Friday, June 29, 2018

How to Get a Hold of Yourself When You Start Losing It

Someone cuts you off in traffic and an expletive (or two) slips out.

You have a presentation, and you feel like you are going to throw up you are so nervous.

You've asked your kids to pick up their stuff 5 times, and there it still sits, and you ask them to pick it up a lot louder and angrier than you intended.

Or, maybe you are just in a general funk lately, angry, irritable, or maybe just a little sad.

So how do you pull yourself out of your funk, lessen the anxiety you feel in given situation, not snap or make sarcastic remarks to your loved ones as you are unloading the dishwasher yet AGAIN, and refrain from teaching your children new words in the car? I have two techniques for you.

1. Use Your Words 

Yes, the advice given to toddlers every where will also work on adults. Let me explain how.

Lisa Feldman Barrett a neuroscientist at Northeastern University (after decades of research) believes our brain's primary job is to keep you alive (not to regulate your emotional responses), and it does that through predictions. Then those predictions become our feelings or emotions and the emotions we perceive in others. You can influence these predictions 
and  therefore regulate your emotional reactions through reframing and using your words.  Here is how:

"Name That Emotion"

If we can more precisely name the emotion we are feeling, then we are better able to choose an appropriate response or choose not to respond at all. I bet we all can think of a circumstance when we wish we would have not responded.

Say you come home in a really bad mood, snap at your kids, your spouse, and one of them asks you why are you so angry, and you respond angrily, "I'm just in a bad mood."

Now if you play "Name That Emotion" and start to really identify and then name what you are feeling, you can help dispel the funk holding you hostage, and pick a more appropriate reaction. Here is an example:

Say you are in a bad mood because you had to give a last minute presentation for your co-worker who was out of the office (again), and it didn't go well because you didn't have time to prepare, and our boss's boss was in the audience, so now you are afraid that you look like an idiot. 

So instead of saying "I'm in a bad mood", which is a hugely simplistic version of what you are feeling, you identify and name those emotions and their cause. I'm irritated and angry that my co-worker was out again, and I had to pick up the slack. I am hurt that my manager asked me to do it, and I feel like I am being taken for grantedI am mortified and ashamed that the new Director thinks that presentation is my best work, and all I want to do is crawl under my covers and not come out for a long long time.

So imagine saying those words instead of snapping at your loved ones. You have identified what you feel, and you know it's not your kids or your spouse, and now you can choose a more appropriate response with the right people (your boss and co-worker) if you choose to do so. I'm also guessing you are going to get a much needed hug from someone who loves you which is always better than the post yelling guilt feeling.

You can even do this after the blow up. 

I've snapped at my kids to go to bed after a long day. (When I say "snapped" I might mean yell like a crazed banshee.)  Then (during post yell guilt) I name that emotion..."I am so tired and done with this day, and I need time to myself now to see if I can salvage my sanity." Then I go and tuck them in, apologize for yelling like a crazed banshee (which gets them laughing, a bonus side effect of creatively using your words) and say, I'm really tired and done with this day, and I need you to go to bed now.

Learn New Words

Don't just use your words, learn new words. The more precisely you can name that emotion the better for your health, and I am going to go out on a limb here and say the better for your relationships.

Studies have shown that people who exhibit higher emotional granularity go to the doctor less, use less medication, spend fewer days hospitalized, are less likely to drink excessively when stressed (probably eat less when stressed too, but I can't point to a study on that), and are less likely to react aggressively against someone who has hurt them. 

Lessen Anxiety

Using your words doesn't just help with anger, but all emotions, even the good ones, and can help lessen anxiety. 

There was a study done with people who were terrified of spiders. In treating phobias, there are two popular techniques. One, describe the spider in a non-threatening way, and the second is distraction. The study introduced, "name that emotion" as a third treatment (they didn't call it that because that is very scientific-y), and told the participants to call it like it is in excruciating and granular detail. "There is a horrendous, ugly, terrifying, spider in front of me, and I can feel it's creepy little legs practically crawling over my skin, yet I am oddly fascinated by it (from a great distance)." 

Those in the third group was the least anxious in observing the spiders, and the effect lasted a week beyond the experiment.

You can also invent your own emotional concepts

Use concepts when just one word won't do, like I did with the crazed banshee description, or describing a good feeling as "Like finding a $20 in your pocket". 

My son invented his own curse words a a substitute for the new words describing anger and frustration he may or may not have learned in the car. When he got frustrated and upset he said, "Ploopy". We all started saying ploopy, and you know what? It is impossible to be really mad when saying "ploopy" and you are not going to get a call from a teacher for that word being used. Speaking of kids...

