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Overscheduling Syndrome

As Published In Professional Organizers Blog Carnival
Overscheduling Syndrome

I was at an organizing client’s house, talking to her about trying to get her schedule under control, when her teenaged daughter showed me a science project she was working on — “Why I’m So Tired All The Time.” Was it sugar intake? Too much TV? Turns out she just had too damned much to do!

What Are We Teaching Our Children?

As this tenth-grader rattled off her list of daily activities, the problem was apparent. She rose at 5 AM for school and stayed a couple of hours late each day for a different extracurricular club. She then had either soccer practice or dance class, and spent another two-to-three hours a night on homework. She would fall exhausted into bed around 11 PM, get six hours of sleep, and start all over again the next day. By Friday night, she was so wiped out that she slept all weekend, just trying to recuperate.

Does this sound familiar? Are you inadvertently pushing your kids too hard, asking that they fit more than is humanly possible into a 24-hour day? I’m sure you’ll say you don’t mean to, that you can’t help it. As adults, we aren’t very good at recognizing our limits — and we’re passing this disability on to our kids. We try to do too much, set unreasonable expectations for ourselves, and walk around feeling overwhelmed most of the time. Our children see us in action and mirror our behavior — doing what they’re taught.

Passing On Your Bad Habits

What most kids are mirroring is overload. In simply raising our offspring, we’re creating a new generation of stressed-out, over-committed adults — but we have the ability to change this by consciously adjusting our attitude toward time. Start by recognizing that you can’t do everything, no matter how hard to try. Take a second to figure out your own priorities, then bring your behavior into alignment with those values. The key to teaching your children good time management skills is for you to learn them, first. “Do as I say do, not as I do” just doesn’t cut it with kids. You have to show your children that you are in control of your schedule (not the other way around).

When you want your child to have every opportunity, it’s easy to go overboard. But when their days are filled with structured “enrichment,” there’s no time to explore, daydream, and just be a kid. I find it disturbing that children can’t even knock on a friend’s door and ask if so-and-so can come out — they have to schedule a “play date” in advance I’m not sure when society collectively abandoned the idea of goofing off as part of growing up, but it’s not a bad tradition to try and bring back. Leave some unscheduled time in your child’s day, even if you have to limit the extracurricular side to do it — they’ll thank you for it later when they grow up to be more balanced adults.

Practicing What You Preach

If you tell your kids that family is important but find yourself working 80 hours a week, they will get the message — just not the one you intended. Do you really want to live your life like a cheesy Harry Chapin song? Set aside at least one evening and one weekend day as “family time” no one is allowed to schedule anything else so you can actually enjoy each other’s company. Even you just order pizza and play board games, you will be teaching your kids  how to make room for life’s true priorities.

The other issue is one of planning ahead and planning together. Have you ever had one of those frustrating days when no one in your family knows what anyone else is doing? At the last minute, Tommy asks for a ride to soccer practice, and Susie needs three dozen cupcakes for the class party tomorrow — but Mom has a meeting that she can’t get out of and Dad has to work late tonight. Chaos! Sit down together as a family once a week and plot out each person’s schedule for the next seven days. Hang a wall calendar in a high-traffic area like the kitchen, and record each person’s activities in a different color pen (blue for Tommy, red for Susie, green for Mom, purple for Dad). You will immediately be able to see and correct scheduling conflicts, plan ahead for upcoming events, block off your “family time,” and even plan the week’s meals. Just be firm about your policy. If it isn’t on the calendar, there is no popping up at the last minute expecting everyone else to rearrange their schedules. When Tommy forgets to tell you that he has a ball game on Wednesday night and you’ve already planned to go to your book club, don’t cancel on his behalf. Remember that old saying, “Your failure to plan ahead does not constitute my emergency.” It’s his responsibility to arrange a ride with a friend or he will just have to miss the game. And next time, he’s more likely to put it on the calendar. I know it sounds mean, but it’s time for a little tough love!

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Ramona Creel is an award-winning 15-year veteran organizer and member of the National Association Of Professional Organizers. As well as having birthed “The A-To-Z Of Getting Organized,” Ramona is also the author of “The Professional Organizer’s Bible: A Slightly Irreverent And Completely Unorthodox Guide For Turning Clutter Into A Career”—and the creator of more than 200 “quick-start” business tools and templates for use by productivity professionals. She writes seven different blogs, has worked with hundreds of clients, and has delivered scores of presentations on getting organized. Ramona resides on the roads of America as a full-time RVer—living and working in a 29-foot Airstream. Learn more at and RamonaCreel.com.

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One Response

  1. Janet Barclay, OrganizedAssistant.com says:

    Scheduling a family is a lot like scheduling a team in an office. Even though everyone has their own activities, they need to know what others are doing just to make sure it all works together!

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