I can't believe this is my 100th blog post! I looked through what I call my "blog log" which lists the date, title, and number of every one I've written, and I have to say— I'm really proud of what is included in these past 99 posts. When I say proud, I don't mean boastful, but rather a feeling of deep satisfaction that resulted from hard work, honesty, and perseverance. It has been important to me from the start that I be transparent and not claim to know all the answers. I'm in this with you — I have many of the same struggles as you, and I'm continuing to figure out how striving to live a life in order can help me gain and maintain control. I truly believe that productivity and organization is not only for those born naturally orderly, but that it gives the rest of us the freedom and space to really enjoy our lives.
I asked my oldest son, who is nearly an all-knowing teenager, what I should write about for my 100th post. He gave me some sage advice, "write about how you stuck with your blog all of this time." I thought his suggestion was brilliant! Yes, that's something I want to explore — stick-to-itiveness!
I kind of went down a rabbit hole researching what this word meant. I went from stick-to-itiveness to tenacity to tenacious to "persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired." What I realized was the reason it was easy for me to stick with my blog is because I value it!
Many of us were required to read What Color is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles in a college job readiness course. This book explored how to determine what job is right for you and how to get it. No matter if you are looking for a job, a hobby, or just your next fun project, the principles are the same — you should search for your key passions and strive to use them daily. The more passionate you are about something, the more likely you are to see it through, and be happy along the way.
A pioneer in this type of strengths philosophy was Bernard Haldane, an English doctor who moved to New York in the 1940's. After realizing he didn't meet the U.S. requirements for working in medicine, he began helping veterans recognize their own strengths and transferable skills from their military experience. He encouraged them use those skills to rejoin the non-military workforce after returning from the war. Haldane's work inspired others in the field and led to many books and programs encouraging people to determine not only what they were good at, but what they loved doing and would provide them with feelings of pride for having accomplished. He was clear that this didn't mean it was all sunshine and rainbows along the way! There will always be parts of a task or a process that one will dislike or cause them to work outside of their comfort zone, but he proposed that both the journey AND the outcome should provide satisfaction.
Today, an organization exists called The Center for Dependable Strengths that is based on Dr. Haldane's principles. Though this is primarily focused at job seekers, the quote on their website's homepage is inspiring for all aspects of life. "Because you're unique, there's something you are better at than anybody else." If you can find that thing you are great at and fuels your fire, imagine what you can accomplish!
So, this all makes sense —if we love something we can stick with it, but what if we don't love it or even downright despise it? If this is the case, I think we need to start by asking ourselves the who, what, when, where, why questions.
When you honestly answer all of these questions, you may be surprised what you learn. Maybe changing gears is really the best option! If it doesn't hurt you or anyone else, if it's not required, if it's not propelling you forward, and it's not going to bring you any joy, maybe it's better to turn your focus to something else. But, is it possible that you can identify just one small thing that is frustrating about your project and realize that you may just need to suck it up and get past that little obstacle because the benefits of doing so are worth it? Could you just "eat that frog" and get past the not-so-fun parts first thing in the morning so you can gain some momentum throughout the day?
The biggest question that I think we all need to answer is our "why". Why did I start and why haven't I already quit? If the answers to those questions are meaningful enough to you to keep going, write them down and post them somewhere you see them often. Daily reminders of your compelling "why" will most definitely develop your stick-to-itiveness!
“Dictionary by Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 2019, www.merriam-webster.com/.
Bolles, Richard Nelson. What Color Is Your Parachute?: a Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Ten Speed Press, 2011.
Mike. “H Is for Bernard Haldane: His Pioneering Work On Strengths.” The Positive Encourager, 4 Mar. 2018, www.thepositiveencourager.global/bernard-haldanes-approach-to-doing-positive-work/.
“Uncovering Strengths...Unlocking Potential.” The Center for Dependable Strengths, 2019, dependablestrengths.org/
I've been a daydreamer as long as I can remember. As a child I would make up what I called "stories in my head." They weren't wild or unrealistic, but instead, they were detailed accounts of things that could actually happen. When I was very young it could be about a toy I wanted, and I'd daydream about how I might earn enough money to buy it or how someone might give it to me as a gift. When I was a little older, and I liked a boy, I would daydream about how we might be in the same place at the same time.
The first of my well-thought-out-daydreams came true with a white Chevy Lumina APV minivan. Yep, the kind with the pointy noses that were popular in the late '90s. My then-boyfriend/now-husband and I were in year four of dating and thinking seriously about marriage when his car died. His parents had been driving a pointy-nosed van for a while, and I'd overheard them mention getting a new vehicle — cue daydream. I started thinking about the scenarios that could occur where we'd end up with the van. Maybe they'd come to take us out to dinner and then offer to sell him the van at a low price, or maybe they'd even just give it to him. I'm pretty sure at this point they knew I was their future daughter-in-law, so I thought maybe they'd consider the van a gift to "us." I daydreamed about the whole thing, and then one day, they came to visit us at college and took us out to eat at Cracker Barrel. Afterward, it happened almost exactly as I'd imagined. Every 20-something guy's dream come true — they gave him the minivan. This is when I started taking my daydreaming a little more seriously!
Have you ever said, "I wish" this or that would happen? Consider changing those words to "I hope." The definition of hope is not a wish, but an expectation of something you know could actually happen. I'm not suggesting my ironically cool minivan story proves that if you think hard enough or want something bad enough that it will magically happen. I believe if we truly hope for something, it will require us to have some faith, think logically, and work hard to make it happen. Once we start daydreaming, we allow ourselves to dare to visualize what we really want and then consider how to position ourselves to achieve that goal. Obstacles will still get in our way, and some daydreams won't ever come true — but some will.
Over the years I've used daydreams to help me work through difficult situations, sort through my options, and decide on the best course of action. I may rework a daydream over and over until the details make sense in real life. What started as the daydream of a 29 year old mother of one to have another baby and a more flexible job to be home with the kids turned into a reality as I got my real estate license, saved enough money for a cushion as I got started, and quit my office job days before I turned a very pregnant 30. Once a daydream comes true, that doesn't mean you can't have more or different daydreams. I'm no longer a real estate agent, and I have new daydreams now.
"Once we start daydreaming, we allow ourselves to dare to visualize what we really want and then consider how to position ourselves to achieve that goal."
Daydreams can also be an escape from reality. When I have a hard time sleeping, I will start a new "story in my head." It helps me escape from the thoughts that are keeping me awake. If the story isn't logical or possible, it doesn't hold my attention, and I quickly fall asleep. If I'm stressed, sometimes I'll make up a daydream about a positive outcome to the situation that is wildly unrealistic and then work at the details until it becomes plausible. This gives my brain something else to focus on besides my stress and sometimes it results in real opportunities.
Have you given daydreaming a try? It's a powerful tool to allow yourself to aim high and then figure out how to make it work later. There's no real risk or judgement because daydreaming is literally all in your head. Work on hoping for change instead of just wishing for it. I truly believe there is power in a daydream!
Just this week my daydreams have come full circle. The Chevy Lumina of our newlywed years served us well for hauling friends and moving boxes, but it created an aversion to minivans that my husband and I have shared for almost two decades. Now it's time for us to get a new vehicle, and earlier this week my husband walked in the door with a few spec sheets from the car dealership where he'd stopped to do some research on his way home from work. One of them was folded in half, and he said he would save that one for last because it was his favorite. I assumed he was joking and that it contained details of an expensive sports car, but instead, he unfolded the paper and dramatically announced that his favorite was a MINIVAN — and he was dead serious! Now I'm daydreaming of third row seating, extra cup holders, a roomy center console, and how we will get the best features for the lowest price. Watch out car salesman — my daydreams about minivans tend to come true!
I used to tease my kids when they were grumpy and say, "Don't have a saditude!" or "Turn that frown upside down!" Those silly sayings would make them smile against their will, and that smile would contribute to a slightly better attitude.
We've all heard that even though circumstances are beyond our control, we have the power to choose how we react to them. But the question I've always asked is HOW do I get the strength or even the desire to react positively? Sometimes it just seems easier to stay down and complain about it rather than see the bright side of getting knocked down in the first place.
The more I read self-development books and biographies of successful people, I see common themes in their lives. Many of those are small habits done regularly for long periods of time. Some of those habits sound great, but are really difficult for me to adopt like getting up at 5 a.m., running miles a day, or never eating sugar. There is one habit, though, that I read about time and time again, that seems very doable for just about anyone - practicing gratitude.
As the holidays approach, you've likely been hearing more about gratitude than ever before. The research is abundant about how gratitude affects not only our attitude, but also our relationship with others and our mental, physical and spiritual health.
A Harvard Health Publishing article explains what happens when people begin to acknowledge the good things in their lives. "In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power."
Neuroscientists at USC have studied the impact of gratitude on the brain and have learned that there are actually links between being grateful and our brain structure. They have found that gratitude can prompt the creation of brain chemicals that increase feelings of being connected to others. It is important to note that the changes in the brain, and consequently in our lives, don't happen immediately, but actually accrue over time. This is actually kind of exciting because once you learn to incorporate gratitude into your routine, it becomes an automatic mood booster that is only going to grow as time goes on.
Practicing gratitude doesn't only benefit ourselves, but there is research to suggest that grateful people are more likely to be generous and altruistic. University of Oregon neuroscientist, Christina Karns, researched the connection between gratitude and generosity and learned that they are both controlled by the same area of the brain. Think about the snowball effect this has - the more grateful you are, the more likely you are to be giving, which could provide reason for others to be more grateful and give. This cycle could go on and on!
I think we are all convinced that being grateful is a good thing, but how do we actually learn to recognize what we are grateful for and achieve these benefits? The experts have suggestions including keeping a gratitude journal, writing letters of thanks, and visiting those you haven't properly thanked in the past. I want to share 10 of my favorite ideas with you, and I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!
I'm extremely grateful for all the blessings in my life, and it's a wonderful time of year to stop and recognize them all. I wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving, and pray it is filled with gratitude and giving!
Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash
Harvard Health Publishing. “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Harvard Health, Healthbeat, 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.
Lindberg, Eric. “Practicing Gratitude Can Have Profound Health Benefits, USC Experts Say.” USC News, University of Southern California, 25 Nov. 2019, news.usc.edu/163123/gratitude-health-research-thanksgiving-usc-experts/.
Wong, Joel, and Joshua Brown. “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley, 6 June 2017, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain.
