A while back, I wrote about my struggle with my weight, and I'm still working on it! I have a trip coming up in a couple of months which is a great motivator for me to set a goal and crush it! I've been trying to figure out how to keep track of my progress and while also setting myself up for success.
Research says habits are broken down into three parts:
Identifying triggers can help us to avoid them or come up with strategies to cope with them. I've always thought my triggers were stress and free food, but what I've been noticing is that the lack of a plan or accountability seems to be what really gets me in trouble.
I don't know about you, but I'm really good at rewarding myself, but I struggle to find a reward that is appropriate and doesn't undermine my intended outcome. For example, I often feel like when I've lost some weight, I "deserve" a milk shake or a candy bar or some jalapeno poppers! I think the reason I feel like I've earned some "bad" food is because I've felt deprived during the short stint of weight loss.
I've been brainstorming a way to help address my triggers and my feelings of deprivation. I ran across James Clear, author of Atomic Habits, who says that the first step to successfully developing a habit is to make one so small it's almost impossible fail. I like the idea of not failing, so I decided to give this miniature habit thing a try. I chose just one thing to focus on for a very short time period of time.
I saw an intriguing idea on Pinterest about tracking habits with a very simple chart with dates for an entire month listed down the left side of the paper and habits across the top. This would create squares that could be colored in to indicate completion of a task. Using different colors to indicate different actions gives a quick visual representation of your actions. I decided to create my own chart, and even though I fantasize about producing a beautiful bullet journal (and maintain a Pinterest board about it), I took a shortcut and created a printable that I could just color in. My chart is a little different, and instead of various habits across the top, I listed the hours in the day to help me see patterns in my eating throughout the day.
I wanted to track one goal at a time, every day and see my progress in small increments - as small as every hour. Each hour, I can color in the corresponding box with either green (I did good), red (I did bad) or blank (I didn't do anything related to my goal.) Then over just a few days, I can quickly see how I'm doing and if there are any particular days or times of days that are tripping me up. By focusing only on one goal, I am much more likely to be successful, and then I can eventually add additional goals after my first one has become a true habit.
My first goal was to avoid white flour. I tracked my progress for the last few days of February, and the picture above is how I did. What I noticed was that by focusing only on one goal, I didn't feel deprived and thus didn't feel the need to reward myself with food for a job well done nearly as much as I had during previous weight loss efforts. I also noticed that even though I was focusing on only one goal, it made me very conscious of my other food choices, and I ate better overall than I normally did. I love being able to look at my chart and immediately be able to tell that I have a good breakfast and morning snack routine going, but I eat lunch at all sorts of different times, and my problem time is evening and late nights! The jury is still out if this plan will work for me long term, but I'm excited to give it a try. Who knows, maybe this will work so well I'll eventually add in some exercise to the mix!
Check out the free Habit Tracker printable, and give it a try! You can come up with your own color system and make it as elaborate or as simple as you'd like. Print out just one or use multiples as you add to your goals and habits. I will be reporting back before my trip in May to let you know how this system is working for me. I'd love to hear from you if you test out this system and would especially like to see pictures if you draw a really pretty one in your bullet journal!
Quora. “The Science Behind Adopting New Habits (And Making Them Stick).” Forbes, Forbes Magazine, 13 Feb. 2018, www.forbes.com/sites/quora/2018/02/13/the-science-behind-adopting-new-habits-and-making-them-stick/#4f1430e843c7.
Clear, James. Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones. Cornerstone, 2019.
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 want to be a morning person, I really do...but, I'm not! I'm always looking for ways to make things go more quickly in the morning so I can sleep in just a little bit more. I don't have a magic list of things that create a perfect bedtime routine to prepare for a calm morning, but I do have a list of things I've learned over time to help prevent a mad rush in the morning.
1. Limit morning decisions
Either prepare for the morning the night before by completing tasks before bed or by creating a few standard choices for your regular morning tasks. For example you could lay out your clothes before you go to sleep or you could pre-define a few pair of pants and a few tops that match so it's very easy to pick out an outfit in the morning. You could make your lunch at night or you could have several items that you know you like, don't take any preparation, you know fit in your lunch box, and are all located in the came general area in your kitchen that you can mix and match into a lunch bag in the morning. The fewer decisions in the morning, the more energy you'll have during the remainder of your day.
2. Set an alarm you can't ignore (or two)
I used to be a serial snoozer. I could hit a traditional alarm clock's snooze button every 9 minutes for a good hour before finally rolling out of bed. I tried using my Fit Bit as an alternative and set multiple alarms that would vibrate until I turned them off. That worked better, but I soon learned, I can turn them off in my sleep! I think I may have found the best solution for me - I have been setting an alarm on my Google Mini and when it goes off it the morning, I have to actually speak to turn it off, "Hey Google, cancel alarm." Even if I don't get out of bed immediately, having to talk out loud seems to wake me up enough so I don't fall back asleep. I like setting backup alarms to make sure I'm out of bed in time. Additional alarms throughout the morning can also keep you on track - try an "it's time for breakfast" alarm, an "it's time to dry my hair alarm", or an "it's time to load the car" alarm. Remember all those little things you do in the morning that could be wasting time - like checking email or social media on your phone or watching the news. If you want to build those into your morning, give yourself a set time so you don't get carried away!
