Today marks the 50th post of My Life In Order! Even though there have been ups and downs, triumphs and defeats along the way, this blog has been a constant in my life this year. I'm proud to have posted faithfully every week and to have done so in a transparent and authentic way. As I sit here with the beautiful morning sun pouring in, listening to the quiet of my family still asleep, I'm so grateful to be right where I'm at. That's kind of profound. Do I wish there were some aspects of my life that were different or better? - sure, but I'm learning that being content with now while expecting growth is the only way that positive and lasting change will happen.
"....being content with now while expecting growth is the only way that positive and lasting change will happen."
I just did a quick scan of my house from the vantage point of my couch, and what I see is certainly not perfection! I look down to my pink and white striped shirt and leopard print pajama pants - I don't match, but I'm comfortable. I see clean, folded laundry on the stairs waiting for my kids to take it to their rooms - it's not out of sight, but it's clean and my family has plenty. I gaze upon my kitchen counter filled with shopping bags from a back-to-school shopping trip my mother-in-law took with my son and grocery bags with food I'm taking to a family reunion - it's cluttered, but it speaks of the abundance of family in my life. I see dust on my furniture, and I'm reminded of the glorious day I spent relaxing and recharging yesterday instead of doing housework. Some would look at me and my house right now and think I'm unorganized or not put together, but I feel very much in order. Items in my life have a place and a purpose, and I have the ability to enjoy my home, my things, my family, and myself. In honor of my 50th post, I want to share highlights from my blog, so please enjoy 50 Tips for a Life in Order:
1. Do things in order, and don't get ahead of yourself. Take the time to do it right the first time.
Read Order Part 1: A Lego Lesson
2. Set boundaries and honor them.
Read Order Part 2: Honoring Boundaries
3. Remember you are in charge of you.
Read Order Part 3: Who's in Charge?
4. Ask for and accept help.
Read Order Part 4: Help Me!
5. Embrace your creativity (even if you're not an artist!)
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
6. Make a plan to process the paper in your life and manage it regularly.
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper and The Binder System
7. Don't be afraid to throw things away.
Read The Paper Purge
8. Laugh at yourself!
Listen to My Life in Laughter: Cozy Shirt, My Life in Laughter: Gold Saturn, My Life in Laughter: Drive Through Judgement
9. Use a timer to learn how long it takes you to do tasks, and use an alarm to help you manage time.
Read Getting Better at Time
10. Look on the bright side, find positive aspects of even the most frustrating circumstances - reframe to stay sane!
Read 10 Reasons I Love My Unfinished Bathroom
11. Cut yourself some slack! Don't expect more of yourself than you do of others.
Read Lower Your Expectations
12. Remember parties and vacations are supposed to be fun - plan ahead so you can enjoy them!
Read 10 Steps to an Organized Party and Organized Travel Made Fun
13. Get your family involved in housework and accept that how they complete a task may not be how you would do it.
Read Fun Things and Jobs
14. Be patient and prepared for opportunities. Don't rush because you feel bad that others are waiting on you.
Read Left Turns in Life
15. Take time alone at least once a year to think about what you want to focus on in the future.
Read Plan Your Focus for the New Year
16. Set goals that are realistic and align with your focus.
Read Be S.M.A.R.T. About Goal Setting
17. Don't wish away time.
Read Freezing Time
18. Take action!
Read Actually Means Action
19. Use technology to help you save time, not waste it!
Read How Use Your Phone For Good
20. Use the Pomodoro Technique to break up your work into sections and give yourself breaks so you don't get burnt out.
Read Cheating at Productivity
21. Use a task management software (NOT your email inbox) to keep track of your to do list
Read Productivity the Nozbe Way with Expert, Michael Sliwinski
22. Organize your kitchen - you spend a lot of time there!
Read Organizing the Heart of Your Home - The Kitchen
23. Use what you envy about others to help you change yourself.
Read Turn Envy Upside Down
24. Seek wise counsel - talk to a coach, join a mastermind group, get a mentor!
Read It Was Time to Do Something About It
25. Be kind and helpful to others - they will likely return the favor.
Read Why Can't Things Be Easier?
26. Make a list of your most important tasks the night before so you can sleep better and hit the ground running the next morning.
