3 Simple Tools That Help Me Be More Disciplined

Yesterday, I talked about my need to live a more disciplined life.  In case you missed it, you can read that post here.  Today, I’m going to share three tools I’ve found that are super helpful in keeping me on task…when I am dedicated to use them!  Again, please give me grace, because I am a major work in progress in this area!  I just thought these few tools might be helpful to someone reading this and so I wanted to share them!

1- The Make Over Your Mornings Course

As I mentioned in my last post, I have done lots of research looking for ways to keep my days organized and productive.  I’ve come across TONS of strategies, methods, and printables out there which I think are kind of like “fad diets.”  They work really well for a small population, but are difficult to maintain or ineffective for most people.   Last spring, however, I came across a course that has been really helpful to me, did not cost a lot of money ($17 full price), and is very easy to follow through with.  It is called “Make Over Your Mornings” (MOYM), and was created by Crystal Paine of moneysavingmom.com.  I am not getting compensated or anything for recommending this course, I just found it really helpful!  I enjoy reading Crystal’s blog, not just to spot some good deals or yummy recipes, but also because she is constantly writing encouraging messages that help me have a positive attitude and feel more self-confident.  This course that she created is broken down into one short video, one short lesson to read, and a few small action steps for each day.  This takes about 15 minutes a day, and there are 14 days in all.  To be honest, I crammed all of the lessons in a few days straight because I was riding a wave of motivation, but you can take the whole two weeks if you want!

The biggest benefits I received from MOYM were creating an effective morning routine, but more importantly, an evening routine.  I will share with you a specific change that I have made:  I used to wake up to a sink full of dishes and a pretty untidy kitchen, with the mentality that each morning I would clean up from the night before.  I wanted to spend the evening relaxing with David!  But there’s just something about waking up to all of that mess that made me feel defeated before the day even started!  Through this course, I identified what my ideal morning looks like and took small steps to figure out how I could make that a reality. (Spoiler Alert: I’m not there yet!) Crystal’s tips are all so easy to follow through with, and it’s now my habit to clean the kitchen and run the dishwasher every night after dinner.  I’m sure for many of you that sounds like no real accomplishment, but to me it is!  I think my favorite part of the process was when I was in England over the summer and my mother-in-law said, “David’s told me that you decided to clean the kitchen every night after dinner and that it’s made a big difference.”  (Or something to that effect!)  It felt so good to know that David had praised my efforts to someone else and noticed all the hard work I had done.  Plus, I feel like it’s worth it every morning when I come downstairs to a clean kitchen!  There is so much more to the course as well, like breaking down big goals into actionable steps, and how to best structure your to-do list.  It’s super helpful, super practical, and I highly recommend it!

2- A Bullet Journal

Speaking of a to-do list, which I highly recommend having, I have just started a brand new (to me) approach to my daily to-do list.  I first heard of bullet journaling over the summer in this post on the blog Modern Mrs Darcy.  She also references this post, which was very informative about how to start your own bullet journal.  A bullet journal is just a blank notebook that you can customize to be a day planner, personal journal, list of things to remember, and basically whatever you want it to be.  It sounds pretty confusing, but both of the links above break it down so that it’s really easy to understand!  I like to use mine (so far) as a resource for books I’ve read, books I want to read, things/people to pray for (and a section for answered prayers!), a personal journal (of sorts), and to organize my days.  Each night, I look at what is on the schedule for the next day, any places I need to go, and any tasks I need to accomplish.  I write these out in a list on the next blank page of my bullet journal, labeled with the date and using different symbols to categorize the to-do’s.  As I get certain things done or finish appointments, I make a notation of that being completed.  This has been such a great time management tool for me!

My favorite part of bullet journaling, though, is the “personal journal” aspect.  I have always wanted to start journaling and keep a record of special little things that happen each day, or funny/sweet things that the kids say.  Journaling seemed like a big pressure, though, as if I had to write long, eloquent entries that were written with the thought that my great grandchildren could come across this journal in the dusty corner of an attic one day and read it.  (Am I the only one who thinks about things like that?  I might be.  I’m kind of weird.)  Basically, outside of a few elementary school diary entries that were mostly about boys that I liked, I have never written in a journal.  By the way, those diary entries are pretty funny.  I wanted to marry this boy in my class and have about 50 different species of animals as pets in our backyard.  I told you I’m kind of weird!  But I digress; the great thing about using a bullet journal to record highlights of the day is that it’s format welcomes simple, jotted down notes that you can add quickly during the day or before bed.  There’s no pressure to add too much detail or be so articulate, because the point is to quickly capture the memory.  Although this isn’t directly related to time management, it clears mental clutter and gives me a huge sense of accomplishment!  Many people seem to use their bullet journals in lieu of a daily/weekly/monthly planner as well.  I tried to do this at first, but I can’t replace my beautifully formatted weekly Simplified Planner by Emily Ley.  Which leads me to…

