1) Look over lesson plans the night before. I often do this while the children are falling asleep - sometimes one of my kids would like me to sit with them while they drop off, so I can be present for them as well as accomplish something.
2) Set out tomorrow's items. After I've skimmed the lesson plans, I make a stack for each child that contains all the necessary books, papers and assignments for the day. I also set out my teaching materials and read-out-loud books.
3) Pack sack lunches. Even if we end up being home, I have one cold meal prepared ahead of time during the day. But if we need or want to go somewhere, we don't even have to think about food. There are already sandwiches and cut apples ready to go!
4) Think about supper. What is the plan for the one hot meal I'm going to serve tomorrow? I can gather ingredients or take things from the freezer. When four o'clock arrives the next day, I won't have to wonder what I'm doing.
4b) I know I already talked about a hot meal, but I often like to make our hot meal over lunch time (we frequently participate in evening activities). It can save a lot of time to enjoy a hot meal over the noon-hour, clean your kitchen, and then it is basically closed until the next morning since you have already completed #3.
5) Read during meals. We enjoy many of the sessions where I read to the children during breakfast and lunch. It keeps me at a slow pace, allows everyone time to enjoy their meal, and stimulates discussion. Plus, you are doing two things at once. I love that.
6) Keep your materials organized. Looking for something you need but can't find is one of life's greatest time-suckers. I am not a very neat person, but I have found that what I lack in neatness I can make up for in being consistent. I keep my school items in the same place, forever and ever, amen. There may be some skewed looking stacks, but I know somewhere in that stack is the 'great science discoveries' book. You know why? Because those are the school shelves and that is the science section. I would never put the book anywhere else.
6b) Take time to put your school things away when you are finished for the day. We used to have a dedicated area (desks, chalk board, etc) for schooling, but we never really used it. So we use our kitchen table and it's been a great choice for us. Instead we have a designated bookshelf that has sections for everyone/thing. We put everything away when it's time for lunch. This helps encourage the kids to pick up (they want to eat!) and facilitates #6.
7) Schedule breaks. It really helps everyone to take ten or fifteen minutes off before they start to suffer brain-drain. I like to include chores in our breaks - Everyone make their beds and pick up ten items in their room! On your marks, get set, GO!
8) When the dishwasher is clean, unload it right away. When the dryer buzzes, fold and put away those clothes. Then they will be empty when you need them. It's so simple to toss the dirty lunch dishes right into the washer. It's discouraging when they are piled all over the counter because the dishwasher is full of clean dishes. These are also more fun when you do them all together.
9) Delegate. You are schooling at home. Your children need to learn practical skills as well as feel good about contributing to their family. Your child is only three? I bet you can teach them how to fold washcloths, knead dough and wipe things down. It takes longer, but it is worth the time investment.
10) Keep an accurate and current calendar. I keep mine on the computer, but cell phone or paper is fine too. And check it every day. You would hate to be that person that the pediatric dentist calls wondering why you aren't there with your children for their appointments (not that it's every happened to me)...
What do you feel costs you the most time in your day? What saves you the most?