Read Confessions of a List Maker
27. Make a list of what you want to be known for and use it to guide your decisions.
Read What Do You Want to Be Known For?
28. Check in with yourself regularly. Make sure your actions are in line with your focus, moving you toward your goals, and true to what you want to be known for.
Read It's Time To Check In With Yourself
29. Create new traditions.
Read The Power of Tradition
30. Keep your computer and phone 'clean'. These are tools you use many times each day - if they are cluttered, your overall productivity will suffer.
Read 9 Tips for Digital Spring Cleaning
31. Identify tasks that drive you crazy and experiment with ways to make them work better.
Read A Laundry Experiment: Part 1
32. Be aware that words have power, use them carefully.
Read If You Can Say Something Nice, Do!
33. Store out of season clothes or clothes that don't fit somewhere other than in your closet. This forces you to go through your wardrobe periodically.
Read The Seasonal Switch
34. Acknowledge that how you look impacts how you feel. If you want to feel put together, try to look put together. This is why getting up and taking a shower and putting on "real" clothes tends to make us more productive than if we stay in our PJs all day.
Read How We Look Impacts How We Feel
35. Analyze your best day ever and do what you can to recreate it!
Read Make the Rest Like Your Best
36. Get creative about storing items - have fun making your home function FOR you!
Read Lego Storage Under the Stairs
37. Expect the best until proven wrong.
Read Changing My Pet Peeve
38. It's ok to play catch up.
Read 6 Steps to Get Caught up With Paperwork
39. Learn from those around you - everyone has at least one idea you can borrow.
Read Top 10 Organizing Tips from My Dad
40. Make a list of travel dos and don'ts and add to it after each trip no matter how big or small. Review the list before you travel.
Read Organized Travel Made Fun
41. Don't try to do it all - find the right person for the job.
Read Find The Right Person for the Job
42. Plan for solitude.
Read 8 Ways to Stay Focused at Work
43. Brand new experiences make great memories.
Read Making Time Matter
44. Cultivate good habits.
Read Don't Let the Weeds Take Over
45. Color code! Assign each member of your family a color, or create a color system for various areas of your life and use with a folder or binder system.
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper
46. Use a physical journal to jot down ideas, make lists, doodle, etc. Writing helps us process our thoughts and ideas.
Read Confessions of a List Maker
47. Put down your phone and be present.
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
48. Take the time - if you can do something now, do it now. It's so much easier to do the little things as we go rather than let them build up and require a large block of time to accomplish all of the "undone" things in our lives.
Read Getting Better at Time
49. Spend time on what you love and with who you love - somehow things we are passionate about seem to stretch time and make it richer.
Read Making Time Matter
50. Be consistent in something, you'll likely become consistent in other things, too!
I'm proud that this is my 50th blog post, and I haven't missed a week since I started. This shows me that I have it in me to be consistent and helps me have confidence that there's much more that I can accomplish!
Thanks for reading and for your support in my journey to get (and keep) My Life In Order.
A couple years ago when I had more of a weed garden than a vegetable garden, I gave up and started just buying my zucchini and green beans. I still plant flowers in several areas around my house, but this year, the weeds are winning there, too! It's so frustrating to have the beauty of the flowers overshadowed by the weeds. A few days ago, as I was inspecting my flower beds and audibly complaining to myself about all the weeds, I realized something - weeds are a perfect metaphor for all the bad habits in my life.
Weeds and bad habits take over quickly and often surprise us when they do.
How many times have you pulled all the weeds in your flower bed and then the next time you look, the weeds have popped back up? Bad habits can do the same. You make a commitment not to look at a screen an hour before bed and hit the sack by 11 p.m. every night. This goes well, for about a week, and you feel marvelous. Soon you hear yourself complaining about feeling so tired all of the time, and you realize that you've been watching Netflix til past midnight every night this week - when did that start back up again?
Weeds and bad habits don't require fertilizer to thrive.
Weeds seem to most prefer poor conditions like no water and high temperatures. It always amazes me how weeds can survive when everything we actually want to live just shrivels up. Bad habits also seem to pop up in the droughts of life. When conditions are the worst, our bad habits seem to thrive. Flowers or vegetables need watering and the right amount of sunlight to grow and produce a crop just like good habits require a carefully planned strategy to maintain. It's so much easier to fall back into bad habits than it is to maintain new, good habits.
