How Will You Measure Your Life?

measure-your-life-416x620In an interesting twist on and melding of business and life management genres, Harvard Business School professor Clayton Christensen’s How Will You Measure Your Life? explores how tried-and-true business theories can illuminate and improve your personal life and overall life trajectory.

Theories, Christensen asserts, often apply to smaller units like families or even to individuals, not just to larger organizations.  In this book, he shows readers how to think differently about the ways you allocate time and resources, develop your family life, and measure your overall life success.

I thought the sections on building strategies, keeping kids motivated, emphasizing processes AND resources (versus, in the family example, giving your kid a lot of lessons in how to do stuff but no real life experience of how to solve problems), and establishing a family culture were excellent.  I was encouraged in some areas, challenged in others, and inspired overall to improve my perspective and change some tactics.

Although many people do New Year’s Resolutions (and I’m one of them) I also find the start of the new school year a good time to evaluate where we are as a family and define some goals for the year.How Will You Measure Your Life? would be a great resource if you want to think through your family’s culture, ways to provide helpful experiences for your kids, and personal or professional goals for yourself.

Do you find yourself re-evaluating when it’s Back to School time?


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Bookmarking Balance

overwhelmedAfter I read Overwhelmed, I realized that a lot of the ways I work on balance are derived from lessons I’ve read about and internalized from books.  My experience is not (at all) normative–when it comes to reading about other people’s balance it’s a good idea to remember that we all have different callings, temperaments, and circumstances.  And yet, sometimes it’s helpful to see what other people do, if only to be able to smugly assert that you’d never be caught dead doing such a thing!

Zoom out.

168 hoursReading 168 Hours helped me think of time from a big picture perspective.  Any given day might be really, really rough.  But when I think of my time in terms of weeks, months, school terms, trimesters, or years, I am freed up to see balance.  My work tends to ebb and surge–sometimes I’m up to my eyeballs in deadlines, other times I’m coasting.  Sometimes school is going fabulously, and sometimes I feel like I’m banging my head against a brick wall.  But because I zoom out, when work is nuts I can pull back on other things knowing there is plenty of time to catch up later and when school is not working I can calmly assess issues without throwing in the towel (tempting though that sometimes is).  Zooming out frees me to see things cyclically, which allows me to get more done over time than if I only did things I could commit to daily.

Batch process.

tiger motherI think God gave me five children because He knew that otherwise I’d be a Tiger Mom.  I’ll admit that I take some things really seriously, but I let a lot of modern parenting requirements slide.  I don’t hover over my kids while they play outside or sit next to them while they practice piano.  The only extracurriculars we do are things they can all do at once and that meet a family priority (for a needed skill or long-term value).  So the oldest three take piano lessons at the same place one afternoon a week.  This summer they are all in swimming lessons at the same time.  During the school year we do a homeschool co-op that offers electives so they can try different things but we only have to drive to one spot. This helps us do things we value (reading aloud before bed, having relaxed evenings, doing meaningful work) and avoid things we don’t like (living in the car, eating on the run, overscheduling).

I also set aside chunks of time for work and school.  We have a fabulous babysitter/nanny for 10 hours a week–one afternoon and one morning.  She has a teaching background so on the morning she’s here she supervises the kids’ independent work assignments (math, handwriting, copywork, sometimes grammar or Latin or a composition).  According to the experts, most knowledge workers only put in 4 hours a day of real work.  So when we have the babysitter or it’s naptime, I maximize it and put in a full work day–not always completely successfully, but I try.  With those 10 babysitting hours plus daily quiet time (only the baby naps but everyone else has to read or play quietly) and some Saturday work time, I can carry a full-time workload without keeping a chair warm every day from 9 to 5.

Because I am working one morning a week, we batch a week’s worth of school subjects (other than the previously mentioned independent assignments) into the other four days. We cover the same amount of material, and no one seems to notice that I bumped their work up 25% on the other four days.

