It's the first full week of the new year, and I'm on-fire motivated to meet my goals. I'm so darn excited about what I want to achieve this year that I want it all to happen right now! I was reminded yesterday that just because I haven't seen immediate progress on my first goal of the year, doesn't mean I'm a failure or that I'm not going to achieve it. Thank goodness for good friends who can see things from the outside looking in and remind me of that! This got me thinking about what strategies I could employ this year to not only be successful at achieving my goals, but also to give myself grace along the way. Here's what I've come up with:
Give Yourself Time
The T in a SMART goal stands for time bound, and I need to remember that even though I may be able to complete each of my individual goals in 6 weeks, I can't do them all in the SAME 6 weeks. I want to keep that fire in my belly, so I need to be careful not to let it burn to quickly and extinguish that flame.
Recognize All Achievements
Even small victories are worth celebrating. Though I may not have gotten 100 people to attend my webinar on the first day it was launched, I did have one person who watched! That's something to be proud of, learn from, and build upon.
Keeping a "done" list is a great way to remind yourself of how far you've come and how much you've accomplished. A done list is the to-do list's counterpart. You can still keep your traditional to-do list, but start a list of everything you've completed. This will give you a sense of accomplishment, and it tends to create momentum.
Not meeting your goal the first day you begin working on it gives you time to learn more about what you are trying to achieve. There are so many resources available about every topic imaginable. While you work toward your goal, why not gain insight from someone who has done something similar? You don't have to follow their blueprint exactly, but you can almost always pick out a little nugget of wisdom that will help you improve.
Sometimes when you get head-down into a goal, you become so focused on a certain outcome that you don' take time for your other responsibilities or relationships. Laser-focus is a great thing, but not at the expense of what matters most to us. Walking away from your goal even for an hour or two and spending that time doing something productive or interacting with your family or friends will provide you a better perspective and a refreshed sense of purpose when you get back to it.
Another option is to set certain time frames that you dedicate to your goal so that during other parts of the day or week you don't feel like you're losing precious time. This can also set expectations with your family and friend so they aren't upset when you are busy working toward your goal.
This is the best (and easiest) tip by far — get a mentor, a sounding board, or better yet join a group of them! Achieving your goals increases by 95% when you check in regularly with someone about your goal. This person or group can keep you accountable no only for working toward your goal, but for being realistic with your own expectations. If you're looking for a group like this to encourage you and keep you accountable, check out the Achieve! program that launches in February.
I love the holiday season for so many reasons, but one of my favorite parts is looking back on the last year to reminisce about the good times, recognize accomplishments, and realize what I learned and where I could improve. When I was a kid, I remember my mom pulling out the wall calendar on New Year's day and going through all of our appointments and outings that she'd written down. We would talk about all of the fun things we’d done in the past 12 months. These days, I do the same thing — only with my Google calendar. It’s amazing how much you forget about your day to day life, and it’s a lot of fun to look back and remember all of those little details.
Reviewing your previous year’s calendar is a good way to determine how you spent your time and what you prioritized. There are entries on my calendar that I didn’t have a choice about, but there are also many things that I decided to do instead of something else. You can easily recognize a person’s priorities by the way they spend their time. If you look back at your calendar and don’t like what you see — not enough date nights or outings with friends, too many late nights working, or not enough “me” time — you are the only one who can change it. Sure, there are some non-negotiables like doctor’s appointments, your job, or maybe even jury duty (I spent 3 days on a jury this year!) but there are many hours that you DO have a choice about. Don’t beat yourself up about how you did or didn’t spend your time in 2019. Instead, learn from it and become intentional about how you spend your time next year so that when you review your 2020 calendar a year from now, you will feel proud, successful, and happy.
I’m a big proponent of choosing areas of focus for the upcoming year and then setting small, specific goals within each of those areas. I just completed this exercise, and I used my calendar to help me identify what worked in 2019 and what I want more of or less of in 2020. Though I was really pleased with what I achieved in 2019, there’s still more I want to do. I want to build on habits I started in 2019 and create new ones in 2020.
Many people enjoy identifying a single word for the new year, but I’ve always found it a little intimidating to distill everything going on in my head and heart into one word. This year, though, I saw a theme in my areas of focus and my goals for 2020 — ACHIEVE. I want to achieve, and I want to help others achieve. I want to empower others to be their best selves and to achieve what they have struggled with up to now. I am excited to announce that I am launching a formal program around this theme!
In February 2020, I will begin facilitating a goal setting group program for women called Achieve! Small groups of women will meet virtually for an hour every week for 6-12 weeks to set goals, identify and overcome obstacles, and meet milestones necessary to achieve those goals. The group will encourage one another and offer suggestions, assistance, and, most importantly, accountability! As the facilitator, I will guide the weekly calls, document your progress, and check in with you regularly between meetings to provide resources to keep you on track and motivated to complete the tasks necessary to achieve your goal.
If you are interested in joining an Achieve! group, please fill out the form below, and I will contact you to discuss the details. I wish you all a very happy and productive 2020!
