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!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 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 enjoyed the review and reflection process that I just went through about 2018 and how it helped me prepare for this new year. I was planning to end the exercise with a perfect, one word representation of what I wanted to be in 2019. I really wanted to wear one of those bracelets that have been in all the social media ads with the little metal disc displaying my whole annual plan distilled down into one word...but I couldn't do it!
Last year, I came up with a series of questions to ask myself that helped me define not just one word, but several areas of focus for my year. I wanted to try something different this year, but I realized that different doesn't mean better and after a few false starts, I stuck with last year's method. You can read about it and download FREE worksheets here.
This year, I was able to add a new portion to my review - I analyzed my last year by jotting down some successes - and failures - from each area of focus that I’d defined during my planning session for 2018. I was kind of rough on myself, recognizing more failures than successes. I almost stopped the review feeling like it wasn't worth doing, but then I decided to look through my calendar to see what I'd been up to. I made a list of all the cool things I'd done, and for those that were repeated (like date night, volunteering, and time with friends), I began tallying all the times I'd done them. Soon, I started feeling pretty accomplished and began to realize that some of my proudest moments weren’t ones I’d planned for. My prior year's planning and goal setting process provided me the structure to accommodate and excel at unexpected opportunities.
"...some of my proudest moments weren't ones I'd planned for. My prior year's planning and goal setting process provided me the structure to accommodate and excel at unexpected opportunities."
One thing that I had no idea would happen in 2018 when I did my planning last year was that I would dip my toe into sales through Clever Container (and be pretty successful at it!) Though this experience only lasted about 6 months - you can read about how I handled my disappointment about that here - it got me really excited about 2019! What is ahead for me that I can’t even fathom right now?? It also helped me realize that the unknown doesn’t have to be scary, it can be exhilarating! Be wary of counting on things to just fall into place, though. I really believe reflection and planning are still critical to our own success and well-being.
It doesn’t matter that January 1 has come and gone - that’s just an arbitrary date that many people use to give them a clean slate, but you can do this exercise anytime! Give it a try - ask yourself some questions about your past and your future. It is really enlightening to see what commonalities appear and how you can get laser focused on certain areas of self-improvement and set yourself up for growth in ways you can’t even imagine at this point in time.
I’ll share my 2019 areas of focus with you below, but I want to be clear that these are just categories or cues for specific goals that I will create and review throughout the year. Read about some goal setting tips here. This year I want to focus on:
I’d love to hear about your plan for this year! Were you able to come up with just one word to drive your whole year, or do you have several areas to focus on? What are you most excited about for 2019? Share with us below in the comments or join me on Facebook!
This weekend, I was at my last vendor event with Clever Container, and as unsuspecting shoppers walked by, I would ask, “would you like to get more organized?” Several people replied, “If I got organized, I would never find anything!” The first couple of times, I chuckled assuming they just said the first thing that came to mind to shut me up so they could pass by my booth without feeling guilty for not stopping to browse. But when I heard the same statement for the third, fourth, and fifth time, I started thinking that maybe there is a widespread misunderstanding about what organization really is or what it should be.
The Clever Container slogan (and a big reason I began selling their products) is “Make Room for Life.” This is the spirit of what being organized is to me. On my website’s homepage it says,
"Getting a life in order is so much more than store-bought organizing containers, a white board calendar, and cute office supplies -- it's about a realistic system that honors your priorities"
So the idea that getting organized would actually make life harder or less efficient is really a foreign concept to me. I wonder if those who made that comment are thinking of getting organized as a cookie cutter solution that someone else told them was the “right way.” To those of you who have avoided changing how you do things, where you put things, or how you think about your things, I want you to have hope that there are ways to change that will actually improve your life - in the way that you want to live it. We all need a personalized approach to organizing, and here’s how to get started:
How You Do Things
Ask yourself these questions:
A real life example:
My oldest son's bedroom is...well, let’s call it an organizational challenge. A few months ago, it got especially bad, so I sat in his room with him and told him he was my organizing client, so I asked him the three questions above. He loves to read, so we decided a reading nook made sense for him. Obviously he needed books, and he also wanted a lamp, some pillows and blankets. The answer to what was in his space that he DIDN’T need was the key to him really buying into getting it organized. He had a large bookshelf, but it was full of board games. It bothered him that others came into his room all the time to get a game, so we were able to do some shelf shuffling and relocate all the board games to a more central location and fill his bookshelf with books. We were able to bring in most of the other items he needed for his reading nook - a bin that fit in the bottom of the bookshelf and some pillows and blankets - from other areas in the house. We bought an inexpensive clip-on lamp to complete his nook! Now this is his favorite area in his room, and though it’s not perfectly clean all the time, it has vastly improved since we defined the space, got rid of what didn’t belong, and put everything he needed in a central location.