3. Time yourself
I'm a big proponent of timing everything you do so you know how long things really take. I used to think it took SO long to do my makeup that on most days, I'd just throw my makeup bag in my purse and do my makeup at work. Once I timed myself, I realized it takes me less roughly 5 minutes for my entire regimen and there's usually plenty of time for that in my morning! I also know how much time it takes me to take a shower with and without washing my hair (so I can sleep in a little on days I don't need to wash my hair.)
4. Do things in order (or at the same time!)
Think through everything you have to do in a morning, and figure out the most efficient order of tasks. It doesn't make sense to put moisturizer on first and then put in your contacts just like it doesn't make sense to fix your hair before putting on your pullover shirt. Also consider which things can be done at the same time. Multi-tasking isn't usually a great idea, but for some mindless tasks, it's great! For example, I get my jewelry out while I'm brushing my teeth and use my Turbie Twist towel to absorb the moisture from my wet hair while I'm doing my makeup. This is one of my favorite morning hacks because it significantly reduces the time it takes to blow dry my hair!
5. Limit the number of times you open doors and drawers
I try to only open a drawer or a door twice a morning - once to get out what I need and a second time to put those things away. I open my top bathroom vanity drawer to get out my contacts, my hairbrush, and my makeup bag. Then I close the drawer and don't open it again until I'm done with all of those items. I open the door under my vanity to get out my curling iron and/or hair dryer and hair products, and then I close it. I don't open it again until I'm ready to put those away and while I have it open I spritz myself with body spray before closing the door for the final time.
6. Put things away as you go
I like to wake up to a clear bathroom counter and leave for work with a clear bathroom counter. It allows me to start the day with a little control. When you do your makeup, try taking out all the items you will use out and set on the counter. As you use them, put them back in a makeup bag, so when you're done, everything is back in your bag and it's easy to just put it back in its place. Try a heat proof bag or container for curling irons or straighteners, so you can put them away as soon as you're done instead of leaving cords all over the place! Keep a wastebasket next to where you get ready so you can throw away cotton swabs, tissues, cotton balls, etc. as you go.
7. Empty your head
Whenever you think of something you need to do, either write it down in a place you will see before you walk out the door or set a reminder on your phone that will create a notification so you can feel confident you won't forget. If I need to take food for a carry in or return a library book or drop my car off at the repair shop, I set a reminder for early that morning so that when I look at my phone before I walk out the door, I'll see the notification. This helps me sleep better not trying to remember what I have to do in the morning. I also set reminders at times all throughout the day for things I need to buy, errands I need to run, phone calls I need to make, etc. It's nice to get them out of my head and into a system I trust.
I've said it many times before, I'm not great with time, which is why I try to come up with systems and habits to help me. I'm not going to lie and say I'm never late or I always have a calm morning, but these few tips have helped me greatly reduce the amount of mad rush mornings!
Ask my husband, and he’ll tell you Valentine’s Day isn’t a “real” holiday. Mail is delivered, school is in session so he says it’s not official. I don’t care what he says, this minor holiday is one I love to celebrate! I don’t care much about romantic gestures, flowers, or chocolates (ok, I would never turn down chocolate!) but I do embrace the chance to show my sappy, mama love to my kids!
About 6 years ago, I decided to be my kindergartner son's secret admirer, and I covertly gave him gifts and notes for the week leading up to Valentine’s Day. When little treats started showing up around our house, my son did have a bit of concern that our home had been breached by this admirer! On Valentine’s morning, I revealed that it was indeed me, his mommy, who was his secret admirer. I've done some version of this for both of my kids every Valentine's Day since, and I was even able to pull off the surprise most years.
Now that my youngest is in 2nd grade, I think this year will be the first where neither kid has any doubt that their admirer is their mom, but I don't care, I'm still going all out! If you want to do something similar for your kids (or friend or significant other) here are the basics:
It's easy to let your medicine cabinet get out of control - as long as you can shut the doors, you can ignore whatever is going on in there, right?! You can become blind to your own clutter, or so overwhelmed by it that you don't even use your medicine cabinet anymore. I was tired of the fear that all of the expired medicine would fall on me and annoyed that I felt like I was running out of space in my bathroom. This weekend, I did a major medicine cabinet purge in both of my bathrooms and then made a trip to one of my favorite stores, Dollar General, to stock up on a few items that would fit in the narrow cabinets and provide the organization I was looking for. Here are 5 items that you might not think of using in your medicine cabinet that can help you get organized and only cost a few bucks!
1. Plastic Cups
I needed some vertical storage, so I looked for some tall plastic cups. I found 4 for $1! Make sure to measure your shelves first and measure the diameter of the bottom AND top of the cup to make sure you can close the door all the way. I used cups to store an entire bag of cough drops, tubes of toothpaste, small bottles of lotion, and my husband's electric trimmer. To make it easy (dare I say foolproof) for my family, I labelled the cups! I like the idea of cups because if they get gross, they can be popped in the dishwasher!
2. Drawer Organizers
I bought a set of modular drawer organizers and was able to use the small and medium sizes in my cabinets (I used the large ones in my vanity drawers so they didn't go to waste!) I put things like nail clippers, first aid ointments, and bottles of medicines in these organizers and added a label as well!
