Choose your own adventure in 2019!

selective focus photography of person holding the adventure begins mug

Photo by Simon Migaj on Pexels.com

A few years ago I stopped doing New Year’s resolutions and started setting a one-word intention for the year. Last year my word was “time.” For the first time since becoming a parent, I wasn’t working and all three of my kids were in school. I found myself with unprecedented amounts of glorious, unstructured time to work on my own writing. It felt like I had won the time lottery and I needed to figure out how to not blow it on stupid stuff like reading about other people’s lives on Facebook.

I feel like I used my time pretty well last year. I started this blog. I wrote about three-fourths of a novel manuscript. I trained for my first ultra marathon. I invested in friendships with some really awesome people who make me laugh, help me grow and help me be a better mom, writer, and person. It was a good year with lots to be proud of. I still wasted plenty of time. I didn’t finish my novel like I had hoped to (more on that in a second). But I was conscious of time as a non-renewable resource, and that guided a lot of my decision making.

Something I learned this year: Time is not like money. You can’t hoard it and save it for later. The time will get spent one way or the other, but you get to choose how you spend it.

This year my word is “finish.” I am really good at starting things and am perfectly content being in the middle of a project, but I avoid finishing stuff. My theory has always been that I’m a perfectionist, and that avoiding finishing is my way of avoiding screwing up. You can’t officially fail if you don’t finish, right?

Reading the book Mindset by Carol S. Dweck has given me new insight into why I don’t finish things, particularly writing projects. When it comes to writing, I have a “fixed” mindset, meaning I operate from a belief that my success as a writer is something I have no control over and my success or failure as a writer defines me. Eek, right?

In other words I have believed that being a good writer is a God-given talent that you either have or you don’t. Writing a “successful” book (which according to my fixed mindset outlook is a book that is published by a publishing house and is well-received by lots of people) is something I have very little control over. An agent has to want to represent it. An editor has to believe in it and pitch it to her fellow editors. The publisher has to get behind the book and spend money promoting it. I can’t control any of that stuff.

I get hung up on all the pieces of this process that I have no control over, and I basically give up when the writing doesn’t flow easily. I tell myself that if I were a better writer, the kind of writer that writes a “successful” book, then this would all be effortless. If it’s hard then I must not be very good at it, and if I’m not very good then my book will never get published. I imagine an editor trying to pitch my book to colleagues in a New York City office, snowflakes gently swirling outside the skyscraper window. I imagine everyone in the meeting giving a big thumbs down. That’s when it becomes very likely I will close my laptop and turn to another more appealing project like cleaning the toilet.

sabotage

This could be the cover of my book about my writing process. Here’s to less self-sabotage in 2019!

I have a fixed mindset about writing, and that mindset is what is standing in the way of finishing my novel. And finishing lots of other cool stuff too. The good news is that I can do something about this. Mindsets, like hairstyles, are changeable.

A fixed mindset defines success as proof that you are talented or intelligent. And failure is evidence that you are not talented or intelligent enough. Sorry, thanks for playing, but you had your chance and you blew it, is what the fixed mindset tells you when you fail. Or if things go well, the fixed mindset tells you that of course you did well because you are talented and that’s what talented people do. Talent, not effort, is the reason for success in the fixed mindset framework. Performance is everything.

Have you ever praised your child for being “smart” when they do well on a test? I think probably every parent has done this. That’s fixed mindset right there. Of course you did well on that test, you are naturally gifted with intelligence. Hard work has nothing to do with it, is the unintended message.

A growth mindset is characterized by the belief that you can develop yourself, that you can learn from mistakes, bad grades, and rejections. Challenges are to be expected because you are stretching yourself to do something difficult. Those setbacks aren’t the end of the story, they are valuable feedback that help you improve. Learning is valuable in its own right.

I underlined and put an asterisk next to the following passage from Mindset:

“You have a choice. Mindsets are just beliefs. They’re powerful beliefs, but they’re something in your mind, and you can change your mind…think about where you’d like to go and which mindset will take you there.”

I imagine sitting down with Dr. Phil and telling him about my fixed mindset approach to writing and him responding with, “how’s that working for you?”

Well, I have zero novels published, Dr. Phil, so not very well I guess.

So here’s my new growth mindset approach to writing:

  • A successful novel is a finished novel that I am happy with.
  • Writing a successful novel is in my control and no one else’s.
  • Writing a successful novel will require me to work hard, get feedback and use that feedback to revise. “Feedback” may come in the form of rejections. No, feedback will come in the form of rejections. Those rejections are helpful to me because they will make my novel better.
  • Writing a novel is difficult, but I am up to the challenge. I do hard things all the time. In fact, I kind of enjoy doing hard things, which is why I do crazy stuff like training to run an ultra marathon.
  • Publishing is in my control. I will try to get my novel published in the traditional way, but if that doesn’t work out, I can still publish it myself.
  • Don’t worry about the outcome, just write the story you want to tell as honestly as you can write it.

