Category: Battling Chaos

choose 3 things to get done

When hitting a stretch of being overwhelmed by too much to do, I turn to the idea of “Choosing 3 Things” to get done in a day to help get me through the chaos and find some footing. Identifying 3 things to accomplish in a day serves several purposes:

1) It forces prioritizing. The act of choosing requires me to evaluate and think about what’s important given the restrictions of time and resources. On any day it could mean making a family dinner happen, attending one of my kids’ sports game, exercising, powering through something at work, helping a friend, or making time to spend alone. Also, what should I make happen today that won’t be a possibility tomorrow?

2) It helps focus energy. The number of things that any of us could possibly do in a day is infinite, often overwhelming, and can distract from the focus necessary to see any one task to completion. There are details and times to remember at home and at work, countless articles and news stories to suggest what each of us could be doing for better health or the greater good. Not all of it’s important–to say nothing of “doable”–and calling up 3 manageable tasks or reachable goals can help focus the energy that will be spent.

3) It allows for a greater sense of accomplishment. The background hum of endless possibility often prevents me from appreciating progress or things that I actually do manage to accomplish, especially since I have a tendency to see the shortfall instead of the distance I’ve come. Choosing 3 can help create a sense of accomplishment and grounding.

Some days just feel like I’m on the other side of the net from one of those tennis ball machines, and all I can do is bat away those fluorescent blurs that keep coming at me, with no time or perspective to place any single shot in a thoughtful or strategic place. Purposefully identifying anchors can help me let some of those balls just fly by, gives me time to get my form and balance right, approach a ball with focus and intention, and take my best swing. –t

make it doable

make exercise doableOften the biggest challenge to committing to something over time is the size and scope of our expectation. For me, regular exercise has always posed such a challenge. If I felt that I didn’t have enough time for a yoga class or run followed by a shower, I’d bail. But it was assuming that I needed a big chunk of time to make it worthwhile that kept me from exercising on a regular basis.

The shift that has worked for me is to shoot for a shorter amount of time, i.e. to make exercise “doable,” such that consistency and commitment is manageable. Most days I can find 30 minutes. With that time frame in mind, I’ve discovered a few ideas that have created a more reliable (read: more likely to happen) workout. They include:

  1. Mapping out running/walking/biking routes that are 30 minutes out and back from my door
  2. Getting timed workout apps, such as the 7 minute workout app. (Click here for a list of others.)
  3. Using yoga or pilates videos with 20-30 minute sessions, such as Rodney Yee AM/PM Yoga for Beginners

Hooray for “doable!” –n


white board

I love my whiteboard. It’s hangs on the refrigerator in the kitchen, and is our family’s place for the running grocery list, the most critical to-dos, the place to find the daily schedule when things need to get done with a high degree of coordination. It’s where we can all Get On The Same Page.

I’ve recently added an additional smaller whiteboard that holds new lists: things for each of the kids to get done or remember. Of course I could have added these lists to the main whiteboard, but, well, there isn’t really room.

I am now loving this other whiteboard for different reasons. (Why did it take me so long to figure this out?) If there is a job in the house–or other things–for each kid to be responsible for (e.g. empty the dishwasher, return a permission slip, practice violin), there it is on their list! Every time they go to the fridge for a snack or a drink, there it is. A reminder! I feel disproportionately unburdened by this small white rectangle that allows me to not have to be the one who has to remember, remind, and yes, occasionally nag to get things done. –t

the joy of doing one thing

Watching my older children do their homework is fascinating. And a little frightening to me, too. They will routinely have music or something playing through headphones, email or chat windows open, some kind of snack in one hand all while writing a paper. They are, what I guess I’d call, “multitasking.” Funny, though, I feel like I don’t hear that word as much anymore. I don’t think it’s a coincidence. I think it’s just become the norm.

I don’t believe that that kind of distracted studying is as good as more focused, uninterrupted engagement. I just don’t. And I’m sure that there are plenty of studies to show that I am right, just as there are probably plenty of studies that show that they, too, are developing and practicing useful skills that will serve them well in the future landscape of technology and work. Who knows?

Enter: focus and mindfulness. While I don’t want to be the grumpy older generation suspicious of All Things Progress, I know–I KNOW–that the swirl and busyness that the velocity of our days has created for adults and kids alike is not a good place to be all of the time. Such frenetic activity requires balance. Periods of constant distraction and quick shifts of topic need to be balanced with quiet and stillness. Quiet and stillness, which is not the same as sleep.

