How to Make a Schedule for Everyone in Your Household
Today’s post is a practically-minded one. We’re talking about schedules!
Now that we're getting into the fall season, most kids have gone back to school, even though school looks very different this year. This means that a lot of us are adjusting our schedules to accommodate the new school schedule, which may include a new sleep schedule, a new meal schedule, changes to the therapy schedule, and more.
Changing schedules can be really difficult for people with executive function troubles. I'm an autistic, and I definitely have trouble if someone changes the schedule on me with no notice. I have an expectation about my day, and have planned around exactly what I expect. When something changes, I don't feel like I have time to think through the new potentialities.
Schedule changes can create a lot of anxiety, even a sense of panic that can lead to a meltdown (which, of course, can throw the schedule off even more, creating a stress spiral of doooooooom).
Wouldn’t it be nice if you could learn how to make a family schedule that worked for everyone in your household, with no stress and no panic?
Yes, that would be lovely, I hear you say! So today, I’d like to go through the best way I’ve found for making a household schedule that is inclusive of everybody in your house and their needs, whether you’ve got kids, or you’re living with a partner, family, or roommates.
How to Make A Family Schedule That Includes Everybody in Your Household
Now: schedules! Approaching the schedule as a household or family project might not be your first thought. I find that a lot of households have one person who kind of fills out the household administrator role, who decides when meals are on the table and, for example if you're a parent, when bedtime is.
But creating an ideal schedule for everybody can be a great way to support neurodivergent folks in your family, because it lets them know what to expect when, and removes a lot of stress and anxiety from their date today.
Additionally, many of us are on certain medications or just function better at certain points of the day, whether you're neurotypical or neurodivergent, and creating a schedule that accounts for all of that will support your family and a household running smoothly and comfortably, and with less Stress for everyone. And less stress means more joy!
I’m going to discuss the entire plan in detail, but let me just give you a quick run-down:
- First, we collect all of your family’s events, tasks, basically anything that needs doing.
- Second, we interview everyone about their energy levels and priorities, how people feel throughout the day.
- Third, we make and test the schedule.
Part 1: Collect Your Information
Okay, first step is to get a notebook or create a Google doc and write down the name of everyone in your family or household. Also please write down any pets who need daily care, or anyone who lives outside of your household who is a big part of your day-to-day.
This could be a babysitter or nanny, a tutor, a step parent, the grandparent, live-in carer, etc. Write their names down, and then go through each person and write down their events for the day.
So, school, doctor's appointments, taking a medication, meals, work, dog walk, feed the cat, anything that needs to happen during an average week. dance lessons, Debate Club, marching band practice, trivia night, whatever it is.
Ideally, you do this by talking to each person, maybe more than once. Get a sense of what they are doing day today, and what events come up weekly, and what are their biggest stress points during the day or week. You don't necessarily want to try to solve any stress points right now, just note them down as places in the schedule that need consideration.
If you have children in the house, or folks who are non-verbal, don’t skip talking to them. They have priorities too!
And although you, as a parent or caregiver, may not be able to or want to prioritize the same things as your dependents, they will appreciate being asked and considered, and having a chance to communicate to you about what’s important to them. Just give them enough time to process the question and think about their answers.
It’s also a great way to model cooperation and compromise. An example from my life - one of my kids feels very strongly that their dolls need to be put down for their naps everyday, and will put up a big fight if I try to co opt that time with an errand or other activity. So now, when we make a daily or weekly schedule, I specifically ask about their dolls’ needs today, so it can go on the schedule.
And if there’s a conflict between when they want to help the dolls and when I need to keep an appointment, we talk about it together and figure it out. It is not always easy, but over time, it has smoothed out our planning and day-to-day a lot, and it has made my children more likely to work with me as if we are on the same team together, rather than pushing against each other.
Okay, so you’ve collected a bunch of data about the day-to-day workings of your family. Cool! What’s next?
Don't Forget About Varying Energy and Ability!
Now you want to talk to each person on your list about their energy levels. When do they get up in the morning and when do they go to bed? When do they feel the best during the day?
For example, I get up around 8 in the morning and go to bed around 10 p.m., but my energy is not consistent throughout the day. I am usually very focused and organized in the morning, get relatively tired and slow between around 1 and 3 p.m., and then begin to perk up again around 4. I'll have another focused period between 5 and 7, and then start to slow down again until it's time for bed.
What you're doing with these questions is trying to figure out when is everybody's time of best focus or flow, when they should be doing the hardest parts of their day or the most complex parts of their day, and when are they slow?
