Eat That Frog: Why Action Beats Organization

Oh dear. The perfectionist in me does not want to post this at all (I know from your comments you understand!), but I promised to post bi-weekly and this week it’s all about doing and finishing the work we have to do, so here I am, sacrificing a bit of my ego to make some small progress toward a dream . . .

In the video I talk about why all our organizing efforts are in vain if we fail to do the work before us.  I encourage you to face the ugly task you’ve been avoiding and make progress on it.

An ugly task can be anything but you’re the only one who knows that it is.  It could be as simple as laundry or cleaning the toilet, or it could be setting aside the to-do list and spending some quality time with your kids.  It could also be taking a nap so you have the energy to do the hard task you’ve been avoiding.

Whatever it is, go and do it!  This is as much for me as for you all.  This week I’ve been discouraged and tired and have NOT been getting up early like I say in the video. I don’t have it all figured out, I’m just better than I was and that gives me hope.

When you do your hard task, please comment below!  Yes, do it first – right now!  You’ll be so happy you did.

What’s the Simplest Version You Can Do Today?

My first YouTube video, my first vlog post.

I’m back from my December break and ready to try something new in 2017.  I’ll be posting a short video on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month while I do more work on the administrative part of my blog and learn new technologies (like YouTube).

I wish you all a wonderful start to 2017 and look forward to learning from you all through our discussions on Blue Ocean Families blog!

If you watched the video, please share which thing you have been delaying because you can’t do it “properly” and how you plan to get the first version going today!

Harness The Power Of Complaining

stocksnap_journal

Have you ever resolved to stop complaining only to find that a few hours into the experiment it seems hopelessly impossible? I’ve been there many times.

I can’t promise you a cure for complaining, but I do have an idea that solves two problems with one act.

Are you good at keeping a diary? I somehow realized even early on that keeping a diary was something worthwhile but I never managed to keep up the habit.

My childhood diaries are little more than dates followed by profound observations like “Hi” and “Bye.” It didn’t make for an exciting friendship.

So if you ever wonder what you should write in a diary, here’s my tip.

Complain to your diary.

There is no better listener than the blank page. It won’t judge you too quickly or look bored. It will listen until you’ve found the words to express your worries and will not throw pithy solutions at you.

Simply writing down concerns feels good, but more often than not before I’ve finished writing a solution comes to mind. Even more complex problems are easier to analyze when they sit objectively in front of you in pen and ink.

So the next time you want to complain to a friend or dump on a spouse, grab a sheet of paper or an old notebook and retreat to a quiet spot long enough to get all your feeling out. You can always throw it away if you don’t want any record of your emotions lying around.

I still find it hard to make the time to journal enough and even harder to take the time to reread what I’ve written, but it’s always rewarding when I do. After a month goes by I hardly remember I even had those struggles and take improvement for granted – a surefire way to stay unhappy and stoke the urge to complain.

Reading about past troubles that are no longer issues is a wonderful way to naturally produce feelings of gratitude and hope.

 

And now an administrative note:

I’ll be taking the month of December off of blogging to refocus and plan for the next year. I’ll give the Blue Ocean Families concept one more year of increased effort to see if it’s something I should continue with, or shut down. If you appreciate what I do here or see potential for growth, please email me personally or use the contact form to share your thoughts and suggestions. Thanks, and have a wonderful December!

When Not To Take Advice

unsure

How often do you receive parenting advice from well-meaning family, friends, and even strangers?

When my first was born it felt like I’d received a sticker on my forehead that said “New mom, criticize me.”

Strangers said I didn’t dress my baby warmly enough, friends gave me books saying I’d ruin my kid if I didn’t parent in a particular way, and comments from family that weren’t in the least meant critically would hurt.

I had received unsolicited advice before, but it ramped so quickly after having kids that I knew I’d have to come to terms with it somehow. I quickly learned I could never please everybody and I better find a way to make peace with critical comments.

Sometimes the advice made immediate sense in a kind of “Why didn’t I think of that?” moment. More often, the advice was at odds with something intentional I was doing. It was then that I would suddenly feel insecure.

I hit upon a simple and helpful question to ask every time a comment made me unsure of my path:

Has the person giving advice ever given me concrete, selfless, and timely help?

If the answer is “no,” then I’m free to listen to the comment graciously, say “thank you” and move on with my life without guilt.

