Routines Don’t Mean a Routine Life

A couple of weeks ago my sister-in-law and I were visiting about the challenge of managing our families.  House cleaning, meal planning, calendar coordinating.  It can all be overwhelming.  I was reminded though that systems and routines are critical, imperative.  We all seem to push back on routines, thinking life will become too structured, too mundane, too routine.

We have entered a new season in our home.  Our girls have entered higher ed and we have entered those empty nest years, although they aren’t quite out of the nest.  I went back to work full-time.  New season, new challenges.  As I visited with my sister-in-law I realized I had let too many of our routines and systems fall to the wayside.  Some needed to.  Life is different.  But frustrations were hitting us.  Meal time felt stressful, laundry was piling up and seemed to consume our weekends, entertaining was happening less often.  I’d been avoiding setting up new systems and routines.  I was pushing back, feeling like life was too structured, too much of my time was not my own.  The truth is, routines and systems create room for a full life.

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Clean spaces, simple meal preparation, laundry systems, allow for me, my family, to enjoy time doing the things we love.  The systems and the routines don’t confine us, they free us.  The mundane, the chores are taken care of in small pockets of time, leaving larger pockets of time to relax, to fellowship, to live fully.

Here are a few routines I have put back in place:

  1.  A load of laundry washed and transferred to the dryer each morning. (5:30 am)
  2. Weeknight meal themes:  Sunday-Pasta, Monday-Fish, Tuesday-Beef, Wednesday-Salad/Sandwiches, Thursday-Chicken, Friday-Eat Out, Saturday-Rice Bowls
  3. M,W,F-vacuum, M touch up bathrooms, W dust (I am fortunate to have a housekeeper)
  4. Sunday coupon clipping and pick-up grocery order
  5. Friday planning-fill out calendar and schedule for the week to come
  6. 4:30 workouts (as soon as I get home)

I encourage you to create some routines.  Don’t look at them as confining. Instead, look at them as a tool to help you create time for the things you love, as a tool to help you delegate, as a tool to create habits.

Routines don’t mean a routine life.

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Power of Knowing Who You Are

The pursuit of balance, organization, goals… The advice abounds, yet the pursuit seems to never end.  We find ourselves starting over, starting again, wondering if we are even on the right path, capable, able.  It can be exhausting, and in the midst of striving to achieve, life passes us by, we miss the moments, we miss becoming.

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Two young women have approached me in recent months asking me about my career path, how I managed family, career, success.  Questions like this never come easy, because I find most of us don’t see ourselves the way others see us.  I struggled to answer.  I have never had a career path, real career aspirations.  No doubt early in my career I did, but as life began to emerge those quickly faded.  Marriage, the desire for children, building a home and a life with family, those have been my aspirations.  Managing those well have been my priority.  The career, the opportunities before me now, those are icing on the cake.  I like to think they are the result of a life well lived, an opportunity to be who I am, not tasks, not plans, not rungs on a ladder.

As I sought to answer both women with honesty, seizing the moment to influence another this is what I shared.

First and foremost, be who you say you are and be who you are no matter the circumstance.  I am a Christian first and foremost.  Every decision I make flows from a place of faith and I seek to align my decisions with the Word of God, His precepts, His ways.  How I make my decisions, who I desire to be doesn’t change based upon my role.  I am who I am, and that is simply a woman of faith seeking to serve God.

Second, do what you say you are going to do.  Commitment, honesty, integrity-traits lost in a world where power and position, being a “company” woman/man pays bigger dividends.  Yet commitment, honesty, integrity are lasting.  Doing what we say we are going to do has lasting impact, builds relationships, builds trust, builds reputation.

Finally, do everything you do with excellence.  Excellence is not perfection.  Excellence is not about being right, or being the best.  Excellence is about being your best and doing your best.  Excellence is about caring, caring that the product you produce reflects the very best.  In a world where outputs and outcomes reign, those who influence, those who create impact, will stay the course.

The words above may seem to simplistic.  They aren’t the words of advice I would have shared in my late twenties/early thirties.  But they are the words I live by.  I am not a wife, mom, community engagement officer out to achieve.  I am a wife, mom and community engagement officer because that is who God has called me to be.  Those are the opportunities He has given me.  My only desire is to be who I am and influence others.  That is my secret to staying focused and organized.  When you know who you are and you focus upon influence (relationship with others) it’s easy to know what matters and what doesn’t.  It’s easy to stay motivated.  It’s easy to to release the future and focus on the next step.