Helping kids identify their feelings will not only give them the same benefits listed above as adults, but it will also help them (and you) right now.

I have found nothing calms a tantrum or a bad mood faster than getting down eye level with a kid, and helping them name what they are really upset about it.  You aren't solving their problem for them, rather you are giving them the gift of learning how to deal with their emotions and solve their own problems. 

When my son is hurt he responds with anger. When my daughter is hurt, angry, etc., she cries. Helping them identify and name the emotions they are feeling helps them choose a better response (One that doesn't involve hitting a sibling because you are really hurt that they won't play with you right now. Hypothetically speaking of course.)

Also, studies have shown that children who read a lot have higher emotional intelligence and can empathize better than children who don't read a lot, especially books with emotionally complex characters who are not all "good" or all "bad"). Learning empathy and learning new words is a win win.

In Summary: 

An emotionally intelligent person has lots of words and concepts AND also knows which ones to use and when.  

So next time you feel your body/brain reacting ask yourself what really concerns you about the situation? What are you really reacting to? Are you really angry or are you hurt? Are you really mad at the person who didn't return your call or do you feel rejected? This will allow you to choose the most appropriate response for that situation.

2. Reframing

Reframing or recategorizing is a useful tool. I call it the

"What else could be true?" Game.

My husband's commute is horrible, and he often finds himself sitting in traffic because of an accident. He used to get really agitated and worked up, but now he tells himself there is someone up ahead of him who is definitely having a worse day than he is. As an added bonus for me, this reframing means that I don't also have to be tortured with a play by play of the commute from hell. 

I do the same when someone cuts me off or is racing through traffic. I say maybe they aren't a self-entitled jerk. Maybe they are rushing a loved one to the emergency room or rushing to get to a loved one in the hospital. Morbid and depressing? Probably, but it erases (most) of my irritation, and doesn't ruin my day. 

When you are feeling butterflies and other signs of anxiety you can tell yourself that your physical feelings are signs that what you are about to do will be a disaster doomed to failure, or you can say, "hey, this is my body feeling excited and getting ready to do something. A normal bodily function."  

Your brain and body don't assign the concept of emotion to a physical sensation. You do with your words.

Before a horse show or a Tae Kwon Do test, I ask my kids if they are nervous (name the emotion). Usually the answer is yes. Then I say, good, that is your body getting excited to do what it has been trained to do. So now, they recognize that their body isn't trying to betray them, but getting them ready to do great things. 

When you perceive someone has slighted you in some way, and you feel angry, hurt, rejected, etc., you can play "What Else Is True" and make sure one of the stories include a re-categorization of it's "not about me"

They may not have seen you wave at them because they were worried about their sick aunt. They may not have answered your text for a hundred different reasons that have nothing to do with you. They may have turned down your invite to something because they suffer from social anxiety themselves. Maybe they really are jerks, but again, you don't cause them to be a jerk (despite what they may claim). They are jerks because of something they are dealing with or not dealing with. People carry their own baggage with them just like you do

Bottom Line: You can get all worked up by your assumed story, or you can make up a different one that makes it not about you.

It ain't easy and It Takes Practice

As a pessimist/realist I struggle with this almost daily. Like, what really are the odds that jerk who cut me off was rushing the emergency room? Probably not likely, but it could happen, so I'll make a decision to choose to believe he or she is doing just that, and let it go as I happily go about my day versus my more "realistic" version of events that leaves me pissed off for a while afterwards.

Am I perfect at it? Far, far from it (PMS weeks are definitely harder), but I keep at it because when I do it, it works. One day, I will be walking around in peaceful, zen-like bliss, I have no doubt.

It can also be fun, especially with your kids. Be creative, use words from different cultures and languages. Teach them about ASSuming. Make up your own emotional concepts, and watch your negative emotions evaporate or at least lessen their grip on you.

So this week try it for yourself. 1)Name that emotion and 2) Reframe and see how it works for you.

If you want to learn more Lisa Feldman Barrett wrote: How Emotions Are Made: The Secret Life of the Brain 

You might also like: How to Get Your Husband to Empty the Dishwasher and Other Secrets to Life

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why We Should Talk About Suicide as an Illness (even if you don't totally buy it.)

What got me really thinking about this was a FB comment I read while reading about Anthony Bourdain's suicide.  The comment went like this, "It was a terribly selfish act and I don't feel sorry for him, but I do for his poor kid. How can someone be so selfish?" This was followed by a long string of comments debating whether the act of suicide is a selfish choice or a mental illness and therefore not really a choice. Then of course there was Val Kilmer's rant on the matter.

