A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how my journey to get my life in order began. There were two key things I learned initially that I've been trying to implement ever since:
Today, I want to elaborate on the first point. I had an AHA! moment when I talked to my coach about all I was dealing with. She repeated everything I had listed on my responsibility list and asked me if I would expect someone else to handle all of those things in the manner I had explained that I wanted them done. I immediately said, "No." When she said if that was true, then I couldn't expect that of myself, I felt kind of stupid. I mean, that made a lot of intellectual sense, and even though I wanted to insert a "but" and follow it some logical reasoning - I couldn't. She was right, just plain right.
Realizing, and then internalizing that lower self-expectation didn't mean I wasn't good at my job, good at being a mom or a wife or a friend or a homemaker or any of the other roles I was in - it was FREEING! I could be a "regular person" and didn't have to keep up the superwoman facade. I deserved the same respect and grace that I gave to others, and I was really the only one who could give that to myself. As easy as it is to complain about how others treat us or what they expect of us - as I've often told my kids, "you're in charge of you." I needed to realize that applied to me as well!
"Done is better than perfect."
So since then, I've been all about lower expectations. My new mantra has been, "Done is better than perfect." I've become aware of how many things that I used to think were important were things that no one else would notice if I did or didn't do. I've always loved productivity and organization, but now I had a new found passion for it because I wanted to accomplish the most I could without torturing myself! Here are a few ways I lowered expectations and added in a little extra productivity:
Keeping expectations for myself at bay is a constant struggle, but it's a struggle worth having. Feeling accomplished and satisfied with my less-than-perfect life is so worth it! Do you agree that lowering self-expectation is a good idea, a way to survive and thrive in this fast paced world we live in? Or do you disagree and feel that we should expect more of ourselves? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
I had a couple of experiences in the past year that made me say, “Well, that was easy!” out loud. I was both surprised and impressed by the speed and ease of which my requests were fulfilled, but then I started wondering why an easy process was almost shocking. I realized it’s because many of the tasks we do daily and interactions we have with businesses are unnecessarily difficult.
First to give credit where credit is due - here are the two experiences that were easy peasy lemon squeezy!
I was so pleased with these two experiences that I told a bunch of people about them (even better marketing idea than giving kids free tickets to an event - make people talk about how great you are!) One of the people I told was my mom, who made a very interesting observation. Both of those interactions involved human beings, not merely technology. Now, I work in a technology area, so technology is something I like and am familiar with, but there was no denying what she observed was true.
"...the key isn’t personal interaction in and of itself, but instead the focus on how customers want to use and access their products and services and how those same customers want to be treated during the process."
It seems like the businesses that are thriving these days are the ones that are make things easy - Netflix, Amazon, Uber to name a few. These examples certainly use technology, so maybe the key isn’t personal interaction in and of itself, but instead the focus on how customers want to use and access their products and services and how those same customers want to be treated during the process. Have you ever been to Chick-Fil-A where they are extremely polite or to Dress Barn where they learn your name and bring you different sizes and suggest additional styles that may be flattering? They seem to be concerned about how people want to be treated. My local pharmacy considers how I want to access their services and realizes I don’t want to wait in line - they texted me when they noticed my insurance card was out of date, and all I had to do was text them back a picture of the card to get it updated prior to my next visit.
Staples started the ‘That was Easy’ campaign in 2003, and even though they abandoned that a few years ago, I think a lot of us would really like to push the metaphorical “Easy Button” a lot more often! Since my recent positive experiences, I’ve been brainstorming about how to make tedious or inconvenient processes easier either through human interaction or technology or maybe a balanced combination- - hoping for a lightening bolt moment to start the next big thing!
I took away a few things for personal productivity from this:
What processes do you dread because they are over-complicated and what ones make you say, "That was easy"? How can you make your own life more productive and how can you impact others to make their lives easier? Share with us in the comments below.
When I decided to stop longing for order and do something about it, I wanted to get the biggest gain for the least amount of effort. Was there a magic formula out there to give me more time with my kids, declutter my house, purge my junk, create creative storage systems, track my spending, file my paperwork, and curate my memorabilia? I read productivity books and listened to organization podcasts looking for the answer. The answer was....no. There are certainly many, many tools to use and frameworks to help us, but all of them have one thing in common - You have to DO the work!
Before I was ready to actually do anything, I needed to decide what it was I wanted to accomplish. I knew I wanted to get rid of the sense of dread I felt at the thought of some tasks in my life, I knew I wanted to spend less of my time cleaning my house, I knew I wanted to stop losing things, I knew I wanted more time with my kids and husband, I knew I wanted more of the feeling I had when I walked into someone else’s house that smelled good and had no clutter, I knew I wanted to feel in control of my finances, I knew I wanted a wardrobe of clothes that I liked and fit me. That’s all - - not too much to ask, right? Just that list in and of itself was overwhelming - where in the world would I start?
