Tag Archives: 31days

Making the Most of Your Work Time: 3 Tips

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Growing up, my very hard-working dad would always tell us, “Work smarter, not harder.”  I hear his voice in my head all the time now, which is usually a good thing!  Most working moms want to get our work done as well and as efficiently as possible, so we can make the most of our time with our kids.  Even though I now work from home, I hate the feeling of not being done with work for the day when it’s time to pick up the girls from school… because it means more work awaits me after their bedtime.  Having my work caught up is one of the best feelings, because then my attention is not divided, and I can truly relax in the evening.  In this post, I shared a few of my favorite planning and to-do list tips and tools.  Here are three productivity tips that I’ve found to be especially helpful in getting things done.

  1. The Pomodoro Technique.  I’ve been setting a timer to get things done for years but just discovered this specific timer method.  Basically, you set a timer for 25 minutes, work as hard as you can on a task, break for 5 minutes, and begin again.  This video gives a quick overview.  Over time, it supposedly helps you to see how many “poms” you need to allot for certain tasks and can help in planning your day realistically – which is good for people like me who tend to be overly optimistic about time management.  Lots of writers and professors use it, and I’ve found great success with it in the past week for writing and grading.
  2. Break your to-do list into micro-tasks.  A few years ago, I read part of Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen.  The part of the book that really stuck with me was his explanation that many of our to-do list items are actually macro-items that have multiple related smaller steps.  For example, one of my to-do list items is “Submit travel request for conference,” and that could be broken down into other steps, such as:  Email administrative assistant, Print forms off website, Locate registration receipt, Calculate meal costs, etc.  The goal is that you enable yourself to complete the task by being more specific about exactly what needs to be done and how much time it will take.  Simple, but brilliant – at least to me!
  3. Daily Top 3.  I got this one from Inspired to Action (I guess you can tell by now I love Kat’s stuff!).  Like the first two, it’s super easy but makes a big impact.  Each day, when you write out all your to-do list items, go back and star or circle your “top 3” things that MUST be done.  Now, I know, if you’re like me, you’re probably thinking there’s no way you could pick just three.  Sometimes I make two lists – one for work tasks and one for home/family tasks, and circle two or three in each area.  But the main idea is to force yourself to prioritize what urgently must be done vs. all those things that seem important but really aren’t.  The goal is still to get to all of your to-do’s, but in the case that you don’t, at the end of the day when your head hits the pillow, there is a great satisfaction in knowing that you at least accomplished the three most important ones.

I told you they were simple, but sometimes simplest is best!  What’s your best tip for maximizing your work time?

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What I’ve Learned About Mornings

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We all have heard the quotes and statistics about morning people being more successful, and most working moms desire that for ourselves.  And regardless of your kids’ ages, I’m sure you can relate to some recent rushed or stressful mornings at your house – I sure can!  I definitely go through seasons of doing better or worse with my mornings, but I’m at a much better place today than I was five years ago as a new mom – praise God!  Here are a few things I’ve learned along the way:

  1. Just because I’m not a natural morning person doesn’t mean I can’t become a morning person. Anyone who knows me who is reading this is either nodding along or laughing out loud, because my natural inclination is to be a night owl.  My mom gave me a pair of moose pj’s that say “I’m not a morning person,” and that pretty much sums it up.  While I consider myself an optimist, I’m not one of those Pollyanna types upon waking… I need a few moments to myself, preferably with a hot cup of coffee, before facing the world.  But just because that isn’t my natural style, it doesn’t mean I can’t create new habits to help maximize my mornings.  Speaking of which, there is an awesome free, short e-book that has really helped me in this area called Maximize Your Mornings by Kat Lee, my very favorite mom blogger.
  2. Mornings are the best time for my quiet time.  I heard this for years and wasn’t really sold, but it is true.  If you’re a mom to little kids, you probably don’t have a whole lot of energy or mental power left at the end of the day.  Learning to study the Bible and meet with the Lord at the first part of my day rather than the last transformed my quiet times.  Try it and see.  Now, if you miss your morning quiet time (and I still do often), don’t settle for an all-or-nothing approach!  Make it up some other time during the day, like lunch or before bed.  I don’t think the Lord cares at all what time of day we meet with Him, but in this season of life I feel I can give Him by best attention in the morning vs. evening.
  3. I need accountability to maximize my mornings.  There’s an awesome challenge that I’ve been a part of for several years called Hello Mornings.  It’s an online community of moms around the world who connect on social media for 6-week challenges to encourage and support one another in accomplishing three goals:  Bible Study (God time), planning your day (Plan time), and exercise (move time).  It’s free, and in addition to helping me make the most of my mornings, I’ve met some awesome Christian ladies and participated in some amazing Bible studies like this one by Lara Williams.
  4. Rest is a gift, and bedtimes aren’t just for kids.  I used to be one of those people who halfway adhered to the phrase, “You can sleep when you’re dead.”  Over the course of about a decade, I over-committed myself to the point that I got used to staying up too late and waking up too early.  I was perpetually sleep deprived and often stressed, and through some health issues, the Lord thankfully stopped me in my tracks and taught me the importance of the rest He freely offers.  And that’s probably another post for another time, but it’s true – rest is ours for the taking, but it requires wisdom and obedience to sacrifice of some other things.  One of the best tips I learned from Hello Mornings is that successful mornings begin the night before, and setting a phone alarm for bedtime is a great reminder.  Also, this article about sleep and the aging process is pretty eye-opening.
  5. My kids often adopt my morning attitude – for better or worse.  Ouch.  This one makes me cringe, because it’s true.  The mornings I wake up too late and feel rushed, I end up rushing everyone else, and the bad attitudes come out.  The mornings I wake up before my kids to have a quiet time and pray for them before they wake up vs. waking up to them, my kids still disobey and test me and act like kids, but my reaction is totally different.  Everything just goes oh-so-much smoother; the difference is indescribable.  I’m absolutely preaching to myself here, but I want mornings in my home to be peaceful, so this is an area I’m constantly working toward improving.

What have you learned about mornings?  What change do you want to take to make them better?

The One Thing

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I spent the past weekend at our church’s women’s retreat with some precious Christian sisters from my church at a gorgeous location with two of my favorite things, water and woods.  While there, I heard one of the simplest and most powerful Truths through an amazing Bible Study delivered by our anointed women’s ministry leader, Tollie Meggs.  And she brings the Word.  Just, wow.

In this post, I talked about how we tend to complicate being a mom.  And you know what else we tend to complicate?  Simply being – our entire lives. We were made for one purpose – to worship.   Everyone who is alive is worshiping something or someone.  Specifically, we were created to worship God – our Creator, Provider, Sustainer – and His Son, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  To do anything else is to waste our lives.  To attempt to put anything else – work, goals, dreams – before worship is to totally miss the picture.  Worship must be the origin of and must be pervasive within all that we are and all that the do.  I can tell you what work, including spiritual service, will do to a believer who got worship out of order in the equation – It leads to exhaustion and eventually burnout.  I know this firsthand myself and know far too many other ladies who know what it feels like to work hard for the Lord without having worship in its proper place, and it’s not a pretty picture.  To learn and live out true and acceptable worship will first and foremost please the Lord, and it will also spill over and impact every single area of our lives.  I am convinced that a mom will never be all she can be without worship at the center of her life.  But we don’t do it for ourselves; we do it because God is worthy.  I had the head knowledge of worship but needed a refresher on the heart knowledge.

It’s life-changing stuff, if we will simply submit to the Lord’s leading, obey His commands, and make time to learn to truly worship.  And, despite our modern church vocabulary, worship is not synonymous with music or song.  Worship is a way of life that can be expressed through song, but it doesn’t begin or end there.  Because my words are pitifully inadequate in describing the depth and breadth of the command to worship and its accompanying promises, here are a few of many verses on worship.

Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in the Spirit and in truth. – John 4:23 (NIV)

Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.  – Romans 12:1-2 (NIV)

Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former. You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.  – Matthew 23:23-26 (NIV)

Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.  – Hebrews 12:28-19 (NIV)

My prayer for myself and for anyone who reads this is that we will be filled by God with a renewed desire – a consuming hunger and thirst – for His Word and His commands, to seek His face and truly worship him with all we have and above all else for all of our days.  To get that one thing right will be to have succeeded in all our roles in this life, as well as the one to come.

 


The Answer to Mom Guilt

Moms, especially working moms, often struggle with guilt – some of it unfounded and some probably legitimate.  Running between my activities this morning, my mind was spinning thinking about what I needed to do to get kids to/from all the places they needed to be today, ready to leave for our church women’s retreat this afternoon, and fit in a virtual meeting with a student, some other work tasks, and an unexpected dr. appointment to have my foot x-rayed.  I was feeling guilty for skipping my quiet time the last two days, guilty for not having something homemade for my husband and kids to eat while I’m gone, guilty for not exercising today, guilty for not having finished my work to-do’s yesterday, guilty for not returning a friend’s phone call from earlier this week.