Sort the rocks.

eat that frogYou’ve heard the story about how you can get more into a container if you start by putting in the biggest rocks, then fill in with smaller and smaller rocks, then sand, then water.  I think I first read about this in Eat That Frog.  Everyone tells this story because it’s so incredibly helpful to sort your rocks.  I keep a loosely defined hierarchy of tasks for all of my roles so I can do the most high impact items first.  If I have a chunk of work time, I tackle big projects rather than churning around on little stuff like email.  If I find a small window of free time I read, because I keep books strewn everywhere.  This helps me use time more effectively and take advantage of windows of opportunity, however long or short they may be.

Know the why.

BetterThanBeforeJacketHC-e1413545062477-197x300As a questioner (see Better Than Before), I find that I really only follow through with things when I have identified WHY I’m doing them.  Consider housework.  I truly think that people sleep better in clean sheets, but I have found out from personal experience that you do not get kicked out of the human race for not changing sheets on a weekly basis.  Changing sheets on five beds is not a quick job and as previously mentioned I do not retain a domestic staff.  So I change sheets every other week or so, enlist the kids to help, and that works for us.  On the other hand, I get stressed out by visual clutter.  So I make it a point to keep our main living areas picked up and swept every day, even though I don’t mop the floor very often and absolutely never vacuum my ceilings or wash windows.  I keep a clear view of my why for work tasks, for each subject we do in our homeschool, and for every activity I sign up for.  It helps immensely in prioritization, and if I can’t articulate a why, chances are I’m not the person for the job anyway.

Prioritize restoration.

fringeFrom a logistical standpoint, there is a lot going on in a homeschooling family of soon-to-be seven where both parents work, even though we don’t do a ton of sports and lessons.  Any one of my roles (mom, teacher, worker) would be enough to lead to periodic burn-out, and the combination requires some finesse.  That’s why I have to spend my Fringe Hours on something restorative.  For me, that means I try to get regular exercise, I read a lot, and I try to make time to hang out with friends when I can.  I rarely get 15 minutes to myself and think, “Self, we should scrub the shower with a toothbrush.”  I love a clean shower as much as the next person, but it doesn’t feed my mind and soul like a great conversation or a good book.  When I’m restored mentally and physically, I’m better able to find balance.

We all do life differently, but I’d love to hear what works for you!  What books or resources have particularly helped you define the balance you’re shooting for?

The Art of Slow Writing

the-art-of-slow-writing-bookThe Art of Slow Writing: Reflections on Time, Craft, and Creativity thoughtfully combines relevant information on life management with inspiration for creative callings.

This is not a how-to book in the sense of structuring plots and assigning writing exercises, but it is a call to work slowly, meditatively, and deeply to create work of lasting value and higher impact.  It is also not a time management book in the vein of establishing schedules in 15 minute increments and checking things off of a to do list, but it is a reminder of how to shape your life to make space for your priorities, especially if one of your priorities is in a creative field that can’t easily fit into established patterns of productivity.

I found this book encouraging on many levels, both as someone who enjoys writing books and someone who reads a lot in the productivity genre.  DeSalvo’s applications of one to the other were helpful and inspiring, clearly the result of careful thought not just recycling the same old ideas.  If you like either genre, but especially if you like both, I’d recommend you read The Art of Slow Writing for insight and inspiration.


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overwhelmedI hadn’t planned on reading Overwhelmed: How to Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time because I felt like I didn’t need an excuse to dwell on the aspects of my life that feel fragmented and times when I feel overwhelmed.  However, I’m glad that I did finally read it because the overall tone was not “golly, we are all screwed” but rather the encouragement that I’m not alone or uniquely unable to get my life together, and the inspiration of plenty of ideas for changing my perspective and reducing the feeling of frenzy.

What was most helpful for me was how the book challenged my usual narrative about the causes for what the author calls “time confetti.”  I have four kids, I homeschool, I am self-employed, and I am pregnant.  I avoid listing everything I have going on because that in itself is overwhelming.  Sometimes I think if I had a regular job, or if my kids were in a traditional school, or if we lived in a walkable city rather than a suburb I would be less overwhelmed.  This book helped me to see that overwhelm is a cultural condition shared by working moms, stay-at-home moms, homeschool moms who don’t work, and women without kids.  Men can be overwhelmed too, but in our culture we have a set of assumptions that does overwhelm women more than men.

