Today we’re proud to welcome wife, mom, novelist and a lot of other things, Marybeth Whalen!
As a novelist and mother of six, I often hear the question, “How do you do it?” I can honestly say that– most days– I don’t have a good answer for that. Every day is different and every day is a crapshoot as to what I’m able to get done. Some days I have to focus more on my family and some days I have to focus more on my writing. And somewhere in all of it, a balance is struck.
One way I keep track of all I have to do is by keeping meticulous lists. I have learned that if I don’t write it down, it’s probably not going to happen. While I was always a pretty conscientious student and kept track of my homework and the like, I never kept lists like I have learned to with a family. I thought today I’d share with you the lists that have helped my life go just a little easier.
The menu list: This is a cheapie write on/wipe off board that hangs on the side of my fridge. About once every week to ten days, I sit down in my kitchen (near the fridge and pantry so I can check ingredients and in close proximity to my shelf of favorite cookbooks) and make out my menu for anywhere from 5 to 7 meals. I write down what ingredients I will need for each meal and– ideally– go shopping shortly afterwards while everything is fresh in my mind. It’s a wonderful feeling to start a Monday with a stocked pantry/fridge and a list of what we’re eating for the whole week, knowing there will be no frantic “It’s 5:00 do you know what your family is eating?” moments. It’s well worth the 1-2 hours this takes me to do. Planning menus also saves money. I’ve learned to write in a few “GYO” (Get Your Own) and “Planned Overs” nights to use up the leftovers and stretch my week of meals even longer. Whoot! (It’s the little things in life, right?)
The grocery list: This is a magnetic pad that hangs right next to the menu board on my fridge. If I use up something, it goes on the list. When I’m planning meals, needed ingredients go on the list. If the kids need school supplies, they go on the list too (because I can usually pick up most items at the grocery store). I’ve also worked hard to train all of my children to add anything they use onto the list as well and to include special items they might need for school projects or any cooking they want to do. Brownie mix anyone? This habit is something that they actually do because it benefits them. If they want kosher dill pickles for their sandwiches or eggs so they can bake those brownies, they know that if it’s not on the list, it won’t happen.
The project list: This is a spiral bound 5X7 notebook that contains my life. I used to only keep a daily to-do list (more on that in a minute) but I found that when I had bigger things that needed to be addressed in the future, I had nowhere to record those. So I started jotting things down in a project notebook… and more things started getting done. I hardly ever forgot things and found that this pretty rudimentary piece of equipment was actually invaluable. Now this notebook holds notes about things the kids need for school (field trip money due next week– exact change required!), deadlines for my writing (apply to that literary festival– due date is this Friday!), and reminders to take care of issues with She Reads, my women’s fiction website (follow up on those guest post requests!). If something is a ways away from needing to be done, I simply turn a few pages ahead, knowing that future me will be glad for the reminder. And present me is just glad to not have to deal with it now.
The daily list: This list holds what I consider my assignments for the day. I treat this list as if my boss wrote it and expects it to all get done by the time I go to bed. Though I don’t really have a boss per se, I do have people who expect things from me. Because I want to be someone who does what she says, that list is key. It helps me stay accountable to the promises I have made– to my family, my friends, and the people I do business with. If it makes it onto the daily list, it’s likely going to get done. Through trial and error, I’ve learned how long the list can realistically be without being overly ambitious and overwhelming myself in the process. And so I know if there are much more than a certain number of lines filled I’m just being ridiculous– it’s time to start a page for tomorrow.
The random list: And then there are the lists for all the other stuff of life. The list of books I want to read. The list of songs I need to put on my iPod. The list of gift ideas for my kids. The list of titles for books, character names, and story ideas. For those I keep small pads of paper in my car, my nightstand drawer, etc. I’ve learned that paper should always be close at hand.
A long time ago, a wise woman taught me “Think once and write it down.” That concept has freed me in many ways. Once I write it down, it creates more space for the many other things fighting for space! Brain space is at a premium for me, and I suspect I’m not alone. If you need to create more brain space, then maybe you’d like to become a champion list maker too!
Marybeth Whalen has been married for 21 years to Curt and they are the parents of six children ranging in age from 20 to 7. She writes novels in her “spare” time and runs a site called She Reads http://www.shereads.org. She also maintains a personal blog at http://www.marybethwhalen.com. You can find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter too!