When people find out that I have two sets of twins, the first thing they ask (after they get over the shock and collect themselves), is:
"How do you do it???"
The usual answer is "one day at a time", because it's just the easiest thing to say. But that's actually not at all true.
If I managed this big job (and I do think of this as my job) by just taking it one day at a time, I would be drowning and the place would be falling apart around me. The real answer is that I do it with lots and lots of organization and planning. I think organization is the number one key to success and keeping yourself sane with twins, and even more so if you've got more than just two kids.
Even though I'm tired, I am not stressed.
I am still exhausted at the end of every day, because my work day is often about 16 hours long. But I'm not stressed. And I think that is super important. While it's a ton of stuff, and I don't always get it all done, I do go to bed most nights feeling relaxed, because I'm confident that I've got a handle on it. I know what the next day will hold and I've got a plan for how to keep everything moving smoothly. You could just go for it one day at a time, and some people do. But I think that's just setting yourself up for way more stress than you need.
I control the chaos, so that it does not control me.
Chaos and clutter stress me out. I know that some people are able to relax in the midst of a crazy mess (both in their space and in their schedule), but I am not. I need to feel like my world is under control in order to relax. And I find that I am much more available for my kids when I am relaxed. I am much more able to focus on them and have quality time together, when I am not stressing about everything I need to get done, or feeling overwhelmed because every day life is just so crazy. Life with four little kids can seem hard sometimes.
But when I am organized, I don't feel like life is hard.
My favorite quote, which I think applies so well to a life with lots of kids, is "Organization will set you free". I really believe it is true. It is true not just for your physical space, but for your time as well. If you don't have some kind of handle on how to manage your time, then it's all going to get ahead of you very fast.
A lot of people who know that I had a long career in the software and high tech industry automatically assume that I must have some very high tech way of managing my schedule.
I've tried it all. I've tried programs and schedules and calendar apps, I've tried using task lists and spreadsheets. Don't bother telling me about your awesome online calendar tool or your app that ends all to-do lists. I've tried it all. For me, nothing works better than pencil to paper.
So here it is, my system.
A 5x8 2 page per week calendar book, pens, pencils, post-it notes, a magnetic grocery list. And coffee.
This isn't a custom calendar book 'system' that people are paying $30, $40, or even upwards of $70 for (I've seen a lot of those online, seriously). This is an inexpensive $15 planner that can be had from Amazon or Target. I've tried lots of different systems, and this is just what works best for me. I've tried different layouts, I've tried different sizes. You might think that a bigger planner would be better so that I wouldn't have to write so tiny. I tried that. It didn't work. This size fits in my purse, and a planner that I can't carry around and refer to often is just useless to me. I also tried using a separate book for my meal planning and for planning blog stuff, and that just didn't work because I didn't want to have to carry multiple things around.
This is my everything. It's my calendar, my to-do list, my meal plan. It holds my shopping lists, birthday lists, other little scraps of notes. It's cheap, it's easy, and it fits in my purse.
I should note that I do still use an electronic calendar on my phone, mostly so that my husband and I can keep each others calendars updated with important events. But this paper version is my day-to-day bible.
You can see that I have 'customized' my planner by just taking a ruler and dividing the weekdays into 3 columns.
The first column is my schedule. I don't bother to write in the stuff that happens every day: 6:15 wakeup, 8:00 breakfast, 9:04 school bus, 9:10 take twins to pre-k, 12:45 pick up twins from pre-k, 6:00 dinner, etc.... I have that stuff permanently etched on my brain. I just write in the appointments, classes, or exceptions. I also write here specific things that I need to do or places I intend to go at a specific day/time. My plans.
The middle column is for my meal plan. I don't need to write full details, just my basic plan and any notes I don't want to forget. I put a little B: L: and D: for each meal.At the top of the meal section for each day I have written my usual dinner theme for that day of the week (monday leftovers, taco tuesday, pizza on friday, roast on sunday, etc.). I make this section a few weeks ahead, so as I think of a meal idea, I just go out into the next week or two and jot it down on a day. If I'm good about doing this, then by the time I flip the page to a new week, I've usually already got most of my meals filled in. I like having this right next to my schedule because I can easily customize the meal plan based on the specific plans for each day.
The third column is my to-do list. If I think I'll get to an item on a specific day then I'll pencil it in that day, but for the most part I just use this column as a running to-do list for the week, and don't worry about what day it's written in.
The rest of the book holds everything else. I write little reminders in the blank area at the top, and on the tabbed pages with the whole month view I'll write some notes about things upcoming that I want to get done in that month (like in the April section I wrote that I need to make my girls' July checkup appointments, in October I'll note that I need to sign the kids up for ski lessons, etc.).
I addition to the calendar, lists are a critical part of my system. Children siphon off your brain cells, so my memory is not what it used to be. Nothing happens here if it's not written down. I keep a grocery list on the fridge all the time. When we get low on something, it goes on the list. I keep a piece of paper or a post-it with my list of stuff for target. I've got a post-it stuck to a page in April with thoughts on what I want to for Easter. I have a post-it on other pages with each child's name and I write down any clothing items I think of that they need, or birthday lists.
It's quite simple really, and it totally works for me. I've tried more expensive books, but I really like the style and feel of these guys. I like the spiral bound format because the pages turn easily and it lays flat when open.
The final feature I love about these books is that they have a clear cover with a slot for a photo. Every year I use this spot for our family Christmas card. I love looking at it every time I open my book.