3. Small, plastic food storage containers
I found a 3 pack of food storage containers for a great deal. I didn't need the lids, but the oblong size was perfect. I like clear storage so you can see what you're getting. This is especially helpful for top shelves. Consider taking items out of their original packaging to store in a more accessible way. I emptied all the adhesive bandages out of their cardboard boxes and separated into large and small sizes (and of course, labelled the containers!) I also emptied out flossers into one of these containers. Since there is a wide mouth opening, it is more likely that my kids will grab one and actually floss their teeth than if they had to get them from the original package.
4. Command hooks
I got a set of Command hooks for the inside of one of the doors and used them to hang a razor. My door has an inset area that was perfect to tuck the razor in! You could even hang toothbrushes or tubes of toothpaste with a binder clip attached to the end of the tube. Take note of where your shelves are situated to make sure there is room for the items you want to hang from inside the door. I also like to tape a little inspiration on the inside of my doors - a sweet note from my kids and a picture of me at my ideal weight!
5. Small decorative candle holder
I found adorable little lantern shaped glass tea light candle holders that were just shallow enough to fit in my cabinets for a dollar each! I used them for our thermometers. Because the container is glass, it won't tip over. I used the second one for a few of my random items I use on a daily basis.
My medicine cabinets look a little bare right now because I purged so many expired items. I have a short list of the things I want to replace, but now I have plenty of space and a plan for where each item will go. Just as with every area that you organize, it is important to purge first, determine the best location for what you have left, and then purchase or repurpose storage solutions specific to your own needs!
I cracked open my brand new journal on my birthday this week. My first entry is titled "38 Things I Want to Accomplish While I'm 38." Last year, I wrote down one less goal for a 37 year-old's version of this list. I made the list with various types of goals - some fun, some frivolous, some personal, some professional, some physical, some spiritual, but all just for me. I made some easy and some a real challenge. I was thrilled to mark off one of them very early in the year - I beat my husband at chess! Sometime in my first three months of being 37, I was able to check off another one - I found an appropriately sized and stylish black purse - I call that a win! I didn't buy a new shower curtain or finish reading the whole Bible, though. In fact, I only completed 20 of the 37. Let me rephrase that, I completed 20 of the 37 things I wanted to do last year - that's over half, and some of them were really big!
5 reasons you should make your own birthday goal list this year!
1. It's fun
The goals can be anything - they can be meaningful or can be purely indulgent I kept mine private so I didn't feel embarrassed about how silly or insignificant some may have seemed to others.
2. It's low pressure
This birthday goal list was in addition to areas of focus for the year and related goals, so they weren't high stakes to me. They were just for fun and some were long shots - like I wanted to get 1,000 likes on my Facebook page - I made it to 335. I'm not upset because it was just an arbitrary number and working to get there got me to where I am!
3. It provides you multiple small wins
When you create lots of small, easy to attain goals, it makes you feel good about yourself as you check them off. This gives you momentum and motivation to attack larger goals! When you make attainable goals that are split up into digestible and measurable pieces, you set your self up for success. For example, don't set a goal to "read more" instead, set a goal to read a book. That's not too hard and once you've done it, you will likely want to do it again and again.
4. It allows you to dream of your future self
It's fun to daydream about where you will be in a year. Thinking about how we want our future self to look, feel and act can be fun, but also help us to set goals to help us get there. I often think about my future self - what would my future self appreciate me doing now (like stashing a dark chocolate Dove bar in my car's console so that I find it on a day I'm starving on my drive home and unexpectedly find this treat!); how will my future self feel when I've gotten through this tough season that I'm dealing with in the present (pride, joy, relief, or will I regret how I handled it?) ; or how will my future self benefit from this thing I'm doing today (exercising, eating right, etc.) If you've never considered the concept of your future self, listen to this Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast episode.
5. It gives you perspective and helps you give yourself grace.
Since I made this birthday goal list last year, I was able to read through what I wrote last January and reflect on why those things were important to me then. I realized some of them are no longer important to me now, and there are new things are in my life now that weren't even on my radar then. I did transfer a few of the undone items from last year to this year that I still care about. But I was also able to easily let go of some of the things I didn't accomplish. I gave myself permission to just not do them - just like that - no guilt or explanation needed!
Let us know in the comments if you make a birthday goal list this year!
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!
On a whim, back before I'd even had the courage to publish my first blog post, I applied to be part of a book launch team for a new productivity book from the founder of the task management software I use, Nozbe. I was thrilled when I was selected as one of approximately 100 people worldwide who would have the opportunity to review and offer suggestions for this book. At that time, I had no idea that I'd actually be quoted in the book! It's been over a year, but the book has been written, edited, and published! 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity by Michael Sliwinski is now available for purchase!! I'll give you a summary of some of the great content from this book below. Make sure to read to the end for info on how to get entered for your chance to win a copy!
The first thing you need to know about this book is that its author definitely has the authority to be writing it! I had the honor tointerview Michael Sliwinski last year and learned about why he's a true productivity expert. Click here to read the post for more background on the man who created a productivity platform that nearly half a million people use daily!
