Creating the first week

I think I’m in the honeymoon phase, if you will, of the new year (and not just because I finally have a functional laptop!). I actually think Brene Brown described it perfectly on facebook the other day:

brene

This week I’ve been slowly getting back into the routine while incorporating my new habits. I love using the Day One app each evening and I think my nightly routine may pay off over time. Thinking back, there was only one evening where the alarm had to prompt me to start gearing down for bed (and I was so proud for wrapping up what I was doing and actually getting ready for bed).

I’ve become more conscious of the time and have found myself starting the process much earlier. Monday night right after dinner, for example, I curled up on the couch with Hurley and Brene Brown’s book while a fireplace Netflix video played on my television. Way more enjoyable than trying to be productive!

Tuesday night

Even better is that I’ve been in bed by 10:15 every night this week. That’s huge for me.

I’ve also made another change in the new year in an attempt to simplify my life a bit. For lunches, instead of bringing leftovers, I’m aiming to stick to salads, soups and/or sandwiches. I’ll admit I’ve resisted this kind of approach for quite some time. I worried (and to some degree still do) that I’ll tire of it quickly. How am I going to stick with the same types of food day in and day out?

By having variety, that’s hopefully how. I decided to start off with a bang this week, which may or may not work in my favor with this new habit.

On Sunday evening I got everything ready — hoagie buns and avocados along with Tupperware for cracked pepper turkey, spicy mustard, cabbage and black olives for sandwiches. I prepped the salad as much as I could with lettuce, mandarin oranges and a hardboiled egg, then used Tupperware for my homemade dressing (purchased a blueberry vinegar and it’s fan-freakin’-tastic) and sunflower seeds.

It took some time, but I had everything ready for nearly the whole week’s worth of lunches. And what I really love is that everything seems so fresh when it comes time for lunch. It only takes a couple minutes to get everything put together, and I’m way more excited about this lunch than I ever was for a majority of my leftovers.

lunches

What’s also nice is that it’s cut down on how much I’m cooking, which certainly adds to my evenings. Last night, for example, I made a turkey taco casserole. It took probably 20 minutes to throw together before it baked (I added in the kidney beans).

Taco casserole

Taco casserole dinner

Even though I started cooking right when I got home from spin class, I didn’t sit down to eat dinner until shortly after 8. By the time I’ve eaten and cleaned up, I barely have any evening left to enjoy. That’s partially how I end up burning the midnight oil, since it’s not until nearly 8:30 or 9 that I can start cramming in my non-cooking tasks for the evening.

That also brings up an affiliated goal. For each new recipe I try, I want to make something (or ideal a few things to have a better ratio) I already know. I’ve already created a list of 10 meals that don’t require me to look at any recipe — pasta dishes, tacos, homemade pizza, etc.  This week, for example, I made the spaghetti and turkey meatballs recipe I tried a couple weeks ago. Made it on Sunday and used the leftovers for dinner this week.

I really went back and forth on whether this was something I wanted to do. As much as I love cooking and trying new recipes, it’s not necessarily conducive to my lifestyle anymore. I got into the habit of trying two new recipes a week when I lived in Columbia. At that time, though, I didn’t have a dog and the only gym classes I went to were on Sundays, Tuesday mornings and Wednesday evenings.

Life now is very different, particularly in terms of my schedule. I want time in the evenings to be with Hurley and there’s a specific class at the gym I could, if I wanted to, attend each day of the week (and I make a point to get to the classes Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday evenings). That puts more restrictions on how much time I have to actually cook. And quite frankly, I’m tired of eating at 8 or 8:30 in the evenings. With leftovers for dinner instead of lunch, I’m eating by 7:15. It adds almost a whole hour to my evening (which I think Hurley already appreciates given he’s not thrilled mama is back to work).

Like I said, I could just be in the honeymoon phase of the new year. Regardless, though, I’m already enjoying the new habits that are freeing up my time and helping me feel a bit more balanced. I’d consider that a success for week one!

A long December (and subsequent long post)

I think one of my first acts of the new year will be purchasing a new laptop… Not having one has really put a damper on my blogging, among other things.

Lately I’ve had the song “Long December” by the Counting Crows stuck in my head. Not that the month was particularly long or that 2015 was bad year necessarily. When it comes down to it, I think the year was a challenging one for me and more often than not, I felt like I was being reactive more than proactive. As a Type A control freak, you can imagine how that left me feeling most weeks. And I admittedly didn’t handle it well.

