Momentum Optimization Project: Summertime edition

First of all, thanks to everyone who has visited and taken time to comment on the Momentum Optimization Project. I’m absolutely gobsmacked by the response–I guess all my friends who saw our List on the kitchen wall and commented that I really ought to share it were on to something.

Enough readers were wondering what I was planning for the summer to put a fire under my ass to make a summer plan. Summer is a really busy time for me, work wise, as the books I work on tend to go into production in the spring and they’re always late by May, which means I spend much of June and July trying to catch up. It’s also my favorite time of year to be not working–my little sleepy neighborhood comes to life in the summer, with the beach and the seasonal restaurants and music and tons of events. So my goal in the summer is just to get the entire work day done as early as possible–I get up in the wee, wee hours, around 4:30, and work until lunchtime. And then I have the afternoon to enjoy with the kids at the beach, or to work in the yard, or whatever.

To clarify: I do not do any summer camp stuff–the kids are on their own, but I’m in the house. My office is in the basement, which is also where the other computers live. Because I don’t have to get the kids up/dressed/out, I can work straight through the morning. As a result, I’m way more productive than I am during the same hours in the school year, when my morning is disrupted by the school launch pattern (after all, I have as much, if not more, of a momentum issue as they do). My goal is to keep them out of my hair during those work hours, and at 11 and 14 years of age, I think that is a pretty reasonable expectation. And in fact, it pretty much worked out last summer without any plan at all. But they did make a mess of the place while I was working. I’m trying to break that pattern this year.

So here’s what I do, and I’m quite certain it won’t work for everyone.

In the summer, I just let them stay up pretty much as late as they want, and then sleep as late as they want in the morning. Yes, that means they spend a lot of the nighttime hours in front of screens, and after my husband and I have gone to bed. I set the limit on the computer at midnight, but they can stream TV in their rooms after that if they want to. It’s summertime, after all, and when I was a kid I spent the long summer nights in front of the TV and I’m perfectly fine (at least I think so). They’ve proven themselves pretty responsible about Internet use, and the older one does a solid job of policing the younger one online (although the younger is more of a night owl and at least once last summer I woke at 4:30 to find her still sitting awake, watching Futurama reruns on Netflix). Clearly, this is not an option for every family, but I feel ok about letting my kids have some free range, both online and in the real world.

My general rule is: Sunshine = no computers (rainy days are another matter). I don’t specifically say “no computers in the morning,” but since all the computers are in our basement, where the “room of requirement” and my office share a large, open area, the kids are basically banned from the basement, and thus the computers, during my work hours. They can watch some TV upstairs  in the morning, as long as they’ve done The List. And the summertime List is different from the school year List. Or at least it will be, since this will be the first official summer of the Momentum Optimization Project.

Here’s the revised List for this summer:

THE LIST: Summertime Sunshine Edition!

THE LIST: Summertime Sunshine Edition!


The big change here are that they now have several chores that they are both expected to complete each day (including cleaning the bathroom), in  addition to the old “your room is tidy” rule and spending just a little time on summer school work. These chores will be permanent–they’ll be expected to keep them up during the school year as well.

The old list had a “pick a chore” rule, and a separate chore chart. That’s been replaced with a set of index cards, strung on a binder ring, with a different assigned chore for each day.  I started with a short version a few weeks ago:

Rotating chores, iteration 1.

Rotating chores, iteration 1.

This index card method works better than an assigned schedule (this on Monday, that on Tuesday), I think, because it’s more flexible. If we are not home for a day, or just slack off (and we do slack off sometimes often), we’re not waiting an extra week to, say, have the bathroom cleaned, just an extra day. And I can easily tweak the schedule as we go, by adding/subtracting/reshuffling the cards.

So, now we’ve got a 14-day cycle, with a mix of big/small chores; each day, they are assigned one task in addition to the “daily chores”  on The List, Here’s the current rotation:

  • Purging boogie (find 3-5 things that you don’t want/don’t fit/can’t use and put them in the trash or donate box)
  • Clean out the van
  • Help plan and make dinner (my husband suggested this one; he wants them to figure out what to cook, do (or help with) the shopping, and help prepare a meal)
  • Bathroom: Weekly clean (this comes up twice a cycle; I assign the upstairs to the elder and downstairs one week, and reverse it the other, since upstaris generally gets messier than downstairs)
  • Straighten up the room of requirement
  • Clear and dust your desk
  • Clear your dressers/shelves and dust them off
  • Dust everything else in your room (trophies, books, headboard, poster frames, windows, ceiling fan)
  • Purge/organize one drawer in your room
  • Sweep floors downstairs (granted, this needs to be done every day, but it’s not something I’ve ever relied on them to do. So, we’ll make them do it once a cycle and see how it goes).