Where You Put Things
Ask yourself these questions:
A real life example:
In my video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen, I talked about organizing in zones. I have a baking zone with one cabinet that houses baking ingredients and measuring cups and spoons. In the cabinet directly beneath, I have a plastic bin with a lid containing all my cake and cookie decorating supplies - sprinkles, cookie cutters, piping bags, etc. The counter top between those two cabinets has an outlet where I can plug in a mixer and has space for mixing bowls. I created this zone in a logical area near the oven. I made it accessible by making sure I could reach everything easily. Using a bin that I could just put up on the counter instead of having to get on my hands and knees to look through a shelf in a lower cabinet was a great improvement! Finally I made it pleasing to the eye with matching, labeled canisters for my flours and sugars.
How You Think About Things
Ask yourself these questions:
A real life example:
My youngest son is fortunate to be near the bottom of a great hand-me-down chain, so he has a LOT of clothes. It is overwhelming sometimes with how many little shirts and pairs of pants I’m trying to stuff into his dresser drawers. When there is too much, he finds it difficult to put things away and we end up with half open drawers overflowing with unfolded clothes. I get mad because of the mess, but feel guilty if I don’t use all the clothes we have been given. Then we both get frustrated when we can’t find that one shirt that he actually does like because it’s smashed among all of the other shirts that he finds just so-so. I had to learn that less is definitely more in this situation! Now we go through every piece of clothing to decide if it fits AND if he likes it. If the answer is no to either of those questions, the item gets donated or trashed. As you can read in a previous post, The Seasonal Switch, we only store one season of clothes in all of our rooms (partly due to the lack of closet space in our 100+ year old house). When you store things out of sight for months at a time, when you get them out, they feel novel and fresh again! I also do this with stuffed animals and rotate occasionally. There are a few instances were we don’t have ENOUGH of something, and I finally realized that it was worth the extra few bucks to buy another package of underwear to stop the frantic morning rush to find a clean pair!
I hope this personalized approach will prevent you from scoffing at the idea of getting organized. Or maybe you now realize that you are pretty organized, it's just not what you thought of as the "regular" way of being organized. If you can find things, don't feel overwhelmed by your stuff, aren't frustrated or angry because you lose things or forget to complete tasks - you're already in really good shape! If you've still got a ways to go, that's ok, take this approach to get organized space by space.
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!
Anger (/ˈaNGɡər/) - a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility. I've never thought of myself as an angry person, but I've realized lately that 'strong feeling of annoyance' can begin to control me. When I use so much of my energy either thinking about why I'm angry, talking about it, or trying to stuff it down so I'm not rude, I don't have much left for the things that really need to get done. Anger also causes me to stop thinking clearly, so even if I had energy left, my quality of work would suffer.
I want to use my energy in a positive way to accomplish my goals efficiently. So how do I stop the feelings of annoyance and anger that suck up so much of that energy and cloud my thinking?
"What if you said in your head, 'na-na na-na boo-boo you can't make me mad' and created a new identity for yourself as someone who is slow to anger?"
Do you have other tips for keeping it together when you are dealing with a difficult situation or feeling angry? Some readers may appreciate the tips heading into the holidays when stress levels and frustrations tend to run high! Share with us in the comments.
Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. Mccullough. “Counting Blessings versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, vol. 84, no. 2, 2003, pp. 377–389., doi:10.1037//0022-35220.127.116.117.
Tracy, Brian. “Plan Ahead and Increase Productivity.” Brian Tracy's Self Improvement & Professional Development Blog, Brian Tracy International, 22 Sept. 2017, www.briantracy.com/blog/time-management/plan-ahead-and-increase-productivity/.
As the holidays approach, I begin to think more about my Grandma who passed away on Thanksgiving Day 5 years ago. She lived 98 years, and I had the privilege to know her for 32 of those. Appropriately, earlier this week I saw a quote, "Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone," and it made me sad to think about three of my four grandparents who are gone. But then I realized how fortunate I am to have had so many good examples in my life (including my other Grandma who I'm blessed to still have!) What a great way to honor them by being the things I loved most about them!
I have two Grandpas and one Grandma who are in heaven. I don't know if there's anyway that they can look down on this world or not, but it's comforting to think that they might be. I hope that if that's the case, they'd be proud to see their granddaughter living out the lessons they taught me. One of my grandfathers died when I was only 9, but I have vivid memories and lessons learned from him just like I do my other grandpa who died when I was almost 30. I've chosen three qualities from each of my grandparents that I want to display in my own life, and I'll start with my Grandma Lena who I had a very special bond with.