If the answer is “yes,” then I need to take the time to consider the matter carefully.

In other words, listen to your mother.

But seriously, I’m not saying do whatever your told, my point is that only people who have sacrificed to invest in your life in a way that you personally find helpful and uplifting are the folks who are likely to have chosen their criticism carefully.

Advice is cheap and there is plenty of it spread around, but the folks who have invested in your life are to be treasured.

I’m not a puppet of those that help me, I just take what they have to say seriously and take the time to wrestle with their ideas.

Where this question is most helpful is when a comment is bothering me that really shouldn’t. The comments of haters on the internet is perfect example.

Somehow these comments hurt, but they are not based in reality – or only in a twisted way – and though we all know haters aren’t worth arguing with, their comments still hurt.

This question helps me see the matter more concretely and reminds me to turn to the faithful few in my life for perspective and advice and not to be blown by the winds of opinion.

If we set out to build a family culture according to our deepest values then we will bump up against established norms and ruffle feathers and get criticism. We need to stay calm, gracious, and confident in such exchanges and bounce right back again.

I hope this question helps you the next time you feel oppressed by negativity!

Making Peace With Your Path

dark-forest

Imagine life is like a vast forest that each of us explores as we make choices every day. Sometimes we’re on well-worn paths and sometimes we’re hacking through unmapped jungle.

Some of us know which direction we want to head, and others follow the next most-promising turn.

Most of us at some point climb a tree to get a view of the land we’ve covered and to get a glimpse of what the future could hold.

Often it’s hard to see that our own path lies far, far away from where we want to be.

Dreaming of the Future

It’s easy to stay seated in that tree and dream of flying machines that will carry us over the forest to our dream destination: financial freedom, security, physical beauty, children, world peace, having our own business, spiritual maturity . . .

When we are so far from where we want to be it seems that descending the tree into the dark forest and taking a step is futile.

So we stay up in the tree, dreaming of distant lands and hating our winding path of a past.

We need to learn to make peace with our path.

Where am I?

We need to be brave enough to accurately plot our position in the forest. For good or for ill we are where we are right now and we cannot wish it away.

If we want any hope of reaching better lands we must accept where we are and where we came from.

Only then can we determine the direction to follow, and only then can we drop the baggage of the past and find the strength to take the next step in the right direction.

And then the next, and the next, and the next, and the next, and . . .

It is anything but easy. Dreaming in the tree is much more appealing (especially if we have our smart-phones with us).

The Struggler’s Advantage

But all is not lost or wasted. We might not see any advantage in our previous paths and our current situation, but they might hold some secret power that will brighten our future.

I didn’t grow up athletic, so when I first started running in college my whole body screamed in resistance. As I struggled through each step my encouraging runner-friend cheered me on. I realized then that no matter how hard my friend had trained all his life, he would never know the difficulty of making a sedentary body move for the first few times.

The people at the top of their fields often have never been at the bottom long enough to know what it feels like to be an outsider or an adult beginner.

Math teachers choose to teach math because they like and understand math and may never understand the struggle and feelings of inadequacy that many feel when presented with a math problem.

When it comes to helping others, our weaknesses might just become the source of our greatest strengths.

Unique Past, Unique Destiny

Our time exploring the part of the forest we didn’t want to be in gives us a unique perspective that equips us for the future in ways we cannot yet see.

So let’s make peace with our path, be honest about where we are, decide which direction we want to head, and get down that tree into that dark forest and take that hard first step, then the next, and the next, until the sun goes down.

Then do it all again tomorrow.

If it’s true for us personally, then it’s also true for our families, our towns, our countries, and the world.

Let’s make peace with our path and do the hard work of moving us all toward a better future.

The Fear of Being Different

mirror

TED lectures are a great way to wake up my mind when my body wants to go back to sleep in the morning. The other day my brain went crazy with all the implications from Kelli Jean Drinkwater’s 12 minute talk at TEDxSydney.

“Fear is feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.”

Waiting for the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives . . .

How often do we let our deep desire for the end result keep us from making the journey?

“Once I get the housework under control I’ll start inviting people over more.”

“Once the kids are in school I’ll have time to start an Esty shop.”

“Once my To-Do list is done I’ll build an awesome family culture.”

I’m sure you have your own list of dreams you aren’t working towards because you don’t have the resources, the time, or the know-how you think you need to get started.

