Thursday, March 24, 2016

Having enough time

having enough time

A while back, I found a great article on LinkedIn called "9 Things Remarkably Successful People Never Do." And by "found," I mean "recommended to me" by LinkedIn. The good people of LinkedIn completely have my number--the articles they recommend are spot on, eerily so. That, or I am hopelessly predictable.

In any case, this article has several nuggets of wisdom I've been mulling over. One point especially resonated with me:

"They [Successful People] never decide they don't have the time....They've figured out what is important to them and they're making it happen."

Having enough time. I struggle with this concept, and have struggled with this concept, for as long as I can remember. If I'm being honest with myself, it comes from three sources:

1. The ambitious part of me, a major part of who I am, compels me to overload my schedule in some sort of attempt to prove to the world that my juggling act is more complicated than everyone else's.

Remember those conversations with friends where you outline your respective "To Do" lists, basically trying to out-busy one another? I certainly do.

One personal example: I challenged myself to double major in college, and I was consumed by that goal for the remainder of my undergraduate degree. I did it, but often at the expense of sacrificing creativity for rule-following. The excitement of a challenge had me taking on just one more class, just one more gig, just one more social event. The logical part of me would lecture, "Say 'no.' This is too much," while my stubbornness would coax, "Too much for some. Don't be lazy."

2. I'll add "one more thing" onto my proverbial plate because I have a great need to help.

For instance, I'll say "yes" to volunteering for a job/committee/outing when I really feel I should say "no." (This is another point in the article.) My perception of my stress level explodes. My other commitments either become less effective, or my sense of burnout exponentially increases, one or the other. This seems so innocent, so "good," but am I really helping? Or just taking up space of someone who can help more effectively? I am afraid it's the latter more often than not.

3. I hate disappointing people.

Related to the first two sources of my struggle with time, I hate disappointing people, especially people I admire. I think we all have some sense of this.

Challenging yourself is good. Helping others is good. Avoiding disappointment is good. But, "too much of a good thing" didn't earn its place in Top Cliches Of All Time for nothing. We do reach a point of diminishing returns, and I think successful people know when that point sets in and how to stay ahead of it.

What to do now? Three strategies that have been working for me:

Analyze your "To Do" list. I am a list maker, an organizer, that overly methodical person that drives spouses crazy. So, I channeled my superpowers for good and began to analyze the patterns in my "To Do" lists. For instance, I noticed that  I consistently failed to get to 2-3 items on my list. Some would label these as "stretch goals," but I call it an inaccurate forecast. I began making the list as normal, then consciously eliminating 2-3 items. Over time, I was able to forecast what I was really able to achieve in a day more consistently.

Create a benchmark for evaluating opportunities. I read a lot to "practice saying 'no'," but still have a hard time with it. What works better, for me, is to have a clear checklist to evaluate opportunities. It may be your personal mission statement, the core values that define you, your goals for the next five years, or hopefully, a combination of the three. When deciding whether Opportunity XYZ is a good one, ask yourself where it fits within these criteria. If it doesn't, then it's a no brainer. However, maybe it fits with your core value to volunteer, for instance, but you already have volunteer activities and need to work on building a career goal. These benchmarks can help add some clarity about the trade-offs and make it easier to move forward without feeling burned out.

Find your true 100%. If you're like me and find yourself struggling with your inner Hermione Granger, it is possible your perception of "I'll pitch in 100%!" is off. Recently I confessed to my MBA team that I felt like I only gave 80% to one of our projects, and I was surprised to hear that it felt like my effort was 100% to them. This got me thinking about my perception of my effort vs. the actual effort. Perhaps I was overwhelming myself because I was putting in more effort than necessary. I am not suggesting that we all dial back our work. But exploring how to align your perception with your "true 100%" can be a valuable tool in managing time.

How do you fight the "never enough time" battle? What strategies are working for you?

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

When spring breaks.

Hi there, Spring. I've been waiting for you. 