I consider the beginning of my journey to be when I sought wise council. I did this through working with a coach. Coaching was fantastic - I could just spew out all my frustrations, my fears and my shortcomings, and I learned about tools that I could apply in my own life. The biggest two takeaways from that experience were:
Boom, mic drop - I realized I was drowning in my own pool of expectations. I had asked myself, “Why can’t I do it all? Why can’t I work full time, commute 2 hours/day, keep a clean and orderly house, maintain a garden and flowers, be an involved and loving parent, a dependable volunteer, an active church member, a caring friend, a helpful daughter, a loving wife, remember to schedule and go to regular health care appointments for everyone in my family, arrange childcare and transportation for two kids, manage the family budget, maintain elaborate scrapbooks of all our family activities, plan said activities and vacations, read enriching books, keep up with a hobby, stay informed about current events, and assure that I had time for myself?” Why couldn’t I do all of those things?? Because it was IMPOSSIBLE for one human being to do all of those things to the level that I expected them to be done. I had to have help, and I had to be realistic with my time and set boundaries. Coming to that realization was life changing. I sincerely want you to come to that same realization. You are not a failure.
"Why couldn’t I do all of those things?? Because it was IMPOSSIBLE for one human being to do all of those things to the level that I expected them to be done."
If you’re like me, you can focus on a fraction of things you’re responsible for and do them REALLY well, but then the other areas of your life suffer. I would go on like that until the areas I wasn’t paying attention to were in real danger of being destroyed, and then I’d switch my focus - and it would cycle like that over and over again. It was exhausting. Eventually I learned to prune my responsibilities down to what really mattered to me and lower my own standards so that I didn’t leave any area of my life in total disarray.
I started with the hard part - the head and heart part What matters most to me? How do I get there? What/who can or should I eliminate from my life that is keeping me from what matters most? Where can I afford to lower expectations in my life? Once I got through that, I started thinking functionally. What could I do in my everyday life that would make me feel more ‘in order’? The answer to these questions are multi-faceted and broad and what inspired me to start this blog. I look forward to sharing some of these changes I made in my life with you in future posts. I'd love to hear your experiences about making changes that helped you feel more in control of your life - share in the comments or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A great read:
If I have to hear my family say that I should do what Sarah did one more time, I swear...well, I might swear. Sarah is a good friend of mine and a wonderful person to emulate, and I honestly don’t have any ill feelings toward her whatsoever. She had a good idea, she told our family about it, and they thought it was a good idea, too. Great, right? Well, the annoying part is that if I would have had the idea in the first place, they wouldn’t have thought it was so great.
The idea, if you’re curious, was to split up the house cleaning chores among family members so we would all agree on who does what and make a chart of the chores. Sarah’s family and my family had the same cleaning lady who recently had to take some time off. Instead of trying to find another cleaner who would most certainly not meet the expectations set by Miss Sherri (as my kids call her), we decided to try it ourselves for a while.
We did split up the chores, and after I printed out a nice little chart, I presented it to my family angrily, “Here’s your chart -JUST LIKE SARAH'S!” It got me thinking, though...this could be a stroke of genius...what if Sarah and I colluded and had each other tell the other’s family our “ideas?” Would we both suddenly get what we want? Or is it possible that Sarah’s family wouldn’t hold me in such high esteem, and she’d still have trouble convincing her family? Or does Sarah have a magic ability as a wife and mother that I don’t possess, and her family already thinks her ideas are amazing even when they come straight from her mouth??
The best part of this whole thing is that, not long ago, I was listening to the “Happier With Gretchen Rubin” podcast episode where Liz and Gretchen talked about how to use envy to our benefit. The gist of it is that you should think about who you envy, really ponder why you envy them, and then figure out how to get some of that in your life. I didn’t have to think too long before it hit me like a lightening bolt - it was Sarah that I envied and specifically her time. I envied the time Sarah had from a semi-flexible work schedule, the time she spent doing activities with her kids, the way she spent her time doing things she enjoyed, and the way she didn’t seem rushed even though she was busy. It would be interesting to hear if Sarah feels the same about her time, but it was how it I perceived it, which, as we all know, made it my reality. I brainstormed and thought about ways I could have more time, spend my time better, be present in the things I’m doing. I came up with some hair-brained ideas, sifted through them, picked out a few that seemed doable and implemented them. I had to give myself permission to give up some things, throw away the worry of others’ perceptions, and become more self-disciplined in some areas. It’s been a few weeks, and I am amazed at how much happier I am!
So, in the end, I guess Sarah’s fantastic ideas are just one more thing I envy, but I made it work for me by teaching my 11 year old to clean toilets and my 6 year old to dust!