Each chapter of the book is one of the 10 steps to ultimate productivity. For each step, you will be taught why it is important, learn from some real life examples, receive tips about how to put the step into practice in your own life. There are also bonus materials that you can access online to help with your own personal productivity system.
The ten steps are:
I'm so excited for you to read this book that I'm going to give you the chance to get one for FREE! There are two ways to enter (and you can do either or both for an additional entry!) A winner will be drawn on Thursday, January 17, 2019.
I have two weeks off for the first time since before I entered the workforce (of course I'm not counting maternity leave because that is NOT vacation!) To say I'm excited is a severe understatement. Many people have asked me what I'm doing and where I'm going. My answer is nothing and nowhere - and that's by choice and why I'm thrilled! I love the holidays - the decorating, the Christmas sweaters and socks, the cooking and baking, the gift giving and the family gatherings are all fun! But just as much as I love the holidays, I love the fresh start of the new year that follows.
I have a busy life just like most of you. A wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, volunteer, employee, boss, entrepreneur, piano teacher - there are so many roles I play. I enjoy having all these varied experiences, but there is one area that I tend to neglect - ME!
This week between Christmas and New Years is one of the best times to recharge your battery. During my time off, I plan to reflect on the past year, plan for the new one, rest, relax, enjoy things I want to do, make memories with my family, declutter and purge, and reorganize. Try this quick list of tasks to help you transition from the holidays to the new year!
1. Un-decorate - I prefer to leave my Christmas decorations for a few days after December 25, but no later than the weekend after New Years Day. Once your decorations are down, you can see the new start that the new year brings.
2. Purge - after receiving Chirstmas gifts, you are more likely to be willing to part with old items around the house. I start with my kids' rooms where most of the new "stuff" from the holidays tends to end up. We do a system of 20 minutes at a time of hard core work, going through every item and nook and cranny. I have two kids so while one kid is decluttering with me in their room, the other gets some screen time. We alternate until we are done. I can't wait to complete the purging process in my own space as well - look out small appliances, your days may be numbered!
3. Organize - The kids don't totally hate the purging process,because they get to rearrange, redecorate and reorganize their room how they like. We focus on function first - where do you like to read, why is it so hard to get your dirty clothes in that type of hamper, would those drawers be easier to get to in a different spot, are you more likely to play with your action figures if they are all in one bin, etc. I also make a list of what is missing (so far the list includes a LED light for my son's closet, a poster frame, and some floating shelves.) We use Christmas money to buy any supplies needed.
4. Reflect - try the exercise I did last year of asking yourself questions about the past year to help set your focus for the new year. Look back through your calendar as a family and reminisce about all the things you did over the past year. This is a great time to review your photos and make a family photo album. Review the goals you set for yourself last year and note your progress.
5. Plan - create some new goals for yourself - make sure to make some small ones and some lofty ones! After you've chosen your planner (tips on how to do that were in last week's post), start filling in the calendar with all the dates that are set in stone. If you created monthly goals, noting them in your planner is a great way to keep them top of mind.
6. Relax - choose some things that you love to do, and make the time to do them. For me this includes taking bubble baths, reading, getting a massage or a pedicure, writing, watching TV, going to the movies, organizing (I know, I'm a geek!), playing board games, playing the piano, getting together with friends, and hanging out with my kids and husband.
By next week's post I should have finished steps 1-5 and will still be enjoying step 6! I will share with you some of my reflection and planning process next time. Happy Holidays!
As 2018 comes to a close, there are many decisions to make, but one of the biggest is which 2019 planner is best for you? I'm kidding (a little) but if not one of the most important decisions, it's definitely one of the most fun!
Planning saves time and helps us feel in control. There are many options for planning tools from a simple notebook to a pretty planner to slick digital apps. There is no perfect method for planning your days, but there several questions that you can answer to help you choose the right planner for you!
Once you've answered these basic questions, you can move on to the more detailed options based on your paper vs. digital preference.
I like a hybrid approach and use a digital calendar, digital task manager with digital reminders, as well as a paper planner. I prefer to keep personal and professional somewhat separate, but do combine them in one view. For example, on my iPhone's calendar app, I have my personal Google Calendar, my "side hustle" Google Calendar, and my work Outlook calendar overlaid on one another so I can see everything at once. For me, I want to capture time bound meetings and appointments, deadlines, and special dates like birthdays and anniversaries on a calendar and to-dos in a task list. I need a place to jot down notes and ideas, and a place to store a piece of notepaper as well. It may seem redundant to have tasks in both a digital and written format, but the physical act of writing things down helps me process and remember them better. When I transfer items from my digital task list to my physical planner during a regular planning time, it helps to cement in my mind what is truly a priority.
I am so excited that this year, I have the 5x8 size of the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley. I'd been eyeing this online for quite some time, and then a few weeks ago, a friend who knows me well surprised me with a super cool and pretty 2019 planner! I will set aside some reflection and planning time between Christmas and New Years to begin filling out this colorful notebook! Here are a few tips I've learned over the years for written planners:
Buy a special writing utensil to use with your planner. A mechanical pencil may be your best option - it's erasable, the tip will always be sharp and it won't bleed through the pages. But there's something fun about using a special pen that writes so smoothly... Just make sure to test pens on a small section of paper to make sure it doesn't bleed or smudge. Different types of paper react differently to different types of ink. Consider a couple of colors of pens/highlighters to use and make a system of what each color means. For example, if you decide to add both work and personal obligations, you may want to use one color for work and one color for personal.