Grandpa Ralph (married to Grandma Lena)
I'm a bit tear-stained as I write this because I miss them all so much, but it is nice to relive these memories and see how the things I loved so much about these pillars in my life still resonate in me today. Were these people perfect? of course not, but in these few ways and many more that I don't have time to share, they provided me a framework for a really fulfilling life. I want to apply these qualities to my life and I sincerely hope that some day my kids and future grandkids will remember some of these same types of things about my life that will help guide their future. Take the time to list out the things you loved most about the people who are gone from your life, but certainly not forgotten. It will make your heart feel very full!
Back in the summer of 1991 when my family went to Disney World, I first heard the song, "It's a Small World After All" - over and over again as we rode the ride which, for some reason, scared my then 6 year old brother (the characters are kind of creepy!) At the age of 10, that ride didn't make sense to me. The world didn't seem small, it seemed big and scary. It still seems big and scary to me most of the time. I've always had a sense of how small I am in the scheme of things. Whenever I travel, I marvel at the complex system of roads, bridges, and buildings. I am amazed at scientific research, manufacturing on a massive scale, and when I see these things and hear of missionaries or aid workers helping people all over the world, I feel like what I know, what I do, and what I am just might not matter.
As we all do, I remember distinctly where I was on 9/11 and can conjure up the fear I felt about our big, bad world for months after. Later that school year, I let fear get the best of me when I skipped a college trip to New York City because I was scared of what might happen. Though I'm not scared all the time, I still often let my feelings of insignificance get in the way. I worry about taking a chance or failing or wonder why I should even try because I know there are others in this big world who can do things better than I can.
"Though I'm not scared all the time, I still often let my feelings of insignificance get in the way."
Recently, I had a string of coincidences with several random people. Whenever I meet someone who is from my hometown, or knows someone I know, or was at the same place at the same time as me, I wonder if it's really a coincidence or just God's way of showing us that we are interconnected, and as such, NOT insignificant. Whenever I have these experiences, I wonder how I acted in these situations that I have in common with this previous stranger - was I kind, thoughtful, respectful and did I display a good work ethic? Or was I rude, dismissive and condescending? I sure hope it was the former! There's been so much discussion recently about how our pasts affect our present and our future, I think the lesson that my kids have been learning at school from the book, Wonder, is key, "Choose kind." The world is becoming smaller and smaller with the increasing technology and the prevalence of social media, we have to realize that what we do today really does matter for tomorrow. We should think more than ever about how are actions now may define our future.
Even though I don't expect to change the world tomorrow, I don't know whose path I may cross or how what I say or do may impact someone. In one of these recent coincidences, someone told me that the were grateful for how they were treated by my family. Wow, that kind of gave me chills - you never what your next action may lead to - good or bad. I'm starting to see why those Disney characters just kept on singing about how small the world really is.
This week I found the sweet spot between being a jerk and being efficient. Every day this summer during my one-hour commute home from work, I’ve dealt with construction on the dual lane, split highway I drive (aka the bypass.) The construction moves a little bit every day so I never know exactly where it’s going to be. The westbound lanes are restricted down to one lane for just a few hundred feet, BUT since you don’t know exactly where it’s at, cars who drive the same route every day, start getting into the right lane in expectation WAY before the actual lane closure. I typically sit in a long line of traffic in the right-hand lane for 10 solid minutes before the left lane is actually closed off. There are a high percentage of semis, so you can’t see very far ahead to know if the left lane is closed just ahead or a mile away. Since the left lane isn’t actually closed, there are these few, what I used to call “jerk cars,” that speed by on the left (they were probably going like 27 mph which seemed like speeding to my 4 mph) Daily, I’d grumble, “Oh you jerk cars are going to speed past all of us who are doing what we’re supposed to be doing -patiently waiting in the correct lane.”
Well, one day this week, I was kind of in a hurry and didn’t have that extra 10 minutes to spend in a line of traffic inching forward waiting for the construction to appear, so I thought, “I think I’m gonna try being a jerk car…” I started rationalizing – they’re not really breaking the law - the road isn’t actually closed, and it’s probably wise to use BOTH lanes while they are available to make things more efficient, right?” So, even though there was a long line of traffic stacked up in the right-hand lane, the left lane looked clear. I turned on my signal and went for it and became a “jerk car!” I drove and drove and drove at a speedy 27 mph and was amazed how many cars I passed in the right lane waiting patiently (probably cursing me under their breath.) As soon as I saw the orange sign that tells you to merge, there was this heaven-sent opening that I easily moved into. Then almost immediately, the blinking sign and the construction barrels appeared that officially closed the left lane. There I was in the correct lane, breezing through the short actual construction zone. In no time, I was back to cruising toward home, and I was so proud of myself! This was efficient!! So you tell me, was it a jerk move or a genius one?
