If you fail to plan, you plan to fail.
We are much busier than any generation before us. Working, paying bills, going to doctors’ appointments, feeding our families healthy meals—these are all the things we have to do during the week, not to mention the stuff we want to do, like taking our kids to the park and practicing self-care. If we don’t have an attack plan for the week, it can feel like we’re fighting a schedule hydra: Once we finish one task, two more take its place. And that’s not a fun place to be.
I’m a big believer in automation, for example, scheduling repeated tasks that take the guesswork out of my workflow. And I have a secret weapon that helps me automate my housework and curb stress for the entire week: Sunday prep.
For me, Sunday prep means spending the afternoon preparing my family and home for the next six days, then filling my own tank with the good stuff so I can be the best wife, mom and businesswoman possible.
I run my own day planner company, and when I designed my Simplified Planner, I included a Sunday prep checklist every week because I believe it can make a giant difference in our productivity and peace of mind. But more importantly, I believe this checklist carves space for the stuff that matters most—dinnertime conversations, evening walks in the neighborhood and actual face time with the people we love.
Some argue against the idea of Sunday prep because Sunday is supposed to be a day of rest. But you know what? Even though I’m busy getting ready for the week, that prep work is actually restful for me because on Sunday evening, when I’m prepared for a week, I find peace in the calm I’ve created. Lunches are made. The fridge is stocked. Laundry is folded and put away. Our family’s schedules are synced and we’re ready to tackle Monday. Granted, not every Sunday ends this way. But when it does, I feel like I have space to breathe, to enjoy the small things and to spend my week doing what my family loves.
Here are four ways you can automate your housework and breathe a little easier during the week:
1. Plan meals for the week ahead.
When I was a kid, my parents had dinner on the table at the same time every day. Looking back, I realize that my mom had an efficient system to make dinnertime run smoothly. She wrote weeknight dinners on a monthly calendar taped to the fridge, and she looked at her calendar every night so she could prep the next day’s dinner. When we all got home from work and school, Mom and Dad finished the dinner prep they began the night before, and our family ate dinner around the table and talked about our days.
Although I don’t execute my mom’s plan exactly, I follow her technique and set myself up for dinnertime success. I’m not the best cook, but with three small kids, I give myself permission not to be supermom in the kitchen. But I still plan what my family is going to eat every night. I have a friend who runs a healthy meals service, and she brings dinner a few nights a week. On Friday nights, I know we’ll have pizza on the floor (it’s a fun tradition for our family). And with three little ones, grocery delivery has been my saving grace (I love you, Shipt!).
No matter how dinner gets on the table, write out what your family is going to eat throughout the week. You’ll thank yourself for avoiding hangry dinnertime stress.
2. Tidy up for a clean slate.
Every Sunday afternoon, I grab a laundry basket and walk from room to room, grabbing anything that feels out of place. Then I sort each item by where it goes: trash can, laundry room, bedroom or elsewhere. My husband, Bryan, and I put the piles away, and voilà! With a few pairs of hands, a chore that could have taken hours to finish has taken only 30 minutes.
And Monday morning, when I walk into the living room, I’m able to breathe. I’m not immediately bombarded with tasks. Instead, I’m able to make my cup of coffee and sit for five minutes taking in the morning before the kids wake up. Bliss!
@sophie.nva via Twenty20
3. Write out a plan for each week.
Trust me: I get what it feels like to have a million things going on. As an overwhelmed new mom, I realize I have a limited capacity to hold information in my brain, and I need to write it all out to make sure I have a handle on everything.
Every Sunday, Bryan and I sync our schedules and make a plan for the week. I make a note in my planner if he won’t be home for dinner one night or if I have an early-morning meeting and need him to take our kindergartner to school. And I look over the next six days to see if I need to add anything to the grocery list for school activities or playdates.
This sounds like a super obvious solution, but how many times have you found yourself surprised by something during the week you’d forgotten about? Take a few minutes to invest in this step, and you’ll save hours of stress. The nagging feeling that you’re forgetting something will go away for good!
4. Fill your tank.
Face it: You’re good for no one when you’re running on empty. By the time you get to this step, you’ve probably prepped everyone in your family for the week ahead. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too.
Take half an hour after dinner to read a good book. Let your mind wander. Indulge in a good coffee dessert with your girlfriends. Take a long bath. Do the little things you might not have time to do during the week.
I don’t know about you, but I feel like a million bucks when my hair is straightened and my nails are painted a pretty color. And feeling just a little more put together allows me to stand a little taller and tackle the week a little better.
Identify what those things are for you. Do you feel great after exercising? Give yourself time for a long run on Sunday afternoon. Do you love cooking? Make a really delicious meal for Sunday evenings. Those little indulgences will give you something to look forward to when you need a little stress relief during a busy week.
Planning to succeed takes only a few minutes a week, but it makes such a difference for my family (and my stress level).
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in December 2016 and has been updated for freshness, accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Photo by @NataliaSolo via Twenty20