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.

Bonus

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.

Source: https://www.instagram.com/leaninorg/

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

Non-Soul Sucking Ways to Clean the Kitchen

All I wanted is to find was to find a way to a non-soul sucking way to clean the kitchen.

I had a vision for how a “good” parent and partner keeps her kitchen. Where this comes from and why I subscribe to it is a story for a whole other post. But here is what I know – having a ritual of “closing down” the kitchen with clean surfaces and a dishwasher running untangles knots in my belly.

My vision is for counters wiped down, things in their place, hand washed dishes air drying on their mat, and the dishwasher running so my family has clean plates to eat off of and no one is eating their food off a Tupperware lid.

A good parent and partner must live here.
Source: Photo by Adam Winger on Unsplash

This vision rarely manifests to reality. I am tired after working for 12 hours and my couch has this weird force field that makes it difficult for me to escape. Plus we are in the middle of binging Big Bang Theory and there are about 7 million episodes.

I feel shame when I sink into the couch on my 3rd episode while the meatloaf grease congeals in the pan and the mail lays unopened on the counter.

This is not productive nor sustainable.

Can you relate?

Let’s solve this story problem together.

Step 1 – Ask the Questions

Creating a life you don’t need to escape starts with asking the Sustainable Productivity questions.

Is this Productive: Am I getting the result I want?

No. Tomorrow Susan is annoyed when Last Night Susan could not at least run the dishwasher to have clean coffee cups for the morning. I know my environmental surroundings contribute directly to a Sustainably Productive life and not cleaning up  is not helping me create the life I want.

Is this Sustainable: Can I continue this lifelong if I want?

No. I don’t want to feel weighed down by inertia on the couch and glued to the TV. Guilt, shame, shoulds and embarrassment are not feelings I want to keep around lifelong.

Time for an adjustment.

Step 2 – Make an Adjustment

Clean the kitchen before sitting down for TV. Boom done.

But it is not that easy. Sometimes a recipe seems to take every dang dish in our cabinets. Sometimes the shenanigans of the day leave me not able to even chuck the cloth napkins in the hamper.

To make an adjustment that is Sustainably Productive, we need to start small. What is a one small thing that can be repeated each night after dinner to signal the kitchen is “clean and closed”? Here are some suggestions:

  • Load and start the dishwasher. Some models have delayed start allowing for those teenagers in your house having second dinner to add their dishes. If the cycle starts at 3:00 am you can still have clean mugs come morning.
  • Wash and put away the pots and pans.
  • Set up the coffee pot to be ready to start or set the timer if your model has one.
  • Chuck any papers in the box designated for this.
  • Clear surfaces of dog leashes/treats, backpacks, books, and other random crap that accumulates.
  • Corral shoes left in the kitchen, sending them back to their proper homes.

This is a list of adjustments to make, non-soul sucking ways to clean the kitchen. The intention is not to do all of it all the time. When I am fired up and motivated, I make checklists to do ALL of these things EVERY night. Then night comes and I can’t do it all so I do none. Guilt, shame, shoulds and embarrassment.

The adjustment is to pick one. Maybe it’s the shoes. Maybe you need to start smaller – it is your shoes. Every night this week put away your shoes. That’s it. If you do anything else, great. But putting away your shoes is how we are defining success.

Then at the end of the week, see how you did.

Step 3 – Evaluate Your Progress

After a week, check in to see how it went. Maybe putting away your shoes gave you momentum to drop the papers in the box, which lead to firing up the dishwasher between episodes. Great!

If you feel dialed into this new non-soul sucking ways to clean the kitchen, stay this course. If you still feel negative feelings about it, start back over at step 1 and identify what is the biggest pain point. Make the adjustment. Evaluate progress.

Your Turn

Let me know where you want to apply the Sustainable Productivity questions in your life. Together we can brainstorm ways to break it down and create a life you don’t need to escape.

By |2021-03-28T15:48:11-04:00March 30th, 2021|Environmental Surroundings|2 Comments

Ways to Improve Physical and Mental Health

Spring forward and the vernal equinox sure help me improve mental and physical health! It’s that time of year when we start to come out of hibernation. I have a bit more energy to tackle, well – anything. If you have been around here for a minute, you know how much I love books and gardening. These are a couple of my favorite hobbies. I want to share with you why they also improve mental and physical health in hopes you will be inspired to add a hobby to your life. 