After reading through these comments, which wasn't the first time I've been privy to this debate, I came to the conclusion that my opinion or yours on the selfishness of the person committing suicide or whether or not it is selfish doesn't matter.

It. Doesn't. Matter.

It doesn't matter whether or not you or I think it is selfish. Our opinion on the selfishness of the act itself doesn't do a damned thing to prevent another needless death. It doesn't comfort the family and friends left behind. It doesn't in any way, shape or form help. Anyone.

What it does do is allow us to rationalize why this disease doesn't or won't effect us, and gives us a false sense of security and control. It allows us to go on believing (or hoping) this will ever effect us.

Even if you truly believe this to be true, you should keep it to yourself because should the unthinkable occur and a loved one or someone you know is entertaining thoughts of suicide your stated beliefs or values may keep those you love most dearly from coming to you (or anyone) for help.

I know it doesn't seem like our children listen to us or hold much stock in our opinions, but they do believe it or not. They are listening to what we say and what we do all the time.  Don't underestimate a young child with big ears and insatiable curiosity listening to you discuss this with another adult. They hear and more importantly they remember your words, and the judgment you inject into those words, and that stays with them all the way to their vulnerable tween and teen years.

So when you say, "It's an act of selfishness." With this simple statement you are implying weakness of character in an individual, and your opinion is what your child or loved one hears, feels and holds in their heart. 

So, let's say you are right. It is a selfish act committed by a selfish individual. What if your teen with their underdeveloped brain enabling them to make stupid and rash decisions coupled with their large capacity for melodramatics starts thinking about suicide?

You are going to be the last person they come to for help. Even if they pretend they don't care what you think, we are always hustling for Mom and Dad's approval, so they would rather die (quite literally) than disappoint you or be criticized or judged or labeled as one of "those people".

I don't know about you, but I would rather forgo being right and stand a chance of saving my kid.

However, our teens aren't the only ones at risk. Middle age men are one of the most common victims of this disease. Besides the string of celebrities that make the news (Chester Bennington, Anthony Bourdain, Robin Williams) "regular" people also are victims of suicide.  Both my husband and I have had a middle aged colleague commit suicide, and I have had a family member commit suicide. We both worked in the corporate world, not with "temperamental artists" (for those who think this only strikes the creative types).

What are the odds of your child or a loved one ever thinking about suicide? Very likely. And, you will be the last one to know if you don't pull your head out of the sand.

Suicide is now ranked #10 for cause of death. That is one death every 12 minutes.

- It is the 2nd leading cause of death for people ages 10-34.
- It is the 4th leading cause of death for people ages 35-54
- It is the 8th leading cause of death for people ages 55-64.

The number of suicide rates have increased in every state over the past 2 decades. Some states have seen rates rise over 30% in that time.

Accidents are # 4 and no doubt some of these "accidents" are suicides as well.

Warning Signs

Even if you think you really know your loved one and know they aren't depressed or suffering from a mental illness, so none of this applies to you or anyone you know, you might want to check this out.

54% of those committing suicide didn't have a previously known (i.e. diagnosed) mental illness. They had relationship problems, physical health problems, recent unanticipated crisis, job or financial problems, and/or substance misuse problems. I think we have all know someone who has had one of these very common issues. 

However, suicide is complex. There are almost always multiple causes, including psychiatric illnesses, that may not have been recognized or treated.  Research findings have shown that mental disorders and substance abuse has been found in 90% of people who have died by suicide, so it is rarely that single event.  We might blame one thing, but that is overly simplistic. 

Also, people are very good at hiding pain from loved ones, so you might not know a loved one is suffering (silently and alone).  This is why you should start talking about mental illness as an illness and not a character flaw because you never know from what place the listener is coming from (or for that matter who is listening).  

How you talk about it all the time makes it safe to talk about. Being made to feel like a loser never helped anyone. So be a safe person to talk to by keeping your character evaluation to yourself because if it's safe to talk about to you, you might get a heads up. And this is important because.....

These illnesses are treatable.  If we talk about mental illness as an illness not the fault of the person, then we create a safe space for them to treat a problem they have instead of thinking they are the problem. See the difference? 

