I’ve been in a productivity slump for the past few months. I could blame it on some sad things that have happened in my family, stress at work, or on the busyness of being a working mom, and I could feel bad about the things I didn’t do during that time - like not write any new blog posts...But I’m not here to make excuses, I’m here to get my productivity groove back and help you do the same!
Motivation, like a good habit, is very easy to lose and much harder to get back! Take a shortcut and learn from others. There are so many tools and suggestions available about productivity and organization (many available in previous posts on my blog!) Don’t try to do it alone - find a blog post, grab a book, listen to a podcast, or watch a YouTube video to learn something new or reinforce what you already know. I finally started reading the book I’ve been eyeing for months, Atomic Habits by James Clear. I am about halfway done, and I LOVE it! (Book review coming soon!) There are so many tidbits of great information that have provided me much needed motivation!
"Motivation, like a good habit, is very easy to lose and much harder to get back! Take a shortcut and learn from others."
Don’t try to do it all at once, or you’ll get overwhelmed and potentially do yourself more harm than good. Pick something that is fun and attainable or something that you have to do anyway. My motivation started returning when I had something to look forward to that required planning and organization - family vacation. Once I got started planning, I could start anticipating vacation, which I think is almost as fun as going! My planning paid off, and I felt really proud of all the effort I put into it.
After a successful vacation, I knew I could tackle more. I’m embarrassed to say I’d been doing the bare minimum for taking care of routine family finances and paperwork - for months. I’d do what was absolutely necessary and stash the rest for later. Later just never arrived until this past weekend. I spent a few hours and am now all caught up with processing and filing. (Click for tips on how to get caught up with your paperwork.) My appetite for productivity and organization is snowballing now!
Once one project is done, you immediately feel a weight lifted and create space in your brain that used to be taken up by worrying about that thing that was undone. Once one task is complete, you will crave the feeling of checking another project off of your list. For me, after paperwork was caught up, I decided to cancel a couple of unnecessary subscriptions and saved myself money in the process. Now I’m hooked and am shopping for a better price on insurance. Who knows, I may be cleaning out my craft area before I know it!
What I’m relearning is that getting any little thing organized propels you to the next, bigger step. After completing that step, you gain motivation to tackle even more daunting tasks. You stop feeling sorry for yourself or bad about yourself for not accomplishing tasks. I have a suspicion, I’m not the only one who has let their “productive self” go over the past year and a half, and I want to provide you encouragement that it’s not as hard as it seems to get your life in order!
Start your snowball of productivity in the next 15 minutes:
I predict that as you repeat steps 3-5, you will gain motivation and confidence. When that list is complete, you will have room in your head to really create productive systems to help you avoid having to write another list like that!
Thanks for reading my first post in several months - it’s good to be back! I hope you’ll stick with me as I strive to get and keep My Life In Order! If you'd like to get new posts and newsletters in your inbox, please join the email list!
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.
We are living in a historic time, and many of us are battling conflicting emotions that change multiple times a day. We are in a situation we’ve never been in before nor has anyone ever been! It’s a struggle to sort out the truth from the rhetoric, and a true balancing act between staying informed and becoming obsessed. Our physical and our mental health seem like they are somethings being pitted against each other, and it's been difficult to lead a "regular" life over the past several months.
For me, part of my "regular" life for the past 3 years has been this blog, but I soon realized that it had been months since my last blog post. When stay-at-home orders first hit, I was just busy with my day job in IT, so I skipped a couple of weeks. Then I became envious of those I saw posting on social media about how they were embracing the “pause” in daily life. My work life had not paused, and in fact I was working more hours with more stress than ever, and I still had to be a good boss, a supportive wife, an attentive parent, and even a teacher! The only thing I felt that I could allow myself to “pause” was my blog - so I stopped writing.
About a month after my last blog post, I realized that not ONE person had noticed I hadn’t written or posted on social media, so I became discouraged wondering why I should even start up again. I began to use any pockets of time that I could find to do other things I enjoyed like reading, working in the yard, learning to sew, going on walks with my husband, and spending bonus time with my kids.
I came to love being quarantined with my family. I liked not having to share them with anyone and how having more forced time together took away the guilt of alone time. I began to feel like time was slowing down - it was almost like freezing time that I wrote about a couple years ago. Even though my day job went from crazy busy to sort of normal and back to frantic several times over the past 3 months, I had the ability to work from home during much of that time which was just plain good for my soul. I became more productive and more balanced. I recognize that my family was very fortunate to avoid layoffs and have a comfortable home in which to ride out the quarantine time, and I felt guilty about being in that position when many others weren’t.
