I am great at procrastinating. If there is a deadline and I can cut things close. I do. I’m not proud of that either. So many things would have turned out better if I had taken more time to do them… like this article, for instance. So here are a couple of tips I should read before I write my next article.
Set your own due date
I often try to trick my brain with a separate due date. The official paper is due on the 15th, make everything in your notes say the 13th. Write it on your calendar that way. Make reminders based on that day. This can be tricky, but if you can do it effectively, it gives you a gap to do that extra proofreading or run-through with time to spare.
Tell a friend about the deadline. Ask them to check in with you. Be sure to choose a friend carefully. You want someone who isn’t afraid to inundate you with reminders and also who won’t forget about the deadline completely. You also want to set your expectations clearly from the beginning. Do you need a reminder daily? Weekly? Do you need quick reminders or a phone call?
In his book, Atomic Habits, James Clear talks about stacking habits. If you already do something daily, add another habit on top of that so you can do both daily. I use the same approach to fight procrastination. What am I going to do anyway today? Don’t do it until I finish a set goal with the project that needs to be completed. Right now, I really want to make dinner, but I have to get this written and published before I eat. That’s really motivating.
When I am on my game, this is my go-to. Let’s say I’m having an ideal day. I start it by writing what my goals for the year are, then my month, then my week. Now I determine what I need to do today to meet those goals. I set out time from my day when I can accomplish those tasks and then fill in the other things that I know will come up. This is not easy, and I definitely don’t do it daily, but when I love it when it works out, and I have … no … when I make the time to get this done.
Okay. Now stop procrastinating and get something done. Yes, right now. (I’m going to make dinner… because I finished this article.)
You might hear me say this when my husband tries to talk to me when I’m on the computer. Or maybe he says it to me when he is lost in his book, and I interrupt his designated morning reading time. After 20-plus years of marriage, it isn’t said in anger but as a reminder that tuning in and taking time to hear your spouse is vital.
Being a good listener is a daily requirement for so many of us. So how can we grow that skill and be even better? Here are a few tips.
You can’t be a good listener if you are always talking. Pause and let your conversation partner say what they need to say. This may mean physically biting your lip or gripping your teeth together. Whatever it takes. For extreme cases, ask a friend to give a discreet sign when you need to stop talking. Maybe touching an earlobe or looking at their watch.
Now that you’ve stopped talking focus on your body language. First, look the other person in the eye. Keep your concentration on them. Don’t look out the window or around the room. If the environment is distracting, suggest moving to a different location or having the conversation at a different time.
I know that Michael is really engaged in the conversation when he remembers what I’ve said. This doesn’t mean he recites my words verbatim. He listens and then says it back in his own words so I have confirmation that what I have communicated makes sense. This is especially important if the conversation is turning a little tenser. Hearing what I’ve said come back to me validates me (or possibly makes me pause to consider if that is really what I meant).
Asking follow-up questions is similar to repeating back and is another good way to demonstrate you are listening. Asking simple questions to show you are turned in helps the other person feel like what they are saying is valuable. When you go to think of a question, build on what they have said. “You mentioned that it was difficult to find a part. Why is that?” “I heard you say that the trip was delayed. What happened?”
But don’t focus so much on what questions to ask that you miss what is being said. “Most people do not listen with the intent to understand; they listen with the intent to reply.” ― Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change.
Make it a game. There are daily opportunities to start a conversation with a new person and practice your skills. The next time you are in line at the grocery store or on a bus. Maybe you get to a meeting early or in the waiting room at the doctor’s office. See if you can start a conversation and then just listen. Hear what the other person has to say. Keep the information about your own life minimal. The goal of the game is to walk away knowing more about the other person than they know about you.
Keep your thoughts on track
As you listen, it may be challenging to think of questions without your thoughts drifting. To avoid this resume, focus simply on their words. If I’m really struggling with staying in the moment, I will mentally repeat every word to myself, of course. This helps me to stay on track with the conversation. Then when there is a pause, I can repeat back what they said or just give a confirmation.
Read all about it
My first recommendation for anyone wanting to be a better listener is to read How to Win Friends and Influence People. Despite being written in the last century, Dale Carnegie gives timeless advice for connecting with people by hearing what they have to say. A newer book that will provide you with some ideas is You’re not listening: what you’re missing and why it matters by Kate Murphy.