Benefits of Books

While self-improvement and memoir are in my top favorites to read, fiction is what is my favorite for escape, relaxation and general enjoyment. Research proves this is not just in my head. Reading fiction can

  • Reduce stress by 68% – demonstrated by lowered heart rate and muscle tension
  • Enhance “Theory of Mind” which is the ability to understand other’s mental states and show increased empathy. 
  • Increase your life span. According to Social Science and Medicine, those who read 3.5 hours per week had a 17|% lower risk of dying in the next 12 years. Reading MORE than 3.5 hours per week lower their risk by 23%. 

Source: Dr Caroline Leaf

Benefits of Gardening

Gardening can be equally healthy – both mentally and physically. You don’t have to have an elaborate or expansive property, even a simple container garden on the balcony of an apartment can bring you benefits. 

Benefits of Hobbies in General

While books and gardening might not be your jam, I cannot encourage you enough to find your jam. Hobbies give you a respite from the grind. You are more than the sum of your work hours. Whether that work is something that gets a W2 or not you need a hobby. 

  • Stay at home moms need time to give to themselves just as generously as they give to all of their people ALL DAY (and sometimes night) LONG.
  • CEOs need to take off the high heels and put up their feet to just be, not to solve all the problems. 
  • And where are my teachers? Sheesh, you are the CEO, mothers, tech support, and educators that the rest of us can’t even pretend to keep up with. 

It is more important to find some kind of hobby that to find the perfect hobby. No matter what you try, the simple pursuit of a hobby is what will reduce your need to escape your life. 

Extra Credit

Hobbies are just as important as laughter. If you want bonus points towards creating a life you don’t need to escape, check out this “No’s of Hobbies” podcast episode. 

By |2021-03-21T12:11:15-04:00March 23rd, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Compromise That Actually Works

Although I am an adult who understands life is not fair, I am desperate for compromise that actually works. In general I feel the way Larry David does in Curb Your Enthusiasm, “A good compromise is when both parties are dissatisfied.”

I often field questions about how Sustainable Productivity can work in real life. I will bring you examples from real life – mine and my clients – in order to show how you can use the 3-step Sustainable Productivity model to create a life you don’t need to escape. I started wondering if I could find compromise that actually worked by using Sustainable Productivity in relationships.

The Background

When Bixby and I first started sharing a toothpaste tube, we had 2 adults, 2 kids, 4 Labs and 2 cats sharing 1100 square feet of house. We adapted the best we could – except for Bluesy, the cat. He moved out and adopted the neighbors after all 4 dogs had him cornered in the living room one day. To be fair, Bluesy generally started it.

But the rest of us did the best with what we had. The kids decided to sleep in one room and have the other as a playroom. Bixby and I purged mercilessly to bring two full households into one. This was Sustainable Productivity at its best – decide where the pain points are and make small, sustainable changes over time.

The Pain Point

Until one day when Bixby lost it. Over the toothpaste tube. He decided this was not something that could continue lifelong.

You see, in every couple, there is one who squeezes the toothpaste from the bottom and one who squeezes from the middle. There is a hilarious Instagram thread where my favorite couple Glennon Doyle and Abby Wambach battle this issue.

My name is Susan S., and I am a middle squeezer.

Admitting my problem was truly only the first step.

I tried to change to squeeze from the bottom. It was not sustainable – I would forget or be tired at night and not care. I would be petty and grumpy and squeeze from the middle on purpose.

He tried to change and ignore my egregious behavior. It was not productive. You can only stuff your feelings down so many times before there is a blow up.

The Adjustment

They say marriages break up over dumb things. That seemed like a drastic adjustment to make for a toothpaste tube problem, but we could not continue with this pebble in the shoe of our marriage. The pain point was the tube. If we could make an adjustment about the tube, we would solve the problem before it grew into a bigger issue like, “You never listen to me” or “You know what bothers me and do it on purpose.”

So we bought a 2nd tube. Bixby kept his neat, tidy squeezed-from-the-bottom tube in his gross, messy drawer. I kept my blurt-from-the-middle tube in my Marie Kondo-eque box organized drawer.

Evaluate Progress

And we lived happily ever after. After meeting on Match.com 14 years ago and being quarantined together for 12 months, we are still each other’s weirdos.