Even when I wanted to write, I didn’t know what to say. Believe me, I had - and still have - lots of feelings about the pandemic, the economy, racism, protests, politics, etc. But all of those topics can be very divisive, and I didn’t want to compound the issues by posting my opinions during such tumultuous times. Then I felt more guilt for not sharing my heartfelt thoughts.
"I want to teach them to acknowledge and learn from the past, see others' viewpoints, and develop empathy and understanding."
I see things through the lens of a parent, so as events continued to unfold over the past few months, I knew I had to explain them to my sons truthfully and in a way not to scare them but to educate and guide them. I want to instill in them that threats to health and safety exist and that it’s not just about their chances of getting sick, but it’s about respecting and protecting their family, friends, and community. I want to instill in them that all human life has the same value and, though injustice exists, it’s our personal responsibility to treat others kindly, respectfully, and equally. I want to teach them by example that we have to speak up when we see or hear something that is not right, and getting angry isn’t wrong as long as we control that anger and funnel it in a productive way. I want to teach them to acknowledge and learn from the past, see others’ viewpoints, and develop empathy and understanding.
All of the heaviness of this spring weighed me down, and it became easier and easier to put off getting back to my blog. I even thought about stopping all together, but a couple of weeks ago my high school best friend launched a new small business on Facebook (please check 4 Designs by Tara!) I immediately wanted to help her be successful - and that’s when I remembered the energy I get from helping others achieve their goals. THAT’S why I do this, because my passion is helping others succeed through identifying their goals and organizing themselves and their homes in a way that makes them productive. So, I’m back - I’m done feeling guilty, insecure, lazy, and ashamed. I’m back to chasing my passion which is helping you achieve yours!
I look forward to reconnecting with all of you!
I’m launching the next session of Achieve!, the group goal setting and accountability group for women, in mid-September with a 6 week session. If you have a goal you need help achieving or even need help determining what your goal is, this small group, virtual program may be just what you need. Learn more about the program here. If you decide to sign up, use coupon code: EARLYBIRD by 8/15/20 for your first week free!
I love the holiday season for so many reasons, but one of my favorite parts is looking back on the last year to reminisce about the good times, recognize accomplishments, and realize what I learned and where I could improve. When I was a kid, I remember my mom pulling out the wall calendar on New Year's day and going through all of our appointments and outings that she'd written down. We would talk about all of the fun things we’d done in the past 12 months. These days, I do the same thing — only with my Google calendar. It’s amazing how much you forget about your day to day life, and it’s a lot of fun to look back and remember all of those little details.
Reviewing your previous year’s calendar is a good way to determine how you spent your time and what you prioritized. There are entries on my calendar that I didn’t have a choice about, but there are also many things that I decided to do instead of something else. You can easily recognize a person’s priorities by the way they spend their time. If you look back at your calendar and don’t like what you see — not enough date nights or outings with friends, too many late nights working, or not enough “me” time — you are the only one who can change it. Sure, there are some non-negotiables like doctor’s appointments, your job, or maybe even jury duty (I spent 3 days on a jury this year!) but there are many hours that you DO have a choice about. Don’t beat yourself up about how you did or didn’t spend your time in 2019. Instead, learn from it and become intentional about how you spend your time next year so that when you review your 2020 calendar a year from now, you will feel proud, successful, and happy.
I’m a big proponent of choosing areas of focus for the upcoming year and then setting small, specific goals within each of those areas. I just completed this exercise, and I used my calendar to help me identify what worked in 2019 and what I want more of or less of in 2020. Though I was really pleased with what I achieved in 2019, there’s still more I want to do. I want to build on habits I started in 2019 and create new ones in 2020.
Many people enjoy identifying a single word for the new year, but I’ve always found it a little intimidating to distill everything going on in my head and heart into one word. This year, though, I saw a theme in my areas of focus and my goals for 2020 — ACHIEVE. I want to achieve, and I want to help others achieve. I want to empower others to be their best selves and to achieve what they have struggled with up to now. I am excited to announce that I am launching a formal program around this theme!