Most, but not all, people who die by suicide exhibit warning signs which include (but aren't limited to):

• Talking about wanting to die
• Looking for a way to kill oneself
• Talking about feeling hopeless or having no purpose
• Talking about feeling trapped or in unbearable pain (fyi depression can cause real physical pain)
• Talking about being a burden to others
• Increasing the use of alcohol or drugs
• Acting anxious, agitated or recklessly
• Sleeping too little or too much
• Withdrawing or feeling isolated
• Showing rage or talking about seeking revenge
• Displaying extreme mood swings

The more of these signs a person shows, the greater the risk. Warning signs are associated with suicide, but may not be what causes a suicide

So What Can You Do? What are the Risk Factors?

According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) one thing you can do is reduce factors that increase risk and increase factors that promote resilience. 

Resilience is a skill that has to be practiced and often, and you should start to help your child develop it as soon as possible. Resilience is the ability to bounce back. It is the development of toughness and grit and protects from victim mentality and getting stuck in defeat. Strong problem solving skills and resilience go hand in hand. Those with it not only survive, they thrive. Those most successful in life have resilience or grit.

Here is a review on an awesome book with tools, How to Ensure Your Child's Success in Life. It has real life practice and examples to help your kids develop this life changing skill, and I couldn't love it more. However, you can also google the term "resilience", watch a TED Talk, read a different book, anything, but start helping you kids learn how to solve their problems in a healthy way (it will work for adults too).

However, I encourage you to not get stuck in research mode and immediately put some of these tools in action even if you are imperfect at it. One of the fastest ways to do this is to stop solving your kids' problems. Right now while they are small practice problems. Before they get to be big adult problems that you may not be around to solve. (Stop intervening in arguments with friends, stop bringing their homework or lunch to school, start asking them how they are going to solve their challenge, e.g. "How are you going to bring up this spelling grade? What are you going to do differently?") Ask them first how they would do it before telling.

This is just one thing you can do to help prevent, but it isn't the only factor. A sense of connectedness (like real connectedness, not social media connectedness) to loved ones and community also go a long way.

Here are more risk factors and protective factors:

What to Do If Someone Exhibits Warning Signs of Suicide

  • Do not leave the person alone
  • Remove any firearms, alcohol (i.e. liquid courage), drugs or sharp objects that could be used in a suicide attempt. 
    • This is't an anti-gun argument. Most people who commit suicide don't take a long time to carry out their decision once the decision has been made. They don't want to take the time to think about it because they may change their mind, so making it more inconvenient is better. Granted, this does not mean that they won't find another way, but you are buying time to intervene here, and easy access to a gun is not buying you time.
  • Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK
  • Take the person to an emergency room or seek help from a medical or mental health professional.
  • Ask them directly, "Are you thinking about killing yourself?" 
  • BeThe1To has 5 action steps you can use to help someone in crisis. What they are, how to use them and Why they work can be found here:
The CDC has a ton of information and resources or if you want to take a deeper dive on the research, take a look on the website. This link is a good starting point.

The Suicide Prevention Lifeline in addition to having great information and resources also has a section on how you can help someone who may be contemplating suicide.

Also, did you know many social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat and YouTube offer ways to report threats of suicide or self-harm? You can find a link to report your concerns directly to those media outlets, here:

So let's suspend judgement or at the very least keep it to yourself. Someone's life may depend on it.

Please know that if you lose someone to this disease, it is not your fault. There is support and help for you too. Resources for Suicide Loss Survivors

Saturday, May 19, 2018

Productivity Tips and Tricks for Every Personality

First and foremost, you need to figure out what your most important thing to do is.  In order to do this, you have to get in touch with what is most important to you. What are your values? What are your goals? To find your dream job? Lose weight? Find more balance in your life? Get promoted at work? Spend more time with your kids? Find a new house? Make more friends? What lights your fire right now? 

Once you have some of those ideas in mind you can employ these tips to make sure what you do lines up with what you say you want to do.  In other words, turn your wish list into an action list.

How to Make Sure Your Time is Spent on Achieving Your Most Important Goals

Sometimes we get confused as to what is truly important, and we let other's goals, wishes, and emergencies take over our time.  These tips will help you take back your time (and your life).   

Tip #1 Decide What is Important versus Urgent 

It helps to put things in these 4 categories:
  • Urgent and Important
  • Important, but not Urgent
  • Urgent, but not Important
  • Not Urgent, and not Important
Urgent and important items will obviously make it to the top of the list.  For instance, if your dishwasher is leaking all over your kitchen floor, this constitutes an urgent and important problem, and you will cancel meetings, and put everyone and everything else on hold to get this taken care of.

Important, but not urgent might be something like buying a baby gift for your best friend or finishing the family photo album (assuming these things line up with your values and goals).