I am using writing as an example, but you could apply the growth mindset to so many things. Whether your 2019 goal is to lose weight, organize your house, or start a new business, the growth mindset is your friend. Realizing you can change the filter on how you see the world and your potential is pretty amazing and so encouraging. It doesn’t mean success will come more easily, but your mindset may be what keeps you going when the going gets tough.

Are you wondering if you are more of a fixed or growth mindset person? Here’s a little quiz from the book. Answer “yes” or “no” to the following questions.

  1. Your intelligence is something very basic about you that you can’t change very much.
  2. You can learn new things, but you can’t really change how intelligent you are.
  3. No matter how much intelligence you have, you can always change it quite a bit.
  4. You can always substantially change how intelligent you are.
  5. You are a certain kind of person, and there is not much that can be done to really change that.
  6. No matter what kind of person you are, you can always change substantially.
  7. You can do things differently, but the important parts of who you are can’t really be changed.
  8. You can always change the basic things about the kind of person you are.

Did you answer “yes” to questions 1, 2, 5, and 7? You are seeing the world through a fixed mindset filter.

If you answered “yes” to questions 3,4, 6, and 8, then you see the world through a growth mindset filter.

How do you view mistakes? Being wrong? Do you feel like you always have to prove yourself?

If you said that you hate making mistakes, get really defensive if someone accuses you of being wrong, and feel like the world is one big final exam, then I am right there with you.

What if we didn’t see the world this way?

Here’s an illustration from the book: Imagine you have signed up to learn a new language. A few sessions into the class you have been called to the front of the room to answer questions. Do you feel anxious? Worried your lack of knowledge will be revealed to a group of people that is evaluating you? Or do you see yourself as a novice, at the beginning of something new with lots to learn. And this is the opportunity you’ve been waiting for?

This feels like a choose your own adventure story. I know which option sounds better to me…

What is the thing you’ve been scared to try? Or scared to finish? Do you make resolutions or intentions for the year? I’d love to hear!


But First Tacos

but first tacos

Photo credit: 5thandGraceCo

 

You know how they say put the oxygen mask on yourself first? Well, the same is true for tacos. You can’t be a good you on an empty tummy. But it’s hard to find time to feed yourself in the midst of the tornado that is getting everyone out the door each morning.

Well I have a solution for all you hangry mamas out there!

This is going to sound like a pretty obvious tip, but it took me a while to figure this out and since I have started doing this one thing, I save a good 30 minutes making and cleaning up breakfast everyday. That’s like a good 3 and a half hours a week!

Are you ready for me to reveal my tip?

You sure?

Okay. Here it is. All I do is make a bunch of bacon and scrambled eggs at one time and then reheat them throughout the week to have an easy, delicious breakfast ready in seconds. I know, not exactly earth shattering in its originality, but I have been making breakfast for a long, long time and it just recently occurred to me to do this. So it made me think maybe others have not discovered this little nugget of efficiency.

I like to put my eggs and bacon on a corn tortilla and plop a little salsa or guacamole on top. One time I had leftover pork chops (the ones from my 30-day meal plan), and so I sliced up one of those bad boys and put it on top of my eggs instead of bacon. Whoa. It was good. You could also make a big batch of frozen hash browns and add those to the mix. I am happy with just simple bacon and eggs, but sometimes I add a little grated cheese if I am feeling fancy.

Here’s how I make bacon the super easy, no muss, no fuss way. 

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  1. Cover a large sheet pan with heavy duty foil.
  2. Set an oven-safe cooling rack on top of it.
  3. Line your bacon up on the cooling rack so that the grease can drip down onto the foil-lined pan.
  4. Bake at 420 for 10-20 minutes, depending on how you like your bacon. I like mine crispy, so I leave it in there longer. *Confession: I have a tendency to burn bacon. It’s my one flaw.
  5. Let things cool down before trying to dispose of the foil. Letting the grease cool down and solidify a little makes clean up less likely to give you a third degree burn.

 

 

While the bacon’s cooking, make your eggs:

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  1. Crack however many eggs you think you’ll need into a bowl. I usually do six at a time.
  2. Over low heat, melt a tablespoon of butter in a nonstick pan. I also give the pan a little spritz of cooking spray for good measure.
  3. While the butter is melting, whisk your eggs until they are all mixed together and are basically one solid color.

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I mean, look at that action shot.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pour eggs into the pan and gently start to lift and fold them gently with a rubber spatula. Lift and fold. Lift and fold.