By |2021-03-13T15:36:07-05:00March 16th, 2021|Sustainable Productivity|0 Comments

3 Steps to Nail Your Goals

A couple months into the new year and if you are like most of us, it is becoming harder to nail your goals. One of the goals I set for myself in 2021 is to do 90 minutes of yoga each week. When I sat down to look at my progress at the end of January, I had not hit that once. Each week I did 60 minutes. Zero weeks I did 90 minutes.

It was time to make some adjustments.

Step One: Define what isn’t working

First define what was not working. What is the pain point that prevents you from meeting your goal. For example, what was keeping me from doing that 3rd day of yoga?

Inertia. That’s it. I identified my January pattern. Yoga on Monday and Tuesday, then wander off for the rest of the week, never coming back to that third day.

Once you identify what isn’t working, you can identify potential adjustments to course correct in order to nail your goals.

Step Two: Make adjustments

When considering what adjustments to make, I encourage you to make Sustainably Productive adjustments. Here is what that means:

  1. Make it Productive. The adjustment has to address the pain point – it has to have potential to solve the problem. There are so many demands on your time, if you are going to take the time to make an adjustment, it has to work for you. Otherwise, it is wasted time. You may not know for sure it will work, but it have to have the potential to work. For example, in order to hit 90 minutes of yoga per week, I could do 90 minutes of yoga on Monday morning. Boom, done – on with the week. This is not productive for me because the reason I am doing yoga in the first place is to reduce pain by increasing my flexibility and strength. Skipping 6 days of yoga does not help keep this tin man moving! Not productive.
  2. Make it Sustainable. The adjustment has to be something you could continue. If the adjustment is going to add more stress or lead to burnout, it is not sustainable. Don’t take it on. Back to the potential adjustment of 90 minutes all in 1 day. This is not sustainable with my schedule. I don’t want to reduce my sleep in order to jam a long yoga session in. I don’t want to lose my writing time or be late to my day job either. Not sustainable.

The adjustment I chose to make was to leverage that idea of inertia. A body in motion will stay in motion, etc. etc. In February I decided to do yoga on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday mornings.

How did that work out, you ask? Let’s move to step 3 – evaluate progress.

Step Three: Evaluate progress

Result? 100%. I hit 90 minutes all 4 weeks.

Using the Sustainable You Habit Tracker, I was able to look at each week and see progress. The last week of the month, I REALLY did not want to do yoga on Wednesday morning. But I saw all of those other weeks tallied up and knew if I skipped that day, it would ruin the streak. Classic peer pressure. But Sustainably Productive peer pressure – 30 minute a day for 3 days in a row is doable and it is working for me.

How can you use these steps to help you nail your goals?

By |2021-03-06T09:19:35-05:00March 9th, 2021|Habit Change|0 Comments

Spring clean your body

This seems like a really dumb time to talk about how to spring clean your body. As I sit here writing this in Feb 2021, we are only 5 days out from one ice storm and in the middle of another. We are wedged tightly in the middle of winter.

Crepe myrtle branches covered in ice.

But it won’t always be like this. Spring will come – I promise. And with it comes droves of headlines about getting “Beach Body Ready” and “Spring Clean Your Body!”

While you can reduce the amount of these messages that come at you (the Media Lesson in the Environmental Surroundings Course can help you with this), you won’t get rid of them all. You cannot control how the messages come at you, but you can control how you accept them and incorporate them into your life.

Let me show you how.

Identify What Isn’t Working

Being bombarded with message to “Spring Clean Your Body!” gives off a vibe that what you have needs an overhaul. I would like to suggest that maybe throwing out everything about the person you are is not a Sustainably Productive way to change your habits or think about your Health and Fitness. By identifying what isn’t working you can start to make small, gradual changes that help you create a life you don’t want to escape.

Identify what isn’t working: Maybe you are exhausted all day. That dragging fatigue leaves you less motivated to exercise or cook healthy meals. Which leads to poor food choices, which leads to poor sleep… leaving you exhausted the next day. Vicious cycle.

The root of what isn’t working in this scenario is sleep – the foundation of all healthy habits. If you ever find yourself unsure where to start, I recommend addressing sleep habits first.