I started wondering why I’d been wasting so much of my time waiting in traffic this summer and wondering if there are other things in my life that I think of as “jerk moves” that would really just be more assertive and efficient? I asked myself why I was in that right lane. The answer was easy - because everyone else was there. I seemed like what I was “supposed” to do –like I was following the rules and being a good citizen and a good driver. Really, the people who I thought were being jerks, well, they were the ones that were doing what was actually much smarter and much more efficient. Are there practices I’m following or things that I’m doing just because others are doing them? Maybe what I should be doing is paying attention to the people who are doing something different– what is it and is it working for them? What would happen if I did that and put myself first – would I become more efficient and successful? What if I said, “I know that there’s going to be a roadblock up ahead, but I might as well make up some ground while I can.” WOW is that a metaphor or what??? I realized that I apparently learn a lot from traffic metaphors since this is my second post about them - I learned a lot from left turns in a previous post!
"Are there practices I'm following or things that I'm doing just because others are doing them? Maybe what I should be doing is paying attention to the people who are doing something different - what is it and is it working for them?"
Make forward progress while you can, don’t just sit there and waste time. I think that applies in so many ways – if you are unhappy in your life, you can sit in line behind all those other unhappy people, or you can do something about it, take a chance, and get in that left lane and move forward. There are always going to be roadblocks ahead as well as things you don’t even know are coming. Do you want to get behind a line of people who are waiting for bad things with the mindset, “I know that construction is ahead, I’ve gotta prepare, move slow, and be cautious.”? With that school of thought you are already in the right spot, and though you’re prepared, it’s going to take you FOREVER to get anything accomplished. Instead, you could take a chance, get out in that left lane, speed past a bunch of people, get some stuff done. Realize it may be a little tricky or take a little time to get back in the correct lane to get through the actual construction zone, but be forward thinking enough to realize that by getting out from behind that traffic allows you to see what’s coming and know when to shift back to seamlessly move through a challenging spot. If you start preparing for disaster or roadblocks far in advance or are scared to take a chance, you’ll just be stuck in traffic.
As I was thinking about this, I realized this is something I deal with often – similar to analysis paralysis! I know there’s going to be a problem, and I start thinking about it and don’t know what to do, so I just get in line behind everyone else in the “safe” lane and sit and barely move forward. I do this so often – even though I know the path and the potential outcomes, I’m scared to get in that other lane and make forward progress, because what if I make the wrong decision and I take the wrong path and then it takes me time later to get back into the right lane? But you know what – that is rare. When I, the safe, rule-following patient driver, get to the part of the road that narrows to one lane and see some of the “jerk cars” who passed me along the way waiting to get back into my lane I think “haha jerk cars, I’m already in the right lane and now you have to wait!” But you know what, it took me 10 minutes to get there, and even if the “jerk car” had to wait for a couple minutes to merge, they STILL spent much less time on that same stretch of road because they took a chance and now they get to do more with that time they saved! Why am I not taking more chances and getting in a position that I can see further ahead? Fear is the answer, but I don't want it to be! Once I'd been a "jerk car," I wasn't as scared to try again. I want to continue practicing what's different, what's assertive, what's efficient, while still remaining kind and considerate - I don't really want to be a jerk!
This week, I had a unique experience at work - the opportunity to focus on one project for two days straight! This is far from the norm for me as I'm usually switching from project to project and being interrupted by one "fire" after another all day long. It's difficult to get any one project completed (let alone completed well) because there are so many projects and so many urgent little things that take my attention away from the important tasks. I can almost see you all nodding your heads in agreement - this battle between the important and the urgent coupled with the sheer volume of expectations placed on each one of us in both our professional and personal lives is almost an epidemic in our society.
When I was forced into focusing on an important project it felt odd, and a little wrong, to put everything else to the side and do just one thing, but it was AMAZING! I felt more clarity and forward momentum than I'd felt in a very long time. Interestingly, because I'd been thinking about one thing all day, my mind just kept on working efficiently even after I was "done" for the day. I had ideas and worked out problems in my head overnight much more easily than I would have if my mind would have been all over the place during the day as it usually is.
Those of us writing resumes in the early 2000's probably all listed multi-tasking as one of our strengths. Being able to do many things at once was looked at as desirable. Since then, a lot of research has been published to debunk that myth of multi-tasking. Dave Crenshaw says in his book, The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done, "Remember this rule: the more responsibility you have, the more hats you wear, the more likely you are to become inefficient." You may be thinking, but if I don't do at least some things at the same time, I'll never get anything done! I hear ya, but stop to consider what you could accomplish and how fast you could accomplish it if you did only one thing at a time.