3- A Planner/Calendar That Works For You

You could definitely incorporate this into a bullet journal, but for me, having a separate weekly planner is really helpful.  I can see each week at a glance, and scribble down the dates for clubs, sports’ practices, Bible studies, date nights, church events, parties, appointments, and everything I need to remember ahead of time.  Mine also has a small box to record what you’re making for dinner each day, which is great when it comes to meal planning.  I scribble all over my planner with things I need to remember on certain days, then use my bullet journal to create a more orderly task/activity/things to remember list for each day the night before.  Some people also use google calendar or a scheduling app on their phone for this, but I am a pen and paper kind of girl!

So those are my three most useful tools for helping me stay on task each day!  Definitely not rocket science, but I thought I would share them in case it could help anyone.  Please let me know what you do to manage your time well!  I am always interested in seeing how other people approach time management and would love to get some advice from you!

 

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A More Disciplined Life

I have had these thoughts simmering in my brain for a while and thought I would share them here.  I sprinkled in pictures of the kids to lighten it up a little!

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Recently, I’ve been feeling like I can’t get anything done.  Like I’m always behind on my to-do list.  Like I can’t keep track of everything I’m supposed to be doing, and even when I do remember I’m still dropping the ball.  Like I’m busy all day, but there’s not much to show for it.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m checking off the necessities, but there is so much more that I want to accomplish each day.  I have dreams of spending more quiet time with God, blogging much more frequently, journaling more, writing letters to friends and family, completing craft projects, and spending time with girlfriends (guilt-free!), among other things.  I tend to go through patterns of being weighed down by a lack of productivity, which leads to frustration and an intense desire to find some kind of system to get me more organized and on task, which works for a short amount of time, until it doesn’t, which then leads to being unproductive, and then to the search for a new and better system to get me back on task, and on and on it goes.  Can anyone identify with this?  I am very skilled at researching different methods for “setting up a schedule that really works,” or “making goals you can follow through with,” or “keeping a clean house in just 15 minutes a day,” or “getting everything done that you need to while still making time for yourself.”  I scour pinterest, and search through endless time management and lifestyle blogs for everyone’s opinion on what works best.  I’ve created cleaning charts broken down with tasks by day so that the whole house can be cleaned in the week.  I’ve made comprehensive weekly meal plans with coordinating shopping lists.  I’ve bought the fancy daily planner, the time management e-course, and a binder to keep my papers in order (with cute folders).  Yet I am still searching for that magic method that will make my day to day more structured and manageable.  I recently went to a women’s breakfast at church when a speaker went over some fabulous, practical time management tips that can help free up time for Bible study and prayer.  I had already heard all of the wonderful advice that she shared through my research.  So why am I still struggling?  Here is my secret:

I lack discipline.

I have the knowledge.  I know what I should be doing.  I’m just not doing it.

 That is hard to admit to myself, and even more difficult to type out for other people to see.  But I want to put it out there, because I think I’m not alone.  There must be other women like me, or else all of these time management courses and systems and printables would not exist!  But I think we all like to pretend we are on top of our game.  Yes, we complain about life being SO STRESSFUL, with the kids, and the house, and the cooking, shopping, cleaning, activities, exercise, appointments, (insert important activity here).  We do this while at the same time presenting our best self to others and acting like we are managing all of our responsibilities just fine.  But behind closed doors, we are scrambling to get it all done and wondering why we were so busy all day, yet accomplished so little.  If you cannot identify with this at all, please share your wisdom with the rest of us!  If you can, you might benefit from some things I’ve learned through my extensive research 🙂 and some self-evaluation.  Now please, give me grace, because I still need to do a lot of work in this are.  I am the first person who needs to take this advice and own it!

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1) Daily “chores” will never be fun.

I kept thinking that if I looked hard enough, I would stumble upon the magic solution that would make the monotonous tasks of laundry, doing dishes, and cleaning somehow enjoyable.  It doesn’t exist!  When I’ve tried to have a show, vlog, or podcast on while cleaning the kitchen or folding laundry, it’s made the task I’m doing take longer because I’m not as focused.  I think the best thing for me is to play some music and try to get the boring stuff done as quickly as I can.  I know lots of women put a timer on and rush against the clock to get a task done and out of the way.  I think that’s a great idea!

