When You Can’t Do It All

Here’s my new mantra:

If you can’t do it all, do a little.

It’s the most simple remedy for overwhelm I’ve discovered yet. I’m a person who falls into the cycle of want big things -> make big plans -> start -> no immediate results -> discouragement -> burnout.

It’s a damaging cycle that I see a lot of peers experiencing. And each time you start on a new big idea, it’s with a little less enthusiasm than the one before.

That’s why I’ve adopted this mantra.

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Photograph 059 by Ashley Schweitzer found on minimography.com

What is “doing it all”?

“Doing it all” is completing a project. It’s reaching a certain goal or life milestone, or mastering a new hobby. It’s completing every task on your to-do list.

In short, it’s reaching any point of completion.

So when you can’t do it all, that means you’re left with a feeling of incompleteness – perhaps of failure. This is where my self-kindness crusade begins.

Because I know that when I can’t “do it all” I often revert to doing nothing at all.

What is “doing a little”?

I’m so excited about this perspective: take one step to get closer to your goal. Or even a half-step.

Can’t clean the whole apartment? Just put the clean towels away. Just vacuum the hay that the rabbits have managed to spread out over most of your rug.

This approach has actually helped me become more productive. I’ll piece things together in moments between other activities, and soon I find myself riding the momentum into the evening: clean apartment, rabbits fed, tea made, lunch packed.

A little kindness goes a long way

I’ve raved about the importance of self-kindness and awareness before, but I simply can’t stress it enough. I’ve spent too many years expecting too much from myself, so I’m making up for it now with self compassion whenever I can.

By telling yourself in the most overwhelming hours that it’s okay to do just a little instead of doing it all, you’re giving yourself permission to be kind to yourself.

And by focusing on progress instead of completion, we’ll feel more accomplished along the way instead of just at the end of the hectic journey.

Where to start

My challenge to you: take a moment to think about what you want right now. I actually sat down and wrote out a long list of things (physical, mental, emotional) I wanted right now.

If you want to be a blogger but find the idea so overwhelming that you still haven’t started, just do this: grab any piece of paper, any writing utensil, and jot down three posts you’d like to write. Do the same thing if you want to read more – list three books you’d like to read.

There. You are one step closer to your goal.

I know it sounds simplistic, but this practice has really helped me make some progress on projects or hobbies that have felt stagnant.

I’ve written blog post titles instead of full posts, ran 1/3 of a mile instead of 2, put just one cup in the dishwasher instead of all the dishes in the sink. And eventually, by taking little, kind steps, all of my tasks were complete.

What is the one thing you can do today to make progress on the goals that are overwhelming you?

Simple Daily Planning

In my last post, I discussed how living a simple life can get complicated and that planning was essential to keep it all organized.

So today I want to give you a peek into my daily planning process!

I’ve tried planners, phone calendars, white boards, you name it. My favorite planning tool so far? A notebook and colorful pens (colors are optional – it just makes it more fun for me).

Tools aren’t for everyone

Before I dive in, it’s important to note that tools are definitely good for some people, and they are definitely bad for others. For example, I can’t get into tools that are online or on mobile devices because there are infinite ways to get distracted.

I’ve also been working on getting into daily planners (my current one breaks each day down hour by hour and has space to prioritize goals). I start the day neatly, but I end up just writing all over them without actually putting anything where it’s supposed to be.

So don’t feel compelled to use a certain tool if you’re just not into it – work with yourself, not against yourself.

Make it a pleasant habit

Don’t force planning if you’re not feeling it. Allow yourself time to get into a good headspace before you start breaking down your day, or else you’ll over- or under-whelm yourself with to-dos.

I like to wait until I’ve had some breakfast and have a fresh cup of coffee poured before I even consider planning.

I broke down and bought an unnecessary package of colorful pens for that same reason – I wanted to make this a fun process, not a frustrating one. I take my time and practice my cursive (am I the only one who still loves handwriting?)

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Keep it organized and don’t overdo it

I start by listing the date (mostly just for fun), then I break my to-do list down into sections. I’m focusing on creating a balance for myself this year, so I break it down into home, work, and personal categories.