Years ago, a mentor passed this anonymous poem along to me.  It became a part of my life mission.  I keep it with me at all times-it finds it’s home in the front of my planner.  I share it with you, hoping it encourages you, helps you settle upon the woman you are.  The plans, the tasks-they will all fall in place.  But first, YOU.  Your power will unfold as you embrace who you are.  Who you are matters more than what you do.

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*If you follow me on Facebook you know I had an opportunity to celebrate this advice with one of my daughters.  I have spent 19 years giving my daughters this same advice, and it paid off.  My daughter, a freshman, was given the Greek Life Woman of Integrity Award.  I am so proud of her, so thrilled she is learning to live the “who” over the “what”.

Discipline Outweighs Tools & Skills

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The past few weeks I have needed to tackle some mundane items, updating processes and products.  The kind of items that easily fall to the side, as daily, urgent tasks take precedent.  Yet, these mundane items, are the backbone of what we do, they are the foundation upon which so much else is built.

While my challenge is at work, I remember these same struggles when I was a full time, at home mom.  The mundane items:  laundry, grocery shopping, bed making … easily fell to the side, sometimes for the urgent, and sometimes for the “more fun” tasks.  Yet, these items were the backbone of my home.  They laid the foundation for a well managed home, a home where my family could find rest and peace.

Finding a way to manage the mundane, to keep the foundation of your work, home, ministry, strong is important.  So, how do I tend to the mundane, build the foundation?  I live by the 15 minute rule and Friday planning.

I learned the 15 minute rule from Emilie Barnes, author and Christian time management expert.  It is amazing what you can accomplish in 15 minutes, especially the mundane tasks!  More importantly, using the 15 minute rule can help you get started, take that first step.  One of two things happen- you either get started and begin working on the task you have been putting off, OR you begin and keep going, realizing the task wasn’t as difficult or as to be dreaded as you thought.

Friday planning I read about on a blog a few years back.  I had been a Sunday planner, but found I often let the planning time slide.  Friday planning, especially now that I am back working full-time outside of the house, is so much more effective.  I set aside about 30 minutes each Friday morning.  I sync my calendars, make note of any high importance task for the week not yet finished, transfer unfinished tasks that can wait to the next week, and look over goals and objectives determining if there are any new “to do” items.  I find this helps me have more productive Fridays and frees me to go into the weekend focused on family and rest.  I know I have a plan for the next week in place and have a better chance of letting the mental clutter go.

The real trick though comes in disciplining myself to live by these two rules.  I have to develop the habit of setting aside 15 minutes in my daily schedule to tackle the task/project I have been putting off or simply don’t enjoy.  I have to discipline myself to keep Friday mornings clear so I can plan for the week ahead.  It takes thought and a decision to make it happen.  Yet, like so many disciplines, the discipline of time can set me apart, outweighs my skills and has more impact upon my productivity and effectiveness than the tools I use.  Discipline matters most.

This week, give it some thought.  What is weighing you down?  Is it the same old tasks/chores left incomplete each week?  Is it that project you just can’t seem to start?  I challenge you- set aside 15 minutes a day and start.  Then when Friday rolls around, set aside some time to plan for next week, doing the same thing-setting aside 15 minutes a day to tackle the mundane.  Better yet, set aside 4 minute segments of time to tackle the mundane!  You’ll be amazed at what you get done and you’ll be on the road to a more disciplined life.

 

Embrace being Invisible

I love to read.  I love to learn.  As I have made this transition back to full-time work and have sought to effectively lead an office through re-organization, reading and learning have been vital to my success, but more importantly vital to my emotional well-being.  My reading and learning must be balanced.  I can’t just read about management practices or leadership skills, I have to feed my spirit.  My whole self has to grow in order to be effective and healthy.

I recently read “Unseen” by Sara Hagerty.  (http://sarahagerty.net/unseen/)  Initially I thought this book would have nothing to do with my leadership, but would be a good read for me personally.  I was wrong.  Creating change, leading people through reorganization is all work done quietly.  A great deal of it is work the leader must do in the hidden spaces.  It is being faithful to show up, to keep moving forward, to wait patiently on others to begin to see and take hold of the new mission.  It is the unseen work.  It is prayer.