And finally, I’ve added in what I think of as a late afternoon re-boot, to force them to get involved in end-of-day household recovery as well:

The late afternoon checklist. Depending on what they do during the day, I'll ping them to deal with a few things before they park in front of the computer for the evening (and before I park in front of the tv).

The late afternoon checklist. Depending on what they do during the day, I’ll ping them to deal with a few things before they park in front of the computer for the evening (and before I park in front of the TV).

I’m already realizing that I need to add another bullet: Evening pickup (i.e.,  go around the first floor and pick up anything you’ve left in the living room, dining room, etc. and put it away–it’s mostly shoes and books).

This might seem to leave a lot of room for computer time, and it does, but not to a degree that I think is problematic. After all, in the evening that “free” computer time is competing with evening card games, bbqs, pool parties, and other face-to-face family and friend time. So while they might sit for six hours one night glued to Minecraft or one or another Steam game, there’s plenty of nights where they don’t have time to even look at the computer until 10 or 11 pm.

So that’s the plan for this summer. And to paraphrase Dwight D. Eisenhower, planning may be useless, but planning is everything. We’ll see how it works and tweak as we go, and report back here. I encourage anyone who’s trying their own list to report back as well.



35 thoughts on “Momentum Optimization Project: Summertime edition

  1. This is wonderful! I really appreciate this! My family does the same thing! 🙂 We monitor our time on the computer! Could you please explain how you get your kids not to complain about this though? I can’t seem to master that! 😉 Thanks!

      • That is true. They will complain a LOT in the beginning..but consistently and they’ll know. I have a harder time.. my kids are 8, 5 , 3 and 3. Pictures help with the younger ones 🙂

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  3. I love the list and will certainly be borrowing from it. May I encourage you to follow your husbands lead on the dinner planning. We have made it a priority in our house and all the way down to the 9 year old can put together a dinner for 12 people… his may be chili and cornbread…..but it works! The 12 and 14 year olds are working on timing for a meal similar to Thanksgiving or Christmas (which I think is tricky even for adults!) The older ones are pretty independent when it comes to cooking and if I leave them to deal with it, we don’t get frozen pizza!! I know that the 16 year old has a “master plan” to make sure that he has a chicken, beef, lamp, fish, vegetarian plan so he can impress any girl that God throws his way! I think you are doing a wonderful job!!! Thanks for the tips as we need some new additions to our “get away from the screen” in the am time.

  4. My kids are a little younger but how do you “make” them do it. What are the consequences of not following the rules? I’m pretty sure that my oldest (8), as much as he loves Minecraft, would go the whole summer without it just to not have to do all those other things.

    • I, too, am having a harder time with the younger ones. But my goal was two-fold: To get them moving on something other than the computer before they settle down and start staring at screens, and then to teach them some basic responsibilities. I do have to “inspect” my daughter’s (age 10) work daily, to make sure that the bed is indeed made and the room is indeed tidy; my son (14) is pretty much self policing at this point. But I do let them slide on some things–again, the prime goal is get them motivated to do things other than video games, especially on nice days when they should be outside. If my daughter wants to put off her list entirely, I’ll let her slide–as long as she avoids the tv/computer. Sometimes she’ll just sit in her room drawing for hours, listening to music, or she’ll go play at a friends house. And in those cases, I don’t care if she misses any/all items on the list.

      • I love that you stay focused on the goal and let the flow of life dictate the rest. I can get caught in the minutia of a great idea and in the eyes of my children, negate the whole thing. Thanks dor sharig your experience and insight!

  5. I just stumbled across your post and feel like it was meant to be! I’ve been trying to put something together and have tried a variety of things, but nothing seems to work. The stars aligned though… even our dog is named Sparky! You can bet I’m starting it tomorrow! I would like a little more clarification though on your chore of the day and your daily task. Could you explain or provide a list (even better! 😉

  6. You’re my new favorite inspiration. This really speaks to me. I think my kids are younger than yours, but because I have been requiring much of them lately (3 of them, 1 of me, husband traveling a lot) they actually ask what they can do to help and know they can’t do the thing they want until the have-to’s get done. The vegetables get chopped more slowly than I’d like, but the kids are learning to do real things and mostly don’t gripe or ask why and have a sense of accomplishment and occasionally do random tidying without EVEN being asked. I don’t try to make it fun. That’s a bunch of BS. It’s more like Little House on the Prairie (which we’ve been reading and is a fine example). Ma and Pa didn’t make games out of hard work. Shit needed to get done.

    • Such a good point. It’s not called “houseWORK” for nothing. I am trying not to raise a generation of soft, lazy kids, and much of the time, I’d found myself to be too soft and lazy to make them do their share. We have to work hard to make them work, you know? Or else, what kinds of adults will they become?