Weeds and bad habits take away nourishment from the healthy things around them.
When your flowerbed has a lot of weeds, your flowers have to fight them for what they need to survive. Bad habits take away energy and focus that we need to be productive and healthy. We can keep up a facade of good habits while we maintain our bad habits in secret, but eventually we will become exhausted and the bad habits will win unless we completely prune them.
Weeds and bad habits make the pretty things around them almost unnoticeable.
You can have the most beautiful flowers, but if they are surrounded by weeds, you know what everyone will see? The weeds! If I never miss a bedtime song and prayer with my kids, but have a bad habit of yelling- what is the most noticeable?
"It's so much easier to fall back into bad habits than it is to maintain new, good habits."
Weeds and bad habits require regular attention to keep them at bay.
The longer you let the weeds grow, the harder it is to pull them and make your garden healthy again. Instead, if you pull them as they pop up, you can maintain a healthy crop. In much the same way, we can monitor our habits regularly to stay aware of when the bad ones are cropping up again.
There is one good thing about weeds, though - no matter how long you let them go, with some time and concentrated effort, you can pull them and regain control of your garden. If you decide that you're done with your bad habits, you can "weed your garden." Each day you have the ability to make choices about your own life. That doesn't mean it's easy to kick bad habits, but by regularly scanning for and pulling small weeds while watering and fertilizing the plants you actually want to grow, you can soon have a flourishing garden again!
Last week, I saw a picture on social media of a friend's son proudly holding a fish he caught on his kid-sized fishing pole. I was immediately sad and guilty. Strange reaction to an adorable picture, right? I felt that way because back in May, when I asked my youngest son what he wanted to do this summer, "going fishing" was on the top of his list, and he reminded me that it was also on the top of his summer list last year - and we still hadn't gone. I realized that summer was going so fast! I wanted to provide my kids the kind of summer memories I had as a child, and I was not measuring up to my own expectations. Then I started thinking about how quickly my kids' childhoods were flying by and then made the mistake of counting how many more summers both of my kids would be at home and estimating how many of those that they'd want to spend the majority of their time with their parents. I was literally welling up with tears at these thoughts!
"I wanted to provide my kids the kind of summer memories I had as a child, and I was not measuring up to my own expectations."
I gave myself a few hours to feel upset and sad, but then I decided this was something I could easily change! I decided we were going fishing this week, and I was going to plan some fun and engaging activities together. I have my kids make a "what I want to do this summer" list every year, and this year I'd been doing so much, I was tired every evening and was content to just watch TV together. Yes, we were together, but I was often working on something else at the same time, and we certainly weren't checking things off that list! I'd probably be less tired if I were more active, and I had no doubt that I'd be happier while making memories with my kids. This week was dramatically different!
Here was a snapshot of our evenings this week. It was a blast!
Scouts for oldest and Dad, 1.5 mile nature scavenger hunt for youngest and Mom. My son has been talking about the hawk we saw up close all week! I loved seeing him get excited about finding things on our list and especially enjoyed watching him chase a butterfly.
Video shoot of both boys making trick shots into a hamper (appropriately called the Slam Dunk Hamper,) This was a fun way to involve the kids in my Clever Container Organizing Products business,
The entire family walked/rode scooters to the park and played HORSE and played a game of 2 on 2. I'm just about as good as I was when I played eighth grade basketball - I'll leave it at that!
Dad had to work late, so Mom took both boys to the State Park for a picnic, a hike, and FISHING! Even though we didn't catch anything, both boys loved it, and I felt like Super Mom while baiting their hooks.
Mom and kids went to a concert (Toby Mac - it was awesome!)
Dad took kids to a movie during the afternoon, and then the whole family went back to the State Park for a picnic and more fishing in the evening. Still no fish for the kids, but they want to try again soon.
After church, Mom and youngest went to the beach while Dad and oldest got groceries (thank goodness - our cupboards were BARE!) and then we all watched TV in the evening. The beach makes me TIRED!