Samuel, Sigal. “Giving Thanks May Make Your Brain More Altruistic.” Vox, Vox, 27 Nov. 2019, www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/11/27/20983850/gratitude-altruism-charity-generosity-neuroscience.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
I'm going to be honest — I don't always love my two hour per day commute, but since that's how long it takes me to get to and from my job, I have learned to make the best of it. Those hours in the car are where I really zoned in on my love of productivity, cultivated some important relationships, did a lot of deep thinking, came up with some great ideas (like starting this blog), was entertained, learned new things, and managed my busy schedule.
How do I accomplish all of those things while driving? Very safely, I assure you! There are 5 key ways I have found make a commute more productive.
1. Podcasts and Audio Books
When I first began my long commute, I realized that I'd essentially lost two hours of my day getting to and from work. I wanted to find a way to change those two hours a day from a source of frustration to at least partially productive. I started with an audio book that I only allowed myself to listen to on my commute. What this did was actually make me look forward to the drive so I could find out what happened next! I also used a Bible app and, instead of reading Bible passages daily, I listened to them.
Then one day, it all changed when I searched "productivity" on the Podcast app on my iPhone. I discovered The Productive Woman podcast, and I was hooked! I devoured all the back episodes and learned about other productivity and organization podcasts that I could enjoy like Organize 365, The Productivityist, and Beyond the To Do List. Soon I was branching out to other podcasts about parenthood (The Longest Shortest Time), happiness (Happier with Gretchen Rubin) and eventually even true crime (Serial, Crime Junkie) and fictional stories (Limetown). There are so many more great podcasts out there on every topic. You can be entertained, educated or inspired every day on your way to work!
2. Recording Yourself
I'm not ashamed to say that I talk to myself. I need to talk things through to help me process them, and sometimes I don't really want or need anyone else's input. For me, saying things out loud helps me to make sense of them, but I've discovered that recording myself and listening back takes it to the next level! I use the voice memo app on my iPhone which can be launched with Siri. After recording myself explaining an idea or hashing out something that's been weighing on my mind, I listen back to myself. Something amazing happens when I listen to myself talking — I forget it's me, and I am able to objectively process what I've said. It's almost as if you're hearing someone else's voice talk about something familiar which allows you to gain insights and spark new ideas.
3. Voice Commands
Between my job and my personal life, there are always emails and text messages to return. I rely on my iPhone and Siri to help me get some of those taken care of on the road. "Hey Siri" helps me listen to emails or text messages and send replies. I typically only send voice to text messages to people I know can overlook typos, though!
I also use voice commands to create reminders on my Reminders app. This is likely the most helpful of all these tips. When I think of something I need to do at home that evening, I just say, "Hey Siri remind me at 8 p.m. to ..." I can also create appointments on my calendar just as easily.
Hands free phone calls are a great use of time in the car. I talk to my mom almost everyday on my way to work. It's a routine that we've developed, and it makes the time on the road go quicker and be meaningful. I also try to catch up with other friends and family on the way home in the evenings.
I use the app, Voxer, to leave voice messages for friends that aren't available at the same time I'm available to talk because of time zones or different schedules. The ability to talk and listen when I have time has allowed me to be more connected and develop stronger relationships. Even though we aren't talking in real time, we are talking. I look forward to having messages to listen to, and it's great to be able to talk to someone when I need to talk — even if they aren't available. I also use group Voxer messages when I want to tell two or more people the same thing at the same time, but they aren't both available.
In addition to having meaningful conversations, I also use this time for making mundane phone calls like making appointments — especially ones where you may have to be on hold for a while. After making an appointment, I just use voice to text to add it to my calendar, and viola! I've marked a task off my to do list!
"In our noisy, busy lives, there isn't a lot of time spent in silence, and a commute is a great opportunity to take advantage of some quiet time."
The radio in my vehicle only works about a third of the time, the CD player hasn't worked for years, and I can't plug in my phone to my car. (Sidenote: it's about time for a new vehicle!) This means I rarely listen to music in my car, and when I do, it's really special. At first, I missed the radio, but soon, I learned to love the silence. It gave me to opportunity to think, talk to myself (see above) and pray (with my eyes open!)
In our busy, noisy lives, there isn't a lot of time spent in silence, and a commute is a great opportunity to take advantage of some quiet time. If you drive like I do, you can't exactly meditate, but it is still therapeutic to be alone and quiet. If you take a train or other public transportation, some noise cancelling headphones would do wonders for you even if you didn't listen to anything but the silence!
When you spend so many hours in the car, you start to develop habits or hacks to make it more tolerable. Here are just a few more of my tips.
As my boys grow out of the little kid stage, I have become more and more aware of how fleeting childhood is. I have to admit it makes me kind of sad to think about my little boys growing into young men. The things that use to seem annoying — silly cartoons, endless games of pretend, so many Legos®, little socks without mates, countless drawings covering the refrigerator, or lots of toys lining the side of the bathtub — now, I long for more!
I'm realizing now that what matters most to me is time together, shared experiences, and memories made. The memories are in my head and heart, but having tangible things to see and touch, help me remember more vividly. It is very easy to get into a state of mind (like I am as I write this) that you want to hold onto your children or your life as it is now and never forget it — and to do that, we feel like we should save everything! It's funny how something very small or seemingly insignificant can jog your memory and bring back emotions you felt at the time you first had the experience. A little note in scribbled handwriting, a self portrait drawn in Kindergarten, a story written by an imaginative elementary student, a photo, a ticket stub, a program from a school concert, or a spelling test with a big red A+ all will transport you back in time, if only for a moment, to re-experience the event you were commemorating by saving the item. Hanging onto all of our kids' stuff can quickly become a dangerous practice unless you can afford to add on a wing to your house for mementos!
I've found that time is the best way to determine if something is really worth saving. Once you throw something away, it's gone, so I have made the decision that if I have a slight feeling of attachment to an item, I will save it — at least for a while. Way back when I started My Life In Order, I wrote about paper organization and shared a workflow that helped me stay on top of all the paper that comes into our home. A big part of that process is about how I handle items that I consider mementos. Today, I'm going to share with you my current system for memento organization, and in a later post I will explain how my system is evolving as my children get older.
Step 1: Keep or Trash?
Commit to making quick decisions about everything that comes into your home. There are really only two options with mementos — keep or trash. Just because you choose to keep an item in this first step, doesn't mean you have to keep it forever, so don't spend much time worrying about the quantity of items you save in this step.
I used to save too little in this step, and my little guy would often rescue his beloved artwork or a worksheet he was particularly proud of from the recycling bin. I've finally found a happy medium between saving everything and trashing the majority, and the key has been asking my kids about what they would like to save. Sometimes I'm surprised what they want to save but also at what they DON'T want to save.
I have an inbox in my kitchen specific for mementos. This is the perfect spot for me, because all paper flows through my kitchen! But before I put items in that inbox, I review them for things I obviously don't need to keep.
Step 2: Separate and Store
Once your inbox is full or at a specific, regular interval, take the contents of your inbox and separate mementos into types and store somewhere accessible. We all have different types of mementos, so it's important to separate them in this step and determine specific storage spaces for each type. I have four main types with their own short term storage solution:
"Don't overwhelm today with all the stuff of yesterday"
Step 3: Review and Prune
Every once in a while, you will need to review and prune your mementos so you don't run out of space. The added benefit of this review is that you can experience the memories that go along with these items again. In reality, the only mementos I do this with regularly are the kids'. The natural time to review is between school years. It's kind of fun to spread everything from that drawer where we put items throughout the year all over the floor and go through them together. If there's an item that neither of us can remember what it is or why we saved it, that's a sure sign that it should be trashed! At the end of a school year, I also have more clarity about if I saved WAY too many spelling tests or drawings, and then with the help of each child, I can choose the best of the best to save long term.
Each year I purchase a small container, and only allow myself to save the amount of paper that will fit in that bin. This finite amount of space helps to keep the mementos to a respectable amount. I realize that with two kids and one container per school year, this will add up fairly quickly. Currently I have the back of one closet dedicated to these items, but I know that as more time passes, I'll be able to repeat the review and prune process a few more times to get the kids' mementos down to an even more manageable amount. The more time that passes, the easier it is to determine what is worth saving. Don't forget to go through this process with the over-sized items from Step 1 that you may have stored elsewhere.
Much of Step 3 depends on the amount of space you have. Don't overwhelm today with all the stuff of yesterday. You will need to determine how much space you are willing to dedicate to mementos and be sure that they don't interfere with living your daily life to the fullest.
I'm planning to pare down my kids'mementos even more as time goes on. The truly important mementos will automatically show themselves — you'll remember what they mean while you may forget why in the world you saved some of the other things! My oldest is turning 13 in just a few weeks, so I'm using this milestone to motivate me to create a system for him that will allow us to continue to save important mementos in a way that will be easily accessible when it's time to make a high school graduation party display and small enough for him to take to his own home someday. I'll be working on this over Christmas break, so stay tuned for Memento Organization: Part 2!
Sometimes it seems easier to just give up than it does to start over. That's why some people never get their house organized, complete their passion project, or lose that weight they want to. It's easy to get excited about the possibility of achieving a goal, but it's much harder to see it to completion.
I'm here to tell you that I have been there — lots of times. I'm actually there right now! A few weeks ago I vowed to lose 15 pounds in 6 weeks. It's been —honestly, I don't even know off the top of my head how many weeks it's been — but it's been a few weeks, and I'm not even close to my goal. It would be easiest for me to just throw my hands up in the air and say, "This is too hard. I'll never lose weight." and just quit trying. But I'm going to propose a different way. I'm going to simply start over.
I have been successful in completing goals and even achieving more than I set out to in the past, so I'm going to look closely at those instances to try to figure out how I was successful. One example that comes to mind is the e-book I decided to write and publish in 6 weeks. Even looking back, I'm not sure how I pulled it off, but I did! I have a finished product that I'm really proud of, an e-book for sale on my website called Get Started Head First.
After that experience, I was really pumped up and felt like I could achieve anything. I gave myself a week off, and then jumped right back into another 6 week sprint — the one where I was going to lose 15 pounds. Well...I've already told you this experience has yet to be successful, but why?
When I really sat down to think about it, the answers were very simple. In order to achieve a difficult goal, I need a strict framework to keep me on track and focused. I didn't have that for this attempt at weight loss. I think we will all agree losing weight is hard for lots of reasons. I wrote about my struggle in a previous post, Weight: A Heavy Topic. After the high of finishing a 6 week sprint with my e-book, I think I forgot how hard it really was, so I didn't spend the time and effort in the planning stage to set myself up for success.