For two weeks I get to crawl out of Excel spreadsheets and remember how to binge watch Hulu. Given the fact that it's not pitch black at 4:30PM in Seattle (God bless you, Daylight Savings) and that I finally convinced M to fall in love with Checkers, I'm feeling pretty good about my staycation. 

When spring breaks

Kindergarten is all it's cracked up to be.

Our five-year-old is in the midst of all things school, from sight words to Spirit Days. He's one of the youngest in his class, which presented a difficult transition at first. To put a positive spin on it, he was on a first-name basis with the Principal in a matter of days. Fortunately for us, teachers are amazing and kids are adaptable. We're still working on "using our words" and "no, you cannot wear shorts when it's 45 degrees," but chances are good that M will survive kindergarten.

When spring breaks

The husband is still way better at Star Wars-themed dramatic play than I am. 

My one and only continues to excel in all things sales, in running ridiculously fast up ridiculously steep hills, and in reacting to creative Star Wars story lines. The other day I heard M say: "Ok Daddy. I'm a Stormtrooper, and you're Darth Vader, and we have to get everything ready for Emporer Palpatine's birthday party!" D is training for the Seattle-to-Portland ride this summer, so we've made room in our hearts and our living room for a big boy bike. 

When spring breaks

I only have one more quarter of school to go. 

Ten weeks to graduation. Ten weeks to graduation. Ten weeks to graduation. 

When spring breaks

My husband's love of broccoli finally rubbed off on me. 

(I realize the irony of a subheading about vegetables with an image of me holding a cocktail.) Irony aside, business school was not kind to my waistline, and I've lost 25 pounds since my last post in June. I lost the first 15 by going to the gym more often and eating healthier, but in October, my husband's traveling schedule exploded. I started 21 Day Fix in early December, at the suggestion of my sister, and the last 10 came off by Christmas. The workouts are on DVDs, so I could do them at home with Marshall, and after doing Whole 30, I found the eating plan to be extremely reasonable. I still do the workouts and try to follow the meal plan, and I found the structure helped me control my b-school stress better during Winter Quarter. (In comparison to my previous coping plan called Snickers and Soda.) Bonus: There's a chocolate shake involved that tastes like brownie mix, and it's addictive. (In a magical, healthy way.) 

When spring breaks

And that's the 2-minute rundown on what's happening in our world. Happy Spring, y'all!

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Monday, June 15, 2015

The end of a carless era.

It's the end of a carless era for us, but before I get to the fun part, here's a recap of why we were carless in the first place....

In August of 2013, we sold our car, a 2005 Kia Rio that had moved us all over the country, literally--from Birmingham to Princeton to Austin to Seattle. We intentionally decided to go "carless" to teach our son about living on less, about the discipline of waiting, about appreciating differences in people. There are many ways to do this, but we thought that navigating a diverse city using only our feet and/or public transportation was a good strategy.

end of a carless era

All three of us grappled with those principles and then some.

For instance, living on less also meant planning more, not to mention confronting trade-offs. To get to places on time, we often had to leave 45 minutes early. We haven't explored as much of the Pacific Northwest as our friends have. We had to be really creative about somewhat mundane tasks, like getting groceries.

Learning how to wait also meant learning to deal with disappointment. Buses do not always run on time. Sometimes they don't show up at all. And sometimes, when they do, they are insanely crowded. Sometimes it's not easy to get somewhere by bus, so we had to make the decision whether or not to go to a birthday party or take on an extra gig at all. (This is where Uber comes in handy.)

Appreciating differences in people can be hard. The overwhelming majority of our fellow bus passengers are kind, friendly individuals, but, just as in all parts of the world, some people can be unreasonable. Some treat themselves, and others around them, poorly. Some are unsafe. Some are hard to relate to.