My son is a Cub Scout who works hard to earn badges that he proudly displays on his uniform. There are some badges that are fairly easy to earn, but the ones that have more requirements are the most desirable and are worn with the most pride. I was thinking this week what it would be like if adults earned badges for our achievements and wore them for everyone to see. I’m embarrassed to admit that I’ve been feeling kind of smug lately about a badge I think I would have earned — my busy badge.
The thing is, a busy badge isn’t really all that special because it’s easy to earn and pretty much everyone has one. They give out busy badges like Oprah gives out her favorite things - YOU get a busy badge and YOU get a busy badge and YOU get a busy badge…
Big deal — I’m busy, who isn’t? You know what would be a big deal? If I took control of my busy schedule and weeded out some of the unnecessary things to make time and space for what really matters to me. I’m tired of answering the “how are you?” question with the obligatory, “busy” answer. These days it feels like a competition to be busier than the next person. It gives you more to complain about and more reasons for others to feel sorry for you or be in awe of how you do it all. I think for many of us, being busy provides an excuse not to excel because it’s impossible to be great at everything when you are doing so much.
More elusive and more desirable than a busy badge would be a downtime badge, a calm badge, a focus badge, or a be present badge. Those would take intention and self-discipline to earn — especially this time of year! The month of December is filled with school programs, concerts, projects, dress up days, and gift exchanges. There are work holiday parties, ugly sweater days, and secret Santas. At home we fill our time decorating, buying and wrapping gifts, baking cookies, planning and attending family gatherings, and moving the elf — all while trying to actually experience the holiday spirit and enjoy it.
"More elusive and more desirable than a busy badge is a downtime badge, a calm badge, a focus badge, or a be present badge. Those would take intention and self-discipline to earn - especially this time of year!"
The past couple of weeks set a busy record for me! My husband was out of town, my two school aged kids had lots of homework, programs and activities, and I was squeezing in everything I needed to do in my full time job before the end of the year. Even though on the inside I was feeling a little overwhelmed, it was kind of awesome - I could complain about being SO busy but yet keep things under control and maybe people would even ask “how does she do it?” Well, the plans I had to stay on top of everything fell through, and I had to scramble for a plan B! When I was near desperation, a friend stepped up and said, “Let me help.” I took full advantage of her offer and was so appreciative to her for not only helping me out, but making me realize that pretending that I’m happy wearing the busy badge isn’t necessary. Asking for help is one of the definitions of order that I wrote about when I first started this blog, but this is a hard lesson for me to learn.
After last week’s save by my friend, I decided I wasn’t going to try to be super mom, I was just going to be mom. The house was a little messier, some paperwork had to get filed for later, we ate out more than I’d like to admit, but that gave us more time to enjoy each other and the season. Over a year ago, I wrote about making time matter, and it's a shame that it takes a daily, conscious effort to slow down and experience our lives. I believe it all comes down to remembering that we control our own lives and schedules and having the courage to make the hard choices about how we spend our time. What badge are you trying to earn, and are you trying to achieve it to display to others or to satisfy yourself?
I can't believe this is my 100th blog post! I looked through what I call my "blog log" which lists the date, title, and number of every one I've written, and I have to say— I'm really proud of what is included in these past 99 posts. When I say proud, I don't mean boastful, but rather a feeling of deep satisfaction that resulted from hard work, honesty, and perseverance. It has been important to me from the start that I be transparent and not claim to know all the answers. I'm in this with you — I have many of the same struggles as you, and I'm continuing to figure out how striving to live a life in order can help me gain and maintain control. I truly believe that productivity and organization is not only for those born naturally orderly, but that it gives the rest of us the freedom and space to really enjoy our lives.
I asked my oldest son, who is nearly an all-knowing teenager, what I should write about for my 100th post. He gave me some sage advice, "write about how you stuck with your blog all of this time." I thought his suggestion was brilliant! Yes, that's something I want to explore — stick-to-itiveness!
I kind of went down a rabbit hole researching what this word meant. I went from stick-to-itiveness to tenacity to tenacious to "persistent in maintaining, adhering to, or seeking something valued or desired." What I realized was the reason it was easy for me to stick with my blog is because I value it!
Many of us were required to read What Color is Your Parachute by Richard N. Bolles in a college job readiness course. This book explored how to determine what job is right for you and how to get it. No matter if you are looking for a job, a hobby, or just your next fun project, the principles are the same — you should search for your key passions and strive to use them daily. The more passionate you are about something, the more likely you are to see it through, and be happy along the way.
A pioneer in this type of strengths philosophy was Bernard Haldane, an English doctor who moved to New York in the 1940's. After realizing he didn't meet the U.S. requirements for working in medicine, he began helping veterans recognize their own strengths and transferable skills from their military experience. He encouraged them use those skills to rejoin the non-military workforce after returning from the war. Haldane's work inspired others in the field and led to many books and programs encouraging people to determine not only what they were good at, but what they loved doing and would provide them with feelings of pride for having accomplished. He was clear that this didn't mean it was all sunshine and rainbows along the way! There will always be parts of a task or a process that one will dislike or cause them to work outside of their comfort zone, but he proposed that both the journey AND the outcome should provide satisfaction.