We all want to get the most stuff done in less time - especially if that stuff is not all that enjoyable. You can tell what people like and are good at by what they spend their time doing. Well, it is pretty obvious that I do NOT like, nor am I particularly good at, reviewing giant, dry policy documents! Recently I had a document like this that needed my review and edits, and I procrastinated long enough that I HAD to get it done at home over a weekend. I needed to come up with a strategy to just get it done and in the least painful way possible.
I read and listen to a ton of productivity content, so I was certain I had the secret sauce, the Pomodoro Technique. Basically this is where you set a timer for a certain amount of time (suggested 25 minutes) and plow through your deep work until the timer goes off. Then you force yourself to take a small break (suggested 5 minutes) when you get up, move and do something you like, and then repeat over and over until you’re done. It works, but it still doesn’t make it fun…. Here’s how my Pomodoro-assisted day went, and what I learned.
I was ready to slay this thing and arranged for my family to be away for a few hours so I had the house to myself. I got everything situated to give myself every opportunity to succeed - and hopefully succeed quickly. I got out my laptop, my lap desk, my document for review and sat in the most comfortable place in my house - the recliner in the living room. I set my iPhone’s timer for 25 minutes - now I don’t call it cheating that I set the timer before I logged into my computer - I call that smart because that eased me into that first 25 minutes of reading and editing this document. I worked diligently, but AS soon as that timer went off, I jumped up with a little “Woohoo” escaping my mouth. I set the timer for 5 minutes and did something I wanted to do. Wait for it….organized my coupons. The 5 minute break went so fast, but I did obey the rules and go back to my work for another 25 minutes. I did this three times, and by that third, 5 minute break, my coupons were organized which was pretty cool. By this time I was really hating the Pomodoro Technique. Doing the review of my document was so boring, and there were all sorts of other things I’d rather be doing on a Saturday - especially a Saturday at home ALONE - that never happens!
So by this time I was fizzling out a little so I decided it wouldn't hurt, and I’d still be following the spirit of the Pomodoro Technique, if I set the time for 20 minutes instead of 25 (right?). Then I was like, “maybe I’ll have a snack during my break.” I chose Death By Chocolate ice cream, so I rationalized that my break would have to last just a little longer than 5 minutes because I didn’t want the ice cream to melt and then get my hands all sticky and in turn ruin my computer’s keyboard. Then I was back at it, but I was B-O-R-E-D with this process - I mean I had done over an hour and a half’s worth of work, so I decided maybe it would be ok to just do 15 minutes of work this session. This 166 page document was just SO long, and I was only halfway through. I started watching the clock, and time crawled until it was finally break time. I decided with this break, I should take a shower (I did have that sticky ice cream after all…). Honestly, it was longer than a 5 minute break. But the important thing is I went back to work, and I kept going til I was done.
I think by the end, my break time was longer than my work time, but the moral of the story is - - even with a boring task you may dislike - be it reviewing a document or organizing your closet, the Pomodoro Technique DOES work, but you don’t have to do it exactly as advertised. If you need a longer break, take a longer break, and don’t make yourself feel guilty for needing to! Productivity is individual, so a one-size-fits-all approach will not work and may actually produce the opposite results if you get discouraged. Give yourself permission to “cheat” at being productive as long as you get to the finish line.
I was playing podcast catch-up recently and was binge listening to The Productive Woman. Host, Laura McClellan, was inspiring me with her usual thought-provoking wisdom when I noticed something she repeated throughout the episode. She used the phrase “actually take action” or “actually act on” many times in the episode. At first I thought maybe it was just one of those catch phrases that everyone has, like how I often end my sentences with, “so…” (That’s a terrible habit I’m trying to break, and my husband is ever-so-helpful in pointing out when I do it!) It kind of made me feel like my “so…” habit was just a version of something even successful women I admire also struggled with. But the more she said it, the more I starting thinking it was worth exploring further.
How many times have I used the word "actually" as if it described something that was unrealistic and unattainable?
It’s like throwing the word “actually” in there gives me a pass on doing the task. It implies there’s some underlying force beyond my control preventing me from completing my duties. It doesn’t take a linguist to recognize that the root of actually is act. The Latin definition is “activity - something that a person does.” Oh, so I have to DO something to accomplish a goal? Another word with the same root would solve these problems and eliminate the excuses - ACTION!
"Balance your thoughts with ACTION. If you spend too much time thinking about a thing, you'll never get it done." -Bruce Lee
It sounds so easy to just take action and get it done, but in reality, there are many things that get in the way. Time, competing priorities, and fear are the biggest stumbling blocks for accomplishing my goals. I’ve talked before about how I struggle with time (“Getting Better at Time”) and some strategies I’ve put into place to help overcome that barrier to inaction. Time is finite, and you truly have to make choices about what gets done.
