Value in the “Circle Back”

Let’s take a moment this week to circle back on some topics we covered earlier this year. “Circle back” is one of those corporate buzz words that makes us cringe, roll our eyes or both. But there is some value in revisiting, closing the loop or general follow up. 

How many times do we hear the phrase “circle back” compared to how often we actually do it? I bet the result is not a ratio we would be really excited to publish. This is often a byproduct of busyness. 

Cultivating Relationships

We are going full throttle on the next thing, barely acknowledging or celebrating past accomplishments. We contribute to the meal train when someone has a death in their family, but do we come back the next month – when things get really quiet for them after the funeral rush is over? Or a lighter example, we recommend a book or TV show to a friend, but then don’t every ask if they liked it or not. 

A benefit of the circle back is to create connection with others. Relationships are a component of the Mental Well-being dimension of Sustainable Productivity. Who cares if we have a bright shiny life if we are disconnected from all the people in our lives? 

Some experts say that addiction is partly caused by disconnection and disengagement. Numbing out and escaping your life is also disconnection and disengagement. The antidote for this is connection – the circle back. 


I wonder if you are like me, making up stories when I don’t have all the details. 

  • Someone does not call me back so I assume they are mad at me (or dead in a car wreck if it is one of my kids). 
  • Silence after applying for a freelance opportunity means either my email is broken or they hate my writing. 
  • Delayed results from the doctor’s office means catastrophic news that they needed to run by another team before breaking to me.

While these are all pretty extreme examples, it demonstrates clearly that the open loops leave room for confusion and chaos at best. Getting in the habit of closing the loop with people can help manage that stress. Surrounding yourself with people who do that for you can help you feel more connected. 

It does not have to be a big hairy deal. Which is what I want to show today with a few follow ups of my own.

Podcast Set up

A few weeks ago I presented a case study on environmental productivity, which showed me podcasting from the floor. I looked on Facebook Marketplace and our local buy nothing group and made the decision to buy new from Target. The price was not going to be much more than what I saw on Marketplace, plus I got what I wanted instead of settling. 

Of course I kept the toy box. Now it is the on deck circle for the next couple craft projects in line. 

Word of the Year 

Next let’s circle back to the word of the year. Oh yeahhh!!!! Remember that? Mine is equanimity, and I have received several opportunities to practice this. Sometimes that has been literally, like the inversions workshop I took and the headstand/handstand practice sessions at home now. 

Sometimes this year equanimity has been more of a figurative approach. Sending our daughter to Italy for study abroad or adjusting to be a single income family were major adjustments that our family has had so far in 2023. I bet with about a quarter of the year left, there will be more um, “opportunities” to practice this mindset. 

Plastic storage containers

Back in February of this year, I was so pleased with myself for overhauling our plastic storage containers. It was such a beautiful results. Well, as we circle back on this one, cue the sad music.

Womp, wommmmmp.

It is again out of control in the drawer. The system for putting away as I unload the dishwasher was not sustainable. I will take a crack at it again this winter probably. But you know what DID work from that exercise? Separating out the to go containers. There have been several times when our young adult kids and their friends came for lunch or dinner. We were able to easily pack up leftovers for them. By re-using these take out containers, it is no big deal if they never make it back to our house (the containers, not the kids).

Those are a few of the circle back items I wanted to share with you today. There is value in revisiting hits and misses. Misses don’t mean the decision was wrong necessarily, just not quite a hit. It just gives us data on where else we might be able to make adjustments. But without that feedback loop that naturally happens with a circle back, we don’t get that data and we blindly stumble along. That is what can lead to frustration and the need to numb out of our lives. 

Sustainable You Reflections

  1. When is the last time you followed up or revisited a goal or decision?
  2. What was your word of the year? It is not too late to resurrect it. Or if it is no longer serving you, let it go.
  3. How can circling back on people, places, things, decisions serve you where you are in life right now?