Create a way to keep your place. Find a reliable bookmark, fun binder clip, or reusuable sticky note tab to mark your place in your paper planner. My planner comes with tabs for each month, but I will still want to mark which date I'm on to make it that much quicker to do my planning.
Decide how far out you will plan. Most people do well to put in the big events for the whole year on the calendar and then plan around those on a monthly or weekly basis. A quick review of your calendar and digital tools before bed allow you to write down your appointments and must dos the night before in your paper planner. This will allow you to rest easier knowing you haven't forgotten anything and that you have a solid plan for the next day.
Set a regular planning meeting with yourself and your family. My husband and I both work full time and have a significant commute, plus have some volunteer commitments, lots of parenting commitments and also appreciate some downtime. We have to have at least a weekly check in to figure out who's going to pick up the kids, what we will have for dinner, etc. This doesn't have to be a formal meeting - ours is usually after a meal and we both whip out our phones and check who has to go in early, who has to stay late, and what kid's activities are coming up that week. This allows us to plan our grocery shopping list and arrange childcare for the week ahead. We invite each other to events using our digital calendars so know what is expected of us.
I hope you can find your ideal planner in the next couple of weeks so you can start off your 2019 feeling like a planning rockstar! If you have another planner you love, please share with us in the comments.
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!
Around the holidays, I always get the urge to purge! Life gets so busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas around my house with school programs, parties, shopping, decorating, family gatherings, etc. It seems extra difficult for me to stay on top of the regular tasks like laundry, dishes and clutter, so this is the time that having less stuff is really appealing. Whenever this feeling strikes me, I take advantage and get out some trash bags and cardboard boxes!
I like to do pre-holiday purging in the areas that I'm most likely to acquire new stuff. The prime location to begin, kids' rooms! It's ideal to involve your kids in this process, explaining that if they want to enjoy new toys or gifts, they have to make some room. I like to give the kids 5 options on every item in their room:
For me and my sons, it works best if I'm in the room with them, holding up each item, but if you have older kids, they may be able to do this process on their own. Since there are 5 options, we use 5 containers - a combination of trash bags, boxes and storage bins. To be very thorough, have your smallest child crawl under the bed or to the back of the closet to make sure you get everything! I have found that option 2, keep as a keepsake, has helped reduce the time it takes to make a decision. Kids are sure about the things they want to keep and get rid of, but there are some items in between. Rather than force them to decide one way or the other, we keep a box of keepsakes in the basement. Occasionally (but not as often as we should) we go through those keepsakes and purge further. I also throw in the option of giving away to someone we know because it's easier to get rid of a beloved toy if they know it's going to their younger cousin who will like it (and they may get to play with it at their house, too!)
Just like I make my kids go through this process, I like to do it myself on my clothes, coats, jewelry, and shoes. It works out well since this time of year usually aligns with when I do my clothing seasonal switch. I also like to go through things like CDs, movies, craft supplies, and kitchen gadgets. If you want to do some in-depth work on your kitchen, check out my video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen!
I have a hard time getting rid of things that prove my kids are growing up - like kids' movies and music, games for younger kids, coloring books, and even little spoons and cups. This is where giving to someone I know comes in handy for me. I can much more easily part with a Sonic the Hedgehog activity book, a plastic Spiderman plate and silverware set, or Veggie Tales DVDs when I know my nephews (and now niece!) or a friend's child will enjoy them.
In addition to purging, I love to use this time to get organized as well. The key is to be realistic about how you use your spaces and to store items near where they are typically used. Using the correct storage solutions is important. For example, you don't want to stack bins on top of one another that you want to access often. Instead, consider a shelf with bins, hanging closet shelves, a set of drawers, or stacking bins with front access. Make a list of what storage problems you have and then do a little organization browsing online or in person. Select one area to focus on first and either purchase or re-purpose some organizing supplies for that area to be complete. This will give you so much more satisfaction than getting one thing for each room. You can slowly add to your collection of organizing supplies as time goes on.
On my last day of Thanksgiving vacation, I'm planning a fun filled day of purging! So family and friends (you know who you are,) prepare yourself for being offered a bunch of stuff we no longer need! I remember receiving lots of hand-me-down clothes and toys from others who had older kids, and even if I didn't keep everything, I always appreciated free stuff and knowing that someone else thought enough of us to pass down things they used to love. Happy pre-holiday purging to all!
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!
Even though we got an extra hour of sleep this weekend, there’s still only 24 hours a day. Sometimes it’s just so overwhelming to try to fit everything into our lives! There are many resources out there for time management, but I wanted to share 5 simple tips that have helped me improve how I manage my time.
1. Track your time
If you’re anything like me, you are so busy that you feel like writing down what you’re doing is just another task you don’t really have time for. But, if you commit to just one week, 7 days, of writing down what you’re doing in 15 minute increments, you will be amazed to see how much you actually accomplish in a day’s time! If you’re really honest when you track your time, you will see more wasted time than you like, but you’ll also see how much time of your life is spent doing things you can’t NOT do – eating, sleeping, grooming. When you know what time you have left after those kinds of non-negotiables, you will automatically feel more in control and more motivated not to waste those remaining hours. Take the time to track your time! Download this free printable to track your time this week. It’s broken up into 4, 6 hour sections, so you can visually see how much of your time is really spent during the overnight hours (hopefully sleeping), morning, afternoon and evening/night. You’ll be amazed how many hours are already spoken for, so that’s what makes being productive in those remaining hours so important!