Competing priorities is something I think every woman has in her life. Remembering that we are in charge of our own lives ( “Who’s in Charge?” ) and owning that our choices to do what we want to do may not make everyone else happy is a way to really put what is most important at the top. In order to give those items time in your schedule, you must remove the unnecessary to align with your long term goals.
Finally there is fear. I have lots of different types of fears: fear of failure, fear of change, fear of rejection, fear of disappointing others, fear of not being happy, fear of regret, fear of hurting someone else. One thing I’ve learned is that letting any of those fears keep you from doing something you want to try only fuels the fear of being unfulfilled. If you’re reading this, I must have overcome some of my fears and actually published my blog! What will you actually do today?
"Don’t wish away time” is a very mom thing to say. When my boys can’t wait for the next fun thing to happen or to be old enough for a new privilege, I lecture them about enjoying now and appreciating today for what it has to offer. I realized that I’d ingrained this message a little too well when my then 10 year old son and I went on our annual mother-son trip to Six Flags Great America this summer. While dealing with Chicagoland traffic, we had a very grown up conversation from a childlike perspective. We were reminiscing about all the fun times we’d had on our past trips, when my wise-beyond-his-years firstborn articulated something that I’ve often felt throughout my life. He said, with more than a hint of sadness in his voice, ”Mom, I just want to freeze time. I want to stay this age forever. I love my life, and I don’t want it to change.” He continued to say that he knew it wasn’t possible, but he wished that time could continue to seem like it was moving forward, but he’d stay the same age, his family would stay the same age, he’d have the same friends, go to the same school, we’d live in the same house - - all the things he loves about his life would stay the same.
First of all - parenting win, right? My son was happy, and he wanted to live this time in his life on repeat. Not in a Groundhog Day movie kind of way, but in a way that he could still have new experiences, make new friends, and go new places, but the core of his life would stay the same. I knew EXACTLY what he was talking about. I’ve felt this way so many times during my life - as a young child, a teenager, and as an adult. We’ve probably all said it, “I wish could freeze this moment”, “I wish the kids would stay this age forever,” “I never want to grow up,” “ I want to live this day over and over again.”
Before I threw myself a party for being an awesome parent that helped to create a happy life for my kids, I had to also realize that my son was sad. He said out loud what most adults wouldn't admit. The future is scary, and even though we know we have to move forward, sometimes we just don’t want to. Sometimes we are literally so happy that it makes us sad! Sad to think of the future which may not be as happy, sad that we will miss the things we have today when they are gone. This sounds like such a good problem to have, and seems inconsiderate to even talk about because not everyone feels as happy as we do a. But if he and I have both felt this way, maybe others do too, and it’s worth exploring.
"The future is scary, and even though we know we have to move forward, sometimes we just don’t want to."
He had just put into words how I’d felt since he’d been born. Each age was so much fun, he was so cute and sweet, I could control his environment, he was healthy and safe, and I just didn’t want him to get any bigger. But then he inevitably would, and then THAT would become my favorite age - and that repeated over and over again. If I really could have frozen time when he was 2 years old, think of what I would have missed! (and all the not-so-nice parts about having a 2 year old that I would have to repeat...) And what about the people in the world that weren’t happy, or even worse, weren’t safe or healthy at the point in time that I thought was so good I wanted to live it over and over? Would I want to inflict pain on others just so I could live perpetually happy? No, of course not.
But when I do think about time marching on, it can be terrifying...Will I live to see my grandchildren? Will my kids find love or will they get their hearts broken? How long will my parents live? Will there be war and violence in our country? Will my family be in a car accident? Will I get cancer? When? If you let yourself go there, the questions can be endless. It’s wise to think about the future, and prepare yourself for what could happen, but it’s not all gloom and doom - you must also look ahead at what good things could possibly happen. I’m a big proponent of positive thinking, laughter, and daydreaming (there will be a whole post about the power of the daydream soon!) Happy thoughts make us happy and the opposite is true. Let’s acknowledge how we feel about today and about the future giving at least as much time to what GOOD could come while also being honest about our reservations and fears. This helps to increase our self awareness which gives us the ability to look at our lives objectively and make changes or retain habits to increase our happiness in the future.
Up until this point in my parenting journey, I had felt like I’d done a pretty good job, but right when we were having this conversation was when I realized I was totally winging it! THIS is why I want to freeze time, so I can protect my kids from fear or sadness. Since I know that’s not possible, I tried to say something wise that my son might be able to quote in the future: Since it’s scientifically impossible to freeze time, we should freeze the happy moments in our minds, by taking pictures and videos, writing down memories, and talking about our happiness with those who make us happy. We should also look for opportunities to turn sad and scary moments into happy moments for others so they want to freeze those moments, too. We can do this in person, though giving to organizations that can create change, or through prayer.
