Calming a Cluttered Mind

Suggestions for calming a cluttered mind can fit into all three dimensions of Sustainable Productivity. This may seem counterintuitive to suggestion action for an already overworked system.

However, Sustainably Productive habit change comes from replacing one behavior with another. When you stop doing something, there is a void. You have to replace that void with a different something.

Here are some suggestions for what that replacement could be.

Health and Fitness

Walking meditation as a way of calming a cluttered mind.

  • Engage your 5 senses. Notice your surroundings by identifying something you can see, hear, taste, smell, and touch. Therapists recommend a strategy called the 54321  Grounding Technique to overcome anxiety.
  • Cal Newport’s “Productive Meditation” is a sort of walking meditation as well. Although the name seems counterproductive, focusing on a single problem while moving – especially in nature – can unstuck the most stuck of us.

Mental Well-being

Traditional Meditation is another option for you to begin to settle a mind in overdrive. There are numerous apps, books, and classes that can teach you about or guide you through meditation.

What has worked for me is simply sitting with a 10-minute timer set and clearing my mind. If thoughts wander by, I imagine them as clouds floating through. On days where my mind wanders a smidge more aggressively, I imagine picking up that thought and depositing it in a filing cabinet.

You may never make it through the whole 10 minutes wander free, but noticing the wander and returning to intention to clear your mind will help with calming a cluttered mind.

“Nothing in the universe can stop you from letting go and starting over.” Guy Finley

Environmental Surroundings

Set up your surroundings to soothe you from the outside in. This requires you to pay attention to what you pay attention to when it is “one of those days“.

  • Get rid of what may set off monkey mind. Are the walls closing in on you in your home office because of the bags of donations that need to be dropped off? Do you get frustrated at the lack of counter space every time you meal prep? Address those areas instead of continuing to be annoyed.
  • Seek out what calms your mind. Here I want you to notice when soothes you. Maybe you feel the knots in your belly untie when you sit under a certain blanket. Do you imagine sinking into a corner of the sofa at the end of they day? Or is the seat at your kitchen table with the sun streaming in where you find you are best at calming a cluttered mind?

Just as with traditional meditation, part of the calming happens just by noticing.

Your Turn

I would love to hear your strategies for calming a cluttered mind. What has worked – or not worked? Let’s crowd source our ideas – a high tide raises all boats. The more we all can reduce that frantic pace of life, the more we will create a culture of Sustainable Productivity.

By |2021-04-27T04:48:15-04:00April 27th, 2021|Mental Well-being|2 Comments

Making Adjustments

It is ok to change your mind – that is what making adjustments is all about. Sometimes your well-crafted plan to live a Sustainably Productive life does not work. There could be several reasons for this.

  1. Schedules change
  2. Priorities change
  3. Minds change

Whatever the reason – making adjustments is OK. In fact, making adjustments is encouraged. That is part of the Continuous Improvement work that is in the Sustainable You coursework.

At the start of 2021, I set a goal to do 90 minutes of yoga each week. I applied Sustainable Productivity principles and broke it down to do a 30 minute YouTube video 3 times each week.

This was great for the first 3 months of the year. Once the weather started getting nicer, I wanted to be outside and on my bike more. Now that I am vaccinated, I want to join my regular in person hot yoga class (exercising in a 100 degree room with a mask on sounds like a dream, doesn’t it?!).

But what about the original goal I set for 90 minutes a week? If I do 1 class in studio each week that is only 60 minutes. 2 classes in studio does not fit my budget or schedule right now. The YouTube video is not as inviting since I would have to be inside.

Non-Sustainable Productivity solution: Throw out the whole plan.

Sustainable Productivity solution: Make adjustments using the Continuous Improvement steps.

Step 1 – Record the result

This is an easy one if you have been using the Sustainable You Habit Tracker. If I look back at the last 2 weeks, I have a big ZERO for yoga.

Step 2 – Why this result

This step can take some tough love. A tool that can help to get to the root cause of the result is the 5 Whys. Start with the high level question: Why did I skip yoga over the last 2 weeks.