2. Time yourself
Once you’ve finished a week’s worth of time tracking, you will see patterns in your days. There are things you do every day. Some of those repetitive tasks will occur at the same time each day, but others could be mixed throughout your day. In your time tracking phase, you were only recording in 15 minute increments, so you didn’t find out how much time it actually took you to empty the dishwasher or take a shower or drop off the kids at school. Identify the things you do at least 3 times/week and then get your timer out! Time yourself doing each of those tasks. Don’t rush to beat the clock – just do them as you normally would and then keep a log of the tasks and the times they take. If you want to be really scientific, do the tasks multiple times and then take an average time. There are lots of time tracking apps out there - one free one I've used is Toggl. What you can gain by timing yourself is a realistic expectation of what you can accomplish in a certain time-frame and the ability to insert quick tasks into random time openings in your day. Have 10 minutes before you need to get in the car – well, now I know it only takes 6 minutes to empty the dishwasher – why not?
Now that you know what you do, and how long those things take, you can now really prioritize. Once those things are you’ll need to do a big bad brain dump! Get out pen a paper or try the sticky note mind mapping that I tried in “Confessions of a List Maker.” After everything is out of your head, begin categorizing all of the to-dos. Don’t get hung up on your system, your goal is to have a master list of all of the things you will want to plug into the open slots in your days. Last week’s post talked about how to figure out what to do next – take a few minutes to read that post. If you set a focus for the year and related goals, take a look back at those to make sure the items that are on your list help you get where you wanted to go. Now, review your list again and get rid of some things! There are many things we think we need to do, that can either be done by someone else or just not done at all. Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t do X? If you can live with the answer, cross it off! Now prioritize what remains within each category so you have a next action for every category of your life. Remember this process can be done on paper or in your favorite digital tool.
Finally it’s time to put it all together. First take a blank time tracker and plug in all of those everyday must dos for tomorrow– include everything that you have to do from meal prep to kid drop off to brushing your teeth – you now know exactly how much time each of those take. Now take a look at your prioritized lists and choose what you’re going to fill in the blanks with. Remember the importance of margin. You can’t really make back to back meetings work. What if you need to walk or drive to the meeting or even just take a bathroom break? That means you’d have to leave one meeting early or arrive at the next meeting late. Instead of booking yourself solid, give yourself some leeway. I like to see at least 10 minutes between appointments. If you have a task that you haven’t or couldn’t time, give your best estimate BUT add 25% to that estimate. The worst thing that will happen is you finish early and you plug in another task (maybe one that you previously timed so you know that you can absolutely run to the pharmacy and back in 20 minutes.) Fill up every box in your day’s time tracker even if those boxes say “rest” or “watch TV” or “family time.” If you give purpose to each slot of your day, you are less likely to squander your time.
5. Take shortcuts
Always be looking for ways to be more efficient! Are there things that you can do in the background while you are doing other tasks? – like watching your favorite TV show while you fold laundry. Be wary of attempting to truly multi-task because that usually leads to poor quality or longer efforts. Read about the benefits of single tasking in a previous post. Are there things that you just don’t need to do or can replace with something easier or quicker? For instance, I believe with my whole heart that a damp dishrag thrown in the dryer with a wrinkly shirt while I shower is much more efficient than ironing! Do you really need to re-pot the flowers or is the plastic one they came in just as worthy of the position on your front steps? Sometimes shortcuts do mean lowering our expectations – I’ve become pretty good at that – but others are just a smarter way of doing things. Remember to enlist your family and/or be willing to pay for services that help save you time.
I'd love to hear from you if you try these 5 steps and learn how they worked for you! Please comment below or email me at email@example.com If you want to read more about time management, one of my favorite authors who writes on the topic is Laura Vanderkam. I read (and thoroughly enjoyed), I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time and have her latest book, Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, on my bookshelf ready to read!
“I have so much to do, that sometimes I don’t even know where to start!” How many times of you heard yourself say those words? I know that’s how I’ve been feeling the past week. When we have unexpected things happen, our responsibilities don’t just stop. Things keep piling up and eventually there is this big bunch of things to do and you almost feel paralyzed because you feel like no one thing is going to make a big enough dent to actually be considered a priority. In order to know where to start, you have to know ALL that there is to do. That’s why it’s important to have everything that you need to do in one place, and then you can more easily decide what needs to be done first.
I like digital tools, but before technology can help, I have to know what I’m going to put in that tool and how I am going to structure it. I was feeling really out of control last week, so I did what always calms me down – got out a pencil and paper and start dumping my brain onto the page. If you try this, don’t worry about it being pretty or cohesive or anyone else understanding what in the world you’re writing. It’s so freeing to get what’s in your head onto paper, and then you can actually SEE all the things you need to do. Unless you are super-human, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what to do and when if everything you have to do is floating around in your head all at once.