Until next time remember to create results in a way that you can sustain and that are productive for you. 

By |2023-09-05T10:31:42-04:00October 3rd, 2023|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Episode 22: How Your Relationships Impact Your Personal Productivity

Relationships are a component of the Mental Well-being dimension of Sustainable Productivity. When we talk about relationships in this context, we are talking about 2 different kinds of relationships – internal and external. In this episode we will dive into the relationship with your Higher Power (however that looks for you) as well as coworkers, spouses, and friends. Who is contributing to a sustainably productive life and what to do about those people leaving you drained and empty.

Here is what you can expect in this episode:

  1. What is one of – if not THE – most important relationships you can cultivate?
  2. When to know if cutting corners is the right thing.
  3. Science tells us how relationships impact our physical health.

Listen at the link below or search for “Sustainable Productivity with Susan Sanders” everywhere podcasts are available.

Links to Learn More

Links mentioned in this episode of the Sustainable Productivity podcast:

  • Sign up for episode emails, weekly essays, and links so you never miss a thing!
  • Read more about the nation’s return to religion as a result of the 9/11 terrorist attacks at this link
  • CIGNA’s full report “Loneliness and the Workplace” can be found at this link
  • Revisit what cortisol does to your body in Episode 1: Stress, Evolution, and Burnout by clicking here
  • Laura Tremaine’s book The Life Council gives more insight into why relationships are important and how to cultivate different types. Order her book at this link
  • Here is the recent pillow project Susan mentioned in her SPA this week:

We would love to hear from you. Send your feedback on the episode, suggestions for future show topics or guests, and anything else to or in a DM on Instagram.

By |2023-07-03T10:44:56-04:00July 3rd, 2023|Show Notes|0 Comments

Eating Sustainably

On the surface eating sustainably could be viewed as for the environment only, but what about your personal environment – your health, home and happiness? 

On the podcast we talked about eating sustainably in a traditional sense – supporting local agencies and those with humane practices. I encourage you to listen to that episode here. I have had additional thoughts since we recorded about what sustainable eating means for each dimension of Sustainable Productivity (SusPro). That is what I want to explore more with you today. 

Click on the photo to go to the podcast episode page.

Health and Fitness: Nutrition

Nutrition is a component of the Health and Fitness SusPro dimension. The quality of nutrition has a direct impact on your health. It is probably the most intuitive connection to eating sustainably. 

Maybe you choose to eat meat – or not. Maybe you are gluten intolerant – or not. Regardless of what healthy eating means to you, the common theme is to make changes that are sustainable. As you make small adjustments to your nutrition, ask yourself the SusPro questions:

1. Am I getting the outcome I want?

2. Can I continue to do this lifelong if I want to?

If you eliminate a food group because you are trying to be healthy, but don’t have enough energy to be physically active are you really getting the outcome you want?

If you restrict calories thinking it is healthy, but you are hungry and irritated all the time is this something you can continue to do lifelong?

Eating sustainably is as much about habits as the food itself.

Mental Well-being: Relationships

Relationships are a component of the Mental Well-being SusPro dimension. Since food tends to be a natural gathering point, eating sustainably can have a direct impact here. What if you incorporate the idea of eating sustainably into your relationships?

Case Study 1.

Eating sustainably means making adjustments for the season of life you are in. Maybe fall means an especially busy couple months for your family. In order to eat healthy in a way that sustains your sanity, this fall means brown bags in the van or picnics at the ball field with your people. Instead of eating in shifts around games and practices, what if you gathered for 15 minutes in a park in between everyone’s destination to eat a cooler dinner. Young kids especially might be delighted by an al fresco dinner party.

Case study 2.

It is not too early to think about eating sustainably over the holidays. My husband’s family has a few football coaches in it. In order to give them (and their families) some breathing room these holidays, we are moving our gathering to January or February. What is important is gathering in a low stress time to eat together. One of the things I cherish most about these folks is that they are flexible and know what is important to them. I know so many families who implode if Christmas is not celebrated on December 25. Not my in laws. Sustainable relationships are gathering at a time when we can be focused on each other, not on the clock and having to rush off to the next thing.

