I’ve been in a productivity slump for the past few months. I could blame it on some sad things that have happened in my family, stress at work, busyness of being a working mom, and I could feel bad about the things I didn’t do during that time - like not write any new blog posts...But I’m not here to make excuses, I’m here to get my productivity groove back and help you do the same!
Motivation, like a good habit, is very easy to lose and much harder to get back! Take a shortcut and learn from others. There are so many tools and suggestions available about productivity and organization (many available in previous posts on my blog!) Don’t try to do it alone - find a blog post, grab a book, listen to a podcast, or watch a YouTube video to learn something new or reinforce what you already know. I finally started reading the book I’ve been eyeing for months, Atomic Habits by James Clear. I am about halfway done, and I LOVE it! (Book review coming soon!) There are so many tidbits of great information that have provided me much needed motivation!
"Motivation, like a good habit, is very easy to lose and much harder to get back! Take a shortcut and learn from others."
Don’t try to do it all at once, or you’ll get overwhelmed and potentially do yourself more harm than good. Pick something that is fun and attainable or something that you have to do anyway. My motivation started returning when I had something to look forward to that required planning and organization - family vacation. Once I got started planning, I could start anticipating vacation, which I think is almost as fun as going! My planning paid off, and I felt really proud of all the effort I put into it.
After a successful vacation, I knew like I could tackle more. I’m embarrassed to say I’d been doing the bare minimum for taking care of routine family finances and paperwork - for months. I’d do what was absolutely necessary and stash the rest for later. Later just never arrived until this past weekend. I spent a few hours and am now all caught up with processing and filing. (Click for tips on how to get caught up with your paperwork.) My appetite for productivity and organization is snowballing now!
Once one project is done, you immediately feel a weight lifted and create space in your brain that used to be taken up by worrying about that thing that was undone. Once one task is complete, you will crave the feeling of checking another project off of your list. For me, after paperwork was caught up, I decided to cancel a couple of unnecessary subscriptions and saved myself money in the process. Now I’m hooked and am shopping for a better price on insurance. Who knows, I may be cleaning out my craft area before I know it!
What I’m relearning is that getting any little thing organized propels you to the next, bigger step. After completing that step, you gain motivation to tackle even more daunting tasks. You stop feeling sorry for yourself or bad about yourself for not accomplishing tasks. I have a suspicion, I’m not the only one who has let their “productive self” go over the past year and a half, and I want to provide you encouragement that it’s not as hard as it seems to get your life in order!
Start your snowball of productivity in the next 15 minutes:
I predict that as you repeat steps 3-5, you will gain motivation and confidence. When that list is complete, you will have room in your head to really create productive systems to help you avoid having to write another list like that!
Thanks for reading my first post in several months - it’s good to be back! I hope you’ll stick with me as I strive to get and keep My Life In Order! If you'd like to get new posts and newsletters in your inbox, please join the email list!
Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy & Proven Way to Build Good Habits & Break Bad Ones. Penguin Random House LLC, 2018.
The time around Christmas and New Years is perfectly made for reflecting on the past and planning for the upcoming year. I'm calling this year's exercise "Hindsight 2020" because when we look back we can see things more clearly. 2020 has been a year of the unprecedented, so it's been next to impossible to navigate it well and see things clearly while we've been in the middle of it. Soon, we will have a little space between us and 2020 to give us the perspective we need to plan for a new and better year.
I haven't had 20/20 vision since I was about 7 years old, but I never really knew why good vision was described that way. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, a person with 20/20 vision can read what the average person can on an eye chart when standing 20 feet away . The top number is the number of feet from the eye chart and the bottom number is the number of feet away from the chart that the average person can read the same line. For example, if my vision is 20/200, at 20 feet away, I can read only what an average person can read at 200 feet away. We often think of 20/20 as perfect vision, but it's really just average because someone could actually have better than 20/20 vision. A person with 20/15 vision they can see as well at 20 feet away as the average person can at 15 feet.
The analogy of the eye chart gives me a little comfort. The standard of 20/20 is not perfect - it's average. In our daily lives, we are pushed to perfection and it seems being average is not good enough. All of us have been using the phrase 'hindsight is 20/20' to mean that when we look back we can see perfectly what we should have done. I'm really happy to re-frame the expression to mean that when I look back, I'll have a better idea of what was actually happening or how things could have gone better, but I don't have to expect my view to be perfect - just better than it was when I was right in the middle of the experience.