I also realized that actually, given my circumstances, I am not as overwhelmed as I could be.  We have made a lot of deliberate choices that minimize stress and avoid being too busy, and I tweak my life a lot to experiment with ways to make time for what is truly meaningful.  So at times my life feels crazy and often my leisure time comes in very short snippets, but overall I think I’m on a good track.  That said, I did get some great ideas for further reducing stress and overwhelm that I plan to try out, especially as I’m looking for even more ways to streamline with a new baby on the way.

Aside from personal take-aways, I loved how Overwhelmed contained a lot of research and data to spur thought on our culture and challenge our mindsets.  So many deeply entrenched roles and ideas are tied up in what makes us overwhelmed, and it helps just to expose our biases.  Schulte looks at the Western idea of the “Ideal Worker” and how many people believe in it like a religion, in spite of vast amounts of data that show how dumb it is in practice.  She also examines the roots of the “Distant Provider Father” and “Self-Sacrificing Mother” roles, and looks at alternatives and ways people are trying to be more involved dads, moms who put their families first but don’t burn out, etc.  Along the way the reader is challenged to think about his or her individual priorities, what he or she really values in life, and how to actually implement those in a daily routine.  Schulte points out that choosing not to live an overwhelmed life is a deliberate and often counter-cultural act, and yet encourages readers to take workable steps toward a different perspective.

As the subtitle suggests, Overwhelmed is loosely organized into how to combat fragmented, frenzied lifestyles in our families, our work, and our leisure.  The writing is excellent and highly readable, thought-provoking and insightful.  I think students of society and culture, men and women who are interested in navigating a meaningful life, and people interested in how policies impact the lives of real people would find this book fascinating and useful.

How do you deal with feeling overwhelmed?  


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Make It Happen

make it happenMake it Happen: Surrender Your Fear. Take the Leap. Live On Purpose is one of the best books I’ve read so far this year.  I read a lot in this genre, but I really, really tracked with Casey’s way of looking at the world and her intense, direct style.  Although my life experiences haven’t tracked exactly with hers, I found myself nodding and saying “Yes!  That!” throughout.  I marked almost every page with sticky tabs–often more than one per page–and am still slowly working through my notes, writing responses and digging into the material.  This is an exceptional book.

It’s not so much that the material itself is new–you can read about living on purpose and overcoming fears that hold you back and setting goals all over the place–rather it’s the delivery in Make it Happen that really resonated with me.  Sometimes books in this genre seem too much of one thing or another to me, but I really connected with this one because, like me, Casey is driven, yet cares deeply about family relationships; she’s a person of real faith, yet still grapples with big questions and is still learning.  For that reason, as I read I either found myself agreeing vigorously or hearing big points I really needed to think through.  This isn’t a “light a scented candle and make a batch of cookies” sort of approach.  It’s more of a call to really dig deep, peel back the layers, and get to the root of your problems and fears and reluctance to live your best life.  It’s also not a name-it-and-claim-it book, but rather a call to pray deeply–surrendering your biases and boxes and preconceived notions–that God would show you what the “it” is that you’re supposed to make happen and how to go about doing that.

As I’ve been writing my responses to the book (there are lots of sections where readers are invited to think through something and write answers) I’ve been interested to see how often I’m coming up with stuff I didn’t even know was “stuff” for me.  Something about the way Casey writes invites deeper reflection and different angles for considering familiar topics.  This isn’t a Biblestudy, but it is a very biblical approach, and Casey’s examples draw from her faith experience.  Make it Happen isn’t something you can read and set aside in one sitting (although I had a hard time putting it down), but a book that almost demands that you wrestle with yourself.  Since my goal is to be changed by what I read I appreciate books that invite that sort of interaction.

I’m not sure what my ultimate conclusions will be after I finish going through my notes, but everyone will get something different out of the book.  No matter where you are in life, Make it Happen is such a great book that I think you couldn’t fail to get something from it, and I highly recommend it.