“Unseen” is an authentic book.  Sara Hagerty shares what many of us would never voice to another.  It is a vulnerable read, but it will stir your spirit.  As I have led, I will be honest… I have wanted kudos, a pat on the back.  That hasn’t come.  I have felt discouraged, wondering if the mission to engage others in service to meet the needs of our community would ever resonate with anyone outside our office.  But reading Sara’s story challenged me to dig deep, to deal with the reality- Who am I living for?  Is my identity wrapped up in what others think?  Those aren’t easy questions to answer.  The truth was painful because the answers didn’t match what I say I live.  I say I live for Christ, that my identity is in Him.  Yet, all too often, that is not the reality of how I live.  “Unseen” has reminded me to focus on who I am, the relationships with those around me, and believe I am where I am to serve Him.  Being obedient to Him.  It has reminded me to stop in prayer, breathing in His word, when doubts or frustrations rise.  It’s about our focus.  When we focus on what the world cannot see, we live free from the need for worldly success.

There is something freeing when we embrace being invisible.  Being the best version of me is all that matters.  I am the best version of me when I am focused on Him.

Tending to Me

Female Strength_Photo by Justyn WarnerPhoto by Justyn Warner

As I prepared to post tonight I couldn’t help but think, “How many times am I going to say ‘I’m back!’?”  This blog has been through many transitions.  Some simply following life changes.  Some related to business ventures.  Others, a result of comparison.  Ouch.  Admitting the last hurts.  Yet, it is the truth.  At some point don’t we all fall prey?  And that is okay, so long as we recognize it, acknowledge it and return to our true self.

This blog began as an outlet, a personal space to think out loud and connect.  I have been amazed and blessed by the connections made, the lives touched and blog friends who have in turn touched my life.  It is not a business.  It is not a platform.  It is simply the sharing of my story, a place to be creative.

A year and a half ago God answered a big prayer.  I wanted and needed to go back to work.  God provided beyond anything I could have thought possible and in perfect timing.  My girls entered their Senior year of high school (yes, if you are new to the blog, I have twins).  I was just months away from 50.  Lots of change, lots of big life moments.  In the midst of that an opportunity to go back to work full-time doing what I began my career doing, an opportunity to return to my non-profit roots, my love for service.

It has been a transition.  Those Senior girls graduated and ventured on to university and cosmetology school.  We gained a new dog-child (graduation gift for said daughters rarely at home).  Full-time work, taking an existing office unit, and leading it to adopt a new mission, new work.  At times I have doubted my capabilities, I have felt inferior.  At times I have wondered, “Why me?  Why here?  Why now?”  Finding my place in a big, complicated, not so healthy bureaucracy going through its own restructuring and leadership changes, has not been easy.  But this is what I have learned-know to be true.  I am capable.  I am prepared for this.  I am strong.

Life is good.  Life is lived to the fullest when we are stretched and beyond ourselves.  God doesn’t just provide the opportunity and walk us to the open door.  He leads us through the door and stands beside us ready to meet our every need.  The hours spent with a personal trainer 6 months leading up to and 6 months after I began work were not just about my physical strength and health.  Those hours were about learning to push myself, trust my trainer and my capabilities.  Those hours were as spiritual as they were physical.  Those hours taught me the importance of self-care.  Serious spirit, mind and body self-care.  Tending to me has helped me cultivate the habits and skills I need to be the person I want to be, reflecting Christ at home, at work and in my community.  Tending to me has helped me see who I am in Christ, to embrace the me He created in His image to do His will.  Tending to me has helped me love others, to risk, to forgive and to release.

So, this isn’t “I’m back”.  This is “Hello, I’m still here.”  Lessons are learned to be shared.  Life is lived to be shared.  That’s what this blog is all about.  It’s me, sharing a little bit of me, hoping as I continue to tend to me, you will be inspired to tend to you and the things we cultivate will begin to blossom and bloom into a life we never imagined- lives full of victories, joys, hardships, losses.  Lives lived to the fullest.  Lives shared.