Another example: my five year-old wakes up in the morning, and is very organized and together and kind of mini-adult - highly verbal, good at planning and thinking ahead, like that. As the day goes on, though, she tends to start to become more of a kid, and have less control of her executive function. She can't plan ahead or organize your thoughts as well at 3 p.m. as she could at 9 am.
So, as her parent, I know that if I need her to sit down and do something like schoolwork, I'll have a better shot at getting her to work with me earlier in the morning. Doing school work later in the day is not likely to work. Similarly, she wants more exercise and heavy work later in the day when she's less together, so scheduling dance lessons for 3 p.m. will work a lot better than scheduling them at 9 am.
I am told that some people feel like they have even energy all day. That must be amazing, and if that's you and your whole family, congratulations! But every member of my family has uneven energy throughout the day and we don't all have low energy at the same times and high-energy at the same time.
So what we're really trying to do with this step is collect the information we need to coordinate the tasks and events of our days with our energy levels.
What About Medication?
An optional, but recommended, part of this step is asking everybody about any side effects of medication they are on. For example, a lot of ADHD meds work well for half the day, and then wear off. If someone’s taking a painkiller or an anti-allergy medication daily, it might make them sleepy. Some asthma medications can cause irritability or stomach issues.
So checking in about side effects and when they tend to hit can be a big piece of the schedule puzzle, and very helpful to know about ahead of time.
Part 2: Plan, Plan, Plan!
Okay, so you’ve collected a ton of information at this point. You should know what all everybody has to do when, and what their energy looks like over the course of the day. Now, you’re going to plan.
So, what do you do with your pile of data?
There are two ways to approach scheduling. The first way is to go through your life and let things happen when they happen, and notice where there is friction or difficulty. The other way is to build a schedule from the ground up, starting at nothing, and adding events where needed. I have used both, and they both work for different situations. Let’s talk more about these options.
Everything That Happens, Happens
The first option: let everybody go through their lives the way they have been, but with the addition of observing where there are points of friction. These are places where something isn't working - someone is having repeated meltdowns, or is always exhausted, or is not able to complete their work, or get enough rest, or whatever it is.
When you notice something not working like this, you should now have the information that you collected and be able to work to figure out a different way of doing things that might suit that person better.
So for example, if your child is melting down about being asked to do math homework at 4 p.m., you might realize that they are too overwhelmed after school and need to try to do it after dinner, or that they need to get up in the morning and do it before school.
I tend to use this approach when there are a lot of items in my schedule that are not flexible. So, if you need to attend classes from 9A-3P every weekday, or you have dedicated work shifts that you are assigned, obviously you have limited control over changing those schedule items.
But, you can control your meals, your sleep time, your leisure activities, your kid’s dance class, when that speech therapy appointment is, or whatever other items need to happen around your work schedule, and make sure they support you as much as possible.
I think the trick with this approach is having a really good handle on what you prioritize and why. It’s really easy to say, oh, my kid *has* to do this dance class or I *have* to take this 7AM therapy appointment across town or whatever. Sometimes you do need to do those things, but consider that each item on your schedule should support you or solve a problem for you, and if it’s not, you may want to rearrange or rethink an item.
Can you get a new therapist who is not way across town? Can your kid take a season off dance? It might be worth it if it removes a huge stress point in your life and makes you a better person and parent or partner overall, you know?
You Control the World
Now, the second option: You can draw the schedule from the ground up, starting at zero, with a blank slate, and adding everybody’s stuff by priority until you get to something that looks feasible.
So, you’d have a blank calendar, and you’d start with adding your biggest commitments, or the events that are most necessary; maybe something like work, school, medical appointments, meals, sleep, rest time.
Then, add things that are important to you and your family, but maybe not completely necessary - extracurriculars, sports, optional therapies, piano practice, etc. Last are things that you’d like to do, but don’t have to happen regularly - book club, going to the zoo, hiking.
It's A Work-In-Progress
So now you should have a rough schedule that has everything on it for everyone in your group. You should be able to see where there are conflicts and think about how you might solve those, considering the priority of the item and how it affects peoples’ energy levels.
At that point you would try the schedule out for a day or a week or a month, and see what's working and what isn't, and recalibrate as needed. Consider the necessity of the item, the priority of the item, and how the item affects the energy of people in your household.
I would love to know: if you live in a household with some neurodivergent people and some neurotypical people, how have you gone about smoothing out schedules and energy levels for everybody? How have you gone about creating a nice, calm household where everybody feels comfortable and safe? Let me know in the comments below!
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