I’ve spent a lot of time (almost to the point of overthinking…) considering what my word should be for 2016. By noon yesterday, I had a list of about 15 words and started worrying. None of them stood out to me and I was running out of time. Seemed ironic that this approach and mentality was similar to how I’d done most things in 2015.

Thankfully (as I was scrolling through my facebook newsfeed of all things), I came across a word that struck me. I knew I’d found my word.

Create.

This year is about creating routines, habits, attitudes, opportunities and relationships that allow me to better create the kind of life I want. Last year I felt like I was consistently saying I didn’t have time, I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have a positive attitude. I want to reverse that this year and create them. I have more power than I give myself credit for sometimes and it’s time to put myself back in the driver seat, as it were.

Given I’ve only had my word for about 24 hours, I haven’t outlined specific goals (that will hopefully come this weekend). Really, though, I think this year will be about trial-and-error as I figure out what works best for me. How do I strike a better word-life balance? How can I push myself outside of my comfort zone without exhausting myself? Am I comfortable and satisfied with how I spend my time?

There are three things that I’m going to start implementing right off the bat for experimentation, all compliments of the little (one of the perks of our fantastic in-person visits!).

The first is a new nightly routine. Based on Gretchen Rubin’s latest book on habits, I’ve decided to set an alarm to signify that I need to start getting ready for bed during the week. I’m really bad about pushing myself up until the very end, wanting to soak up every minute of my time at home during the week nights.

Unfortunately this impacts my sleep. I’m also tired of putting pressure on myself to be productive all. the. time. That left me feeling anxious for most of the year, and I’m ready to shake that feeling.

To hopefully counter that, I’m going to set aside a solid 20 minutes each week night prior to going to bed to allow time for stretching, some minimal toning (planks, pushups, etc.), and a creative task — coloring, journaling, meditating, reading, etc. I’ve got a whole list to choose from and may even create a jar with those options on popsicle sticks for the nights when I can’t decide what to do. I’m hoping that helps prepare my mind and body for bed, not to mention the added perk of creating a more consistent (and earlier) bedtime for more natural energy in the mornings. Fingers crossed!

The second aspect I’m going to incorporate is utilizing the Day One app (or something similar, since my Mac died and I’m not sure I’ll be getting another Apple computer). I knew going into the new year that I wanted to have a gratitude journal of some sort, something to help me capture the positives in my life instead of continually being focused on what’s next or what hasn’t been accomplished. What’s great about this is I can include a photo with entries, making the journaling process a bit more unique and easier. Even better? You can export to PDF and have a printed copy of the year. This should be a good activity (perhaps even as part of my new nightly routine) to make sure I’ve taken some time to reflect on the day.

I’m probably most excited for my last experiment. The little introduced me to the Passion Planner, and within a day, the middle created us spiral-bound copies through the first three months so we could give it a shot. Although I’m not sure I’ll use the hourly schedule part of it (I already have my outlook calendar and a big calendar at the office), I’m really excited to set a focus for each day and even the week. The challenges for each week should also be helpful for making sure I’m on target in terms of not letting myself and my goals fall to the wayside. Less reactive, more proactive.

Putting all those into writing makes me feel a bit overwhelmed at what I’m introducing into my life in the next few days. That being said, I think it’s the change I need to start creating a life where I feel more balanced and less anxious. Last year was a challenging year, but I also had an incredible amount of lessons learned (particularly with the leadership institute). Now it’s time to start applying what I’ve learned to take things to the next level.

Bring on 2016!

Shifting health gears

Fruitless as it may seem given we’re only a few weeks away from another holiday, I decided to get back on the health wagon. Thanksgiving was a much needed break with lots of indulging — even for Hurley and the family dogs.

2015-11-26 11.57.14.jpg

What was also nice is I was able to listen to a great audiobook on my drive up and back. The book (It Was Me All Along) caught my eye while I was in Cape Cod and it seemed to be what I needed to light a fire under me again (and it was incredibly relatable given my own weight loss journey). In fact, I even skipped my normal spin class last night to go to BodyPump with my favorite combat instructor! I won’t lie, my entire body hurts right now and stairs are a real struggle. However, it was well worth it. Time to mix things up with my health routine.