      • This is an amazing idea I am gonna start implementing as soon as possible. One thing I have a problem with is my 11 year old finishes his tasks very fast so he can have his screen time. My 9 year boy won’t do his tasks and will just watch his brother play his games. Does anyone else have this issue and any ideas how to solve? Our television is in the main room of a very small house so it is very hard for him to choose chores over just hovering around his brother.

    • bwahaha I love Little House on the Prairie! And I love your comment on it. It was so much easier to require that the work be done then b/c . . . . well, the survival of THE ENTIRE FAMILY depended on it. I so love the many modern conveniences that make life easier for me than it was for the Ingalls family (bless the inventor of the washing machine!), but oh how idyllic that life seems in so many ways.

      • Heh. I always say “I LOVE THE 21st Century.” Reading old-timey books is a great reminder why: Dishwashers! Washing Machines! Vaccinations! Epidurals! Canned chicken broth! Internet! I never wax romantic for days of old.

  7. Thank you for.putting this out there. I often write “lists” for my kids but your method is simple, manageable and, thus, feasible in the eyes of the kids. I do wonder if you have tips for follow-up. For example, do you check on what the kids are discarding/donating each day? As my kids are older (13, 19), my husband and I are often in bed before they are in the summer. So requests for a nightly re-boot often get forgotten or neglected. It is difficult to come up with consequences for older teenagers who, otherwise are helpful and responsive when asked to do on the spot chores.

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  10. how do you know which card is for what day and who has to do it? I have three kids and really wanna try this!

    • I tell them what to do. This is more so I can keep track of what needs to be done. We actually don’t rely on this system as much now as we did at the beginning–certain things on the chore list have become rote for them (purging stuff, cleaning the guinea pig cage, dusting their rooms). But it was very helpful when we were just starting to build the habits.

  11. [sorry] What I do is rotate the chores on the ring. Start with one, and then the next one the next day. I find it better than a M-F schedule because sometimes we’ll miss a day, but I don’t want to wait a whole other week to clean the bathroom or dust. It kind of ensures that certain things are being done regularly, if not on a precise schedule.

    • thank you for replying! I apologize that I commented twice; i could see that my first one went through! I am thoroughly enjoying your blog and plan to share it with my friends! I work at home many days (other days i am in my studio) and the balance is a constant struggle with my 12, 12, and 10 year olds in the summer!

  12. Good luck! I really don’t rely on this binder ring system much anymore–but it was very helpful in building habits. And as with everything else, we return to it when we fall off the wagon, which we often do.

  13. How do I get my 12 yr old daughter to adhere to the tasks you mentioned if I don’t have the support of my husband? He won’t hold her to the expectations set forth, so she knows she can get away with not doing stuff. He doesn’t go after her, but ends up getting mad at me for starting the problem.

  14. I did a similar thing for the summer (or I know the kids would be on the computer from the time they woke up to the time they went to bed). I gave them a “baseline” of 4 PM to start using the computer, but they can get on earlier if they earn it. They can earn earlier computer time by keeping their room clean, keeping their “area of responsibility” clean, reading, playing outside, or doing Duolingo (a language program). Also, they have to be up for at least 2 hours before they can get on the computer. Yesterday, the first day that this was in place, they went to read at the park… dd made a friend… then ds went outside to go play with some kids across the street. Working out so far.

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  16. Going to try this! Just typed up my list and making the rotating index cards. My daughters are 12 and 9, and simply need to be doing these things. I don’t know if it’s generational, but I feel like the parents I talk to are also going through similar things where their kids don’t do as much “chores” as we used to do when we were kids. This will be a great test and hoping for the best…with flexibility in mind!

  17. Howdy! I love your list. I’m curious to know how you handle access to games on phones and tablets (iPad, Surface, etc.) since those can be moved out of your work area, which you mentioned was a no play zone while you are at work. Thanks!

  18. Thank you Thank you! I just made my LIST for the 12YO, Summer “vacay” officially starts today for us, (we got out of school really late and then spent a week + on a family trip) so I will present it to her when she finally wakes up. I think I am a little more of a control freak than you are, so mine has more rules and regs, but I did throw in some fun stuff (like baking) as well as a “Day off” on the chore card list. I have static chores on Monday (trash day) and Friday (bathroom cleaning day) as well as Mom’s choice, Dad’s choice and Child choice (x2) I also included a no whining clause that results in additional chores being assigned. Days with extra curriculars and playdates have lots of exceptions from the list, so it also encourages getting out of the house and interacting with something other than pixels! Looking forward to a summer with less hassles and not having to be the mom police!

  19. I read your list a long time ago in an online news site here in Australia and thought it sounded great then promptly forgot about it.

    With a week to go before or summer holiday I have remembered your approach and done the most vague google search: “screen time list jobs to do first”. Stunningly, you came up as the first result. I’ll be adapting this for our kids. Thanks so much for your idea and updates and summer list. I appreciate not having to reinvent the wheel on this.

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