And then I caught a few minutes of this sermon on the radio.  And it was a timely reminder that there’s only one real answer and hope for our guilt – Grace.  The amazing grace of the Gospel of Jesus Christ that God lavishes freely upon us, undeserved as we are – once for salvation and repeatedly for sanctification.  Pastor Begg reminded me of the power of that grace in shining hope and expectation on Satan’s accusations that we are not enough.  He quoted a phrase from this song (one of my favorites from church), which I hope you’ll listen to and take hope in today.

When Satan tempts me to despair

And tells me of the guilt within

Upward I look and see Him there

Who made an end to all my sin

Because a sinless Savior died

My sinful soul is counted free

For God the just is satisfied

To look on Him and pardon me

Our only hope is, was, and will be Jesus.  I often joke that I need a few more hours in the day, but the truth is that, if we’re fully relying on Him as our strength, power, and direction, He will turn what we are and what we have into more than enough for His glory.  Be encouraged today in this reminder that His grace is sufficient, friends!

The Power of Reset

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I didn’t really intend to take five days off writing, but I was badly in need of a break from deadlines and screens. The end of an overly busy week with a string of too-late nights grading midterms blended into a family vacation to the beach over a long Fall Break weekend… and being away from my laptop for the first two days felt so refreshing to my soul that I decided to keep it up for the rest of the trip. Somehow, the posts I had planned on the importance of self-care seemed hypocritical if my writing time sacrificed much needed sleep or family time. In the past, I would have probably plowed through and did whatever I had to in order to stay on my self-imposed “schedule,” but I’ve learned a few things about myself in the course of the past year – among the most important, my limits and need for rest and refreshment following times of striving and stress.

There’s something so powerful about getting away from the daily grind of life, even if for a short time, to help us step back and “see the forest” instead of our day-to-day view of all the trees.  During a morning walk on the beach, the thought came to me that vacations – the relaxing variety at least – are the human equivalent to a “reset” button. When our computer, phone, or other device has been on too long and is acting wonky, we can push a button or series of keys and magically restore everything to normal functioning. The same is true for us; we need times of reset in our lives as well. Time to get to know ourselves and our loved ones all over again, time to reconnect with our Maker on a deeper level, time to reflect on what’s working well and what we need to change, time to eat good food without counting calories, time to laugh and spend quality time with those we love most, and time to lay worry and stress on the sideline for a brief period and just focus on living in the moment.

My absolute favorite place in the world to reset is the beach (once or occasionally twice a year) – There’s something almost magical about being in front of the ocean to put in perspective how little we are in the scope of the Lord who spoke it all into existence and holds all our todays and tomorrows in the palm of His hand. On a more regular basis, I find it helps so much to just get away for an hour or two at a time, and my favorite local retreats are anywhere overlooking the water (I’m blessed to live in a town with both a river and lake), a coffee shop, or the library. I’m a people-loving introvert, so I need a quiet place away from my home and people I know in order to truly “reset.” On a daily basis if I have just a few minutes, my best retreat is anywhere outside with my running shoes, ear buds, and a playlist of favorite worship music.

After the past week, I’m especially thankful for four days of reset – and to return with renewed perspective, priorities, and resolve.  Are you in need of reset – or at least a little time unplugged? What’s your favorite location or activity to gain perspective and refreshment?

The Struggle for Balance: Part 3 {Printable Verse)

Slide1In my last post on resources to help working moms find balance, I shared how this verse is a great reminder to refocus my reliance on the Lord for wisdom and guidance in this area.  I made a printable to post over my desk.  If you’d like a copy to print or insert into a to-do list or other document, click here to download.  (You’re welcome to share, but please give credit – thanks!)

The Struggle for Balance: Part 2 {Questions & Resources}

IMG_7236In my last post, I talked about how I, like most working moms, struggle with finding a healthy balance between my most important jobs as wife/mom and my second job that I get paid for.  I have spent a ton of time thinking, worrying, and praying over this, because I want to be the best I can be in all areas – and especially as a mom.  Over time, the Lord has shown me that, as long as I’m relying on and abiding in Him, He’ll provide the wisdom and strength to figure it out on an as needed basis.  His job is to be sovereign, and all I need to do is trust in His providence and step forward in courage and obedience as He leads.  But that can be tough to live out in the day to day – we all need a little help along the way!  Here are some practical questions and resources I’ve found that have really helped me to gain wisdom in this area.