In some ways this renewed focus also impacted what I chose for recipes this week. I knew I wanted to focus more on protein since I’d really been indulging and carbs (not to mention sweets). Sunday night I put a BBQ chicken quinoa recipe in the crockpot. It was relatively simple to throw together, and I loved how well the chicken shredded after just three hours in the crockpot. It may not look all that appetizing, but I can assure you that it was.

BBQ chicken

I should mention the olives were just something I threw on the plate because I was craving them… They didn’t particularly fit the flavor, but I didn’t care.

My recipe the following night, though, did allow for green olives. I was nervous having two similar recipes back-to-back, but I really wanted to try the slow cooker enchilada quinoa recipe.

To mix it up slightly, I actually used a beef roast instead of chicken (great choice, in hindsight!). I also minimized the cream cheese given the recent experiences I’d had with my crockpot dishes calling for cream cheese. I didn’t want it to dominate since I love Mexican food without too much cheese in general.

It took a bit longer for the beef to cook, so I almost wish I would have started that on its own. What was great, though, is that I seasoned it the night before so it had the perfect mix of spices.

In part because I wanted a bit more heartiness to it, I did half a cup of quinoa and half a cup of brown rice. (The other reason I’d done that is because that’s all the quinoa I had left…). I barely even noticed the rice when all was said and done, so I might add more of that in the future.

Enchilada

It was like a thoroughly mixed burrito bowl, and in my opinion you can’t go wrong there. The less healthy addition is the lime tortilla chips I used. All in moderation, though…

This week I’ve also decided that I’d like to make more of an effort to branch out of my cooking rut as well. Although the crockpot can be a lifesaver during the week, I also miss cooking. Thanksgiving certainly reminded me of that, but so did the dishes I made this week (though they were quite delicious).

In a crockpot, all the flavors blend together and nothing really stands out, and oddly enough it was the audiobook that made me come to that realization. The author talked about balsamic glazed vegetables and feta cheese sprinkled on spinach salad and buffalo chicken pizza. It sounded so delicious and…clean, for lack of a better word. Crockpot recipes, while convenient and often delicious, don’t feel as fresh and light to me. It might take a bit more planning on my part, but I’m hoping I start limiting my crockpot use.

Beyond that, I’m also aiming to be more intentional (given that is my word for the year…) about where I’m finding my recipes. Don’t get me wrong, Pinterest is great and will still be where I start my recipe search. But I also recognize that I hate and am terrible at tracking what I eat. It seems like such a chore to me and I get really bitter about it. That being said, I feel like if I can be more cognizant of  the nutritional content of dishes before I make them, it might make at least a small difference.

We’ll see how these efforts go. As I said, it may be a bit fruitless given the holiday season is upon us. But sometimes you have to strike while the iron is hot, and my motivation certainly peaked thanks to this book.

Thankful Thursday #20

Yesterday I “graduated” from the leadership institute I’ve referenced in a few of my blog posts, and quite honestly, I couldn’t think of a more deserving Thankful Thursday topic.

A little more than a year ago I showed up for the three-day kickoff retreat, unsure of what I was getting myself into. All I can say looking back is that I absolutely ended up being at the right place at the right time.

It almost seems like magic. Aside from the four individuals in my cohort who work in the state office building (who I now pow-wow with on a regular basis), I have literally spent all of 10 days over the course of three retreats with my cohort of 26. And somehow they feel like family.

What drives that is likely the depth and range of conversations we’ve had over the course of the year. To say we got up close and personal is an understatement. We took no less than five assessments (including a 360 assessment, which is intense in and of itself) to understand our personality, behavioral and thinking preferences. After receiving results, we dove into group discussions and pair-and-share conversations about what that means for ourselves and how it’s perceived by those around us.

Lame as it sounds, the leadership institute was probably one of the most challenging things I’ve done. Not in terms of the amount of work necessarily, but certainly the depth. It’s hard to be vulnerable with people you hardly know. It’s difficult to come face to face with your weaknesses, particularly in a “professional” setting. Each one of us was stretched beyond our comfort zone, and we became stronger for it.

What I loved about the institute is that it went beyond learning about our preferences and a specific set of skills, like crisis communication and conflict resolution. We were empowered to explore and then embrace our strengths and also our weaknesses. The whole experience felt like life coaching, career counseling, mentoring, leadership development and a support group all wrapped up in one.

