Mental health is just as important as physical fitness. There are two sides to mental health, and both are equally important: what weighs heavily on your mind and what puts wind in your sails.

Many of us share common mental stressors – time, money, work, emotions, and relationships. Ironically it can be too little or too much of each of these that causes stress. While we are never going to eliminate stress, we can address what do we do to manage it and its affect on our health.

As many humans as exist in the world, there exists as many combinations of answers to mental health concerns. For most diagnosis, medication and talk therapy has been proven to be the best practice. I am not trained as a mental health professional in any way. The information provided here is simply to be a resource for conversations about what has worked to help manage the stressors above to bring joy and lightness to my life and to hear what works for other. To make the daily grind something not just palatable, but something we can look forward too. Some of these ideas might be meditation, learning, or hobbies.

4 Ways to Find More Time to Read

One of the most common questions I get it HOW DO YOU READ SO MANY BOOKS!?

Left to right.

hahahahaha. Ahem.

It is natural for me because reading is one of my favorite hobbies. It serves as entertainment, distraction, escape, and personal growth. Reading has always been encouraged in my family. We often trade books and talk about what we are reading.

But I know that is not reality for everyone. Often people grow up only reading the books school requires or going to bed with no stories read to them or generally reading not being a value. When people with these reading histories ask me how I read so many books, they are often asking how I find the time to read so much.

I want to share a few suggestions on different ways I have fit reading into my schedule during different seasons of life. Reading looked different when I was a parent to school-aged kiddos compared to my current empty nest life. When I was a full time grad student also working full time, fun reading looked really different to times when I was between jobs for a several weeks. Vacations vs. work days. Winter vs. summer. All of these are variables that impact reading, but there are some common tools and tricks that might help you find more time to read.

Timers

You will be amazed at how quickly you can get through a book by reading only 20 minutes per day. Set a timer for 20 minutes and over a couple weeks you will be able to get through a 300-page book. If you don’t think you have 20 minutes in your day, I gently suggest that you look at the report on your phone that tells you how much time you spend on different apps, particularly social media.

If you truly don’t have 20 minutes, what about 10 minutes? I have family members who spend more time than that on the toilet everyday.

Identify small pockets of time

A corollary to the 20-minute suggestion is to identify pockets of time where you wait. These could be small pockets of time that occur naturally throughout your day. Car pool lines, picking up groceries, waiting for dinner to cook / water to boil, while the coffee percolates.

You also could manufacture small pockets of time for you to fit some reading in. Arriving to an appointment extra early, placing your dinner order at the restaurant instead of calling ahead. Yes – generally being “inefficient.” But is it truly inefficient if it is building in time for a hobby that brings you joy?

Different formats

If you find yourself without time to pick up a book, maybe switching to audiobook would work for you. Are you in  “Mom’s Taxi” years of parenting? The car is a great place to engage in audiobooks. A Kindle is a great option for readers on the move. Often a book is cumbersome to carry around, but a Kindle can hold hundreds of books and easily fit into a purse or briefcase.
Perhaps the fiction books you are reading are not really landing with you lately or you lose track of fiction books on audio. Switch to non-fiction. Putting down romance for historical fiction or sci fi might reignite your love of books. Burnt out on non-fiction self-help? Pick up memoir to break out of your rut.

Keep a list of suggestions

What happens when you identify small pockets of time, set your timer and then can’t decide what to read? Plan ahead for this eventuality by keeping a list of book recommendations. You probably have come across suggestions in magazines, podcasts, this blog, friends, and more. Keep these suggestions in 1 location so you can grab a title when you are stumped.
Some readers like a simple notebook to list their To Be Read books. Others use a Word document or Excel list. I use the app Goodreads. You can read more about this decision here.

Your Turn

If you are a regular reader, how do you make time in your day? If you are not, what is keeping you from reading more?
By |2021-09-12T19:58:05-04:00September 14th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Time Management – Weekdays vs. Weekends

While rest is a mandatory part of a SusPro life, a bit of structure around the weekend can make sure that the important things get done. Each of us will have a different idea of what those important things are. Likewise, we will all have a different tolerance for planning out a weekend. I also want to assure you moms that are in the thick of it that there are different seasons of life in your weekend planning also. You will not always be chained to the steering wheel for hours on end every weekend.