Urgent, but not important is when your kid is frantic in the morning because he forgot to pack his lunch. Not important because buying lunch won't kill him (despite what he might say about it), or it's when someone else wants you to drop everything to deal with their urgent and important (or just urgent) task. Remember, just because something is urgent to someone else, doesn't mean that it needs to be urgent for you. I'm not totally unfeeling. If you want to be available for others emergencies, have "office hours" for that.  More abut that below.

Not Urgent and not important. These are the things we get sucked into doing like attending your mother's cousins' baby shower or dusting the back of the bookshelf (buy enough books to hide the dust). These are things, you can probably just let go and it will not be the end of the world.  These are the things you need to quit. For more info on how to quit click here: Be a Quitter

Tip #2 Write down the one thing you need to do today

I know, I know, so many things so little time. How can you pick just one? Imagine you only have enough energy to get one thing done today.  What would it be?

To do this, we need to soften our expectations of ourselves.  This sounds like slacking, I know, but bear with me. Do you have kids? A significant other? Are they important to you? Look at your to do list, and tell me if you have one thing on there that screams, "These people are my life". We have laundry and dinners to make, etc. on this list, and those are important, but if this were your last day, how would you spend it? I would stop by subway, or grab a box of cereal, and take my kids to the park and enjoy them. I would make time to go out with my girlfriends. When is the last time you did that stuff? If you doubt me, click what people who were dying regretted the most:

I get you can't do this everyday, but the thing is, we keep putting these things into the "not important, not urgent" pile, and not important, not urgent things eventually don't get done, and now you are sad because you have no friends.

Your one thing doesn't have to be the same thing everyday (we aren't one dimensional after all),  unless you are laser focused on getting something done, then by all means set aside time each day to complete that goal.

What is important to you, right now? Put that as your most important thing on your list.

Tip #3 Because I know you really won't put one thing on your list. Time line your day. 

Raise your hand if you always think you have more time than you actually do, and then kick yourself for not getting the stuff done that you feel like you should have gotten done.  Time blocking out your day will really help you, not only be more productive, but also realize you physically can't get it all done. It is not your failure, it is a failure of time.

Make a list of all the stuff you need to do this week. I make a dump list on Sunday of all the stuff I can think of that I need to do, then I prioritize it, and assign the most important items to certain days.  Some people make one big list, but I like to divide it up into categories, like housework, work, family stuff, projects, me time, etc.

The list is usually overwhelming, so divvying it up into the categories mentioned in Tip #1 is helpful, and finding that one thing a day to work on is powerful.  However, to get all that stuff done, I would need many lifetimes.  Here is one way to pare down your master list:  How to Get Sh*t Done

Step 2, after paring down your list is to Time Block.

Time Blocking

Time blocking works great for the over-scheduler because you can schedule out what you need to do and how long it will take.

Start by making a simple time line.  I just draw a vertical line in my planner and start when I get up and number down to when I am free of children.  Like this:

Nothing fancy at all.  However, very eye opening.  Once I put in the stuff that I have to do, like appointments, and school pick up, I quickly realize that I do not have a whole heck of a lot of time.  Don't forget you need to eat and shower at some point.

This lack of time is why you put in your most important thing.  The thing that will have the biggest impact to your goals, be it career, family or otherwise.  My current project is scheduled at 1:00 PM. For an hour I will work on that project.

Now that your biggest impact thing is scheduled, you can write in the stuff that is your second and third most important.  When I say "schedule", I mean write it in your planner in ink or put it on your calendar and set an alarm.

I work mostly from home part time, so I dedicate one block of time to that each day, then a house item each day, and then some time to catch up on random stuff that pops up.

Recently I have been devoting a bigger block of time one day a week for projects (Monday, I spent 6 hours on the laundry room, and it was so worth it), but that is for a special projects, and definitely not something I can do every week. I am planning a road trip so I blocked out 2 hours one day this week and an hour on another day to focus on planning that.

Set the length of the time blocks that works best for you.  Some swear by the Pomodora technique of 25 minutes focused, 5 minute break. If you are really procrastinating, set a timer for 15 minutes and race against the clock (make it a game, especially helpful for mundane household tasks). For stuff I want to do, I can focus for long periods of time, and I don't like being interrupted once I am in the zone, so for certain tasks, I go for 90 minutes. If it's stuff I don't enjoy, but must get done, then I race against a short timer. Experiment and see what works for you.

Speaking of the no fun mundane tasks that are part of life. Use "Buffer Blocks"

These are blocks of time to do those recurring routine tasks like email, regular mail, paperwork, or other random time-suck tasks (Facebook, Pinterest, cleaning the house house may fall into this category).