I’ve learned over the years that there’s a happy medium between wishing away time and wanting to freeze it. I love now, but it’s not all I have. I have the past that I can think on fondly and remember what I’ve learned from it, but I also have the future that I can dream about and look forward to.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on the subject and tips you have for appreciating the past, present and future. Leave a comment below!
Turn over a new leaf, make a fresh start, begin with a clean slate- - all of these are ways to express an opportunity to improve our lives by recognizing a point in time to begin that improvement. The classic way this is done is through New Year's Resolutions.
Research shows that most people's New Year's Resolutions fail by the second week of February. Why is this? Is it because we are failures? That's how I used to feel! Why did I have so little willpower, and why couldn't I achieve my goals? After years of February failures, I finally realized I'd been making the WRONG resolutions! Last year I assessed all of my previous resolutions and determined which I had kept the longest and what they had in common. I noticed that I was more apt to stick to resolutions I made as positive statements. An example would be making a goal to eat more vegetables rather than one not to eat sugary foods. I also found that when I made goals that focused on others, I had an easier time meeting them. Lastly, I realized that when resolutions were related to my priorities and not what I thought OTHERS expected of me, there was a much better chance that they would last!
In December of 2016, with all of that information, I looked back at the year to see what I'd struggled with and decided what I could do in the coming year to truly make an impact on my life. Instead of a resolution, in 2017, I chose a focus that I could come back to throughout the year. It was both singular and broad - it was "time." You can read a previous post about some ways I worked on improving my grasp on time.
The year flew by, and it's time to do it all over! I just completed a short personal retreat where I went through this process again, but this time in a little more formalized way. It was a refreshing and rejuvenating day away where I reflected on the past year and identified how I wanted to approach the new year. I encourage you to find some time where you can be alone, away from your house if possible, to go through this process. I'd recommend an entire day if you can manage it (you deserve it!) I wanted to share what I did - - this isn't a magic formula, but it was enjoyable and gave me clarity about the coming year. The rules are simple: it's all about YOU and you must be honest with yourself.
I came up with 12 questions that I asked myself to get to the heart of what was important to me. I took my time and hand wrote my answers thoughtfully. I took some breaks for things like a massage, dinner, and Christmas shopping to keep it fun! I felt no judgement because there was no one to ask for opinions or to read my answers - except for me. After I'd completed my answers, I did a little analysis to find the common themes and ranked those commonalities to help me determine what I wanted to focus on for 2018. If you'd like to try this yourself here are the questions:
1. What did I accomplish this year that made me feel proud?
2. What made me happy this year?
3. What caused me stress this year?
4. What made me feel successful this year?
5. What am I disappointed that I didn't do this year?
6. What do I regret doing this year?
7. What could happen next year that would make me happy?
8. What could happen next year that would make me feel successful?
9. If my wildest dreams came true next year, what would it look like?
10. What would my fantasy self accomplish next year?
11. If money were no object, what would I do next year?
12. If I didn't care what others thought, what would I do next year?
Download the Focus Setting Worksheet to help with this process.
When you've completed the exercise, it's time to choose your areas of focus for the year. Make it easy to remember by distilling them down to one word each. Add some whimsy by making them start with the same letter, rhyme, or all have the same number of letters - - or if whimsy isn't your thing, that's ok too - just say it like it is. I like using one word each because there can be multiple meanings which means multiple opportunities to succeed. Write your words somewhere prominent so that you can review them regularly.
My words for 2018:
The next step is to create measurable goals for each of these areas of focus and plan action steps to achieve them. I'll explore goal creation in the next post - check back next week! I hope that you find this process for defining your areas of focus for 2018 helpful. I'd love to hear if this worked for you and what word or words you chose for the year. Please share with us in the comments!
When I was learning to drive, the thing that made me the most anxious was other drivers waiting behind me. I mean, they were obviously judging my driving and everything about me! I disliked being on a two-lane road behind a slow car that I was too scared to pass and having a big truck riding my bumper, likely cursing at me for being a scaredy cat. I despised needing to parallel park and having a car waiting because they couldn’t pass until I was successfully in the spot. And worst of all, I hated being at an intersection where I needed to turn left, and there was a car, or God forbid, a line of cars waiting behind me.
I remember one of the first times I was driving with my dad in the passenger’s seat, and I was waiting to turn left onto a four lane highway. The traffic was spaced just right so there was never a big enough gap that my 16 year-old self felt it was safe to dart to the median. After a few false starts and some brake slamming, my dad said something that, in hindsight, was one of the wisest things he’s said so far. He said, “Just wait, you’re not going to have to sit here forever. It will eventually be the right time to turn.” He gave me permission to be cautious and wait until I felt safe and confident in my decision to cross the road. There have been many times in my 20 years of driving, that I’ve been waiting for a left turn when I have ignored the person honking behind me and just paused and said to myself, “You won’t have to sit here forever.” I wonder how many accidents or close calls this has helped me avoid?