I want to appreciate the year 2020 for what it was, what it gave me, and what it taught me. But I think the most powerful part of 2020 was what it WASN'T. Recognizing what we missed, what disappointed us, and what we regret can teach us so much about how to live in the future.
An exercise I do every year is to ask myself some simple questions about the past year and then some similar questions about the upcoming year. I then look at the themes I see through these answers to help narrow my focus for the next year. Finally, I set goals around those areas of focus to help me be successful. ,
This year I tweaked the questions a little bit, and I also asked my kids these same questions and shared some of my answers with them (though this is a very personal exercise, and you should't feel the need to share your answers with anyone unless you want to!) These questions led to a great discussion with my kids, and helped me solidify even more what I wanted to focus on in 2021. Try it out!
1. What made you feel proud or successful this year?
2. What made you happy this year?
3. What caused you stress this year?
4. What are you disappointed you did not do this year?
5. What did you do this year that you regret?
1. What would your fantasy self accomplish next year?
2. If your wildest dreams came true next year, what would happen?
3. If money were no object, what would you do next year?
4. If you didn't care what others thought, what would you do next year?
5. What are some key things you want to avoid next year?
If you are looking for support in setting goals and achieving them in 2021, check out the accountability group I lead called Achieve! The next session starts in mid-January. Spots are limited, so if you are interested, please reach out for more information!
For some more reflection, planning and goal setting, check out past posts on the topic:
Over the past week, we have transformed my son's bedroom. It has been a whirlwind process, but because we planned well, it's gone smoothly. Read my previous post about 5 steps to a bedroom refresh .
The new room has much less storage than the previous layout. We removed a large bookshelf, got a smaller dresser, relocated a cedar chest, and got rid of a 3 drawer plastic storage unit in the closet. Less storage may sound counter intuitive, but it forced my son to have less stuff in his room. Less stuff means less time cleaning his room, less arguments with me about clutter, less time spent looking for lost items, and more room to enjoy his private space.
When you have less storage, you must have less stuff. This makes you consider each item that makes it way into your space carefully. If you have a hard time getting rid of items or feel like everything is essential, try this trick. Pack up your room as if you were moving, and when it's time to "move in," start by unpacking only the absolute essentials like clothes, bedding, and maybe an alarm clock. Then over a few days' time as you find a need for an item, go get it from your boxes and carefully place it in the location that you noticed you needed it. In his book, Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life, Joshua Fields Millburn says, “Minimalism looks different for everyone because it’s about finding what is essential to you.”
After a couple of weeks, you will notice that you did not need many of the things you had in your room before you packed it up. This is your chance to either trash, donate, relocate, or store as a memento. Getting rid of unnecessary things not only gives you more space in your home, it can also improve your happiness. Internationally recognized applied positive psychology coach, Lisa Cypers-Kamen, says, "When you're less obligated to stuff, you have more time to experience life."
Which room in your house could you try this with? An office or bedroom would be one of the best places to start because those rooms tend to be smaller and usually only belong to one or two people instead of the entire family. You owe it to yourself to feel stress-free in your own home, and I think you'll be pleasantly surprised how having less storage and less stuff will give you a sense of calm.
Millburn, Joshua Fields, and Ryan Nicodemus. Minimalism: Live a Meaningful Life. Hachette Australia, 2017.
Cypers-Kamen, Lisa. “3 Reasons Why Having Less Leads to More Happiness.” Thrive Global, 3 Mar. 2018, thriveglobal.com/stories/less-really-can-be-more/.
Photo by Samantha Gades on Unsplash
Over the past few months, my teenage son has given me several hints that I've responded to with some pretty big "mom fails"!
When it finally hit me what all of these little hints added up to was when I went to his room and noticed those dresser drawers open again. As I tried to close one, I found that the dresser really WAS broken! The top is cracked in half and the middle drawer will not close! I sat down on his bed for a moment - OW! - it is uncomfortable! I looked around at the blue walls and red closet door that we'd painted before he moved into his first "big boy" room nearly a decade ago, and immediately felt guilty for being so involved in other projects that I'd ignored his hints that it was time for a room refresh!