Here are the things that made me successful in achieving a goal in the past and how I am going to apply them in the future:
Accountability and Honesty
In my previous 6 week sprint, I publicly announced my goal and my time frame, and I did weekly live videos to report on my progress. This time, I also publicly announced my goal and my time frame, and I did one weekly live video to report on my progress. As soon as I realized I wasn't on track and my progress wasn't what I wanted it to be, though, I stopped checking in. Without that accountability, it was too easy to fall back into old habits. I wasn't even being accountable to myself because once I saw that the scale wasn't moving in the right direction (and sometimes in the wrong direction.) I stopped weighing in and recording my weight feeling like I'd be better off not knowing how I was doing. It soon became easy to go back to my old way of eating since no one would know.
This time around, I'm going to be stickler with accountability. I'm going to check in on my Facebook page with a live video every week to let you know the good, bad and the ugly of how it's going. I'm going to be honest with those I'm accountable to, including myself. Ignoring my shortcomings or even lying about them doesn't help me move in the direction I want to go. I will write down my food and weight daily even if I'm not proud of them!
The 6 Week Sprint Worksheet I used for writing my e-book was filled with small, bite-sized goals. When I filled out the worksheet completely, I was successful. I started out setting 6 weekly goals, and then broke those down into daily goals at the beginning of each week. This time around with my weight loss goal, I did set 6 weekly goals, but when I just looked back at my worksheet, I realized I only ever set the first week's daily goals and after that, I just walked away.
Without small, achievable goals written down so I could physically see them, I got overwhelmed and felt like I was failing at the whole goal all of the time. If I could have focused on just one day's goal, I would likely have been able to conquer that one thing at a time.
This time around, I'm going to put a daily reminder on my calendar to review and log my progress. In addition, I will create a weekly reminder to set daily goals for the upcoming week.
As much as I want to be able to do a million things at once, the truth of the matter is — I can't. I distinctly remember after finishing my e-book, and deciding on my next 6 week sprint that I couldn't decide between two things: losing 15 pounds and improving my online presence for My Life In Order. So what did I do? I decided to do them both! That was a mistake because I haven't done a good job on either of those projects. I was afraid I would be bored if I only chose to focus on one or the other. It's so easy to look back and see our faults, isn't it?
What I needed was true focus. Obviously I would still have to do all of my daily tasks and responsibilities, but to take on something "extra," it needed to just be one, focused thing.
This time around, I'm going to choose me and my health as my true focus. As much as I love My Life In Order and enjoy trying to figure out how to gain more followers, newsletter subscribers and potential clients, that's going to just have to fade into the background for now while I focus on my true goal of getting healthier for the next few weeks. My hope is that soon that healthy lifestyle will become one of those daily tasks and responsibilities and no longer feels like an "extra." When that's the case, I will take on a new project, but until then - one focus for me!
How about you, do you want to vow not to fail, but instead to start over with me? It could be anything you want it to be. Download a free 6 Week Sprint Worksheet, and give it a try. Just make sure you have:
How many times have you bought a brand new, pretty journal with good intentions to chronicle your life for future generations? After about three lengthy, detailed entries in your best handwriting, did you turn to a couple of scribbled sentences for the next few days and then find it buried in your night stand weeks later? What then? Do you jump back in or just come to terms with the knowledge that you’re just not the kind of person who uses “journal” as a verb?
I’ve been through this cycle several times — I’ve tried journals with dated pages, journals with built in fancy ribbon bookmarks, and journals with lined, dotted and grid pages. I’ve even given a gratitude journal and a bullet journal a go. Each time I’ve had the same experience when I tried to do it the “right” way — I only keep up for a very short time until I give up.
What if you could get all the benefits of journaling without all the guilt of not being perfect at it? Well, I believe you can! Here’s my formula for journaling YOUR way!
Throw out expectations
The very first thing you should do is throw all of those expectations you have of regularly journaling in beautiful script in great detail out the window! I’ve learned that lowering my expectations of myself is one of the most important things I could do to help me feel more in control. I wrote a whole post about it here.
Don’t worry about how you think it should be or what others have told you is the correct way to keep a journal. Instead, quickly jot down what appeals to you about keeping a journal. For me it was getting my feelings and ideas out of my head so I could begin to understand them. My journal is for me and me only, so I decided it didn’t really matter how my journal looked or was formatted or how often I wrote in it. Once I dropped the expectations, I began to use my journal for its real purpose a whole lot more!
Decide what matters to you
There are many uses for a journal, and you should decide which of them are meaningful to you. Choose one or many of these 10 ideas for your journal, and then you can personalize your approach.
Personalize your approach
Once you've identified which of the above are important to you, you can start using your journal! The only real rule that I abide by is writing a date on the page. This helps serve as a frame of reference when you look back at what you've written.
I use my journal in all of the ways I shared, and I switch fluidly between uses based on what is needed to achieve my purpose for keeping a journal in the first place. I just want to get things out of my head so I can begin to understand them from a more objective point of view. It doesn't matter how often or rarely you write, as long as your journal is a resource for you when you need it!
My approach is obviously going to be different than yours, but that's the beauty of journaling your own way. It is what you WANT it to be! If it's a personalized approach, it can't be wrong, just different than someone else's. I start with a blank journal and just fill it with what meets my needs, but if that is a little intimidating, you may want to try something like The Guilt-Free Journal for Women by Jan Silvious. Though I haven't tried this book myself, the description sounds awesome, "Here's the perfect way to break the guilt cycle! Packed with creative writing prompts and encouraging Scriptures, this whimsically illustrated diary has no calendar references, so you can write when you want to, and enjoy it! "
"...that's the beauty of journaling your own way. It is what you WANT it to be! If it's a personalized approach, it can't be wrong, just different that someone else's."
I like to get a new journal every January as a sign of a fresh start. I looked back at my entries for this year so far, and here is what I saw:
It's a lot of fun to read what I was thinking and feeling throughout the year. From these entries, I can see some goals I accomplished, some areas I'm still struggling with, and find some fresh inspiration to get back to projects I've put on the back burner. If I had put myself in a box and not used my journal if I didn't fit into it, I would not have these things to look back on and learn from.
I challenge you to stop feeling guilty about not keeping a journal the RIGHT way, but instead determine what you could gain from keeping one YOUR way!
Photo by Ana Tavares on Unsplash
Carroll, Ryder. “Bullet Journal.” Bullet Journal, bulletjournal.com/.
Silvious, Jan. Guilt Free Journal. Living Ink Books, 2002.
Last week I wrote about how Evernote makes it easy to take, store, and access notes at work, but Evernote is also great for keeping things in your personal life organized! Here’s a quick refresher about how Evernote works:
The uses for Evernote are endless, but I want to share some of my favorites with you:
This was one of my BEST parenting ideas ever! Whenever we are shopping and the kids see something they like, I whip out my phone, open up my Evernote app, and search for their note in my "Gifts" notebook. I just type in the name of the store we are at and then insert a photo of the item they like (I try to include the price in the photo if possible.) This takes less than a minute, but saves me SO much time — time spent listening to kid-whining and time spent trying to make up a Christmas or Birthday list for grandparents!
I keep a note for each person in my family and for close friends as well as a general one for other friends. If I’m online and see a cool gift idea, I sometimes paste the URL in my note. I also keep a note like this for myself — just in case my husband ever needs a good gift idea for me!
I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time remembering specifics about products I like especially if they are items I don’t buy very often. I used to have to guess what color of makeup I wore, what fabric softener scent I liked, and what type of cat litter worked best whenever it was time to restock.
I created a note for each shopping category with a picture of the product including any details like color, scent, size, type, etc. For example, I added a "Makeup" note with a photo of the type of pressed powder I like. I have a photo of the front and back so I can see the product name and the color information. In this note I have a picture or pictures of every type of makeup I like — eyeliner, eye shadow, mascara, blush, concealer, foundation, powder, lip color — I also may include the name of the best store to find each item and even record what a good price is.
Another note is titled "Cleaning/Household Products" where I include things that my family has a certain brand preference about like laundry detergent. I also have a note called "Clothes" where I record current sizes for each family member (my kids’ feet grow so fast, I can never remember the sizes.)
When you are shopping for home improvement projects, Evernote is very handy to store options so you can easily compare items that are at different stores all in one spot. Another great tip is to snap a photo of the measurements you wrote down so that when you’re at the store, you can make sure the item you want to purchase will fit in your space. When we were remodeling our kitchen, I must have counted how many of each type of cabinet handle we needed 20 times and then couldn’t remember when I was at the store. I finally got smart and took a picture of it, and put it in Evernote so it was easy to locate and accessible to me when I was ready for it. Keeping photos like these in Evernote is better than just in your phone’s photo app because Evernote is searchable.
Keeping track of all the details of every family members’ activities is no small feat, so I use Evernote as a cheat sheet! Many of you probably take photos of sports schedules or school field trip info, but how easy is it to find when you need it? Insert those photos into an Evernote note and you can easily find what you need when you need it! If the school emails you a PDF document, you can even insert that into a note. The things I access most in this category are the school calendar and sports schedules.
I also have a note that lists the times that my kids have lunch at school, so if I ever happen to be home and free during that time and want to go have lunch with them, I don’t have to call the school to find out what time they eat. I save the monthly school lunch menu in a note instead of printing it out or having to look it up on the website or in my email every time the kids want to know what’s for lunch.
Documents and Records
When you’re on the go, sometimes you are asked for information that you don’t typically carry with you or have memorized. For example, one time I rented a car and had the company pick me up, but when I got to their office to rent the vehicle, they required my car insurance information. Of course my insurance card was safely in my glove box in my car which wasn’t with me! After that experience, I took a picture of both of our vehicle’s insurance information that I can access anywhere I have an internet or cell phone connection.
I do the same thing for health insurance cards in case I’m in a situation where someone in the family needs medical care and I don’t have the insurance information with me. I also keep a "Medical" note with copies of vision prescriptions, names of medicines we take, things I want to talk to the doctor about at the next visit. I created a note to log my blood pressure for several days so that it was very easy to find the next time I went to the doctor. Let's face it, we are rarely without our phones these days, so having an app with critical information makes life easier.
I think it’s helpful to keep records of household purchases in case you need to know how old something is, where you purchased an item, or what style or color you used last time. You can take pictures of receipts, labels, or item numbers. Think about how easy that would make it to purchase matching paint or siding for your next big project!
When you’re working on a home improvement project, make a note or notebook for any pertinent information. Keep the business card information and estimate from the contractor in a note so it’s easy to find next time you need to refer to it.
I prefer to keep my work and personal Evernote accounts separate, but if you would like to have them in the same account, you could easily create a "Work" and a "Personal" stack and have several notebooks in each to keep them separate.