In February 2020, I will begin facilitating a goal setting group program for women called Achieve! Small groups of women will meet virtually for an hour every week for 6-12 weeks to set goals, identify and overcome obstacles, and meet milestones necessary to achieve those goals. The group will encourage one another and offer suggestions, assistance, and, most importantly, accountability! As the facilitator, I will guide the weekly calls, document your progress, and check in with you regularly between meetings to provide resources to keep you on track and motivated to complete the tasks necessary to achieve your goal.
If you are interested in joining an Achieve! group, please fill out the form below, and I will contact you to discuss the details. I wish you all a very happy and productive 2020!
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!
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:
The title of my my blog is My Life In Order, but I have to admit, this weekend, I did not feel very orderly! One of the things I enjoy most is ending - in a quick and unexpected way. I learned this weekend that Clever Container is going out of business in just a couple of weeks. Clever Container is a company I have worked for since June selling organizing supplies. It has been more fun and fulfilling and I was more successful at it than I ever expected! I had plans for a long future and a lot of growth with the company, and it all just ended with one phone call. To say I’m disappointed is a severe understatement.
Over the weekend, I felt like doing a whole lot of nothing. All my grand plans for Saturday got derailed when I learned this news. I didn’t feel like cleaning, wrapping gifts, doing paperwork, or even spending quality time with my friends and family. I really kind of wanted to just crawl into bed and binge on Netflix while eating chocolate, but instead, I trudged on reluctantly. I soon realized this disappointment was interfering with my productivity in a big way, and that made me kind of mad! My future had already been changed by this news, and now I was struggling to do some basic tasks and to enjoy the things I normally look forward to. I had a couple of choices. I could be upset and wallow in it or I could control the things I could control in the moment. For me, a clutter free house, organized paperwork, and a productive day are things that I can directly control. After giving myself some alone time to mope a little, I spent time doing things that had a visible impact in my house. I needed some quick wins to make me feel back in control. Clean laundry and dishes, clear surfaces, and a to-do lists with lots and lots of checks were just what I needed!
Even after this take charge approach, I still felt down, so I decided to break it down so I could turn it around. Here’s what I figured out: I needed to identify what I was feeling and sort out which of those were rational and irrational and then figure out how to move forward. Of course, I whipped out my journal because writing things down always help me process them. I’m no therapist, but here’s my list of feelings:
Next I wrote down part a Bible verse that most of us know “All things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28) I knew this intellectually, but emotionally it was hard to accept! You’ve all heard the first part of this famous quote, “When one door closes another opens;” but I had never heard the second half which is really profound,”but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Alexander Graham Bell, you were wise! Thinking about this, led me to write three words that gave me some hope:
Reflect - why did I choose to join Clever Container? What did I like about it? What didn’t I like? What would I do differently if I could? If it could have continued, what would my success have looked like? What were the costs to this opportunity - financial, time, etc? What were the benefits of this opportunity? What could have gone better and worse?
Reevaluate - what are my true goals? What are my priorities and how do my goals align with those? What am I missing that is necessary for me to meet those goals? Where can I get those missing pieces?
Refocus - what can I let go of that is hindering progress? what is my plan to actually do the things that will get me where I want to be? What do I need to add or subtract from my life?
So far my reflection, re-evaluation and refocusing efforts have gotten me here: Clever Container was fun and lined up with my desire to help others achieve their goals, but I’m fortunate to have my blog where I can still share my love of organization and productivity. Maybe this is the perfect time to refocus on the blog and other avenues to help people get organized and stay productive. I get to choose how I will spend the time I otherwise would have spent on Clever Container - maybe I’ll start practicing piano more, start a new hobby or side hustle, exercise or read more (or find a new Netflix show to get into, go to bed earlier, enjoy more bubble baths). Who knows - the possibilities are exciting!
I know this disappointment is minor compared to many things others are dealing with like loss of jobs that is a primary source of income, broken relationships, sickness, or loss of a loved one. I am aware that my direct sales business closing up shop doesn’t even come close to the disappointment and emotions related to these more serious events, but I do think that the same exercise may apply to help identify what we are feeling and why and then to give it the attention it deserves through reflection, looking beyond it with re-evaluation and starting anew with refocus. The highs in life wouldn’t seem so high without the lows, so let’s choose to let our lows teach us and bring us up!
