Make A List

For the month of April I’m blogging alphabetically about quick, easy, and practical ways to relieve stress. To see the other posts in this series, click here.

make a listI work really hard most days. So hard that, as I’ve already mentioned in this series, I don’t even grant myself the time I deserve for should-be priorities like eating, resting, cuddling my babies, laughing, or having fun. So you know what really upsets me and sends my stress level through the roof? When I sit down to dinner with my family, completely exhausted, and look around at my house and realize that it looks like I haven’t done anything all day. I run myself ragged, but, at the end of the day, it seems as if everything I’ve done has been undone by little hands, and things I really wanted to get done remain undone because I was too busy to get them done. It makes me feel like my life is completely out of control. It makes me feel like a failure.

Part of my problem is that I have really high expectations about what I should be able to accomplish in a day. I usually want to get about 50 more things accomplished than time will allow. As you can imagine, that means I don’t accomplish what I want to accomplish each day. The truth is I simply can’t accomplish that much in one day. No one could. There is only so much time. And only so many tasks can be completed in that finite amount of time.

I’ve always been a list person. Whatever I need to do goes on my list. Partly, so I don’t forget about it. And partly, well, because I’m a list person. I think up a new task, it goes on the list. The only thing I love more than making my list, is crossing things off my list.

So, at the end of the day, as I look around my messy house that I spent the whole day cleaning, I also see my list. My list full of un-crossed-off items. And I get really upset and uptight. How can there still be so many things left on my list?? How am I ever going to get all of these things done?? How will I prevent the world from spinning out of control?? (There goes that catastrophic thinking again…)

So, in preparation for this post, I’ve changed the way I make my list. And it’s worked out so well for me!

Every morning, I take out a sticky note. On the sticky note I write the six and only six things that I’m going to accomplish that day. (Sticky notes won’t hold much more than 6 items, so it keeps me from cheating. Otherwise, I might try to add a few “bonus” items.) Items 1 and 2 are the same every day: 1. school with A & J 2. read aloud. That only leaves me with 4 little ol’ spots for all the many things I think I need to do. This makes me prioritize my projects and it makes me stick to a reasonable number of tasks. I don’t have to accomplish my list in any order, my goal is just to accomplish it by the end of the day.

This little exercise has been so good for me! It feels so good to get to cross six things off my list every day. It feels so good to look at my list and know that I actually accomplished what I intended to do that day. It feels so good to sit down to dinner and know that, even though my house is a mess and I’m exhausted, my list is complete. It gives me tangible evidence that I did, in fact, accomplish something, even if I feel like there is still so much that could be done.


Reasons I Will Never “Make It” As a Blogger

As I was laying awake in bed last night, I found myself pondering the reasons I’ll never “make it” in the blogging world. I was amused by my little epiphany, so in case you’ve mistakenly overestimated my potential, let me fill you in.

1. My blog doesn’t have a general topic of interest. Two of my favorite blogs to visit are about something, Conversion Diary and Young House Love. While visiting these blogs, I’ve fallen in love with the writing or perhaps the writers and thus the blog. What are these topics that keep me coming back for more? Conversion Diary is the story of a former atheist who found herself searching for meaning in her life. The blog documents her journey and she continues updating it regularly. Young House Love is about a young newlywed couple and all of their amazing home renovation projects. In both instances what originally hooked me? The topic. I don’t have one of those. I write about whatever is on my mind in no particular order. Reason number one I’ll never find fame and fortune as a blogger: I don’t have a topic or even the slightest desire to commit to a single topic. I’m just more well-rounded than that. ;)

2. I’m nobody special. Well, of course I’m special, but I’m not someone who is well-known. Patrick Madrid’s blog comes to mind. His blog is random like mine, no general topic or theme. So why do people visit his blog? Because it’s his. People have read his books or heard him speak. They’re so sold on the guy that they’ll visit his blog to see what he has to say, regardless of  the topic. Reason number two I’m not destined to have a world-famous blog: because I’m just me. Despite being a hero to my kiddos, most people don’t revere me, let alone know who I am. Thus, at present, I can’t draw readers simply because I’m awesome.

3. My life isn’t extraordinary. Some moms have been known to start a blog just to keep friends and family updated on daily happenings. Mom reasons she can write story after story about her little gems, her misadventures as a mom, and whatever else is relevant to her family without boring people to tears or clogging up their inboxes. She writes until her heart’s content, but family and friends only have to read as much as they want and only when they’re interested.

