Wednesday, 28 May 2014

Being an efficient family

Running a family home, and family life, can seem like a herculean task at times.

With all the comings and goings, school, work, clubs, social lives, washing, cleaning, house maintenance, gardening, bill paying, car servicing, trips to the dentist and the hairdresser, all I can say is that I'm glad we no longer have any pets.

How anyone runs their life without a spreadsheet I will never know.

Families, and certainly friends of mine, can turn their noses up at having a system of dealing with all of that stuff, having a routine and protocol for almost everything, but modern life almost wills you to run your life that way.

My argument is that being organised means allows more time not to be.

I like nothing more than sitting on my backside, doing nothing, and having nothing to do.  Likewise I think it's healthy to not always have a plan, and to allow spontaneity, and that's why our best laid plans are always firmly unfixed.

Routines become habits, and as long as they get done, and get done by a certain time, it means you can stay on top of spending time together as a unit and doing as you please for at least some of your life.

As part of the E.ON Energy Saving Guide on Facebook they asked me to have a look at my own family life, and to share our experience and ideas for how we operate as a unit.  

The guide focuses on three separate areas of family life: saving energy in the home, how to become a more efficient family and tips for running an efficient kitchen.  

And here are some of my tips for being an efficient family

The biggest part of family life, or the most essential part of ensuring you can run a happy home, is knowing what each other are doing.  Effective communication is the only way to operate, and as well as helping to get a grip on things, it also helps to minimise disputes, or arguments.  How many times have you heard "Well, you never told me that!" lead to an, errrr, disagreement. 

Be open to all forms of communication, but have regular times and places for information to change hands.

Talking is the best mechanism for communication, we talk a lot as a family, but aren't always together.  It's the 'I must remember to tell them that' type of information that is always the most dangerous, or the most likely to slip through the net.  We don't have a weekly meeting yet more so we have places that we can put information like that.  With email, instant messaging and text there are loads of means of communicating with other family members.  Some are better than others, for example, I prefer emails, but my future wife goes days and weeks without checking hers.  So we only really email each other essential - need to know info - but stuff that is not in need of immediate attention, things like holiday confirmations, contact details for people we need to get in touch with at some point.  We text info a lot, but written notes are by far the most effective for us to remember things.  A note left on our kitchen island always gets quick attention as it looks out of place, and as it's a physical thing it is not as easy to forget, like one text buried under another.   You can dispose of it once it's done too.  Plus you can always put a nice doodle on a written note, and even my cold-hearted-self enjoys getting a note that says nothing more than I love you, or will be thinking of you today, or good luck with that.

Synchronise diaries.

You may laugh, but parents of any child will know that they quickly get more engagements, dates for the diary and social functions that would keep a full-time personal assistant occupied on their own.  But added to that all the others in your home, and what they are up to, life can become very chaotic if we don't where each of are, plan to and need to be each day.  When are you going to be late home from work, when does a child need taking to the dentist, when is that delivery coming?  We don't actually synchronise diaries electronically, despite my eagerness, but we do at least check with each other 'how their week looks'.  It often leads to identifying potential problems, clashes, and at times opportunities to combine things and reduce the number of trips we need to make.  For example I'll take Max to the dentist this week as I have to pick up my order from the such and such.  Has anyone every written a finer none specific example than that?

Make lists of this you need and need to do.

The back of our pantry door performs two absolutely essential jobs, make that three if we include keeping us out of there.  We have two wipe boards on it.  One of them we use to keep a list of things we've run out of, or 'need'.  I got sick of remembering, then forgetting, stuff that we needed.  Likewise it drives me a little mad if we order stuff that we don't need because we think we haven't got any.  The almost error free system works brilliantly.  If it gets put on the list, it gets ordered, bought or added to the next shopping trip we make (generally).

The second board, which is actually a magna-doodle in our case, takes care of what we're eating each day.  We plan our dinners, but I almost always forget, and having it written down on this board takes the stress of thinking about it away.  I tend to look at in the morning, decide if I have enough time to cook what's on the list, and if not I know what I can interchange it with as the other meals are there on the list, and therefore 'in stock' to cook.

Avoid the supermarket.

We live 10 miles and therefore 20 minutes from any supermarket, which by my crude reckoning means that any trip to the supermarket is going to take the best part of an hour.  An online grocery shop takes no where near that time, and plus it spares you the journey as well as the conveyor belt of hell that is waiting to pay.  I've been doing online grocery shopping for years, and have experienced the improvement in the service that each supermarket has offered during that time.  It isn't without occasional disappointment or mishap, but no more than an item not being available if you physically drove to the supermarket.  Plus I find I buy more efficiently, and there's no shame in sitting with a calculator at your computer working out what is the best deal, not that I have much of a problem doing that in stores.  So I'm saving cash as well as time, plus we can amend shopping lists as things are remembered, or added to our pantry door wipeboard!

Plan your week ahead.

It would perhaps be natural for most to think about each week during the weekend before, but we find the weekends so hectic we actually start planning next week during the middle of the previous one.  It suits us at the moment, to plan on a Wednesday, its the day that we don't have anything regularly interfering with our diary like meetings or after school clubs.  After dinner together we all put in requests for dinners next week, as well as talking about anything we have planned or need to do.  Often only takes a few moments and isn't very tiresome or feel like hard work.  Plus if we miss the opportunity to plan for next week there's little stress as we've still got loads of time to think about next week as we don't leave it until the last minute.

Take the stress out don't add to it.

The tips I've shared really work for us, but I know they won't work for everyone.  Sometimes people perceived being organised as hard-work, and can get stressed if they feel they aren't organised, or keeping diaries and systems up to date.  We aren't all about the systems here, and like I've mentioned in some of the tips, if I've written down something we need, it means I can now forget about it.  I don't stress about not having put everything we need on our pantry list.  It took a little time for some of these processes to bed in and become habitual, and I guess it depends what sort of person you are, but if trying these tips adds stress rather than takes it away then perhaps they are better ignoring.

This is a collaboration post with E.ON

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