Set aside a couple blocks of time each day to tackle those. Do not devote time to them outside of their block. How does this help? "Oh, you sent me an urgent email that needed answering right away? I'm sorry, I only check my email at 9:00 AM and at 3:00 PM."

If you are afraid you will forget something, take 10 seconds to jot it down on your to do list. If you want to look at Instagram, but find yourself getting lost there, set your phone timer.  A mom I know grabs her mail on the way to her kids ballet class and sorts through it there. An excellent use of down time twice a week.

Do you find it hard to say "no" to people? 

Set yourself up so you don't have to say no. Blocking out time proactively trains people when you will (or won't) be available, and you don't have to say "no", and they are happier too. Instead of telling people what you can't do (which no one likes), you get to say what you can do. (Win-win).

For example, I volunteer as a treasurer at my kids' school. I have scheduled two days a week where I will work on that. Previously, the position would just do it when anyone had a need (or didn't plan and waited until the last minute.) At the beginning of the year, I shared my schedule for when I would be working with all my "customers", so now they know what to expect and I don't have to answer requests or give status updates constantly. I have only had two "emergencies" all year.

Time blocking is not only a useful tool for you, but it also is helpful for others because they know what to expect from you and when. This leads me to the concept of batching.


Batching is grouping similar tasks together.  Like running errands, grocery shopping, and it can aslo apply to work tasks. Maybe you call all your clients on one day, review proposals on another.  Some people batch housework, dusting, even cooking, packing lunches or snacks for the week or laundry (I'm trying this batching laundry thing today, but I think I prefer one load a day. What works for one person might not work for another.)

The point is, start looking for similar things and see if you can't batch them together in one of your time blocks.

What About Multitasking? 

Some advice says to never do this.  It takes a long time to for your brain to switch back and forth between tasks. I say, never say never, but know your limits.

Some of us just can't multitask well.  My husband is one of them (women do multitask better than men, in general). He will stop talking to me in the car to put on his turn signal and turn, then resume the conversation. That's where we are.

However, if you are doing a mundane task that does not require you to pay close attention, then I say multitask away.  I think you can handle folding laundry and watching TV or prepping veggies and listening to a Podcast, music, or an audiobook.

I will say, though, that practicing mindfulness on mundane tasks can put you into a meditative state, and give you the same benefits as meditation.  Consider that multitasking, for example, meditating and washing dishes.

When you really focus on what you are doing, it does give your brain a rest.  Sort of like a brain nap, and who couldn't use more of those? (Plus, I notice the kitchen is strangely empty when I am in there washing up, so it's also very peaceful.)

Other Tips I Came Across for Increasing Productivity that You Can Experiment with:

  • Stick to a schedule
  • Become an early riser
  • Make a drink before you start (I mean coffee or tea, but hey, whatever works for you)
  • Clean your desk off or your workspace
  • Set yourself up for success by making it easy for you to do what you have been putting off. Lately, I have been decluttering. So, I have a box in a couple of rooms, and as I pass through I put something in the box. Baby steps. Set yourself up for success. If you want to eat breakfast int he morning, get as much as you can ready the night before. Work out, set your shoes where you will trip over them on the morning (not really, but you get the idea). Keep cleaner in every bathroom or room.
  • Snacks, chewing gum, sunshine, smelling lemon and/or peppermint, having a plant in your workspace all help boost productivity.
  • Silence your phone
  • Get dressed in the morning and ready for your day even if you aren't leaving your house.
  • Know when you are at your peak and do your most important tasks then (morning or afternoon?)
  • Get enough rest.  I've talked about the value of sleep before, but if you need some incentive, click here: THIS ONE THING CAN CAUSE SADNESS, HEADACHES, FORGETFULNESS AND OTHER WOES
  • Use one tool. Admittedly, I use two, the iCalendar and a bullet journal, but you shouldn't  have sticky notes strewn about and call it a system. 
The most important tip I can offer under the happiness banner, is make time for friends and family. People often regret working too much, and always wish for more time with loved ones.  At the end of the day, it's all about balance.

If I missed a great tip you use, share it with the rest of us in the comments below!!

Friday, May 11, 2018

Be a Quitter to Get More Done

I've read A LOT of productivity articles in the past month to find the best ones out there, and there are many different tips, tricks, and opinions to help you get more done.

Advice ranging from how to multitask to get more done to the dangers of multitasking. What should be on your To Do list, and how to prioritize your to do list? Should that list be a mile long "Dump" list or should it only have one thing, the most important thing, on it? What is the perfect planning system for keeping track of your progress (or lack thereof).