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4 Books, 3 Observations, 2 Asides and a Bagel in a Pear Tree

It’s Friday, so how about a round-up?  We’ll start with books because we always start with books around here!

Four Books

throneI’ve written extensively before about Bernard Cornwell’s fabulous Saxon saga (Reader’s Digest version: funny, awesome battle scenes, great historical detail) and all that applies to his latest installment, The Empty Throne.  Does Cornwell have a formula?  Yes.  But is it a great formula?  It is.  If you like British history in general or non-romancey historical fiction in particular, you’ll like Cornwell’s offerings.  I wouldn’t say this book moved the ball very far down the series field, but it was worth it nonetheless.

fairestIf you’ve read Meyer’s other books (Cinder, Cress, Scarlet) you’re going to read Fairest no matter what I say, so I won’t bother to dissuade you.  But it’s a disappointment.  We already knew Levana was the evil stepmother character, but I was hoping this prequel would give me some reason to like her.  Nope, she’s just evil.  I guess that’s part of the fairytale trope, but since we also don’t learn anything new about the overall storyline from this book, it seemed like a waste.  I also didn’t think that the Snow White frame came through very strongly, and the story was darker and less like something I’d let a kid read.  Fortunately it’s short and you can tear through it quickly.

Good-Cheap-EatsGood Cheap Eats: Everyday Dinners and Fantastic Feasts for 0 or Less is a solid cookbook from Jessica Fisher, combining fresh, real food ingredients with tips for saving money on your grocery budget.  If you’ve done any delving into those topics not much of this will be new (although I did get some good tips!) but the recipes are good for getting ideas and branching out, which I needed.  I did find that I had to double most of them to fit my family, and since we tend to be a protein + vegetables family rather than a carbohydrates + meat-as-condiment family not all of the ideas were a good fit.  But I tried several things and got great results every time, so I’d recommend this cookbook as a versatile and helpful resource.

tiredI wanted to look into adrenal fatigue after reading about it on Crystal’s blog, so I picked up Tired of Being Tired since the library had it.  I have some of the symptoms listed, and felt like lots of the advice was good (cut sugar, reduce caffeine, sleep more, don’t over-exercise) but some of it was flat out weird.  When the rationale for using some sort of magnet therapy is that Cleopatra wore a magnet on her forehead to reduce signs of aging, you’ve lost me.  I mean, even if Cleopatra did wear a magnet on her head, I think the asp got her before we could really draw anti-aging conclusions, right?  If you can take the good and leave the weird, this book might be a good choice.  Otherwise, go forth and do the good you know you ought to do anyway.

Three Observations

1) It’s always good to have a book on your phone.  I got stuck in Costco waiting for a pizza for 35 minutes (payback for trying to save time making dinner, I guess) and scrambled until finally found a library download about Queen Victoria.  I wish I had had something preloaded!

2) Jelly beans aren’t breakfast.  I try to get breakfast together in time to send my husband out the door with something to eat.  The other day my Biblestudy/exercise/shower routine got delayed and he had to leave hungry.  “It turned out ok, though,” he reported.  “Someone brought in jelly beans.”  #notbreakfast #nicetry

3) Small tweaks matter.  We dropped cello lessons and now all three kids take piano, back-to-back lessons, all at one time and in one location.  You wouldn’t think this would make a huge difference in my life but it has.  Driving to one less thing and having an entire hour to read a book while the kids are having lessons feels amazing.  Don’t underestimate the power of a small change.

Two Asides

1) Manners matter.  I’m not talking about which fork to use when, but basic courtesy like speaking politely, not making comments about someone’s personal appearance, and responding to communication in a timely manner.  Is it the internet that’s squashing basic courtesy?  Because it feels like unkindness and disrespect when you’re on the receiving end of bad manners, as I have been several times this week.

2) Jillian still works.  I went back to the 30 Day Shred and Level 3 still brings it.  I can barely walk up the stairs.  But in a good way.