Step 1: Identify what isn’t working. Answer: Sleep

Once you identify what isn’t working you can move on to make adjustments.

Make an Adjustment

An adjustment can come in many forms, but I want to offer 2 different buckets that adjustments might fall into.

  • Something you do.

Experts recommend 7-9 hours of sleep for adults, but if you are sitting at a solid 5 hours nightly, lying in bed for 9 hours is not a Sustainably Productive adjustment to make. Start small. Make the action step something that is productive for you – it has to work for you, not just be something the experts tell you that you SHOULD. I also encourage you to make it sustainable – it has to be something you can keep doing. It is ok it you don’t get to the “should.” Just make it something you can repeat.

Here is an example. If you got 5 hours of sleep last night, go to bed 15 minutes earlier tonight. That’s it. Even if you lay awake for that 15 minutes. Then do it again tomorrow night. And the night after.

There is another type of adjustment you can make besides an action step.

  • Something you think about what you do.

A mind shift, reconsideration, or full on paradigm shift. Stop thinking about sleep as being the last thing in your day. This is just leaving you in a cold sweaty pool of panic, “HOW CAN THE DAY BE OVER, MY LIST IS NOT DONE!” No one sleeps well in a sweaty pool of panic. What if you shifted your thinking about sleep to be the start of the new day? Instead of sleep being a futile exercise in restoring the damage a stressful day caused, you start to think about it as building up reserves for the next day?

Step 2: Make an adjustment.

Evaluate Progress

After a few days – a week at most – check in with yourself to see how this adjustment is serving you. This is a simple 3-step process.

  1. Put it on the calendar. It may seem dumb to have a 5 minute appointment to ask yourself if thinking about sleep differently is helping you avoid a cold sweaty pool of panic. But life gets busy and time flies by. I know so many moms that kept a calendar of the baby’s poop schedule. I daresay your sleep habits are as important as poop.
  2. Answer the check in questions. Download the worksheet to answer the questions to decide if an adjustment is working for you.
  3. Make adjustments. If what you did worked, do a little more of it – back up your bedtime 15 more minutes for next week. If your adjustment did not work, ask why. Maybe you forgot to consider sleep as the start of the day and monkey mind kept you up again. Perhaps a reminder on your phone would help. At 9:00 pm (or whenever you want to start your evening routine), a reminder pops up: Today is over, you did your best. It is time to start tomorrow with the sleep I am about to have. Maybe you have the mindset, but it is so hot in your room you cannot sleep. Now your adjustment becomes action, not mindset. Adjust the temp by 1 degree every few nights until you find what works.

Step 3: Evaluate your progress.

Repeat As Needed

This process is a never ending loop. Today’s “Spring Clean Your Body” challenge might be sleep, but if you keep applying the Sustainable Productivity process and tools to it you eventually will create sleep habits that work for you. At that point you will ask the question, “What isn’t working,” and another answer will come up.

If you are getting another answer besides sleep today, let me know what it is. Let’s talk about it in the comments below!

By |2021-02-21T09:09:41-05:00March 2nd, 2021|Health & Fitness|0 Comments

3 Ways to Divide Labor and Save Time

Today I want to teach you about Sustainably Productive ways to divide labor and save time. Some time management methods say partner should own the whole process and if that works for you and your partner – great! I have not found this to be a solution in our house. If I were to own the whole “feeding the people” task, it would implode quickly. My feelings would be hurt when noses were turned up, I didn’t understand a recipe, or it generally did not turn out as planned. This would not be something I could maintain lifelong.

The other way division of labor is not Sustainably Productive is when the ball is dropped because you thought someone else was taking care of it or if you end up duplicating efforts and wasting time. It looks a lot like Lucille and her friend, Rupp trying to both play with the same stick.

Here are three things to consider as you divide labor in your life.

Do the tasks only you can do

I mean this in the most literal sense of the word. There are some things that only one person can do. Your partner might find a way around it to accomplish a finish, but it would be cost and time prohibitive to do so. Here are a few examples:

  • Only a nursing mom can breastfeed the baby. Sure dad can get a bottle or use formula, but for some people this is not within their parenting strategy or budget to bottle feed.
  • At work, maybe there are certain tasks only a person with a certain certification is permitted to do. A nurse for example.
  • In our house only Bixby can fix the servers when there are issues. I know how to get on the server, but setup, back up, blah blah blah – that is something only he can do. Sure I could learn or hire out – but that becomes cost and time prohibitive.