How to…

I am often asked how I get done what I get done.  Let me first say, I honestly don’t think I get more done than most people.  I think it often appears that way because I hold my emotions close, am fairly private and try to maintain my composure.  I fear I sometimes appear “all together” and that is often far from the truth (just ask my family!).  I will admit though, that I have also been a student of time management for as long as I can remember.  I was that child in elementary school who wanted to work my way through every SRA test seeing my name rise on the chart.  I was the high school student who wanted to make good grades, play sports, serve on student council and earn spending money.  I was the college student who had to work her way through college, so I needed to be able to balance studies with work.  I was the young wife who wanted to work, cook fabulous meals, entertain friends and business partners and create a “Southern Living” style home.  And then I became a first time mom to not one, but two beautiful baby girls and I wanted to be present in every way, have our home continue to be a haven and place for gathering, and I desperately wanted my girls to see me serving in the community.

 

I have have learned a lot about managing my time along the way.  Some lessons were learned through painful mistakes, while others were learned as doors opened and new opportunities presented themselves.  I am still learning.  I have revisited many of my favorite tools and books as I have re-entered the workforce after 16 years as a stay-at-home mom.  I have given a lot of thought to what advice I would share with others as I prepare to send my girls to college next year.  Here are a few of my favorite tips:

  1. Choices:  We all have the same amount of time.  We have to make choices.  Anything we choose to do fills our time and requires we say no to something else.
  2. We all need help.  Even the Proverbs 31 woman had help.  She had maidservants.  We cannot keep our homes, do all the shopping and all food preparations, volunteer at our children’s schools and at church, work, serve our friends and maintain our sanity.  We have to allow others to help.  If our budget allows that may mean a hired housekeeper.  If not, it may mean our children have chores and our husband helps. We may need to swap childcare services with a friend.  When I chose to go back to work this year I knew it would require budgeting for a housekeeper and passing off some of the household shopping to my husband and girls.
  3. We need to know our personal rhythm and build our schedule around it.  I am a morning person.  I do my best thinking in the morning.  I have energy in the morning.  As a result I make it a habit of setting my work hours early.  While I would love to be one of those people who goes to the gym at 5:30, it doesn’t fit my rhythm. I do much better jumping right into work and then fitting in a workout on the way home late afternoon/early evening, giving myself a time to transition and a little energy boost.  My natural rhythm also means I need to go to bed early.  I am usually in bed by 9:30 and try to have lights out by 10:30.  I have tried many times to adjust my schedule, to be more like someone else, but in the end my natural rhythm is a part of my DNA and there is no fighting it.  I am a better version of me and am able to perform better when i embrace my personal rhythm.
  4. I live by the 15 minute rule.  Any time I feel stuck, am dreading an assignment or find myself with some extra time I employ the 15 minute rule.  You will be amazed at all you can do in 15 minutes.  Giving your undivided attention to something for just 15 minutes can be the difference between never getting a task done, never starting on a project or complete success.  Here is a list of just a few things you can tackle in 15 minutes:
    1. Empty the dishwasher
    2. Clean out your purse or car
    3. Make your bed
    4. Respond to email
    5. Update/sync your calendar
    6. Create a work plan for a project
  5. Always build in white space.  I always add 15 minutes to the front end and back end of appointments.  This allows me some buffer, keeps me from running late, and is often a source of some 15 minute blocks to tackle some of the daily tasks.  I also leave at least two weeknights open.  This means I have seldom joined a book club or a Bunko group.  This means my husband and I say “yes” to very few charitable events.  (we will pay for a ticket and gladly give someone else our seats)  Early on in our parenting my husband and I made a decision to not let hurry and events run our lives.  We have chosen instead a slower paced way of living, making certain we AND our girls were at home as often as possible.  To some this may have meant keeping our girls from opportunities, denying them the chance to be popular, the best at their sport.  All I can tell you is I have well-rounded, happy girls.  They both have activities they love, lots of friends and our home during these years high school years has been the gathering place.  They would tell you they didn’t miss out on a thing.
  6. Use a calendar.  I am a list maker, but that is not why I advocate use of a calendar.  No.  My advocacy for calendars stems from my desire and intent to be aware of where and how I spend my time.  I want to make choices and know what choices I am making.  Life can and will quickly take control if we allow it.  By using a calendar (which for me is still a paper version) I see how our schedule looks, I know what I have planned for the day, week, month.  I become more conscious, more aware.