The goal is to not let any eggs stay in one spot too long and get brown.

Brown scrambled eggs=gross scrambled eggs.

Don’t forget to add a little salt and pepper. I think it’s easier to season the eggs once they’re in the pan. You can get a better idea of how much salt and pepper you really need when they’re all spread out as opposed to when they’re in a bowl.

Keep cooking on low heat until they are as done as you like em. The big thing to remember is slow and low is the key to cooking eggs. Slow and low…that is the tempo. You want to lovingly coax them into luscious scrambledness. This cannot be rushed.

Let your eggs cool and pack them up for easy living all week.

Once you’ve got your eggs and bacon at the ready, you can have a quick, yummy, filling breakfast in minutes with no mess to clean up. Like I said, I like to make a taco by microwaving a tortilla with a little cheese topped with eggs and bacon. I microwave it for about 45 seconds and then I eat it standing up over my kitchen sink like an animal.

You could also toast an english muffin, microwave the eggs and bacon separately and then build a little breakfast sandwich. Yum. Or just eat them as eggs and bacon with a little toast. Feel free to mix it up. Add some veggies. Slice up some avocado. Once you have your base of eggs and bacon, you can do with them as you choose and it really doesn’t add much time to the equation.

Side note: Supposedly the way you like your eggs says something about your personality.

So, if you could only eat eggs one way forever, which way would you choose?

Did you say scrambled, like me? Here’s what that means, according to the internet: 

You’re a loyal friend to the end! Conservative, but always friendly and inclusive of others –– not the life of the party, but always at the party. Sometimes really bland, but whatever — people still like you so who cares.

Yay.

I don’t care if I’m a little boring. You over-easy people can have your wild parties and mucousy eggs. I’m scrambled eggs for life.

So sometimes, you will find yourself in the position I was in today. My bacon and egg stash had run dry, and I didn’t have time to make more. What could I eat…what could I eat….

Well, necessity really is the mother of invention because today I invented what I believe to be the next big thing…

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Yep, that’s a waffle taco. And it was delicious. And there was fruit, y’all, so it was healthy.

All you do to make this amazing handful of self care is toast a blueberry waffle. Swipe on a scant amount of Nutella. Just the tiniest amount. Like, so little, it doesn’t even register on My Fitness Pal. It’s like you basically didn’t even eat any Nutella at all. Pile on some blueberries and fold it in half. Voila! You have made an entirely different, but equally yummy breakfast taco.

So, what do y’all like to eat for breakfast? I would love to hear if you can top my waffle taco. It gets a ten out of ten for both easiness and deliciousness, but it needs a better name. Maybe we should call it… Wacco? Taffle? I need your thoughts on this.

Love,

Elizabeth

 

 

 

 


One Meal Plan and Done: A Month of Easy Family Dinners

Something happens after you turn 40. Well, a lot happens, much of which I won’t go into now, but one thing that I have noticed now that I’m 43 is that I think about time so much more than I used to.

Once you get up on top of that 40 hill, you can see clearly. You were climbing, climbing, climbing for the first four decades of your life, and now you’re up on top looking out over everything and going, wow, this is amazing! My life is pretty awesome! I still feel good (hopefully)! And I’m not clawing my way up this mountain trying to prove myself anymore. I’m here. I’m enough. And I have perspective. I can see ahead of me and behind me. I can use the tools that got me here to keep getting better and stronger and driving forward. But not because I’m hustling for others’ approval, because I now can see what’s important, what I care about most.

I love being in my 40s. I’ll take the gray hairs and the weird lines on my neck and creaky knees if it means I can have that mountaintop view of life. No contest.

I’m not nearly as concerned with appearance or external success as I used to be, but what I am a tiny bit obsessed with now is time and how I use it. I now see time as a finite thing. I of course knew that before I turned 40, but now I feel it. I hear it like a jungle drum beating constantly in the distance. There is only so much time to do the things I want to do, and it makes me hyper-aware of what I’m doing with each minute.

So what does this have to do with meal planning? I thought there were going to be recipes, you’re saying to yourself.

Planning a month of meals at a time saves me time. Not just a few hours here and there, but exponential amounts of time. That’s time that I can use to train for a marathon, write a novel, garden, volunteer at school, be a good friend, sister, aunt, wife, daughter, mom. You know, big stuff from my life list that is way more fun and important than going to the grocery store.

Also meal planning saves us money. Since I started sticking to a meal plan, I only go to the grocery store once a week. (Every time you walk into the grocery store, you buy more than just what you came for, so staying away as much as possible means you spend less.) But the big way we save money is by not eating out. We can easily blow $50 feeding our family of 5 by eating out. And that’s fine if it’s a treat that we are all excited to enjoy. But if we spend that kind of money just because I forgot for the third time in a week that I can’t drive and make dinner at the same time…then that is not a treat. That just hurts.