What I’ve shared likely just scratches the surface of what you could use Evernote for. It’s such a flexible tool, and the basic features are FREE! The possibilities are endless, and when you use a combination of the desktop, online and mobile app version, you can access your notes anywhere!
Did you think you'd be done with note taking when you were done with school? Depending on what type of job you have and what your responsibilities are at home, you may be taking more notes now than you did in high school history class!
How often have you jotted something down on a scrap of paper and by the time you needed to refer to what you had written, you'd lost it? Maybe you keep a small notebook with you at all times in case you need to make a note. How do you possibly find the just the right note when you need it? It may be time to consider a new way to store your notes so you don't lose them and can quickly find what you need when you need it!
In today's digital age, notes can be taken in many forms - handwritten, typed, or even as a voice recording. The best solution I have found to store and organize my notes is Evernote. This is a free app with upgrade options for a fee that allows you to take notes in different formats on different devices, store them in the cloud, and categorize them for easy access.
If you've never heard of Evernote or even if you have used the app for years, read on to learn some tips and tricks that will boost your productivity at work. In a later post, I'll share some ways Evernote can help you at home!
For those of you that have never used Evernote, it's a very simple, but powerful app available on mobile or desktop. After creating a free account, you can create notes. Each note is like a blank document where you can type text, insert photos, record audio, attach files, insert links, create tables, and even add sketches. One of the coolest features is the web clipper which can be installed in your browser. This allows you to easily save a screenshot, a portion of a webpage or an entire PDF document with a quick shortcut. It's easy to create bulleted or numbered lists and even insert check boxes. If you'd like to use a template, there are many free ones to search from. Need a reminder about a specific note? You can set one and get a notification on a certain date and time.
If you would like to group notes together, you can create notebooks, and for even more categorization, you can create stacks (which I like to think of as binders) where you can group notebooks together. To easily find notes, you can apply tags that are searchable. A note can have as many tags as you want. In addition to searching by tags, you can search all text in a note as well as text in any images. Because notes sync to multiple devices, you can always have your notes with you when you need them! If you want to collaborate with other Evernote users, you can share notes and participate in discussion about them.
All of these basic features, but if you want to upgrade your account and pay a subscription, other options are available such as the ability to create your own templates, the ability to send an email to a specific address to automatically create a note, store an even larger amount of notes each month, and have access to even better search options. Depending on your subscription level, you can sync notes across multiple devices. You can prepare for a meeting at your desk, and then take your tablet to the meeting.
Evernote at Work
Evernote is one of the first apps I open in the morning because I use it for planning my day, I created a note that includes a checklist for the day's "Must Do's" and another checklist of my "Would Be Nice To Do's." Below that I include a day's calendar broken down in 30 minute increments that I use to plan out my day.
First I fill in any appointments, and then I fill in the blanks with "Must Do's" and if there's any time left, I sprinkle in a few "Would Be Nice To Do's" I then keep a "Done List" of the things I actually accomplished for the day. I reference this note often throughout the day and add to my "Would Be Nice To Do's" as I think of them and record what I actually did on my "Done" list. This helps me visually see what I've accomplished for the day while also helping me to better understand how long tasks actually take so I can better plan in the future.
Since I use the free version of Evernote, I can't save an actual template, but I keep a blank note and just duplicate it every day. If you are interested in creating your own templates, you may want to consider the Premium plan.
I use Evernote to take notes during meetings if it's appropriate to type. Even if I take handwritten notes, I can snap a photo of them and insert as a note. Since Evernote can search text in images, even my handwritten notes are searchable!
Tags are a great way to easily filter notes so you can see all notes about a specific topic at once. I suggest creating a few categories of tags like dates, people, meeting types, subjects. To make it easy on yourself, consider a prefix for each category so you don't get confused. Here's a few examples:
Using check boxes for to do's that come up during a meeting are a great way to make sure you don't forget to do the tasks assigned to you. In Evernote you can create saved searches, and the most powerful of these searches is the one I set up for "unchecked to do's." I can quickly click on this and see every note that has an unchecked check box. Then I can either do the task if it takes less than 2 minutes and check it off, or, if it will take longer, I can add it to my master task list.
I also like to indicate when others have a to do. You could do this by inserting a certain character, emoji or colored text to indicate whose task it is. This is especially helpful when you share your notes with those who were assigned tasks during the meeting.
I created a meeting template for myself that I duplicate for use for meeting notes. If you'd rather use a template that's already created, check out all the free template options.
Other Ways to Use Evernote at Work
I can't wait to share how I use Evernote at home. Stay tuned for those useful tips next time!
Today is My Life In Order's two year anniversary! It's hard to believe that I've been writing for so long. A year ago I published "One Year of My Life In Order" which was pretty exciting, but this year I've got something even bigger to celebrate!
Over the past few weeks, I've been working on my 6 week sprint, and it's culminated in a product I'm very proud of — my e-book, Get Organized Head First!
Get Organized Head First is a book about changing your mindset to help you get organized and be more productive. There are also two practical projects to help you dive into organizing plus lots of bonus content! Here's a sneak peak into what you can expect in the book:
Introduction: My "Before" Story
Chapter 1: A Life In Order
Chapter 2: A Lego® Lesson
Chapter 3: What T-Shirts Teach
Chapter 4: You're In Charge
Chapter 5: Help Me!
Chapter 6: Order in Real Life
Chapter 7: Organize Your Home
Chapter 8: Organize Your Head
Chapter 9: Rewrite Your Story
The book is on sale now, and anyone who takes the time to read this full post will get to use this coupon code to get the book for just $4! Use code: BLOG at checkout.
Get Organized Head First E-Book
We've all had those days where everything seems to go wrong and you end up feeling overwhelmed and out of control. What if you could change those feelings and regain control of your life? You can! In this e-book you will start to understand what it means to get your life in order and learn some simple strategies to get more organized and be productive in your real life!
My boys share the responsibility of emptying the dishwasher each morning. The oldest puts away the dishes, and the youngest puts away the silverware. Sometimes they had a hard time telling if the dishes were clean or dirty, so I bought one of those magnets for your dishwasher that you flip over to indicate if you ran the dishwasher or not!
This is a great system - - if you use it. I would often either forget to turn the magnet around, so when the boys got up in the morning and saw "dirty," they'd be thrilled with one less chore for the day. Or, even worse, I would forget to run the dishwasher and leave the magnet saying "clean" causing dirty dishes to get put into our cabinets. The magnet became so unreliable, my 8 year old son looked at my earnestly one morning, pointed at the dishwasher magnet and asked me, "Mom, does the magnet speak the truth?" I cracked up, but it made me realize that if I didn't use the system faithfully, it became less efficient than not having a system at all.
Any productivity system has to be followed regularly and fully in order to be effective. This can range from something as simple as a dishwasher magnet, to your shared calendar with your spouse, to your task management strategy.
"...it made me realize that if I didn't use the system faithfully, it became less efficient than not having a system at all."
The key to staying regular with your systems is to develop them one at a time. Read my previous post about how to track a new habit and get a free printable to help! If you try to wake up one day and suddenly reinvent yourself with several new routines, habits and systems, you're not going to be successful. Master one before adding in another. For a system to work, you must set up in a way that is easy to maintain because if you don't consistently use the system, you won't trust it. One system that you have absolute trust in is your calendar!
Develop a Trusting Relationship with Your Calendar
Regardless of your preference between paper or digital, if you don't use your calendar for everything, you will lose confidence in it, and it becomes nearly useless! I recommend a hybrid approach to a calendar with the primary tool being digital with a secondary physical calendar of some sort posted in your home. Digital calendars allow you to capture appointments as soon as you are aware of them - enter in your kids' next dental cleaning before you leave the dentist's office and add the sports practice schedule to your calendar as soon as you receive the text from the coach. Digital calendars make it easy to set recurring entries or record future appointments. There are many tools available, but Google Calendar is one of the most popular (and my favorite!)
Here are 5 ways to make your digital calendar your trusted helper:
My motto is "If it's not on my calendar, it doesn't happen!" This frees my mind and memory for more important tasks than just remembering where I'm supposed to be when!
I like the addition of a physical calendar at home to visually display to my family what's going on for the month. Use a different color for each family member so they can quickly scan to see what appointments impact them. Just as with your digital calendar, you have to be diligent with keeping it updated. I look forward to filling in my cute chalkboard calendar that I got on Etsy at the end of each month for the following month. I use my digital calendar as my master and fill in the next 30 days for all to see. Each evening, around dinner time, I take care of any changes on the calendar. The first time that your calendar "doesn't speak the truth" will be the last time your family trusts it!
I read a lot of blogs, articles, and books about productivity, and one of the top suggestions for success is developing habits and routines - specifically in the morning.
Morning is a time of day I love to BE up and productive, but my problem is the GETTING up! Many of the books say you should get up at 5 a.m., exercise, meditate, and never look at your phone. Well... my mornings have almost always been the total opposite of that. I've traditionally set the alarm for as late as possible to allow me a few snoozes and then scurry around until I'm all sweaty and it's a little past time to get in the car for my commute.
I've gone through spurts where I got up early and walked on the treadmill or did yoga or maybe even read an enriching book, but it never lasted much than a workweek. I'd look to other research to support my theory that maybe I'm just not a morning person. The book The Power of When by Michael Breus is very interesting and suggests that each of us have a chronotype that dictates when we tend to perform the best. Though there's truth that I might not naturally pop out of bed at 5 a.m. happy and looking fresh, work and school still start early in the day, so I've got to figure out how to embrace the morning! I distinctly remember the feeling I had one crisp, fall day in college when I'd gotten up early to finish a paper and walked across campus to turn it in. I closed my under-20-year-old eyes, breathed in the cool air, and thought, "It feels good to already be done with something this early in the morning." I often think of what it felt like to breathe in that feeling of early morning achievement. How do I get that feeling back? How do I become consistent in early accomplishment?
Here's what I've come up with:
1. Have Something You're Excited to Get Up For
THIS is where it's at! If you enjoy sleep more than you enjoy what you do in the mornings, obviously, it's going to be hard to get out of bed. Thinking back to that feeling I had of early morning accomplishment when I was in college - what I remember most was the beautiful, cool morning air. I used to, very rarely, and only on a weekend, go out to my deck to read if I needed some alone time. The weather had to be perfect, the angle of the sun had to be perfect, and the timing had to be perfect so there was no dew on my chair. All three of those things aligned a few weeks ago, and I was enjoying my book and the sounds of the birds in my backyard. I looked around me and saw the overgrown plants, the dusty table, and the leaf-covered boards of my deck. I decided if I was feeling so calm and enjoying my book in the outside so much in the midst of that disaster, how great would I feel with pruned plants, a clean table and a swept deck? I spent a few hours that day cleaning things up and vowed to sit outside every morning that week before work for at least a few minutes and do something I wanted to do - read, write in my journal, work on my blog, plan in my calendar, do a devotion, just sit and listen to the morning - whatever I wanted! What a great week it was - I made progress on my e-book, I planned, I read, I smelled my flowers! I'm not going to lie, there was a day that all I did was take two deep breaths of morning air and then headed back inside, but even on that day, I looked forward to getting outside, which made it much easier to get out of bed!