I do get a lot done.  However, there are also a lot of things I don’t get done, and most of those are by choice.  I try to extend grace to myself.  I try to maintain discipline without being rigid.  The “how to” is a lifelong learning experience and each season brings new challenges, new lessons, new methods.

If you are struggling to get things done, to get our from under the weight of your calendar I hope a few of my tips will help.  Most of all, I pray you will find some time this week to step back from your life, your daily routine and give it some thought.  Take a leap of faith. Say no where you need to.  Make the desires of your heart your priorities.  Reset your schedule and live your life, not someone else’s.

The Search Never Ends-Planner Perfection

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Project List and Tracking
Project List and Tracking
Slim Weekly Planner purchased at Barnes & Noble
Slim Weekly Planner purchased at Barnes & Noble

Well, I know it is NOT just me.  There seems to be a never ending search among-st women for the PERFECT PLANNER.  Now, I know perfection is NOT something to be pursued, for none of us is perfect, but it sure seems like there would be a planner out there that met women’s needs.  We are all so different thought.  Some of us like to decorate our planners and want lots of white space in which to create.  Others of us, like myself, like lots of lines to write on.  Most of us need to manage a whole slew of people’s schedules and events.  Some of us want to manage those things by time slots, others want to see a section for each person they track.  The list could go on and on.

Out of curiosity, I thought it would be fun to do a little survey.  What would you want in a planner?  I thought about a survey, but I don’t want my limited thoughts, creativity to stifle your thoughts.  So, just post in the comments.

I want a month at a glance with lined boxes.  I like a 7 day per week on two pages overview.  I like an area to note appointments and like this to be numbered by the hour.  Again, I like lines.  I have this thing about crooked writing.  I want a place to put “to do lists” by category/project.  I do not need a contacts section.  I would like to track my water drinking.  You get the idea.  Dream away and give me all your best ideas.  Never know what my happen with those ideas!

 

Perfect Planner Does NOT Mean Perfect Plans

I have “planneritice”.  A friend and I have coined that term after numerous discussions regarding our obsession with planners.  Despite owning numerous planners (not necessarily all at once, although I am afraid that too is true on occasion) she and I can get lost in time searching for the perfect planner.  While this is in part due to our desire to always grow in our organizational wisdom, I have to confess, at least for me, it is in part due to the notion in my mind that the perfect planner will finally bring perfect order to my life.  No more plans gone awry.  No more searching for papers.  No more last minute runs to Wal-Mart of a gift on the way to the party.  No more forgotten birthdays.  No more…  Oh if it were only so!

As I mentioned, I have found the “perfect” planner for me.   A compilation of several planner pages and some creativity on my part.  However, let me be clear.  This perfect planner has NOT meant perfect plans.  I do make better decisions (most days).  I do worry less as I know my “to do” items are written down (most of the time).  But, life is not perfect.  I am not perfect.  The people I live with and work with are not perfect.  To live this life with any level of peace and joy, we just have to build in space for the imperfect.  

My daily planner pages are the center of my planner.  The heart beat if you wish.  I refer back to these pages ALL day long.  These pages in particular are why I love the Life is Crafted system so very much.

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These pages are divided into 8 columns.  One for each day of the week, and an extra left over.  Across the top are 8 blocks to be labeled with categories or project titles.  I use the same 8 categories each week.  Home, My girls names, Mary & Martha, Keller Williams/SOS, New House, Miscellaneous and Blog.  I look back at my Master To Do and any items on the Monthly To Do.  I select the items I need to do next and write them under the appropriate heading.  I try not to have more than 4-5 items under each heading.  Remember that need to build in time for the imperfect?  Yep.  Be real.  Know you will have interruptions (good and bad), know things will take longer than planned, just know.  The next section is a column for each day (beginning with Monday) and time slots.  This system begins at 8:00 and goes through 7:00.  I wouldn’t mind it starting a little earlier, but… Here is where I time block.  I honestly believe this is the key to good time management and absolutely the hardest habit to develop.  I fill in appointments first.  Second, I determine which tasks from the above section I want to complete on which day.  I determine a day and time and block off 15 minutes more than I think I will need.  I also leave 15 minutes between every appointment and/or time block.  So, in reality I build myself a 30 minute buffer.  And guess what?  Some days that still isn’t enough.  Below is a section to write down the 3 most important things to do that day (and these items should be in my time blocks somewhere)  and then list out specific tasks.  If I have quick phone calls, an email to respond to…. that is not a part of a bigger project and I know can happen in less than five minutes I will write those things down here and not time block them.  I love that the pages include little stars at the bottom for tracking water consumption (which you can tell I have not don :()  There is also a place to write down 5 things you are grateful for each week.  I am working hard to discipline myself to do this.  If you have read any of my other posts, you know I was convicted about Gratitude and am an avid reader of Ann Voskamp.  I’m not there yet, but this little reminder is helping.  When possible I do color code appointments.  I usually use a yellow highlighter to mark off the time blocks.  It gives me a really good visual and helps me guard those time blocks.

