Very briefly, a Rule of Life is a master schedule used in convents and monasteries that everyone follows. "It deals with the essential responsibilities of your state of life, organized to ensure their fulfillment" (pg 14 in my Sophia Press copy). A friend recommended to me a book called A Mother's Rule of Life, which adapts the Rule of Life to fit the life of a mother. The book is good, but I personally think the first half is all that is essential and doesn't really need to be referenced, so it is easily something you could check out from a library or borrow from a friend.
Lots of arguments could be made: "I'm not really a schedule person," or "I like to live spontaneously." Lots of responses could be made (A Mother's Rule of Life does just that), but my point is to talk about how it has changed my life, not to convince you to change yours.
Rule of Lifes can be as vague or as specific as you want. Also, the schedule was made for you, not you for the schedule, so it is perfectly normal that you wouldn't follow your Rule of Life exactly every day. More on that later. Right now, here's my Rule of Life, as it hangs on the wall by my workspace:
6:30 - 9am - exercise, make Matt's lunch, feed Abigail's breakfast, get her ready, morning prayers, shower, get self ready
9am - 11:30am - run errands, therapy if appt, living space chores, one-one-one play
11:30 - 12pm - lunch, straighten kitchen
12 - 2pm - Abigail naps, read the Bible, personal time
2 - 4pm - prayers, therapy (if no appt), snack, walk (if possible), straighten bedrooms, (also, one-on-one play time during this time)
4 - 5pm - kitchen time, make dinner, baking
5 - 7pm - dinner, clean kitchen (wash dishes), family time (walk, if possible)
7 - 7:30pm - pick up toys, Abigail's bath, family prayers
7:30 - 9:15pm - personal time
9:15 - 10:15pm - read and get ready for bed
-On Wednesdays, I do laundry, on Fridays, I mop (Swiffer wetjet).
-95% of the time, "personal time" slots are spent working on my Etsy shoppe.
-We only use the Rule on weekdays. Weekends are much less structured, which I thought we would like, but both Matt and I have been craving a bit more weekend consistency and routine.
Before I had an official Rule of Life, I already did pretty much what you see on the list from when we'd wake up in the morning until Abigail woke up from her nap. I have the most energy and drive during the morning and Abigail is usually in a good mood, so that's when I'd get the most things done. But sometimes I'd be so obsessed with being productive in the morning that I wouldn't stop to pay attention to Abigail. If she got fussy, I'd drop her off in her crib so I could, "just get one more thing" done. I also couldn't workout if she was running around the apartment, but our being up woke her up.
After her nap, we kind of wandered around listlessly. If we couldn't go outside for a walk, time just dragged on. Most of the time, Abigail wouldn't want me to leave to make dinner, so I'd end up having to wear her. Usually after dinner, Matt would take Abigail so I could wash dishes, do any baking, and finish any chores I hadn't gotten done during the day. Then we'd fight over who had to put her to bed and collapse on the couch for personal time. I'd be so hyped up from the day that I had a hard time falling asleep at night and the smallest thing would give me insomnia.
If one thing threw the morning off, my whole day was shot. If I was up all night with Abigail or someone was sick, nothing would get done. Anything "major," like cleaning the bathroom would be relegated to the weekends when Matt could watch Abigail. It was pretty draining and I spent most of my days feeling like a poor excuse for a stay-at-home mom. Unless my mood was just right, I lived for nap and bedtime and questioned my decision to be at home quite often.
I finally started reading a few "personal development" books, especially spiritual ones about motherhood. These helped me to realize that 1. motherhood is my vocation (a word with which my not-religious/vaguely-protestant-background self wasn't familiar), and and 2. my vocation isn't necessarily supposed to be easy. Now I'm on a mission to conquer and destroy my weaknesses, hence all my book recommendations as of late. Anyway, a few chapters into A Mother's Rule of Life, I jotted one down and started living it. As I said earlier, the morning was easy. The afternoon took some more thought and planning and some afternoons I do have to force myself to stick with it instead of sliding down the lazy, listless slope to Blues Clues.
Top five favorite things about the schedule (in no particular order):
1. I know I have scheduled time for things to get done, so if Abigail is really fussy, I don't feel anxious when I stop my productive streak to put together a puzzle (Abigail's up to 8-piecers) or build a block tower.
2. If I do get thrown off during the day (last-minute appointment, Abigail or I get sick, I have to run to the store during non-errand time), it's easy to get back on track. I just glance at the schedule and keep going. No more ruined days.
3. No more relegating small projects to the weekends (switching out spring clothes - during "straighten bedrooms," cleaning the bathroom - during "living space chores"). Because I have allotted 1 hour of kitchen time every day, on the days when dinner is a 20-minute-throw-it-in-the-oven type deal, I can spend the extra 40 minutes cleaning the microwave or going through the fridge or cupboards. Plus, it turns out that Abigail really likes "helping" mommy dust and throw clothes in a box.
Bonus #3: I'm teaching Abigail to keep house.
4. Since I do the same thing every day, Abigail knows what to expect. She doesn't mind it when I disappear into the kitchen. After all, we just spent two hours together and we're going to spend another two together once I get back out. I can workout when she's awake now, and she leaves me alone or watches me and laughs as I attempt kickboxing or yoga. She doesn't mind getting trapped in her room while I take a shower. It happens at the same time pretty much every day.
5. When the whole day does get thrown off (we go to the aquarium, we go to Michigan for the weekend, someone comes out to visit us), I know that my house is clean enough to handle taking the day off, and Abigail's home life is stable enough that she doesn't mind the detour (although I can only get about 2 days out of her before she starts to act up and demand consistency).
Top five awesome results from following the schedule (in no particular order):
1. It's easy. I designed the schedule to fit the ebb and flow of our daily attitudes and energy levels, so it doesn't take a lot of discipline to stick with it. That isn't to say there are never days I just don't feel like cooking dinner, but it's a hell of a lot easier than sticking with a diet or an exercise routine.
2. I'm less stressed and anxious. I'm kind-of OCD and my symptoms are much more manageable when I'm not so crazy. Plus, who doesn't want a more peaceful existence?
3. I pray more. Way more. I'm not yet consistent about post-nap prayers, but we've gotten pre-bedtime prayers so engrained in our schedule that putting Abigail down without at least a guardian angel prayer feels like a sin.
4. We enjoy family time. Don't get me wrong, I still have days where I count down the hours till bedtime, but it isn't as often as it was before. But since we have scheduled in "family time" and I was rather disappointed in how little we enjoyed all three being together, I really stive to find things we can do. I recently realized that we can do lots of things with Abigail now that we wanted to do when she's older, we just have to help her. We can still play a board game or toss a ball or play dress up. We just modify things so an almost-two-year-old can handle it and we trim things to fit her micro attention span.
5. It's easy to routine-ize new habits. I wanted to join the "unplug all electronics 1 hours before bedtime" wagon, so I put in on the Rule. I wanted to pray more as a family, so I put in on the Rule.
In sum, the Rule of Life is way awesome for me. Combining it with meal planning makes me feel like a kick-ass 1950s housewife, which is the lifestyle for which I'm going. I love the way that on a majority of days, everything gets done and we all have time for each other. I hardly ever get depressed about my choice to be at home anymore. Weakness = straightened. Cue victory dance.