Don’t Treat a Gift Like a Burden

Don't treat a gift like a burden

I can always tell when its happening. It’s never all at once. It doesn’t knock on the door to announce its arrival. Instead, a few little annoying things pop up here and there. I get an eye twitch that won’t go away. I notice that my jaw is clinched … and can’t remember when it wasn’t. My mind races through a continual loop of an unwritten to-do list, picking up straggling tasks along the way. I start snapping at my family. That’s when I realize what I’m doing: I’m treating a gift like a burden.

I first heard the mantra, “Don’t treat a gift like a burden” during The Happier Podcast, where a listener submitted it as a Happiness Hack. As with most things that end up being supremely useful, I didn’t understand its power right away. In some cases it takes repeated reminders and gentle nudging toward enlightenment. In my case, it usually requires a dramatic slap across the face with reality, punctuated with a Moonstruck-style “Snap out of it!”

It is the most recent gift wrapped by yours truly in burden-themed paper that opened my eyes to the absurdity of it all. Elena is going to Spain.

It is a trip that has come together quite hastily (which is red flag numero uno in the Watch Angie Lose Her Marbles playbook). Earlier this spring, plans were under way for her to go to Spain with my mother this summer. My dad became ill and the trip was postponed until next summer. Then: another gift. My dad is well again. Who knows what another year will bring? Better to go know, Pinterest trip planning timeline and airfares be damned. Last week tickets were purchased. Abuela and granddaughter leave in less than 2 weeks.

There is a flurry of things that must happen before any trip. An international trip adds another element of preparation. Throw in an already full schedule between now to add an additional layer. Sending your firstborn across an ocean without you for the first time is the frosting that binds my own cake of crazy together. That’s how I found myself the other day standing in my kitchen, jaw clinched, eye a-twitching, snapping at an innocent bystander (Eli), with my mind spinning. Do I need more wire hangers and change for this weekend’s garage sale? Did I enter my mom’s passport number wrong when I made the reservation? Must purchase gifts for Elena to take to relatives in Spain. Is that a flea on the dog? Was that client meeting this Tuesday or next Tuesday?

All gifts. All cleverly disguised as burdens in my mind.

Yes, my to-do list has grown. Because my father is well enough that my mother feels able to leave the country and visit her family. And she is graciously taking her granddaughter. Because we have the means to buy enough things that I need a garage sale to get rid of the things we don’t need. Because I have a dog that brings me immense joy and lays his head in my lap. Because I have a client that wants my services.

We’re told to be wary of gifts that come with strings attached, but often life’s best gifts come tied up with string. Deep friendships require effort. The home you love needs upkeep. Children ooze love and sometimes vomit. Traveling to far off places means adding a few more tasks to a to-do list. The strings are there, and must be untied to get to the good stuff. When you feel the stress building, ask yourself: is this really a problem? Or is there a gift wrapped up in there? Don’t treat the gift as the burden.

Happiness Hack: Don't treat a gift like a burden. One of my favorite inspirational quotes from Gretchen Rubin's Happier Podcast.

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My List of 100 Dreams

Inspirations and ideas for making a life list of 100 dreams. Your ultimate resource to turn dreams into action!

Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links.

I recently shared the experience of conducting a time study on myself, and how it shaped the way I plan my days and weeks. This self-reflective project was inspired by reading Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. In the book, Vanderkam shares how she was encouraged to come up with a list of 100 dreams by a career coach. The idea behind the exercise is that you can’t plan for and accomplish the things you want to do in life if you don’t know what they are.

The list of 100 dreams is supposed to be a list of unedited list of things you want to accomplish or want more of in your life. It’s similar to a bucket list or a 40×40 list, but in longer form. It doesn’t have to be big, sweeping accomplishments (although most of us probably have a few of those things we’d want to put on there). Small and simple belong there as well, because even the smallest of dreams have a way of being pushed aside because we believe there just aren’t enough hours in the day.

