How’s your to do list looking today? Is it longer by the end of the day than when you started? Have you stopped looking at it because it is too discouraging? We often think a new fancy app will solve our todo list problem. But maybe we don’t need a new app, rather we need a new list.
Prioritizing the most important things in life has been a bigger challenge ever since I had children. Before having kids I never felt that overwhelmed despite working full time and doing an MBA as a newlywed, with our first home to repair and manage. On week nights I learned to build complex financial models and during the day I would evaluate restructuring proposals. On the weekends we would build a fence, or paint a room. I would write papers and do laundry while my husband wrote his doctorate. My Franklin planner was filled out, prioritized, and always with me. Life was full, but not overwhelming.
When I brought that first eight pound tornado home, everything changed. What I thought was valuable changed. What I thought I could fit into a day changed. My neat financial records became piles of unopened mail. My days were filled with pumping milk in between conference calls and meetings. But the whole time, my heart and mind was filled with only one thing: the little boy in the basement of a federal building on the other side of the national mall.
Kids have a way of forcing us to make choices right from the get-go. Nap when the baby naps or mop the floor? One more bedtime story or pay the bills? Go to the park or catch up on email?
We want to do it all, but how?
Here are five clarifying questions I think you need to ask today when you look at that to-do list.
- Do you love doing this? Is it aligned with what you value most?
- Are you uniquely suited to do this? Someone else could mop your floor or manage your email list. What are the thing only you can do?
- Does it support your long term goals?
- What is the worst thing that can happen if you don’t do this? (None of us love doing our taxes, but the consequences of not doing it… ouch. But the bake sale? There are plenty of moms who can do it, and you probably won’t get kicked out of school.)
- Is this related to a relationship? OR Does this impact someone else? While something may not be a priority to you, if it is to your spouse or your boss, you want to prioritize the relationship.
And if the list is still too long? Take a deep breath and quiet your thoughts for just a moment, what rises to the top? If I were you, I’d skip mopping the floor today. After all, the muddy feet running in from the park will get it dirty again.
PS: Now that you have some space in that to-do list, why not find out what makes you bloom?
Let me tell you the two most important reason why I aim for 8 hours of sleep these days, and you should too.
1. It makes me a better mom.
One Tuesday, few weeks ago, my son asked for ice cream repeatedly when he knew it was not treat night (we eat dessert on Wednesdays and Sundays around here.)
“Not only is there no ice cream tonight, but you will never ever get any ice cream ever again!” I burst out.
Before they both started sobbing, I saw the look in my boys’ eyes. I completely lost my cool, and they were afraid. I walked away feeling terrible and tried desperately to understand what went so horribly wrong.
The night before, I stayed up much too late reading a great book. I was just plain exhausted, and nagging I would usually try to defuse with a joke or distraction sent me over the edge.
I apologized to them, and put myself to bed early that night. And then, I gave them ice cream on Wednesday.
2. It allows me to pay attention
I got Mommy brain pretty seriously when I had my first son. It manifests itself in an inability to concentrate well and an inability to remember. I would walk into a room to get something. While I was in there, I would see something else I needed to do, and not only forget what I came to get originally, but forget that I was there to get something at all.
Most of my friends gave half-embarrassed laughs when I talked about it. “Me too,” they’d say. Turns out that Mommy brain is common, and the culprit? The constant sleep deprivation moms experience during the early years. When I saw this TED talk, it made even more sense – without sleep, your brain is literally full of junk.
The way to a more productive, more inspired, more joyful life is getting enough sleep. Arianna Huffington
In her book, Thrive, (an excellent compilation of all sorts of lifestyle wisdom,) Arianna Huffington talks about how she was so sleep deprived that she hit her head on her desk, broke her cheek bone, and needed five stitches above her eye. To me, that seems like a pretty painful wake-up call.
When I have a day when I can’t seem to get much done, and wander aimlessly around my house and to-do list, I put myself to bed early. I will more than compensate for the few work hours I lose that night by my improved efficiency the next morning. How about you?
It is the last day in January, and if statistics are to be believed, most of us have blown our new year’s resolutions already. Many of us make these same resolutions year after year. I have done that plenty of times too. (Get organized. Lose weight.)
