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How to Do What You Have to Do… Even When You Don't Feel Like Doing It

by Beverley Paine

This article was first published in the Autumn 2011 issue of Stepping Stones for Home Educators, HEA members' magazine.

After another debilitating period of burn-out I am again looking at ways I can enhance my energy levels and get more out of life. Since mid-December I’ve felt incredibly heavy and lazy, not wanting to do any of my chores, looking for ‘ways out’, wanting to go on holiday or move house, anything to get away from the dull drudgery caused by my grey mood. Half the time I’m close to tears and my family are bewildered by my withdrawal caused by feeling overwhelmed.

How did I get overwhelmed in the first place? It’s easily done if you are an over-achiever, and who among us homeschooling mums and dads aren’t overachievers? We take on paid work, voluntary work, housework, social commitments, pursue personal interests (if we’re lucky) and educate our children at home… and wonder why there aren’t enough hours in each day to get it all done!

So, at the beginning of January I decided to take control. I’m using a chart to map my progress (a tick-sheet no less!) and it is really helping me stay on track. The plan is to change the habits that lead to burn-out, and thus feeling overwhelmed, one by one. After two weeks of relative success I add another habit that needs changing. I’m phrasing them positively, as the desired habit. And to help, instead of setting ‘goals’, I’m focusing on ‘purpose’. Thinking about why I am changing my habits seems less intimidating than not being successful should I end up crossing one or two boxes instead of ticking them.

We probably have all used tick-sheets with our children, either as tools to help them modify their behaviour or for monitoring their educational progress. These tools help to build confidence and to indicate that we are moving in the right direction, that is, where we want to go or be eventually.

I can’t always predict my mood, although when I’m feeling overwhelmed simple little frustrating things can easily way-lay a good start to the day. Over the years I’ve noticed that being physically active first thing in the morning helps to reinforce that good mood and prop it up so that those little things don’t upset me so much. Waking up with a concrete plan to achieve ONE thing on my list (and I keep my list limited to only a few things when I’m feeling down and out) helps me feel positive and getting on and doing that one thing nice and early sets the tone for a successful day.

Most of last year, as I drank the first cuppa of the day I would check my email and networking sites. Often, work would arrive in the emails, adding to the pile already on my desk or in my inbox. Sometimes it would be a couple of hours before I could get away to do that ‘one’ task I’d set myself before having breakfast, doing the chores, spending time with my family or going to sleep! It is too easy to become distracted by this wonderful but terribly invasive information and communication technology. This is the first habit I decided to change and I’m pleased to say it is paying real dividends. I am more relaxed and able to cope better with little (and large) upsets.

Not turning on my computer until later in the morning or even in the afternoon has given me so much more time. Although I haven’t yet mastered the skill of getting stuck into work straight away and still feel tempted to check my emails first, I am less distracted. For the first time I’m actually able to leave even work-related messages or emails unanswered without feeling guilty or pressured.

For years I’ve counselled home educating parents to turn on the answering machine, turn off the TV and radio and, more recently, to disable chat or instant messaging software, so that they can focus more on helping their children with home educating activities. It’s also important not to let social activities and excursions fill the week. Although they definitely satisfy many needs it can be hard to make up the lost time and that’s when we begin to feel overwhelmed. Our productivity is severely compromised when it is constantly disrupted. We feel irritated because we can’t complete the chores or find time to pursue our personal interests and it is too easy to blame homeschooling. Although I’m not actively homeschooling children any more, my homeschooling networking activities were taking over my life. Instead of examining my habits I started to blame my activities to the point that I started to think about giving them up. How many of us have felt like giving up homeschooling when feeling overwhelmed?

It is important to get a handle on those habits that slowly but surely lead to burn-out. Aim for maintaining a consistent, productive environment. Minimise distractions. Jot a note down to remind you or take care of distractions as they arise in your thoughts. Use your calendar to plan social interactions. Have a (short) list of things you want to achieve each day and focus on why you want to do them. Schedule plenty of breaks throughout the day to go for a stroll in the garden, play a game with the children, stretch and do a few exercises – all of these will help you focus on your task better when you come back to it.

And if you are really feeling low or completely unmotivated, use the ‘just do it’ strategy. Push through the barrier stopping you from doing whatever it is you need to do. I often feel frazzled, having lost all my usual resilience, but remind myself that it’s just my mood; it’s not tiredness, lack of energy or physical ability stopping me. And a mood can be changed. I spend a moment thinking about my attitude and then the purpose behind the task and draw motivation from that. Once I start working and get in the groove of productivity, I find that it’s much easier to continue.

And finally, the one thing that derailed me the most as a homeschooling mum was comparing our homeschooling life with other families or me with other mums. Turn the volume down on your inner critic so that she’s not yelling so loudly in your ear. What would she know? Your children, your spouse and your pets love you and, after all, they are the only ones that truly matter, right?

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Beverley Paine with her children, and their home educated children, relaxing at home.

Together with the support of my family, my aim is to help parents educate their children in stress-free, nurturing environments. In addition to building and maintaing this website, I continue to create and manage local and national home educating networks, help to organise conferences and camps, as well as write for, edit and produce newsletters, resource directories and magazines. I am an active supporter of national, state, regional and local home education groups.

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We began educating our children in 1985, when our eldest was five. In truth, we had helped them learn what they need to learn since they were born. I am a passionate advocate of allowing children to learn unhindered by unnecessary stress and competition, meeting developmental needs in ways that suit their individual learning styles and preferences. Ours was a homeschooling, unschooling and natural learning family! There are hundreds of articles on this site to help you build confidence as a home educating family. We hope that your home educating adventure is as satisfying as ours was! Beverley Paine

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