How setting a Minimum Viable Day proved I’m not actually failing all the time.

Five years ago I arrived overseas believing that I could accomplish all the things in a day that I always had.

Before living overseas, a single day could easily include doing all the dishes, cooking dinner, sorting a load of laundry, grocery shopping, showering, playing with my toddler, a trip to the park, five hours at my part-time job, lunch with friends, reading a book, chatting with my husband, and watching a movie before bed. Some days could even include going to bible study. I had time to plan and teach Sunday School. I had time to volunteer with charities. I was busy, but it was manageable and I liked it.

I understood moving overseas would be an adjustment, but since I wouldn’t be working outside the home I was sure I’d have enough time on my hands to make the adjustment just fine.

I’m not sure exactly what year into living overseas it was, but eventually I figured out that although I technically had fewer commitments, I most certainly did not have more time. For the first several years overseas just putting three meals on the table took 6+hours of each day. I wish to tell you that with such a large amount of time invested these were fancy, filling meals, but they were not.

“I can do four things a day.” I said out loud to myself. “I can look after the kids, cook, clean the house, and homeschool. If anything else is added to my day one of those four things will not happen.”

If I go grocery shopping, one of those four things will not happen.
If I go to bible study, one of those four things will not happen.
If I take time to exercise, one of those four things will not happen.

I only have room for four things. That’s it. The trouble is, life constantly throws more than four things at me. How can I be expected to attend team meetings, search every store in town for butter, weed the garden, host visitors, keep up with supporters, or balance accounts when my day is already full to the brim with just the basics?

In product development, the concept of a Minimum Viable Product is the introduction of a new product to the market with only the most necessary features. The idea is that the product must be viable (it has to sell), and that by selling it the designers can gauge and learn from feedback, making improvements before releasing the product’s final version.

If I was to have peace of mind in this insane overseas life, I would need to develop my own Minimum Viable Day.

What are the minimum accomplishments in a day to consider it successful? Forget what I would like to accomplish. Forget the expectations of others (including my husband) of what I should be able to accomplish. What would a successful day look like if I stripped it down to the bare minimum? Could I identify the core things that must happen and then consider anything above and beyond that as the cream on top? When I really broke it down, this is what I came up with:

  1. My family ate enough food.
    Most days I try to serve creative, nutritious, filling meals, but this does not always happen. Tonight I managed a chicken pot pie followed by berry compote and custard for dessert. This was a really good day. A day when I not only had a plan, but also all the ingredients and time enough to cook it. It was a great meal, but it was also not an all the time meal. I can’t expect to feed my family at this level every single day. I’d like to, but I can’t. Sometimes I scramble to find anything more than toast. But toast still feeds my family and does not make my day unsuccessful.
  2. Homeschooling included some amount of reading and math.
    Our regular homeschooling schedule includes language arts, math, science, bible, history, physical education, art, and hands on work projects. I try my best to stick to the schedule, but there are days when this is just impossible. As long as the kids did some reading and some math review, the day is passable.
  3. I did something fun with the kids.
    Some days this is building elaborate train tracks with my four year old or high stakes chess matches with my eight year old. Other days this is multitasking a dance party in the kitchen as I make dinner. What I don’t want is for an entire day to whizz by without ever having stopped to breathe in and enjoy these two precious people God entrusted to us.
  4. I cleaned something.
    At the very least, I clean my stove. If I can go to bed with a clean stove top, I will feel ok despite piles of laundry, muddy footprints on the tile floor, and plates in the sink.

That’s it. For me, accomplishing those things on any given day is a day I can still feel good about. I consistently set the bar higher, but failing to reach it does not make me a failure. It just makes me a mom living overseas. And that is quite an accomplishment in itself.

I recently heard about the idea of setting a minimum viable day from a homeschooling website, which helped make further sense of my ‘four things’ realization. You can read that post here:

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Anisha Hopkinson

Anisha was born to Chilean and Texan parents, first tasted missions in Mexico, fell in love with an Englishman in Africa, and now lives in Indonesia. She journals about cross-cultural life, helping people, and loving Jesus on

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