I hope these tips help you be a better listener today. Let me know what tips I missed or what you appreciate in a great listener.
We all have a morning routine. Some are effective and some are not. Here are my 5 tips for an effective routine for your morning.
Determine what you want to accomplish
Do you just want to get out the door and not forget your lunch? Do you want to get more done during your day? Use your goal for your routine to determine what it will look like. My goal in the morning is working out and setting my goals for the day. My morning routine looks very different from my husband’s who has a goal to read for a set amount of time and write a journal entry.
For me, having something to eat is a must. I have started eating the same thing every day which helps eliminate an early morning choice which in the past resulted in not eating … which resulted in a grumpier Millissa.
I tend to overreach what I think I can accomplish. In the past, I’ve made morning routines with several activities and scheduled them down to the minute. This didn’t work as well for me. I love the waterfall habit idea. I focus on just one thing I want to accomplish each morning. Then when I have that down I add a second habit and so on. When habit #5 gets challenging, I drop back down and focus on habits 1-3 to build confidence and then start adding habits again.
As I wrote this article and did some research I found several ideas that I’m going to implement this week. If your morning routine isn’t working to do what you want to accomplish, switch it up. That’s the fun of life. We are designed to change and grow.
Valuable information is all around us. One idea I’m going to try this week is asking my friends what their morning routine is instead of asking them what shows they recommend. Of course, the internet has tons of articles and the library has some great books on the subject as well. The caveat with all this information is that it must help me achieve my goal. If it is a great suggestion but it doesn’t help me reach my goal, it is best to shelve it for the moment and move on to other ideas.
So a friend asked me today about the process I use for strategic planning and goal setting – well, I’m not sure if she asked but I was excited to share with her. This is an outline that anyone could use.
First 15 minutes
Review the prior year. What went really well? I go through my calendar and see what types of things filled my days. Am I happy with them? What would I do different?
Minutes 16 to 20
Pull out a sheet of paper (or use my Goal Planning & Tracking template). Now take 4 minutes and set three focus points for the upcoming year. Do you want to go somewhere? Do you want to learn a language? Doing this quickly will help you see what is really important. Need inspiration? I imagine the one thing I want to say about my year when it is over. “This was the year I finally …” or “I loved that I completed ____ this year.”
Minutes 21 to 40
Now that you have your focus goals now work backwards. In order for your first goal to happen in December what needs to happen by November? What needs to happen by July? Be realistic. For example: I want to publish 100 blog posts by the end of the year. That means I need to publish 50 by June and 25 by March. I put those mileposts on my calendar in the appropriate months.
Minutes 41 to 55
Now set a weekly goal to accomplish your monthly goal. In my example above if I need to write 100 blog posts by the end of the year I need to complete 9 (or so) in January. So for the first week of January maybe my goal is to brainstorm 9 ideas and schedule time to outline my first post.
Last 5 minutes
Set a date to check on how you are doing for your weekly goals. Preferably, you want someone to do this with – a spouse or accountability partner. Choose someone who is reliable and is interested in doing her own goal planning. This can be done in-person or just a simple phone call.
Whew! Take a deep breath.
Disclaimer: Don’t get caught in the details with this. Do you need four hours for step one? Go for it. And don’t worry if what you come up with in January doesn’t look the same in March or August. Adjust. Do what works for you.
The holidays have come and gone and so has that tray of Christmas cookies that were sitting on the kitchen counter. Health regrets are a common occurrence after the holidays. So how can you get back on track after ignoring your healthy routines?
Here are my 5 tips for getting back to health after the holidays.
It’s okay to have some setbacks. Own it and move on. Admit your setbacks and unemotionally review what went wrong as well as what went right. Did you say yes to a few holiday treats? Did you eat a few veggies during the holiday party? Did you go for a walk after Christmas dinner? Be thorough about what happened.
Set a time to start again.
Don’t keep saying, “I’ll start tomorrow” or “I’ll get back to better eating Monday.” Set a specific date and stick with it. And don’t be afraid to make that date now or Wednesday or the 29th. You don’t have to wait for the new year or the beginning of the week. Do whatever works for you.
Make a battle plan
Review the list you made of what went right and what went wrong. Create specific strategies for moving forward. Was the breakroom candy dish your downfall? Maybe start chewing gum at work so chocolate doesn’t taste as good. Go for a walk instead of going to the break room. Be specific about how you will battle this obstacle to better health after the holidays.