If you’ve read the book The One Thing by Gary Keller, you know that he says there is always one thing that’s more important than everything else at that very moment in time. Sometimes it’s so hard to figure out what that one thing is and it’s so much easier to just do busywork and make yourself feel like you’re being productive when in fact you’re doing nothing! A good example of this is spending the entire day working out of your email inbox just responding to messages and taking care of brief little tasks, and then putting other, bigger projects aside for “later”. If you do that type of triage all the time, “later” never comes, and those big tasks begin to create an overwhelming pile.
I’m trying to unbury myself and am doing this in my personal life using Trello. It’s a free app that I use on my laptop and on my iPhone where you can create different teams (which I’m using as areas of my life) and within those teams, you can create as many project boards as you want. These are kind of like digital bulletin boards where you can create lists and tasks. Trello gives you a visual representation of all of your to-dos and lets you drag and drop them where they go. I took my handwritten notes and figured out there were several areas of my life: Me, Family/Friends, Household, Volunteer, Side Hustles, and Work. I use a different task management system at work called Nozbe. Some people like to use the same system at home and at work, but I prefer to keep them separate, so I decided for these purposes to nix the work category in my Trello app.
"Don't worry about your system being perfect - an imperfect system is better than no system at all."
I started getting so excited about my new system that I spent a lot of time designing it, thinking, “should I have a separate areas for my blog, piano lessons and Clever Container sales or should they all be in one area called Side Hustles?” I realized I was going down a dangerous path spending more time designing a system than using it! I’m giving myself permission to start where I’m at and improve as I go. That’s one of the things I like about Trello – it’s really easy to drag and drop tasks to different lists, put things in different order, and move boards to different teams.
Once you get going and have all your responsibilities out of your head and in your chosen system, give yourself time to review all tasks and decide what is the “one thing” is that will move you forward, and what the next one is, and the next, etc. Consider assigning due dates and reminders. If you have projects that you repeat, create a template so you can copy and repeat what works best for you. Don’t worry about your system being perfect – an imperfect system is better than no system at all!
Life isn’t always fair or fun. It can be full of fear, sadness, and unknowns. We often mess up, are imperfect and make poor decisions. Lately, I’ve felt like there are so many bad things all around me - bad things affecting strangers, my friends, and my family. Sometimes, it’s easy to be so focused on the bad, that we begin to expect it. I even verbalized this to a friend, “all this bad stuff is happening all around me, and it’s just a matter of time ‘til it happens to me.” I sometimes almost feel guilty (rather than grateful) when bad things aren’t happening to me.
I was right in the middle of this spiral of sadness and expectation of disaster when I got a text from my cousin, Darra. A few months ago, I'd ask her to send me the next funny thing that happened to her and I'd include it in an installment of 'My Life In Laughter.' These are posts that include audio recordings of me telling a funny story and laughing at myself. I recorded a few gems including Cozy Shirt, Gold Saturn, Drive Through Judgment and A Cat Litter Incident. I did this, not because I think I'm so hilarious, but because I truly believe in the power of laughter - especially when we can laugh at ourselves! I knew I'd soon run out of funny material, and that Darra was a great storyteller who had funny stuff happen to her all the time (she was actually on Candid Camera once!)
Well, she came through at exactly the right time! She made me laugh so hard listening to her tell this story of travelling alone to her grandmothers’ funeral. Doesn’t sound very funny, does it? But it just showed me that God gave us laughter even in the midst of sadness. And to get a little deep and metaphorical – the title of her recording “Travelling Solo” – made me think how we really aren’t alone, and giving ourselves permission to laugh – especially when we share it with others – is good therapy to get through dark times. When we are sad, scared, angry and our lives feel chaotic, maybe a little laughter shared with those around us can bring us a joy. Take a listen to Darra’s ability to laugh, even in one of the saddest times. Don’t feel bad laughing with her – it helps us all to heal!
Last winter, my kids had a magical three days when my husband’s and my flu-like symptoms overlapped. It’s not that they wished us poor health, but they did enjoy our lack of enforcement of the no TV during the school week rule. We were too tired to care, so we all got too much screen time for those few days.
When are bodies are worn down, our regular routine usually goes out the window. It’s so easy to get behind while we are sick – dishes pile up all over the house, hampers overflow, tissues cover end tables and the floor next to trashcans, and stacks of mail begin to topple.
The best way to keep it together when we don’t feel good is to create systems to follow while we are healthy so that we can afford to take a few days off when we're sick without things falling apart. If you do these seven simple things on a regular basis, your house will be manageable, and when you get sick, you’ll have a little latitude to slack off.
"The best way to keep it together when we don't feel good is to create systems to follow while we are healthy so that we can afford to take a few days off when we're sick without things falling apart."
When you are under the weather, give yourself permission to take a few shortcuts to keep your house from becoming a disaster zone.
Staying productive is hard. If we only had to worry about our own priorities, it would be a little easier, but in real life, we have requests and expectations coming at us from all directions. The biggest avenue for those outer expectations is our inboxes. Most of us have at least two inboxes – a physical paper inbox and an email inbox. I wrote about how to wrangle your paper in a previous post, and today, I want to start a series on how to manage your email inbox.
