What if it was Easy?

 

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I heard this quote a few weeks ago while listing to the Rich Roll Podcast.  It’s a long interview, with a LOT of interesting trains of thought, but by far, the concept that stuck with me the most was this idea of making things easy.

With the start of a new year, and ten new goals that I’d like to achieve over the course of the year (all lovingly developed and explored in my favourite PowerSheets), I’ve been employing this technique with great success.

One of my goals for the year is to have improved time with the kids, and together as a family.  In the past, I would have gone about this goal by trying to create “special” things to do with each kid, and to do with both kids together.  I’d get caught up in planning something for each month, start off with a bang, then end with a whimper.  And in the process, completely loose sight of the intention behind the goal.

But not this year – because, as I wrote the goal, I also worked on how I could achieve this goal in the easiest way possible, and in what is turning out to be more meaningful for both me and the kids.

Step 1 in achieving this goal was simply to create more time to have with the kids – it’s easier to have improved time when there is simply more of it.  Put differently, I tend to have a better time when I have more than 5 hurried minutes at the beginning or tail end of a day with the kids.  So, in planning our activities for the winter term, anything that wasn’t deemed a “must-do” by me or the kids was cut.  There are things the kids would have liked to have done, classes they could have enrolled in, but that would simply have added things to do on the calendar with little added benefits for anyone.

Step 2 involved looking at the “pain points” in our day and figuring out how to improve or eliminate them entirely.  Since it’s winter and overall, it’s been pretty freezing cold so far, the kids need to be in full winter gear to go to school each morning.  The logistics of squeezing my daughter’s uniform tunic into a pair of snow pants each day was taking significantly longer than it should have and resulting in whining and/or tears, which was grating on all of us.  The purchase of a smaller tunic and a new pair of snow pants, has added ten minutes to the time we have in the morning, and eliminated the whining and/or tears.

And while unnecessary activities were eliminated, the kids still do have their fair share of activities, in and out of school.  Which means bags for school and after-school activities need to be packed.  While we have been in the habit of doing this the night before, assembling gym uniforms and dance uniforms right before bed had a habit of drawing out the bedtime routine and often times winding the kids up after we had just spent time winding them down.  So . . . the easy solution . . . as soon as the kids get home, backpacks are emptied of that day’s items, and refilled with whatever is needed for the following day.

And lastly, Step 3 . . . removing screen time.  My kids wake up early.  Really, really early.  Like 4:50 early.  And it was really, really easy for me to let them watch tv to help fill in the time in the morning.  But, because I have 2 kids of opposite genders, and I do like to be fair, tv time in the morning has evolved over the years from 1 episode of Mickey Mouse Clubhouse to my son watching a half hour of sports highlights and my daughter watching a half hour show of her choosing.  I was going nuts listening to my daughter whine when my son was watching sports, and listening to my son whine when my daughter chose to watch Barbie.  In other words, what I thought was the “easy” way, was turning out to be problematic for all of us.

So I instituted a new “easy” solution – no screen time in the morning.  The kids can read when they get up.  They can help me pack lunches and make breakfast.  And they can get all the little things they need to do in a day done, like practicing piano.  Everyone is happier, calmer, and, as an added bonus, we’re all ready to go about 45 minutes before we need to leave for school.  And in those 45 minutes, we play games, we read, we investigate things the kids want to learn about . . . . we spend time together.  And when it’s time to go to school, we can be dressed and out the door in under 5 minutes – there’s no last minute scrambling for items they need for the day – they’re all packed – and the kids can easily get themselves into their winter gear.

I’ve also eliminated screen time in the evenings during the week.  While they weren’t watching much, the shows they were watching, and the squabbles over who got to choose the show to watch, were driving me nuts.  In it’s place, we chat (often while all making dinner together), they play, or read.  And after dinner, they can help clean up, or play or read.  But whatever it is they choose to do, we’re together and we’re all happier.  And I’m achieving my goal.

This concept of “easy” is helping me with my other goals too . . . instead of setting specific goals for the gym this year, I created one overarching health goal “personal vitality”.  In the past, I’ve focused on learning pull-ups, or setting new personal bests when I lift weights . . . but the complex methods I developed to meet these goals were inevitably thrown off by a sick kid, or, you know, life in general, and my goals were abandoned, un-met, leaving me, deep down, with a sense of failure about it all.  This year, by working out consistently, and continuing to commit to eating well, it’s easy to meet my goal, and I feel a whole lot better about myself because of it.

As you go about your day today, think about what aspects of your day might be improved if you made it “easy” . . . you just might be surprised at what you find.

 

 

 

The Antithesis of Overwhelmed

How often have you heard your friends tell you, “I’m just so overwhelmed”.  How often have you been the one saying it?

