We’re all starting back to regular routines right about now, and trying to gear ourselves up to stick with the plan as best we can. We’ve probably all tried all three of the options before – schedules, routines, and winging it – and found none of them satisfactory. What should we try next?

So often, those first days back, when our good intentions are so strong, something happens: kids get sick, someone breaks an arm, the baby gives up on napping – something happens that throws us off our game.

So we’re tempted to give up in despair. Why try? Why have good intentions? What good do they actually do?

But if you’ve ever tried living in the state of giving up and not trying, you know that does no good, either.

What’s a busy mom with lots of plates to spin supposed to do?

Let’s figure that out.

Option #1: Create a schedule

Pro: You’ve thought about what needs to be done and given it all a spot in your week.

Con: You are most likely overambitious in counting what “needs” to be done while also underestimating how much time things take, so the schedule is more wishful thinking than deliberate planning.

Pro: When you know your responsibilities have a slot in your week, you can focus on what’s at hand and not try to do everything at once.

Con: A mom’s life is made of interruptions and urgent needs, so being tied to a time-bound schedule often creates more stress than it relieves.

Related: 3 Secrets That Make Schedules Work

The real issue: Instead of attempting to control the situation through a rigid schedule, we must use our plan as a route to faithfulness and good stewardship, controlling ourselves and our responses rather than other people and our circumstances.

Option #2: Create a routine

Pro: More flexible than a schedule, yet more structured than winging it, a routine lets you do one thing and then another without treating the clock like a slave driver.

Con: When you don’t pay attention to the time, you’re susceptible to dawdling and distraction, letting the day slip away without staying on track.

Pro: A day can have multiple routines built in with margin space around, making it less about situation control and more about doing the right thing next.

Con: A mom’s life is made of interruptions and urgent needs, so even routines rarely work out as written.

The real issue: We expect our plans to work as written. They won’t. There is not necessarily a problem with our written plans when they don’t work; rewriting them isn’t the solution, picking up where we left off the best we can is the best solution.

Option #3: Winging it

Pro: There is no paper telling you what to do when you’re just flying by the seat of your pants.

Con: You waste time or do less important work first because you don’t know what is best to do next.

Pro: There’s always room for interruptions and urgent needs, because there was no plan being thrown off by them.

Con: All time is spent in the urgent category rather than in intentional, deliberate priorities, because no priorities have been set.

Related: Why we keep trying to get organized

The real issue: We need to know what must be done, and then adapt as life unfolds. Winging it is a necessary skill for moms, but it’s not the only skill we should be using. We need to have a plan and then wing it from a place of knowing our intentional priorities and responsibilities.

All these options work when you work.

You are the key to making it work, not the paperwork.

We’re all looking for the plan, the way of doing things, that makes life easy. We want the plan where we just float along and everything glides.

That’s the source of our real frustration. Our expectations are out of whack. We don’t expect to be thrown off our game, and when we are, we don’t expect that we can simply handle it and move on.

But that’s exactly what our plan – in whatever form it takes – should do.

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