But worst of all, waiting for the after-photo means we don’t see ourselves as worthy enough to live the lives of meaning we desperately want.

“I’m not worthy of dinner guests when the floors aren’t vacuumed and the walls are bare.”

“I’m not worthy of doing the work that matters to me until I’ve done the work everyone else wants me to do.”

It’s hard to be different

In a way these excuses keep us safe, because if we start building a family culture based on our values whether or not they match those of society around us, we’re going to meet resistance and even outright hostility.

“I soon learned that living outside what the mainstream considers normal can be a frustrating and isolating place. I’ve been openly laughed at, abused from passing cars and been told that I’m delusional. I also receive smiles from strangers who recognize what it takes to walk down the street with a spring in your step and your head held high.” -Drinkwater

If we fear what our neighbors, friends, and strangers on the street will think if we start living our dreams, imagine what the internet could do to us!

There’s no way around it. If we say anything about how we are different on-line we will receive hate mail.

Crawling back to bed sounds like a good idea until we realize that absolutely no one can wear the straightjacket of “normal” all the time. Some of us fit it much of the time, some of us can’t fit in it at all, but no matter how you live, people will comment.

So we might as well relax, have pithy polite responses to the comments we get all the time and stay at peace knowing that it’s not about us.

It’s not about you

Our differences might be the target of the comment, but the comment comes from a place of personal insecurity.

If I’m happy with my white walls I don’t have to comment on how much work it must be to paint all the walls when I visit a friend’s colorful house. But if I think I ought to paint my walls and put up curtains, then a well-decorated house will intimidate me.

If I haven’t made up my mind whether I really care about wall color and curtains or not, then I’m even more susceptible to saying something that might seem critical when it’s really about me, my own house, and my own insecurities.

This happens to be a live example and I’m somewhat embarrassed to admit it, but I think we all have areas in our lives like this.

Find Peace for yourself

The best antidote I’ve found to quieting these insecurities (besides prayer) is to make sure I am doing my most valuable work and using my time for things that matter most.

Then at the end of the week we I see all that I haven’t done, I know that I was living according to my values.

It might be frustrating how slow progress seems to be, but knowing I was in the right place going the right direction gives me peace about those things that have not yet happened, like beautiful walls.

I hope you can see that sometimes we’re on the other side of thoughtless and hurtful comments and that it can help you tempter the hurt of negative comments. It’s not about you. Let it go.

As one 12-year-old TED lecturer said, “hater’s gonna hate.”

We can never please everybody, so let’s stop waiting for the perfect “after-photo” version of ourselves and start living our lives!

“Easy to say”, I hear you thinking. I know it’s not that easy to live.

Thin or healthy?

“I’ve even been called “the ISIS of the obesity epidemic” — a comment so absurd that it is funny. But it also speaks to the panic, the literal terror, that the fear of fat can evoke. It is this fear that’s feeding the diet industry, which is keeping so many of us from making peace with our own bodies, for waiting to be the after-photo before we truly start to live our lives.” -Drinkwater

I’ve disliked Trim Healthy Mama (a diet cookbook that seems to be in right now) from the time it came out and haven’t known exactly why, but this talk helped me see into my own insecurities.

The title implies that the only way to be healthy is to be trim and the only way to be a mama is to be healthy and trim. I’m pretty sure my kids don’t care if I’m trim – actually I know they love a cuddly mama.

I also remember my college days where I spent countless hours hating my body and swinging wildly from diets to binging. I never want to go back to that wasteland again.

God made food for our health and our pleasure but he warned about being a glutton. Our society may have neglected the Bible but it still despises the glutton.

“We live in a culture where being fat is seen as being a bad person — lazy, greedy, unhealthy, irresponsible and morally suspect. And we tend to see thinness as being universally good — responsible, successful, and in control of our appetites, bodies and lives.” -Drinkwater

The idol of thin

When we focus on the end result – being thin – we get distortions, like the claim that you can drink all you want of the Trim Healthy Mama shake and still lose weight. In other words, “be a glutton, and still believe you have self-control.”

To be clear, I am sure Trim Healthy Mama and other diet books have helped people and that they can be used wisely, but a focus on thin can lead to the worship of something other than God: our own body image.