I remember distinctly the night I published the first post of my blog one year ago. It was very late and I was very nervous, but once it was done, I felt so good! I’d been writing about my journey to get my life in order for nearly a year before that. I did lots of research on domain names, website platforms, social media strategies, blog best practices - so much research that I scared myself into delaying the launch. I asked some very close friends and family to read some of my posts and give me their feedback. I visualized complete success and total failure. I was scared and excited all at once. Back then fear carried more weight, but these days excitement is starting to overshadow my fears.
In many ways it seems like this blog has always been part of me, and in other ways I still feel like a newbie! I’ve found writing therapeutic and the regularity energizing. I’ve learned and experienced so much during this past year, but here are the highlights.
Done is so much better than perfect
The very first line of my very first post was, “I'm a recovering over-achiever people-pleaser. I had high expectations for others and even higher ones for myself.” Those high self-expectations can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it leads to quality work, but a curse because I’m often paralyzed with the thought that I could still improve some little detail before calling a project complete. This affects me both in my personal life and work life. My husband once said to me, “Just lower the bar for yourself a little and then you won’t be so stressed out.” I remember thinking that it must be nice to be happy with less than your best and then feeling a little smug because obviously I was better off with my high standards. Then I became so stressed that I turned to a coach to help me work through it - she helped me realize I was expecting so much of myself that it wasn’t realistic. I hate to admit it, but my husband may have been right, but it took someone outside of my inner circle to make me believe it. I did start lowering my expectations and started producing without killing myself in the process. I still struggle sometimes with editing my work too much, but repeating the mantra, “done is better than perfect” really helps me! There are aspects of my life that it was VERY easy to lower my standards - dishes, laundry, housework, yardwork- I don’t freak out about those not being perfect or complete, and I ask for help (or require help from my kiddos!) I still take pride in my work, but now pick and choose what is worth the painstaking efforts of perfection and what can be delivered in a very good state instead of perfect.
"I still struggle sometimes with editing my work too much, but repeating the mantra, 'done is better than perfect' really helps me!"
Accountability breeds success
Having a weekly deadline - even if none of my readers really cared, made me get things done. I have posted at least weekly for a year - even when I was sick, we were on vacation, or very busy with school or sports activities. I felt like readers were counting on me, so I made accommodations to make sure I had a post completed every week.
In January of this year, I joined a Mastermind group led by The Productive Woman, Laura McClellan. I found this so motivating. I gained this whole new set of accountability partners and could share goals and dreams with them that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. During the 12 week session, I reported back on the mini-goals I set for myself each week and found myself making much more forward progress than I ever would have without them to answer to. I’ve become friends with these women, and we still connect monthly to share our struggles and our successes and set goals and report back on our progress. I share in their excitement and they share in mine when something we’ve been working toward comes to fruition.
I’ve long thought of myself as a hater of teamwork, rationalizing this feeling by saying I could do things faster and better alone. Even when I would admit that maybe I couldn’t do them better, I still held that at least I had control and didn’t have to rely on anyone else to determine my success. Throughout this year, I’ve gotten better at asking for feedback and advice, working as a team and accepting constructive criticism. I ran across a quote just this week that hit home. “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Inspiration is everywhere
I remember being asked if I thought I’d run out of material to write about and if this outlet that I thought was going to be fun and therapeutic for me would turn out to be a burden. So far, I haven’t had to struggle to find things to write about because my life is a work in progress, and I just write about what I experience. Sometimes I have things to share that may be helpful and other times I just write about the raw honest truth of my shortcomings. Just like you see more pregnant women when you are pregnant, I have found more inspiration now that I’m looking for it.
Because I’m always looking for an inspiring quote, an interesting article, a great organizing idea, or something worthy of a Friday Funny title for my social media posts, I have read more books and articles, learned more about organization and productivity techniques than ever before in this past year. The stories I’ve heard from readers who have been inspired by something I have written have truly brought me joy.
Productivity allows for growth
Because I’m continuing to improve my own productivity, I’m able to do more things I enjoy. Even though I’m technically busier than ever, it feels the same or less as before I added in additional things I like doing- helping people get organized, teaching more piano students, selling organizing supplies, reading more, and becoming more involved in church - in addition to my day job and my role as a wife and mother.