2) “I will hold myself to a standard of grace, not perfection.”

I absolutely love this phrase, coined by Emily Ley.  She said that the meaning of this phrase is found in 2 Corinthians 12:9 – “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” My weaknesses humble me and allow God’s grace to enter my life and do mighty things.  That reminder makes me feel a lot better about all of my imperfections and shortcomings!  When I’m cleaning my house, organizing, or cooking dinner, it doesn’t have to be perfect! It just needs to get done.  Getting caught up in things being “just right” is too draining!  And if I slip and have a day where I hardly get anything done, I need to stop beating myself up so much and remember that tomorrow is a new day with a fresh start.  (By the way, Emily Ley created the fancy daily planner I referenced buying earlier and I LOVE IT!  You can see her products here.)

3) Always have a to-do list.

If I go into my day without a to-do list, I’m moving around the house like a chicken without a head.  I start tidying the kitchen, then put an item away in my bedroom, then get caught up doing a task in my bedroom (while the kitchen still isn’t finished), and then Henry calls out that he needs help with something (i.e. he’s done going potty and needs help wiping!), so I help him but then start cleaning the bathroom because I noticed toothpaste all over the sink…and you get the idea.  I get super distracted and then super frustrated when I’ve chipped away a little at multiple rooms but not actually completed any one room.  A to-do list solves this problem because you can see exactly what needs to be done, and create an order with high priority items at the top.  If you see something else that needs to be done as you’re going about the day, add it to the list (or tomorrow’s list).  It is SO gratifying to cross things off of a list!  It just makes me feel extra productive!  (That’s, of course, when I actually have a to-do list.)  🙂  I told you I need this advice more than anyone!

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4) Put that phone away!!!!

This is probably the main culprit in the derailment of my productivity.  (I hope that sentence makes sense).  A “quick response” to a text can lead to checking email, which can lead to doing an internet search or checking facebook.  And once you open up facebook, you’ve basically consented to waste an hour of your life!  It’s not intentional, and it’s not all wasteful.  However, falling into the trap of phone distractions leaves me feeling really discouraged, and makes the important tasks I have yet to do seem harder to complete.  If scrolling facebook is really important to you, put it on your to-do list and give yourself a time limit.  I find that when I really think about it though, I rank many other things higher in my list of priorities.

5) Incentives are not just for children.

Yes, I bribe my kids sometimes.  If Henry is good in the supermarket, he can go on the dragon ride by the entrance (it only costs a penny!)  I get my kids to persist through meals they are not fans of with the promise of dessert.  Please don’t be harsh on me if you don’t agree with my methods!  My point is that an unpleasant chore is easier to bear when there is a reward waiting for you.  As I said, I am still working on being more disciplined and productive each day.  Something that I am trying to do is schedule a time each day that is just for me.  I need to have finished all the boring responsibilities for each day, and if I do, I can spend that time doing something that I love.  Like writing on this blog, reading a book, or working on something crafty.  I used to shy away from writing things like that down in my schedule, because it didn’t seem right when there are other things I could be doing that are not just for fun!  But we all need times like that to refuel so that we can give more to others.  I’m sure you’ve heard of the illustration that in an airplane emergency you’re supposed to put your air mask on first before putting one on your child? Well, doing things that energize you fill your soul so that it’s easier to serve those around you.  So give yourself a nice reward for the time you spend doing the boring stuff.  It will not only benefit you, but those around you!

I hope that these simple observations will help if you struggle the same way that I do.  In my next post I’m going to address a few tools I’ve come across that are helping me get my days in order.  (When I am diligent in utilizing them!)dsc_0242

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My “Inadequate” Summer Routine

If you’re anything like me, you start to get a little nervous as the school year winds down.  Although I love the idea of carefree, relaxed days of summer break, too often the end of the day comes and I feel like it was a parade of chaos, followed by mess, followed by unproductivity, which leads to late dinners, missed naps, and exhaustion!  There is a lot of fun to be had along the way (mostly by the kids), but waking up every morning and resolving to simply “go with the flow” each day does not work well for me!  So this year, I decided to go into summer break with a better plan: a rough guideline for each day so that we get to experience a lot of fun activities, but still maintain a little structure.  Then I’ll let you know how our days have really been going!

So first, we made our summer bucket list.  Yes, I know, everyone’s doing that all over pinterest and they are beautiful, filled with coordinating designs and check boxes.