Planning

As much as possible, I keep it to about three items per section. Work, of course, is my work goals for the day. Personal is where I put blogging, self-care, exercise, etc. Home is for housework – usually something to do with cleaning the rabbit’s cage, cooking meals, or soaking beans.

The goal for your goals is to be able to complete them all in a days time. So don’t set a full day’s worth of goals for home while also setting a full day’s worth of goals for work.

I’m starting to get into the practice of trimming the list down after I’ve made it, just so that I can be sure to complete everything. There’s nothing worse than seeing a list with only one thing crossed off of it at the end of the day.

First things first

Once you’re done with your planning, check if there’s anything you can do in a few minutes. Clearing clutter or tossing dishes into the dishwasher is usually an easy first step.

If I’ve made “read twenty pages” a goal for the day and I haven’t yet finished my coffee, I’ll pull my book out and get to work. Basically, if there’s anything easy or that fits your current situation on your list, do that first.

I’ve also started to shift the order of my planning & processing of the day’s to-dos. Instead of getting work and home stuff out of the way first, I focus on the personal category. Why?

Because that’s always the category that doesn’t get crossed off. So be kind to yourself and try to do what you can for yourself before everything else, and you’ll feel a lot more positive energy to do the rest of it.

So there’s a look at how I plan my day! Do you have a planning habit?

My 3 Words for 2016

New Years Resolutions: I’ve made them for as long as I can remember, but I couldn’t tell you one off the top of my head. They’ve always felt important, but they’ve never been impactful.

I actually just checked back on my blog to see if I had written any of them down and found this post about an alternative way to view resolutions. It was refreshing. Thanks, past me. I don’t remember writing that, but apparently I knew what was up two years ago.

But that’s not what this post is about. I wanted to share a little look into what I’ve set up for 2016. This year, I’ve created simple new years intentions.

They’re more like guidelines anyway

I think the biggest hangup people have with resolutions is that they’re so resolute. There’s no room for error, and a simple slip up can ruin the whole project for the year.

I wanted something a little more open to interpretation. And to mistakes.

It always goes back to being kind and gentle to yourself instead of holding rigid expectations. So without further ado, here are my intentions for 2016!

Three guiding words

There is no heirarchy here. I based these on three personally important areas of my life: my relationships, my all-around health and my work. Turns out, they all ended up being relevant for all areas.

3 words

Nourishment

I chose this one specifically with my relationships in mind. I have been surrounded by some awesome support this year, and I want to make sure I keep up healthy relationships by giving more energy and commitment to them.

But beyond relationships, this hits another area of my life: my own health. I’m notorious for putting work ahead of my own well-being, and that’s something that needs to change this year.

Balance

I’m talking all sorts of balance here, folks: work-life balance, physical balance (hello, yoga) and mental/emotional balance. All of these have been out of whack lately, so I’ve been setting up gentle rules guidelines to help regain my balance.

Again, like I said, these intentions are not meant to be hard and fast rules that I’ll break and then feel bad about. Think of it like meditation – whenever you wander from these core intentions, gently bring your focus back. Self-defeat is not useful here.

Rhythm

I discovered this concept from Brooke McAlary while I was binge-listening to her Slow Home Podcast. She has a great episode about rhythm, and this blog post will help you get started creating a rhythm for your week.

I love this concept because routine is such a danger zone for people like me – if one thing goes wrong, I’m ready to scrap the whole thing until the next day when it starts over. I want to create a rhythm in my life that is kind and productive.

It also doesn’t hurt that I love the musicality of this word, and everyone can use more music in their lives, right?

Picking your own words

I started by picking three areas of my life I wanted to work on, but you don’t have to be that specific.

Chris Brogan has a clear way of explaining this concept, and really helped me get started with mine.

The most important things:

  • These are your words. You don’t have to share them or feel like you have to copy others’ words. Choose what speaks to you.
  • Leave room for change (a year is a long time!) and allow yourself some space to grow into the words. Mine are a little less specific than I wanted, but I loved that I had a little wiggle-room on how I interpreted them.
  • Don’t take it too seriously. Don’t let these words become negatively restrictive or impeding. The only way it will work is if you allow yourself some grace for unforseen circumstances.