How this plays into time management is that these types of tasks – the ones that only you can do – need to be the big boulders that go in the time management container first. This Stephen Covey analogy is something you can learn more about in the Sustainable You Course. By making sure you cover the big boulders first, the rest of the little things can fill in around it.

Here is how this might play out in my house. The original plan was for Bixby to mow the lawn and clean the house during my writing time before we had company later that day. But the gas can is empty so the lawn can’t get mowed and the server goes down so I cannot access my book manuscript during my designated writing time. The big boulder goes first – only Bixby can bring the server up.

That has to go first and I shift to cover some of his tasks. By the time I go to fill the gas can and clean the bathrooms, the server is back up. We high five and tag back to our assigned tasks – me to writing and him to mowing and cleaning.

Time management adjustment: Divide labor by first assigning tasks that only you can do.

Do tasks in your wheelhouse

Another way to divide labor is to identify what your wheelhouse tasks are and tackle those – and only those. I am defining wheelhouse here as the things that light you up and put wind in your sails. Tasks that are your jam. You have things that you are good at and enjoy. Don’t compare your contribution to anyone else’s. Embrace what you are good at.

Source: Buddhist Boot Camp

Meals are a great example of this in our house. I do not enjoy cooking or any of its associated tasks – chopping, translating recipes (WTF is blanching anyway?), being patient while things cook, etc. Luckily, all of that is in Bixby’s wheelhouse. He finds it RELAXING to do all of this after a stressful day at work. Before we got married we were talking about division of labor and he said he would take on preparing all dinners as long as when he said he wanted to go out to eat, I would agree.

Ummmmm, ok?

Sounds like a dream, but let me brag about my contribution – I choose the recipes, plan which night we will have what, order the groceries online, pick them up, and clean up the kitchen after dinner. Wheelhouse. My role in the family is Supply Chain and Logistics and everything that happens before dinner falls squarely in that bucket.

Time management adjustment: Divide labor by assigning tasks that you love to do or are good at.

Do what matters to you

There is something about having a clean kitchen when I go to bed that makes me feel like the day is complete. When I was growing up, my sister and I would clean the kitchen after dinner before we started our homework.

[Let me burst your bubble if you have Walton family visions here – I have distinct memories of my dad sitting at the table drinking coffee and making me rewipe the table repeatedly because I did a terrible job. The teeth sucking and eye rolling coming from me would make you think he was asking me to wipe the color brown off of the wood. Kids are the worst.]

But when the kitchen was clean, the kitchen was closed. We moved to the dining room where the homework was done. My mom was a teacher so she was always doing school work at the same time as Sister and me. My dad would sit in the adjacent living room and read the paper. He was the designated quizzer when it came time to prove we were ready for upcoming tests.

Clearly I have strong memories of a clean kitchen signaling a transition and closing ritual. This carries over today.

Bixby could not care less. He appreciates a clean kitchen, but it is not his hill to die on. So I take it on as my task.

Time management adjustment: Divide labor by volunteering for tasks that matter to you.

Take these as considerations – not hard fast rules. They guidelines you can start to make adjustments with as you divide labor.  The idea is to make the tasks work for you instead of the other way around. This is a time management principle that you can use to create a life you don’t need to escape.

Your Turn

Let me know how this is working for you. If you get stuck, come find me on Instagram to we can work together to find adjustments you can make

By |2021-02-21T08:06:37-05:00February 23rd, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Fundamental Reading Question #2: 4 Books Everyone Should Read

This is part 2 in the Fundamental Reading Question series. You can read about Question 1 here.

I love to be bossy. I do not consider “bossy” to be an insult. So when my friend, Genay, tossed Fundamental Reading Question 2 at me, I immediately opened my mouth to tell her what I thought everyone should do.

But when I opened my mouth, I was speechless. Crickets.

Here is the question that stumped me. Fundamental Reading Question #2: What books should everyone read?

I have been procrastinating writing this post because of that word SHOULD. There is nothing about a Sustainably Productive life that includes the word SHOULD. Yet, I love talking about books, and I love this Fundamental Reading Question.