But really my main motivator is saving time. I want hungry people to be fed, family dinners to be a priority, and I refuse to spend hours upon hours making this happen every week.

So before I reveal my arsenal of dinners, I have a few tips:

Tip #1: Use Google sheets to create your meal plan, then add your grocery lists as additional tabs at the bottom of your sheet. 

You can see in the screenshot below I have created a Google sheet with my dinners plugged into a calendar. Then, at the bottom of my meal spreadsheet calendar thing, I have different tabs for each week’s grocery list. This is where things get really nerdy and amazing. I can just re-use these grocery lists each week for the rest of my life if I want to. Or I can copy and paste and tweak them if I want to change up the rotation a bit. And I can always see and edit them, because I can access my Google drive from my phone. OMG, I know.

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Here’s my week 1 grocery list. It includes stuff other than just what I need for dinners obviously. I needed cilantro twice apparently. But only once did I need it to be capitalized.

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Tip #2: Add your meals to your digital calendar.

Once you’ve got the above setup, you can add your dinners to your Google calendar or whatever calendar you use. This will help you see that, oops, Back to School night is on Tuesday and it’s not a good night for that super complicated recipe you clipped out of Food and Wine magazine.

So without further ado, I am sharing a month’s worth of dinners my whole family will happily eat. I am breaking these dinners up into categories so that you can plug them into your specific schedule. For example, if you know you have a crazy driving day on Wednesdays, pick a meal from the slow-cooker category. You will feel like a genius when you roll into your driveway at 6:30 with a hot meal ready to be dished out to hungry loved ones.

So here’s what’s for dinner at my house this month:

Slow-cooker/Instant Pot Meals

Make-Ahead Dinners

  • Spaghetti with meat sauce: Brown 1 lb ground beef and 1 lb ground mild italian sausage. Drain fat. Add 3 cloves of chopped garlic and cook with ground meat for 30 seconds. Add half a cup of wine (any wine or no wine is fine) and cook until almost all the liquid has evaporated.  Add 24-oz jar of Rao’s marinara sauce + 1 8 0z can of (unseasoned) tomato sauce + 1 tablespoon of Italian seasoning + tablespoon of sugar + salt and pepper to taste. Let everything simmer for as long as you have. Add water if sauce seems too thick. Serve with pasta and any veggie your kids will eat!
  • Lasagna (Make extra spaghetti sauce and freeze half for lasagna night. Woo! I use whatever recipe comes on the box of lasagna noodles.)
  • Chicken and dumplings (Make your own stock with a whole chicken or use a rotisserie chicken with store-bought stock. You are your own boss!) I have concocted what I believe to be the perfect chicken and dumplings recipe. Sorry, I need to figure out how to share recipes on WordPress. Once I do that I will share that in another post. Stay tuned!

Sheet Pan Dinners

  • Sausage with Roasted Vegetables: slice up your favorite sausage (I like Pederson’s), add chunks of red onion, and veggies, toss with olive oil and salt and pepper and roast for 20ish minutes on 425.
  • Sheet Pan Meatballs with Crispy Turmeric Chickpeas

Dinners You Can Make With Your Eyes Closed*

  • Crispy Tacos=ground beef + Old El Paso seasoning + Crispy taco shells + fixings
  • Fish Tacos=frozen battered fish fillets + southwestern salad in a bag + tortillas + fixings
  • Grilled Chicken=I actually make this in a pan, not on the grill. Sprinkle salt, pepper, and season salt on the chicken. Add a tablespoon of olive oil and a tablespoon of butter to the pan. Cook on medium high heat on both sides until done. For extra thick chicken breasts, consider cutting them in half lengthwise to make them thinner. Better seasoning to chicken ratio that way. And they’ll cook faster.
  • BBQ Chicken=See above method for grilled chicken but add barbecue sauce to chicken at the end and throw it in a 425 degree oven to let it caramelize a little.
  • Homemade Pizza**=buy a ball of fresh dough from a pizza place near you and flip and toss it around like you made that thing yourself. Or make it yourself using this recipe that is super easy, but just takes some time for the dough to rise. For anyone still reading this, you are awesome, and please know that an envelope of yeast is equal to 2 and 1/4 teaspoons.
  • Baked potato night. The potato is your canvas. Get creative. Expert moms have baked potato night after BBQ chicken night and put leftover BBQ chicken on their potatoes. Just sayin.
  • Quesadillas=tortilla, cheese, other tortilla. Put them in a pan and melt the cheese. We are a simple folk and don’t need anything else but a little guacamole to make this a meal. But you will likely have extra pulled chicken or pulled pork sitting around at some point, so just think about that. Don’t cook more. Cook smart!