  1. I wanted to garden and ride my bike instead. Then ask why again (2nd why): Why did I want to garden and bike instead?
  2. A desire to be outside. Then ask why again (3rd why): Why did I want to be outside?
  3. The weather has gotten so nice. Ask why again (4th why): Why did I want to be out in warmer weather?
  4. It is pretty this time of year, so much to look at and do. The last (5th) why: Why is this different from yoga?
  5. I am bored doing the same routine and need a change of scenery. 

Once you get to that 5th question, you usually have a root cause that you can use to make your adjustment.

Step 3 – Adjustment

Throwing the baby out with the bathwater in not sustainable nor productive. Not doing yoga is not a productive way to improve my mental well-being or physical fitness. But continuing to “require” the 30-minute YouTube video 3 times per week is just going to make me crabby, which is not sustainable.

Enter the beauty of making adjustments. Here are a few that I am making for this week:

  • 1 yoga class in studio
  • 2 bike rides
  • Garden on breaks from work

Next weekend I can repeat these Continuous Improvement steps and see if any more adjustments need to be made.

Permission Slip

I can hear you thinking (or perhaps yelling at me through your device screen): BUT YOU SET A GOAL FOR THE YEAR FOR 90 MINUTES!!!

That is true. And you know what else is true? It is ok to change your mind.

If you go to the core of your WHY, then you can be true to your intention of creating a life you don’t want to numb out and escape from. HOW you create that life can change as you make adjustments.

Consider this post a permission slip to change your mind.

I want to create a life I don’t need to escape by calming my monkey mind and being physically active to reduce physical aches and pains. I can do that through yoga or time in the garden or in the bike saddle – or a combination of all three!

Your Turn

What isn’t working with your habits? What small adjustments can you make? I encourage you to try the 5 Why’s exercise to try to get to the root of the issue. If you need help walking through this or the Continuous Improvement steps, I would love to talk it through with you.

By |2021-05-18T08:48:07-04:00April 20th, 2021|Habit Change|0 Comments

Get the Right Things Done

Forget about getting more done, I want you to get the right things done. The topic I get the most questions about is time management. I want to share the principles behind time block planning that help me to be productive in a sustainable way.

Time block planning is certainly not something that I invented. On Laura Vanderkam’s June 4th episode of her “Before Breakfast” podcast, she talks about the value of time blocking. Cal Newport has a whole website and planner dedicated to time block planning.

Do not be afraid that this is going to be all about doing more with your day. Time block planning will allow you to make sure the RIGHT THINGS get done in a day. That is why it is a time management tool to get the right things done, not to get MORE done.

The Pain Point

Tell me if this scenario resonates with you:

You have ABC thing to do but you know you will need a good 40 minute chunk of time to do it. This might be sort out a billing error, write an email outlining results or a problem you have to look up dates to references, or finding something from your storage unit because you know it is probably in a box at the back.

So you wait to have time. You do stuff in the meantime, pretending to be productive, but you don’t get the right things done.

  • Putting off the billing error makes you miss out on a refund.
  • Not sending the email means your voice is not counted.
  • Avoiding the storage unit leads to the special Tooth Fairy pillow never being used.

Time does not appear. You do not make time. Time is waiting for you to assign it a job. Imagine time as an empty bin waiting to hold your thoughts and actions for you until you assign a time to tackle it.

As you probably know by now, when you are applying the Sustainable Productivity methods to your habits, once you identify the pain point, it is time to move to the adjustments. First I will give you a few examples of what to time block. This might give you some ideas of how you can make this work in your world. Then I will show you a few options of how to time block. so you can get the right things done.

Adjustment, Part 1

What to time block differs on the role. I use time block planning for two different types of tasks that I encounter in my personal and professional life.

Professional life – Tasks that need to be repeated

The tasks that I encounter in my professional life tend to be those that need to be repeated.

Some tasks happen on regular intervals because of time constraints.

  • Every week I prepare 6 slide decks for the following week.
  • Daily I prepare and send the agendas for the following day’s meetings.
  • For every project I need to prepare a monthly report to the steering committee.

Not all of the tasks are time bound. There are also tasks that are so large that I cannot tackle them to one sitting. For example I currently have a to do I call “Fix the billing SNAFU.” This comedy of errors dates back to the person who was in my role before me so it is taking a long time to untangle and set up a process from devolving again.