A few thoughts after I did this exercise myself:

  • It’s harder than I thought. I steamrolled through the first 25 or so, and then got stuck. Getting to 100 seemed impossible. So I put it away and would return to it whenever another idea popped into my head or I felt inspired to sit down and write for a few minutes.
  • That being said, I ended up with more than 100, as I’ve continued to jot more down as I think of them.
  • You can organize your list by category if you like. I did this after I made the complete list. I didn’t do it initially because I didn’t want to be bogged down in details. I also didn’t want to censor myself if I felt like one category seemed too robust, or inauthentically add things because another category looked lonely.
  • Nothing is too big or too silly. After all, these are your dreams we’re talking about.

Now that I have my list, I refer to it often. I used it in setting some goals for the year and in planning a Happiness Project for myself this year. I also use it when planning my weeks and filling in my block schedule. For example, I’m on a quest to see all the movies nominated for an Oscar in the Best Picture category. (See? I told you nothing is too silly!) I’ve had this desire for the last few years, as I love the Oscars but found that I rarely had seen more than a movie or two that had been nominated. I wrote it down, and once the nominations were announced I wrote them all down on a sticky note. In order to see them all (there are 8) before the Oscars on February 26th, I would’ve needed to see 2 movies a week. That’s a stretch, and I knew I probably wouldn’t see them all before then. BUT … I penciled in times to see a movie each week. Thanks to being intentional about scheduling time to see a movie, I was able to see 5 of the nominated films. I’m confident I’ll watch all of them by the end of April. It’s an example of dreaming, planning and executing, and it makes me very happy.

So just for fun (and so you can see I have some loftier dreams and goals beyond watching movies), here’s my list of 100 dreams. I highly encourage you to make one as well. It’s really fun and eye-opening, and a great way to learn more about yourself.

CAREER

  • Start my own freelance writing and social media management business (In process!)
  • Get a new headshot
  • Write every day for a month
  • Implement block scheduling (Done – and it’s working SO well for me)

HOME

  • Get photos from our trip to Spain and London in an album.
  • Get photos from our trip to Disney in an album. (Only took 4 years!)
  • Make yearly photo books of our random photos and my Instagram photos. (2016 done; need one for IG photos)
  • Do a Project Life photo book.
  • Turn backyard into a peaceful oasis with good landscaping and a variety of bird feeders. (Paid a local nursery for a one-on-one consult and walked out with a detailed plan of how it should look and what we should plant. Worth every penny for those that suffer decision paralysis like me.)
  • Decorate our home to make it ours (In process. Made a list for each room and trying to tackle a bit at a time.)
  • Be prepared for life without Mike (and vice versa)
  • Play every game we own once, decide what to keep and what to donate (In process. Keeping a notebook to remember what we’ve played so far.)
  • Make the recipes I pin on Pinterest (A never ending task, I assume.)
  • Fill up my Indiana beer cap map
  • Get a kitchen table and chairs I love
  • Sell and purge stuff we don’t use
  • Own a hammock. And use it.
  • Incorporate a power hour into my week (Getting so many random things done this way *cough* Disney photos *cough*)
  • Invest in good gardening tools
  • Fill the freezer with beef again (This time we split a half a cow with our neighbors to save some money.)
  • Fully fund emergency fund again

CONTINUING EDUCATION

  • Become fluent in Spanish
  • Read all the Harry Potter books (In process, on Book 5)
  • Read a variety of books from my TBR list each month (Forever in process, but trying to be more intentional about reading a diverse selection instead of just working my way through the list from oldest to newest.)
  • Take a macaron class

SELF

  • Finish painting bird picture
  • Choose books and puzzles (crosswords, Ken Ken, etc.) over mindless phone scrolling
  • Set intentional goals for enjoying each season: a food + a craft/project + a trip/outing (In process. Made a list for spring.)
  • Take a break to read mid-day (Kind of in process. Scheduling it daily, but it often gets pushed aside to finish other tasks.)
  • Take a should-less day each quarter
  • Get a massage once a quarter (Had one in January)
  • Create a seasonal uniform
  • Sleep in nice pajamas
  • Try meditation
  • Go bird watching and take photos at Rookery Preserve