This week’s post will introduce you to time management principles to consider when creating a weekend plan and how weekend time management might differ from weekday time management. The intention is not to accomplish more, but to create a rhythm of life that you feel does not suck all of your energy. Its all about creating a life you don’t need to escape.

Let’s dive in.

Weekday Time Blocks

For a traditional work and school schedule, the weekdays (Monday through Friday) is where the action happens. Time management during these days tends to be more intense. There is more happening, involving more people, and deadlines are less flexible.

Most of our days are ruled by a digital calendar or paper day planner. Time blocks present themselves neatly around parts of your day. Here is how my schedule might break out:

Block 1 – before work: 5:30 am – 9:00 am

Block 2 – work day: 9:00 am – 6:00 pm

Block 3 – after work: 6:00 pm – 9:00 pm

During block 1 I usually exercise, do a few house chores, maybe run an errand, and generally on ramp my day. Bock 2 is completely ruled by my Outlook calendar. Here is what that looks like in an average week.

This is open to everyone in my company so I often juggle my schedule based on what has been added to my calendar since I logged on last (note: this does not juggle my PRIORITIES, just the time where I can get priorities done. This is a topic for another day). Block 3 is dinner, crafting, and any socializing I might do (which is rare during the week).

I am relatively inflexible during the week. Although I may have an opportunity to do a quick bike ride during work hours if I skipped exercise that morning, it is not a sure thing that I can count on since work hours are dedicated to the office.

Weekends are a different story.

Weekend Time Blocks – What

My goal for most weekends is to recharge and restore. I cannot stress enough the reality that “recharge and restore” means something different to each person. The first thing is to determine what recharge and restore means to you.

  • Is it knocking out a chore or errand? Or designating an hour for each. Sometimes crossing things off my to do list early paves the way to relaxation. I know recharging is the right thing to do – as a recovering perfectionist, sometimes I need a little trickery.
  • Is it physical activity? Workdays often leave little time for exercise. The weekend can be an ideal time to make your physical fitness a priority.
  • Is it hobbies? Singing or dancing lessons. Time at the painting easel. Writing, reading, drive in the country. All of these activities can be the “big rocks” that you build your restoration time around.

Once you decide what you want to spend your time doing, let’s decide how to time block the days so you can accomplish what you intended.

Weekend Time Blocks – How

One of my favorite ways to organize the weekend is from Julie Morgenstern – breaking the weekend into 7 blocks.

Here is what this might look like in a weekend filled with SusPro activities):

  • Fri evening – dinner out (Nutrition / Health & Fitness), family movie night (Media / Environmental Surroundings)
  • Sat morning – long run (Exercise / Health & Fitness), meal planning / grocery trip (Nutrition / Health & Fitness)
  • Sat afternoon – nap (Sleep / Health & Fitness), house cleaning (Physical Surroundings / Environmental Surroundings), and yard work (Hobbies / Mental Well-being)
  • Sat evening – date night (Relationships / Mental Well-being)
  • Sun morning – singing in choir (Hobbies / Mental Well-being), phone calls to family
  • (Relationships / Mental Well-being)
  • Sun afternoon – meal prep (Nutrition / Health & Fitness), hike (Exercise / Health & Fitness and Rest / Environmental Surroundings)
  • Sun evening – planning for the coming week (Time Management / Mental Well-being)

Your Turn

Time to plan your weekend! First figure out what your true priorities are. Then block your weekend into 7 parts and strategize how to fit your priorities into each segment. Tell me how it goes!

By |2021-08-23T19:41:04-04:00August 24th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Finding Happiness in Hobbies

I attended a wedding this weekend and during the reception I watched 2 sisters dance together. One was 18 and the other 12, and the PURE JOY they had dancing was so fun to watch. I felt happy watching them be happy.

I want to talk to you more about this idea of “happy.” What is it, what does it feel like, how do you get it, and better yet – how do you KEEP it?

First, What It Is Not

Media makes it seem like happiness is something everyone should strive to feel on a regular, consistent basis. I have found this to not be realistic nor sustainable. I only know a few people whose neutral state is effusive happiness. And even then, I wonder if I know them well enough to see their true self.

Please don’t hear that when I encourage you to find things that make you happy, that means that you should fake happiness to be palatable to society.