I definitely feel that I still have lots of room for improvement. I still do best when I’m working alone, but am striving to get better at keeping projects moving when they involve others. I’ve found that shared tools are the best way to stay on the same page with others. One example is how my husband and I share events on our calendars to keep track of who is where when (which is tricky sometimes!) We also do a review of our upcoming week during the weekend to plan meals and child care and pickup. A regular touch base meeting either personally or professionally may take time, but it pays for itself in the time it saves!
Choosing your tools and sticking to them is critical to productivity. There are always new tools that may tempt you, and though it’s important to stay up to date with technology, you need to limit the tool-jumping so you can become an expert in your own system. Don’t spend your time creating your system over and over, spend your time doing the stuff your system is supposed to help you control.
Thanks for a great year!
It’s been a fun year, and I’m excited to see what the next one will bring. I sincerely appreciate those of you who read and comment on posts and on social media. I feel like I'm on this journey with you. I'd love to hear from you about what topics you'd like to read about in year two of My Life In Order. Submit your ideas through the contact page or by email.
I'm overweight - actually obese according US Department of Health. There I said it – funny how that was so hard since my weight is something that I really can’t hide. Growing up, I stayed at a pretty healthy weight (probably because of my mom's 2-vegetable-with-one-being-green-at-dinner rule!) The first time I remember really making an effort to lose weight was when I was getting ready for my wedding. But back then at 21, I just ate fewer chicken nuggets and jogged a little and - boom, I weighed 133 by wedding day. Well, since then I've accumulated a lot of things - a husband, a mortgage, two babies, a career, a couple of side hustles, some stress, and a lot of weight! I remember during my second pregnancy, my doctor logged my 9 months pregnant weight and said, "Have you ever weighed this much before?" I was a little shocked at the question, and said, "No and I hope I never do again!" Well, I weigh more now than I did when I gave birth over 7 years ago, and I’ve tried harder than ever during that time frame to lose weight. It’s frustrating and sometimes disheartening to try and fail over and over again. I’m tired of the ups and downs.
My internal dialogue would be maddening to anyone who could read my mind. I give myself a pep talk reminding myself I’ve lost weight before so I can do it again, and I make a plan. Then I try real hard – for a couple of weeks - and when I don’t see the results I want, I give into a little self-pity and feed that with actual food. I think I might as well just eat whatever I want since I’m already overweight. I say to myself, “It’s not the number on the scale that matters, it’s what the inside that counts.” I think I don’t look that bad, and I just need to learn to be happy with who I am and how I look. But then I see a picture of myself and do a double take because that can’t really be what other people see when they look at me, right? No, it’s just the camera angle – you’ve got to hold the camera higher. It IS just the camera angle, right? I don’t feel like that person in the photo – or in the mirror. And then I start feeling down and realize that I AM that person, and that person seems lazy and incapable if she can’t do something as simple as control the food that goes in her mouth and the number of steps she takes per day. The doctor even comments on my weight and tells me there's nothing physically wrong, I just need to eat better, exercise, get more sleep. I want to scream, “I’VE TRIED THAT!” They don’t understand my life and how stressed I am and how little time I have - and then insert excuse after excuse. I finally crumple into the question, “If I can’t lose weight, am I really capable of much else?”
I've told myself so many things about my weight - some are lies and some are truths, but I've lost track of which are which. I’m speaking as a 37 year-old woman with no medical or psychological training – just my own experience and observations. I’ve found that my weight is intertwined with so many aspects of my life which is why losing it is not as easy as simply eating less and moving more.
"I've told myself so many things about my weight - some are lies and some are truths, but I've lost track of which are which."
Weight and Relationships
I am blessed to have children who tell me I’m beautiful even when I don’t feel that way and a husband who has never made me feel ugly because of my weight. My closest friends and family love me unconditionally, so I know that changes in my appearance won't make the people who matter to me love me more or less. This makes ME the only person I need to impress, and it’s hard for me to do things for myself. I find it easier to help someone else meet their goals than to take the steps that I need to take to get where I want to go. I feel selfish when I try to eat differently than my family or take the time to exercise because in my mind, that takes something away from them. My relationship with myself needs to rise up and take precedence so I can be my best self.
Though I have confidence in my close relationships, it is very easy to compare myself to others. When I start comparing, I feel bad about myself, but I often turn to excuses. “If I was a stay at home mom like her, I’d have time to exercise and would be just as fit.” “If I had as much money as her, I could afford to buy healthier foods, too.” "If my job were as easy as hers, my stress level would be less, and it would be easier to lose weight.” Instead of all of these, “If I had…then I would be” statements, I should be looking at the women I’m comparing myself to and learning from them. I know not all skinny girls have it all together. I should learn how they manage to get and stay healthy in spite of the struggles of their lives.