When I think back to times in my life that I felt the most out of control and craved order, I was usually at a crossroads and needing to make a turn. Quick decision making has never been my strength. I am an information gatherer, and after I have a lot of information, I need to analyze it. Then I need to talk to others about it, then think about their perspectives and perhaps gather more information. More information requires more analysis and more discussion, and soon, it becomes a cycle that usually results in a delayed decision. I used to feel like this was a fault, but recently I realized that was not the case. I began picturing myself in a car getting ready to cross lanes of traffic to turn in a brand new direction. I wouldn’t turn when there was something barreling down the road at me, would I? Of course not! I would turn when the coast was clear, and I felt confident I could do so safely - when I was focused and had my full attention on the road. Sometimes the coast wouldn’t be clear for quite some time, and it would feel uncomfortable having others wait on me, potentially judging my driving skills. Going in a new direction isn’t something you should do immediately when you think of it. You should prepare, note the “traffic” in your life, and just be patient and wait until the time is right regardless what the others on your path think. Almost as important as choosing the right time to start your trip across the road is to follow through. Once you decide it’s your time, you’d better gun it and get out of that intersection! Hesitation or going in reverse could cause just as much damage as not even looking to see what was coming.
"Just wait, you're not going to have to sit here forever."
One example in my own life when I applied this was when I wanted to have a more flexible job when I was preparing for my second child. I didn’t just quit my job when I got the whim that I’d like to do something with a flexible schedule. I researched, I chose what I wanted to do, I talked about it with the people I loved, I took classes to get my real estate license, and I began saving money to have six months of expenses covered in case I made no money at first! I had a few ‘cars’ behind me questioning why I wasn’t moving or why I was even at that intersection, but I waited until the time was right and then accelerated. In the end, did I make a wrong turn in that situation? Maybe, but I’d much rather have done that and have the option to turn around rather than have crashed by making the turn too soon.
As we near the end of the year, this is the ideal time evaluate your own "traffic report" and map out next year. If and when you think you may need to make some sort of change in your life. Give yourself permission to wait at that intersection until the time is right and you feel confident in your decision to go for it. But be aware that sometimes the right time to move might be right away, so make sure you have your full attention on the road ahead so that you don’t miss an opportunity. No one likes it when they realize they should have just put the pedal to the metal and made the left turn when they had the chance rather have waited and then sit there and say to themselves, “Why didn’t I turn?! I could have gone six times, and now I’m stuck here.” And don't forget, there's no shame in making a U-turn if the landmarks are telling you that you are going in the wrong direction.
Thanks, Dad, for the tiny nugget of wisdom so many years ago that has helped me to accept my questioning nature, to make better decisions, and to perhaps be a little bit better driver!
When our oldest child was about 2 years old, my husband and I started planning our master bathroom. This would entail blocking off the opening of the then-nursery to the hallway and tearing down the wall at the back of our bedroom closet and installing a sink, shower, toilet and closet in the tiny room. This couldn’t happen until we were done having kids and they were all old enough to to move their bedrooms upstairs. Fast forward about 6 years and we were moving our second (and last) baby to his big boy room upstairs. Demolition and construction started soon thereafter. It was a slow and steady process to get a toilet, a closet and a functioning shower installed - - and then we kind of stalled out. A year into the project, we placed the vanity in the bathroom. The sink still wasn't plumbed, there was still rough wiring for a future light and exhaust fan, and quite a bit of missing drywall. I was really getting frustrated with the incomplete project, so we hired a handyman to finish it. He apparently had bigger fish to fry because, though he said he’d come work on it between bigger jobs, we never saw him again.
I was tired of feeling frustrated, disappointed, and even mad about this bathroom, which, in the scheme of things, really isn’t that big of a deal. So, short of learning how to drywall, my only option was to start thinking about it differently which led to this top ten list of what I loved about my unfinished bathroom.
10. It’s full of possibility. When it’s finished, I get to pick out paint colors, and I’ve got this great picture frame to hang.
9. The bathroom and the attached bedroom both have doors so I can hide the construction zone from guests if I want to.
8. I don’t worry about washing the walls - mainly because many of them don’t have drywall or paint.
7. My organized closet really sticks out against the rest of the room’s “under-construction” decor. I’ve become more aware of keeping things orderly because of the general state of disorder in the room.
6. It’s taught me to adapt. I hung a handheld mirror in the unfinished drywall just at the right height to do my makeup and hair since there’s no mirror or light above the vanity.
5. Small steps are exciting, and I appreciate every tiny improvement so much more than if the bathroom were completed all at once.