Productivity coach, Marcey Rader, describes different types of tasking methods in one of her blog posts. Multi-tasking is truly doing two things at once, and since only 2% of the population can actually do this - stop trying! What the rest of us are doing is called switch-tasking. Rader describes switch-tasking as "juggling two tasks by refocusing attention back and forth and losing time and progress in the switch." Switch-tasking makes us 30-40% LESS productive because we are switching our focus about every 3 minutes. There are some tasks that can be done as background tasks which do allow us to complete more than one thing at a time. A great example is listening to music while running or folding laundry while watching TV. Listening to music and watching TV are done in the background, while the other task is done in the foreground.
"Multi-tasking is truly doing two things at once, and since only 2% of the population can actually do this - stop trying!"
So, how do we realistically create an atmosphere where we can focus on one thing at a time? I think this starts with remembering that you're in charge of you (one of my early blog posts talks about this in depth.) I'm the one who thinks I need to do dishes, do laundry, help with homework, post to social media, and talk on the phone all at once - no one makes me do that. I am guilty of being what my husband calls, "willy-nilly" all too often. It's so easy to blame others for having to multi-task - "my job demands it" or " I have so much on my plate" - but if we are really honest with ourselves, we may realize that switching from one task to the other is something we do at home when no one is looking, too. If that becomes our normal, we're going to do that in whatever situation we find ourselves in. And it's going to become more pronounced when we are under stress. For me, it's a way to avoid decision making - if I do just a little, just the part I know how to do, and then flip to something else and yet something else, I can avoid doing the hard parts. The hard parts might not be as hard if I didn't have to reacquaint myself to the project every time I switch back to it after focusing elsewhere.
A to-do list or a schedule with only the most important tasks in a natural order of your energy level goes a long way in helping you stay on task. A timer can also help you, especially if it's something you don't particularly love doing. Setting clear expectations about your time with those who you feel accountable to may be the most important aspect in being productive. If you tell your boss or your spouse or your kids that you will do multiple things for them in an unrealistic time frame, you are going to naturally try to switch back and forth to try to get things completed. Pad the time you think you need, so you can over-deliver and gain momentum. Finally, decide what NOT to focus on. Cal Newport says in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focuses Success in a Distracted World, “What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life.”
This coming week, I'm going to try to improve my productivity by trying single-tasking. I know I can't spend two whole days on one project again, but I can spend blocks of time this week with head-down focus. I'm excited to see the results!
Crenshaw, Dave. The Myth of Multitasking: How Doing It All Gets Nothing Done. Jossey-Bass, 2008.
Rader, Marcey. “Multitasking, Switchtasking, Background Tasking or Hypertasking.” Marcey Rader Coaching, LLC, 13 Dec. 2017, www.marceyrader.com/multitasking-switchtasking-background-tasking-hypertasking/.
Newport, Cal. Deep Work. Piatkus, 2016.
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.
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:
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.
I began to wonder, had society simply lowered its expectations of service and knowledge (read the post, Why Can’t Things Be Easier?) Or was it because people were so distracted by all the inputs in life that they couldn’t focus on any one task long enough to master it? Or was it because helicopter parenting and the everyone-gets-a-trophy mentality had stopped us from being challenged or encouraged to do our best work? Wow, I was getting cynical, and it bothered me. How could I change my attitude and my pet peeve?
"How could I change my attitude and my pet peeve?"
I began to realize that being annoyed all the time and maintaining a disdain for perceived incompetence was taking a lot of my energy - energy I needed to be competent in my own life. My eyes were opened to my own feelings of incompetence - at work, as a parent, and simply as a 30-something woman. It's bad enough to have that feeling about myself, but to think of the rest of the world not cutting me any slack (because I surely wasn't giving anyone else the benefit of the doubt), well that was just depressing!
A few months ago, I had what many would describe as a very frustrating experience at a doctor's office, but instead of being angry and spewing the story of incompetence to anyone who would listen, I felt calm and had no negative feelings toward the person who made the mistake. I looked back and wondered, had I really grown that much as a person that I could overlook the issue, or was there some other reason? I rehashed the events in my mind....
My baby (6 years old at the time) had his tonsils out, and recovery was going well - until the pain medication prescription ran out. We went to the ENT's office to see what could be done. The kind and gentle nurse practitioner took her time examining my little whimpering puddle of pain and explaining the options to me, his mommy whose heart was breaking a little more with each crocodile tear. She ended with prescribing more Tylenol with codeine for the pain and had to write a physical prescription because the pharmacies wouldn't accept an electronic script for that type of medication (which still perplexes me...)