Other factors are much more important to our health that our weight and measurements.  Do I have the energy to get through the day?  Am I flexible enough to get down on the floor and wrestle with the kids?  Can I kick a soccer ball around with my kids without gasping for breath?  Do I partake of God’s gift of food with thankfulness?  Do I enjoy the pleasure of movement and dance?  Do I have the self-control to temper the appetites of my heart?

Why am I writing about diet and health on a family culture blog?

Because views about body image and self-worth are passed on primarily in the family. It is in the sphere of family that children first pick up the idea that they need to wait for the “after-photo” before they can start living their lives.

However unworthy we feel, surely our children deserve better? If we want it for our children, we need to live it ourselves. Our actions speak louder than words.

You are loved the way you are, now go and do your most meaningful work!

What Is Being Organized?

room

I like to define being organized as when our stuff supports the lifestyle we desire.

How we arrange our stuff has a significant impact on how we live our lives.

If my stuff is always strewn all over, I’m much less likely to invite people over. If I want to a have a lifestyle that includes hosting, I need to change how I deal with my stuff.

Organization is Personal

For some, good china and cute curtains might be necessary for a lifestyle of hosting, and maybe for others having a picked-up house isn’t even needed.

This definition helps point out that organization is something quite personal.

We can be inspired by how others organize, but we shouldn’t assume that more organization is necessarily better.

Before we decide to reorganize, we should first think deeply about what kind of life we want to live.

From there, it should be easier to see in which ways our things (and therefore habits) are not supporting the lifestyle we want to have.

I hope you found my organization and planning ideas helpful, but I also hope you recognize what is already working well enough for you and stick with it.

Organization Changes Over Time

This definition of organization also acknowledges that life has different phases and stages.

Our desired lifestyle when we have little children will be different from that when we are retired. Our homes and organizational systems will look different, too.

The idea of “ finally being organized” is an illusion. Our stuff will always support our desired lifestyle to a greater or lesser degree.

There will always be room for improvement and need for change as our lives and the people in our lives change.

So we shouldn’t feel guilty when we feel an area in our life could use some better organization.

The question we should ask ourselves is,

“Is it worth my time and energy to organize this? Or does it work well enough for my life right now that my time is better spent elsewhere?”

Determine to decide, and be released of guilt. (link)

How I Avoid Email Overwhelm

email

I started this short series on how I keep sane by saying,

“Only organize and plan the most important things in your life. Let the rest organize themselves.”

One area where this philosophy works very well is with email.

I used to struggle to stay on top of email. I’d check it hoping to get something exciting only to discover that my inbox was full of more things to add to the to-do list.

Not surprisingly, I was never in the mood to do work when I checked for pleasure so the emails piled up into the hundreds and then climbed to nearly 1,000.

After years of struggle and guilt and important emails rediscovered too late, I finally took on a year-long project to reduce my inbox to 100. It was hard, hard work.

I did it and was very proud, but I realized I could not keep up the pace. It simply wasn’t worth it.

“Inbox Zero” is a bit of a holy grail in the productivity world and though I’m a fan, it comes with some important qualifications.

As I mentioned last week, what’s in our inbox is mostly what others desire from us, not what’s most important for us to do.

“We have to take the time to think about our deepest values and remind ourselves of what’s most important while at the same time keeping all the other balls more or less in the air.”

For nearly a year now I’ve kept my email “ball” up in the air with minimal stress and by investing far less time than I ever had before.

I’ll share the system now in case it inspires you, but also because it’s a good summary of the planning principles and methods I’ve discussed in this series.

I once heard it said that checking email is like playing the slot machine. Most likely you’ll lose and just get bad news or more to-dos but every once in a while you get fantastic news, like a sweet thank-you note or a notice you’ve won something or your application was accepted.

Knowing that inbox-checking is a dangerous gambling addiction helped me determine to harness the impulse for my own good.

I’m not perfect, but the system works well enough that I can get back on the horse and I generally feel a peace around email rather than constant panic and guilt.

Overview

Email Structure for Work Flow

1. Inbox – keep at zero

2. ASAP – do today or tomorrow

3. Weekly – priority tasks, projects and people (process weekly)

4. Monthly – do if there’s time (process monthly)

I don’t have a grand system for archived emails mostly because the search function works just fine for me. This system is for active emails.

