Housework as exercise and what three weeks of tracking time showed me

Proof that I get out of the house sometimes.

I finished three weeks of writing down what I did during my days, and how much time I slept. It was an interesting exercise in finding out exactly where my hours go and why I often feel I’m not accomplishing much on some days but am still really tired by 9pm!

I already blogged some details about week 1 and week 2.

My daily and weekly routines are pretty constant. I know that on a weekday at from 2.30-3.30 pm I’ll most likely be driving on the school run, for example. But despite that predictability there’s plenty of unpredictability in the mix. Our five children are the most significant variables in my life, but there are others too – and within the basic routines (like the school run, family meals, and the kids’bedtime) there’s usually lots of flexibility required, and lots of multi-tasking.

There were days when I had a child home sick, the times I dropped everything and took the youngest out to McDonald’s or a cafe on a weekday, the two days I stayed mostly in bed with back strain, one-off events, and fluctuating work hours and activities.

Time tracking is giving me a good idea of how I’m spending my time and what changes I might make, but it’s a very imprecise science. Often when I would try to assign a half-hour slot to a task, it was impossible because I had so much multi-tasking going on.

I might have intended to sew a button on a shirt for five minutes one evening, but found it took me an hour to finish the job because of all the interruptions: helping to solve maths questions, laughing at someone’s favourite knock-knock joke for the 225th time, breaking up a fight, tending to a bumped head, scraped knee or hurt feelings, remembering to dispense someone medicine, remembering I need decent clean clothes as I’m going into an office tomorrow, remembering to take the lid off the slow cooker 15 minutes before dinnertime. What did I do in that hour? I don’t remember – call it ‘mothering’.

Which is fine. I’m used to being busy now. So long as I try not to rely on being able to do something necessary in an unspecified time called ‘later’. Because if it isn’t super-urgent, ‘later’ can come very late, or maybe not ever. Having a set time to do things, eg. fiddly chores like sewing on buttons in the evening after the kids are in bed, while also being flexible enough to seize opportunities as they arise is a handy skill to have.

I can also see how much I need something nice to look forward to, or a goal to try to accomplish, throughout the week. Otherwise, mine is a routine which can easily become a daily grind rather than a scaffolding for a full and enjoyable life.

Punctuating my days and weeks with visits to my children’s school chapel for a Mass or prayer during the week is a lovely thing to aim for, as is catching up with a friend on the phone or over a quick coffee, or working on a little knitting project in the free moments that pop up here and there while waiting for the school bell or for little people to be ready to come out of the bath.

Blogging regularly has also been fun, and doesn’t tax my brain like other kinds of writing does. Dinner with my husband was meant to be monthly thing, and we missed out in May so will have to remedy that soon. Scheduling in all my winter plans will help too. Tracking my time is making converting me to the idea that in a busy life with lots of responsibilities, it’s best not to try to wing it but to plan ahead.

I can reduce my driving (so much driving!) a little more by doing more carpooling, and I’m going to have to do something about getting more exercise in, as I’m only managing one to two hours a week of walking at most. Sometimes that’s moderate or quite vigorous exercise (pushing a three-year-old in a stroller up and down hills), but sometimes it’s a leisurely stroll looking for pine cones and sticks and checking out the water level in the creek.

I reduced my housework load from three hours a day in week one to one hour per day by week three by getting the kids to do a bit more, setting boundaries on the time I spent on tasks like laundry, and lowering my standards (even more than they were already, so it’s really quite a bit gross here at the moment and I’m going to have to raise them again!).

I’m also just doing things faster because I resented how much of my time was being sucked up by things like laundry when there was more important stuff I wanted to do. I think home maintenance and home nurturing tasks are important but, for me, an average of three hours a day is too much time to spend on something that’s not a super-top priority. I think I’d be happy with spending 1.5 hours a day on housework if it included cooking dinners. (Dinner usually takes me 30 mins max to pull together.) I had a little look around to see if housework could count as exercise – because that would go some way towards solving two problems, and I think that it might, at least in part, depending on what you do and how you do it. Good news!

As always, it helps me to keep things in perspective to remember what all this doing is ultimately for – and who it is for. I think Mother Teresa said it best:

We are at his disposal. If he wants you to be sick in bed, if he wants you to proclaim his word in the street, if he wants you to clean the toilets all day, that’s all right, every thing is all right. We must say, “I belong to you. You can do whatever you like.” This is our strength, and this is the joy of the Lord.

The only other thing I will need to regularly add in is individual time with each of my school-aged children. I can tell that they really need and want this, and with our eldest already 12 and a half I can’t afford to leave it to chance or let it be too infrequent.




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