Also, what is the proper order to tackle your list?  Should you eat the figurative frog first (your most dreaded task), or knock out some easy wins to gain momentum? Not to mention tons of advice on how to prioritize your list (categories, urgency, etc.) What is the perfect planner and what's the best way to use it.

Then there is advice on how to best get you ready to be productive. Is coffee, exercise, and a clean desk essential to get started? Should you use the Batch system, Pomodora technique or the Time Block system? All of this to help you work smarter, not harder so that you can even get more done.

I kind of take offense to this notion. I am smart, and I do work hard. Could a little productivity hack here and there help? Could I stand to spend less time on my phone? Would avoiding people help me get more done? Sure. Does the answer to all my problems lie in re-organizing, re-categorizing, re-prioritizing, multitasking or throwing away my task lis? Should I clean my shower while I am in the shower to save time (actual suggestion)? I don't think so.

The truth is, you can do whatever you want, but you can't do everything you want.  No matter what these systems are selling, you cannot make more time, and you can't predict when it will run out.

"The price of anything is the amount of life you exchange for it."  
 - Henry David Thoreau 

You are exchanging your life, giving a bit of your soul away if you will, for time spent doing whatever it is you fill your minutes up with.

Life is full of tradeoffs. There is a price to be paid for what you choose to do, and you can't make an informed decision on that cost until you embrace this notion of limited time.

But we don't. Instead we are bound and determined to fit it all in.  I will be ├╝ber successful at work. I will be Supermom and be there for everything my child does. I will be a great spouse. I will volunteer in my community. I will pursue my secret dream of writing the great American novel (or whatever it is you dream of doing). I will take care of my aging parents all by myself because I am the perfect daughter.  I will exercise, eat right, and get regular facials, and have "me time". I will do it all.

Honestly, I am stressed just writing all of this. My shoulders are tense, and I feel a little anxious. Anxious because I know deep down inside, this is an impossible scenario to maintain, so I end up faking it. Stressing about being found out that I am not a Mom with her shit all together (spoiler alert, I'm not), and EVERYONE gets short changed. My family, my friends, my career, my volunteer work, ME,........everyone.

There is an economic term called Opportunity Cost. Opportunity cost describes the relationship between scarcity and choice. It refers to the benefit you could have received, but gave up to take another course of action.  No choice is still a choice.  Often we spread ourselves so thin that we don't reap the benefits of any of your choices. So what's the answer?

Be a quitter.

That's right. Quit.

Don't double down, reach down, or show more grit.


The answer isn't add more items to your list. The answer is to get rid of items on your list.

Quit unproductive things so you don't miss opportunities to do more of what matters to you. Maybe you don't know what is important to you right now. Well, you damn sure know what doesn't work, so quit those things, so you can start finding what might work.

We regret more of what we miss out on than what we stuck it out on.

The relationship we knew in our heart wasn't for us, but we stuck it out waay too long anyway. The job that wasn't a fit for us, but we stayed because we were afraid to go out and find a better job (by the way, people who change jobs a lot and early in their career end up making more money than their counterparts that stayed with the same company).

We tell ourselves that "it isn't that bad" DO you want to settle for "not that bad"? That stinks of future regret.

Quit trying to achieve unattainable goals, whether it be jobs, obligations or people.

Yeah, I get you can't just dump everything. You can't walk out on your job. Well, make it a priority on your 'To Do' list to find your dream job. How much of your sacred time are you spending on that?

I get you want to exercise more so you can improve your health, and have the energy to pursue your goals.  What are you sacrificing to make it a priority?

When you stay late at work to finish that project to impress your boss or clients or find a cure for cancer, then you are not spending time with your kids.  That's not a judgment call. That's reality.

Things get sticky when we assign value or more accurately what we believe other people will value to our choices. I'm a terrible mother if I make this choice. I'm a terrible employee if I don't. My parents dreamed of me becoming a lawyer so I'll stick it out, so we try to do it all.

Before you can be more productive, you need to decide where your values or needs lie right now, so you can make intelligent proactive choices for your situation.

Maybe your it's your career, writing that book and self-publishing, becoming a yoga teacher, or starting your own business, or your family, or redecorating your house that's important to you, or a combination of two or three things, so design your days to do those things.  Make sure that most of what you do supports achieving those goals.

If you are really giving your all to those two things because you say those two things are the most important to you, then you won't have time to bake, volunteer, clean, take care of other people's emergencies, etc., all by yourself.  Not to say that stuff isn't important, but again...Time + Scarcity = Choices.  Remember, choices will be made with or without you, so you might as make them.