I had the forethought to call our regular pharmacy (which was near our home, a 30 minute drive from the doctor's office) from the clinic's parking lot to make sure they had the medicine in stock. It's a good thing I called, because they did not have it, and they referred us to another pharmacy in their chain near our doctor's office. We drove there and traipsed through the store to the back where the pharmacy counter was and stood in line only to be told that they didn't have the medication either. They referred us to yet another pharmacy where we repeated the process and heard from that pharmacist, "Sorry, none here." By this time I was beginning to wonder what was going on that no pharmacy in town had this not-very-exotic medication.
I called the pharmacy at the clinic where our doctor's office was located (why didn't I just go there in the first place, you ask? Well, I was certainly asking myself the same question at this point!) They said they had it! My son was still in a lot of pain as we retraced our steps back to where we started from. As soon as I showed the pharmacist that piece of paper, she immediately knew what the issue was. The nurse practitioner had checked the box on the prescription pad that said NO substitutions allowed, so since all of pharmacies stocked only the generic, they couldn't fill the prescription as it was written.
We went upstairs to the doctor's office, and I asked to see the nurse practitioner to get a new prescription. After just a few minutes she raced out from the back waving the new prescription. She immediately said she was so sorry that she'd made the mistake and admitted that she didn't often write physical prescriptions any more and had simply checked the wrong box. She empathized with me and my son saying she could only imagine what we'd gone through trying to get the medicine to make him feel better and she was so sorry she'd caused him extra time in pain. I found myself assuring HER that it was OK and telling HER not to worry.
We quickly got the prescription filled and immediately gave him a dose. As we drove home and he finally fell asleep after getting some relief, I realized that I didn't get angry or label the nurse practitioner as incompetent because she had taken her time and treated us with kindness during our appointment, then when presented with her mistake, she quickly apologized, took responsibility, empathized, did what was necessary to correct the situation, and apologized again. I would recommend this nurse practitioner in a heartbeat because of how she handled the situation.
"Expect the best until proven wrong."
I'm now trying hard not to quickly label others as incompetent, but to rather give them them benefit of the doubt. I want to try to look at situations - and the people in them - differently. I want to try to encourage those who I would typically consider inept to learn more, try harder, and become experts. I want to build up those around me who are feeling insecure about their abilities. What if instead of fueling insecurity by complaining or berating people for not knowing it all, producing enough, or doing it fast enough, I focused on fostering understanding and mutual respect and educating about why things matter to me and to others?
I’m choosing to change my pet peeve, so you’re going to have to REALLY mess up before I label you incompetent from now on! You may wonder what re-framing how I look at incompetence has to do with a life in order - to me it has everything to do with it! Before I can improve myself, become more efficient and focused on my priorities, I have to quit wasting my energy fretting about or ruminating on things I can't control, and I must change my mindset to focus less on the negative. I now try to live by the motto, “expect the best until proven wrong.”
"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.
It was a cold morning in January of 2003, and I'd been married a little less than 6 months. I popped out of bed early that morning and spent a little extra time curling my hair and putting on more makeup than usual. My new husband (who'd been my boyfriend for the 4 years prior to our marriage) woke up, took one look at me, and said, "Why are you getting all fancy for work - it's not like it's your birthday or something." The thing was - it WAS my birthday. I was turning 22, and I was feeling pretty that morning. I thought surely he was joking, but...he wasn't. We argued for several minutes about the date before he admitted defeat. Talk about a newlywed fail, but it's given me great material and gotten a lot of mileage over the past 15 years!
Why is it though, that I spent extra time on my appearance that day? It was a special occasion and by fixing my hair and makeup, I felt pampered. I already felt excited about my birthday (remember I was still in my early 20's when birthdays were a little more fun than they are in your late 30's!) so I had extra energy to spend on myself. I also knew that I'd likely be getting more attention than usual that day and wanted to look my best to make a good impression.
"It's unfortunate that judgments about our character can form in such a short amount of time, but because we know this is true, we can use that knowledge and create the impression about ourselves that we want to portray."
We often hear that looks don't matter and try to teach our children the same. And, though I strive not to judge a book by its cover and certainly want my children to look beyond the surface, the truth is, that looks do make an impact on how others view us and treat us. First impressions take a mere 7 seconds to form, and even if we try not to, we evaluate others before they've even opened their mouths to speak. A Business Insider article states that "within seconds of meeting you, people decide all sorts of things about you, from status to intelligence to promiscuity." It's unfortunate that judgments about our character can form in such a short amount of time, but because we know this is true, we can use that knowledge and create the impression about ourselves that we want to portray. Though we can't control many parts of our appearance, there are things we can do that show that we care about ourselves.