TRAVEL

  • Spain (2014. I’m totally counting a previous trip of this magnitude!)
  • Canada
  • Grand Canyon with kids
  • New York City with Elena
  • Washington, DC with kids/see the cherry blossoms
  • Italy
  • Greece
  • Ireland
  • Go back to 30A beaches with Mike
  • Wizarding World of Harry Potter
  • See a football game in Green Bay
  • Baseball Hall of Fame
  • Tube down a river or creek
  • Hike in Turkey Run
  • Try cross-country skiing
  • Go to an all-inclusive resort with kids
  • Acadia National Park
  • See the northern lights
  • Take a cruise with kids
  • Mackinac Island
  • Pacific Northwest
  • Music festival with Mike
  • Book retreat
  • Rent a beach house for more than a week
  • Rent a cabin in Hocking Hills, Ohio
  • Take kids to Great Wolf Lodge

HEALTH/FITNESS

  • Run a 5k with Eli
  • Ride my bike to places instead of driving when I can
  • Get down to the 140s in my 40s
  • Try yoga with Elena

RELATIONSHIPS

  • Have a monthly date with Mike (Haven’t missed a month yet this year!)
  • Make once-a-month Sunday dinner with my parents and sister a routine (Got everyone to agree on last Sunday of the month.)
  • Organize an 80th birthday party for my parents
  • Eat at Bluebeard with friends when we can sit outside
  • Watch a Colts game with my sister
  • Go through the 36 Questions with Mike
  • Host a Christmas book exchange with my book club (We did a Blind Date with a Book gift exchange and it went over very well. Hopefully a new tradition!)
  • Take more photos at family gatherings
  • Take a day off during the week with Mike
  • Meet Mike for lunch once a month (Haven’t missed a month yet this year!)
  • Host a progressive dinner (Helped organize and hosted in my neighborhood. A little too stressful for my taste, but I’m glad I did it.)
  • Perfect a meal to take to friends in need
  • Get better at gift-giving and surprising with small treats
  • Spend weekend with my niece and her family
  • Have friends over to watch a football game

PARENTING

  • Be consistent with screen rules
  • Take more candid photos of the kids
  • Spend one-on-one time with each kid at least once per month (Haven’t missed a month yet!)
  • Try fondue as a family
  • Explore new cuisines with the kids (In process. Took Elena to Chinese restaurant this month.)
  • Take the kids on the canal paddle boats
  • Movie night once a month, rotating who picks (Haven’t missed a month yet!)
  • Make an apple slab pie with Elena
  • Work through the “Do You Know?” questions at dinner
  • Have “the talk” with Eli and revisit with Elena

MISCELLANEOUS

  • See “Hamilton” (Saw it in January 2017 in Chicago. Worth every single penny.)
  • Be a guest on the What Should I Read Next podcast
  • Volunteer with ARPO
  • Volunteer with Second Helpings
  • Be a regular at Sun King and try more new beers
  • Foster a dog
  • See all the movies nominated for an Oscar for Best Picture in 2017 (Saw 5 of 8 before Oscars, working on other 3.)
  • Participate in Indy Food Swap
  • Eat fried chicken at Mississippi Belle
  • Eat at Milktooth
  • Take Gus to Marott Park
  • Meet Peyton Manning
  • Build a gingerbread house from scratch

Have you ever made a list like this? If not, I strongly encourage you to  start one! It really makes you think about what’s interesting and important to you. What are a few things that would be on your list of 100 dreams?

 

 

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You Have More Time Than You Think: How a Time Study Brought Balance Into My Life

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2016 was the year when it seemed that my productivity goals all seemed to fall into place. I’m an odd mix of a productivity junkie (anything with the keywords “be more productive” or “get things done” is like click-bait to me) and a dreamer. Sometimes I dream about big things, sometimes I’m a fiend about getting little things done, but rarely have those big dreams and little things intersected into anything that resembles a balance of accomplishment.