Where do you start / How Do you Decide? 

Steve Jobs said, "If today were the last day of your life, would you want to be doing what your doing?" 

If he answered "no" more than a few days in a row, then he changed what he was doing.  

There will be times when you choose to do something else.  There will be needs that need to be met that exist outside of your wants and needs because you don't live in your own little universe.  

There are trade-offs to every decision. Some you will manage, and some you just have to live with because that is the price of your dreams or values or your situation right now.

I chose to quit my job when my youngest started kindergarten. I left a promising and mostly fulfilling career with a killer commute to do so. I traded putting my graduate degree to work, and moving up in my career because I couldn't manage to that and be the Mom I wanted to be the way I wanted to.  

Yet, when I find myself cleaning, and then yelling about them messing things up, and checking off my never ending list of household chores, then I am not "being" with my kids. I am trading unimportant stuff for what I said was important.  Now there will be moments when I will need to do laundry and clean the house, and I will not be able to answer Steve Job's question in the affirmative, because the need for clean underwear and all, and that's okay as long as it doesn't become my choice day in and day out.  

Some people pick their top one or two goals in life and go all out. Michale Phelps gave up a lot of other stuff to become the champion that he became. He gave up partying with friends for 5 AM practices as a teen. Sheryl Sandberg put in a lot of time and effort to get where she is. She had to quit and delegate a whole hell of a lot in her personal domain to make it where she is today. They both made choices.  

I choose to strive for balance in my life right now. Some might even go so far as to say mediocrity, and that is okay. Maybe that isn't for them, but I define success as peaceful, low stress, enjoyable, simple balance between my children, my family, my friends, and my hobbies. That is where I am right now. 

So I won't be VP of HR at a Fortune 500 Company like I once thought I would (maybe later), and I do sometimes look enviously at those sharp dressed working moms getting it done like a boss. 

On the other hand, I started a new career that I can build at my own pace. I have built friendships with some awesome moms I wouldn't have even have met had I still been working, and let go of some treasured work ones I just couldn't keep up. Trade-offs. One day my choices will change again, but won't change, is that I will choose what those priorities are rather than letting others have more say than they should or by default.

Really successful people quit most other things. You need to decide how you define success for you and your lifestyle right now, then quit the other things.  

Once you do that, you can apply all the tips, tools and tricks that work for you, and you will find much more success with them.

Other articles you might like:

Is Comparing Yourself to Others Always a Bad Thing?

Redefining Failure

The Power of Living Intentionally

Join the 85% Club

I've Had Enough

How to Live a Life with No Regrets

Three Types of Happiness

How to Get Shit Done

Friday, April 27, 2018

How Simple Routines Can Transform Your Life (Even If You Hate Routines)

What is a Routine?

According to Merriam-Webster dictionary a routine is a habitual mechanical performance of an established procedure.  Snoooozzzzeefest, right?  Maybe, but bear with me while we talk about why you need this in your life, and when it’s good to shake things up in your routines. 

Why Do You Need Routines?

Routines are essentially a string of habits that you intentionally bring into your life.  They provide structure and many good habits strung together leads to less stress and over time, transformational change.  If you have ever found yourself saying, “I wish I …." at some point during the day the a routine can help you. "I wish I..."

Saturday, April 14, 2018

4 Things I Want to Accomplish Before I Die

I have been struggling to land on some meaningful goals for this year.  Not typically a problem for me as I usually have a whole list if you recall.  I have some things that I have been toying with, but nothing has felt right to me this year.  Nevertheless, I have plowed on with what I landed on - the vague search for the real meaning of happiness

That search led me to this book called "Cultivate" by Laura Casey.  In the book she compares gardening to life, and more specifically to how God works in her life.  It has some thought provoking questions in it.  This isn't one of them, but for whatever reason this is the question that kept distracting me as I read this book.

Friday, April 6, 2018

How to Go From "Busy" to "Meaningful"

Lately, I've been feeling like I never have time. It's true. I don't. I'm always busy. Busy with work, busy with maintaining a clean, organized, Pinterest worthy home. Deciding what healthy, wonderful meal I am going to whip up while my cookies are baking in the oven.  Keeping up with current events, posting my wonderful life on FB and liking all my 500+ friend's post so no one feels slighted (kidding, I don't have 500+ friends. No one really has 500 friends.)

Then, there is the volunteering at school, so my children know I love them. (But, let's be honest, a large part of why I do it is so other people see that this SAHM has her it together because since I don't work a 9-5 I have to prove I am busy.)