With that, I wish you and yours the best new year! And I want to thank all of you readers for joining me on this blogging and simplifying journey – you truly made my 2015 extra special.

Now it’s your turn – what are your intentions for 2016?

Holiday Blues

It’s that time of year: family visits, twinkling lights, coffee & cocoa, and all sorts of schedule disruptions.

I’ve been feeling a little scrooge-y this holiday season, as you may have guessed by my absence recently. Trying to wrap up (heh, Christmas pun) the year, figure out presents (since for the first time ever, we won’t be present) and keep a regular daily work schedule has worn me out.

Holiday BluesFor anyone else out there who’s trying to keep it simple and finding it difficult: I am too. Trying to fight the commercial holiday stress brings its own stresses.

So, today’s post is as much for me as it is for you.

Keeping the holidays merry and bright

These can be applied year-round, but are always my must-haves in times of stress. Here is what I’m going to be focusing on this next month, since I’ve overlooked these for the past few weeks.

Eliminate the nonessential

Are there things you think you need to do, but that you really don’t want to do? Consider each commitment carefully and respect your time enough to say no when you feel that’s the best option.

Going with the flow can turn into getting carried away in the current, and Christmas isn’t about trying to avoid rapids and sharp rocks. Keep the holidays on your terms.

Eat, drink and be healthy

Hangovers in college were terrible. Hangovers after college are the worst – every emotion comes flooding out and piles on top of an unproductive day. Add in the holidays and…well, it’s not pretty.

If this applies to you, find the least emotionally-wrecking booze for you and drink moderately. Me + wine = sadness, so I try to steer clear of it.

But this doesn’t just apply to alcohol – eat your veggies any chance you get. I toss back a veggie-heavy smoothie or two every day to make sure I get my greens.

Progress, not perfection

This is something I see shared around the fitness community, and I find it powerfully relevant in all aspects of life. Especially as this year comes to an end.

A dear friend of mine understands the workings of my mind, and advised me to take a moment and write down all the things I have accomplished or improved upon this year. If you try this too, be generous with yourself and note that any progress is positive.

This helps me put 2015 into perspective and encourages a positive attitude for the start of 2016.

And a note on perfection: don’t let the stress of creating a perfect holiday or finding the perfect gift ruin your time with family and friends.

Kindness is key

Being kind to others goes without saying, but especially remember to be kind to yourself.

Be patient with yourself when you stray from the path you wanted to follow. Be kind to yourself so you can flourish. Allow yourself a few moments of solitude, or extra minutes of sleeping in, or skip a chore and go for a walk instead.

Or, if you’re in an area that has Stumptown Coffee, grab a little Winter Cheer. You won’t regret it.

Holiday Blues Coffee

Winter Cheer cold brew from Stumptown is actually all I want for Christmas.

So take a moment to check in on yourself: how are you doing?

If you’re struggling, pay attention to where the balance has shifted. What can you do to restore your joy this holiday season?

Real Real Simple

I’ve always been fascinated by magazines. Something about the editorials alongside brilliantly colorful ads and the smell of the perfume samples really gets to me.

But of course, the temptation to buy is there, and it’s strong. And a few years I realized the ultimate irony: Real Simple is filled with tempting products that claim to offer a more simple life. But there’s so rarely a case for more when it comes to our quest for less.

Don’t get me wrong, I still enjoy the magazine, but take a moment to flip through the pages or webpages and you’ll see ads and product recommendations – quite the opposite of what it takes to really live a simplified life.

So I’ve been brainstorming what that might actually look like.