Going carless was a meaningful experience, and we are as sad to see it go. (Not the climbing four flights of stairs to get to the bus stop part, but the rest of it wasn't so terrible.) At the same time, we have much to celebrate: Daniel just started a new sales job that requires regional travel, so we are the proud new owners of a Honda CRV.

end of a carless era

We're learning to be proper SUV owners, i.e. going to Costco and parking obnoxiously. We're enjoying not spending so much time analyzing grocery shopping--to Amazon Fresh or not to Amazon Fresh? (My poor attempt at Seattle humor.) And we're excited about how our discussions with Marshall are evolving:

Why can't we take the car? Why are we walking to school? Does everyone drive to work?

By choosing not to use the car we now own, by walking or taking the bus whenever we can, we're trying to teach him about personal choices that can reduce pollution, traffic, noise, excessive consumption. We are definitely not perfect, but we are having the conversation.

There are many stories from our carless-ness where Marshall inspired us, but my favorite is this one, so I'm sharing it here in hopes I don't forget it:

One evening, on our way downtown, a young guy got on the bus. To describe him as an imposing, frightening figure is an understatement. He had a grim expression and a don't-mess-with-me air about him, definitely not someone I would want to get into an argument with. Marshall immediately turned to study him, and exclaimed, loud enough for everyone (and I mean, everyone) to hear, "Seahawks! I love the Seahawks too!"

The man was wearing a Seahawks jersey, something I would have never noticed but would be an immediately recognizable symbol of kinship to my son.

The rest of the bus ride played out like a sappy Hallmark commercial. The guy smiled back and struck up a conversation, and the two of them chattered away about their favorite team until we arrived at our stop.

Children are the great paradigm shifters: I was trying to get Marshall to notice what was different about others, while he was teaching me to look for what was the same.

It was worth leaving 45 minutes early to learn that one.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The 7-digit milestone.

This week I submitted my last final of my first year as a full-time MBA student. This week the husband will run his first Seattle marathon. Last week Marshall said his first curse-word at school. Lots of milestones going on here in Emerald City.

7 digit milestone

And, there's one that crept up on me somewhere between learning how to plan a media buy and fudging my way through variance analysis: This blog is about to hit 1,000,000 all-time views.

Somewhere, in the next two weeks probably, one million human and Google-bot eyes will have visited, and even though that's a tiny fraction of the Internet viewing world, I'm still really excited about it.

I'm spending my week of staycation catching up family and friends on Marshall stories (stay tuned!), but in the meantime, here are some of my favorite posts from the last few years:

5 websites that will make your Monday more bearable.

First comes love.

Coming clean.

Baby on the way? How we saved $10,000 our first year as parents.

5 Things I was too embarrassed to ask my doctor I asked Google instead.

My Madonna Moment.

This is a love story. 

And then, the post that is responsible for all of this traffic and makes me look like way better of a parent than I actually am: Homemade bread, y'all.

The 7-digit milestone countdown begins now! Thanks for helping me celebrate.

Monday, April 20, 2015

What we've been up to.

I realized this weekend that this blog cannot live by bread recipes alone. So in an effort to post more than once in the bluest of moons, here's what we've been up to the last 90ish days....

Marshall has been filling his mind with all things preschool, from facts about volcanoes--"Mt. Rainier is an ice volcano, Mommy!" "Well, let's keep our distance, then."-- to stories about sea creatures--"Frogs can live on water or on land, like dolphins!" "Not quite..."

What we've been up to.

He has perfected writing the letter 'R,' which makes writing his name immensely more legible, and this past week Daniel registered him for kindergarten. (Not ready for that.)

We've been supplementing his education with Meghan Trainor songs, because, you know, good parenting.

I'm tackling Quarter 3 of my MBA program, trying to wrap my mind around everything from Activity-Based Costing to Media Planning. I have perfected using the word "synergy" in all of my emails (just kidding), and I have been supplementing my education with the final season of Mad Men (that's the truth).

Marshall and I took a long trip to Alabama over Spring Break, where we spent as much time as possible with my parents. I went to yoga with my stepmom, and Marshall went camping with my dad.

What we've been up to.

What we've been up to.

We took a road trip down to Florida and surprised Marshall with a visit to the Magic Kingdom, and I'm not sure which of our three generations had more fun.