Spending time on our appearance isn't all about other people's impressions, it also impacts our own confidence and self-worth. There have been studies to prove what my Grandma just intuitively knew. "I can't face the day until I've put my face on," "I feel naked without my lipstick" are both statements I heard from her. A 2011 study done by Harvard and Boston University researchers reported that women felt more confident while wearing makeup. Interestingly, even the color of lipstick makes a difference. The British Heart Foundation polled women and reported that 26 percent of women felt more confident when they wore red lipstick. Even something as simple as taking a shower or putting on clean clothes can make you feel better when you've been under the weather. Taking time to focus on your appearance can take your mind off of a stressful situation. Feeling pretty helps you to get over feeling down - even if only temporarily.
We have to be careful not to cross that very faint line between caring about how we look to create the impression that communicates our authentic self to the world and focusing on appearance to our own detriment, putting others' opinions in front of our own values. If fixing up is something that boosts your mood and confidence and helps you get some respect along the way, there is NOTHING wrong with it (and it doesn't even have to be your birthday!)
I'm doing a giveaway this week to go along with this week's blog post theme. Enter for your chance to win one of two Lipsense Starter Kits (includes a lip color, gloss and remover.) A special thanks to Snazzy Beauty who is collaborating with me on this giveaway. I've added LOTS of ways to enter! Join us LIVE next Sunday, May 20 at 9 p.m. EST to find out if you won!
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*BONUS entry - new members to the Snazzy Beauty Facebook group get an entry!
Nudelman, Mike, and Drake Baer. “8 Things People Decide within Seconds of Meeting You.” Business Insider, 15 July 2015, www.businessinsider.com/8-things-people-decide-within-seconds-of-meeting-you-2015-7.
Adamns, Rebecca. “How Lipstick (Yes, Lipstick) Can Instantly Make Your Day Better.” The Huffington Post, TheHuffingtonPost.com, 14 Feb. 2014, www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/12/psychological-benefits-of-lipstick_n_4722612.html.
Your mom probably told you many times during your childhood, "If you can't say something nice, don't say anything at all." This is great advice, but I'd like to add another sentence. "If you can say something nice, do!" In this world where countless news sources are vying for our attention, it seems the sensationalized stories get the most traffic, and many of those contain negative, disappointing, or even scary content. It's easy to begin to believe there's very little "nice" stuff to talk about! The more we hear about the negative, the harder it is to even recognize the positive.
I recently had the opportunity to hear happiness researcher, Shawn Achor, speak, and one of the points that stuck out to me the most is that the more negative we feel, the more negative things we look for in our days, but the opposite is also true. Once you begin to recognize and appreciate positive things in your day, you actually become happier and start to notice more and more positives all around you. What if I could recognize more positives while also help others do the same? I think it's very easy to do just that by simply saying out loud the nice things we are already thinking. There are so many times that think, "her hair looks nice today," "he's really good at his job," "that guy is hilarious," "I like that girl's tattoo," "that kid is really well behaved," etc. How many times have I kept those nice thoughts in my head when I could have said them out loud and possibly made someone else's day? I know that when someone says even the smallest kind thing to me, it makes me happy. If it's that easy to spread happiness, I'm going to do it!
During a visit to the store, my kids and I received a comment card that you could complete about a specific employee who had done a good job. From all of the cards submitted, one would be drawn, and that employee would win a prize. My oldest son immediately told me who we should enter - a man who worked there who was always especially helpful and kind. Fast forward a week or so...I saw that man, and I immediately thought about my son's comment and about how neat it was that even as a kid, he recognized and appreciated kindness. I could have just walked by keeping that thought in my head, but instead, I went up to the guy (who didn't know me) and told him the story. Maybe a little weird or uncomfortable for me, but the look on his face and hearing him say, "Thank you. You made my day, and I needed that today!" made ME happy. Wait a second - me saying something nice to someone else actually made me happy - wow, why am I not doing this all the time?
Throughout the day, different people and experiences pop into my head. I usually just let it pass and do nothing about it, but occasionally, I take the time to shoot that person a text or an email letting them know I was thinking of them and why. Most of the time I get a kind response of appreciation, and very often I get the response, "I needed that today." You don't have to be physically with a person to spread some kindness!
One day while I was eating lunch out, I had a young server who had several tattoos. I commented on one that was visible just by saying I liked it and asked what made him choose it. His whole demeanor changed. I think he was surprised to be asked (maybe me being in a business suit on my lunch hour asking about his tattoo caught him off guard) but he opened up and told me why he got the tattoo, what it meant to him, and showed me another one and shared a personal story about it. After this experience I've started asking others who have visible tattoos about them. I don't have tattoos myself, but figure if someone cares enough about something to have it tattooed, it may be something they'd like to share and it may make them happy to do so. Just from saying, "I like your tattoo, what does it mean?" I've heard about the impact of parents who have passed on, faith journeys, and just some funny stories.
"Saying kind things doesn't only improve the mood of those you're complementing, it also helps your own mood."