Dinners You Can Outsource. For us Sunday night is usually Daddy-grills night. Yay!

  • Grilled hamburgers
  • Grilled hotdogs
  • Grilled anything. I don’t care because I am not cooking!

Fancy-ish Dinners that Make You Feel Special

*Don’t do that. Just saying these are really easy meals.

**We eat pizza once a week, which is how this meal plan stretches to be a month’s worth of dinners.

It’s a little embarrassing how excited my month-long meal plan makes me, but I don’t care. I will shout about my meal plan from the top of my 40-something hill.

This kind of stuff used to seem unimportant, like if I had nothing else to do I might get into meal planning if I felt like it. Now I see how much of an impact doing a little planning can have on the rest of my life. I estimate that I used to spend at least 3-5 hours a week planning what to make for dinner. Between looking online for recipes, making lists, and going to the grocery store multiple times a week, the time really adds up. Now, that I have a system that works, I spend only the time it takes to go to the grocery store one time once a week. The rest is already done. It blows my mind.

How do you get dinner on the table every night? Do you have any tips or tricks that keep the meal train chugging along? Please share!

Love,

Elizabeth

 

 


How to Win at Back to School

back to school conceptual creativity cube

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There are two types of moms out there—the ones who never want summer to end, and the ones who start planning for the fall in July. As much as I’d like to believe I am an endless summer fun mom, I am decidedly not. I like structure, a quiet house, and people learning things from professional teachers. My kids actually really like school too. We are all much happier once school starts.

I want to share a few things I’ve picked up along the way that help us live our best back to school lives.

Treat Back-to-School like it’s New Year’s. Have the whole family come up with resolutions (goals) for the school year. Whether it’s learning a new instrument, trying out for a new sport, making straight A’s…harness those New School Year vibes and make some goals. Talk to your kids about coming up with goals that are within their control (tryout for the soccer team vs. make the soccer team) and that are measurable (read all 20 Bluebonnet books by December vs get better at reading). Don’t forget to make goals for yourself and share your goals with your kids. Somehow my kids did not realize I was writing a novel until I shared recently that my New School Year goal was to finish my novel by January. It was motivating to share that goal with the kids and get their encouragement.

Think about setting three big goals in three different categories (personal, professional, family). Be real about what you can do each day to accomplish those goals. This translates to looking at how much time you have and how much time it takes to accomplish your goals. When I really looked at what it would take to finish my novel by January, that translated to writing 10 pages a week, which meant I needed to carve out two hours a day every weekday for that goal. And I needed to do that at a time of day when I’m not totally brain dead. Which leads me to my next tip…

Make a schedule and be realistic about where your time is going. Look at drop off times, pick up times, soccer practice, after-school tutoring, gymnastics, church youth group. Write down everything you will be doing in a week in some sort of calendar—you could make one yourself, bullet journal style, or use a printed Google calendar set to a weekly view. But I would recommend using paper and pencil to write down a master calendar with what is happening every day at what time. Don’t forget to add the driving time. The amount of time I spend driving is always a shock to me. And it is a huge reminder about why it’s so hard to figure out family dinners during the school year. So much of my time between 4-6 is spent in the car on weekdays. This year I actually wrote down what time we need to eat dinner each day to accommodate all of our activities. The timing of everything then led to my next tip…

Make a weekly meal plan that aligns with your driving schedule. Refer to your weekly schedule. If you have to be in the car during prime dinner-making hours every Tuesday, then that is not a good night to make a dinner that requires a lot of time and babysitting. Plan to make a slow-cooker meal on days when you know you will be out all afternoon. I love to wing it in the kitchen, so this has been a hard lesson for me to learn, but, man, once I started doing this, I felt like I had cracked the dinner code. I actually went next level this month and made a month-long meal plan, which I’m going to share in my next post. Stay tuned for that.

And while I am loving having a plan, and I think plans are super helpful, I do want to add that they should serve you and not the other way around. Which brings me to my last and probably most important tip…

Be flexible. The older my children get (I have a freshman, 7th grader and 4th grader), the more I learn that parenting is not about enforcing my will and plans on them but about listening to their needs and desires and adjusting as necessary. I try to plan my time and schedule as much as I can so that I can be available for those last-minute crises that pop up, or to host spur-of-the moment study sessions or playdates or trips to get a frappuccino  when they’ve had a bad day. I am so not perfect at this. I screw this stuff up all the time, but my intent is to be able to provide a soft place for my kids to fall when life is hard. And it’s impossible to do that if you are super rigid about sticking to a routine at all costs.

So that’s how we not only survive, but THRIVE now that school is in session. I’m sure there are a lot of other new school year tips and tricks out there that I haven’t thought of. I’d love to hear what works for your family!