Starting My Life In Order came out of something I was passionate about — getting my own life in order and helping others do the same. It consisted of things I enjoy — writing, technology, connecting and helping others achieve their goals. I have one little secret that has helped me stick with it to this milestone 100th post — I give myself a LOT of grace! I try to remember that this venture is supposed to be fun. Though I feel a responsibility to publish blog posts regularly and be active on social media, I also give myself a pass sometimes. The world won't end if my blog post is a little late or if I am MIA on Facebook for a day. By giving myself permission not to be perfect all the time, it is much easier to keep on keeping on! If I felt like if I didn't publish a post every 7 days that I was a failure, I would have quit a long time ago! Imagine what you can accomplish if you can find that thing you are great at, fuels your fire, AND can give yourself some grace!
You may be thinking, "Yeah, this all makes sense —if I love something I can stick with it, but what if I don't love it or just downright dislike it?" Learning to persevere even when it's not fun is where real success begins! Start by asking yourself the who, what, when, where, why questions.
When you honestly answer all of these questions, you may be surprised what you learn. Maybe changing gears really is the best option! If it doesn't hurt you or anyone else, if it's not required, if it's not propelling you forward, and it's not going to bring you any joy, maybe it's better to turn your focus to something else. But, is it possible that you can identify just one small thing that is frustrating about your project and realize that you may just need to suck it up and get past that little obstacle because the benefits of doing so are worth it? Could you just "eat that frog" and get past the not-so-fun parts first thing in the morning so you can gain some momentum throughout the day?
The biggest question that I think we all need to answer is our "why". Why did I start and why haven't I already quit? If the answers to those questions are meaningful enough to you to keep going, write them down and post them somewhere you see them often. Daily reminders of your compelling "why" will most definitely develop your stick-to-itiveness!
“Dictionary by Merriam-Webster.” Merriam-Webster, Merriam-Webster, 2019, www.merriam-webster.com/.
Bolles, Richard Nelson. What Color Is Your Parachute?: a Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers. Ten Speed Press, 2011.
Mike. “H Is for Bernard Haldane: His Pioneering Work On Strengths.” The Positive Encourager, 4 Mar. 2018, www.thepositiveencourager.global/bernard-haldanes-approach-to-doing-positive-work/.
“Uncovering Strengths...Unlocking Potential.” The Center for Dependable Strengths, 2019, dependablestrengths.org/
I've been a daydreamer as long as I can remember. As a child I would make up what I called "stories in my head." They weren't wild or unrealistic, but instead, they were detailed accounts of things that could actually happen. When I was very young it could be about a toy I wanted, and I'd daydream about how I might earn enough money to buy it or how someone might give it to me as a gift. When I was a little older, and I liked a boy, I would daydream about how we might be in the same place at the same time.
The first of my well-thought-out-daydreams came true with a white Chevy Lumina APV minivan. Yep, the kind with the pointy noses that were popular in the late '90s. My then-boyfriend/now-husband and I were in year four of dating and thinking seriously about marriage when his car died. His parents had been driving a pointy-nosed van for a while, and I'd overheard them mention getting a new vehicle — cue daydream. I started thinking about the scenarios that could occur where we'd end up with the van. Maybe they'd come to take us out to dinner and then offer to sell him the van at a low price, or maybe they'd even just give it to him. I'm pretty sure at this point they knew I was their future daughter-in-law, so I thought maybe they'd consider the van a gift to "us." I daydreamed about the whole thing, and then one day, they came to visit us at college and took us out to eat at Cracker Barrel. Afterward, it happened almost exactly as I'd imagined. Every 20-something guy's dream come true — they gave him the minivan. This is when I started taking my daydreaming a little more seriously!
Have you ever said, "I wish" this or that would happen? Consider changing those words to "I hope." The definition of hope is not a wish, but an expectation of something you know could actually happen. I'm not suggesting my ironically cool minivan story proves that if you think hard enough or want something bad enough that it will magically happen. I believe if we truly hope for something, it will require us to have some faith, think logically, and work hard to make it happen. Once we start daydreaming, we allow ourselves to dare to visualize what we really want and then consider how to position ourselves to achieve that goal. Obstacles will still get in our way, and some daydreams won't ever come true — but some will.
Over the years I've used daydreams to help me work through difficult situations, sort through my options, and decide on the best course of action. I may rework a daydream over and over until the details make sense in real life. What started as the daydream of a 29 year old mother of one to have another baby and a more flexible job to be home with the kids turned into a reality as I got my real estate license, saved enough money for a cushion as I got started, and quit my office job days before I turned a very pregnant 30. Once a daydream comes true, that doesn't mean you can't have more or different daydreams. I'm no longer a real estate agent, and I have new daydreams now.
"Once we start daydreaming, we allow ourselves to dare to visualize what we really want and then consider how to position ourselves to achieve that goal."
Daydreams can also be an escape from reality. When I have a hard time sleeping, I will start a new "story in my head." It helps me escape from the thoughts that are keeping me awake. If the story isn't logical or possible, it doesn't hold my attention, and I quickly fall asleep. If I'm stressed, sometimes I'll make up a daydream about a positive outcome to the situation that is wildly unrealistic and then work at the details until it becomes plausible. This gives my brain something else to focus on besides my stress and sometimes it results in real opportunities.