Weight and Health
I know, intellectually, that my weight does impact my health and that losing even just a little weight will improve my overall health and well-being. According to the CDC, being obese can increase chances of all sorts of health problems including high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, mental illness, and body pain. With all of these risks, you’d think that I’d really focus on decreasing my weight. Instead, I continue to rationalize why MY weight problem isn’t all that bad.
I’ve always had good blood pressure – like, it’s my pride and joy. No matter how much I’ve weighed my blood pressure has always been normal and usually below normal. It was like my barometer of health, and I’d rationalize that even though I was overweight, since my blood pressure was good, it wasn’t really impacting my health. Earlier this year at a routine doctor appointment, my blood pressure was high. I freaked out because this threw my healthy-though-fat theory out the window. I've since worked to get it back in the normal range, but it will take constant attention to keep it that way.
As I age, I think more about my own mortality. I’ve heard people say they want to get healthy for their family, and that’s great – I want more quality time with my family too, but in all honesty – I want to live long and enjoy my own life for me! I am guilty of the putting off healthy habits - “I’ll start good eating Monday” and “after I get through this, I’ll start exercising” and “I’ll start going to bed earlier after summer is over.” Why do I keep putting it off? As those of us who are over about 25 know, time seems to accelerate as we age. I don’t want to miss out on NOW because I don’t have enough energy to enjoy life, and I don’t want to miss out on the future because of the bad habits I have now.
Weight and Age
Between kids, I lost 25 pounds and kept it off for two years (until I got pregnant again.) I read and followed the South Beach Diet to the letter. I thrived with a strict program with rules and quick results. I’ve tried to follow the same program several times since and failed. Has my body chemistry changed now that I’m getting older and it’s just no use? A New York Times article says, “Although it is possible to lose weight at any age, several factors make it harder to lose weight with age.” That’s kind of depressing…The one good thing about the passage of time, though, is the improvements in technology. A FitBit will surely do the trick or an app to track my calories, right? Though these are great tools, they don’t do the work for us. I’m living proof - I’m at the same weight I was before I tried those things.
The older I get, the easier it is to tell myself that there’s no one left to impress. I’ve got a family who loves me, a career, and many great friends. I’m nearing 40 and maybe my body has just found its happy place, and I need to accept it. It’s easy to tell myself my body is different now and it’s not my fault that the weight is clinging to me (in all the wrong places, I might add.) But then I think – I’m not even FORTY, I’ve got many, many years ahead of me – hopefully, I’m not even half done. Do I want to live the last half of my life not meeting my potential? I’m older, but I’m wiser and I have more resources and experience than ever. I certainly know what doesn’t work, so why not use that to my advantage? I want to make the rest my best!
Weight and Stress
Here’s a hot topic and one that we all like to argue about – stress. What causes it, can we will our way around it, what does it do to our minds and bodies, how should we deal with it? Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” We’ve all been there, but we can all think of someone in our lives who’s been there more or longer or in a more extreme way than we have. I know others who cope in a much healthier way than I do even when they have much more stress. Who am I to blame stress on every negative thing in my life? I am blessed in so many ways, and I let the few negatives in my life outweigh all of those positive things. I’m stressing about what stress is doing to me. I am in no way denying stress can cause all sorts of physical and mental problems. I’m coming to realize that focusing on the problem instead of the solution is only exacerbating the problem. Case in point, when my blood pressure went up, I became my son’s science fair project, “Can Yoga Decrease Blood Pressure?” I did yoga for 15 minutes a day and my blood pressure did decrease. Was it the yoga in and of itself, or was it that I slowed down, took time for myself, had some physical activity, focused on what I didn’t want for my body, and probably ate a little better? Not sure exactly why it worked, but it did. You’d think I’d have kept it up after the project ended, wouldn’t you? But, no, I saw even just 15 minutes a day as disruptive to my schedule. So I stayed in the same stressful state – it gave me something to blame.
"I'm stressing about what stress is doing to me."