Not. At. All. You deserve more. You deserve a life you don’t need to escape.

Redefining Happiness

Instead of trying to eliminate unpleasant feelings and situations, a more Sustainably Productive (SusPro) way of living is to identify situations, activities, and people who bring that happiness. This is where the Mental Well-being pillar of Sustainable Productivity comes in: Hobbies.

The Pittsburgh Mind Body Center study about how leisure activities impact mental and physical health demonstrates the value of hobbies for sustainable productivity.

Higher participant score on leisure time activity showed the following improvements:

  • Lowered levels of blood pressure, total cortisol, waist circumference, body mass index, and levels of depression
  • Additionally, it showed raised levels of positive psychosocial states, life satisfaction, life engagement, quality of sleep, exercise outcomes, and perceptions of better physical function {even when they factored out sports as hobbies)

Getting Started

What if you don’t know what makes you happy? What if you don’t even know what hobby you might want to try? I would like to suggest you begin by simply noticing what you notice.

  1. Identify the feeling of happiness, what does that literally feel like? When I was watching the sisters joy at dancing, my heart felt full, my stomach and mind were both calm, my face was smiling, and I just felt present.
  2. Once you know what happy might feel like, start to notice when those feelings are present at other times in your day. Does your stomach unclench when you left your phone at home and had silence in the car ride to the grocery store? Does the smile come back with internet cat videos? What smells, tastes or feelings are around you when your monkey mind finally settles?
  3. Now find out what activities can help you find more of these moments. If it is a certain smell, could you take up a hobby making bath and body products. If music makes you smile, maybe a dance class, singing lessons, or just making play lists is the hobby to make time for.
  4. Quit if it isn’t working. It does not mean it was wrong, it just means you have data points to try something new. I thought I wanted to learn to sing and did a few duets with Bixby on acoustic guitar. Turns out I don’t want to learn to sing, I want to do more karaoke. Subtle shift, but I never would have figured that out if I had not tried.

Your Turn

Each of us will have different feelings that indicate happiness. I would love to hear what yours are and what hobbies bring that out in your life!

By |2021-07-26T20:39:19-04:00July 27th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Home.

When is the last time you felt at home?

At home in your body?

At home in your environmental surroundings?

At home in your relationships?

What does “at home” even mean or feel like for you? Here is what the internet says home means:

“Home” can mean so many things and is a base of creating a life you don’t need to escape. It is when we are uncomfortable in our own skin, unable to exhale, have no safe place to fall that we are desperate to numb the discomfort to avoid feeling un-homed.

The concept of home certainly apply to all three pillars of Sustainable Productivity. Let’s take a look at each in turn.

Environmental Surroundings

Your environment is the easy definition of home. What you surround yourself with. The furniture, art, music, clothes, images, colors and everything else that you take in  directly and indirectly.

Sometimes it is easier to define what is not making your surroundings feel like home. If something is not serving your surroundings in a way that makes you exhale when you enter the space, get rid of it.

  1. Friends or groups in your social media draining you – block, mute, unfriend and delete.
  2. Beige walls make you feel like you are institutionalized? Paint is an easy fix. If you don’t like the color, try again. Wall paper is even making a comeback – although after removing as much wallpaper as I have in my day I cannot in good conscience recommend THAT!
  3. Do you have outdated knickknacks, photos, and accessories around that just feel cluttered? Refreshing small things can transform your space quickly and inexpensively.

If you want to explore what is out there to try to find out how to make your home a Home, try making boards on Pinterest or combing through magazines, or even browsing furniture stores to see what strikes you. What fabrics, colors, shapes, and overall aesthetics are you drawn to? Start small, but start somewhere.

Health & Fitness

There can be may reasons you don’t feel at home in your body. Usually acceptance is at the core of whatever is blocking that feeling of home. As we age it can be hard to embrace the body you are in, instead of wanting the body you used to have.

  • What if you focused on stats related to your blood pressure, cholesterol, and blood sugar instead of stats related to the scale and calorie intake?
  • Could you be more accepting of the body you are in if you embraced intuitive eating instead of restricting calories?
  • Would you feel at home in your body pursuing physical activity that felt good – even if you were not part of the “norm”?