How many mornings a week do you find yourself running around, desperately trying get everyone out the door with everything they need for the day?  (And how often do you end up making 2nd trips home/to schools/to work because something has been forgotten at home?)

How often do you end the day with a drink or a “treat” as your reward for making it through your crazy/hectic/stressful day?

I am guilty of all of the above.  Just not lately.

All because I’ve read, researched and experimented and come up with a few simple routines for me, and my family, that has made all of our lives a whole lot less “overwhelming” and a whole lot more enjoyable.

And I will get into just what those are if you allow me one little digression here . . .

When you’re faced with a crisis in life (in my case it was a brain tumour diagnosis 4 months after my 2nd baby was born), your outlook changes.  For me, the uncertainty around my tumour, the surgery, and the prognosis lead me down a path where I wanted every moment I had with my kids to be magical – so that they would have happy memories of me if the worst came to pass.  I’ve talked about this before – trying to make every minute of everyday life magical is kind of the opposite of fun.

As I hit the 5-year post-treatment milestone almost a year ago, the fear associated with my tumour started to subside.  And I started to look for better ways to live my life.  In the last year I’ve read a LOT of self-help books.  I’ve done a lot of work around my One Little Word each year (last year it was Joy – this year it’s Light).  And I’ve learned that while there is magic in the big exciting things in life (that’s why I’ll always love Disney), there’s just as much magic, if not more, in the small everyday moments in life.

One of the books that really affected me was The Desire Map.  The central thesis to this book/way of life is to start with how you want to FEEL.  And once you have identified how you want to feel as you move through life, you can then set up your life, and how you choose to live it, so that you can always feel that way.

I’ve also found myself dipping in and out of Gretchen Rubin’s world through both her books and her podcasts.  In particular, I’ve become completely enamoured with the concept of the “One Minute Rule” – if you can do it in a minute, get it done.

And then this summer, I discovered the Simplified Planner and PowerSheets.

Together, these resources (which I’ve also talked about here and here) have allowed me, and my family, to fall into the routines that have allowed us to lead our lives in a way that is the antithesis of overwhelmed.  So what are these routines exactly???  Well, here goes:

  1. At the start of each year, I pick my “One Little Word”.  This is a word that I help to guide how I want to feel in a given year, how I want my outlook to be for a given year, and what I want to focus on in a given year.  This year, working with the Desire Map, the One Little Word course, and Powersheets, I chose the word LIGHT; I want to be a light (to my kids, my family), I want to capture the light (hence my Instagram photos of the sky with the accompanying quotes), and most of all, I want to BE light – both physically AND emotionally.
  2. At the start of each year, I also contemplate what didn’t really work over the past year, or what’s really driving me crazy.  This is also an exercise that Powersheets takes you through as part of their goal planning process.  For me, doing this allowed me to see that there were things both inside my home, and things that we were doing outside our house that were driving us all nuts.  Specifically, the clutter, and design of parts of our house were getting to all of us.  And as a family, we were simply trying to fit in too many activities, some of which provided questionable benefit (and more importantly enjoyment), and not doing enough of the things that we really loved to do.

    So . . . I used my “Mom veto power” and simply didn’t sign the kids up for activities that they weren’t absolutely invested in.  Would they like to have a one hour tennis lesson on the weekend . . . sure . . . do they fanatically love the sport or is not taking a weekly lesson going to negatively affect their future in some horrible way?  No.  And thus tennis lessons were scrapped.
    Did my son want to stay after school a few more times a week to do different clubs that would expose him to new and exciting ideas?  Yes.  And the clubs got added.
    As for me – I have dabbled in skating lessons over the past few months.  But skating falls on the same day as my sewing class (which I REALLY want to take and to enjoy), making for a jam-packed day.  Do I enjoy skating?  Yes.  But not enough right now to pack my day so completely.  So skating’s been cut.

    And as for things around the house – the clutter is slowly being dealt with.  And a contractor has been enlisted to help us fix he issues we have with our house.

  3. Once the “skeleton” of our weeks has been laid out (and to be fair, I assess our involvement in extracurricular activities on a term-by-term basis), then I can start planning my goals/hopes/dreams for the coming months.

    This year, I have been thoroughly loving using Powersheets to keep me on track in terms of my monthly/weekly/daily actions supporting my desire to “Be Light”.  Because I can set new goals each month, and because goals can be set for different lengths of time, I can choose how I want to focus on getting the things done that are going to help me feel Light.

    For example, this month, I’ve set monthly goals to sort out the kids’ Lego, to clean out the play room and to clean out our craft storage.  I could have chosen to make that a daily goal – but I know that with each of these tasks, I’m far more likely to achieve them in bigger spurts once or twice a week.  Conversely, I’ve set things like drinking 5 glasses of water a day, ab / pull up work, and working out as daily goals to keep me motivated to work on those aspects of my life on a daily basis.  And then there are the weekly things which are things I tend to do once a week during my Sunday weekly planning session.