Case study 3.

What if eating sustainably encompassed experiences with those you are in relationship with? My teenage niece had a slumber part this summer where they made pasta from scratch for their dinner. The idea of pulling these teens away from phones to interact with each other in the kitchen is what eating sustainably means to me. Then bonus when my niece went to visit my dad and she discovered Papa had a Kitchen Aid mixer too! I cried when my sister sent pictures of Sydney cooking for her grandpa. I am sure it is a core memory for him too.

Source: Disney Tumblr

Environmental Surroundings: Physical Clutter

Physical clutter is a component of the Environmental Surroundings SusPro dimension and certainly impacts eating sustainably. Although this has changed over the years, for us it has to do with how we meal plan – we are working on doing a better job at eating what we have. Setting up our physical space to support this is important. Here are a few ways we reduce our physical clutter to support eating sustainably.

1. Clear expired pantry food a couple times each year. I am always stunned to find out spices and hot sauce expire, but they do. Before I met Bixby I thought I was a bad cook. Turns out my spices expired in the 1990s. 

2. Pare down appliances. My husband does the cooking and is the gatekeeper to what tools come into his kitchen. He has a rule to not clutter the kitchen with one trick ponies. Garlic press can only press garlic. He has wicked knife skills so it takes less time for him to dice garlic than it does for me to clean the garlic press so out it went. 

3. Make things easier to find. We moved seldom used tools to a separate space. There is no need to move the cake decorating tools out of the way every time we need the pasta pot or immersion blender. The once or twice a year we need to decorate a cake, we can pull that box down from the higher shelf. 

Sustainable You Questions

1. Can you identify what eating sustainably means to you today, in this season of life?

2. How can you get more of that or reduce the barrier to getting more?

If you like what you read, you might like what you hear. Subscribe to the Conscious Contact podcast on iTunes, Spotify, or wherever you find your podcasts. 

By |2022-09-13T13:42:51-04:00September 20th, 2022|Sustainable Productivity|0 Comments


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

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

Staying in Touch When You Can’t Be in Touch

Isolation is a harsh reality of the pandemic – not being able to stay in touch with those we are in relationships with. Mental Well-being is one of the pillars of Sustainable Productivity and relationships are important to positive mental well-being. Therefore, I have been trying to get creative about staying in touch with those I have meaningful relationships with even though we cannot actually BE in touch.

Research has proven that if a person has a few healthy relationships, she can reap some or all of these benefits:

  • Lower rates of anxiety and depression
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Greater empathy
  • Strengthened immune system, which may even lengthen your life

But what are we to do when we are living this catch-22. I cannot experience my relationships the same way because if I do, I may pass along a virus. But if I don’t continue relationships, I could end up sick of loneliness. You and I are not the only ones trying to solve this conundrum. The Lazy Genius recently discussed this in podcast episode 158: Staying in Touch When You Can’t Touch.

I want to share with you a way I have started to get creative about my relationship with my nieces. Usually June or July includes a week of Aunt Susan camp. I am visiting them or they come to NC – sometimes both in the same year. This is what it usually looks like:

Needless to say this is not happening this year.

Instead my sister and I got creative. As you know, I love to read. And I love to read to my nieces. Although they are turning a corner away from lap sitting story time, it still means a lot to me to connect with them this way. My sister and I set up an online book club where we all read together once a week. Bonus points for keeping them reading during the summer also!

Staying in touch

Live footage from a recent meeting of our virtual book club.

Every Friday my sister and I schedule a FaceTime call, and the four of us take turns reading. Sometimes a meeting is crashed by either our husbands or our Black Labs. It is only a short session – 15 minutes at the most. But it is a dedicated time we spend together each week doing something we love. Although it is not a substitution for the in person visits we had to cancel this year, but it will do for now.