Real Real Simple: Tips for living a truly simplified life

My tips for a real, real simple life

  • Work. If you love it, stay. If you don’t, get out of there. I’ve seen too many Millennials (and older) hang on to jobs with excuses about money and the job search is hard…if you really want to make a change, then change. If you’re miserable and unwilling to try to make a change, then that lies on you. Complaining will get you nowhere, but some research and effort might take you further than you’d ever think.
  • Food. Forget learning how to read labels. Learn how to shop for (and cook!) meals made from things without packaging: fruits, vegetables, whole grains and beans. A diet like that isn’t terribly expensive or time consuming – in fact, the extra love you put in now will save you health care costs in the future. The closer you get to the natural state of the food, the better. (Also, I don’t really subscribe to one particular diet, but I’ve found that veggie-heavy and very few animal products works well for me).
  • Relationships. Put your people into three buckets based on the energy they bring to your life: positive, neutral, and negative. Start spending more time with the positives and spend less with the negative and neutral people. Being aware of how they impact your life is a strong first step in curating your relationships – and more meaningful relationships will benefit everyone, not just you.
  • Stuff. Declutter before organizing every time. If you’re overwhelmed with your stuff, getting new storage bins is just a temporary solution to a larger, more permanent problem. You don’t have to get rid of it all at once, but edit when you can. Keep your stuff only if it’s useful or beautiful to you.
  • Exercise. You don’t need a plan – just get outside and take a walk. Switch out coffee dates for walking dates. Bike to work. Do pushups or situps while you’re watching Netflix. I think, for me especially, it’s easy to get in our heads about doing something good for our bodies. We can’t expect to run a marathon on our first day, and we can’t even expect to feel like working out everyday. But what is most important is making the time to do one thing for your body every day. I love this advice: make it a goal to get your shoes on and get out the door. What comes next is up to you, but at least you’ve accomplished that first step.
  • Finances. Track your spending, then make a budget. Awareness is the first step! This ties in with almost every other point I’ve mentioned. Stick with whole, healthy bulk foods, find free ways to get fit and socialize, and don’t buy it if you don’t need it. If you really love something and want to get it – give it some time, research it, and think about where it fits in to your life. I usually give myself at least a month to really know that it’s something important to me before taking the plunge.

My golden rule of simplicity

The most simple, real thing I believe we can do that has a lasting impact is this: be kind to yourself.

I know this sounds a little cliche and/or silly, but I really believe that finding the right balance of motivation and self-care has profound effects on our lives and the lives of those around us. Are you any good when you’ve neglected your most basic needs (like a good night’s sleep or a healthy meal)?

In the real simple world of managing time, clutter, relationships and more, that’s the big factor that we’re missing. If we’re not meeting our basic needs, everything else gets a lot more complicated.

What’s your golden rule for simplicity?

Give Yourself Permission

I’ve been traveling and taking on new work projects this month, which means something has had to give. And that something, unfortunately, is something I love: writing.

I’ve been considering writing this post for some time now, but it’s hard to write about this topic when I know I’m a big offender of not giving myself the permission I need to do things I enjoy.

What do I mean by giving yourself permission?

Things to give yourself permission for

I mean allowing yourself to do something positive when you might normally say no. I’m not saying it has to be something big or life-changing. Here are some things I like to (and need to) give myself permission to do:

  • Sit and read
  • Drink a cup of coffee (not while working)
  • Pick up my favorite foods at the grocery store
  • Take a walk without my phone
  • Invest in a high quality item (like a purse) that will be a suitable replacement for several items I own
  • Read someone else’s blog and leave them a comment
  • Spend time with my rabbits
  • Take a nap
  • Go out for coffee
  • Pausing work to write a blog post

Ultimately, it’s about allowing myself to stop being caught up in housework and regular work to enjoy my day a little bit more.

It’s about being nice enough to yourself to take opportunities when they are available.

Be childish

When I was a kid, I had to ask for permission to have a Mountain Dew (which, looking back, was probably not a good idea to begin with). I had to ask permission to go to friends’ houses for the night.

I was so excited, as I’m sure most of you were, to become an adult and be able to do what I wanted to do when I wanted to do it.

But then came the responsibilities and the stress. Self-denial came along too.

I find myself denying a cup of coffee when I really want to sit, sip and relax. I deny myself short walks outside because there’s work to be done.

I realized that my “childish” desires (to write, to play with my rabbits, to indulge in a tasty beverage) are still there. They’re just waiting for permission to happen – my permission.

Take a moment to consider what you find difficult to give yourself permission to do. Is it something that would be positive and fulfilling? Is it healthy? Then say yes.

Permission

So say yes

Once you’ve evaluated what it is that you’d really like to be doing, learn to say yes.