Email Work Flow Summary

Each time you check email:

1. Check inbox and process to zero

2. Check ASAP and do at least one

3. If time, check Weekly and do one

Once a week:

Deal with (do, delete, file) each email older than seven days.

Once a month:

Deal with each email from the month before last.

Details

1. Inbox Zero

Never let an email sit in your inbox. Either deal with it, delete it, or file it according to priority and “deal with” date.

It should only take two to five minutes to deal with each email or decide how important it is that you deal with it. So each email, even the hard ones, should take you no more than two minutes to file (we’ll talk about file structure later).

Most emails will take far less than two minutes to deal with, so this “first pass” is theoretically very easy to do.

In reality, deciding is often hard and it’s easy to move on to the next email, leaving the harder one to fester in your inbox and mind. Remember, you don’t have to DO anything yet, just force yourself to decide what, if anything, you need to do. In deciding the battle is half-won.

Once you’ve decided you might find that it’s not so hard after all to just deal with it and get it over with. Or you might find it’s simply not worth your time and you can delete it before it ever sits around making you feel guilty.

2. ASAP

What projects and people are most important to you? Which incoming ideas and request would have serious consequences if you did not do them?

As I explained in the planning series, I divide everything into top, middle, and lower priority. The ASAP folder holds everything in the top-priority category and I find it stays at around 5 emails. That’s a very doable number for each day!

If you keep your inbox to zero, each time you check there will only be a few to process or maybe it will be empty! In any case, a blank inbox almost compels me to check my ASAP folder feeling on top of things. There I see only the most important emails and can usually muster up the strength to deal with at least one.

This is harnessing the power of the impulse to check for mail. You’ll be amazed the progress you will make!

3. Weekly

Harness the power of perspective. What is unclear at the moment is often easy to decide in a few days. If an email is important or comes from someone important in my life but I know it can wait a few days I file it here.

For example, I might be more interested in a blog article about mothering a friend sent, but the article from my mother is the one that lands in my weekly folder because it is she I care deeply about even if the topic is not so important to me at the moment.

I don’t drop everything to read the article now, but I know I will get to it in about a week. One side benefit of this is that often others will respond before I even read it, so I can put in my two cents quickly and still affirm those people in my life who matter most.

I try to deal with emails from here throughout the week, but at least on Friday I commit to dealing with each email that’s dated older than seven days ago. Thus I know that if I put an email in my “Weekly” folder I will answer it between 7-14 days. Even important things for next week can safely sit in this folder so I can focus on my ASAP tasks.

4. Monthly

Everything else gets dumped in my monthly “Active Bucket.” Well, not everything else. I try to use the trash can liberally and set up filters so promotional emails and newsletters skip my inbox altogether.

Somehow it’s hard to unsubscribe from these but when they are out of sight they are out of mind and it doesn’t matter because they aren’t really what matters in life.

The monthly folder holds anything else that I’d like to get to but that don’t have any serious consequences if they are neglected for a month or two. Things like blog articles or catch-up email from casual friends or ideas about homeschooling from others that aren’t necessarily my own priorities about homeschooling at the moment.

A week’s perspective is great, but a month’s perspective is priceless. Here is where the idea of letting the unimportant things organize themselves really shines.

I check this folder once a month and make it a priority to deal with everything that came in from two months ago. So if it is October then I’ll look at everything that is dated from August and power through it.

The stuff in this folder isn’t the most important, but once a month it is. However, I only have a day or two to get through it and those are days full of normal life so I am keenly aware of just how little time I have.

I’m much more selective about which articles I read or how much detail I read them in. I’m much more likely to realize that I simply don’t have enough time for all the activities I’m interested in.

A conversation with a casual friend that moves at the pace of every two months is actually much better than the pace of years that would come of me forgetting about it as it scrolled off the main page.

Batch-processing the less-important emails is a time and sanity saver, and though it takes some discipline to make it happen each month, the rest of the month all those emails sit out of sight and mind with no guilt whatsoever.

 

That’s it! As always, it looks more complicated written out than it feels. It’s also an ideal that I don’t stick to perfectly. I wasn’t good about filing emails over the weekend so I now have 22 in my inbox. It’s not good, but I’ll process that to zero over the course of the day and be on track for the rest of the week.

I wish you the best in finding email peace! Share your email tips in the comments below!

See the other posts in this series: how I keep sane, daily planning, and weekly planning.