This week was so much fun, but a little tiring and the housework definitely got pushed to the back burner! I learned a few things:
If you work in an office, you know how difficult it is to avoid distraction! There are the conversations with co-workers that you want to be part of and then there are conversations that you have no choice but to overhear. "Drive-by" meetings (when someone drops by and says, "do you have a minute" and to avoid being rude, you say, "sure") eat into well laid plans for our day. Urgent issues inevitably come up on your busiest day, and you may get invited to yet another meeting that doesn't really pertain to you. Sometimes distractions can be something as slight as someone's idea of a soothing playlist, a squeaky noise coming from the vent, or the temperature being too hot or too cold. If you work at home, distractions, though different, are still there. The cat, the laundry, the repairman - the list goes on and on. It's amazing that we accomplish anything, right?!
The fact is, there are always going to be distractions. We can have a plan for an ideal day, but unless we build in some flexibility and learn to go with the flow, we will end up frustrated and unproductive. I've worked in many different environments over the years - in a cubicle in an open office, in several offices with doors with varying amounts of people nearby, at a desk in a wide open area, and even at home. Each present their own challenges, but there are a few universal tips that help to keep me focused.
1. Set low expectations
This may sounds strange, but don't make a huge list of all the things you want to accomplish in a day only to be disappointed in yourself when you can't complete them all. Instead, identify your Must Do's - usually this will be 2-3 things that HAVE to get done during the day. The time these take will vary, so if your Must Do's for the day are very short tasks, you can have more or if they are labor intensive, maybe just pick one. If you get through all of these, then you'll feel like a rock star and everything else you accomplish will be gravy!
2. Meet with yourself
Create a MEeting (a meeting with yourself) to do your most important work. Go so far as to schedule this on your calendar so that others don't think you're free all day when in fact you need several hours to complete your critical tasks. Use some of this time to plan and identify your must do's for the following day.
3. Say no (or at least not now)
Learn to decline meetings that don't pertain to you or ask for someone who is already attending to fill you in. Be bold when that "drive-by" meeting request comes to you. I know you feel like a big meany, but saying, "I don't have time right now, but how about 2:30 p.m.?" won't make anyone hate you!
4. Plan for solitude
If you really don't want to be bothered, let others know the time frame where you'll have your nose to the grindstone. Send an email to your colleagues who are prone to stopping by to let them know you will be working on a project from this time to that time and will only be available for urgent matters. Consider setting your out of office assistant on your email with a similar message and setting your instant message status to unavailable. Configure your phone to go straight to voicemail and even customize the outgoing message. Hang a sign on your closed door (if you have one) or on your cubicle wall that says, "Working hard, please knock if it's urgent." Very few people will knock!
"...you're not being a meany, you're protecting your own productivity."
5. Plug your ears
Don't actually stick your fingers in your ears, but use ear buds or headphones! You don't even have to listen to music, just put those earbuds in to instantly block out noise and trick people into not bothering you. Most people will think twice about tapping you on the shoulder if you have ear buds in. Again, you're not being a meany, you're protecting your own productivity. If you can work with music in the background, find a playlist designed for focus and jam out!
6. Plan to waste time
We all need a break and some socialization. Plan for small periods of time to do this throughout the day. Get to work a few minutes early on Monday to chat about the weekend with your coworkers, or plan a lunch date or a break at the same time as the people you most want to talk to. Get up and move every hour - even a bathroom break counts. Drink lots of water and the bathroom breaks will take care of themselves! A quick walk outside does wonders for your concentration when you get back to your desk.
7. Keep track of your time
Write down the time you start and stop each task. For me, when I'm being timed, I'm more efficient. I also learn how long it really takes me to do things so that I can be more realistic with myself. I'm not going to get through my email inbox in 5 minutes, but there are other tasks that will fit into that short of a time frame. I'm also less likely to waste time when it is written down on a piece of paper. It also helps me look back and give myself grace when I don't get my Must Do's complete because I can see that I spent 5 hours in meetings, 2 hours dealing with urgent and unplanned tasks, leaving not a lot of time to get those things I wanted to do complete. Consider using the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of deep work, a 5 minute break, repeat) I wrote in depth about this in a previous post.
If time is really dragging for you, write down the time you'll be at work down in 30 minute increments (ex. 8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.; 9:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.; 9:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m., etc.) and mark them off as the time passes. You know that little high you get when you check an item off of a to-do list? You get that same feeling for marking the time off, but you also get the feeling that you better kick it into high gear because your available time is waning.