Weight and Sleep
Research says that dieters who cut back on sleep over a 14-day period, lost 55% less weight from fat, even though their calories stayed equal. A sleepy morning increases your chances of taking in more calories, losing impulse control to avoid junk food, and skipping exercise. The answer to this seems so simple - sleep more. Why is this so hard for me? Under the guise of productivity, I stay up too late. Sleep was one of my areas of focus for this year, but I’ve failed miserably! I’m constantly tired, hitting the snooze button multiple times a morning, but yet I stay up late to get things done or just watch TV. I rationalize the need for late night TV as down time after a stressful day. I know that many experts suggest early morning exercise to jump start a healthy day. I will never be able to accommodate that if I continue to go to bed so late! I need to take my own advice and set (and stick to) a bedtime for myself like I set for my kids.
Weight and Priorities
My kids and family are my top priority, and I often use this as an excuse not to take care of myself. My go-to quip when making light the fact I’m overweight is, “Well I love to eat, and I hate to exercise.” I realized recently that at least half of that statement is a lie. It turns out I don’t hate being physically active, but what I do hate is exercising when I feel like I’m neglecting another responsibility. Spending time with my kids, cleaning my house, working, staying caught up with the paperwork of life always take precedence over exercise for me. I need to make exercise a priority, and by re-framing what my responsibilities really are – setting a good example for my kids and helping them be healthy - I can give myself permission to take care of myself.
"...by re-framing what my responsibilities really are - setting a good example for my kids and helping them be healthy - I can give myself permission to take care of myself."
Weight and Organization
I truly believe that being organized can help me get to and maintain a healthy weight. The times I’ve been successful with a healthy lifestyle are the times I had a realistic plan, I monitored my progress toward that plan, and had systems in place to help me be successful. I’ve tried many different diets over the years, and have found it difficult to stick to them. I need something that is realistic in the long term, can be measured so I can see progress, and can have “shortcuts” set up to help me stick to it. As I said before, I love food, so depriving myself long term is just not going to work. I need to measure things – weight, calories, miles, minutes, steps – so I can see forward progress. I need it to be easy to maintain. Standard meals or snacks, specific days or times that I do activities, a chart or an app to keep track of it all. This sounds like the building blocks of success to me!
Another way that being organized helps with weight loss is meal planning. Going to the store with a plan and a list helps prevent buying on impulse. Having a list of meals posted on the fridge helps me not to just run to McDonald’s. Keeping a detailed calendar is going to be critical for making time for exercise. Either a shared digital calendar or a family calendar on a white board in a central location can allow the entire family to know what to expect. If you know what is coming up for the next day, you can plan ahead and set out the supplies you will need for exercising or cooking a meal or packing a lunch the night before.
"Neither self-loathing or burying my head in the sand will work - only acceptance and continual improvement will really make me healthier and happier."
My conclusions from exploring my weight loss struggle are this: I need to go to bed earlier on a regular basis, plan for healthy foods in my house and lunchbox, set a plan about what I’m going to eat and how I’m going to keep moving and monitor my progress, find someone to be accountable to other than myself, schedule exercise even if that means cutting out another activity in my day, consider my quest to become healthier as a service to my kids through my good example. I also need to love who I am right now, but not in a “you are what you are and that can’t change" way, but in a “you are what you are right now and have the potential to be what you aspire to be" way. Neither self-loathing or burying my head in the sand will work – only acceptance and continual improvement will really make me healthier and happier.
“Calculate Your Body Mass Index.” National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.
“Healthy Weight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 June 2015, www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html.
Weintraub, Karen. “Is It Harder to Lose Weight When You're Older?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/well/live/is-it-harder-to-lose-weight-when-youre-older.html.
“Stress.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/stress?s=t.
“Sleep More, Weigh Less.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/sleep-and-weight-loss#1.
Photo by Gesina Kunkel on Unsplash
Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash
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!
"I feel good today - ordered, calm, focused, pretty, competent. Ah, so rare, but so nice! Why today?" This is what I wrote in my journal one day several months ago. After that, it was my quest to figure out what I'd done differently that day which caused me to be in such a good mood. I made a list of what had happened that day, and then made a plan on how to recreate it. I wanted to make the rest like my best!
Here's my list and what it taught me:
I slept til 8 a.m.