The last few years I’ve shown myself more grace. Instead of grand resolutions, I have chosen small habits that I thought would make a difference to my bigger goals (similar to The Happiness Project.) Get up early in the month of January. Get more sleep in February.
I have become such a huge fan of simplicity, that I am cutting back even on my small cumulative habits this year.
What I find most compelling these days are these rules I follow:
- Show up. Keep showing up.
- Do the next right thing.
- Be grateful
- Choose joy and beauty
I still have goals. After all, I used to be am the quintessential type A MBA. (This year, I used Michael Hyatt’s “Best Year Ever” workshop to set those.)
I see those goals as the shining start at the top of the hill – they light my way, and show me direction. However, I didn’t spend hours making elaborate plans for achieving my goals. I’m following my rules: show up every day, do the next right action, be grateful for the opportunity, do it with joy and beauty.
So I took the month of January off and played with my boys. We traveled; we visited family. My only exercise was chasing them up and down slides and in and out of the pool. That’s where I needed to show up this month – that was where the joy and beauty was to be found. Now I’m ready to show up to February with the energy to do the next right thing.
How would it feel if we gave ourselves a little grace period. Let’s start a revolution. Let’s be kind to ourselves. Just for today, show up. Be grateful. Smile.
Here’s a picture for you to save or print somewhere as a reminder:
Can you fit 5 hours of self-care into your busy week?
This was the question in a recent posting on one of my Mom CEO groups. Before I started coaching, I probably would have scratched my head a bit. These days, I am busier than ever, and know exactly where those twelve hours I spend on self-care reside. While there is certainly no glamorous weekly night out with the girls (or even a scheduled date night – we’re a work in progress around here), I find that I can recharge in small stolen moments scattered like sweet raisins throughout the plain bread of my days.
What does it look like?
- Showers: I started taking showers at night. Thanks to the two little roosters who live here, there is no consistent schedule to my mornings and I would often feel resentful that I could not take that leisurely shower. Now, I take thirty minutes at night to take a nice long shower with the fancy shower gels I saved for special occasions before. I actually use lotion, do whatever other grooming tasks I need, wash my face, and use the good cream. Every day is an occasion, and why shouldn’t something mundane become something to be savored? Time? 30 minutes.
- After my shower, I get in bed and write in my gratitude journal, and read something uplifting. No news, no page turners that will keep me from turning out the lights. (15 to 30 minutes)
- On mornings when I can out-rooster my roosters, I read a devotional, make a cup of tea, and write morning pages (as recommended in The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron.) Sometimes my morning pages end up filled with to-dos for the day, for the boys, and for my business. That’s okay too – at least that stuff has been dumped out of my brain. (The first place I saw a brain dump recommended was Getting Things Done by David Allen. That book is life-changing.) (15-30 minutes)
- I walk my kids to school, and walk again to pick then up. It is 15 minutes each way, which means on week days I get an hour of walking daily. Ideally, that would not be my only exercise, but let’s face it, some days it is. If we believe that the best exercise is the exercise that you’ll do, this is a winner. (1 hour)
- One day a week, I have an appointment with myself to do something creative. An hour or two in front of my sewing machine or with a sketchbook is true re-creation for me. I walk away refreshed and energized, ready for the next project, even if it is mundane housekeeping. Making things for our home has another benefit – just seeing the bright oven mitts I sewed some Sunday afternoon brings back that instant lift.
This routine is certainly far from perfect. I would love to spend more time in creative play, especially with my camera. Right now, my playtime with my camera is 50% frustration and 50% joy. I would love to take up yoga. I would love to have a weekly date with my husband. Since most people in Lima have a full time nanny, babysitters are almost impossible to find. Given how important my relationship with my husband is, marriage care is self care too.
There is always a way to find time for what is important. A girlfriend and I meet at the grocery store on a Saturday to do our weekly shopping together. We are both busy – I have the business and the kids, she has her three girls and college. We get to chat and do something that had to get done anyway. If we have time, we grab a coffee afterwards and hang out for a few more minutes. To me, this is self-care too. Finding your tribe and getting to love and support each other is hugely important.
These are hours I could spend working, right? For me, working past the point of exhaustion always yields diminishing returns. Sometimes, I have my best ideas in the shower, or in my morning pages, or while walking back from dropping my boys at school. Now, if I only had a better way to capture those plans…
How do you fit in self-care?