For anyone who gets caught up in the buzz of the multitask, here I’d like to make the case for, once in a while, just doing one thing. Just do one thing. For kind of like, a long time. Read a book. Fold some laundry. Go for a walk. Write a paper. Cook something without needing it to be on the table in 25 minutes. It’s amazing how short attention spans can get when we become accustomed to email intrusion at work, Snapchat during study hours, or even the shorter chunks of time new parents get used to with the demands of a new baby. Restore and fight back every so often by just doing one thing. Try to do it without worrying what is coming next or what you’re not doing instead. It’s harder than it seems, and more satisfying than it looks. –t

accept help

help wantedOver the past week I’ve been in the situation where I’ve had to talk people into accepting help. Namely, my 75 year old father and my 11 year old son. I mean really talk them into it, which meant walking them through why it’s okay to accept someone’s help, whether with outsourcing certain aspects of international travel logistics or finding the area of an irregularly shaped garden in chapter 12, question 3a.

It got me thinking again about why it’s just so dang hard for us to accept the help sometimes. In our book we talk about the shift to parenthood being a time to sift through feelings of vulnerability and insecurity, a time to thoughtfully recalibrate the needs and demands of a new and complicated role. It can be hard to let go of our sense of control, to feel our competence questioned.

There is no shortage of cultural messages that portray independence as a sign of strength. And, don’t we raise our kids to move toward greater autonomy and self-reliance, applauding as they feed and dress themselves when they’re little, hoping that someday they will be able to “stand on their own two feet?” But as kids move toward greater independence in all the places that are developmentally appropriate, it is also important to help them balance this increasing independence with maintaining interdependence –  connection to others. And being in connected relationships includes accepting help. (No surprise, it also includes helping.)

Relying on others—and being reliable and relied upon—is an important part of being a family, of being a friend, of being a citizen in the Great-Big-World. People help each other. And it feels good to help—which requires a recipient— and we all need to take our turns. Someone who understands the ways in which he can be helped is a good thing. It is self-knowledge. Hooray for the person able to recognize their own limits, to self-advocate, and to know how to connect with the experience, talents, or insight of others. What better way to learn and grow? -t


how can i help?

Screen shot 2013-12-17 at 11.47.28 AMOn a recent trip we stayed in a hotel in a small town in western Pennsylvania near where I grew up. At least one person in our family is particular about their morning coffee, so we had brought some along to make in the room. Most in-room hotel coffee service now has single use self-contained brewing pods to put in the basket over the carafe, but what we needed was a filter.

I went down to the breakfast area and asked one of the employees, named Cindy, if they had any coffee filters. The desk clerk overheard, and quickly offered more packages of pods. I clarified what I was after, but neither Cindy or the woman at the front desk knew if they had them, or if so, where they were kept. “I know where they keep them in the other hotel,” Cindy mentioned, “I work over there too,” she said, pointing out the front door to another hotel across the way. “Give me a minute…” she said, and headed out the door.

A few minutes later, she was back with a small stack of filters.

Call me cynical, but these days I so often I hear “I’m not authorized” “I wish I could help you,” or “Let me connect you with someone who can assist you (only to encounter someone with a gentler voice and greater patience who, in the end, is only says “I wish I could help you” in a nicer way), that this woman’s simple gesture of seeing a solution to a problem and making it happen nearly brought me to tears.

When did it become so difficult to be helpful? Why did this feel like such an exception?

In addition to the coffee we were hoping for that morning, it reminded me how much better it is, in SO many ways, to come from a place of “how can I help?” rather than “not my problem” or “not my job.” I would argue retrieving coffee filters created no more additional work burden for this woman, and in a few short moments many people were warmed and bouyed by her kindness. It was an opportunity to appreciate someone’s simple effort to be helpful, to notice how much it affected me and my outlook that day, and realize the value of being able to pass it along.

As we kick off this new year, here’s to looking for places where we can help others.
Cheers, –t

stop exaggerating

laundryIt’s become common in our culture to over-emphasize and exaggerate the work we have, even feel that to be so burdened is laudable; that suffering and forbearance is somehow virtuous. But here’s something to think about: the result of this tendency to exaggerate workload has consequences. First, it can be self-defeating. No one wants to spend all weekend doing laundry. And while laundry, by nature, is intermittent and takes time, how many hours of actual hands-on time needs to be spent? 20? 17? 5? Does it serve any good purpose to magnify our tasks and responsibilities? Making these statements alone compounds a feeling of being overwhelmed, and coupled with a sigh of exasperation, all the more can drag us down.