For me, getting outside coupled with having some dedicated time to do what I wanted to do was key! I did have to adapt to the dew on the chairs (a towel to sit on or a chair from inside brought out) and the humidity (not fixing my hair until after the outside time), but because I was excited about the time set aside accomplish my personal goals, I made it work! Now that I've made going outside in the mornings a habit, I'm going to try to get up a little earlier in the coming weeks to enjoy more of that time! Winter in Indiana may prove a little difficult for outside time, but I plan to create a nook somewhere to stand in for my deck during the worst of the weather (though I'm not going to dwell on winter weather when I still have late summer and fall still to enjoy!)
2. Do what you want to -- and what you don't
As excited as I am about my outside, alone time to do thing things I want to do, I'm still a mom, wife, homeowner, and employee, so everyday there are tasks that aren't necessarily making me jump up and down with joy. But since I'm allowing myself that time to do what I want to do, it makes those other tasks not as bad. Is there a really daunting task for work that you could get a jump start on at home, do you need to start a load of laundry or maybe even scrub the toilet? Pick at least one task that you don't care for (and it's ok if it's a tiny one) and just get it done! You will feel so good that you've gotten it out of the way
"I often think of what it felt like to breathe in that feeling of early morning achievement. How do I get that feeling back? How do I become consistent in early accomplishment?"
3. Plan ahead
I wrote about this topic earlier this year, but I think it makes such a difference in a morning routine that I'll sum it up for you again. Limit your morning decisions by picking out your outfit, and either pre-packing your lunchbox or at least having go-to snacks available to pack. Use your phone to remind you of what you need to do on a specific morning or to alert you when it's time to get in the car! I also like to time myself so I know exactly how long certain morning tasks take.
Multi-task! Normally, I'd tell you single-tasking is a better bang for your buck, but in the morning, you can do a few things at once like let your hair dry while you put on your makeup. Quit opening up the same cabinet over and over - plan your morning attack and be efficient! Leave something in your home clean before you exit the house for the day - for me it's my bathroom counter, for others it's their made bed. Give yourself a quick win to start the day feeling productive! And finally, make a note of all the stuff floating in your head rather than trying to remember it. A note on a piece of paper, a digital note on your phone, or even a voice memo, are all great ways to empty your head without worry of forgetting so you can focus on your morning routine. (If you'd like to read to whole post about tips to avoid a mad rush morning, click here.)
It's really hard to get up early (and do it consistently) if you don't get enough sleep. That's not a profound statement, just common sense. In a previous post, I wrote about a really good day I had that began with a good night's sleep, so I wanted to figure out how to consistently get that kind of sleep to create more really good days! I've found that stress has a huge impact on my sleep, so making my bedroom as calming as possible is a must! Even if the rest of the house isn't clutter-free, I try to make sure my bedroom and bathroom are picked up. A bedtime goal (mine is 10:30 - 11:00 p.m.) also helps, but I've found that one of the most important parts of getting a good night's rest is to go to bed before my husband. Reading a physical book in bed to the light of my bedside lamp with the noise machine set on the rain sound makes me sleepy. I use a specific scent of lotion every night (and only at night) right before I turn off the lamp to tell myself it's sleeping time! I also prepare for whatever temperature I might want in the middle of the night. If I start out with no socks, I have a pair on my bedside table. I have headache medicine in my bedside drawer and some water within arm's reach just in case. The quicker I take care of small nighttime nuisances, the more sleep I can get. My sleep goal is 7-8 hours per night. I track it with my fit bit, and normally am just shy of 7, so I've got some room for improvement!
5. Don't compare
Who cares if you haven't run three miles or read a chapter of a personal development book or made your family a hot breakfast? Morning routines are about YOU, not everyone else. Like I admitted earlier, my personal, outside time on some days is literally just breathing! What matters to me is that I'm up, I'm motivated, and I'm growing. I don't share my ideas and experiences with you so that you feel bad about yourself for not doing exactly the same, I'm sharing them so you can feel inspired or motivated to find your own, personal morning routine that works for you! As much as I wish I loved exercising and could check that off my to-do list before 8 a.m., it's probably never going to be part of my morning routine (because I will continue to be red-faced and sweaty even post-shower for hours after any level of physical exertion!) So, you know what? I'm ok with my own routine that may not fit the "ideal" because it fits me!
I encourage you to find what works for you and stick with it for at least 3 weeks to determine if it's going to move the needle. I could see positive change after just one workweek of going outside in the mornings, but one workweek does not a habit make - keep it up! I would love to hear what you find as the key to your morning - share with us in the comments or on the Facebook page!
I've been planning to write an e-book for about a year. I'd get super excited about it, dreaming about all the people that I might be able to give just a little bit of help or encouragement, and then I'd start doubting myself. I came up with excuses why I couldn't or shouldn't put my content out there for the world to read, and I just plain procrastinated! Fear of failure and rejection set in, and I put that goal aside.
Well, this week, I decided I'm going to just start and not in a "someday I'll publish this" way, but in a hard core, 6 week sprint with a for real deadline kind of way! This spring, I listened to Natalie Eckdahl on her Biz Chix podcast talk about hitting your next goal in just 6 weeks, and I got excited. She told success stories, and I was sure I could do it! But soon, the excuses started again as I looked at my calendar and realized there was a vacation coming up in the next 6 weeks, and that would just throw a wrench in things. The next time I thought about it, there was something else on the calendar in the following 6 weeks, and I was a little relieved to have another "reason" not to start.
Choosing not to proceed - not to challenge myself - limited me and made me feel inadequate. I really believe this began a vicious cycle that caused me to began procrastinating on all sorts of other things. Not only was I not accomplishing my goals, I was feeling guilty and weighed down by all that was undone. A good friend recently gave me some great advice. She said to pick one thing that I could finish that day, just one. I did it, and you know what finishing just one little thing did for me? It gave me momentum to want to do more and more! In Brian Tracy's book, Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, he shares about the old saying: 'if you eat a live frog first thing each morning, you'll have the satisfaction of knowing that it's probably the worst thing you'll do all day.' Use the frog as a metaphor for that thing that you know you should do and that you know you'll feel better when you've done - and just start!
My Sprint Step by Step
There's no magic formula, but here's what I'm doing. Would you like to join me and do your own sprint to accomplish that thing that you've been putting off? You can download a FREE worksheet here, but please read on for some suggestions.
Don't wait for a Monday or the first of the month or when things slow down at work or when the kids start school - start TODAY!
Announce your goal to at least one other person
If you keep your goal to yourself, it's all too easy to continue procrastinating. Once you share it with even one other person, your chances of meeting your goal go up significantly. The American Society of Training and Development reports that chances of success increase by 65% when you commit to completing it to one other person and chances go up to 95% when you check in regularly to report on your progress. I am currently doing a 5 day Infinite Growth Challenge hosted by Pinterest Marketing Strategist, Rachel Ngom, and one of the daily assignments was to post in the Facebook group - for all to see - what the one thing you need to do even though you're scared to do it. I shared that I'm going to write my e-book, and now I feel accountable to the others participating in the challenge to get it done!
Commit to make forward progress (however small) EVERY day!
How big your goal is will determine how much you have to do every day, but don't let a day go by without some action. Create a chain that you promise yourself you won't break. 6 weeks is only 42 days - you can do this for 42 days!! Set aside a time each day where you will record your progress and adjust your plan. I've been spending 5-10 minutes on my deck in the mornings making my notes.
Start by thinking about what success will look like. That's where you want to be at the end of week 6. My goal is to publish an e-book by September 11, 2019 (which just happens to be My Life In Order's 2 year anniversary!) Now work backwards on what you have to do to get there, starting with weekly goals. Here are my weekly plans thinking with the end in mind:
I've decided to make out daily goals a week at a time. For example, this week looks like this:
Next week, I'll make daily goals around actually writing!
Now the hard part, actually do the thing! Here is a FREE printable I've created to help you be successful. Please share with us in the comments on this post or on the Facebook page what big things you will be accomplishing in 6 weeks! You've got this!! I'll be sharing with you my weekly progress on social media (so be sure to follow me on Facebook and Instagram) and I'd love to hear about your weekly progress, too. If you'd rather not share with everyone, feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org .
Will you help me with my research by completing a 1 minute survey? Click here! And, if you want to be one of the first to know when the e-book is available, sign up below!
Wissman, Barrett. “An Accountability Partner Makes You Vastly More Likely to Succeed.” Entrepreneur, 20 Mar. 2018, www.entrepreneur.com/article/310062.
Eckdahl, Natalie. “Hit Your Next Goal With a Six Week Sprint.” Biz Chix, 28 Mar. 2019, bizchix.com/363-hit-your-next-goal-with-a-six-week-sprint/.
Photo by Kaitlyn Baker on Unsplash
Vacation - that word should evoke feelings of rest and relaxation, but for many of us, it instead creates anxiety about what we will come back to when we return to the office. Access to email on mobile devices is a blessing and a curse! If you're like me, you have a constant internal struggle between "keeping up" with email and truly unplugging with the knowledge that you'll have hundreds of messages to wade through when you get back.
How would you like to not check email on vacation and get back to inbox 0 within a day of your return? Here are some tricks of how to do it! Follow these few steps to have more fun on vacation and not feel sick to your stomach about opening your inbox when you return! I use Microsoft Outlook at work, so most of the how-to's are specific to Outlook, but the tips can work for almost any email program.
Spend Minutes Before You Leave to Save Hours When You Return
In less than an hour before you leave for your trip, you can save yourself five times as much time when you get back. If your company uses Outlook and your email goes through a Microsoft Exchange server (as opposed to a mail provider like Gmail or Yahoo!), you can literally process your emails when you're far, far away and Outlook isn't even running! It's easy - just open Outlook, and click on "File" in the menu bar in the upper left of the screen. Choose "Automatic Replies," and after you've selected the dates and created templates for your replies, click on the "Rules " button - this is where it gets really cool! Here you can create nearly endless rules to automatically delete, move or forward messages based on a variety of criteria like who sent it, who it was sent to, the subject, etc. The rules run and take care of your messages automatically, so that even if your "no email on vacation willpower" fails you and you pull up email on your phone, those messages will already be taken care of.