At the end of the day, the truth is, time management is about discipline.  It is about being mindful.  I have to stop and put some thought into what I am doing.  What is most important.  Sometimes items that don’t look important are critical-like laundry!  I have to work the plan.  We have all heard it said before.  I can get it all on paper, but if I never open the planner, never check in during the day to see what I have done (mark it off!!!!), I will fail to move forward on projects.  I’ll fail to do those things that are BEST.  My planner is simple.  I don’t use Smashbook or Washi tape.  I wish I did.  I love to see the creativeness.  It’s not me.  I’m a simple gal, needing a little focus and discipline.  So, these pages work for me.

The remainder of the planner are sections I have added to track my businesses and attempt to have pertinent information with me.  They have been the “work in progress” the past 6 months.  I think I have about got them tweaked and working.

My perfect planner is working for me.  The secret though is in me working my plan and allowing for imperfection.

I QUIT-So I can…

As a professional organizer, I find the greatest mistake people make in managing their time/lives, is NOT knowing when to QUIT.  We don’t like to QUIT-quitting is for losers.  I disagree.  Quitting is the sign of someone who knows their abilities and their limits.  You see, we CAN’T do it all.  Every day I see people attempting to do just that-do it all.  They post on Facebook, they blog, they seek guidance …  We all find ourselves in that place at times.  It is hard to QUIT.  It takes a lot of courage to QUIT.  It takes determination to QUIT.

When your house looks like this (see below), you realize it is time to QUIT.

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We are moving.  We are moving by choice (getting to build a new home).  The problem is, life doesn’t stop because we chose to move.  Work doesn’t slow down, mothering tasks don’t wait, family needs don’t cease to exist.  No, life marches on.  I could attempt to be “SuperMom”, but I’ve been down that road and have yet to have any real success.  I could attempt to squeeze moving tasks into an already full day, OR I can face reality and QUIT something.  All too often we attempt to restructure our days or rearrange our priorities.  There will be no success in doing either of those.  When we are faced with a major project/life event, the only solution to staying organized (and sane) is to quit something already on our plate.  What did I quit?  I quit blogging.  I don’t blog for a living.  I’d love to one day garner referrals or some income from blogging, but for now I blog as a hobby, a means of accountability and to engage with others through social media.  As I reviewed my goals, the projects on my plate, it became apparent I needed to QUIT blogging.  I can’t add hours to my day or days to my week.  I can only work within the parameters of a 24 hour 7 day week.  God designed it that way.  Time is finite.  The move will happen (actually we have to make 2 moves as a result of a quick sale of our current home-but who’s to complain in this market!?!)  It will take a few months, and there will be need for some “settling/nesting” time.  That’s OK.  I will blog when snippets of time become available.  But mostly, my time will be focused on this new life event/project.  I’ll quit blogging so I can make the new event/project a priority.  I’ll quit blogging so I can focus on the tasks at hand and enjoy this opportunity.  I’ll quit blogging because I simply don’t have time to blog and move.  I will QUIT so I can move.

If you are struggling to find time for everything please consider the following:

1.  STOP-step back and make a list of all your priorities/projects.

2.  ASSESS-which priorities/projects are non-negotiables-you CAN NOT give them up.  Be honest.  Can any of them be delegated?  Will quitting one of them mean the end of the world?

3.  IDENTIFY-name the priority/project that can be put on hold or discarded permanently.

4.  CREATE-a new priority and map out all of the tasks leading to its completion.

5.  PLUG IN-assign the tasks to specific weeks/days and if possible time slots.

6.  LET GO-be free from guilt over quitting.  Trust the opportunity will still exist when the new priority/project is completed.  Enjoy what you have opportunity for now.