October 15, 2009 by Marci
If you’ve ever been one of the last few people in a restaurant near closing time, you know the signals. Dishes disappear from the table, the check is nudged under your elbow, and the sounds of wiping counters, sweeping floors, and straightening chairs gets louder and louder. You may not have moved yet but you’re being edged toward the door as surely as if they made one of those loudspeaker announcements: “Customers, the store will be closing in fifteen minutes…”
The workday is over. Whatever you forgot must wait until tomorrow. It’s simple logic: everyone needs to rest, and it costs too much in salary and energy to run a business continually. Unless you’ve got the megamillion budget of an always-open megastore, you need to apply the logic to your own life. Set up your own defined limits, workday hours: I call them bookends, because they keep my life from tumbling into a mess and onto the floor.
Running a household is like running a business. Whether you have another job or not, your household, and you, benefit from regular working hours. Have a home? Have a significant other? Have a pet or a kid? You are a working woman! Treating yourself as such makes life clearer and simpler. Define your workday’s beginning and end and stick to them. You will be set up for less guilt, more fun, and a simpler, saner life at home.
1. Bookends provide needed structure for you and the whole family.
Say you’re a stay-at-home Mom; your day can be as fluid and chaotic as a Colorado river, if you let it. Tame the raging rapids by setting two things in stone: first, breakfast time. 8 a.m. (or 7 or 9, just be consistent) every day, and that’s the official beginning of your workday. The second thing to set in stone is Bookend #2: Closing Time! This could be dinnertime or shortly thereafter and it is the official end of your workday.
2. Bookends set limits on the amazing, infinite, ever-expanding to do list.
The time in a day is finite, but the ability of the to-do list to expand is infinite. The only way to set a limit that will stick is to define it in time. Put your to-do items in a priority order, so you know you get to the ones that simply must be done. Tackle each item as you can, but when you hit your designated end-of-day time, close up shop as officially as they do any restaurant.
3. Bookends help you to take your job seriously.
If you have a job outside the home, you know it behooves you to show up appropriately dressed, on time, and ready to work. Why do we constantly undermine our household-business by straggling in half-dressed and ill-prepared? You know those days. A badly begun morning has a way of seeping all the way into the afternoon, and though you are exhausted from running all day, you can’t think of anything you’ve actually accomplished. That’s not a good feeling, and the counter-strategy is to take your household job as seriously as any other. If breakfast time is your start time, then you better show up dressed and ready to go. You’ll find that you’re eager to tackle what awaits you and you accomplish more in the first couple of hours than you did in an entire day on straggle-mode.
4. Bookends help you fit family requests into your plans.
You don’t see stores opening up after-hours so a customer can just dash in and grab that one forgotten item, do you? It isn’t very cost-effective for the store owner, and it isn’t cost-effective for the chief cook and bottlewasher to run herself ragged just so Junior 1, 2, or 3 (or Spouse 1) gets a forgotten pair of jeans washed or a batch of cookies made anytime. During working hours, any request may be fair game; but once your workday is over, you need to be able to relax without encountering a crisis that could have easily been dealt with during working hours. You have to train your family into this, and they won’t like it at first. Stick to your guns, though, and they’ll learn not only to respect you more but also to plan ahead a bit, to deal with their own potential catastrophes, and, above all, to put in requests before the Mom-Shop shuts down for the day.
5. Bookends give you a way to enjoy much needed, guilt-free downtime.
When you’ve gotten up and dressed and stuck to your regular breakfast hour, worked eagerly through the day, and accomplished the priority items on your list, then you can shut down the shop at closing time and relax into your downtime with a sweet, sweet feeling of work well-done and rest well-earned. There will always be more work awaiting you; this is a truism of household management and parenting! But the work will wait, and you can enjoy simply being with the ones you do all that work for.
Bookends aren’t foolproof, of course. That toothpaste incident at bedtime may still require a little help on clean-up, and a sick or scared child in the dark doesn’t get “closing time.” But dishes, dirty floors, unfolded laundry, unopened letters: they will wait. Tomorrow is a new day, and you, fortunately, know exactly when it begins.
You can find more of Annie Mueller’s writing at Sister Wisdom.com where she shares wisdom beyond her years about family, faith and home.