Exhibit A (from DIY Home Sweet Home):

Exhibit B (from Love Bakes Good Cakes):

{FREE} Summer Bucket List Printable

Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE these printables; I really do.  I highly recommend that you click on the links and print them off if they will be helpful to you.  They are beautifully designed and have lots of great ideas for summer activities.  Plus, how gorgeous is the second one with all the fun fonts and colors?

However

When confronted with such a perfect list that promises a summer of fun family bonding, I am flooded with feelings of pressure, inadequacy, and guilt. I feel like there is NO WAY I can check all of those boxes, but I still feel like I should be because that’s what so-and-so is doing, and look at how much fun they’re having in their facebook/instagram/pinterest posts, and I’m that lame Mom who can only handle one big activity with the kids each day (which may be simply a trip to the local playground) and then likes to stay in the house the rest of the day – but not doing fun, interactive crafts or educational experiments, but just telling my kids to go play so I can get some stuff done!!!!  There’s a nice window into my thoughts for you – I probably should have warned you first.  Can anybody else identify with those feelings?  I just need to keep reminding myself that even if my life isn’t pinterest-worthy, it’s still meaningful and perfect for us!

So back to that bucket list – our family sat down together and threw out ideas of fun things we would like to do this summer.  Some things we couldn’t even consider, (one of the kids said “Disney World,”) but we were able to make a solid wish list of things we would like to do.  These included the zoo, aquarium, museums, parks, pools, splash pads, movie nights, picnics, a lemonade stand, walking around the Disney store, doing Mad Libs, going to the Lego store, going fishing, taking a trip to the beach for the day, and going on a hike.  From there, I did a little research on prices and distance and we narrowed the list further.

Then I had to turn my attention to our daily routine.  There are certain non-negotiables that must be done every morning.  These are the things that, if neglected, will make us starve, smell, and get rotten teeth.  I had grand plans for involving the kids in morning chores too but am still working on that.  It seems like it’s all I can do just to get them to clean up their clothes and toys from the various places they have been scattered around the house!  They do help water the garden, and the older kids love dusting, so that’s a start.

I envisioned that we would leave the house by 9, (with snacks, water, and lunches packed), for a park, pool, museum, or other activity.  Then we would spend all morning out having an adventure, coming home between 1 and 2 so Henry could have a nap.  While Henry napped, the kids could spend 30 minute increments doing different activities like their Summer Bridge Workbooks, Lego, computer time, playing quietly, reading, or watching TV.  Then they could help me prepare dinner (more family bonding!!), David would get home, and we would sit all together and discuss the highlights of our day while eating a nutritious meal.

That sounded great to me – not quite a fancy summer routine, and not very detailed, but it has a nice balance of activity and rest.  So the big question – has it worked?? Well, sort of.  As I said, I’m still working at getting the kids involved with chores (it seems like more work for me at first), and they have not helped me make dinner once (my choice, not theirs), but we have done some really fun things together.  We have been swimming with friends, gone to a splash pad, visited the nature museum, and played at a few parks.  We have also spent a lot of unstructured time in the house. BUT – I sometimes feel a lot of guilt over this, because that time feels SO unproductive!  And then I feel like a bad Mom for not having planned great activities for them.  Then I remember this blog post (“What Would My Mom Do? Drink Tab and Lock Us Outside”) that I read last year by Jen Hatmaker, and I feel SO. MUCH. BETTER.  She is hilarious, by the way, and one of those women who voices what we are all thinking but don’t want to say out loud!

As Jen says, making sure my kids know that they are loved by God and by me is my top priority.  They don’t need a pristine house to feel loved.  They don’t need alphabetized, color coded daily learning activities to feel loved.  They don’t need an intricate craft (that is also educational) to feel loved.  They don’t need me to be engaged with them every second to feel loved!  Aaaaaaah, reminding myself of those things makes me feel so much better.  I know I love my children SO MUCH and I don’t need to show them my love the same way other moms do.  I have so much respect and admiration for the moms that do all of those amazing things with their children!!  But I need to remember that not every mom sits for hours with their kids reassembling broken Lego sets like I did last week.  Or snuggle and read together on a regular basis.  Or pray every night before bed with their kids to thank God for the amazing day.  Or raise a tadpole with them because they really, really, really, really, wanted to!  It’s easy for me to overlook the things I do that show my children my love because it’s not what someone else does.  We’ve all heard the phrase:

Comparison is the thief of joy

I’m working on reminding myself of that every day.

How about you?  Do you find yourself getting stuck in a rut of comparing your average days with the perfection on pinterest?  Have you made any kind of summer bucket list or routine?  I would love to hear about it!

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