Have you given daydreaming a try? It's a powerful tool to allow yourself to aim high and then figure out how to make it work later. There's no real risk or judgement because daydreaming is literally all in your head. Work on hoping for change instead of just wishing for it. I truly believe there is power in a daydream!
Just this week my daydreams have come full circle. The Chevy Lumina of our newlywed years served us well for hauling friends and moving boxes, but it created an aversion to minivans that my husband and I have shared for almost two decades. Now it's time for us to get a new vehicle, and earlier this week my husband walked in the door with a few spec sheets from the car dealership where he'd stopped to do some research on his way home from work. One of them was folded in half, and he said he would save that one for last because it was his favorite. I assumed he was joking and that it contained details of an expensive sports car, but instead, he unfolded the paper and dramatically announced that his favorite was a MINIVAN — and he was dead serious! Now I'm daydreaming of third row seating, extra cup holders, a roomy center console, and how we will get the best features for the lowest price. Watch out car salesman — my daydreams about minivans tend to come true!
I used to tease my kids when they were grumpy and say, "Don't have a saditude!" or "Turn that frown upside down!" Those silly sayings would make them smile against their will, and that smile would contribute to a slightly better attitude.
We've all heard that even though circumstances are beyond our control, we have the power to choose how we react to them. But the question I've always asked is HOW do I get the strength or even the desire to react positively? Sometimes it just seems easier to stay down and complain about it rather than see the bright side of getting knocked down in the first place.
The more I read self-development books and biographies of successful people, I see common themes in their lives. Many of those are small habits done regularly for long periods of time. Some of those habits sound great, but are really difficult for me to adopt like getting up at 5 a.m., running miles a day, or never eating sugar. There is one habit, though, that I read about time and time again, that seems very doable for just about anyone - practicing gratitude.
As the holidays approach, you've likely been hearing more about gratitude than ever before. The research is abundant about how gratitude affects not only our attitude, but also our relationship with others and our mental, physical and spiritual health.
A Harvard Health Publishing article explains what happens when people begin to acknowledge the good things in their lives. "In the process, people usually recognize that the source of that goodness lies at least partially outside themselves. As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals — whether to other people, nature, or a higher power."
Neuroscientists at USC have studied the impact of gratitude on the brain and have learned that there are actually links between being grateful and our brain structure. They have found that gratitude can prompt the creation of brain chemicals that increase feelings of being connected to others. It is important to note that the changes in the brain, and consequently in our lives, don't happen immediately, but actually accrue over time. This is actually kind of exciting because once you learn to incorporate gratitude into your routine, it becomes an automatic mood booster that is only going to grow as time goes on.
Practicing gratitude doesn't only benefit ourselves, but there is research to suggest that grateful people are more likely to be generous and altruistic. University of Oregon neuroscientist, Christina Karns, researched the connection between gratitude and generosity and learned that they are both controlled by the same area of the brain. Think about the snowball effect this has - the more grateful you are, the more likely you are to be giving, which could provide reason for others to be more grateful and give. This cycle could go on and on!
I think we are all convinced that being grateful is a good thing, but how do we actually learn to recognize what we are grateful for and achieve these benefits? The experts have suggestions including keeping a gratitude journal, writing letters of thanks, and visiting those you haven't properly thanked in the past. I want to share 10 of my favorite ideas with you, and I'd love to hear your ideas in the comments!
I'm extremely grateful for all the blessings in my life, and it's a wonderful time of year to stop and recognize them all. I wish you and your family a very happy Thanksgiving, and pray it is filled with gratitude and giving!
Photo by Pro Church Media on Unsplash
Harvard Health Publishing. “Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier.” Harvard Health, Healthbeat, 2019, www.health.harvard.edu/healthbeat/giving-thanks-can-make-you-happier.
Lindberg, Eric. “Practicing Gratitude Can Have Profound Health Benefits, USC Experts Say.” USC News, University of Southern California, 25 Nov. 2019, news.usc.edu/163123/gratitude-health-research-thanksgiving-usc-experts/.
Wong, Joel, and Joshua Brown. “How Gratitude Changes You and Your Brain.” Greater Good Magazine, University of California, Berkeley, 6 June 2017, greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_gratitude_changes_you_and_your_brain.
Samuel, Sigal. “Giving Thanks May Make Your Brain More Altruistic.” Vox, Vox, 27 Nov. 2019, www.vox.com/future-perfect/2019/11/27/20983850/gratitude-altruism-charity-generosity-neuroscience.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
As my boys grow out of the little kid stage, I have become more and more aware of how fleeting childhood is. I have to admit it makes me kind of sad to think about my little boys growing into young men. The things that use to seem annoying — silly cartoons, endless games of pretend, so many Legos®, little socks without mates, countless drawings covering the refrigerator, or lots of toys lining the side of the bathtub — now, I long for more!