Somehow, whether it’s because this mom’s life is a step above the majority’s or perhaps she just has a knack for writing about it like it is, she starts drawing more and more readers and eventually sponsors. Before she knows it, her little blogging hobby has become a career. So why can’t I stumble into success?  Well, I suppose I could, but these moms started writing to their family and friends. I doubt my family and friends even know I have a blog, much less read it. I write to no one or some days many anonymous someones. They come to read  a specific entry, but their love for me or my kids won’t bring them back for more. Reason number three advertisers won’t be begging to pay me to keep on doing what I’m doing: I don’t have a loyal (or guilt-ridden, as the case may be) fan base to launch me into notoriety.

The good news is I didn’t start my blog to make money or gain recognition. I write my little blog as a sounding board. When lacking other adults to share my prodigious insights with or simply feeling as if making my message public could make a difference, I have a venue to give voice to my thoughts. I find this invaluable. One can only call her girlfriends so many times before they start asking, “Is Josh working 16 hours again today?” Busted. “Well, yeah he is, but I really just wanted to see what you’re up to, Jenny.” She knows better. She knows I’m bored or have a thought that’s a little above my four-year-old’s comprehension level.

Joking aside, how does one determine success? By setting goals. My goal was to have a virtual sounding board, to have a spot where I could selfishly go on and on and not have to ask about little Adam’s potty training. That’s what I have here. A returning, captive audience was never my goal. Obtaining that would indeed be some kind of success in its own right, but lacking that definitely does not mean I’m lacking success. I’m successful in that I’ve achieved exactly what I set out to achieve, and I enjoy every keystroke.

Updated New Year Resolutions

Because I’ve managed to grow a little bit this year, I feel it’s time to update my New Year Resolutions. To help hold myself accountable, I’m sharing these revisions here.

Daily resolution number 4 shall be appended as follows: I will embrace every opportunity I have to greet Josh, whether on the phone or in person, and do so warmly. (This means that even if I’m cleaning up an explosive dirty diaper, the pot on the stove is boiling over and Andy is pulling the cat’s tail, I will answer the phone cheerfully. I am always happy when Josh has an opportunity to take a break and call me, thus I will convey that with my voice upon answering. There is no need to drag him down with me. Besides, if I open the call with frustration, the call will likely be spent discussing that frustration. I’d much rather take a pleasant couple minute break from whatever reality may be at the moment.)

Daily resolution number 6 shall be stricken and replaced as follows. I will maintain an attitude of gratitude throughout the day. Despite the challenges I am facing in the present moment, I will be grateful for all God has given me. During particularly stressful or challenging moments, I will take time to stop and say a prayer of thanksgiving for all of my many blessings. (Starting out, I will count the goal as complete if I display my “attitude of gratitude” during any one difficult situation. As I get better at this, I will increase. My ultimate goal is to be able to maintain my “attitude of gratitude” throughout the day.)

Daily resolution number 7 shall also be stricken and replaced. It shall now read: I will read one additional chapter or the Bible or study verses relating to a specific topic of interest as indicated in the Catechism. (I’m making a wholehearted effort to learn more each day, and this is obviously a crucial step to accomplishing that goal. Perhaps one day you’ll even be able to refer to me as an apologist.)

As a final note, I’m please to report that daily resolution number 3, which initially I found the most daunting, has turned out to be one of the easiest and very enjoyable. I have never put so much effort into reading in my life, but I absolutely am thrilled with all that I have learned as a result. I’ve even created an additional page on my blog to note the particularly enjoyable/interesting books I’ve read this year. If memory serves me correctly, so far, only one book hasn’t made the cut.

I couldn’t be happier with my overall progress this year. It’s amazing how much power a tracked goal has. Like I’ve said before, tracking is the most important part of goal setting. It’s really easy to set goals, but sticking with them and eventually achieving them all comes down to the tracking. I don’t mean to imply that I successfully complete every goal every day. I definitely don’t yet. But I intend to before the end of the year. So far, I am very pleased with myself and believe I am definitely on the right track.

Digging Deeper with Allison LaMarr

Allison LaMarr is one of my favorite motivational speakers. She writes a weekly blog, Digging Deeper, and I have learned so much from her! Despite the fact that we’ve never met, she is one of my mentors and has made a huge impact on who I am as a person. I don’t intend to use my blog to just copy and paste other people’s thoughts and ideas, but in this instance, I couldn’t help myself! This is exactly what I was trying to accomplish with my New Year Resolutions and much more eloquently said. I hope you enjoy her as much as I do. If you click the link at the bottom, you can register to have her blog delivered to your inbox every Wednesday. It’s totally legit, no spam or anything. I seriously want to be just like Allison when I grow up!
January 6, 2010
2010: The Hero Within
Happy New Year, my friends!  I’d like to personally thank you for carving out a few moments to dig deeper with me each week. This is our chance to dig a little deeper into life on a weekly basis…to stop for just a few moments amidst all the hustle and bustle to take a deep breath and make sure that our perspective is clear, our priorities are in order, and our mindset is healthy.  Whether you are a working professional, a full-time parent, or an aspiring dreamer, the objective of our weekly discussions is to help empower you to wage war on mediocrity and achieve a life of daily excellence!

