Self-improvement is one of my favorite genres to consume, via books, magazine articles, podcasts or something like a TED talk. I’m constantly looking to acquire more information to be better, to improve, and more than anything else — to learn. I feel like I have been on a journey for the past few years, assessing how I live, how I think, what matters to me, and what I want for my family in the future. As a result, I’ve been consuming more to help guide me to a better understanding of what that really means and have a lot to share with you. I realize it’s nearly the end of February, but this is usually when most of us are struggling with our New Year’s resolutions, so it seemed like a timely moment to share some advice and tips that really inspired me. I hope they inspire you too.
“You can afford anything, but not everything.”
– Paula Pant, Financial guru and host of the Afford Anything podcast
I love this because it applies to both money AND time. You might remember my post raving about an article I read in Oprah magazine last summer (in an old issue) about how to define your life’s purpose. I talk more about it below, so I won’t get into it now, but Paula’s mantra is one I remind myself of daily. I love to shop for gifts, for example. That isn’t something that will ever change. But too often, I go overboard, spending more than I planned because I can always justify splurging on people I love. The thing is, left unchecked, those extra spends here and there add up. By reminding myself that I can afford anything, but not everything,” I’m reminding myself of those other financial dreams I want to save for — like a wedding anniversary trip to Paris this spring or fall.
Fix “the wedge.”
After completing one task, instead of taking a break, ask yourself: what is the highest value item I could touch next?” I’m completely guilty of feeling like I’ve earned a break after completing any challenging task. This reminded me that I’m wasting valuable momentum, not to mention quiet time while the kids are usually already busy or engaged in solo play, so better to make the most of it and tackle something that is high-priority. My To Do list is more easily tackled thanks to this simply productivity mind-shift.
Caroline hard at work coloring, hopefully not on the desk
Estimate three hours if you’re doing anything with kids.
– Emily Carmack, Mama blogger at The Freckled Fox
Are you noticing that many of these bits of advice aren’t really meant to take be taken literally, but rather, intended to refocus your mindset? When Emily shared this, she explained that she used to feel frustrated with her kids (she has a large family) whenever they’d try to get out the door to do anything; something I really relate to with a 3-year old and a 1-year old in the house. She gave an example of grocery shopping.
She shared that once she started automatically assigning a three-hour window for all outings involving the kids, those outings became a lot less frazzled. I think it’s because it re-establishes expectations. I know for myself, I am still adjusting to my new life as “Mom.” I enjoyed the heck out of my 20’s! Being free to do as I pleased at the drop of a hat… those were the days! Add to the fact that I’ve been self-employed for so much of my career and it’s even easier to understand how navigating with not one, but two young kids can be really difficult to adjust to. I didn’t find one difficult, but it was the jump to two that really threw me for a loop.
I often remind myself as I’m juggling both kids getting out the door that it’s actually laughable that women who leave the workforce to raise children are asked to explain themselves and how they kept their head in the game during that time. I’m doing CEO-level work here: multitasking, engineering, practicing resourcefulness, negotiation, psychology, helping guide develop of interpersonal relationships and personal development. But more of this another day.
A HUGE thank you to you, Emily, for this advice. We are all much happier for having a less crazed exit from our home, and we don’t cram so much into our days now.
“Forget most of what you just wrote.”
– Martha Beck, writer
I realize you need more context to get something out of this, so I implore you to read Martha Beck’s article, The Simple Daily Habit That Keeps You Aligned With Your Purpose. I know I sound like a broken record because I’ve already written about this article but I’m not exaggerating when I say that this advice rocked my world last year.
What I learned by ‘forgetting most of what I just wrote’ was how to align all my daily To Dos with what I truly want out of life. She details how to do a quick exercise in the article I linked to, but the gist is to make your usual To Do list, then scan while paying attention to what you most want to do, and really taking to hear those tasks you’re dreading.
I might fantasize about getting certified to teach Pilates, but when my daily To Dos include making pesto from scratch, running to the post office to mail a package, and sorting the kid’s excessive piles of clothes, my priorities are out of whack. In paying attention to those tasks I keep assigning myself — cooking a lot of stuff from scratch, overcomplicating things by insisting I have to DIY them, and not delegating home maintenance stuff to my husband, I’ve realized my “life priorities” don’t match up with my dreams. Changing this means that suddenly, there is a window of time to work towards what actually fulfills me. Mind. Blown.
Guys, try this. Not only will your productivity soar, you’ll feel happier.
Focus on 1% improvements.
I’ve never been the type who can successfully use visualization as motivation. Maybe I have too much of an all or nothing attitude. I can’t just increase my daily movement, I must set a goal to go to the gym every day for a month. I can’t just read more, I need to join a book club and use a bullet journal habit tracker to track 1-hour of reading every night. You get the idea.
Yet, focusing on 1% improvements and imagining what someone who is successful in whatever way I want to be successful would do in any given situation has been enormously helpful. Maybe because it’s not me I’m visualizing per se? Who knows. But I’ve lost almost 15 lbs with minimal effort and have read almost 6 books over the course of two months.
How? I didn’t go to the gym every day for a month or commit to reading every night for an hour, that’s for sure. I accomplished this by simply getting more steps each day, tracking it with a pedometer, and more recently, a FitBit Charge. I don’t fight for the closest space to the gym door or grocery store entrance. I walk to any destination that is within a mile. If the weather cooperates, I might take a quick walk around the neighborhood in the evening.
And for the reading, I realized how many podcasts I consumed in a week and just swapped in some audio books. I also connected to the local library’s digital collection of ebooks and downloaded or reserved everything I could possibly want to read in 2019, and coordinated all the technology to work together to deliver books to my iPhone and Kindle. Now I can either read or listen to whatever I’m currently reading, in small pockets of free time. I “read” on that evening walk I just mentioned, while in the car, or if I’m just sitting on the couch with the kids while they watch Daniel Tiger or Sesame street in the morning. And my favorite “treat” of all is choosing to forgo an hour of TV in favor of a luxurious whole hour of reading in bed in the evening. (Small pleasures!)
To connect this tip with a variation of another tip I mentioned earlier: “You have time for anything, but not everything.” I used to scroll through Instagram while I sipped my morning “wake up” coffee and snuggled with the girls on the couch. Was “Mindless Daily Instagram Scrolling” on my list of “Things I Want to Do More of?” Nope. But making the time to exercise and read were. So I bid farewell to that and now we either all read together, or if they still insist on their show, I discreetly read while they’re snuggled next to me. Thirty glorious minutes of reading. Without any effort.
What is my point in sharing all of this? That I encourage you devote some time thinking about what you want and aligning what you do everyday — in 1% increments — to working towards it. I always remind myself not to worry about the time it will take to achieve something, because the time will pass anyway. When I look back on all the times I thought about doing things and then decided not too, I want to shake myself.