Reflection Questions:

I’m in teacher education, and we endlessly preach that reflection is one of the most important skills we can have – after teaching, to be able to recognize what worked and what didn’t, and what we will keep and do differently next time, as a result.  It’s what separates average teachers apart from the best.  And I think most people would agree that reflection holds the same potential for life in general.  We just don’t usually take the time or initiative to stop, reflect, and pinpoint the changes that need to be made to help us move forward in our goals – at least until a major crisis makes us stop and put things in perspective.

Here are a couple of questions I found from some different sources that have made a huge difference in helping me discern and make positive changes.  I would suggest praying over them and taking as much time as you need – maybe more than one sitting (which it probably will be anyway, if you have young kids, right?!).

  1. What is your ideal?  Break it down into the various areas of your life – family, spiritual life, work, health, hobbies, etc. – and be as specific as you can in writing down exactly what “ideal” would look like if no other obstacles existed – money, time, etc.  The bottom line is that if we never identify what our ideal state looks like, then we will never have a chance of getting there.  This can be a bit scary, but also so freeing!  It may take more than one sitting or even several days to a week’s time, because you may have forgotten what your dreams were in the reality of the day-to-day survival mode.  I think a main reason we feel stuck or never achieve our goals is that we don’t think or dream big enough – I have absolutely been guilty of this and several virtual “mentors” (listed in resources below) have helped me move past this mode of thinking.
  2. In the past [month, 6 months, year, etc.], what has worked, and why?  This sounds so simple, but it’s really, really powerful – and the next question as well.  We forget to affirm our efforts and improvements, and self-image is crucial to success.
  3. What hasn’t worked, and why?  I think this is so powerful, because we tend to assume that we already know the answers, but if you really prayerfully reflect, you may be surprised at obstacles or strongholds in your daily habits that you never before realized were holding you back.
  4. What practical steps within your control can you take to change what isn’t working?
  5. What commitments do I need to say “no” to, in order to achieve my ideal?  Is there anything I need to add?  Jot down the necessary action steps to make this happen.

Resources:

One of my lifetime best friend’s shared this blog post about motherhood with me a couple of months ago, and I can’t stop thinking about it.  (Warning – Have your tissues ready!)  It has made such an impact on my perspective toward all the little moments of motherhood.  It is so true that the days are long but the years so short, but it’s hard to fully realize that on a daily basis until our kids get a little older.  I now pray Psalm 90:12 daily:  “Teach me to number my days, that I may gain a heart of wisdom.”

The Best Yes – I mentioned Lysa Terkeurst’s recent book in the last post, but it’s worth sharing again!  As a working mom herself, Lysa’s transparency in sharing her real life successes, failures, and wisdom is amazing.  A must-read for all moms in today’s over-busy world.  I get a lot of books on my Kindle, but I wanted this in hard copy so I could mark it up.

I first found Kat Lee’s blog, Inspired to Action, five years ago when I was a brand new mom, and the wisdom I’ve gained from her has truly been invaluable.  She is super down to earth and has such a gift for presenting the truth in an encouraging way that gives grace to the place where you are while inspiring you to become a better mom.

Kat also started the Hello Mornings challenge, which is a wonderful way for non-morning people (like myself) to get accountability (through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram groups) in creating a morning quiet time for Bible study, planning your day, and exercise.  I’ve been involved for several sessions, and it’s nothing short of life changing!  She also wrote an awesome free e-book, Maximize Your Mornings, located on her blog.

I got into podcasts while commuting to work 2+ hours for the past three years, and now, it’s my favorite method for making dishes and laundry more fun. 🙂  If you’re not familiar, a podcast is basically like a radio show that you can listen to “on demand.”  All the ones I listen to are free.  If you have a smart phone, there’s an app called “Podcasts,” and you can search inside it, and many podcasters also link their content back to a blog as well.  Here are some of my favorites:

This is Your Life – Michael Hyatt has so much practical wisdom to share about being intentional in every area of life.  I love that he is both a Christian and highly successful in both his career and family life.  Lots of great stuff on productivity, goal setting, self-care, and more.

Inspired to Action – Each episode is an interview with a mom related to a specific topic.  So much inspiration.  Some of my favorite episodes related to balance were Sally Clarkson, Lysa Terkeurst, and one (I can’t remember the name, sorry!) called “Talk more, tech less.”

The Ziglar Show – I just discovered this one a few months ago, and it is amazing.  Hands down, Zig is the most inspirational speaker you’ll ever hear.  He’s also a Christian and fellow Southerner (from MS), so he has an awesome accent. 🙂