4. The exposed, rough wiring reminds me of all the work my husband has put into the room and that he can do pretty much anything.
3. I’m VERY confident that the shower won’t leak because the plumbing has been exposed for months
2. The glow in the dark stars still on the ceiling from when it was a nursery make me smile when I get up in the middle of the night.
And the NUMBER ONE REASON I love my unfinished bathroom:
The two things that work in the room are the most important to me - I have TWO toilets and TWO methods of bathing in one house! Gone are the days of all four of us stuffed into our main bathroom with a kid in the tub, someone using the toilet and the remainder of us brushing our teeth or using the mirror.
This exercise of thinking about my bathroom differently helped me realize I do have the power to change how I feel. I'm not a victim of my circumstance. I control my thoughts and, in turn, my feelings. This can be applied to other areas in my life including relationships, work and volunteer situations, and even weight loss. (Hmm - maybe I should make a top 10 list about why I love my fluffy body…). Give it a try - take something that makes you mad, frustrated or even just a little annoyed, and take control - and change - the way you think about it. If your experience is anything like mine, it won’t take long until your “unfinished bathroom” isn’t quite so annoying!
UPDATE: My bathroom has been finished for a while now, and I love and appreciate it so much! Home improvements are hard especially when you do all or part of it yourself. We did finally hire someone to finish the drywall, and that was the push we needed to actually get it the rest of it done on our own. I'm not a great painter, but hey, it looks a lot better than before!
Since this picture, I've added a couple of towel racks, but still don't have the drawer and door handles on...what an amazing day it will be when I can open those drawers by pulling the cute brushed nickel handles that have been in the closet for 2 years!
I have so much respect for any of you doing major remodeling to your homes. Hang in there and take pride in your work and try thinking about what you DO like about your work-in-progress!
Anna, a quiet girl from my college dorm, said something which, at the time made me laugh, but in the years following, I’ve reflected on many times. Anna was going on a first date and declared that she needed to prepare by cleaning her dorm room so she would be calm on her date. As a college student, I didn’t yet understand the power of order in my environment on my mental and emotional health, but fast forward about 15 years, and Anna’s words began to make sense. There’s so much I can’t control about my life, but when I can control something like the clutter in my house, it gives me momentum to be able to handle other challenges.
Many years removed from college, I was a working mom completely overwhelmed by life, and I began to crave order. Any little bit of order was comforting - even if it was just that my bed got made or I cleared my bathroom vanity. An empty kitchen sink suddenly became a source of energy and made me wonder how it might feel to really have it all together with a system to organize my home.
When I decided to stop longing for order and do something about it, I searched for a magic formula to give me more time with my kids, declutter my house, develop creative storage systems, track my spending, file my paperwork, and curate my memorabilia. I read productivity books and listened to organization podcasts looking for the answer. There are certainly many, many tools and frameworks to help us, but all of them have one thing in common - you have to DO the work!
I decided to start with the thing that bugged me the most - PAPER! Even in this digital age, "adulting" has a lot of paper involved- bills, statements, magazines, health and insurance documents, coupons, invitations, kids' school papers and artwork. Choosing paper as my first organization challenge certainly gave me a lot of material to work with! I started with a period of trial and error which included various shapes and sizes of baskets that I simply relocated all the paper into. It wasn’t until I came up with a system of how to actually process the paper that I really saw results. I took bits and pieces of various organizational gurus' systems and made my own. Everyone’s system will be (and should be) unique, but I hope learning how I do things might give you an idea or two to use in your own system. Download the printable visual diagram of my process and then read on for more explanation.
Paper comes into our homes from all directions, and we have to control it so it doesn’t control us. As each piece of paper comes in, I do one of three things: trash it, display it, or put it in the inbox. I don’t spend a lot of time deciding on what to do with each item. If it's obvious junk mail, I trash it. If it's something that refrigerator-worthy, it goes there right away. If there’s even a small possibility I want to keep it, I put it in the inbox. I can always trash it later. My inbox is a vertical file organizer that hangs on the end of my kitchen island. It has three slots - one for each kid and one for everything else.
I take my inbox to my desk and empty out a section at a time. I go through each kid’s section, pick out what I want to save, and put the rest in a trash pile. If it makes the cut, the paper goes in the appropriate kid’s shallow plastic container for the school year that is kept in the chest of drawers near my desk. I don't spend a lot of mental energy deciding what I want to get rid of. If I might want to keep it, I do. I know I’ll go through the whole container at the end of the school year and purge it further, so there’s no need to worry too much about paring down the memorabilia at this point.
The third slot in my organizer is the most labor intensive. I empty the bin and separate into a do today pile, a file pile, a defer pile (anything that doesn’t need to be done this week, and I’m not in the mood to tackle), and a trash pile (separating out what needs shredded vs. recycled/trashed.)