What we've been up to.

I got to walk around Tallahassee with three of the most beautiful ladies on earth (my sister-in-law and two nieces), and Marshall had a grape date with Baby Greer, whose favorite phrase of the afternoon was, "That boy is so silly!" (Wise words, Greer.)

Although it was not long enough, I snuck in a quick visit with my sweet friend Andrea, who has been in my life as long as The Babysitter's Club and Guess Who. It's lucky if we see each other once a year, but somehow we pick up just where we left off. It's a gift she has.

What we've been up to.

There are so many friends and family we didn't get to see, and that's been on my mind. The balance of resting vs. visiting is a tough one, but this time, for better or worse, we chose rest.

What we've been up to.

Daniel continues to uphold his title of Best Daddy in the Universe. If I were a different person, I would be jealous of the way he parents Marshall so effortlessly. The other day, Daniel was entertaining Marshall with the bathroom mirrors, manipulating them so that it looked like there were multiple Marshalls.

Daniel: Look! There are a million Marshalls. 
Marshall: (Clearly delighted.) No way! That's crazy. 
Daniel: What if there really were a million Marshalls in the world? 
Marshall: (Without missing a beat.) Everybody would laugh. 

 Wishing you a week full of laughter, friends.

What we've been up to.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

I'll take my coffee black, with a side of bacon.

Because I am the sentimental being that I am, I get a big kick out of resolutions. I enjoy the reflecting, the goal setting, and especially that burst of hope that screams, "This time. This year." (I am all about the feels.)

For 2015, I feel motivated, largely by the pile of pants in my closet that do not fit without some extreme negotiation on my part, to focus on my health. For January, my reset button is going to come in the form of Whole30.

Whole30 grocery haul

It's a pretty simple list of Dos and Don'ts--

Yes to veggies, fruits, meats, and nuts.
No to sugar, alcohol, breads, dairy, and legumes.

My one exception is bacon. After looking through every bacon package at the grocery store yesterday, I learned that it's quite difficult to find bacon without some traces of sugar. I'm giving myself a pass on this one. (I'm sure I'll face the wrath of the Whole30 disciples later, but that's for Future Lauren to worry about.)

Whole30 breakfast

I do not plan on "giving up" these foods forever. Life is too short not to enjoy bread + butter, chocolate + wine. But, challenges like these are a good way to counterbalance the indulgences of the holidays.

My mantra for the next month?
1. It's only 30 days.
2. Coffee is approved.

Daniel and I gave each other a gym membership for Christmas (student discount!), so I'm counting on Whole30 and the treadmill to work their collective magic. This is the year, right?

Happy 2015, y'all!

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas in the South

We did not send out Christmas cards this year.

We did not put up a a lot of decorations.

We did not spend a lot of time shopping. (I did all of our Christmas shopping within 48 hours, with a lot of little help from Santa and Amazon Prime.)

But, despite how unprepared we were this year, despite all of the things we didn't do, Christmas still came. And it was as magical as ever.

Christmas in the South

Marshall wore his airplane jammies through a 4-AM Uber ride to SeaTac, 3 plane flights, a 5-hour unexpected layover in LAX, and a quiet car ride into rural Louisiana. 

Christmas in the South

And thanks to his exhausted parents who were too lazy to change him into picture-appropriate attire, he was still wearing them on Christmas morning when Santa delivered his new big boy bike. 

Christmas in the South

Marshall's cousin Sada schooled him in Candyland. She later schooled me in Disney trivia. And Uno. And How to Draw Fairy Princesses. 

Christmas in the South

We went to church on Sunday, where my sister-in-law played the organ, I played the piano, and Daniel and my niece Samantha sang. I was too busy drooling over my niece's beautiful lyric-soprano voice to take any pictures. How did she grow up so fast?

And then we did a lot of this...

Christmas in the South

And a lot of staring at this...

Christmas in the South

And a lot of staring at this...

Christmas in the South

 I'm missing Christmas in the South already.