Saying kind things doesn't only improve the mood of those you're complementing, it also helps your own mood. I remember when my Grandma was alive, sometimes when I had a bad day, I'd call her - not to complain about my day, but rather to cheer her up. In hearing her mood improve, it made me feel better - a win, win! Why does this work - is it because we shift our focus and forget about our problems or is it that by shifting our focus, our attitude about our problems actually changes?
Since hearing Achor speak, I started a new dinnertime routine with my family. Each night we go around the table taking turns saying three specific things we were grateful for that day. They can be as small as, "I'm grateful for these great hamburgers that Dad grilled" or "I'm grateful for going on a walk in the sunshine today." The research shows that after 21 days of recording specific gratitude, our brains actually start perceiving the world differently because we are looking for things to be grateful for, so those things are at the forefront and the negatives - which still exist - are in the background. I'm eager to look back after we've done this for a few weeks at what made us feel gratitude and notice our happiness increasing! Once we become happier, we improve in many ways - health, productivity and our influence on others all benefit. Achor did a popular TED talk you may want to check out called "The Happy Secret to Better Work." I've heard many productivity experts talk about gratitude journals and have had a hard time keeping one for myself, but adding my family in the mix has helped me make this a part of my day that I look forward to!
I encourage you to give some of these ideas a shot and see if they make you happier:
Today was a a special day for my family - Easter, April Fool's Day and a birthday celebration! For me, most of the fun of holidays and special events has always been the anticipation, but more importantly the traditions involved. Some of the traditions in my household come from mine and my husband's childhoods (and some of them likely from our parents' childhoods) but many are brand new traditions we've created ourselves. One of my favorite parts of parenthood so far has been creating traditions for my family - some of which I hope they will carry on with their own families some day.
Sometimes we may wonder if keeping up with all of the traditions is worth it. There is a difference between true traditions - things we do to create meaning that can be passed down from generation to generation - and just keeping up appearances. In this digital age full of social networks, posting what we decide is the ideal picture of our lives is an easy trap to fall into, and if this is the reason you keep up with a tradition then, NO, it's not worth it. But if creating and maintaining traditions brings joy to you and your family or provides precious memories and opportunities for your children to carry them with them into adulthood - then YES, keep it up!
There are so many reasons I think traditions are powerful and allow us creative opportunities to show our love to our past and to our future:
Traditions create memories
We have hosted a kids' Halloween costume party since our oldest was about 3 years old. I have pictures of both of my kids and their friends and their friends parents in all sorts of fun costumes. We often talk about things like "that time we stuck our hands into a bucket with cold spaghetti and thought it was guts!"
Traditions help us mark the passage of time
From the time I started school, my mom took a first day of school picture in front of the refrigerator. She could tell how much we'd grown by how close we were to the line between the fridge and the freezer. She has a first and a last day of school picture of my brother and me for every school year. When my kids started school, I did the same thing, but instead of the refrigerator, I use the back door. It's fun to see how much the kids have grown each year.
Traditions communicate meaning
There are many competing traditions around Christmas and Easter. My family chooses to participate in both the fun and the religious traditions (ex. Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny, and the story of Christ's birth, death and resurrection.) We use traditions to communicate meaning. One of those traditions is one that we did just this morning, resurrection rolls. Every Easter morning, we make these rolls and talk about the Biblical meaning of Easter. Today, my kids helped explain the meaning in this video
Traditions connect generations
As a child, every Christmas morning was spent at home. After stockings and before gifts, we would read the story of Jesus' birth from the book of Luke chapter 2. When I got married, we began spending Christmas mornings at our new home and our kids have always had Christmas morning at their home. Each year, we read from Luke chapter 2 after stockings and before gifts. We also read the same passage when we go to my parents house before opening gifts. My kids know that this is what I did as a kid, and I expect this is one tradition that they will carry on.
Traditions are just fun!
We made up a really silly and fun tradition last Cinco de Mayo. The kids wanted to see the Tron remake and it just worked out that we had some time on May 5. My oldest and I stopped by the store and picked up some chips, salsa, and queso. We went home and announced the new Cinco de Mayo tradition was eating our snacks and watching Tron. The kids loved the movie and just the other day, they mentioned how we'll watch it again on Cinco de Mayo this year!
The really fun part about traditions is there are so many opportunities to create them - major and minor holidays, firsts, lasts, even just days of the week! Something as simple as dinner out on a Friday is something I've heard my husband recall about his childhood. It doesn't have to be grand or expensive to count as a tradition. It just has to create joy, have some consistency, and be able to be recreated by our families or friends in the future. What kinds of traditions do you have in your family and how have they helped you maintain order in your life?
Resurrection Roll Recipe
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!