I can’t even begin to articulate how thankful I am for the experiences I’ve had through this institute. The friendships gained, the lessons learned and the growth I’ve had in the last year is truly remarkable. For the first time, I’ve embraced what I bring to the table (and that includes being an introvert!) and recognize that value within teams. And for me, that’s huge.

leadership

It also didn’t hurt that my go-to lady in the institute also has an adorable yellow lab with an equally impressive vertical jump. I’m telling you — right place at the right time. ❤

Busy badge

I have to admit that I hate the busy badge, and yet it’s something I seem to wear constantly and with pride. My standard response to “How are you?” is “Busy, but good.” Who doesn’t claim to be busy in this day and age?

To some degree it’s about perception. On a more personal level, though, it very much relates to this blog post I read last week about being busy:

“If I’m being honest, I like staying busy. It’s comfortable to me. I’m happiest when I have my nice little to-do lists organized neatly on post-it notes, with tiny little tasks I can efficiently check off. By the end of the day, I feel so happy and in control, like life is CRAZY, but I have totally CONQUERED it. “

Preach it! Who doesn’t like that feeling at the end of the day?

But busy doesn’t always mean productive or meaningful, and that’s the part that’s been making me question my busy badge tendencies. This mindset shift actually started a couple months ago when I had a call with my leadership institute director, and when similar messages start popping up in my life, I know it’s time to start paying attention.

Part of my struggle in being busy is that I often go into autopilot mode (which is a fantastic descriptor I got from the leadership director). At the beginning of the day or week, I recognize I need to get X, Y and Z done, so I structure my schedule and tasks accordingly. Given my Type A, people-pleasing personality, there’s often not a lot of deviation from that plan.

It’s not bad, necessarily, but it often means I’m a product of my schedule and, to some degree, other people’s needs or requests. It’s less about being in the moment and more about crossing something off my list so that I can move on to the next task, be it a work project, volunteer assignment or something as simple as mowing the lawn or walking Hurley. That’s not how I want to live.

As I mentioned in my post about the sisters trip, a focus we had in some of our conversations got back to priorities, schedules and meaningful work. Am I making time for the things that matter? At the end of the day, it’s not about whether the work got done but whether the right work got done.

That’s why, when I saw this as we shopped in Cape Cod, I damn near bought this bracelet. Talk about driving the message home.

enough time

In each day and throughout our lives, we have just enough time for the important things. How am I stacking up?

I was probably more apt to notice those given the book I’ve been reading this month –  Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. (I’ll be honest that I won’t quite finish it since it’s due at the library and I can’t renew it since someone else has it on hold.) This is one of those books that I thought I would just skim but instead got hooked right off the bat:

“There are far more activities and opportunities in the world than we have time and resources to invest in. And although many of them may be good, or even very good, the fact is that most are trivial and few are vital.” (pg. 5)

Let that last sentence sink in for a second. Trivial? Not vital? I was half tempted to jump into defense mode.

But it makes sense.

There are so many causes and organizations and activities and work assignments and DIY projects and…you get the picture. How do you choose what’s really worth investing your time, resources and energy into? And what is it that only you could bring to the table? My role with the Alzheimer’s Association, while great, could easily be done by dozens of people in the community. Is it vital that I’m in that position? What draws me to the opportunity in the first place?

What I loved about the book is that it was quick to drive home that it’s not about taking on less or simplifying your schedule. Rather, it’s about taking an honest look at your life to see if you’re committing to the right things. If the Alzheimer’s Association is important to me, than I should certainly keep that in my life. But do I need to accept every meeting request or social invitation? Can I nix a gym class or two to take my dog on a long walk instead, particularly while the weather is nice?

That brings up the other struggle with busyness. As the blog post I referenced earlier pointed out, busyness is a choice we make — often as a crutch. It’s the need to feel as though we’re more in control (ding ding ding!) and valued than we may feel on the inside. It’s even worse for people pleasers. What will the volunteer coordinator think if I don’t show up to a meeting? Everyone else seems to juggle it all, why can’t I?

But what I’m learning is that it’s not about doing it all. It’s about doing the things that are important to you, which is a decision only you can make. When everything is a priority, nothing is.