From the parenting angle: what effect does this have on our kids?  Likely, it leads them to follow suit and over-exaggerate their workloads, too. Should we be surprised when they exclaim “I’ve been working on my homework all day!”?

The next time you’re feeling overwhelmed and tempted to fall into exaggeration, pause for a moment and “right-size” the scope of how long something really took. In addition to shedding light on time management and setting a practical example for our kids, it’s amazing how much better this simple shift can feel. -t

letting go

laundryFor those that have been weekly readers for a while (and perhaps have read our book), you’ll know that a common theme of our writing is letting go.  While we aspire to let go in our parenting, we are both people who, to a fault, meet commitments and make sure the Is are dotted and the Ts are crossed in most other aspects of our lives. Letting go is not easy for us particularly when it’s something we’ve committed to. So, last Tuesday when Tara was having a root canal and I was just back from a trip, jet lagged, unpacking and working through piles of laundry, we decided to let our weekly post slide.

We considered whether anyone would miss it and perhaps it went totally unnoticed, but for us not putting something up was hard. For many people letting go of what they care about is a challenge, and can be unsettling. While we want to believe ourselves to be flexible and able to prioritize when necessary, there’s a pang of disappointment and regret that trails behind something we do that goes against our tendencies. For the little support that can be so helpful in these moments and others, we love mantras, like “Say Yes When you Can”, “Surrender 15 Minutes”, and “Share the Thinking.

For those that missed our weekly post, we apologize. We were practicing taking our own medicine. It’s important to let yourself off the hook once in a while.

Here’s to letting go, –n&t

i’m so busy

i'm so busy“…Crazy busy.” “Never been busier!” This is the response I get from so many people when I ask “How are you?” And it’s a reply so often overheard when friends run into one another in the grocery store or on the street. Why is that? And why do we – I – reply that way?

If you are reading this post, it’s unlikely that you are someone who is looking for things to do to fill your days. Saying we’re busy somehow gives us a sense of importance, of being needed, of being connected to things bigger than ourselves that require our attention. The exasperated (sigh), so busy! is tinged with a certain sense of security and validation.

This week I’ve got 2 things to say about “I’m so busy,” both of which will require a conscious shift and commitment on my part.

First, when someone asks me How I’m Doing, I’m not going to answer, “busy,” even if it’s true. We’re all busy. Stating “I’m so busy” also has the effect of making us feel more overwhelmed, and plus, it’s boring. This week I’m going to try to reply with something of substance: “We’re thinking about summer plans with family,” “I’m trying to figure out how to get out more in this cold weather!” “I just started a really great book.” Not every conversation is going to be important or so exciting, but maybe I can get another idea about vacation spots, an invitation for a walk with a friend, or another book recommendation.

What I also know is this: being over busy and over scheduled in my days is truly more about an inability on my part to prioritize, say no to people, or to manage my time well. It is in our power to decide what matters, where we want to spend our time, and what deserves our attention. This bit’s on me, and about being in control of the content of my day.

So this week I’m going to make a concerted effort to not exacerbate my feelings of busyness by saying it out loud. I will also try to reduce the static by being more thoughtful about where to put my energies and how.

And now, back to business. -t

gift ideas: no additional stuff!


parent child outingToday’s post highlights some favorite gifts that won’t add to clutter or landfill.

1. An outing. Block out a day and let your child choose an activity with a parent. Ice cream sundaes, Sturbridge Village, kayaking, bookstore browsing, hiking in the woods, baking bread, a bike ride, an aerospace museum… We love this for many of the reasons we mentioned in our post titled one to one.

2. Tickets to an event. A play, concert, movie, dance performance… One contributor creates a package which includes a DVD, CD, t-shirt or other items related to the show or event.  How fun!

3. A class. Art, dance, video games, gymnastics, cooking, rock climbing, fishing… Who knew you can help feed the seals at the Aquarium!?

4. A chance to do good. Give money for kids to donate to a charity of their choice, such as Heifer International, Horizons for the Homeless, or Barakat.

5. For the family. If a grandparent asks, why not a membership to a science museum, a gym where everyone can swim or climb, or a nature conservancy?