I suggested some fresh paint, a bigger bed, and a functional dresser in return for his purging and organizing his room. It was a deal! This past weekend, he began the prep work using these 5 steps that will work for someone of any age who is ready to refresh their bedroom.
1. Review what you wear
I suggest you empty one drawer at a time and go through every item separating into piles of things you will wear and things you won't wear. If it doesn't fit or you don't like it, don't let it take up space in your dresser or closet! Put items that you will wear back in the space and relocate the items you won't wear (in our case, they will go in the basement in a tote for my younger son, but you could put them in a box for Goodwill.) Repeat with each drawer and section of your closet. Don't forget shoes, scarves, belts, bags, etc.
2. Curate your surfaces
Empty each shelf, dresser top, or drawer. Similar to what you did with your clothes, review each item and decide to keep in place, keep but relocate, or get rid of. Put the keep in place items back, the keep but relocation items in their new home, and box up other items for donation.
3. Clear the floor
Look closely at anything that touches the floor that isn't furniture. If it's trash, throw it away. If it's not trash, why is it on the floor? Find a new home for it either within your room or elsewhere in your home, or donate it.
4. Measure and plan
Measure everything! Write down the dimensions of your room and all of your furniture that you plan to keep. Create a scale model of your room and all the furniture to help decide on a floor plan. You can go old school and use grid paper to map out your room and then cut out pieces of furniture to scale or you could use a digital option like planyourroom.com. Arranging and rearranging on paper or virtually will save you time, effort, and money! It will help you clearly see how much space you have so when you buy new items, they are the correct size. You can also determine where you want to position everything ahead of time to cut down on the muscle needed to move furniture!
5. Move only once
Once you've decided what to keep and what you need to purchase, only move your furniture once. For our project, we will be ordering the new items and they will stay in the garage until after the room has been painted. On painting day, we will empty the old furniture and remove it from the room. Remaining furniture will be moved to the middle of the room until the paint is dry. The existing furniture will be moved into the location we decided on in step 4, and the new furniture will be brought to the room and assembled in it's new home.
I'm excited for my son's bedroom refresh (and a little sad to cover the paint that has complemented several little boy themes over the years) and I'm hopeful this process will help him learn how to keep his space organized and make it his own. Are you inspired to do a little refresh of your own??
We woke up early on the first day of the 2020-2021 school year only to learn that our home internet was out! Since we were all planning to spend the day learning and working online, we had a few moments of panic. Luckily the internet came back on before long and held steady the rest of the day!
I had planned every detail of virtual learning at our house, but there was still something out of my control. It's good to be reminded that no matter how well we plan, the unexpected still happens. I think this school year may teach us all that lesson many times over! Because there is so much in life that we cannot control, it is helpful to be organized because that gives us the capacity to handle the unexpected when it comes our way.
Whether your kids are doing virtual learning at home full-time or their school has a hybrid approach where just part of the week is e-learning, being a parent of a school-aged child this school year is going to be a challenge! I am trying to use organization to help make the experience as smooth as possible, and I thought I'd share some of my ideas with you.
Challenge # 1: Not enough workspace
We are excited to have my older son's best friend and his younger sister joining us for virtual learning. It gives our kids some socialization and makes their school day much more fun! But we had to get creative to fit everybody in our home and still keep distance between them.
We live in an 1800 square foot, nearly 150 year old house with no spare bedroom or office. On days when I work from home to help supervise the school day, there are six people to fit into the space! We decided that we wanted everyone on the same floor, so we are not using bedrooms as classrooms. Because of that, not every kid has enough room to have all of their books and supplies next to them at all times. We solved that problem with a set of plastic drawers labelled with each kid's name. The drawers are on wheels so if I want to get rid of the school look, I can roll them into the laundry room!
We decided that since most of the school day will be spent on Google Meets with headphones on, it didn't really matter if kids were in the same room because they rarely have to talk out loud during live class. We set the two older kids up in the kitchen and the younger two in the living room in a configuration so no one gets in anyone else's videos!
My husband works in our bedroom on a slim table that we set in front of a window, and when I'm working from home, I work in my craft area. Even though it's a little crowded, I made everyone their own nameplate for their space to define it as theirs. I got acrylic frames for photo booth pictures for less than a dollar, then used scrapbook paper and some markers to make every "desk" a little special. At the end of the day, the kitchen kids have to put everything in their drawer so my family can eat dinner at the same table, but it works!