    Don’t worry – the Husband doesn’t get left out of this planning either.  A big priority for us both is making sure we get in a daily workout.  This means that we look at how we structure our days/weeks so that he will have the energy to get up at 4:30 to squeeze in a workout before work (the timing that works best for us all, as insane as it may sound).

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So, now you know how I work on the big-picture part of our lives.  Planning, cutting back, only doing those actives (and that applies to all of us in the family) that are either essential (swimming lessons for the kids, working out for the adults) or that we absolutely love (clubs for my son, skating for my daughter, sewing for me, guitar practice for the Husband) help ENORMOUSLY in all of us feeling less overwhelmed.

But what about the nitty-gritty stuff – how, on a daily basis do I keep things light in the family, do we get everything done, and still have fun?

  1. As I talked about here, I plan my week ahead in a few minutes on a Sunday morning.
  2. During the day, I try my best to observe the one minute rule.  If I can deal with something in under a minute, I try to get it done right then and there.  For example, when the credit card and bank statements arrive in the mail, I try to check them over immediately and then file them straight a way.  It takes less than a minute to file a few bills, but let those bills pile up . . . and you can end up spending a good hour sorting and filing it all – which is never the way I want to spend an afternoon.  The same applies to putting things away – from shopping to laundry to just the daily stuff of life – take a minute, put it away, and forget about it.  Far better than to let it all pile up and require huge chunks of time to sort it all out.
  3. We have routines for when we get home from school/activities; school bags are emptied and then re-packed with everything that will be needed for the next day (water bottles, snacks, gym clothes, dry outdoor gear, and shoes all go back into the bags).  If the school bags are fully packed and nothing more needs to be added, the bags are zipped closed.  If, however, something still needs to be added (outdoor gear that needs to dry over night, homework that needs to get done), we leave the zippers on the bags open as a sign that they’re not 100% packed for the next day.  As the kids are getting older, they are getting more involved in this process too – we often discuss what needs to go into the bags for the next day and then assemble it together.

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  4. I aim for the smoothest, best mornings possible.  I can’t even begin to explain how great the feeling is when you drop your kids off at school knowing that you’ve all had a happy stress free morning. For us, this means prepping breakfast items at the same time as dinner is being made (or as we’re doing the clean-up from dinner); fruits and veg are chopped for smoothies and omelettes, the coffee maker is filled and the timer turned on, and anything that needs defrosting can be put out to thaw (like when the kids have muffins for breakfast).
  5. With school bags packed the night before, activity bags prepped on the weekend, and breakfast items ready to go, we’ve found a lot more time in the mornings!  In this time, we’ve been able to “pre-do” homework – things that my son needs to do on a nightly basis (like practice his spelling words) can get done as soon as breakfast is finished.  Our daily 20 minutes of reading for both kids also often gets done before school.  And at that, we still often have time to play (my kids are early risers, though, which gives us an good extra hour in the morning).  If you kids are slow to wake in the morning, there is even more reason to pre-prepare everything – if you only need to focus on feeding and dressing them, and not also assembling everything they need for the day, how much smoother would your mornings be?
  6. While I make my breakfast (I usually eat an omelette of some sort), I also make my lunch (usually a salad of some sort).  If I have a busy day, my salad comes along with me.  But if I’m home for lunch, it’s there, waiting for me.  This not only ensures that I’m eating properly, it also lets me maximize the time I have while the kids are in school.  I also tend to pack a water bottle and a snack for me (a few nuts, a fruit) so that I’m never in a position where I am starving, and find myself looking longingly at treats at Starbucks!
  7. As I have had time to practice these rituals/routines over the past few weeks and months, I am finding I have more and more pockets of time in which to get things done.  This may mean errands or chores, or it may mean chipping away at things I’ve wanted to do for a long time (like organize our photos and get caught up on photo books), or it may involve trying out new recipes or working on this blog.  But more importantly, it also means that I have more and more enjoyable time with the kids; I no longer am constantly obsessing over what needs to get done, what I haven’t gotten done, or what I could be doing.

So that, in a nutshell, is how I’ve found a way to live a life that is the antithesis of overwhelmed!  The fact that we can plan to eat well, sleep an adequate amount of time each night, and make sure to prioritize exercise, we physically feel better living this way.  And by not inhabiting a life that makes me feel constantly overwhelmed, I feel far better emotionally too.

I hope that in some small way this post can help you to make your life just a little bit less overwhelming and maybe, just maybe, a little more magical.

 

 

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