So with apologies to Genay, I am going to give an answer a bit tangent to this second Fundamental Reading Question. Here are 4 categories of books everyone should read.

Books That Feel Familiar

Reading is not just a hobby for me – it is an escape, a comfort, a respite, and a joy. Definitely something that can help make my life Sustainably Productive. While I rarely re-read a book, but I do have themes that I tend to gravitate towards.

I will read anything about World War II and am fascinated by the politics of the time and how the Third Reich unleashed its hate and fury on the world while good people stood by and let it happen. I will read about concentration camps, resistance groups, both sides of the war, the years leading up to it, the chaos of the whole decade, and the rebuilding after. This topic feels familiar to me and is always a go to topic I pick up when shopping at used book sales.

Taking a very hard turn from WW2 is Little House on the Prairie (LHOP). These are comforting to me, and I recently found Caroline – same stories as the Laura Ingalls Wilder series, but from Ma’s point of view. I watched LHOP growing up and started rewatching last year when it came to Amazon Prime. It is familiar to me. Although revisiting it as an adult makes me cringe at some things we thought were ok to allow on TV in the 70s, the idea of homesteading and family is familiar and comforting.

I have a couple favorite authors that are familiar to me as well. I will read anything by Fredrik Backman or Jodi Picoult. Although their recent releases were misses for me, I will give them a pass. It was a pandemic year after all.

Find a familiar genre or author that you gravitate towards. If you get in a reading slump, return to these. It never fails.

Books That Come Recommended

I will forever and always read what Laura Tremaine tells me to. She is a fellow booklover who has similar reading taste as me. What she recommends, I know I will like. With the exception of A Man Called Ove, books she has disliked have also landed on my Abandoned Books list. [I am not sure how you can’t love a curmudgeon, but I guess Laura is allowed to be wrong once.]

The flip side of this is a podcaster who has the opposite reading taste from me. I know if she recommends something, I will not like it. This is actually helpful because I know what NOT to read – or at least prioritize lower on my TBR. Conversely, when she hates a book, I put it on reserve at the library.

If you are looking to find reading mentors, I recommend starting with Anne Bogel. She has a podcast, a blog, seasonal reading guides, and a reading challenge. Something for everyone for sure! Along the same theme of accessibility for all, her podcast is set up to understand what her guest likes and dislikes in books, then Anne gives recommendations. So if the guest loves sci fi fantasy and so do you, maybe you will like the recommendations Anne gives the guest.

I would love to be your reading mentor! You can also sign up for the Sustainable Sue Bookmobile and I will send you a notice whenever I finis a 5-star read.

Books That You May Not Like

It is ok to abandon a book. Can I let you in on a secret? I have even thrown a book or two because I did not like them that much. Think of it this way – if you don’t identify what you DON’T like, it is hard to identify what you DO like. You may find you like a certain genre, but hate another. You may not be able to read a THING about the Depression Era, but futuristic sci-fi is what keeps the pages turning. Books you don’t like is a category of Fundamental Reading Question #2 because it means you are trying new things.

Speaking of sci fi fantasy – I just cannot. I read The Ocean at the End of the Lane because everyone else did. Same thing with The House of Salt and Sorrows. Caving to peer pressure and picking these books up did improve my reading life though. I learned that I do like fantasy (hello, Harry Potter!), and I do like sci fi (looking at you, anything by Blake Crouch). But I need to keep those separate – it is the combination of sci fi fantasy that is not my jam.

Books That Make You Question

This category of books you should read will probably be the hardest to approach – more so than even reading books you don’t like. Books that make you question what you have always known as fact can rattle the foundation that you were raised on. Here are three suggestions on where you can start.

  1. American Dirt. Anti-immigration comments and views of children torn from their families at the border break my heart. The “helpful” advice, “Go back where you came from” is unacceptable. Read American Dirt and ask yourself if you are the kind of person that you would force another human being to return to a country where they will most likely be killed. American Dirt is a story about why a family fled their home and what hardships they encountered on the way to America. There is controversy about the fact a white woman wrote the story of these Mexicans fleeing from Acapulco, but don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater by skipping this read. It is an entry point for those who need and want to learn more about immigration stories.
  2. And the Band Played On and The Great Believers. No one deserved to be dismissed like gay men were during the AIDS crisis. These two books are heart breaking and at times outrageous examples of how terribly people can treat other people. Yet both books do have hope as there are good people who stood up for what was right, not what was easy.
  3. Nickel and Dimed, Evicted, and Hillbilly Elegy. Minimum wage is a hot debate right now. Cost of living keeps going up while basic wages don’t. Sure most teenagers don’t need to be paid $15/hour for their summer jobs, but some entry level jobs support families of 4 or more. Americans living below the poverty line cannot solve the problem by working harder and saving more. I admit I am a bleeding heart liberal, but I was raised to believe hard work can solve all of your problems. These 3 books were startling eye openers about poverty and the factors that often create a perfect storm.