8. Get creative with your schedule and workspace
If you work in an environment where you can control your schedule in any way, use this to your benefit! Sometimes coming in 30 minutes before everyone else (or just that one person who talks so much) can allow you to get as much done as you would have in three times that long during your regularly scheduled time. Take your lunch opposite of those in your vicinity to allow for some quiet time while the others take their lunch. Try working in an alternate space, like a conference room or vacant office, if you have something to complete that takes high focus. Consider a working lunch away from the office. If you have the option to work from home, give it a try. Many people find it much less distracting at home, while others need the structure of an office to keep them on task.
Give these 8 tips a try and let me know if they help you. I'm not going to lie and say that I can always stay distraction-free or perfectly productive, but I have learned that these tricks do help! Do you have other tips to share? Please post in the comments.
I like to be self-sufficient, and I enjoy learning new things or figuring out how to accomplish a new task. There are some types of tasks that I won't even attempt, but for most things, I'll at least do a little Googling or YouTube video watching and give it a go. Though this "I can do it" attitude may help me become more well-rounded, save a little money, and keep things interesting, it can also severely impact my productivity and can create frustration both for me and my family! Over time, I've learned that there is real value in finding the right person for the job!
At work and at home, it's impossible for us to do it all, though I'm guilty of trying to do it anyway. I used have a hard time with the group project concept. I felt like it would just be easier to do it all myself. At least that way, I knew it would get done. Doing it myself meant that I knew the progress of the project and the barriers to getting it completed so I could figure out ways to overcome the barriers and meet the deadline. This mentality causes stress, burnout, and ultimately leads to lower quality work and delayed results. Why is it then, that it's so hard to relinquish a little control and trust others to help me?
"Though this 'I can do it' attitude may help me become more well-rounded, save a little money, and keep things interesting, it can also severely impact my productivity and can create frustration both for me and my family!"
A great example of how finding the right person to do the job produced fantastic and quick results was when I wanted to create a logo for my blog. I had an idea in my head, but I thought it would be too difficult for me to articulate that to someone else, so I tried to do it myself. I tried and tried to bring my vision to life, but without the proper tools or expertise in graphic design, I just couldn't produce something I was happy with. I considered hiring someone, but I talked myself out of that by rationalizing that I was saving money by doing it myself and I could remain authentic to my own creative plans for my logo. Well, what happened is that I didn't launch my blog because I didn't have what I felt was the perfect logo, and I became more and more frustrated and wasted a LOT of time.
I finally got over myself and hired someone to design my logo. But, even then, I tried to maintain control over the process giving her very specific instructions about what I wanted, what colors I liked, etc. It wasn't until I gave the designer greater creative space that I got exactly what I had been dreaming of! I finally got down to the core of what I wanted to accomplish - a clean logo in soothing colors that showed you could be creative and have beauty while still being orderly. The graphic designer quickly created several mock ups for me. I chose the one I liked best, asked for a couple of tweaks, and tada -I had a beautiful logo that I love as if I created it myself. I think that I actually love it even more because I didn't create it!
I now am much more inclined to hire work done or ask for help and suggestions. The old saying, "time is money" is so true. I could spend ten times as long doing something that would be a lower quality than if I hired the right person for the job. I could use that time in a different way to produce real results. I'm a big believer in frugality, so of course I don't hire someone to do everything for me! I pick and choose what I can afford, what meets the biggest and most urgent need, and what I don't want to or don't have the capacity to learn how to do myself. There are some things that are just fun to dabble in and the difference in the end result of me doing it versus a professional wouldn't be that noticeable, but then there are all the other things where an expert is definitely the right choice.
This concept also applies to situations at home or work where we would should delegate a task to someone who is best equipped to do it. Best equipped can mean they are an expert or they have the capacity to become an expert or simply that they have time to do the task. When we delegate, though, we have to learn to accept the results may not be exactly as if we had done the task ourselves. I have my kids do certain chores at home, and maybe the cleaning isn't quite as thorough as I would have done it, but it's done and I was able to complete other tasks instead.
I also try to remember that it's all about choice. By choosing to do something myself (or learn how to do something on my own), I am also choosing not to spend that time on something else. To get and keep my life in order, I have to learn to choose to spend my time wisely so that there is time for the things I'm good at, time for the things I enjoy doing, time for the things I am required to do, and most importantly, time for the people I love.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!