Mental Well-being

The component I most want to talk about here is relationships. There have been lots of discussions about friendships among adult women lately. You can find a few of my favorites here and here and here. I sometimes think as an introvert I don’t need friends or are somehow exempt from this section of Maslow’s hierarchy. Oh, how wrong that is. I was reminded of that this weekend when I spent a couple days with my long-time friend and her family at the beach.

I think I laughed more with her and her family that I have all of 2021 combined. We talked for hours as we sat on the beach watching her 4 kids play in the ocean. There is something about someone who has known you for 35 years who can cut through questions to ask QUESTIONS and understands the unspoken things in the answers. I felt seen and understood. I felt at home.

By |2021-07-05T15:06:21-04:00July 6th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Reading Relapse

Remember how I said I was going to read less? I reduced my reading goal so I could free up time to create more of my own content?

Welp, you are only as sick as your secrets so I am here to tell you I relapsed this weekend. I finished three books I had going, and started and finished 3 more. Over a span of 4 days. It is a disease. I am powerless.

In my defense, this was not all my fault.

  1. I was traveling so I just had to do the Read and Return thing. It is not a flight without a R&R book.
  2. The reason for the trip was to help my dad and sister pack up my mother’s things, which I knew would be emotional so I wanted more books to comfort me instead of forcing productivity on the plane.
  3. When I arrived I saw my sister was finishing a book that I had requested from the library MONTHS ago. She finished it shortly after we arrived so I had an opportunity to snatch it and read before she flew home.
  4. We finished early and had time for about an hour at the pool on the last day. I can’t go to the pool without a book – I am not a monster!

But alas, I am here to come clean with a recap of what took me off the clean and narrow path.

Books I Finished

I had three books in progress that I knocked out over the weekend.

Keep Sharp by Sanjay Gupta

My dad bought this, and we are passing it around the family. It is a mix of neuroscience that bounced off my brain at times and practical advice that you can incorporate into your life. Much of his advice is part of the Sustainable You program as well!

The Janson Directive by Robert Ludlum

I really want to be a Robert Ludlum fan, but this is strike 2. And it took 650 pages to get to strike 2 (I cannot even remember what strike 1 was). His books are massive deep dives into foreign policy, weapons, overlapping timelines that don’t need to be there, and poorly written romance scenes. I can’t believe I carried this around the airport. I should have thrown it in the pool when I finished.

Three Girls from Bronzeville: A Uniquely American Memoir of Race, Fate, and Sisterhood by Dawn Turner

This was a book I read on my Kindle after getting an Advanced Reader Copy (ARC) from Netgalley. This was gut wrenching at times, eye opening all throughout. You cannot understand what privilege means unless you hear – and listen to – what others walk through to know their story.

Books I Started and Finished

Next there were three books that I started and finished over the course of the 4 days.

The Book of Lost Names by Kristen Harmel

While I will always pick up a book about World War II, I loved this point of view and combination of stories – forgers, book lovers, resisters. All from an airport Read and Return! What is not to like?

The Guest List by Lucy Foley

Super quick read from multiple narrators. I called the twists but really enjoyed getting there. It was extra fun because my sister finished reading it the day before so I was commenting as I read and we were able to have our own little book club discussion during our visit.

The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning: How to Free Yourself and Your Family from a Lifetime of Clutter by Margareta Magnusson

OK, not the best choice for a trip spent cleaning out my late Mother’s things, but when the hold comes up at the library you roll with it, right?! This was a super fast read (only 137 pages), filled with frank, practical advice, encouragement, and anecdotes about getting rid of crap now. Between this book and the weekend spent purging 154 reusable shopping bags and 77 bath towels, I came home and scheduled an appointment with a local consignment store.

 

Your Turn

What are you reading right now?

Note: I am an affiliate of Bookshop.org and will earn a commission if you click through and make a purchase.

By |2021-06-22T08:03:34-04:00June 22nd, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

The Push – A Book About Motherhood…and SO MUCH MORE

I know not everyone is a book nerd like I am so I usually save my 5-star book announcements for Sustainable Sue Bookmobile  subscribers. But this book is so much more than a great read – I had to share it with everyone.

Books can make you think and feel things you don’t want to or did not even know existed in your mind and heart. There are times that books make you reconsider what you thought, approved, and wished for. Sometimes books help soothe the rough edges on feelings that you did not even know were there. The Push by Ashley Audrain is that book and more.