Now that you have a plan, call in reinforcements. Who is someone on your friends list who you can let in on the strategy? Give them a call and let them know what your goal is and when they should check back with you. Be clear about what you need from them. Encouragement? Tough love? Listening ear?
Making the switch back to health after the holidays is difficult. Be kind to yourself. Plan a special treat or a shopping trip. Maybe a massage or manicure. Do something to make the pain of getting back on track after the holidays worth it in the short term while you wait for the long-term benefits.
Do you ever take time at the end-of-the-year to evaluate your year? My husband and I started doing this several years ago and it is our opportunity to reset for the year. It contributes greatly to our mental wellness.
Want to do one? Here’s what we do.
Set a date.
Ideally, we set aside an entire day but this has varied during different seasons and budgets. Our anniversary is near the beginning of December so sometimes we combine the two and make it a weekend and others times (like this year) we just did what we could with half a day. Be flexible is the ongoing theme throughout this post.
Do your homework
Before the designated date, we both do homework individually. We have a list of questions and we each take time before our EOY to carefully consider them. This allows us to really consider our personal goals first and reflect on what is important to us. Here’s a sampling of the questions we reviewed this year:
What went right this year
What can go better next year?
What would make next year a banner year?
What small changes can I make this week so that I start next year with a bang?
What did this year teach me about myself?
Who showed up for me, and how can I nurture those relationships?
What do I need to accept about myself and the other people in my life?
In what ways will I take better care of myself in 2023?
What has been a barrier to me completing my goals, and how will I remove the barrier in the coming year?
What do I need to practice doing more or less of?
Am I being pushed by fear or led by love?
Speak ground rules.
We start our time together speaking out the ground rules . We communicate when we are looking for input and we were are just sharing thoughts. We make a commitment to really listen to each other and not give judgement about what the other suggests. Saying this out loud in the very beginning is important.
Review the Year
Next we evaluate the year. We pull up our calendar and look at what filled our time. We share the answers to our homework questions. We spend time reflecting on the year. Other ideas are to review your social media posts, emails, or texts. Look at your spending. Where did your money go?
Now we set our goals for the upcoming year. We share the goals we created individually and then we record the goals we are committing to together. For example, Michael made a goal to run a marathon. That isn’t one of my goals this year but we talked about it and then set a goal together to do more hiking this summer. Here’s some tips for goal-setting.
Don’t have too many. Keep the goals SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, timely)
Be honest with each other. It is extremely discouraging to get excited about your goals and then find out three months later your partner wasn’t really buying into it.
Be okay with critique. Take time to listen. Don’t get so committed to your goal that you aren’t willing to hear another opinion.
If you do disagree, present your argument with love. Look for commonalities in addition to points of difference. Remember, the point is to walkaway with a goal not the silent treatment.
We end our time with a nice dinner or another treat that fits our budget and time restraints. Maybe go to a movie or for a walk at your favorite park. Take time to congratulate yourselves on a job well done.
Set a date for a follow-up. Goals don’t do anything if they sit for the whole year. Keep them visible with a vision board or a list on your fridge. Whatever works. In a few weeks, sit down and see where you are at. Do you need to adjust? How are things going?
As I mentioned this is an exciting exercise for us and we hope you use this formula to create your own plan to review your last 365 days and make next year your best one yet.
One of the trigger areas for my well-read life is on road trips. You are off to explore somewhere new but you haven’t quite got there yet. You are seated but not quite comfortable. You have choices but are still contained.
Here are a few of the ways I keep my mind occupied when I’m on a trip (specifically with a few young people along with me).
I can’t read in the car because it makes me car sick but I can listen to a good audiobook. On our most recent road trip my husband and I matched our book choices to the locations we traveled through and it added a whole new element in the trip. Be sure to do research well in advance of your trip and ask for help at your local library. Searching for books by location can be a bit tricky.
This is a game with no need for materials or complicated rules. Every participant chooses a number. The higher number the longer the game lasts so use your judgement. Then you count something and when it gets to your number you “claim it.” Typically, we do cars for this but you could also do houses, animals, street signs, semi trucks or retail stores. Just depends on your trip and your surroundings and the interest of the participants.