The launch of a brand new decade has no doubt caused us all to stop and consider the crazy phenomenon of the passage of time.  What were you doing a decade ago?  Where were you a decade ago?  Who were you a decade ago? A decade = 10 years = 120 months = 520 weeks = 3,650 days = 87,600 hours = 5,256,000 minutes = 315,360,000 seconds.  This New Year’s Eve as James and I sat on the couch in our pajamas watching Dick Clark and Ryan Seacrest host the Times Square happenings, we couldn’t help but laugh at how different our celebration was 10 years ago.  Not three feet away on a bookshelf stood a framed picture to commemorate the moment.  I was a senior in college, we were 6 months from being married, and we were all dressed up in a roomful of friends, wearing party hats, dancing and singing along at the top of our lungs to Prince’s famous words, “Tonight We’re G onna Party Like It’s 1999”, with silver metallic numbers “2000” decorating the entire room. 10 years ago, the future was bright, the world was at our fingertips, and we didn’t have a care in the world.

Now, we’ve got a house payment, a toddler, and a closet full of clothes that used to fit.  Yes, we partied our way into 2000…and we yawned our way into 2010.  But the funny thing is, I wouldn’t go back and trade it for the world.  As I watched my son sleeping on the monitor and my husband “tweeting” his New Year wishes, there wasn’t a place I’d rather be.  If we could rewind and do things differently, I think we would all make different choices, based on the lessons we’ve learned.  I’ve made more stupid mistakes than I can count, and some of them cost me dearly – both financially and emotionally. Some of my mistakes hurt other people, and some of my mistakes I’m still paying for.  Of course, we can’t go back, but we can choose to move forward. We all have a clean slate before us, beginning in 2010.  What will you ch oose to write on yours?

This is so much bigger than the cliché of annual resolutions that are forgotten by Valentine’s Day.  It’s about a deep-seated desire to continually change and grow into our potential, into our purpose, into the person God created us to be.  The challenge, of course, is that becoming that person depends on our choices.  We must make the proactive choices that defy human nature.  Remember, human nature isn’t on our side. Human nature is lazy, apathetic, narcissistic, naïve, and always takes the path of least resistance.  Human nature’s inclination is to do as little as possible to get what we want. So, to combat and overcome those internal inclinations, we must be aware of and alert to the fact that living in response to our feelings and emotions will lead us straight to destruction.  I have rarely felt like getting off the couch or turning off the TV.  I have rarely felt like getting up at 5 AM or passing on chips and queso. I have rarely felt like lacing up my running shoes or making one more business call.  I have rarely felt like saying “no” to the stores and stores of beautiful clothes, shoes, and purses that call my name from the mall.

Gosh, when you stop and think about it, it would practically take a hero to make those kind of iron-strength choices every day.  But, guess what?  That’s exactly what you can be.  A practical hero.  An everyday hero.  A hero within.  Sound silly?  Of course it does! But wouldn’t you feel more inclined to make the right decisions if you were running around with a red cape and super powers?  So, throw on the cape – at least at home – and step into that power of potential that already lies within you.

Last week, James and I conducted our third Annual Review.  (For more details on conducting your own Annual Review, see the 12/24/08 edition of the Digging Deeper archives.)   There were two things about this particular session that stood out to me. First of all, heading into a brand new decade caused me to go back and analyze what I want to change from the past one.  Of the past 10 years, if I had to give a painfully honest assessment, I would say that I lived four of them proactively and six of them reactively.  The sad – and shocking – piece of that revelation to me was that I easily thought that at least two more of those reactive years were proactive while I was living them.  But, from a hindsight perspective, the results of those years speak for themselves.  It really is sho cking to see how blind we can be to our own naïveté and apathy.  And, the second thing of note that struck me during our Annual Review was the insight that tracking can provide.  Because we had now conducted this session for three years in a row, we were able to go back and document our performance against our plans in 2007, 2008, and 2009.  We were able to see patterns and trends of poor decisions along with wiser ones.  And we were able to learn from those patterns and trends as we head into 2010.

As we looked back at our past three years of documented goals and activity, it was rewarding to look at our progress and humbling to study our errors.   But, the thing that stands out to me most about the past decade is the wonder of Father Time. We’ve all ticked through the past 5.2 million minutes, and God willing, we’ll tick through at least that many more.  So, when this decade winds to an end, what story do you want yours to tell?  As those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, and years tick by, a few of them will be momentous and noteworthy.  But most of them will be humdrum and forgettable. And believe it or not, it’s those most forgettable days that define an everyday hero.  It’s the most humdrum hours that separate a victory from a loss.  Because in those un-notable moments, we either get swept away by the current of human nature – or we don’t.