Step 1: Do Today This includes tasks like paying bills, reviewing the family budget, clipping coupons, placing orders, filling out forms, writing and addressing birthday cards, etc. After the task is done, then I either add it to the file pile, the trash pile, or put it into my new staging pile. The staging pile is for things like letters to be mailed or completed permission slips to go back to school.
Step 2: File I used to have hanging file folders stuffed full, and my drawers were brimming with paper, most of which I didn’t need or ever look at. I took some suggestions from Lisa Woodruff of Organize 365 and made binders instead. In a later post, I’ll go through my binder system in detail and talk about how I purged and archived all that paper that used to be in my desk drawers. I have 5 different colored binders in my desk’s filing drawer where I file all paperwork I need to keep . If I don’t need it, I shred or recycle it. My binders are separated into these categories: Finances, Health, Property, Personal, Fun. I also have ONE hanging file folder where I put any document that may be needed for my income taxes so it’s easy to find at the end of the year.
If there are any keepsake items or photos in the file pile that aren't for the kids' memorabilia boxes, I put those in plastic bins that I keep on a shelf in my closet. I have a very rudimentary organizational system for that. Non-photos go in one box and photos are separated by major life events like before marriage, between marriage and kid 1, between kid 1 and kid 2, and after kid 2. I'm guessing our next big photo separating event will be when the kids go to high school or maybe college.
Step 3: The Later Box I have a cute little box on my desk that is my “later box.” First, I look through what’s in the box already and pull out anything that needs completed this week (or that I am just in the mood to do.) Then I put the rest of the items back along and add items from my defer pile. I then repeat steps 1 and 2 for the items I took from the "later box."
Step 4: Staging I created a staging pile in step 1, so at this point in the process I put everything in this pile in its temporary home. That could be my purse, my husband’s work bag, one of the kids’ backpacks, a magnetic clip, the bulletin board, or in the mailbox. I have twomagnetic clips, one for each kid, that are color coded (everything for my oldest is blue and youngest is red.) The clips are for things specific to one kid that are done but can’t yet be delivered to their final destination (example: soccer picture form or fundraiser money that’s not due yet.) Anything in a similar state that is not kid-specific goes on the bulletin board as well as papers that are for reference like sports schedules.
Step 5: Trash I shred, recycle, or trash the piles on my floor!
Step 6: Repeat next week! I hang my inbox back up in the kitchen to start gathering more paper.
This system has been life changing! I’m not as annoyed with paper covering every surface of my house, and I don’t forget to do things or spend as much energy trying to remember to do them. Since everything is in one location and I regularly go through the inbox, even if life happens and I miss a week, it’s not the end of the world. The next week’s review might take a little longer, but there is rarely anything that can’t wait a few more days! What is your system for processing the paper in your house? Share with us in the comments!
I'm a recovering over-achiever people-pleaser. I had high expectations for others and even higher ones for myself. For 30+ years, I worked hard to be the best at everything I did. I had a plan and followed it – high school valedictorian, 4 year degree, married my high school sweetheart, got a job, then a house, then had a baby, then another, then developed a career. I was focused on how things should be without a realistic view of what I could handle. When I came to a point when I felt overwhelmed by my responsibilities, I didn't know how to function. Over the past couple of years, I've been getting my life in order and truly learning what that means. I want to share my ongoing journey with you and help you get your own life in order.
You may think of order as being organized and eliminating clutter. This is definitely part of it (and is a sure-fire way to make me feel a little better – I mean if seeing matching bins in your closet with labels from your label maker doesn’t make you happy, what does?) but there's more that I want us to dive into. I want to give you real life examples and techniques on how to organize your spaces and stuff, but also your calendar, your email, your time, your relationships, your interests, your dreams, and set boundaries and make decisions that will help you maintain that organization. I learned about these things the hard way – a lot of sleepless nights, long conversations with my mom (thanks, mom!), many sick-to-my stomach drives to work, hide-in-the bathroom tears, and self-induced guilt trips. I want you to know that you’re not alone in feeling out of sorts and knowing that you want order but not knowing how to get it.
If you’re anything like me, you crave routine but want to be spontaneous. You want a plan, but don’t know how to incorporate those pesky ‘other people’ that inevitably mess with it. You want things to be black and white, but you wish you were creative. Or maybe you’re totally the opposite and wish you could be satisfied with routine, not let others who are so interesting alter your focus, and be content with the cut and dry. Regardless of how you’re made, order is still a means to the end we all want – a joyful life.
I’m excited (and a little nervous) about sharing what I’ve learned and hope it helps you along the way. Next week, I’ll start a four part series about the definitions of order. I hope you’ll look forward to hearing what I have to say, and I hope you’ll share your insights with me, too.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!