One of my strengths at work is putting systems and processes in place. Whenever I see someone doing a task over and over, my mind races with, We should automate that! Or, I bet we could make that more efficient…
Looking back, I can see this skill helped me succeed as an entrepreneur. I sold my content marketing agency, for example, because we’d built systems around creating quality content.
But it wasn’t until a few years ago, when Gallup’s StrengthsFinder assessment labelled me as an “arranger,” that I recognized this as a unique strength. Once I did, I saw even more opportunities to “arrange” — putting systems in place that save time and money, clearing the way for bigger things.
I’ve applied this “arranger” mentality in my personal life, too, but with less vigor. In some ways, it felt overbearing to apply systems to my life; fun should just happen, right?
But over the last few years, the demands of both my career and my family have increased. As I tried to balance the two, I began to see the value of leaning more into systems, not only to save time and money, but to conserve something many parents have in limited supply: brain space.
2018 was a tough year for my husband and me. Lots of things went right: our two young boys are happy and growing, I enjoy my job as EVP of Content at The Penny Hoarder, and my husband’s business as a Google Sheets instructor is taking off.
But we found ourselves struggling to balance caring for the boys with two full-time jobs, and that affected our physical and mental health. We’re both in the worst shape of our lives, and my husband spent three months of the year trying to recover from pneumonia. Looking back (and after lots of tests), we now know it was all caused by not getting enough rest.
We were trying to do too much.
And we vow this year will be different.
Our boys, ages 1 and 3, now sleep through the night, and that in itself is a game-changer. Beyond that, my husband and I have talked at length about how we can do things differently.
The most effective change, we’ve concluded, would be for one of us to work part time so we have more time and energy to keep the family running smoothly.
Except… neither of us want to work part time right now. So we came up with a list of things we will do differently this year — systems we’re creating — to allow us both to continue working full time.
Here are the primary systems we’re putting in place for 2019:
This is the most important thing on our list, but the only way it will work is if we follow through on the other items, too.
To exercise regularly, we both have to remain healthy. For us both to remain healthy, we need to do less. And we’ll do less by creating systems and hiring more help.
If we can remain healthy, the follow-through on exercise won’t be hard; we both led active lifestyles before our boys were born, and we both enjoy exercise. We’ve already got a head start, as we increased our frequency of running, cycling and yoga during the last few months of 2018.
Now we’re heading into the new year with a schedule for early-morning workouts: we each get two or three mornings a week to ourselves to exercise while the partner gets the kids ready for the day. I’ve attended 6:30am power yoga for the last few weeks and already feel a difference, both physically and mentally.
When I think about what takes the most mental energy and hours each week on my list of home chores, it’s planning, shopping for and preparing meals. I feel added pressure here because we like to eat healthy. Our toddler is picky, so we’re constantly trying to come up with foods we can hide vegetables in (meatballs with minced veg, lasagna with pureed veg, zucchini bread with chocolate chips).
For a while we had groceries delivered through Peapod, Instacart or our favorite of the three, Shipt, and that was helpful. But it was also expensive, and we still had to do the brain work of figuring out what we were going to eat and then make the meals.
I’ve dreamed for a while about hiring someone to grocery shop and cook meals for us once a week. Now I have a lead on a potential candidate through Care.com. I’m excited to see what effect this change has on our family this year!
Each week as we approach the weekend, I wonder how we’re going to accomplish all the items on our family list — you know, the little things that all add up, like checking in on our finances, updating our will, planning our next trip to see family, organizing Christmas gifts, etc.
Then we scramble to find a sitter for a few hours on Saturday or Sunday morning. We live far from our families, and while they’re always willing to travel to support us, we have to hire help for most weekends if we need time without the kids.
We usually manage to find a sitter with a few texts, but it feels like this is always on our to-do list — and when we don’t manage to find someone, the family chores usually don’t get done.
So here’s how we plan to systemize this in 2019: hire a babysitter who is willing to commit to watching the kids every other Sunday or even every Sunday. There will be weeks when we prefer to do something fun as a family or we’re traveling or the babysitter can’t make it, but knowing we have help on a regular basis will take some of the burden off.
Finding this weekend sitter will take some effort, because I doubt any of our regulars will want to commit to a Sunday shift. But like with all systems, putting in extra effort up front to automate means less work going forward.
Plus, with one less to-do in my brain, I’m more present for my husband and kids.
By business, I mean *family* business.
For the first few months of 2019, my husband and I are committing to meeting for at least 30 minutes every Friday.
We’ll discuss the next week’s schedule and any changes we need to make to accommodate for doctor’s appointments, work events, etc. We’ll also review upcoming childcare needs, prioritize our family to-do list, and check-in on our financial goals.
We’ve tried these meetings before and know it works for us, so this year we want to stick to a weekly schedule; shout out to Sarah Peck for the idea!
Having a set time each week to discuss household business makes it feel less like a chore. I like cranking through our discussion points all in one sitting rather than a little bit each night. This system also lessens my anxiety (and helps me nag less) because I know we’ll review the to-do list together and decide who’s accountable for each item, rather than hoping it all gets done.
When do my husband and I get together for FUN, you ask?
We’re also trying something new this year in that camp, getting together once a week to go for a walk during lunch.
Last year we met for lunch every week or two, just to have some time to chat without the kids around, and it worked well since my husband’s office is walking distance from mine. But this year, to help ourselves reach that goal of being healthy again, we’ll walk on the waterfront instead of sitting at a restaurant. (At least until we hit the high temps of Florida summer.)
Here’s to hoping these changes result in more fun and less stress in 2019. Happy New Year!
If you’ve applied smart systems to your life, I hope you’ll share with us in the comments.