If you use Outlook with a mail provider like Gmail or Yahoo!, you can create rules but they just won't run until you open Outlook, and you'll need to manually turn them on and off. Just click on the "Rules" icon on the "Home" tab and then select "Manage Rules & Alerts." If you use something other than Outlook, don't despair, you can create similar rules, too!
A Vacation Review Folder Makes You Feel Better
On my last vacation, I tried to only check email occasionally and when absolutely necessary. After a total of 6 days out of the office I came back to 1, 200 emails . I actually had received 1,600 but because the tip about out of office rules, 400 of those messages were automatically deleted or moved to a folder for me. But still, 1,200 emails is a LOT, and I needed some shortcuts to get through them quickly and without missing anything important. The first step to get through a post-vacation inbox is to create a new folder where you can move items you need to reply to or that contain an action.
Here's how you do it in Outlook:
As you go through the next few steps I'm going to outline for you, this folder will be a holding tank for your later to do's. To make it very easy to quickly move items to this folder, set yourself a Quick Step. When a message is selected in the Inbox view, you can simply click on the Move to "Vacation Review" Quick Step to immediately move it out of your Inbox and into this folder.
Here's how to create a Quick Step in Outlook:
Who It's To Helps Make Quick Decisions
After you have your Vacation Review folder created and a Quick Step set up, I suggest starting by grouping your messages by who they were sent TO. This allows you to quickly see which messages you were only CCd on and which messages were sent to a large group that may not require a response or action from you. This may allows you to delete large amounts of emails without reviewing each individual message.
Here's how you group messages in Outlook:
Expand one group at a time, skipping the group of emails sent only to you - you'll handle these in the next step. Quickly scan to decide if you can delete the whole group, and if so - go for it! If you think that there may be something you need in that group, get a closer look at an individual message without opening it by turning on a reading pane. Click on the View tab and choose your favorite reading pane location.
As you review individual emails, don't get distracted and try to do anything! You have three choices: 1. Delete (use your keyboard delete key or the delete icon), 2. Move to "Vacation Review" folder, or 3. Archive (move into your existing folder structure. To read my suggestions on a simple folder structure for email read Email Organization: Part 1.) The only other thing I'm going to give you permission to do at this point is to unsubscribe before deleting if it's an email list you no longer want to be part of.
It Matters Who It's From
Now you should be left with emails that were sent only to you. To make it easier to review, drag the "To" field back down to the Inbox grid, then follow the rules above to group, but this time right click on the "From" field. You will instantly recognize if a sender is spam or one that you need to pay attention to. Just like before, as you review individual emails using the reading pane, resist the urge to do anything. Just choose from the same three choices as above: 1. Delete 2. Move to "Vacation Review" folder, or 3. Archive. Remember you're allowed to unsubscribe before you delete since that will help you have fewer emails next vacation.
Get Ready to Get Stuff Done!
Now your inbox should be completely empty - unless you've gotten some messages while working through this process. It's ok to leave those few, unread messages in your Inbox for now. The Inbox is for new, incoming messages, and your Vacation Review folder is for your backlog of things to get done. Now you have a way to see clear progress as you get caught up.
Make sure your "Vacation Review" folder is set to conversation mode. Just go to the "View" tab and check the "Show as Conversations" checkbox. In the "Conversations Settings" drop down, make sure "Show Messages from Other Folders" is selected.
Sort by received date by clicking on the header until you have the oldest conversation first and then just tackle it! Keep a notepad handy because things are going to jump in your mind while you are working through your emails. You can just jot them down and not break your rhythm. I recommend working in sprints with breaks in between. Don't work for longer than 25 minutes at a time. Set a timer and when it goes off, check the Inbox for new, urgent items only, then at least take a stretch break before diving back into your "Vacation Review" folder.
It's ideal to have a full day back from vacation to play catch up, but since that's not realistic, you may have to settle for just a couple hours a day for several days to get through your backlog, but using this method will greatly reduce your stress and the time it takes to get caught up!
At the beginning of the year, I reflected on my past year and set a few goals for myself. One of the goals I had for my blog was to do a guest post on another productivity blogger's site. I'm proud to announce that I can check that one off of my list!
I was honored when Csaba Vadadi-Fulop, a fellow productivity lover who blogs at www.productivity95.com asked if I'd be interested in collaborating. We met while participating in the 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity book launch team. I published one of Csaba's posts on my blog in March about Productivity and Parenting, and this week, a post I wrote was featured on his blog, Productivity 9 to 5!
Please check out my post about Workplace Productivity in Real Life, and while you're at it, check out Csaba's free Productivity95 Manifesto - a kick-ass guide to supercharge your productivity.
Now I’m feeling motivated to crush a couple other of my goals - writing an eBook, hosting a webinar, and developing some productivity products! Stay tuned....
Everyone has a junk drawer (or maybe more than one!) and most are filled with, well, junk! Maybe we should rename it a 'miscellaneous drawer' to remind us that this drawer doesn't have to be a cluttered mess. I'm in the midst of a kitchen remodel (read more about that here) so I had a great opportunity to rethink my junk drawer. In my previous cabinets, I actually had about 4 junk drawers, and though they looked fairly organized, there was just too much stuff! I consolidated everything into one large drawer and curated the contents to be only the items that didn't already have a home elsewhere.
Get Your Own Dream Junk Drawer
1. Empty junk drawers completely
Even if you will reuse the same drawer, it is still helpful to completely empty it. This gives you a concrete idea of how much stuff you actually have, allows you to clean the drawer and drawer organizers, and gives you a blank slate to work with. If you are lucky enough to have a brand new drawer, empty the old one before putting anything in the new one so you have really considered the necessity of each item.
2. Get rid of what you haven't used in the past 3 months
Maybe last time you went through your junk drawer, you were really into gum, but since you've settled on hard candy. It's ok to throw away your gum if you're never going to chew it! I keep small packages of tissues in this drawer, but whenever I pull out a package, I never choose one that isn't full, so I ended up with about 6 partial packages taking up precious drawer space. Instead of throwing these away, I took them all and put them in my car's console so they will get used up.
3. Relocate items that have a home elsewhere
I had two containers of toothpicks in my junk drawer, but I moved them to my kitchen cabinets where I stored the other box of toothpicks I'd recently bought because I'd forgotten there were some in my junk drawer! I also moved tea lights and votive candles to the drawer near my wax warmer where I keep all my scented waxes. I moved some small tools to my tool box and masking tape to my laundry room cabinet where I keep packing tape.
4. Group like items together
I used to have one container for rubber bands, paperclips, and twistie ties. I could never find a paperclip when I wanted one because they were hidden among all of the other items. I've now separated these things into two separate containers so now it's much easier to find what I want when I want it!
5. Get creative with drawer organizers
You can use pretty much anything for drawer organizers - products specifically for organizing drawers can be found at most stores, but you could also use dollar store plastic containers, small tins, small cardboard boxes, etc. Remember that size is key, you want enough room in each compartment for what you want to store there, but not too much space causing you to waste precious junk drawer real estate! I found some inexpensive drawer organizers at TJ Maxx, but they didn't have any very small compartments, so I nested some smaller organizers right inside, and viola, I had just what I needed.
6. Put lesser used items in the back
Organize your drawers by function, and store what you use the most at the front. For me that's pens and pencils, scissors and tape, gum and tissues. I need batteries and touch up paint much less often, so they are stored in the back of my drawer.
7. Make a shopping list for must have junk drawer items
After you go through your junk drawer, you may realize you're low on chap stick, missing a compact flashlight or could really use a new Sharpie marker. Keep a running list as you are cleaning and organizing your drawer so you don't forget next time you're at the store.
Last week I was in Las Vegas at a huge conference for my job in IT. As I sat way up in the nosebleeds in the arena needed to hold the 6,000+ people in attendance, I felt more than a little insignificant. I looked around and saw so many people that seemed to have more knowledge and experience than me, and though that could be a good thing - an opportunity to learn - it was also overwhelming!
Where do I start? There is so much, so many choices bombarding me everyday. I struggle with choosing an area to focus on and get better at, because I feel like if I do, I will neglect everything else - and what if there was a better choice and one that would have been more important or had more impact? Nearing 40, I'm starting to feel like my potential is fading. I used to be the youngest in the room, and many times the only woman. That was my identity - the young, promising woman poised for success, but now I ask myself, "Where did my potential go? What has been my contribution, and did anyone notice?"
Now, when I hear a motivational speaker, I get all fired up...for a minute. When I was younger and less experienced, I was more easily inspired, but the older I get, my level of cynicism grows as my level of inspiration wanes. I'm now more grounded and practical and want to see my actions and contributions matter. I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out.
"I find myself asking if I should just try to blend in, and I now realize that it's because I'm afraid I won't stand out."
Last week, I realized it was time to embrace that being a small part of something big is enough. As I pondered what this meant in my real life here's what I came up with:
What about you? Do you feel like you have to be on top to matter or have you already mastered the art of teamwork and honing your specific skills so that you can compliment others with a common, big-picture goal? I'd love to hear from you. Comment below or email email@example.com.
My husband and I have been talking about a kitchen remodel for years, and when the doors to our cabinets literally began to fall off, we knew it was time! We are still a ways from a final product, but I'm very happy with how the process has gone so far. I planned more for this project than any other home improvement project, and it's been worth it!
What I've learned so far:
I took a spring break from my blog. I'll be honest - for these past couple of weeks, I didn't know what to write because I've been feeling very "out of order," and I felt a little like a fraud for even having this blog when I felt so out of control. Control, that's a little word that seems to cause me so much trouble!
Last Sunday at church, was the first time in a while that I felt like it was ok to just sit and be. I was allowed not to worry, not to feel guilty about all I should be doing, and didn't feel inadequate for the things I've been trying so hard to do and not succeeding at. I was reminded that most of the minutia of my life, in the grand scheme of things, isn't really a big deal. The things that ARE a big deal, well, I can't really change the outcome in any way by worrying or fixating on them. The Bible verse, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?" from Luke 1225 is so true, so simple, and yet so hard to put into practice!
Like so many of you, I'm a faithful This Is Us watcher, and a couple of episodes ago, Randall and Beth were shown as young parents, playing the "what's the worst that could happen" game. I loved the reminder that even though there are always bad possibilities, the likelihood that they are going to happen is very slim, so it's not worth my energy to worry about them.