A Bagel in a Pear Tree

The weather turned nicer here, so we’ve been out taking walks.  One of our neighbors hung a bagel in the pear tree in their front yard.  We assume it’s to attract birds, but so far it just looks odd and kind of soggy.  The kids wanted to know if we could hang assorted food items in our trees, but I said no.  Probably a missed educational moment of some sort, but oh well.

How was your week?


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Two Ideas and the Books That Sort of Followed Them

I recently read two books with killer premises.  One: you can cut 10 hours off of your workweek.  The second: how to think Christianly about productivity.  Neither book turned out to deliver exactly what I expected.

shave-10-hours-ebook-3d-isFirst, Michael Hyatt’s (currently free when you sign up for his newsletter) e-book Shave 10 Hours Off Your Workweek.  As someone who homeschools, works, and runs a household, the idea of freeing up ten (!!) hours a week appeals to me.  Hyatt identifies this as a margin issue, and exhorts readers to consider if they really want to be remembered as “constantly tired, sick, and emotionally spent.”  No.

Interestingly, the most guidance I noted in the book was about getting more sleep.  The book has some good ideas about this.

I did find the book helpful, and think it’s worth the cost of giving up your email address.  I like Hyatt’s style, although lots of times I feel like I’m not his target audience.  I am a flex worker, but I’m in a creative field that is very client-driven.  Hyatt’s advice is very much geared toward internet entrepreneurs who are investing in building platforms for whatever reason.  I’m not really in that mode.  However, some of the advice is universally applicable, so again, the book is worth the price and time.  You may find more take-aways if you haven’t read as heavily in the time and life management genre as I have.

nextI was really excited to read What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.  The premise–that thinking Christianly impacts productivity–deeply appeals to me.

Sadly, the author got pretty bogged down along the way and the parts where his idea came through clearly were few and far between.  Overall, this reads like a book report.  Most of the ideas come from other writers in the productivity or faith fields.  If I had read the book prior to publication, I would have said, “OK, clearly you know a lot about productivity, and clearly you’re passionate about your faith and how being a Christian informs all of life.  Now tell us YOUR unique perspective, give us YOUR point based on all the stuff you know.”  Instead, there were just lots and lots of references to books I have already read and ideas I have already heard.

There were some good points in the book.  I liked Perman’s point that when we see our mission as glorifying God and being just, merciful, and humble (Micah 6:8), we can consider our life a success even if we don’t achieve our goals.  I’ve personally circled back to Micah 6:8 a lot this year as I have been praying for God to clarify my vision for life, so it was neat to see Perman’s perspective on that verse as a mission statement.

I just wish more of the book had been like that, and less of a litany from other writers.  Maybe in future books Perman will focus his thoughts on productivity into that framework in a more direct fashion.


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The Fringe Hours

fringeJessica N. Turner makes a valuable contribution to the do-it-all/balance/super mom cultural debate with her insightful and helpful book The Fringe Hours: Making Time for You.  Drawing on surveys of women in a wide variety of stages, circumstances, and walks of life, Turner notes that the key to making headway on your goals and taking time to be filled rather than running on empty means making good use of the fringe hours of your life–those tiny increments of time between the pressing demands of your job, family, community, and everything else you do.

If you have ever tracked your time (168 Hours is a great resource for that) you probably know this to be true.  While women today don’t often have huge unclaimed chunks of leisure time, the structure of modern life means that we do have spare minutes here and there, and with some deliberate choices we can create more pockets of time.  When we are deliberate with our fringe hours, making choices to do fill that time with things that are restorative and life-giving, it makes us better and more effective in all of our other roles.

I found the whole book helpful, inspiring, and encouraging.  A couple of the points I thought were particularly strong include:

  • Balance doesn’t mean being everything to everyone, pleasing everyone, or setting a lot of unrealistic expectations on yourself to be a super woman.
  • Your schedule is your own.  Don’t do things just because you feel guilty not doing them, don’t feel like your calendar has to look like anyone else’s, and don’t justify busyness as something valuable.  It’s not about doing ALL the things, but about doing the things that matter most to you and your calling.
  • It’s ok to ask for help. Turner does a great job of identifying areas where getting help might make your life less frantic, and her suggestions are broad enough to apply to women in a wide range of situations. Sometimes you just need to look at things from a different angle to have a breakthrough.

