What a funny thing – as I sit and write this blog post, I am resisting what I really want to write about because it feels a little uncomfortable. When I dig in, I realize I can’t run from it. Here is the truth – I thrive with structure. This does not seem like a deep and dark confession but it does feel vulnerable and a bit off-trend. I resisted structure for a long time, as I think many of us do and then slowly I claimed it over the last few decades. Now, I am pretty sure that creating structure is life’s “secret sauce.” (And I know from our clients, I’m not alone.)
What am I talking about?
Let’s start with a thought experiment. When you hear the word structure what comes to mind? For some, the thought of creating structure in their life may feel limiting or rigid, others may associate consistency and rhythm with the word, and still others may be somewhere in between.
For the second part of the experiment, grab a piece of paper and pen and jot down your ongoing to-do list. Include what you need for the day – food, water, sleep, exercise, support. Expand to the other items that may be bouncing around your mind including kids, chores, food prep, job duties, creative work, etc. Now expand this list to include tomorrow and the upcoming week. How do you feel looking at that list?
There are some folks who manage their lists with ease. That said, many of us and many of our clients recognize the difficulty in balancing the components of our lives without structures such as schedules, to do lists and plans to rest on. Structure can take on so many forms. My two favorites are (1) a weekly schedule – which includes sleep schedules and self-care components and (2) a meal plan for the week.
These tools address the issues that so many of our clients are asking:
- How do I get my needs met with so many competing agendas (i.e. pregnancy, baby, kids, work, house, relationship, family, pandemic, money, sex/intimacy etc)?
- How do I organize food in a simple way? (I am always hearing “I can make dinner, but figuring out what to make is the hardest part. )
Let’s hang out here for a moment and experiment with creating these two simple structures.
As a paper and pencil person, a good-old-written-out schedule is my preference, but it can easily be created in an electronic format via your phone or computer.
If you are using paper, grab a regular printer paper size 8×11 sheet. Hold it the long way (horizontal) and fold it in half (short side to short side), and in half again and in half again to create 8 columns. In the first column, title the top self-care. Title each additional column the days of the week, Monday through Sunday across the top.
In the self-care column on the left, simply list the basics: Food, Water, Sleep, Exercise, Support as a reminder of what to include in the week. Now with a pencil, chunk out your week. Observe what you put in first… your schedule, kids schedule, exercise, appointments? Now reflect again on the left column, how can your basic needs fit into the week? Who are the support people that can help you? What needs to shift. For example, if you are aiming to exercise 2 times a week, what needs to flex to make room for that, who cares for the kids during that time, who makes breakfast or dinner that day? If you are aiming for 8 hours of sleep, what time do you need to wind down and get into bed? Work backward from there and figure out your evening plan. Play with this schedule, brainstorm alone or as a family, experiment and get creative. Here is an example:
Part of the weekly rhythm includes food. Thinking creatively about dinner at the end of the day can be a chore in itself. Simplifying and creating a structure for your family by developing a meal plan has been a useful tool for so many of the clients that we work with.
To create a simple meal plan, you can flip over the 8-column-week schedule that you just created. Now start keeping track of the meals, or just the dinners that you eat for the next week. At the end of the time period, you have a week’s menu! Simple. Repeatable. Manageable.
Other ways to create a meal plan can be thematic, for example: Mondays burritos, Tuesdays soup, Wednesday pasta, etc. Or you can create meal plans based on who cooks which night and what they can easily prepare? The point is, write it down, put it on the fridge, and repeat. Simplify the process and take the mystery and work out of thinking through meals.
We learn from research on child development that kids thrive when they have a regular rhythm – a consistent flow to their day and week including: bedtimes and wake times, mealtimes, play and school. We too, often thrive with structure. It provides the framework that we can lean on as we move through our life, creating the scaffolding that holds our self-care, the to-do lists, schedules and routines in order. Once in place, we can rest knowing that there is time and room for what needs to get done. In this way, we are giving ourselves the gift of structure that we provide for our children.
Consider your list again. Which parts feel unruly, which parts have order, which parts are hanging out in the periphery? Play with creating a structure in the form of:
- A daily or weekly schedule for yourself or family
- A Monthly Calendar or Flow
- A Meal Plan
- Sunday night check-in to prep for the week
Whichever you choose, play with it for the month. Adjust and experiment with your plan keeping in mind the goal of the strategy moves you toward greater ease. Then, grab your sticky note and write down this sound bite:
“Structure as the Secret Sauce” (just kidding)
”Structure as Support”