Most of us have had times in our lives where we wake up with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs thinking about what could happen today, and sometimes we convince ourselves ahead of time that we know what the outcome will be. I've learned through experience that there are two things I definitely can NOT do and those are predict the future or go back in time. Because I can't do those things, I'm trying to make it a habit to focus only on what I can control and not what I can't. It helps me to actually write out a list of each. When I spend my time on what I can control, it makes it easier not to fret about the rest. I realize now that being out of control is ok, is natural and once I accept it, can actually be freeing!
I found that the number of things I can control is much less that what I cannot. But that's what makes it manageable! My general list of what I can control is just this:
"When I spend my time on what I can control, it makes it easier not to fret about the rest."
For everything else that is swirling around in my head... it's helping me to identify specific things that are worrying me that are beyond my control. When I physically write them down it makes me admit that they are taking up space in my head and there's really nothing at all that I can do about them. Then I can give myself permission to just forget about them! I know that there are serious worries that many of us have related to our kids, health concerns, financial pressures, etc. I'm not saying just pretend they are not there, but focus on the parts of those that you can actually do something about. It's comforting to think that there's a bigger picture than I can understand, and I'm only responsible for my piece of the puzzle.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on control - how do you preside over your own life and how do acknowledge when something is truly out of your hands?
I'm a real life pinball machine. I feel that little ball pinging around inside of me. There are flashes of light competing for my attention, and I'm constantly pounding on the buttons that control the flippers to keep the ball from escaping the course. There are times I can remain focused, keep my eye on the ball and keep it from being lost. I feel proud of being in the groove and seeing my 'score' going up and up. But just when it seems like I've figured out this game called life, somehow I level up, and now instead of one ball to keep track of, there are two. And so it repeats until the pinballs have multiplied and become unmanageable and overwhelming. As my stress level increases, I can feel them in my chest, and I have to remind myself to stop and breathe. My head doesn't stop considering all of the demands and expectations. They are ever present - even in my sleep. I want to stop pounding the flippers and just let all of them slide, unopposed, down the chute. That would allow me to start a new game, a fresh one, where it's really possible to keep track of my responsibilities.
Rather than quit, we need to come up with strategies to make us better. Here are four ideas to get you started:
1. Recognize why you are overwhelmed
Are you always "on", always connected? Are you saying yes too often? Do you avoid delegating? Do you over promise or set unrealistic deadlines? If you answered yes to these, try disconnecting some of the time, saying no, sharing the load and giving yourself some margin!
2. Remove distractions
When you try to do too much, it's easy to try to multi-task to get it all done. When we try to do more than one thing at once, what we're really doing is building in distractions for ourselves. Work on short bursts of real focus. Try the Pomodoro Technique where you work without a break for a period of time, and then get up and away from your work for a short break time. Turn off notifications or even (gasp) close your email and instant messaging programs for a while so you are not tempted to check for incoming messages. If you work from home, designate an area that is your "office" and use that space only for working.
3. Take a break
Take short breaks like described above during working hours, but also consider taking a longer break from some responsibilities. It may be time to prune your schedule to allow for some free time in your week. Scheduling time to do nothing does not mean you are a slacker! Consider an actual vacation where you can really disconnect from your day to day responsibilities including the technology that ties you to them.
Practice really does make perfect. If there's something you want to accomplish, you have to get better over time. Learn from your mistakes, and systematically improve. Make lists, read books, seek advice from those who have been successful already.
I'm excited to share a very special post from my first guest blogger, Csaba Vadadi-Fulop from www.productivity95.com. I met Csaba when we were both part of the 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity book launch team. He has great content on his blog, and in this post he shares tips on remaining productive while parenting.
Productivity and Parenting
By Csaba Vadadi-Fulop
When your baby is born, a lifelong odyssey begins. You quickly realize that you must harness your down time more than ever before. Maybe you experience a paradigm shift in your life in terms of how you perceive your world: you might be more selective in what's important and what isn't. Both happened to me.
You, however, can't prepare for having a newborn―no matter what people say. But you can make significant adjustments to your life both before and after the birth of your baby and that's the topic I want to discuss in this post.
By the end of this post, hopefully, you'll get valuable insight about how you can channel your life back into order.
Adjusting Your Lifestyle
It goes without saying that you'll likely develop sleep debt, exercise debt, and the like. What's less obvious, though, is that it's much more than time. It's about your space-time continuum. The arrival of a baby and the events downstream will consume your space and time in a non-linear fashion.
It's beyond the scope of this post to discuss nursing, psychology, time management, and the like. Nor am I capable of giving such advice. I just want to share with you how becoming a parent literally changed my life in terms of how I operate on a daily level.
First, it forced me to switch from the PC to a MacBook. I've flirted with the idea for years, but it was the birth of my baby when I realized that the PC simply consumes too much space, cables are in mesh, and I have less flexibility to work. The MacBook was a game-changer. I was able to work practically everywhere at any time with the comfort of a king.
Second, when I purchased my wireless headphones I quickly discovered that I won't miss my loudspeakers anymore. I can listen to inspiring podcasts or my favorite band and take care of my duties, simultaneously. Washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, lifting my dumbbells? No problem, I just put on my magic headphones―with my iPhone laying on the kitchen table (!)―and my favorite podcast is with me all the time, regardless of whether I'm in the bathroom, bedroom, or yard. And my baby would still be sleeping or wondering what the heck dad wears on his shiny head.
Luckily I switched to consuming eBooks a couple of years ago, and I can say it was a good deal. EBooks don't take up any place; they're sitting in the cloud (Kindle cloud, by the way). So I can reserve some shelves for the storybooks dedicated to my little baby.
I've been extraordinarily resistant to changes for years including those related to the above-mentioned (portable device, headphones, eBooks). I always had an excuse―be it finance, reluctance, or fear―preventing me from diving into new things. Having a child is a perfect time to say no to your reluctant self!
Let's discuss the tech side of all those changes a little bit...
Adjusting Your Techniques
I use Nozbe as my task manager that's highly flexible to keep my life in order. I created a Baby project in Nozbe to home tasks that are related to parenting. When my wife was in the hospital with our newborn, I made a grocery-like checklist in Nozbe to ensure that I buy and deliver to the hospital everything my new family needed.
It was a highly demanding period: the born of your baby is psychologically demanding itself; on top of that you're supposed to take care of a lot of things, including the certificates of your baby, among others. Nozbe was a great partner in this period, too.
Later on, I kept important deadlines in Nozbe about vaccination and the like.
I still have my Baby project with a traveling checklist, recurring tasks such as weight recording, and more. This project will never end. Maybe I’ll rename it to, say, "Parenting" for the next twenty years.
It's one thing that you keep your tasks in a trusted system, another thing is finding a system to organize your notes.
Evernote is the note-taking app that I use on a daily basis to record and keep my notes, clip articles, save my journal entries, and the list is almost endless. I keep a lot of parenting related stuff in Evernote: baby first aid guides, nursing guides, weight journal, notes from the pediatrician, consultation hours, screenshots of diapers and medications, and much more.
Keeping a record of the baby's weight is a must. I created automation on my iPhone with the Workflow app: each week when my wife and I are recording the baby's weight, I just push a button on my home screen, enter the weight, and it will automatically appear in my Evernote weight journal with the appropriate date and time.
Sounds good? I still have much to improve...
There's always a place to improve and adjust your productivity system.
Selecting the clothes that I like the most is still ahead. The rest is best to go for a charity that will open up a lot of space in my wardrobe. But, again, it goes beyond space: it will free up mental space for me.
Integrating regular exercise into my weekly routine is another challenge: I want to fight off this challenge with immersing into different new sports and picking the one I like the most. Without feeling anticipation, it's hard to build a long-lasting habit.
It's my sincere hope that you got some ideas and motivation to adjust to dad life (or mom life). Parenting is a lifetime commitment; productivity is a never-ending journey: why not combine the two for multiple outcomes?
A while back, I wrote about my struggle with my weight, and I'm still working on it! I have a trip coming up in a couple of months which is a great motivator for me to set a goal and crush it! I've been trying to figure out how to keep track of my progress and while also setting myself up for success.
Research says habits are broken down into three parts:
Identifying triggers can help us to avoid them or come up with strategies to cope with them. I've always thought my triggers were stress and free food, but what I've been noticing is that the lack of a plan or accountability seems to be what really gets me in trouble.
I don't know about you, but I'm really good at rewarding myself, but I struggle to find a reward that is appropriate and doesn't undermine my intended outcome. For example, I often feel like when I've lost some weight, I "deserve" a milk shake or a candy bar or some jalapeno poppers! I think the reason I feel like I've earned some "bad" food is because I've felt deprived during the short stint of weight loss.
I've been brainstorming a way to help address my triggers and my feelings of deprivation. I ran across James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, who says that the first step to successfully developing a habit is to make one so small it's almost impossible fail. I like the idea of not failing, so I decided to give this miniature habit thing a try. I chose just one thing to focus on for a very short time period of time.
I saw an intriguing idea on Pinterest about tracking habits with a very simple chart with dates for an entire month listed down the left side of the paper and habits across the top. This would create squares that could be colored in to indicate completion of a task. Using different colors to indicate different actions gives a quick visual representation of your actions. I decided to create my own chart, and even though I fantasize about producing a beautiful bullet journal (and maintain a Pinterest board about it), I took a shortcut and created a printable that I could just color in. My chart is a little different, and instead of various habits across the top, I listed the hours in the day to help me see patterns in my eating throughout the day.
I wanted to track one goal at a time, every day and see my progress in small increments - as small as every hour. Each hour, I can color in the corresponding box with either green (I did good), red (I did bad) or blank (I didn't do anything related to my goal.) Then over just a few days, I can quickly see how I'm doing and if there are any particular days or times of days that are tripping me up. By focusing only on one goal, I am much more likely to be successful, and then I can eventually add additional goals after my first one has become a true habit.
My first goal was to avoid white flour. I tracked my progress for the last few days of February, and the picture above is how I did. What I noticed was that by focusing only on one goal, I didn't feel deprived and thus didn't feel the need to reward myself with food for a job well done nearly as much as I had during previous weight loss efforts. I also noticed that even though I was focusing on only one goal, it made me very conscious of my other food choices, and I ate better overall than I normally did. I love being able to look at my chart and immediately be able to tell that I have a good breakfast and morning snack routine going, but I eat lunch at all sorts of different times, and my problem time is evening and late nights! The jury is still out if this plan will work for me long term, but I'm excited to give it a try. Who knows, maybe this will work so well I'll eventually add in some exercise to the mix!