Challenge #2: Confusing schedule
We have two different schedules with different break times for the elementary and the middle school, and then there are alternating days for certain classes - it gets confusing fast! I got two white boards and two inexpensive easels (check the photo frame section for these) to display the schedule. I used different colors to help the kids easily find their next class. For the schedules that alternate, there is a magnet that indicates what day it is. We have one white board in each room to keep kids on track.
I also created a printable daily schedule that lists each class time, class, and code for the live video session as well as check boxes for other daily requirements. These were great for the first week while everyone was getting used to their schedules. After the second week, we probably won't need these anymore and can just maintain a list of codes for the videos.
One thing I love about virtual learning is how much extra physical activity the kids are getting because they can go outside and play, go on a bike ride, or just get some sunshine during breaks. But it's important for them to stay on schedule, so setting timers is a great way to help kids manage their time and get back to their seats in time for the next session.
Challenge #3: Tech Issues
I work in IT for my day job, so I am used to tech issues! The biggest lesson here is to teach your child how to fix issues rather than fixing them all yourself. It's amazing how even young children can learn to troubleshoot an issue when you take the time to show them how. Before school starts, go through their device with them and explain the basics. Don't assume they know how to open a new tab on a web browser or even turn down the volume. Chances are you may have to show them a few times, but if you take the time at the beginning to teach them how to help themselves, you won't be needed as much later on.
We've already run into broken links, unknown passwords, and pictures and videos that wouldn't display. Teachers have been very honest that this is all new to everyone, so don't feel bad about asking them for help or letting them know when something isn't going quite right - but be nice!! Taking a photo of exactly what you are seeing on your kid's device may be more helpful than trying to explain it in words.
Slow or overloaded internet will surely be a problem at some point. If that happens, try limiting video to only when it's needed. Most teachers have a recording if something goes wrong and you can't participate live. You may have to roll with it!
"Chances are you may have to show them a few times, but if you take the time at the beginning to teach them how to help themselves, you won't be needed as much later on."
Challenge #4: I have to work!
Many of us are working parents, and work doesn't just stop when school starts. We are in unprecedented times, and employers are trying to make accommodations but still stay in business. There are some who can't work from home because of the nature of their job. This is where we have to stick together and help each other out! I'm fortunate because my husband works from home, but I am trying to be very aware that he has a full time job and as willing as he is to be a teacher as well, I need to pitch in where I can. I occasionally work from home to give him a break, and I also review schedules for the next day and make lists, monitor homework assignments, etc. the night before so the days are smoother.
No matter what kind of job you have or how high up you are in an organization, all employees are just people and many of them are parents dealing with virtual school. Even those who don't have kids themselves, have a child or teacher in their lives and can understand the challenges of juggling work and school responsibilities. Several times a week on conference calls, I hear someone's child in the background or someone on the call has to excuse themselves to help with a school issue. It doesn't bother me a bit - I get it! We are all trying to do our best, and no one can deny that our kids' education is important.
To help stay focused at work when you are at home with school-aged kids, set them up with everything they need before you start your workday. Designate your own workspace and clearly communicate when kids are allowed to enter that space and at what times they need to be quiet. You may consider a sign or visual reminder of these things for younger children. Schedule your breaks around the kids' breaks so you can check homework, answer questions, and enjoy seeing their faces in the middle of they day. You may need to talk to your boss about working an alternate schedule. If there are hours that you need to dedicate to school, is it possible you could work some in the early morning or late evening to make up for that time?
None of us know how long we will be dealing with virtual school, so I encourage you to identify your top challenges and come up with strategies to address them. Organize yourself in other areas of your life to give you more room in your day to deal with the challenges at hand.
Have a great school year!
I am not a morning person! I like to BE up early, but I don't particularly like to GET up early! Because of that, my mornings go much more smoothly when everything is ready the night before. Getting into a habit of preparing for the next day the night before was one of the single biggest boosts to my productivity!
When I was primarily working from home this spring, evening prep was pretty simple - a list of my most important tasks for the next day and sometimes I laid out a letter that needed to go to the mailbox. Since it didn't really matter what I wore and I didn't need to pack a lunch, there really wasn't that much to it. Don't get me wrong, doing that little bit of prep for the next day still went a long way, but it wasn't as critical as I knew it would be when I was back to working in my office most of the time. To set myself up for a successful transition, I really embraced evening prep - almost too much because soon it felt like my evenings were focused around tomorrow.