I realized that I needed more sleep. I sometimes have trouble sleeping, so I needed to make it a priority. I decided to set a bedtime, get a new memory foam pillow, and change my bedtime routine so I wasn't working or on a screen right before bed. Since then, my sleep has definitely improved! I love my memory foam pillow, and I’ve also started using a meditation app, some essential oils at bedtime, and I even gave a sleep mask a try!
The downstairs of my house was clutter free and laundry was caught up.
Visible clutter makes me anxious, so I needed to look at clutter clearing as self-care. I committed to keep my kitchen clean for the whole upcoming week and make note of how I felt as a result. Laundry has always been my nemesis, so just keeping it out of sight was what I promised myself for the following week. I've since started a laundry experiment which I wrote about a few weeks ago - it's working! Clutter is a constant battle, but one thing that always helps is having less stuff! For the past few months, I've been slowly and steadily purging my house, room by room,
My new curtains were up and I loved how they looked.
I'd invested a lot of time making a decision about new curtains, and I was relieved that I liked them. (I'd had the previous ones for about 14 years, so I knew it was a big commitment!) I usually beat myself up about how long it took me to make a decision and how much effort I put into analyzing my options. This time, I felt proud of the research and bargain shopping I had done. Since then I’ve tried to spend my analysis efforts on big and important things, but with smaller decisions, as soon as my criteria are met, I go with it!
I had some alone time.
I've always been labelled an extrovert, but with even just a little alone time that morning, I was energized. This showed me that maybe I am similar to my introvert husband -- I need to be alone on a regular basis so I don't get drained. I decided on some regular alone time the following week while the kids were at soccer practice. It was only about an hour two times that week, but just knowing it was scheduled helped. I now spend time at the library about every other Saturday and have given myself permission to miss the occasional kid’s sports practice for some time at home alone.
I was given a compliment from my husband.
After reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I had no doubt that my love language was words of affirmation. Hearing a compliment from anyone boosts my mood, but when it comes from my husband, it means so much more. I had a lasting smile on my face after hearing that compliment, but I had to figure out how to feel love in ways other than just words, so I decided to consciously look for other ways I was loved besides just in words in the upcoming week. Since then, I have noticed love and kindness being shown to me in other ways like having my back in a tense situation, doing me a favor, asking my opinion, giving me a gift, or giving me a hug. Turns out I’m pretty blessed by all the people in my life!
I did not check email or the news in the morning.
I normally checked email and news first thing in the morning, and usually there was something negative in the headlines or something stressful in my inbox. That morning, I didn't let my device control me. I realized I didn't feel as down during the morning when I wasn't consumed by negative thoughts. New plan - no news til lunch time and no email until I've at least taken a shower! The only problem is sometimes I feel that I’m not keeping up on current events as much as I should. It’s a tough balance between being informed and staying positive!
I sent a message to a friend and received a reply.
I sent a Facebook message to a friend because they were on my mind, and they messaged me right back. Having that connection made me smile. I decided that everyday, I'm going to reach out to at least one friend- it could be in person, on the phone or via a message on Facebook, Snapchat, etc. I’ve been doing this faithfully, and I love this so much! It’s fun to let my friends know they are on my mind and even better to hear back from them!
I spent time doing my hair, makeup and picked out a cute outfit.
That morning, I had the time (and took the time) to fix myself up a bit. It made me feel confident, put together, and in control. I realized that too often, I sported the "I didn't have time nor do I care" look, especially during the work week. I vowed to put on a little makeup and make an effort with my hair every morning. Time was my biggest barrier, so I tried washing my hair at night and using dry shampoo every other day. I also planned to do what I knew worked for me - picking out my outfit the night before. Last week's blog post explored this phenomenon in a little more detail - how we look impacts how we feel. I still enjoy a good no makeup (or shower) day, but that’s more of the exception than the rule these days.
I encourage you to go give this a try - remember one of your best days, and really think about what you did and which of those things you can recreate or even improve upon. Don’t think you can do everything every day, but even small changes will make a difference! I'd love to hear your thoughts, please share with us in the comment section below.
This week I announced that I'm giving away a copy of the book, Get Momentum: How to Start When You're Stuck by Jason and Jodi Womack. (If you're reading this before 9 p.m. on Wednesday, March 21, 2018 there's still time to enter to win!) I highly recommend this book to help you get started on any project whether it be personal, work, or a passion project. Get Momentum first helps you to figure out why you're stuck and then breaks down getting momentum into 5 steps:
1. Motivation - What do I want to be known for?
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!