I started this one with my nieces and nephews on the way to grandma’s house. Whenever we came to a street name, they each had an opportunity to tell us a story about how the street got its name. Now depending on your audience, you might want to set time limits but if the idea is to kill time, just let them rattle on. In my case, a lot of streets seemed to be named for explosions. For a bonus, look up the real reason the street got its name. For longer trips, you could do this with the names of towns or stores as well.
Need some peace in the car? Challenge your passengers to stay still and silent. This again can go as long as you want. The shenanigans can get elaborate as they wave their arms and attempt to communicate without sound but it is well worth it for some time with your own thoughts.
Would you rather?
This one promotes conversation and an opportunity to get to know each other. You can use an app or just have participants come up with their own questions. Be sure to ask the all-important follow-up question – why? – to really get to know your company.
You can count anything on your drive. Cars, animals, plants, signs, or out-of-state license plates. My 20-year-old son still remembers choosing a brand of car and counting how many he saw on the six-hour drive to his grandma’s house.
The countdown has begun. Well, for some of us it began a few months ago.
Filling the space under the tree can be a major stress factor as the end-of-the-year approaches.
As a minimalist, Christmas has become more intentional and less about the stress and more about the purpose. Here’s a few things we do to make our Christmas fit with our values.
Snow & Tell
As empty nesters we now do a holiday Snow & Tell instead of traditional gift giving. I read the idea a few years ago and it involves giving our family and friends an opportunity to share stories & knowledge instead of material gifts. We host an open house with finger foods and drinks. Guests can bring a refreshment to share but the main thing is they need to do a Snow & Tell. Topics from the past have included Top 10 Things I learned This Year to how to castrate a cow. Others have shared vacation photos, recipes, song lyrics, school projects, blacksmithing creations and family history stories. It is a time of sharing and laughter. While it takes a bit of explaining, once our guests catch on, they have seemed to enjoy it. The hardest part for me is letting it evolve into whatever happens. As with many holiday traditions, I tend to get a picture-perfect setup in my head and I have to relax that in order to really enjoy the moments that come.
Prior to snow & tell, my husband and I had drastically reduced our gifts under the tree. We live in such a blessed society and we wanted to move away from the pressure to just give gifts as some sort of gauge for our successfulness. Our model was the Something you want, something you need, something to wear and something to read. I love the simplicity of this and the way it gives you a framework. Of course, I adjusted this with additions such as something to give and something to make. I think the overall goal is just to be intentional about the gifts you give and why you are giving them. For us, the why was never to fill the spot under the branches or to have a really big mess but because we were thoughtful and mindful about the gift.
I can not repeat enough how time is so much more precious than toys or clothes or stuff. Giving the gift of a dinner together or just stopping by at the home of an elderly neighbor and listening is the single most important gift you can give. And be sure to include any young people in your life. If they do this when they are young, it won’t be as difficult when they grow up.
Dinner with a twist
Gift certificates and coupons are nothing new. They make a great gift to bless a receiver with dinner, a back massage, or a car wash. My nieces and nephews get a coupon with the gift of making me dinner. I provide the ingredients and they come to my house and do all the cooking. They love it! It is a really special time and it keeps us interacting the whole time they are here to visit.
For a couple years we gave our family 12 items – one for every month of the year. We then created a website and each month we posted a picture of ourselves with the Item of the Month at a local landmark (well-known but more often than not not-so-well-known). They submit their entries and the following Christmas we gave the winner a gift certificate to a local restaurant.
Scratch off game
Look for another blog post on how to create this. For this gift I created a large scratch off board with activities to complete throughout the year. I choosed a theme – I think the first year was encouragement – and I created 52 activities – 1 per week – that would encourage themselves or others. Activities included writing a card, making a phone call, delivering flowers, making cookies and writing a scripture. Many of them were to specific people – a relative, neighbor, teacher or health care worker. The following Christmas I awarded the completers for a full year of encouragement. As always, this could be altered to your specific scenario. For example, this coming year I’m focusing on health. So I might do squares related to different exercises, taking walks at specific places, making a healthy recipe for a neighbor or sharing a health tip on social media. And I might do 23 activities instead of 52 to promote a bit more involvement.
Wow! Just reflecting on these ideas has made me excited to get out the Christmas decorations. I have to wait though. No decorations at our house until after turkey day.