I know this comes as common sense to some people, but the more tightly-wound will understand what I mean. It’s so hard to break away from housework, real work and other obligations even when the alternative is a positive one.

Say yes to peeling your eyes off of this computer screen and stepping outside for a moment. Say yes to cooking something amazing. Say yes to writing that blog post you’ve been meaning to write.

Say yes to being self-compassionate. This TEDx talk explores self-compassion and self-esteem and has helped me realized I need to be kind to myself and say yes more often:

…and sometimes say no

There’s so much about minimalism and simple living that is about saying no to things. Say no to excess, say no to clutter, say no to the advertised “norm.”

So what do you say no to and what do you say yes to? I’ve started setting some goals and building principles for myself to help me choose the right balance between the two.

Some questions to consider when building your guiding principles:

  • What do I want most for myself?
  • What do I want most for my home and possessions?
  • What do I want most for my loved ones?

If saying yes takes you closer to that goal, then say yes. If saying no takes you closer to the goal, then say no. Always do what moves you closer to your goals.

Sometimes, that means taking a break and drinking coffee while reading a book you can get lost in.

I’m still working it all out. But one thing’s for sure – this blog has helped me to hone in on what makes me feel most alive. It’s helped me to say yes a little more often. As I write this, I’m sipping tea in a cafe, which took a lot of permission for me to get out of the house and stop working for a while.

What do you find difficult to say no to? What should you start saying yes to more often?

Knowing When to Unplug

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I’ve been having trouble unplugging lately. I work most of my day at a computer, bowing out of the office for a half hour walk at lunchtime, and arrive home and immediately boot up my laptop while cooking up some dinner. Most days, it’s my personal laptop instead of my work laptop, but still – this adds up to about 75% of my day being behind a screen.

Many Millennials are seeking jobs that offer an emphasis on work/life balance, and luckily for me, I feel I’ve found one. However, that doesn’t take away from the fact that I’m constantly on my computer or phone. What happens when this constant connection gets to us?

Headaches. Trouble concentrating. For me, my happiness levels drop and I become tired without having actually done anything. When do we stop? Ideally, before this all starts! Some of my best evenings have been where I’ve failed to charge a laptop so it winds up dead and unusable, or when I have forgotten my phone in the other room (or even better – at home).

I won’t claim to be even remotely well-practiced in unplugging and logging off – in fact, I’m writing this post for myself as a reminder of how much I need to make room for this in my life. I mean, how easy is it to sink into a Netflix marathon after work? Easier than Easy Mac. But, with that said, here are my best ideas for unplugging

  • Read a book. A what? A nook? No. A book. Sit on your patio or go find a bench or a grassy spot in a nearby park. Spend time in silence, reading whatever you want to read – you’re not in school anymore! You have the time to choose your own textbooks and novels now.
  • Nature, as much as possible. Even if it’s a few trees and a pond in the middle of an office park. My 30-minute walks at lunchtime are always a wonderful way to rejuvenate myself before finishing up a day of work. As a disclaimer, though, I do usually spend the time talking on the phone with a member of my family. I consider this second-best to in-person socialization, but since I’m not looking at a screen, I count it as being unplugged. Technicalities.
  • Spend time with animals. Stop texting while you’re half-heartedly petting your dog. Pet the dog like you mean it. Like you’re not a robot. My rabbits sure know when I’m not paying attention to them, and they take full advantage (my carpet is in tatters – another story for another day).
  • Cook dinner. I’m so anti-boxed foods these days. First of all, I’m scared of the weird, unpronounceable ingredients. Secondly, I cherish the time I get to spend away from screens and interacting with raw, beautiful vegetables. Is that just me? It might just be me.
  • Sit in silence. Do it alone. Do it with a friend, a significant other, a stranger. I don’t care. Just sit in silence and take in the noises around you. Immerse yourself in the real world, instead of lightly treading through a weird, digital reality. Practice listening and being a spectator instead of being actively involved with commenting, following, liking, emailing, chatting, etc. This is my biggest challenge. Silence makes me, and many people I know, uneasy.

I can’t say that I practice all of these every day. I can’t even say that I practice some of these some of the days. All I know is that these screens are starting to get to me, and I desperately need to make time to unplug. How do you skip the screens?