decide all of your weekly priorities at the beginning of the year obviously. You can decide, perhaps for the first two, three, or four weeks of the year that your priorities will be certain things. However, as the year goes on, you will just revisit each month or at the end of each week and set new priorities for the week.
[00:12:50] Your daily priorities are usually set once a week. I used to do this on Sunday afternoon, sit down with my planner and make a plan. Look at my yearly priorities, look at my weekly priorities and create really targeted goals. Print six copies of Jimmy's resumé. Work with Adry on loading the bottom rack of the dishwasher or read Charlotte Mason during the after lunch quiet time. The Daily To-Do list will probably contain more items than this, but if you know your priorities, you can do them first. That way, if someone gets sick, the basement floods, or great Aunt Emma drops in for the afternoon, you'll be at peace knowing that at least the most important things have been accomplished.
[00:13:37] Finally, there are routines. Things like meals, laundry and school are important. But because they're daily and ongoing, they should be part of the normal daily routine and not items on your priority list. Tasks such as laundry can have designated days and times that don't change so that everyone in the family knows what to expect when. My grandmother always washed on Monday and ironed on Tuesday. But with four boys, I washed at least two days a week and ironed rarely. However, I planned other routines such as a quiet time after lunch so that we could all rest, keeping time one afternoon a week so that we could write in commonplace books in nature journals, and outdoor time daily for an exercise and sanity break. Exercise for the boys, sanity for me.
[00:14:26] You can rethink your routines at the beginning of each year, but once they're set, they'll help you to easily and automatically do the next thing. The key to being successful with routines is to remember that if part of the routine is missed one day, it can be picked up the next day. If it's missed too often. Perhaps it or something else can be discarded. Our days shouldn't routinely be overfilled, as that doesn't leave time for special events, emergencies, or just having fun with your family. Spontaneous fun is valuable. It's a joy. If it snows, go outside, make snowmen and snow angels and have snowball fights. If you have other surprise things that happen, don't stress. Just do the next thing the next day, and you'll be fine.
[00:15:20] Overfilled days can lead to stress and exhaustion, and that creates a tense, uncomfortable atmosphere when you really want joy and growth and peace. In everything you do, remember that people are more important than things. Kissing your toddler's boo boo or looking at the snake your son just spotted is much more important than getting the last speck of dust off the furniture before company arrives. Many things go into loving our husbands and our children and our other family members, and many, perhaps most of them, relate to atmosphere and attitude rather than activities. As moms, we can choose to be like Mary each day and choose to focus on love, which is the better part for that's what will endure.