The Premise

Here is the Goodreads description of this novel:

Blythe Connor is determined that she will be the warm, comforting mother to her new baby Violet that she herself never had. But in the thick of motherhood’s exhausting early days, Blythe becomes convinced that something is wrong with her daughter–she doesn’t behave like most children do.

Or is it all in Blythe’s head? Her husband, Fox, says she’s imagining things. The more Fox dismisses her fears, the more Blythe begins to question her own sanity, and the more we begin to question what Blythe is telling us about her life as well.

Then their son Sam is born–and with him, Blythe has the blissful connection she’d always imagined with her child. Even Violet seems to love her little brother. But when life as they know it is changed in an instant, the devastating fall-out forces Blythe to face the truth.

The Push is a tour de force you will read in a sitting, an utterly immersive novel that will challenge everything you think you know about motherhood, about what we owe our children, and what it feels like when women are not believed.

The Impact

This book made my insides shrivel up in a way that few books ever have.

I am a childless by choice step mom to 2 kids who had just turned 4 and 6 when I met them. My husband and I had some tough conversations in the first couple years of our relationship and marriage about whether we would have kids together. I had a several reasons against having a biological child. Here are a few of them.

  1. Post-partum depression runs in my family. I already lean on meds and therapy to keep the ship afloat. I have taken enough biology and human physiology classes to understand the hormonal chaos that pregnancy and early motherhood wreck on a woman’s body.
  2. I could not imagine how I would manage all of my big feelings while abstaining from caffeine, alcohol, vigorous exercise, and SSRIs for 9 months while incubating, then indefinitely after. I know zillions of women do this every day and have for millenia, but I am a research study with an N of 1. I knew my best coping strategies – healthy or unhealthy as they were.
  3. I loved our life. We had the kids 3-4 days each week, every week. We could do things like the zoo and practices, then drop the kids off at their mom’s house and spend whole days riding our bikes or touring through wineries near the mountains.

But I felt selfish and less than. It seems like I was bombarded with messages ranging from evolution to pop culture about how motherhood is a woman’s purpose in life.

So if I did not want to be a mother (a “real mother” as some women called it, separating out my step-mothering from what they did), what kind of woman was I?

This book explored all of these ideas and more from the perspective of Blythe and flashbacks to her mother ‘s and grandmother’s lives. For the first half of this book, I pretty much decided that I could not rate this book. I felt so strongly about it – loved and hated it, but I would never be able to explain the real truth behind why I loved and hated it so much. I did not want to try to explain all of these big feelings in a book review blurb.

But I decided that I was going to swing for the fences and be honest about the complicated feelings I had about motherhood. As much as I can do that today. As the layers of the onion are peeled, there may be more to share with you in the future.

This is the power of books – it is not just a story. It is how that story makes you think about your life. It can help heal, restore and reframe what we always thought was true.

“A library is a hospital for the mind.” Anonymous

Your Turn

I need people to talk to about this book. If you have read it and want to swoon together, comment below or come find me on social media. I have been pressing this book into everyone’s hands – and now yours. Go read it RIGHT NOW and come back to help me process this.

I know you will want more after you finish reading it. You can listen to an interview with the author here and hear a bookish podcasters talk about it here.

By |2021-05-18T08:47:01-04:00May 18th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

What Road Trips Can Teach you About Goal Setting

Remember the days where we used maps to plan our road trips? In order to get to our destination, we had to know where we were starting from. How do you know what direction to travel if you are unsure of your starting point and end target?

Personal productivity is very similar.

Set Your Destination

Often we see the end result of where we want to go.

  • Moms in Target who has 2 kids walking alongside the cart, not grabbing things off the shelves and whining.
  • The woman at the gym who runs twice your speed on the treadmill.
  • Photos on social media of perfectly organized pantries.

First of all, I caution you against comparing your insides with someone else’s outsides. Seldom does the presentation reality match up with the truth. The end results in the above examples, could be rooted in reality like this:

  • Target Mom may run her household on fear and those kids “know better than to act out in public.”
  • Treadmill gazelle may have an exercise addiction driving her to run herself into injuries or worse.
  • Perfectly organized pantries are seldom found in homes where people feel at ease grabbing what they want (think teenagers having friends over).