That first week back to the office exhausted me. Between working the same full day, commuting, wearing office appropriate attire, showering EVERY DAY, fixing my hair and makeup, packing up my breakfast, snacks and lunch, preparing my work supplies, not to mention trying to spend quality time with my family - it was exhausting! I was trying extra hard to make everything run smoothly, so I was spending 30-60 minutes preparing every detail of my morning the night before. I felt robbed of my evenings and the time with my family, so I decided something had to change!
There were two key areas I identified as time suckers, and I made a plan to fix them!
I am on a mission to get healthier and slimmer by the time I turn 40, so I take my breakfast, snacks and lunch with me everyday. For breakfast I make a protein shake, snacks are usually fruit, nuts, cheese, and lunch may be leftovers or a salad. Previously, I was spending a good 30 minutes an evening preparing food. I analyzed my evening food prep routing, and found the areas that were taking the longest and came up with ideas to streamline the process:
I now pack my lunchbox immediately after I empty it. I make my shake the night before as well and just shake it up before I drink it the next day. I've gone from 30 minute lunch prep to less than 10
I lay my entire outfit the night before - complete with jewelry, shoes - everything. I used to do it right before bed. First I would have to look at my calendar to see what was going on the next day so I dressed appropriately. Then I'd pick something out, find all the coordinating accessories, and a good 15-20 minutes later, get to bed. I wanted to get more sleep, so I decided to try to win back those few minutes before bed.
Now I pick out my clothes for the next day as soon as I change out of my work clothes, which is usually very soon after I walk in the door. Since I'm already in my closet hanging up clothes or putting them in the hamper, it makes sense to just grab an outfit for tomorrow right then. Because I always look at my calendar for the next day before I finish my workday, I can skip that step since it's fresh in my mind. By the time I'm in my comfy walking clothes, I am done preparing for the next day!
Your pain points may not be the same as mine, but take some time to think through your routine and identify what is taking you the longest or what frustrates you about your morning or evening routine. Think about the problem and how you would tell someone else to solve it. Track your time savings and celebrate the extra time in your evening - and spend it well!
Quick and Easy Protein Shake
Puree all the fruit you will need for the week ahead of time and store in airtight container in the refrigerator.
The night before combine almond milk, fruit puree, protein powder, and chia seeds in a shaker cup, put in the shaker ball, and SHAKE! Store in the refrigerator and shake well before drinking.
To be truly productive, it is almost imperative to have a master to-do list where you record everything you need to do and use it to prioritize your actions as you work toward completing tasks that will ultimately help you accomplish your goals. Though I believe this is true, today I want to introduce a different concept that I think is almost as important to your personal productivity - a done list!
A done list is just what it sounds like, a list of things you’ve completed. There are a couple of options on how to create a done list, but before I tell you HOW, let me tell you WHY.
Why a Done List?
1. Develops Positive Emotions
Sometimes in the midst of all the items left undone on our to do list, it’s easy to forget all that was accomplished in a day. At the end of the work day, the emotions we feel are directly related to the progress we made (or didn’t make.)
Dr. Teresa Amabile, a Harvard Business School professor and co-author of The Progress Principle found that when people recognized their small accomplishments, they experienced more positive emotions which in turn, encouraged future accomplishment. In a Harvard Business Review article, she explained a study which analyzed 12,000 employees on a daily basis. ”On days when they made progress, our participants reported more positive emotions. They not only were in a more upbeat mood in general but also expressed more joy, warmth, and pride.”
2. Creates Momentum
We tend to focus more on our failures than our successes, so keeping track of what we’ve accomplished can remind us of what we are capable of. Organizational psychologist, Karl Weick says “Once a small win has been accomplished, forces are set in motion that favor another small win. When a solution is put in place, the next solvable problem often becomes more visible.”
Completing a task feels so much better than starting 10 tasks and not quite finishing any of them! Every time you record something you’ve finished, you get a little hit of dopamine, a type of neurotransmitter in your body’s nervous system that plays a role in feeling pleasure. It actually helps us focus and improves motivation. So completing one item literally can increase our chances of completing the next one.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!