Personal life – Tasks that can be grouped

The to do list in my personal life appears very different. The items below are actually on my Brain Dump List on my phone. It seems like they separate out into three buckets.

  1. Errands – These are tasks I need to address outside the house. Grocery pick up, library books pick up / drop off, buy ant spray, and Target.
  2. Chores – These are tasks I can do / need to do at home. Pay bills, empty bathroom trash cans, rollover my retirement form former employment, and clean out the fish bowl.
  3. Non-work – These are things I considered not productive in another life. Today I know rest, fun, hobbies and relaxation are critical to living a Sustainably Productive life. Items in this bucket include: plant potatoes, buy sewing needle to use on denim, look up the address of the murals I want to photograph, and call about an activity for my nieces to do this summer when they visit.

These types of things I time block differently, which we will cover in the next section, Adjustment, Part 2.

Photo by Zan on Unsplash

Adjustment, Part 2

How I set my time blocks to get the right things done differs depending on whether it is for my professional life or my personal life.

Professional life – Tasks that need to be repeated

Let’s return to the example I introduced you to in part 1. I blocked an hour each week dedicated to Project SNAFU. If I wait until I have time to tackle it, that will never come. I won’t solve it in an hour, but I can make progress each week by following up and asking questions related to it.

Similarly, I have a 45 minute block daily on my calendar to prep for tomorrow’s meetings and send agendas. Same for a block to draft Power Point slides each week and Steering Committee status each month.

If you wait until you have time to tackle a large project, it will never happen.

Personal life – Tasks that can be grouped

In my personal life I find that the list often overruns the time I have available. I may only have an hour to run errands during my lunch hour so I need to prioritize – what really need to get done today and what could be put off. Then I plan for driving time. We often overlook driving time – we race around and cannot figure out why we ended up late to our afternoon appointments. Until we can figure out how to apparate like in Harry Potter, factor in that travel time.

On my calendar I will block an hour (or 30 minutes – whatever the day allows) for chores and non-work as well. This gives me flexibility to prioritize (or cherry pick fun) chores I want to do in that time allotment. Your task grow to fill the time you give it so learn from Julie Morgensten about giving your time borders to contain it.

One more thing about that non-work time. I know many of you are out there saying you will do The Fun Thing after the work is done. Then another day rolls by and you are (rightfully so) exhausted at the end of the day and just collapse in front of Netflix. Building The Fun Thing into your day with a time block gives you a better chance that it will indeed happen.


Later this week I will be posting video of how I use time blocking planning as part of a larger project plan. For my day job, I have a 500+ line project plan for a 6 month, multimillion dollar project. I will show you how I apply time block planning to that project plan to get the work done (i.e. is productive) in a way that is methodical and repeatable (i.e. sustainable).

By |2021-05-18T08:49:09-04:00April 13th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Who Is Cheering You On These Days?

Even though I was raised in team sports, it was not until much later in life that I truly valued the tribe of women in my corner. Where in my teenage years to late 30s I had a few women who I truly believed had my best interest at heart, in my 40s that circle is widening – even as I am becoming more discerning.


Healthy relationships are part of the Mental Well-being pillar of Sustainable Productivity. I want to share a few women who have been cheering on my writing by sharing with their tribe. I want you to think about those in your circle. Who has taken time to brag about you, share your victories, and asked – and really wanted to know – how you are doing lately?

Here are a few of mine.

Learning new things always includes a learning curve. But social media for this middle aged introvert? Get outta here. So when Brooke Turbyfill asked me to test out Instagram Live interviews?

But alas, I swung for the fences and had fun – and learned something along the way! You can check it out here.

Then I had an opportunity to guest post on Sarah Butterfield “Out of Place” series. You can find my piece on “Ditching Perfection to Find Belonging” on Sarah’s website.

I hope that this inspires you to life someone else up and to look around you to see if you need to be more particular about your relationships. If you can’t find a cheerleader, come find me – I am rooting for you.

By |2021-04-06T13:17:26-04:00April 6th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Go to Top