Happy New School Year!

Love,

Elizabeth


GOOOOOOAAAALLLssss!!!!

This is a post about making goals (not the soccer kind, but the life kind).

I am a dreamer. I love thinking BIG about what is possible. I see potential in everything. I love brainstorming, envisioning something as new and better than what it is today. I love extreme makeover shows where in one 30-minute episode someone conceives of a complete home renovation and then makes it happen practically overnight.

I wish real life were like Fixer Upper. I wish I could just sketch out a plan for some huge thing I want to accomplish, have a quick convo with my team of experts and then boom everything happens just as I had envisioned.

But of course real life does not work this way. For most of us goals take a long, sometimes boring, tedious slog through self-doubt and long stretches of  asking yourself “why am I doing this?” Until hopefully you get to that glorious finish line.

This post is the first in a series that will explore how to make goals that are achievable and strategies for actually accomplishing what you set out to do.

So, let’s say you have a goal in mind. You want to run a marathon, write a novel, start a business. You didn’t just come up with this goal on a whim. It is something that has been tapping on your shoulder for a while. It is something you feel is worthy of the time and energy it will take to accomplish. Great! Now, it’s time to figure out where to start.

STEP 1: START AT THE END

I have run three marathons and trained for each one somewhat differently. During this last training I learned the importance of starting at the end. One of the biggest mistakes people make when running a marathon is to do their longest training run too close to the race. I made this mistake when I trained for my first marathon. People are understandably nervous about running 26.2 miles and want to make sure they can run the distance, so they sneak in a really long run of 20+ miles right before the race, thinking that having that distance under their belt will give them confidence come race day. It makes perfect sense intellectually. But physically it puts you at a huge disadvantage. You need about a month to recover from running 20-something miles. You have broken your body down right before you need it to perform at its best. Not a good plan.

So what I learned with marathon training is to start with the end and work back. If my race is January 1st, then I know that my longest training run needs to be no later than December 1st. I plug that distance into my training calendar and then work backwards from there decreasing mileage each week until I get to my starting point.

To use another example, if I know I want to submit to a writing contest, I would work backwards from the submission date creating a timeline of drafting and revising milestones from there. Sometimes this process forces me to come to terms with the fact that my goal is completely unrealistic. Kind of a sad face moment to be sure, but it allows me to not waste time and move on to a new, achievable goal.

Sometimes goals don’t have an obvious end date or deadline. This is when you have to invent one for yourself. Maybe there’s not a contest that you are submitting to, but you need a deadline for finishing that book anyway. That’s when you make a pact with a friend that you will send them a finished manuscript by X date. You create your own deadline, and you stick to it.

This strategy is hard for me because I have really nice friends who I know will still love me if I miss our deadline. It works better for me to find a contest deadline. And thankfully there are always writing contests and grants to apply for.

STEP 2: BUDGET YOUR TIME

In a previous post I wrote about the limitations of time. We have more time than we think we do, but time is still a finite thing. If you start a new goal, the time you will need to accomplish that goal will have to come from somewhere. You are spending time on something new, and that means you will be spending less time on something else. Sounds super obvious to say that, but we don’t like to think about the nitty gritty of how much time something will take. (Hence, the popularity of the 30-minute home renovation shows).

So, in the case of training for a marathon, you need to crunch the numbers and see where that training time will come from. Ditto for any other goal. Figure out your end point, work backwards and plug that time into a schedule. Doing Laura Vanderkam’s time log is a great way to see the cold, hard facts about how you currently spend your time and where there is wiggle room. Think of it as your budget. If you wanted to buy a new car you wouldn’t just go buy whatever car you wanted regardless of what it cost. You would look at how much money you have and how much you can afford to spend. You have to budget your time the same way.

Hopefully these first few tips will set you up for success! More goal making strategies are forthcoming, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, keep taking those daily baby steps on whatever bigger journey you are on. I am right there with you.

Love,
Elizabeth

P.S. Thank you for reading! I would love to know more about your goals. Tell me what you are working towards so I can cheer you on to the finish line! You can comment below or on my facebook page.

Whatever your goal is I hope you take a step towards achieving it today!

 

 

 

 

 

 


Wasting Time

I worry a lot about time. And whether I’m wasting it. Whether what I’m doing is productive, whether it “counts” towards one of my many to-dos.

Because if it doesn’t, then what’s the point? I will have squandered this precious commodity. There is only so much sand in the hourglass. That laundry isn’t going to do itself.

This is one of the main reasons I tend to avoid writing. It feels like wasted time. I won’t finish whatever it is I’m working on in the amount of time I have, so what’s the point? Better to clean the toilet instead. Then I can cross something off my list.