I would like to offer the old saying: you always do what you always did, you always get what you always got. Ignoring other people, lifestyles, cultures around you out of ignorance is not ok. I encourage you to pick up one of these books to see where you might some similarities to your story. We are all more alike than we are different.

Your Turn

If you choose to pick these books up I would love to hear about it. Just a reminder I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will earn a commission if you click through any of the links in this post and make a purchase. In the meantime, think about your answer to Fundamental Reading Question #2. Tell me what books do YOU think everyone should read?

By |2021-02-13T10:31:26-05:00February 16th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

4 Steps to Get Started

Eventually the winter will end and it will be time to get started. Last week we talked about NOT setting goals and I could feel the hard charging goal getters cringing while quickly deleting the post.

There was a time in my life where I was Goal Getter going balls to the wall while ignoring my empty tank of energy. My spirit was limping along. I am choosing to do things differently now by taking the winter to rest. Maybe you are too.

But eventually spring will come and you will be rested and ready to tackle a project, learn something new, or go after a new goal or two. I want to invite you to consider a softer, gentler approach to get started.

1 – Start Anywhere

If you suffer from analysis paralysis this tip is for you. There is no perfect way to begin. The only way to fail is if you never start at all. Begin somewhere – even if it is in the middle. Laura Vanderkam talks about this on her Before Breakfast podcast from July 29th. There are all kinds of starting points – just pick one, just get started.

2 – Start Smaller

Do you think you have to be an expert before you can take up a new activity? Let’s take yoga for example. I often hear people say, “I can’t do yoga, I am not flexible.” First of all, there is more to yoga that who is most bendy. That aside, flexibility is not a pre-requisite to yoga. You are there to improve your flexibility (among other benefits). Start smaller than pro level.

Next I ask you to consider how you are defining “done.” You don’t have to do an hour of yoga each day to have a yoga practice. Start with 10 minutes once a week. Start with one pose each day. Think about what you want to do and cut that in half. You can build over time if what you are doing is working for you. Get started – small.

3 – Track Progress

What gets measured gets managed. While some of you may not love this tip (I am looking at you, Rebel Tendencies), tracking your progress can help you gain momentum when starting a new habit. If you have taken the Sustainable You course, you might use that tracker. You might have a tracker in your planner or as an app on your phone. It could be a tick mark on the back of the envelope your phone bill came in.

4 –  Be a Beginner

Have you ever watched a child experience something new for the first time? They are in awe of everything they experience with their senses, what their body can do, what the result of each action is. When do we become so fearful of being a beginner?

I was recently working on an embroidery project that I found in my mom’s sewing box after she died. It was a Family Circle pattern from the 70’s still in the envelope it was mailed in. There were some instructions that I just could not figure out – I skipped around in the pattern until I could not put it off any longer. I reached out to a craft group I am in on Facebook, and they didn’t know either. Paralyzed with not knowing the perfect next step, I decided to just embrace being a beginner with this step of the project and take a leap.

I think this flower turned out pretty great!

My perfectly imperfect first attempt at this stitch and interpreting crazy instructions from the 1970s.

Plus, this is art that did not exist in the world before I did it – imagine that! I could not be happier with the outcome. This might not be what the instructions intended, but it is my interpretation on it.
“The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those who sang best.”
Henry Van Dyke
What are you holding back on? Is it fear of perfection keeping you from getting started? Pick somewhere to start – even if it is in the middle. If that still feels wrong, make the step smaller. Consider tracking your progress. Embrace being a beginner – we are all beginners at some point. What a gift to continue to be able to begin again.
By |2021-02-09T09:45:43-05:00February 9th, 2021|Habit Change|0 Comments

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