I'm realizing now that what matters most to me is time together, shared experiences, and memories made. The memories are in my head and heart, but having tangible things to see and touch, help me remember more vividly. It is very easy to get into a state of mind (like I am as I write this) that you want to hold onto your children or your life as it is now and never forget it — and to do that, we feel like we should save everything! It's funny how something very small or seemingly insignificant can jog your memory and bring back emotions you felt at the time you first had the experience. A little note in scribbled handwriting, a self portrait drawn in Kindergarten, a story written by an imaginative elementary student, a photo, a ticket stub, a program from a school concert, or a spelling test with a big red A+ all will transport you back in time, if only for a moment, to re-experience the event you were commemorating by saving the item. Hanging onto all of our kids' stuff can quickly become a dangerous practice unless you can afford to add on a wing to your house for mementos!
I've found that time is the best way to determine if something is really worth saving. Once you throw something away, it's gone, so I have made the decision that if I have a slight feeling of attachment to an item, I will save it — at least for a while. Way back when I started My Life In Order, I wrote about paper organization and shared a workflow that helped me stay on top of all the paper that comes into our home. A big part of that process is about how I handle items that I consider mementos. Today, I'm going to share with you my current system for memento organization, and in a later post I will explain how my system is evolving as my children get older.
Step 1: Keep or Trash?
Commit to making quick decisions about everything that comes into your home. There are really only two options with mementos — keep or trash. Just because you choose to keep an item in this first step, doesn't mean you have to keep it forever, so don't spend much time worrying about the quantity of items you save in this step.
I used to save too little in this step, and my little guy would often rescue his beloved artwork or a worksheet he was particularly proud of from the recycling bin. I've finally found a happy medium between saving everything and trashing the majority, and the key has been asking my kids about what they would like to save. Sometimes I'm surprised what they want to save but also at what they DON'T want to save.
I have an inbox in my kitchen specific for mementos. This is the perfect spot for me, because all paper flows through my kitchen! But before I put items in that inbox, I review them for things I obviously don't need to keep.
Step 2: Separate and Store
Once your inbox is full or at a specific, regular interval, take the contents of your inbox and separate mementos into types and store somewhere accessible. We all have different types of mementos, so it's important to separate them in this step and determine specific storage spaces for each type. I have four main types with their own short term storage solution:
"Don't overwhelm today with all the stuff of yesterday"
Step 3: Review and Prune
Every once in a while, you will need to review and prune your mementos so you don't run out of space. The added benefit of this review is that you can experience the memories that go along with these items again. In reality, the only mementos I do this with regularly are the kids'. The natural time to review is between school years. It's kind of fun to spread everything from that drawer where we put items throughout the year all over the floor and go through them together. If there's an item that neither of us can remember what it is or why we saved it, that's a sure sign that it should be trashed! At the end of a school year, I also have more clarity about if I saved WAY too many spelling tests or drawings, and then with the help of each child, I can choose the best of the best to save long term.
Each year I purchase a small container, and only allow myself to save the amount of paper that will fit in that bin. This finite amount of space helps to keep the mementos to a respectable amount. I realize that with two kids and one container per school year, this will add up fairly quickly. Currently I have the back of one closet dedicated to these items, but I know that as more time passes, I'll be able to repeat the review and prune process a few more times to get the kids' mementos down to an even more manageable amount. The more time that passes, the easier it is to determine what is worth saving. Don't forget to go through this process with the over-sized items from Step 1 that you may have stored elsewhere.
Much of Step 3 depends on the amount of space you have. Don't overwhelm today with all the stuff of yesterday. You will need to determine how much space you are willing to dedicate to mementos and be sure that they don't interfere with living your daily life to the fullest.
I'm planning to pare down my kids'mementos even more as time goes on. The truly important mementos will automatically show themselves — you'll remember what they mean while you may forget why in the world you saved some of the other things! My oldest is turning 13 in just a few weeks, so I'm using this milestone to motivate me to create a system for him that will allow us to continue to save important mementos in a way that will be easily accessible when it's time to make a high school graduation party display and small enough for him to take to his own home someday. I'll be working on this over Christmas break, so stay tuned for Memento Organization: Part 2!
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 email@example.com.
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//0022-35184.108.40.2067.
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!
"Be the things you loved most about the the people who are gone."
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.
Photo by Steven Wright on Unsplash
I remember distinctly the night I published the first post of my blog one year ago. It was very late and I was very nervous, but once it was done, I felt so good! I’d been writing about my journey to get my life in order for nearly a year before that. I did lots of research on domain names, website platforms, social media strategies, blog best practices - so much research that I scared myself into delaying the launch. I asked some very close friends and family to read some of my posts and give me their feedback. I visualized complete success and total failure. I was scared and excited all at once. Back then fear carried more weight, but these days excitement is starting to overshadow my fears.
In many ways it seems like this blog has always been part of me, and in other ways I still feel like a newbie! I’ve found writing therapeutic and the regularity energizing. I’ve learned and experienced so much during this past year, but here are the highlights.