Something clicked when I read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. For years I told myself that when X, Y, or Z happened, I’d finally have time to do the big (and little) things I wanted to do. When Eli goes to school full-time, I’ll be able to really launch my blog. When I stop spending so much time blogging, I’ll get my photos organized. When I finish this project, I’ll get my writing career off the ground. I know we’ve all said similar things, only to find that we’re no further along. Those extra magical hours never materialized.

Vanderkam encourages readers to conduct a time study on themselves. For a minimum of one week (which contains 168 hours), you are to write down everything you do and how long it takes you to do it. Sleeping, eating, watching TV, commuting, housework, scrolling through Facebook … it all gets accounted for. I did this for a week last summer and it was so incredibly informative. Some things were good. I get an average of 8 hours of sleep a night. I exercise roughly 4 hours a week. I don’t spend excessive time in the car or watching television. On the flip side, I spent more hours than necessary on housework, email, social media and, oddly enough, socializing.

After you conduct a time study and know where you can cut back to create pockets of time, Vanderkam suggests making a list of 100 dreams. These are things you’ve always wanted to do, from the very big (Go to Paris!) to the very small. (Put our Disney photos in an album.) Creating extra time in your week is wonderful, but what purpose does it serve if you don’t spend it intentionally? And how can you be intentional about the way you spend your time if you don’t identify what’s important to you?

Once you have your list in hand and a general idea of how you spend your time vs. what can be minimized, Vanderkam recommends planning your week using the strategy of block scheduling. Listing out the hours in the day, you give a name to how you’ll spend those hours. For someone who lived by a never-ending to-do list, this was revolutionary. I’d make lists with items like fold laundry, meal plan, write, email Lisa, call Amy. Then the laundry would never end, or the email would turn into 10 emails, which would bleed into a few minutes on Pinterest … you get the idea. Things that had to get done got done, of course. We always had meals on the table, clean underwear, and phone calls returned. But those nebulous, dreamy plans or those someday maybe projects never got started. I mean, who has the time, right? It’s one of Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood: “Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.”

How block scheduling helped me organize my days and reach my dreams.

I’ll go deeper into block scheduling in a future post, but for now here’s the gist. I plan out the week with goals in mind for my 4 necessary life categories: work, home, self, and relationships. I have 3-4 goals for each, and as I plan out each day, I schedule blocks of time to work on those things – and only those things.

Making my list of 100 dreams was both a fun and useful way to get a bigger picture of what really mattered to me. What stood out was that my big dreams involve travel, creating a cozy home in which we are surrounded by meaningful things, getting the most out of my time with the kids while they’re still around, and finding creative work that satisfied me while helping us reach our financial and travel goals.

When those things are laid out there, you have a more clear picture of how you want to spend your time. I keep coming back to housework, because apparently I have a strange issue with doing too much housework. (I spent a whopping 24.75 hours in a week cleaning, cooking and doing laundry. AN ENTIRE DAY OF MY LIFE EVERY WEEK. Even I recognize that’s not normal.) Would I like to spend 6 of those 24 hours folding every last sock and polishing the toaster? Or would my 6 hours be better spent on a baby step that will get me closer to my big goals and dreams?

I started block scheduling on a (mostly) regular basis in mid-October, and a few months in I see a dramatic difference in my quality of life. I feel more balanced. I feel a satisfaction in my work and personal life I haven’t felt in, well, ever. I have a sense of peace about my days – I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing at exactly the time I’m doing it. It’s far from perfect. I still have weeks where it feels like I’ve been derailed and nothing gets done. I still have to fight urges to engage in time wasters. But I feel progress and hope, which feels pretty darn good.

Just for fun, I’ll share my list of 100 dreams in the next post. Then I’ll do a deep dive into my block scheduling process so you can give it a try as well. For now I’d love to know: what would you do with a few extra hours every week?

 

 

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