When I tell people I’m a writer, I want to cringe. A voice inside me says, “You liar. You would rather clean the toilet than write any day!”

Writing feels like deciding to wander around in a maze. I go into it knowing, I probably won’t get to my destination in my allotted time; in fact there is a good chance that I will probably just get more lost.

I read two pieces of advice today from two very different sources, but both of them seemed to be speaking directly to me about how I spend my time.

The first was from a devotional on my Jesus Calling app. In case you’ve never heard of Jesus Calling, it’s a daily devotional based on selected Bible verses and written as though Jesus is talking to you in the first person. Here’s what I read today:

“Talk with me about every aspect of your day, including your feelings. Remember that your ultimate goal is not to control or fix everything around you; it is to keep communing with me. A successful day is one in which you have stayed in touch with me, even if many things remain undone at the end of the day. Do not let your to-do list (written or mental) become an idol directing your life. Instead, ask my spirit to guide you moment by moment. He will keep you close to me.”

Then I also read this piece of writing advice from Anne Lamott:

“The most important advice I would give my younger writer self is what I’d give my younger woman self: What other people think of you is none of your business. And I wish I had believed when I was a young writer that I had some time to find out who I was and that I was going to find a precious community of older colleagues who would help me. The American way is to do it yourself, figure it out yourself, stick to the decisions you make — and all of that was a lie. I was taught as a child ‘we don’t waste time; we don’t waste paper.’ If you stared off into space when I was eight, a grown-up said, ‘Don’t you have anything to do? Is your room clean?’ I’d teach my younger self to stare off into space more often. I would tell her to waste more paper. I would tell her she doesn’t need to stick to a decision; she can change her mind.”

Could it be that my to-do list is controlling me instead of me controlling it? I had never thought of it as an idol before. But maybe all this focus on executable tasks is keeping me from what is really important. Perhaps wandering around in the maze a little lost is a much better use of my time and not a waste at all. God is with me in that maze and will likely guide me exactly where I need to be if I am willing to hand over the reins to him. The more I enter the maze, the better I will be at letting God direct my steps.

When I’m not writing I don’t feel whole. When I’m not seeking God, I feel lost, rudderless. I can tackle all the to-dos in the world, but if I’m not “wasting time” writing and connecting with God, my life will still feel unfulfilled.

My prayer: God, I want to give up the need to control my life and my time. Please help me trust that you will be there with me when I sit down to write. Give me the courage to write even when it feels safer to clean the toilet. Give me the desire and the discipline to carve out time that has no defined purpose other than to connect with you. I will enter the maze. I trust that you will direct my steps. Amen.


How Much Time Have You Got?

I have been reading the book You Have More Time Than You Think by Laura Vanderkam. Well, re-reading because I originally started this book back when my kids were younger, and I think I just gave up. My time was just so unstructured and at their mercy at that point in my life that it was too frustrating to try to act like I had much control over it.

This is the first year that all of my kids are in school, and I am not working outside the home. If ever there was a time that I could put some structure around my time, this is it. So I’m turning to Vanderkam’s book once again for help.

The thesis of the book is twofold: Given that there are 168 hours in a week, “you can choose how to spend your 168 hours and you have more time than you think.”

The first exercise the book asks you to do is to track your time for a week. You account for every hour of the day, including when you are asleep. According to Vanderkam’s research people sleep a lot more than they think and work a lot less than they think. We overestimate time spent on things we don’t like to do, such as emptying the dishwasher or paying bills, and underestimate how much TV we’re watching. We tend to avoid activities that take initiative or thought, things like spending quality time with our kids or exercising, and we try to squeeze these things in as after-thoughts, making us feel pressed for time. When actually we aren’t.

Vanderkam poses the question: “what if we viewed every minute as a choice?” How would we spend our time differently?

It helps me to think of time as a concrete thing, like coins or tokens. Let’s say you have 168 tokens for a week. How would you spend them? Would that make you think differently about spending an hour mindlessly clicking on Container Store storage baskets you will never actually purchase? Ahem, just to give an example.

So, I logged most of my time for a week and learned a lot. One thing I learned is that I really don’t get enough sleep. I get about 6 hours a night. Life with teens starts early in the morning and goes until late at night when our oldest is still completing homework. She has A LOT of homework. She then also has to get up at 6 am to be at school across town at 7:30. So, in order to have a little time to myself before she wakes up, I get up at 5:45 am. When you go to bed at 11:30 and then read for 30 minutes as I have been doing, this is not enough sleep. So this is an area where I am not spending enough of my time tokens, and my body feels it big-time. I am really dragging most weekdays.