Done is so much better than perfect
The very first line of my very first post was, “I'm a recovering over-achiever people-pleaser. I had high expectations for others and even higher ones for myself.” Those high self-expectations can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it leads to quality work, but a curse because I’m often paralyzed with the thought that I could still improve some little detail before calling a project complete. This affects me both in my personal life and work life. My husband once said to me, “Just lower the bar for yourself a little and then you won’t be so stressed out.” I remember thinking that it must be nice to be happy with less than your best and then feeling a little smug because obviously I was better off with my high standards. Then I became so stressed that I turned to a coach to help me work through it - she helped me realize I was expecting so much of myself that it wasn’t realistic. I hate to admit it, but my husband may have been right, but it took someone outside of my inner circle to make me believe it. I did start lowering my expectations and started producing without killing myself in the process. I still struggle sometimes with editing my work too much, but repeating the mantra, “done is better than perfect” really helps me! There are aspects of my life that it was VERY easy to lower my standards - dishes, laundry, housework, yardwork- I don’t freak out about those not being perfect or complete, and I ask for help (or require help from my kiddos!) I still take pride in my work, but now pick and choose what is worth the painstaking efforts of perfection and what can be delivered in a very good state instead of perfect.
"I still struggle sometimes with editing my work too much, but repeating the mantra, 'done is better than perfect' really helps me!"
Accountability breeds success
Having a weekly deadline - even if none of my readers really cared, made me get things done. I have posted at least weekly for a year - even when I was sick, we were on vacation, or very busy with school or sports activities. I felt like readers were counting on me, so I made accommodations to make sure I had a post completed every week.
In January of this year, I joined a Mastermind group led by The Productive Woman, Laura McClellan. I found this so motivating. I gained this whole new set of accountability partners and could share goals and dreams with them that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. During the 12 week session, I reported back on the mini-goals I set for myself each week and found myself making much more forward progress than I ever would have without them to answer to. I’ve become friends with these women, and we still connect monthly to share our struggles and our successes and set goals and report back on our progress. I share in their excitement and they share in mine when something we’ve been working toward comes to fruition.
I’ve long thought of myself as a hater of teamwork, rationalizing this feeling by saying I could do things faster and better alone. Even when I would admit that maybe I couldn’t do them better, I still held that at least I had control and didn’t have to rely on anyone else to determine my success. Throughout this year, I’ve gotten better at asking for feedback and advice, working as a team and accepting constructive criticism. I ran across a quote just this week that hit home. “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Inspiration is everywhere
I remember being asked if I thought I’d run out of material to write about and if this outlet that I thought was going to be fun and therapeutic for me would turn out to be a burden. So far, I haven’t had to struggle to find things to write about because my life is a work in progress, and I just write about what I experience. Sometimes I have things to share that may be helpful and other times I just write about the raw honest truth of my shortcomings. Just like you see more pregnant women when you are pregnant, I have found more inspiration now that I’m looking for it.
Because I’m always looking for an inspiring quote, an interesting article, a great organizing idea, or something worthy of a Friday Funny title for my social media posts, I have read more books and articles, learned more about organization and productivity techniques than ever before in this past year. The stories I’ve heard from readers who have been inspired by something I have written have truly brought me joy.
Productivity allows for growth
Because I’m continuing to improve my own productivity, I’m able to do more things I enjoy. Even though I’m technically busier than ever, it feels the same or less as before I added in additional things I like doing- helping people get organized, teaching more piano students, selling organizing supplies, reading more, and becoming more involved in church - in addition to my day job and my role as a wife and mother.
I definitely feel that I still have lots of room for improvement. I still do best when I’m working alone, but am striving to get better at keeping projects moving when they involve others. I’ve found that shared tools are the best way to stay on the same page with others. One example is how my husband and I share events on our calendars to keep track of who is where when (which is tricky sometimes!) We also do a review of our upcoming week during the weekend to plan meals and child care and pickup. A regular touch base meeting either personally or professionally may take time, but it pays for itself in the time it saves!
Choosing your tools and sticking to them is critical to productivity. There are always new tools that may tempt you, and though it’s important to stay up to date with technology, you need to limit the tool-jumping so you can become an expert in your own system. Don’t spend your time creating your system over and over, spend your time doing the stuff your system is supposed to help you control.
Thanks for a great year!
It’s been a fun year, and I’m excited to see what the next one will bring. I sincerely appreciate those of you who read and comment on posts and on social media. I feel like I'm on this journey with you. I'd love to hear from you about what topics you'd like to read about in year two of My Life In Order. Submit your ideas through the contact page or by email.
I'm overweight - actually obese according US Department of Health. There I said it – funny how that was so hard since my weight is something that I really can’t hide. Growing up, I stayed at a pretty healthy weight (probably because of my mom's 2-vegetable-with-one-being-green-at-dinner rule!) The first time I remember really making an effort to lose weight was when I was getting ready for my wedding. But back then at 21, I just ate fewer chicken nuggets and jogged a little and - boom, I weighed 133 by wedding day. Well, since then I've accumulated a lot of things - a husband, a mortgage, two babies, a career, a couple of side hustles, some stress, and a lot of weight! I remember during my second pregnancy, my doctor logged my 9 months pregnant weight and said, "Have you ever weighed this much before?" I was a little shocked at the question, and said, "No and I hope I never do again!" Well, I weigh more now than I did when I gave birth over 7 years ago, and I’ve tried harder than ever during that time frame to lose weight. It’s frustrating and sometimes disheartening to try and fail over and over again. I’m tired of the ups and downs.