Instead of complaining about what we could not do, we are attempting to make the best of what we have.

How are you getting creative during COVID? Drop a note to share how you connect with loved ones from afar.

By |2020-07-12T17:10:42-04:00July 14th, 2020|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

Eye of the Storm – The Benefit of Rituals

Happy Tuesday! Let’s take a coffee break for a moment while we rest in the eye of the storm shall we?

I made it through 2 Masters degrees without coffee. There was no new mom sleep deprivation that needed an afternoon caffeine boost; the kids were too old for afternoon naps when Bixby and I met. Diet Coke is usually my caffeine of choice.

Then Bixby and I spent a week in Seattle and BOOM – I love lattes.

coffee mug
Coffee mugs were custom made for us by LouLou Belle Pottery.

The problem is that I only like coffee from 1 or 2 places in Seattle, certain Starbucks in Greensboro, and of course – the latte Bixby makes for me. I think that is pretty much the definition of high maintenance.

coffee break
High maintenance is delicious!

The benefits of coffee are endlessly documented. I even drink it with whole milk to bump up the nutrients in a non-processed way.

But my favorite part of my coffee break is my barista. Since I am so picky, I generally only have coffee at home. When Bixby brings my coffee to me, he uses the swirls of the milk as a Rorschach test to pretend he is fancy enough to put pictures in my coffee. Read: he make shit up about the what he has swirled with the milk. And he nails it every time.

Here is Sunday’s coffee. Clearly the MSU Spartan in my coffee, right?! He is so talented.

It is such a small part of the day, but I really look forward to it. Small rituals are important to relationships. Strong relationships contribute to our mental well-being. Considering mental well-being is one of the three pillars to a sustainably productive life, this coffee break is more essential than ever!

Let’s get a refill then make it a Terrific Tuesday!

By |2020-05-13T09:42:34-04:00May 12th, 2020|Mental Well-being|0 Comments

What We Talk About When We Talk About My Ponytail

My ponytail is a permanent fixture that I will not be giving up anytime soon. I have had a love / hate relationship with it for decades. It has caused me literal pain, and I have had it cut off in desperate times. Sometimes I have worn a ponytail so much that when I finally take out the ponytail holder, my hair stays back. I have been grateful for my ponytail when I have hit the snooze button too many times and am running late. But it is more than a hairstyle and as I turned the corner into mid-40’s this year, I have really begun to absorb the full impact of what my ponytail really means to me.

There are several things we are talking about when we talk about my ponytail.

  • I am talking about where I choose to spend my time. Spoiler alert – I do not like to spend my time doing my hair. Honestly, I don’t even really want to brush it every day. So sometimes I don’t. Don’t get me started on washing it. Sometimes between how long it takes to dry and the fact that I am a sweat hog, it feels like my super thick hair does not fully dry between May and October. So to undertake a wash which requires blowdrying is sometimes more than I can stomach.
  • I am talking about doing what I am good at. And newsflash – it ain’t hair. And don’t tell me I just need to practice with it. I am not a girl who wants to practice with any beauty products. I do not want to “get good” at blowing out my hair. I just don’t give a shit about it. And I am done spending my free time doing things I don’t give a shit about. This is where Sustainable Sue asks the important question: Is this something you could do the rest of your life? And perhaps the more valuable question: is this something you WANT to do for the rest of your life? Part of what sustainability means to me is filling my time with activities that boost my soul. And never once have I felt calm and fulfilled when using a round brush. In fact, I threw out my round brush once I cut it out of my tangle of knotted hair.
  • I am talking about expectations. Specifically not spending time doing something just to meet the expectations of anyone else. I am a recovering people pleaser. I have a visceral response to thoughts of failing every hair dresser I have been to because I show up with my hair in a ponytail. No matter what the hair length or style, I come to my appointment in a pony tail. I feel like a failure because I have not maintained the look they gave me. A part of me feels like I need to get a blow out to go get my hair cut. But then I would be cheating on my hair dresser, and that would also hurt her feelings. It’s exhausting. Let me tell you what a mentor said to me about being a people pleaser, “OK, great Susan. Now where are all the pleased people?” Ouch.