What goes on my schedule for the day or week should be dependent on me, and I’m finally reaching a point where I’m not saying “yes” to everything. I’m weighing the pros and cons. Is my input needed at this meeting? Do they need my skill set for this project? Will it take time away from Hurley, and would I be okay with that?

That’s what my year of being intentional is about – diving into those hard questions. What are the negotiables in my schedule and how can I scale back on those to focus on what really matters, both personally and professionally?

Quite frankly, I’m tired of going a million miles an hour, fueled on caffeine and stress. I have just enough time in life for doing the things that are important to me and/or allow me to utilize my unique gifts, talents and skills. It’s time to start being more accountable to myself and setting up those boundaries.

The funny thing is, I think if I were to make the shift, I’d feel much more fulfill and in control than I do when I’m “busy.” Ain’t that something.

It’s going to be tough, but I think it’s time to ditch the busy badge, one stitch at a time!

Revisiting my intentions

I love fall. For some reason this time of year seems like a more appropriate time to make resolutions and goals, almost moreso than the first of the year (probably because by then I’m worn out from the holidays and ready for spring weather).

Two weeks ago I traveled for work. Although the training itself made for a long week, I lucked out in that I had the perfect travel companion. One of my co-workers is equally drawn to life chats and even life coaching, making for great conversations and opportunities for reflection.

During one of our dinners, we were talking about being intentional with our time, energy and tasks. I almost had a moment of panic when I realized that intention is my word for the year. Looking back, my life from late April to mid-September seems like such a blur that I feel like I’d failed in my intentions (nice play on words, huh?).

Now that I’ve had some down time, I’ve been making more of an effort to identify areas where I want to be more intentional, in part to reinvigorate my efforts for the remainder of the year. What’s interesting, though, is that I’ve shifted how I view my word, at least to some degree.

When I started the year, my efforts were more geared at myself and what results being intentional that would yield. How am I spending my time? In some ways I treated it like a quality improvement process for my life. How can I make it more efficient and effective? When I look back, I think it was more about creating another layer of accountability for myself. Unfortunately, that just seemed to create another layer of stress and internal pressure that, quite frankly, I don’t want weighing on me.

Thankfully, in part through the last few months, I think being intentional has become much bigger. It’s about making sure that I’m living out my values and being intentional with others.

feels good

Success is

There are two big areas where I have focused on being intentional these last few months, primarily due to all the deadlines and stress levels. The first is the notion that “well done is better than well said.” I’m pretty sure I’ve talked about this before, but it truly is one of my core values that I strive to be intentional about.

I’m big on accountability. I don’t want to just talk a good game — I want to deliver. It could be about professional matters, like meeting deadlines or accomplishing tasks, or it can be more personal in nature, like saying I’m going to get out to the east coast to see the little or eat healthy. As I’ve talked about before, I want to show up when and where I can.

Particularly with the help of my leadership institute director, I’ve been more intentional about the professional aspects. I take more time to consider what projects I take on and how I can set realistic goals and deadlines for myself. A big part of that has been learning to say no to other tasks that sneak up (and believe it or not, this people pleaser has said no to a few things!). This has been key to keeping my work load somewhat manageable and trying to have better work/life balance, recognizing that flexes over time.

The second area is one that I learned from my co-worker. She made a comment a number of weeks ago that really stuck with me: “It’s not what you say, it’s how you say it.”

For some reason this was a big game changer for me, though it may seem like common sense. That’s actually why I included the other graphic above. In addition to liking what I do (my actions, decisions, projects, etc.), I want to like how I do it. And that means being intentional with my words, tone and actions. When I know I have to say no, for example, it’s how I say it that makes me feel okay about it. That’s not an easy task for me, so framing how I want to turn down something has made it feel better for me personally.

In some ways it helps that I’m an introvert. My tendency is to process and consider what I want to say or how to respond anyway. Mostly I think this approach has helped more from a people-pleasing perspective. I don’t have to say yes to every request. I don’t have to consistently put other people’s desires, wishes or expectations above my own. Knowing it’s not what I say but how I say it prevents me from constantly going along just to get along, which is great progress for me.

The downside to some of this is that most of my intentional efforts pertained to the more professional areas of my life (work and volunteer). My hope is that in the coming months I can better incorporate that into my personal life. But it does help to know I’m creating a life that’s more in alignment with who I am and my mode of operation, if you will. And isn’t that truly what my year should be about?