Another thing I learned is that I spend way too much time cooking dinner and cleaning up after dinner. I enjoy cooking. And I enjoy eating, so I don’t mind spending some time tokens in this way. But there were several days last week where I spent 3 hours cooking and cleaning up dinner. I’m not even sure how that happened. I think I made more complicated stuff than I normally do. I get interrupted a lot, which makes any task take longer. I always seem to want to add one more roasted vegetable, which requires 10 minutes to wash, peel and chop, or I think to make a salad “real quick,” which turns into looking up a salad dressing recipe I remember reading about online, printing it out, oops, printer’s out of paper, where is the laptop? Who left the laptop unplugged and open so that the battery is drained, etc., etc. Somehow a little salad that no one will eat but me has cost me 30 minutes.

Want to know the dinner my family absolutely loved last week? Quesadillas. Those took about 15 minutes. They were a desperate plan b when my Instant Pot French Dip sandwiches took about 2 hours longer to cook than I expected.

In other words, I could spend a lot less time on cooking and spend it sleeping instead. The world would keep spinning on its axis if we didn’t eat such elaborate meals, and I would probably be a happier, more well-rested person.

Also, and this is painful for me to admit, for someone who has big dreams of publishing a novel, I spent a whopping one hour writing last week. Sad face. I’m not a total bum, I promise. I spent my would-be writing time doing other, good things. I made a meal for a friend who lives an hour away who just had twins. I spent two hours driving and two hours holding babies. About three hours went into shopping for and making the meals and I would do it all again in a heartbeat. I also went on a Silent Retreat my church offered. I spent two hours driving and talking with a friend and three hours of silent prayer, journaling and Bible study. These pursuits didn’t result in additional chapters in my novel or a cleaner house, but they time well spent in my opinion.

I’m not here to beat up on myself or congratulate myself for how I used my time, but looking at the raw data of how I spent 168 hours has already inspired me to make some changes.

An exercise that Vanderkam recommends doing once you’ve completed a week-long time log is to make a list of 100 dreams, a list of activities you’d like to try or accomplish during your life. She encourages you to cross off the ones you’ve done and note how they made you feel. Here’s a few entries from my list:

  1. Run a marathon  This made me feel like I can do anything if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other and don’t quit.
  2. Write a novel. This made me feel like I am a “real” writer, not just an aspiring one.
  3. Publish a novel.
  4. Spend a week alone writing, reading and being outside.
  5. Travel to a foreign country with my whole family.
  6. Go on a family vacation at a working farm.
  7. Have an organized, clutter-free house.
  8. Run a 50-mile race in a beautiful location.
  9. Have close, authentic, fun relationships with each of my children and my husband.
  10. Write a book of essays.
  11. Start a gardening program at our elementary school. This made me feel empowered and made me feel like I was making a meaningful difference in a place that is very important to me.
  12. Create a beautiful native landscape on the hill in my front yard.
  13. Do a pull-up!
  14. Blog about topics that help other people grow and feel empowered and more joyful.
  15. Read the whole Bible.
  16. Raise kids who grow up to make the world a better place.
  17. Go to the Grand Canyon.
  18. Learn how to snowboard.
  19. Have a regular front yard gathering with our neighbors.
  20. Ride my bike rather than take my car.
  21. Have fresh flowers around the house.
  22. Go on a trip with each of my children individually.
  23. Host more dinner parties.
  24. Start a supper club.
  25. Live in a foreign country.
  26. Rent a house somewhere completely different for one month in the summer.
  27. Have a big garden that could feed our family.

Next, Vanderkam says you should answer these two questions:

What do I do best, that other people cannot do nearly as well?

Well, no one else can write my novel or have close relationships with my kids. That’s only something I can do.

What things do I spend time on that other people could do, or could do better?

Someone else can cook, clean, do landscaping projects, make cookies for the bake sale. I don’t have to spend time on these things unless I choose to.

***UPDATE****

Since this is sort of a secret blog at this point, I forgot to publish this post and am coming back to it a few months later. I think I’m doing much better with how I spend my time. Like, for example, I’ve figured out how to get myself to write everyday and I’ve been making some good progress on my novel. Two of my writing group friends are fashioning a silly hat that I will have to wear at the coffee shop where we meet to write if I do not write 500 words a day. Talk about motivating! I am not a silly hat person, so this is working like a charm! Also, the last few times I’ve brought a meal to someone who was sick, I have brought them takeout. I used to think that wasn’t allowed, but then I thought, would I mind if someone brought me takeout if I were sick? No, I would not mind one bit. In fact, I might prefer it actually. Anyway, these are some small changes. Letting myself off the hook in some areas, and then not not letting myself off the hook in others.

The key mindset change for me is realizing that I do not have all the time in the world. I have 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week, 8,760 in a year. Now this is starting to sound like a song from Rent, but you get the idea.

We only have so much time, but how we use it is up to us.