Perhaps the more valuable question:

Is this something you WANT to do for the rest of your life?

  • I am talking about being comfortable. I have reached an age where I ditch the work heels for Danskos. I quit being so damn cold and just bundle up in a coat, hat, scarf, and mittens instead of looking cute when I’m outside. I just want to be comfortable, and my ponytail supports that. It understands me. It helps me look professional when I pull it into a low pony for the office. It just gets outta the way when it migrates to the top of my head to garden. Being comfortable is also a part of what makes me beautiful.
  • I am talking about feeling beautiful. My hair does not define my femininity, nor make me beautiful. I listened to the This is Us Too podcast episode from Oct 4, 2019, when Mary talked about the time she cut her hair off. Her husband compared her long-haired before to Idina Menzel and her pixie cut after to Hugh Grant. Honestly, this pissed me off. Having long perfectly styled long hair does not make me beautiful any more than having short hair makes me ugly. When I am comfortable, I am sure I come across more confident. When I am not fidgeting with my hair I can focus on things like the actual conversation we are having.
Notice the dents in my hair where I took out the ponytail holder moments before school pictures were snapped. Not to mention the flyaway wing dings and cowlicks.
  • I am talking about doing hard things. I remember being in early elementary school when my mom decided I would be doing my own hair going forward. Trying to pull a ponytail holder through my rats nest and loop it around to secure my mop made it feel like my hands were not coordinating with my brain. But I did it. And I got better at it. I hear some of you saying, “See, you DID practice.” No, this was necessity. No way was I going to school with my hair down – especially if it was a PE day! No way was my mom doing it for me – that baton had been handed off. Those first few weeks were rough, yo. Lumpy bubbles of hair snarls. Escaped sections falling down or never making it into the pony tail holder. But I did it. Like I tell my kids – just because something is hard doesn’t mean we don’t do it.
  • I am talking about my style. I went through a stage where I needed to have a “grown up” hairstyle. At the time I felt that because I had the same pony tail as I did when I was in elementary school, I was presenting myself as immature. So I had it cut off. Short. Like by a lady who worked in a barber shop. She only did men’s hair. And mine. This was “professional and grown up Susan” – or so I thought. When I interviewed for a job with that cut, someone later told me that I “looked very severe, like a Scandinavian prison matron.” I don’t want to present myself to the world as severe and unapproachable. Now I see lots of women my age and older who wear a pony tail on the regular. I don’t think any less of them. Some are incredibly accomplished professionals. Some have all gray or stark white ponytails. The common thread is that they are comfortable in their own skin. And if we go back to the Sustainable Sue litmus test: is this something you WANT to do for the rest of your life? The answer would be a resounding HELL YEAH!

But there is one thing we are not talking about when we talk about my ponytail.

More importantly, there are things my ponytail cannot do. I mean seriously – it is just HAIR!

  • My hair does not speak for me. I went through a period of life where I felt like I was invisible to the people around me. I was really struggling and would make jokes about my struggle, but no one really saw me, including my husband. So I decided to have my hair cut off to shock him into noticing. He did not comment. Not even to say he hated it. Needless to say that did not help me feel understood. And I reached a tipping point where I did not want that despair to be something I felt for the rest of my life. It was unsustainable for me. Turns out I had to actually tell him how I felt instead of having my hair communicate for me.

What are you doing (or not doing) because of the expectations of others? What answer does your heart and gut give you if you ask, “is this something I WANT to do for the rest of my life?

By |2020-06-17T17:19:00-04:00October 30th, 2019|Health & Fitness, Mental Well-being|0 Comments
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