Check out the free Habit Tracker printable, and give it a try! You can come up with your own color system and make it as elaborate or as simple as you'd like. Print out just one or use multiples as you add to your goals and habits. I will be reporting back before my trip in May to let you know how this system is working for me. I'd love to hear from you if you test out this system and would especially like to see pictures if you draw a really pretty one in your bullet journal!
Quora. “The Science Behind Adopting New Habits (And Making Them Stick).” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Feb. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/02/13/the-science-behind-adopting-new-habits-and-making-them-stick/#4f1430e843c7.
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. Cornerstone, 2019.
I often hold back tears. There are various reasons - something reminds me of my grandma, my son outgrows an especially cute shirt, my husband says I look nice, someone else’s kid does a fantastic job at a school program - I’m really not picky with my teariness! Many of the times that I’ve felt like crying happy tears were because of music. A friend who I’ve never heard sing gets up and belts out an impromptu performance with a band, a Prince impersonator plays the piano, a child sings a clear, simple song, I am in a large crowd and can sing at the top of my lungs without judgement, the lyrics to a song say exactly what I feel, a song brings a vivid memory back to life, or the complexity and beauty of classical music overwhelms me - cue tears!
Music doesn't only make me cry, it inspires me. There are all sorts of music - some with lyrics that would make you blush, some that only sound good with a major twang, and some with a better beat than melody. I love all that this abstract thing we call music is - music is math, it’s art, it’s emotion, and it’s everywhere! Music brings people together, transforms us, allows us to express what’s deep inside, and displays God’s perfect design.
Music brings people together
Music connects us. Kids in a school choir from different social circles become friends over a common interest. Teens in a garage band become lifelong friends. A shared favorite band is a sign on a first date that a relationship will work. Strangers that both play an instrument are able to strike up a conversation.
You don't have to be a musician yourself to connect with others over music. Music is present at many of life's events where people gather - weddings, birthday parties, and even funerals. It's inter-generational, a conversation starter, and gives us a comfortable way to be together without talking. The same song can be appreciated by people who speak different languages, come from different backgrounds, or disagree on most everything else! Music connects us.
Music transforms us
Music transforms a shy kid into a performer, a stutterer into a clear communicator, a sad person into a healed person, a determined person into an accomplished one. I have a learned ability to play music, not a natural one. I’m so incredibly grateful to have taken piano lessons from ages 6-17 from an incredible musician, Ruth Berkebile. I am one of the hundreds of kids whose lives she impacted. (Here come my “leaky” eyes again!) I learned about getting better at something through practice and having the patience to see the results of that practice. She made me count, she taught me the theory behind the music, she made me sit up straight, she believed I could, she taught me to improvise. She gave me a lifelong gift, and when she suggested I teach piano, I could only hope to have a fraction of the impact she had on me and my life.
When I tried out for the school choir in Jr. High, I considered myself a "bad" signer, but thought I had a chance of getting in because I knew they needed accompanists. I got in, and though I don't know for sure it was my piano playing ability that got me there, I have a strong suspicion! Being in a choir gave me the opportunity to learn that I could be fulfilled without being the best, that surrounding myself with others who were better than me would help me grow, and that I could get better even without a natural ability. One of my proudest accomplishments was when I went from a novice singer who sang quietly to getting a 1 rating in a solo singing contest. Mr. Howard Whittlesey was my choir director that, even though he had perfect pitch, believed in students who didn't. He taught, he coached, and he connected his students with other musicians who helped each other grow. He gave structure and attainable goals that built on one another. What an incredible lesson about our own ability to transform our lives!
Music allows us to express ourselves
Now here I am at 38 years old, teaching a few young kids piano lessons (including my own children), getting to play at church occasionally, playing the piano for fun, and enjoying getting better with practice. It’s amazing to have the chance to disappear into the music sometimes, and even to focus on technique and small improvement. When I'm stressed, it helps to sing along with the car radio, listen to classical music before bed, play a familiar song on the piano at home, or throw myself into trying a brand new song.
Most of us have playlists we listen to when we feel a certain way - angry, romantic, excited - and ones that help us with certain activities like exercising, studying, or sleeping. Emotion and music are linked together. Music helps us to experience emotions again and again. You can hear a certain song and be immediately transported to the same emotions you had when you heard it the first time. My husband and I, like most couples, have a song, and even though it became our song over 20 years ago, I still have that feeling of young love when I hear it.
"...music is math, it's art, it's emotion, and it's everywhere!"
Music shows me God
There is so much math and symmetry and so many interconnected relationships in music, that my mind can't comprehend a way that it could have just "happened." Someone had to design it. Though I myself don't have a musical ear, many do, and there's no other way that I can explain a small child with the ability to sit at a piano and play any song they've heard or a singer who can harmonize and improvise or a composer who can dream up symphonies than to believe those people have God-given gifts. Music has long been a way to praise and worship, and many musicians get their start in church. I believe in a creator God, and I think music was a pretty incredible creation!
A life in order is what I write about, and I think music can play a large part in a meaningful life. Are you taking advantage of all the opportunities listen to, play, learn, sing, teach, feel, appreciate, see God, and see others’ hearts in music?
I want to be a morning person, I really do...but, I'm not! I'm always looking for ways to make things go more quickly in the morning so I can sleep in just a little bit more. I don't have a magic list of things that create a perfect bedtime routine to prepare for a calm morning, but I do have a list of things I've learned over time to help prevent a mad rush in the morning.
1. Limit morning decisions
Either prepare for the morning the night before by completing tasks before bed or by creating a few standard choices for your regular morning tasks. For example you could lay out your clothes before you go to sleep or you could pre-define a few pair of pants and a few tops that match so it's very easy to pick out an outfit in the morning. You could make your lunch at night or you could have several items that you know you like, don't take any preparation, you know fit in your lunch box, and are all located in the came general area in your kitchen that you can mix and match into a lunch bag in the morning. The fewer decisions in the morning, the more energy you'll have during the remainder of your day.
2. Set an alarm you can't ignore (or two)
I used to be a serial snoozer. I could hit a traditional alarm clock's snooze button every 9 minutes for a good hour before finally rolling out of bed. I tried using my Fit Bit as an alternative and set multiple alarms that would vibrate until I turned them off. That worked better, but I soon learned, I can turn them off in my sleep! I think I may have found the best solution for me - I have been setting an alarm on my Google Mini and when it goes off it the morning, I have to actually speak to turn it off, "Hey Google, cancel alarm." Even if I don't get out of bed immediately, having to talk out loud seems to wake me up enough so I don't fall back asleep. I like setting backup alarms to make sure I'm out of bed in time. Additional alarms throughout the morning can also keep you on track - try an "it's time for breakfast" alarm, an "it's time to dry my hair alarm", or an "it's time to load the car" alarm. Remember all those little things you do in the morning that could be wasting time - like checking email or social media on your phone or watching the news. If you want to build those into your morning, give yourself a set time so you don't get carried away!
3. Time yourself
I'm a big proponent of timing everything you do so you know how long things really take. I used to think it took SO long to do my makeup that on most days, I'd just throw my makeup bag in my purse and do my makeup at work. Once I timed myself, I realized it takes me less roughly 5 minutes for my entire regimen and there's usually plenty of time for that in my morning! I also know how much time it takes me to take a shower with and without washing my hair (so I can sleep in a little on days I don't need to wash my hair.)
4. Do things in order (or at the same time!)
Think through everything you have to do in a morning, and figure out the most efficient order of tasks. It doesn't make sense to put moisturizer on first and then put in your contacts just like it doesn't make sense to fix your hair before putting on your pullover shirt. Also consider which things can be done at the same time. Multi-tasking isn't usually a great idea, but for some mindless tasks, it's great! For example, I get my jewelry out while I'm brushing my teeth and use my Turbie Twist towel to absorb the moisture from my wet hair while I'm doing my makeup. This is one of my favorite morning hacks because it significantly reduces the time it takes to blow dry my hair!
5. Limit the number of times you open doors and drawers
I try to only open a drawer or a door twice a morning - once to get out what I need and a second time to put those things away. I open my top bathroom vanity drawer to get out my contacts, my hairbrush, and my makeup bag. Then I close the drawer and don't open it again until I'm done with all of those items. I open the door under my vanity to get out my curling iron and/or hair dryer and hair products, and then I close it. I don't open it again until I'm ready to put those away and while I have it open I spritz myself with body spray before closing the door for the final time.
6. Put things away as you go
I like to wake up to a clear bathroom counter and leave for work with a clear bathroom counter. It allows me to start the day with a little control. When you do your makeup, try taking out all the items you will use out and set on the counter. As you use them, put them back in a makeup bag, so when you're done, everything is back in your bag and it's easy to just put it back in its place. Try a heat proof bag or container for curling irons or straighteners, so you can put them away as soon as you're done instead of leaving cords all over the place! Keep a wastebasket next to where you get ready so you can throw away cotton swabs, tissues, cotton balls, etc. as you go.
7. Empty your head
Whenever you think of something you need to do, either write it down in a place you will see before you walk out the door or set a reminder on your phone that will create a notification so you can feel confident you won't forget. If I need to take food for a carry in or return a library book or drop my car off at the repair shop, I set a reminder for early that morning so that when I look at my phone before I walk out the door, I'll see the notification. This helps me sleep better not trying to remember what I have to do in the morning. I also set reminders at times all throughout the day for things I need to buy, errands I need to run, phone calls I need to make, etc. It's nice to get them out of my head and into a system I trust.
I've said it many times before, I'm not great with time, which is why I try to come up with systems and habits to help me. I'm not going to lie and say I'm never late or I always have a calm morning, but these few tips have helped me greatly reduce the amount of mad rush mornings!
Ask my husband, and he’ll tell you Valentine’s Day isn’t a “real” holiday. Mail is delivered, school is in session so he says it’s not official. I don’t care what he says, this minor holiday is one I love to celebrate! I don’t care much about romantic gestures, flowers, or chocolates (ok, I would never turn down chocolate!) but I do embrace the chance to show my sappy, mama love to my kids!
About 6 years ago, I decided to be my kindergartner son's secret admirer, and I covertly gave him gifts and notes for the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. When little treats started showing up around our house, my son did have a bit of concern that our home had been breached by this admirer! On Valentine’s morning, I revealed that it was indeed me, his mommy, who was his secret admirer. I've done some version of this for both of my kids every Valentine's Day since, and I was even able to pull off the surprise most years.
Now that my youngest is in 2nd grade, I think this year will be the first where neither kid has any doubt that their admirer is their mom, but I don't care, I'm still going all out! If you want to do something similar for your kids (or friend or significant other) here are the basics:
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!