The past decade may have been horrific, fabulous, or just so-so for you. You may desire a complete turnaround in this new season.  Or, perhaps you just want to keep building on your progress from the past. To create different results, we must approach our situation differently.  Whether you need a quantum leap or just incremental improvement, your future results depend on how you handle you.  How you handle yourself today, and how you handle yourself tomorrow, and the day after that. There’s no magic formula or magic pill.  The cape may give you confidence, but the hero is already there.  You hold the power of change, but you must turn the key daily to unleash that power.  Ignore the naysayers, and stop playing that broken record of past defeats and unkept promises to yourself in your head.  My prayer for all of us this year is Deuteronomy 33:25.  May God work such steadfastness of mind in you that “the bolts of your gates will be iron and bronze, and your strength will equal your days”.

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New Beginnings

sunny beginningsWhen I was younger, one of my favorite times of the year was back to school or the beginning of a new semester. I relished shopping for school supplies, often coordinating my pens and folders by color or theme, and the potential for success that lay before me. I made similar resolutions each time usually related to organization, time management, and procrastination (or more specifically, not procrastinating). I absolutely adore new beginnings of any kind. Naturally, celebrating New Years and making new year resolutions is something I really enjoy.

This year I put a lot of thought into what my resolution would be. I’m not really a fan of the generic goals like lose weight, get finances in order, get healthy, etc. All of those are great, but they basically predetermine your failure. They’re just too generic. There’s nothing measurable or concrete about them. Yet, I kept coming back to the same generic statement. I just want to be a better person. I’ve been hovering around this thought for a little over a year, but haven’t done much about it. Why? My guess would be because it’s too generic and I never formulated an action plan. So, to make my new year resolution, I decided to break down this concept of being a better person. If it goes well, perhaps I’ll continue expanding and elaborating on the same theme each year. For now, year one of becoming a better person, here’s what I’ve come up with.

I took a look at my life and picked out the major pieces that define who I am as a person. After all, how could I improve who I “am” if I don’t know who I am to begin with. I came up with these subheadings to “me”: spiritual, personal, wife, mother, entrepreneur, friend. I ultimately decided to sufficiently improve me, I would make a small, daily goal for each of these categories. In effect, instead of making one broad resolution, I’ve made several small daily resolutions.

  1. I will pray the Rosary each day. (This will probably require getting up a little earlier so I have the time to myself.)
  2. I will read the chapter in Proverbs that corresponds to the day of the month. For example, today is the second so I read chapter 2. Following my chapter I will play a round of “Bible Roulette” to allow the Lord to speak to me/learn a little more about the Bible.
  3. I will read at least one chapter of something I enjoy each day. (This one kind of stresses me out. I have no idea when I’m going to sit down and read for pleasure, plus I’m really bad about not taking time out for me, but I think this will be a much-needed daily “recharge” time for me.)
  4. I will greet Josh with a smile and a kiss and tell him I’m glad he’s home each day. (This sounds obvious but after several years of marriage and dealing with kids all day, Josh doesn’t usually get the welcome he deserves when he walks in the door.)
  5. I will spend individual quality time with each boy each day. (Research shows that just 15 minutes of quality one-on-one time with a child does wonders.)
  6. I will do one proactive activity for my business each day. (I’m not focusing so much on building new business right now, since the baby will be here before we know it. However, I definitely don’t want to lose all my momentum in the meantime, so this is what I’m starting with.)
  7. Each day, I will attempt to brighten one person’s day.

So those are my 7 daily goals. I got a new planner (the kind with both a monthly and a daily view) to help me track my goals. Each day, as I complete each goal, I will write the corresponding number in my planner. This will allow me to see which goals I’m struggling with and help me get back on the proverbial horse after I fall off. For me, tracking it the most important part of goal setting. It’s really easy to set goals, but sticking with them and eventually achieving them all comes down to the tracking. I think I’ll also report my progress here in my blog, since its important to have some accountability. It’s much to easy to make excuses to myself, but if I have to tell someone else what a slacker I’ve been, I’m much more likely to stay focused.

It takes 21 day to form a habit, so if I find I’ve accomplished (accomplished meaning successfully made it a true daily activity…like eating) one of these goals, I may replace it. I may also modify these goals as needed. My tracking sheets will speak for themselves.  But, for now, this is my plan to become a slightly better person this year.

Here’s to a great 2010!