Crock pot recipes to the rescue

I’m finally DONE!

May was rough, but I almost feel like that was a training program for the last few weeks. A series of deadlines and work travels had me burning the midnight oil and using up any ounce of brain capacity (not to mention free time) I had.

Thankfully on late Friday afternoon, I got to submit my huge evaluation report (48 single-spaced pages of pure text plus 27 attachments) and the evaluation plan for this next grant year (another 30 pages). It was exhausting, but the silver lining is that my love for evaluation runs deep. Even as I was submitting the report, I was thinking about how we could do it differently for next year. Quality improvement at it’s finest!

Needless to say, I took the weekend (and the first two days of the week) to celebrate and let my mind relax. As an aside, if you’re near a Cheesecake Factory, you should try the blueberry white chocolate cheesecake. It was delicious, and both of us were surprised when our server told us they were taking it off the menu. I may need to venture there again before that happens…

cheesecake

My efforts to stay somewhat healthy amidst the stress didn’t pan out quite like I’d hoped, though what can you do? At least I tried to get a few homemade meals in the mix. I started last week with a crockpot beef stew. Despite the heat, for some reason this sounded like it would really hit the spot.

Plus this was the first beef stew recipe (I think) where I’ve used mushrooms. I actually sautéed them first, but otherwise I followed the recipe as is (this is also one of the first beef stew recipes where I’ve used tomato soup). Paired with sourdough bread, I definitely had some home cooked comfort food to get me through the week.

beef stew

This weekend I made parmesan chicken in the crockpot. I meant to make it earlier in the week, but better late than never right? It was something I’d been craving the week before during my work travels, but it was never on the menu. Thankfully this was really easy to whip up, though normally I think I’d prefer making my own spaghetti sauce.

It probably doesn’t make a huge difference, but I used chicken tenderloin. It seemed to make it easier to coat the chicken to have a good chicken to breading ratio, and it made it a little easier to eat. I threw this into the crockpot before going to work on a DIY project (should hopefully have that post up in about two weeks – it’s been a long time coming!), which made the house smell fantastic by the time I got back with the dogs.

parmesan chicken

It’s also nice that you throw on the mozzarella cheese right around the time you start making the pasta (I went with whole wheat linguine), so the timing works out really well.

parmesan chicken2

The next item on the docket? Meal planning for the week. Now that I’ve let myself splurge and get off schedule for the last few weeks, it’s time to buckle down and get more intention about life (more on that soon!).

Learning to hit pause

It always surprises me that, at least for me, health is generally the first thing to fall to the wayside once stress hits. It generally means half-assed (or no) workouts, lack of sleep and, perhaps worst of all, resorting to quick and often unhealthy meals. And all of this only makes my stress/attitude worse.

I knew I was approaching a particularly stressful time with work. I’ve got two big evaluation deadlines on August 14, and unfortunately my schedule is also packed with trainings that take me out of the office — including 6-day one in California next week. You know it’s bad (though incredibly sweet and touching!) when co-workers start leaving you chocolate because they know all that’s on your plate… (Random side note: it was pure coincidence that they got me the same type of chocolate!)

chocolate

So like I said, my health tends to fall to the wayside (though dark chocolate is healthy, right?!). I’ve been trying to avoid these pitfalls with lots of planning, particularly when it comes to meals. Last week I kicked off my Monday with a one pan cheesy chicken broccoli rice recipe. It wasn’t overly time consuming and I had nearly everything on hand, which is always a bonus.

I swiped out the white rice for brown, and the extra sharp cheddar cheese is the way to go. It was a perfect blend, plus the broccoli cooked perfectly. It was so delicious that I ate all my leftovers throughout the week, serving it’s purpose quite nicely.

broccoli cheese skillet

Unfortunately I still managed to eat out almost every day last week, in part because I was at a two-day training where lunch was on your own. One dinner, however, was entirely worth it. I lucked out in that one of my college roommates was having a quick family getaway to Omaha, a mere 50 minutes away!

liz and kayla

I can’t even tell you what a kickstart that was to my week and attitude. Like she mentioned on her blog, we were laughing the second I got out of my car. It was amazing to me that despite how much has changed in the last seven years, we still had similar mannerisms, attitudes and depth to our conversation. Plus I got to meet her adorable baby boy!