All of that aside, you may have a vision of where you want to go. Destinations are great, but it is not productive to start on the path without knowing where you are starting from.

“On any journey, we must find out where we are before we can plan the first step.” Kathy Boevink

Determine Your Starting Point

If we return to the map of our road trip, determining your starting point seems easy. But looks can be deceiving. The more granular your starting point, the more accurate your route can be. This is true whether we are using maps or a GPS to plan our route.

Let’s say for example, I decide my starting point is the name of my town instead of the street I live on. This will lead to two very different routes to my sister’s house. One is 30 minutes faster than the other – and when I am going to visit my nieces, every second counts. Drilling down to truly understand where I am starting from helps me not waste time getting to where I want to go.

The same is true with habit change. The more defined vision of where you want to go combined with the more granular idea of where you are starting from can mean the difference between Sustainably Productive (SusPro) habit change and habit change that fizzles out by week’s end.

  • Fizzle Out Habit Change: I want to bike more.
  • SusPro Habit Change: I currently ride 50 miles a week with my longest ride being 30 miles on Sundays. I want to increase that to riding 50 miles on my birthday in June so this week I will ride 33 miles on Sunday and keep the weekday rides short to make sure I can fit them in during lunch.

Or maybe this example resonates with you:

  • Fizzle Out Habit Change: I want to chill out and stop being crabby.
  • SusPro Habit Change: I have zero time where I am still. This week I will sit in silence for at least 1 minute, but no more than 5 on Monday and Thursday. I won’t try to meditate – if I can just be still that will be a victory.

The SusPro method starts with a vision of where you want to go and a granular look at where you are starting from. Now let’s talk about how you can determine where you are starting from.

Getting Started

The Sustainable You Time Tracker is a free resource that can help you determine your starting point. Simply download the tracker and set a timer to go off every 30 minutes. When the timer goes off, write down what you have spent the last 30 minutes on.

Don’t wait for a “normal” week – there is no such thing. You can learn from any snapshot in time. At the end of the week, take a look at what trends you see. Maybe you are surprised to see you spend 2 hours each day waiting at various points of the day. This time tracker is just information – do not use it to shame or blame. Identify patterns that are not serving you and make small adjustments.

Your Turn

Take a stab at tracking your time and let me know how it goes. I love to talk productivity with people so if you want me to take a look at your tracker you can email it to me at Susan@SustainableSue.com.

By |2021-05-08T06:51:56-04:00May 11th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Creativity and Relationships

Soooooo to say I have been in a bit of a creative slump in the last several weeks would be an understatement. I have tried applying my 2021 theme: Wear life like a loose garment.

I have maintained this weekly blog post and related social media content and let that be enough. It was fine, but I still have not broken out of the slump.

Now I want to try the other side of the coin and Laura Tremaine (an author and podcaster who I pretend is my friend in real life) has the perfect opportunity for me – a daily social media writing challenge.

Why It Works

Creativity and relationships are part of the Mental Well-being pillar of Sustainable Productivity. Research has shown that loneliness has a negative impact on mental AND physical health. Additionally, creativity (and hobbies in general) reduce stress hormones, blood pressure, and other markers of stress.

To say 2020 impeded our creativity and relationships would be an understatement. When those 2 components suffer, our Mental Well-being suffers which leads to an overall loss in productivity. This is not a sustainable model. This is burnout.

I am not saying you should put blinders on to the grief caused by 2020. I am saying it is important to grieve those things and give yourself a break. It is equally unhealthy to stuff negative feels so that you can power through your to do list.

But all crises end. Darkness turns to dawn. Maybe you are like me and are starting to see a sliver of light on the horizon.

It is time to reach toward that smidge of sunshine, grab on and crack open a new chapter.

Let me show you what I have in mind.

How It Works

For every day in May there is a prompt that I will write about and want to invite you to come along with me. You don’t have to be a writer or aspiring writer – just someone who wants to share a bit each day. Don’t let the fact that it’s a couple days into the month deter you from starting. Check out the themes below and jump in on themes that move you. The point of this exercise is not to be on social media more. It is about leveraging social media to use creativity and relationships to build a life we don’t need to escape.

If you choose to join the challenge, use the hashtags #OneDayMay and #SustainableSue so we can find each other in a search.

By |2021-05-02T08:58:17-04:00May 4th, 2021|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

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

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

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