Even though email is dying a little because of other messaging apps, it is still prevalent especially in professional settings. Most of us have at least two email addresses – a personal and a work address and receive many messages each day. At my day job, I easily get over 100 emails every day, and at home, I may get 30 or so. These add up very fast, and if you don’t know how to efficiently triage your messages, you can quickly get buried and miss the important messages because they nearly disappear amongst all the junk.
I use Microsoft Outlook at my day job and Gmail for personal and My Life In Order email. These platforms are very different, but both common, so I will be using them as examples in this series. Regardless of what email platform you use, the overarching principles of email organization are the same. Email used to be a great, time-saving tool to replace handwritten or typed memos that had to be circulated through the office, but it’s turned into an invasive nuisance that the Washington Post reports takes the average white-collar worker a little over 4 hours each day to deal with. This equates to 20.5 hours each week and more than 1,000 hours each year! Even with the quantity of email we get, it doesn’t need to take up half of our work day, and by implementing some of these ideas, you should be able to dramatically improve your email efficiency!
Process your email, don’t read and re-read it
You should do 1 of 4 things with new emails - delete, file, do, or move to a task management system (we will talk about the details of this in a later post.) Don’t just read the your messages and leave them in your inbox to come back to later because you will end up either losing it, forgetting about it or you will re-read it over and over, which is just wasting your time! If a message is obvious junk or something you are sure you will never need again, just delete it! If it’s reference information that you may need later, file it. If it’s actionable use the 2 minute rule that David Allen talks about in his book, Getting Things Done. If the action can be completed in 2 minutes or less, just do it. If it will take longer than 2 minutes or can’t be done until you have additional information, add the action to a task management system and then either file or delete the message.
Over time, we all sign up for various newsletters either on purpose or inadvertently. Instead of continuing to delete them each time they are delivered, take an extra few seconds and unsubscribe from the ones you are no longer interested in. Every email marketing platform (that’s legit) has a little button somewhere at the bottom of the message that you can click on to get off of their email list. There are also some services that will help you get unenrolled from unwanted lists. Of course those of us who have an email newsletter don’t want you to unsubscribe (it hurts our feelings) but I care more about your productivity than my email list, so do what you’ve got to do! If you’re too scared to make that drastic of a decision to never receive a particular newsletter again, you can use the next tip instead.
Also be sure to report spam so it can be blocked for the future. Most email platforms have a mechanism to report spam. If you get rid of most of the junk, you'll spend less time sifting through all the things that don't matter for the few messages that do.
Rules, Rules, Rules
If you aren’t using rules in your email, pay attention! You can set up a variety of rules in whichever email platform you use. This allows you to never touch a message and direct it to go right to a particular folder, to be marked as read, or even go straight to the trash. For those newsletters you were too scared to unsubscribe from, you could set up a rule to move them to a special folder. Set a reminder on your calendar for a couple of months in the future to look at that folder. If you haven't missed anything important, you may feel comfortable completely unsubscribing.
You can also create rules for message you send. I have a rule so that if I put myself in the BCC line, it moves that message to a folder I have named “Waiting.” This allows me to remember to follow up if I don’t receive an answer to my message. You can also set up conditional formatting so messages from your boss are displayed in a different color. In the next installment of this series, I’ll show you some examples!
It’s ok to be a little lazy with your email! There are many ways that you can cut corners. In Outlook, my favorite is to set up quick steps to use just one click to complete an action like moving a message to a folder, creating an appointment with the contents of the message in the body, forward a message to a particular address, or create a new message to a particular address. Learn how to drag and drop messages either to a folder or to your calendar. Explore the menu that is displayed when you right click on a message. Add commonly used folders to a favorites area to save a few seconds each time you want to access it. Next time, I will provide some demos of how to set some of these shortcuts up.
Simplify your folders
I used to have an elaborate foldering system with folders for each project with sub folders and sub-sub folders, but what I realized a few years ago was I was spending so much time deciding where to folder things and nearly that same amount of time selecting the folder to look in when I wanted to find the message later that it just didn’t make sense. Now, I have only one folder per year with a sub-folder for every month. Anything I don’t delete goes in the folder for the month it was received. All email platforms have search functions, and the two I use – Gmail and Outlook – have excellent search tools, so you can find any message without having to know what folder you put it in. Some people like to keep EVERYTHING in their inbox and just search for what they need. Now, that makes me a little anxious, so I prefer to folder when I’m done. I look at my email inbox like my home mailbox. It’s just for new stuff that comes in, and just like I take in my physical mail every day or so, I like to keep my email inbox emptied.
In the second part of this series, I will have some demos to show you how to implement some of these tricks, but I need your help. I could use several of you to email my demo email address with various subject lines. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to help me create a good tutorial for you!
Photo by Krsto Jevtic on Unsplash
“Analysis | How Many Hours of Your Life Have You Wasted on Work Email? Try Our Depressing Calculator.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Oct. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/10/03/how-many-hours-of-your-life-have-you-wasted-on-work-email-try-our-depressing-calculator/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bd59896565f2.
Ansaldo, Michael. “3 Tools That Easily Unsubscribe You from Emails.” PCWorld, PCWorld, 22 Mar. 2017, www.pcworld.com/article/3181014/software/3-tools-for-easily-unsubscribing-to-emails.html.
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
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!