Overall, the book is not about maximizing your every second or reaching some externally-imposed idea of success.  Rather, it’s a call to live more deliberately, and to realize that running yourself ragged isn’t the life God has called you to live.  Whether you’re single or married, have children at home or not, work outside the home or from home or are a homemaker or retired, I think any woman would find The Fringe Hours a worthwhile read.

How do you spend your fringe hours?  It will come as no surprise that I spend most of mine reading.  🙂


Disclosure: The publisher sent me a free advance reader copy of The Fringe Hours, but the opinions in this post are my own.  Links in the post are affiliate links – when you click through to Amazon from this blog and make a purchase, A Spirited Mind gets a small commission.  Thank you for your support!

The ONE Thing

one thingThe week between Christmas and the New Year is when I buckle down to review the ending year and set goals for the new one.  People differ on their approach to resolutions (or not), goal setting (or not) and continual improvement (or not).  But since all three are things I enjoy and do anyway, I tend to like books about those topics, especially at this time of year.

Having read a veritable plethora of books about habits, goals, productivity, business, planning, management, work/life balance, and the like, I have to admit that I did not find anything really ground-breaking in The One Thing.  However, the book was well written and had a good spin on familiar topics, such that I came away from reading the book feeling inspired to plan well for 2015.

The book suggests that to really excel in any area of your life, you can’t fragment your focus and just churn around doing stuff–you need to narrow your focus to the one thing that will really make a difference and move the ball down the field.  The book had great advice for identifying what your one thing is in any given category, then how to refine your goals to get there.  The section on taking big future dreams/goals and breaking them down into manageable pieces was particularly strong.

I did find some of the advice to be contradictory.  For example, the authors advocate blocking out four hours a day to work on your One Thing, but then in another part of the book they acknowledge that you’ll have a One Thing for different areas of life.  I suppose everyone has to identify which of the One Things is the really, really One Thing.  Or something.

That said, I think the general principle is a good one, and since The One Thing is interesting and fast-paced, with helpful insights well suited for New Year’s planning, I would recommend it.

Are you reading any good books on goal setting or habits to start off the New Year?


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Guide to Savoring Slow

SavoringSlowCover-187x300The Abundant Mama’s Guide to Savoring Slow is an encouraging book about being intentional, slowing down, and making time for the things that are most important to you and to your family.  If you’re feeling harried, overwhelmed, or like you want to cut things back but don’t know how, this book would probably be helpful for you.

The theme is increasingly common–our world is fast-paced, our lives are busy, we are inundated with information all the time, and it’s easy to lose your focus and direction.  In this book, Shawn Fink describes some tactics for getting back on track.  The information is not all that different from things I’ve read in other books, but I appreciated the reminders to take control of worries, keep track of whether we really need or want to do everything we feel obligated to do, and do the important things first.

Fink gets the descriptions of overwhelm and stress right, and while some of her prescriptions were not really my speed, sometimes I find that reading an apt description of a problem reminds me that it is indeed a problem, and I can apply solutions that work for me instead of things that don’t (I’m not much for the whole empty-your-mind-lie-in-the-grass thing).

I made two notes for my work space (I keep a rotating set of little notes of things to think about around my desk) from this book: “Busy is not the story I want to tell people.” and “There is no rush.”  I made a lot of other notes as I read, but those two quotes are the ones I decided I needed to see more often.

I got The Abundant Mama’s Guide to Savoring Slow when it was free for Kindle.  The price today is listed at $9.99.  I’m not sure I’d recommend it at that price–there are so many books out there on how to slow down, savor life, make time for first things first, and so on.  But if you have Kindle Unlimited, find another sale, or grabbed this one while it was free, I’d say it’s worth your time.

When people ask me “How’s life?” my first impulse is to say “Busy!” because it is.  But I’m trying to be better about telling a different story.  What do you say instead of “busy?”


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