My internal dialogue would be maddening to anyone who could read my mind. I give myself a pep talk reminding myself I’ve lost weight before so I can do it again, and I make a plan. Then I try real hard – for a couple of weeks - and when I don’t see the results I want, I give into a little self-pity and feed that with actual food. I think I might as well just eat whatever I want since I’m already overweight. I say to myself, “It’s not the number on the scale that matters, it’s what the inside that counts.” I think I don’t look that bad, and I just need to learn to be happy with who I am and how I look. But then I see a picture of myself and do a double take because that can’t really be what other people see when they look at me, right? No, it’s just the camera angle – you’ve got to hold the camera higher. It IS just the camera angle, right? I don’t feel like that person in the photo – or in the mirror. And then I start feeling down and realize that I AM that person, and that person seems lazy and incapable if she can’t do something as simple as control the food that goes in her mouth and the number of steps she takes per day. The doctor even comments on my weight and tells me there's nothing physically wrong, I just need to eat better, exercise, get more sleep. I want to scream, “I’VE TRIED THAT!” They don’t understand my life and how stressed I am and how little time I have - and then insert excuse after excuse. I finally crumple into the question, “If I can’t lose weight, am I really capable of much else?”
I've told myself so many things about my weight - some are lies and some are truths, but I've lost track of which are which. I’m speaking as a 37 year-old woman with no medical or psychological training – just my own experience and observations. I’ve found that my weight is intertwined with so many aspects of my life which is why losing it is not as easy as simply eating less and moving more.
"I've told myself so many things about my weight - some are lies and some are truths, but I've lost track of which are which."
Weight and Relationships
I am blessed to have children who tell me I’m beautiful even when I don’t feel that way and a husband who has never made me feel ugly because of my weight. My closest friends and family love me unconditionally, so I know that changes in my appearance won't make the people who matter to me love me more or less. This makes ME the only person I need to impress, and it’s hard for me to do things for myself. I find it easier to help someone else meet their goals than to take the steps that I need to take to get where I want to go. I feel selfish when I try to eat differently than my family or take the time to exercise because in my mind, that takes something away from them. My relationship with myself needs to rise up and take precedence so I can be my best self.
Though I have confidence in my close relationships, it is very easy to compare myself to others. When I start comparing, I feel bad about myself, but I often turn to excuses. “If I was a stay at home mom like her, I’d have time to exercise and would be just as fit.” “If I had as much money as her, I could afford to buy healthier foods, too.” "If my job were as easy as hers, my stress level would be less, and it would be easier to lose weight.” Instead of all of these, “If I had…then I would be” statements, I should be looking at the women I’m comparing myself to and learning from them. I know not all skinny girls have it all together. I should learn how they manage to get and stay healthy in spite of the struggles of their lives.
Weight and Health
I know, intellectually, that my weight does impact my health and that losing even just a little weight will improve my overall health and well-being. According to the CDC, being obese can increase chances of all sorts of health problems including high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, mental illness, and body pain. With all of these risks, you’d think that I’d really focus on decreasing my weight. Instead, I continue to rationalize why MY weight problem isn’t all that bad.
I’ve always had good blood pressure – like, it’s my pride and joy. No matter how much I’ve weighed my blood pressure has always been normal and usually below normal. It was like my barometer of health, and I’d rationalize that even though I was overweight, since my blood pressure was good, it wasn’t really impacting my health. Earlier this year at a routine doctor appointment, my blood pressure was high. I freaked out because this threw my healthy-though-fat theory out the window. I've since worked to get it back in the normal range, but it will take constant attention to keep it that way.
As I age, I think more about my own mortality. I’ve heard people say they want to get healthy for their family, and that’s great – I want more quality time with my family too, but in all honesty – I want to live long and enjoy my own life for me! I am guilty of the putting off healthy habits - “I’ll start good eating Monday” and “after I get through this, I’ll start exercising” and “I’ll start going to bed earlier after summer is over.” Why do I keep putting it off? As those of us who are over about 25 know, time seems to accelerate as we age. I don’t want to miss out on NOW because I don’t have enough energy to enjoy life, and I don’t want to miss out on the future because of the bad habits I have now.
Weight and Age
Between kids, I lost 25 pounds and kept it off for two years (until I got pregnant again.) I read and followed the South Beach Diet to the letter. I thrived with a strict program with rules and quick results. I’ve tried to follow the same program several times since and failed. Has my body chemistry changed now that I’m getting older and it’s just no use? A New York Times article says, “Although it is possible to lose weight at any age, several factors make it harder to lose weight with age.” That’s kind of depressing…The one good thing about the passage of time, though, is the improvements in technology. A FitBit will surely do the trick or an app to track my calories, right? Though these are great tools, they don’t do the work for us. I’m living proof - I’m at the same weight I was before I tried those things.
The older I get, the easier it is to tell myself that there’s no one left to impress. I’ve got a family who loves me, a career, and many great friends. I’m nearing 40 and maybe my body has just found its happy place, and I need to accept it. It’s easy to tell myself my body is different now and it’s not my fault that the weight is clinging to me (in all the wrong places, I might add.) But then I think – I’m not even FORTY, I’ve got many, many years ahead of me – hopefully, I’m not even half done. Do I want to live the last half of my life not meeting my potential? I’m older, but I’m wiser and I have more resources and experience than ever. I certainly know what doesn’t work, so why not use that to my advantage? I want to make the rest my best!