What’s also been fantastic, so I’ll put in a plug for this, is that we write handwritten letters to each other. A few years back when I was doing the happiness project, I made it a goal one month to reach out to people I’d lost touch with over the years. Thankfully this fabulous lady was totally on board for exchanging letters. Not only is it a great way to stay connected, but it also gets me to slow down and reflect on my life. Certainly sending an email or facebook message would be much faster, as would just keeping up on one another’s blog. But I’m telling you, there’s so much value in writing a legit letter.

I’ll get off my soapbox now…

I used the weekend to regroup a bit, including more meal planning. Wanting to start the week off right again, last night I made a Korean beef quinoa bowl. I almost didn’t make it because my mind and body were shot after spin…but when I saw it only took about 20 minutes to make, I knew I could suck it up.

It probably isn’t technically Korean beef given I used ground turkey, but I think that’s the only modification I made. Throw in a side of veggies, and I was set within 25 minutes. I’m happy to say it was very much worth the effort — and now I’ve got relatively healthy leftovers for the week, too!

korean beef

I will say I added in a bit more soy sauce to better mix the quinoa and ground turkey, but otherwise the leftovers worked really well.

Although I can’t say I’m even close to creating a good work-life balance during stressful times, I’m definitely making more of an effort than I have in years past. Speaking of balance, though, I’ve got an adorable yellow laborador who’s ready to distract me with a walk and exciting game of tug. If nothing else, he’s a big proponent of striving for that work-life balance — and makes it easier for me, too!

Beauty in Books 7

I’d been pondering the best way to talk about my experience at the leadership institute two weeks ago, but it’s hard to put into words. This weekend I read Scary Close by Donald Miller, and that seemed to be fantastic springboard to reflect on another way I hope to start being more intentional this year.

Prior to going to the mid-year retreat for the leadership institute, we read Immunity to Change. (Technically this post could almost be Beauty in Books 7 and 8!) It has a number of case studies, which made it a long and somewhat repetitive read, but it’s been fascinating to put some of the principles into practice.

Essentially the authors contend that there are two ways we can approach change. The first (and most common because it’s easier) is a technical fix. If we’re bad at public speaking, the technical change would be attending a workshop or signing up for more speaking engagements. If you’re trying to lose weight, the technical fix is eating less and exercising more.

Generally, though, those technical changes fall short of what we really need to make a true change. Instead we should be seeking an adaptive change, which is more focused on the mindset. More specifically, you start to explore those underlying fears and assumptions that make you hesitant in the first place. What holds you back from public speaking? Are you afraid of coming off as dumb? Of not appearing well-versed or eloquent? And where did some of those fears originate?

The authors encourage individuals to find those underlying (and often false) assumptions and beliefs so that they can begin to start challenging those in small ways. It’s a way of asking yourself “what’s the worst that could happen for speaking up?” and over time realizing it’s typically not the worst case scenario you envisioned.

How does all of this relate to the leadership institute? On the second day we got the results of a 360 leadership assessment, which is feedback on eight specific domains from your boss’s boss, boss, peers, direct reports and an “other” category. Using that information, we each identified our “blind spots” for leadership, selected one particular area to work on and dove into discovering what our underlying assumptions are that hold us back within that area.

The catch and challenge is that we did this in groups of four. Three times. We actually had to vocalize our weaknesses and explain where they came from, often delving into emotional territory.

But let me tell you, this was life changing. It’s a huge opportunity to practice vulnerability and authenticity.

That’s why Scary Close seemed like such a fitting read for me. It’s hard to show up and be seen for who you really are, not just the mask you sometimes wear. As Miller did and captures throughout his book, it’s important to explore why you wear a mask in the first place. His book, to me, was almost a memoir of putting Daring Greatly and Immunity to Change into practice. And this statement seemed to illustrate why it’s so important to me:

“Can you imagine coming to the end of your life, being surrounded by people who loved you, only to realize they never fully knew you?” (pg. 140).

Similar to that, Miller also mentioned that “if we live behind the mask we can impress but we can’t connect.” (pg. 171) It really makes me stop and think about how I’m presenting myself to the world, and even those close to me. My 360 results shows that above all else, I place a high value on my relationships with people. But to what degree am I genuinely connecting versus impressing and trying to have all the answers? And if I’m not showing my real self, why?