Weight and Stress
Here’s a hot topic and one that we all like to argue about – stress. What causes it, can we will our way around it, what does it do to our minds and bodies, how should we deal with it? Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” We’ve all been there, but we can all think of someone in our lives who’s been there more or longer or in a more extreme way than we have. I know others who cope in a much healthier way than I do even when they have much more stress. Who am I to blame stress on every negative thing in my life? I am blessed in so many ways, and I let the few negatives in my life outweigh all of those positive things. I’m stressing about what stress is doing to me. I am in no way denying stress can cause all sorts of physical and mental problems. I’m coming to realize that focusing on the problem instead of the solution is only exacerbating the problem. Case in point, when my blood pressure went up, I became my son’s science fair project, “Can Yoga Decrease Blood Pressure?” I did yoga for 15 minutes a day and my blood pressure did decrease. Was it the yoga in and of itself, or was it that I slowed down, took time for myself, had some physical activity, focused on what I didn’t want for my body, and probably ate a little better? Not sure exactly why it worked, but it did. You’d think I’d have kept it up after the project ended, wouldn’t you? But, no, I saw even just 15 minutes a day as disruptive to my schedule. So I stayed in the same stressful state – it gave me something to blame.
"I'm stressing about what stress is doing to me."
Weight and Sleep
Research says that dieters who cut back on sleep over a 14-day period, lost 55% less weight from fat, even though their calories stayed equal. A sleepy morning increases your chances of taking in more calories, losing impulse control to avoid junk food, and skipping exercise. The answer to this seems so simple - sleep more. Why is this so hard for me? Under the guise of productivity, I stay up too late. Sleep was one of my areas of focus for this year, but I’ve failed miserably! I’m constantly tired, hitting the snooze button multiple times a morning, but yet I stay up late to get things done or just watch TV. I rationalize the need for late night TV as down time after a stressful day. I know that many experts suggest early morning exercise to jump start a healthy day. I will never be able to accommodate that if I continue to go to bed so late! I need to take my own advice and set (and stick to) a bedtime for myself like I set for my kids.
Weight and Priorities
My kids and family are my top priority, and I often use this as an excuse not to take care of myself. My go-to quip when making light the fact I’m overweight is, “Well I love to eat, and I hate to exercise.” I realized recently that at least half of that statement is a lie. It turns out I don’t hate being physically active, but what I do hate is exercising when I feel like I’m neglecting another responsibility. Spending time with my kids, cleaning my house, working, staying caught up with the paperwork of life always take precedence over exercise for me. I need to make exercise a priority, and by re-framing what my responsibilities really are – setting a good example for my kids and helping them be healthy - I can give myself permission to take care of myself.
"...by re-framing what my responsibilities really are - setting a good example for my kids and helping them be healthy - I can give myself permission to take care of myself."
Weight and Organization
I truly believe that being organized can help me get to and maintain a healthy weight. The times I’ve been successful with a healthy lifestyle are the times I had a realistic plan, I monitored my progress toward that plan, and had systems in place to help me be successful. I’ve tried many different diets over the years, and have found it difficult to stick to them. I need something that is realistic in the long term, can be measured so I can see progress, and can have “shortcuts” set up to help me stick to it. As I said before, I love food, so depriving myself long term is just not going to work. I need to measure things – weight, calories, miles, minutes, steps – so I can see forward progress. I need it to be easy to maintain. Standard meals or snacks, specific days or times that I do activities, a chart or an app to keep track of it all. This sounds like the building blocks of success to me!
Another way that being organized helps with weight loss is meal planning. Going to the store with a plan and a list helps prevent buying on impulse. Having a list of meals posted on the fridge helps me not to just run to McDonald’s. Keeping a detailed calendar is going to be critical for making time for exercise. Either a shared digital calendar or a family calendar on a white board in a central location can allow the entire family to know what to expect. If you know what is coming up for the next day, you can plan ahead and set out the supplies you will need for exercising or cooking a meal or packing a lunch the night before.
"Neither self-loathing or burying my head in the sand will work - only acceptance and continual improvement will really make me healthier and happier."
My conclusions from exploring my weight loss struggle are this: I need to go to bed earlier on a regular basis, plan for healthy foods in my house and lunchbox, set a plan about what I’m going to eat and how I’m going to keep moving and monitor my progress, find someone to be accountable to other than myself, schedule exercise even if that means cutting out another activity in my day, consider my quest to become healthier as a service to my kids through my good example. I also need to love who I am right now, but not in a “you are what you are and that can’t change" way, but in a “you are what you are right now and have the potential to be what you aspire to be" way. Neither self-loathing or burying my head in the sand will work – only acceptance and continual improvement will really make me healthier and happier.
“Calculate Your Body Mass Index.” National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.
“Healthy Weight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 June 2015, www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html.
Weintraub, Karen. “Is It Harder to Lose Weight When You're Older?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/well/live/is-it-harder-to-lose-weight-when-youre-older.html.
“Stress.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/stress?s=t.
“Sleep More, Weigh Less.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/sleep-and-weight-loss#1.
Photo by Gesina Kunkel on Unsplash
Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash
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:
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!