It’s still a work in progress for me. As Miller points out time and again, this is not an easy feat. “It involves deconstructing old habits, overcoming the desire to please people, telling the truth, and finding satisfaction in a daily portion of real love.” (pg. 217) But it’s so worth it. Slowly be surely, I’m learning that it’s okay to let my guard down and that real love (with anyone, not just in the romantic sense) isn’t conditional. That alone has been a bit lesson for me.

And if there’s one thing I’ve really learned from this whole experience, it’s this:

“Sometimes the story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” (pg. 22)

Somehow we just have to muster the courage to put it out there and be seen. And that’s what I’m hoping to be more intentional about moving forward.

Intentional scheduling

As I’m trying to establish somewhat of a new routine, my focus of being intentional is shifting from my house to my schedule. (Primarily because I no longer have to dedicate my free time to packing or unpacking boxes!) I’m trying to be more strategic in how I schedule my days to hopefully maximize my productivity and balance.

A few weeks ago my life coach had me track my energy levels throughout the week. Using the energy levels log template I found on this website, I created my own tracking system in excel (naturally…) and was really surprised by the results. I actually found that on days when I work out at 5:30/6 p.m., I’m usually at a level 7 or 8 while I’m working out. The hour leading up to it, though, I’m only at a 2 or 3. No wonder I have to muster up a lot of motivation and accountability to get myself to the gym!

Having this information allows me to be more intentional about when I tackle certain things in my life. I shouldn’t aim to start a new project at work or make a personal budget on a day or during a period of time when I naturally have lower levels of energy. Those are the times when I can focus on less draining activities, like laundry or organizing my work inbox.

Not that there is always that flexibility or option, though. I can’t schedule every meeting I have during periods of high energy/engagement. But I can make small tweaks. I’ve noticed, for example, that my energy level really drops right before lunch. My solution? Scheduling my walking break with a co-worker around that time.

What was also an interesting discovery for me is that there were times when I would have high energy levels (in part due to coffee…) but couldn’t really capitalize on it because I didn’t have much focus. Those were times when I’d try to tackle half a dozen things but not really accomplish anything (probably because I got overwhelmed by having four draft emails, two excel spreadsheets and three word documents open).

As luck should have it, I was reflecting on all of this around the time that I was reading Life Makeovers by Cheryl Richardson. (My life coach was inspired to become a life coach because of this woman, so naturally I had to read a few of her books, too.) It helped me have another “a-ha!” moment when it came to focus and my need to cultivate that more:

“Teaching yourself to stay focused on one project, goal or opportunity at a time will not only allow you to be more productive and effective, it can also challenge you to go more deeply into the task at hand and bring forth more creative insight and wisdom. Too often we try to ‘cover all the bases,’ respond to every opportunity, or provide every possible service that someone might need, in hopes of striking success. But the truth is, long-term, sustainable success often comes from the ability to stay focused on one project or goal at a time.”

That’s what I’m hoping to be more intentional about in the coming weeks, particularly at work. On any given day, I’m dealing with at least five different program areas. On Thursday afternoon, for example, I had back-to-back meetings. The first focused on evaluating early childcare education nutrition standards, the second on data collection for our diabetes prevention program evaluation plan and the final on patient-centered medical home clinic transformation.

I don’t mention that to complain or toot my own horn. I love the diversity of my job and the fact that I’m helping evaluate so many different facets of chronic disease prevention and control that collectively could help individuals lead healthier lives. But I can tell you it takes a toll on my energy levels and what I feel I’m giving to each program.

As I mentioned earlier, I can’t always control when all my meetings or webinars are scheduled. What I can control, though, is how I spend my non-meeting time at work. Perhaps on Mondays I focus just on school health and on Tuesday I look at our diabetes prevention programs. Would creating a structure like that enable me to be more intentional and focused with the projects I’ve got at a given time?

That will be my area of focus for the next couple of weeks. Then I’ll move on to the larger focus of my life schedule since it does extend beyond just work. I love that Richardson mentioned that we try to cover all our basis and offer any service to others in hopes to gaining success. Hello, well-rounded over-achiever! In fact, one of the current “assignments” from my life coach is to identify all the balls I’m juggling and look at which ones (whether it’s volunteer opportunities or specific classes at the gym) I might be able to drop. I’ll have to plan for that activity when I’ve got a higher level of energy…

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