A concept that has had a profound effect of my life (or, more specifically, my way of life) is, ”One Decision That Makes a Thousand.” It comes from Greg McKeown’s book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less. When you distill your priorities down to a clear and specific intent, that makes future decisions much easier.
Here’s an example of how it looks for me. At the end of 2021, I spent time thinking about the season of life I’m in and what is most important to me *right now.* My dad had just been diagnosed with cancer (“rare and aggressive”). My oldest child had just started college. My youngest child was in first grade. I was 46.
As I considered what I wanted most in life *right now,* I realized that it was all about presence. I wanted to be more present with my parents and more present with my kids. I felt the swift passage of time and realized that there were things I could only do *now,* things I won’t be able to do when my folks are gone or when my kids are grown.
Once I realized this priority in my life, it made so many other decisions for me. I let go of a part-time position that required me to work on Thursday nights and Sunday mornings so that I could be there for dinner and bedtime with my kids, sit with them in church, or go to church with my parents sometimes (my mom played the piano at her church and my dad sang in the choir, and I wanted more opportunities to hear them both).
I started a new job with hours that could be correlated to the school calendar. I also added a standing weekly appointment to go to my parents’ house to sit and have coffee with them. Our weekly coffee dates are the only time I get to spend with my mom and dad without anyone else around, and they have become a highlight of my week. (Theirs, too, I think.) For 26 of my 47 years, I have lived hundreds or thousands of miles away from my parents and only saw them a couple of times each year. The luxury of being able to see them a couple of times a week is a gift, indeed.
When opportunities come along, they get filtered through the question of how they will affect my ability to be present to those who matter most right now, and I find it much easier to exercise “the power of a graceful ‘no.’”
For some folks, the priority right now is to finish school, or get out of debt, or start a new business, or get a promotion. Whatever your top intent is in this season, once you have clarity on that, so many other decisions are already made; you just have to have the courage to say no to anything that does not support your intentions for this season of life.
We can do a lot, but we cannot do it all. We all have the same finite resources of time, money, and energy. Choices have to be made, and too many people make choices reactively instead of proactively. And most of our reactive choices are not aligned with our intentions for life. They are aligned with someone else’s intentions for life.
So with a few more weeks left in 2022, ask yourself: what is most important right now? And how can 2023 be more aligned with what matters most to me in my current season of life?
Now is a great time to start preparing for the year ahead.
Here’s an exercise I encourage everyone to do sometime in the next month. If you try it out, I’d love to hear what becomes clearer to you from doing this?
This is the first step in my “2023 By Design” plan, but I’m telling you here exactly what I do with my clients so you can just do it on your own if you don’t want to sign up for the whole plan. I *promise* you, this will help set you up for a more focused and fruitful 2023!
Sit down with your 2022 calendar/planner/datebook, bank and credit card statements, and a piece of paper folded in thirds.
On one third of the paper, write “More,” on another, write, “Same,” and on the third side, write “Less.” Starting in January, go through each month and put each item from your calendar into one of those columns. Scan your financial statements and consider those as well. Where did your money go in 2022? What do you want to do more/less/same of?
Include everything! Appointments, coffee dates, work, church or civic commitments, vacations, pet expenses, kids’ extracurriculars, family rhythms, etc.
Once you have your three lists, begin looking at 2023. Using a blank 2023 calendar or planner, begin to plug in the things from your “More” column. At the same time, take stock of your “Less” column and act accordingly.
For example, this exercise helped me realize at the end of 2021 that, as much as a love being a worship leader, I did not want to have that weekend commitment (and all of the extra work throughout the week that goes along with it) during this season of life, so I stepped down from my staff position, freeing me up to be more present to my family during the weekend and host Sunday dinners—two things from my “More” column. I’ve been a worship leader for the better part of the past twenty-one years—it’s just what I’ve always done!—but making these lists helped me see clearly that it was not the season for me to be doing it every weekend. This also created space for me to pursue coaching, which I love and can do while my children are in school.
This exercise also helped us decide where we were spending too much money on extracurriculars and what changes we could make the next year.
What might these lists help you see more clearly about how you’re spending those precious resource—your time and your money—in your current season of life?
This is also a great time to make those “Same” appointments, like annual physical exams and dental check-ups, and to plug in the things that are working well for you in this season (for us, this includes blocking out Friday nights for pizza and movies with the kids, a beloved tradition in our home and something everyone looks forward to, but tweaking how we do it so I could spend less than I had been spending on it in the previous year!)
By doing this exercise in 2021, I was able to design a 2022 that has turned out to be a really fruitful and surprisingly spacious year, considering all of the people and moving parts in my life! This year I was able to focus on doing more of what mattered and less of what didn’t. This year has held more quality time with my husband, children, and parents, more prayer, more reading, launching a new career as a coach, less chaos, and less frustration with feeling like my time is not my own. Even though much of what I do in this season of life is about serving others, I have created space and intention, allowing plenty of time and opportunities for filling my own bucket.
This was especially helpful when some things came up during the year that were really hard and required a lot of emotional strength and clarity. Because I had space and good alignment, I had a greater capacity for handling the necessary interruptions and pivots required.
I am really passionate about this practice, and I want to help others experience the fruitful results of being well aligned with your priorities and values.
If you try this exercise, I’d love to hear what became clearer to you as you did it! What changes are you going to make in 2023?
This is a picture my son took of me walking home from my children’s end-of-school awards ceremony on Thursday. Don’t you love my little stowaway?
So, summer break is officially upon us!
In the last few weeks, I have had three clients come to their coaching sessions with the goal of working on a plan for summer break. Clients who are parents with careers outside the home and full-time stay-at-home parents are recognizing that they want to be intentional and proactive in how they “do” summer break. As one client lamented, “We waste so much time!” Another expressed concern for how much time her kids spend on screens. The struggle is real!!
(Homeschooling parents, don’t judge 😉 It’s a big adjustment to go from the structure of the school week to nearly three months of free time!)
I have loved working with these three women, all with different circumstances and personalities. I asked each one a few questions, and their responses helped them identify what was most important to them—their core #values for summer break. This led to being intentional and proactive with designing a realistic rhythm of daily life they felt good about, and each of them left our sessions with unique-to-them plans that were doable and left plenty of room for enjoying a break from the demands of school.
Summer break is a wonderful time for families to connect, for kids to develop new skills or pursue new interests, and for everyone to get some respite. And some people do fine winging it! But for those who benefit from structure and a plan, I’m here to help
If you’re looking at the next three months and feeling , I’d love to help. Schedule a Pay-What-You-Wish coaching session, and we’ll come up with a summer plan you can feel really good about.
“What’s important *now*?” is the question that will most ground you when life is feeling hard, overwhelming, or just “too much.”
This morning came too soon, after I was up with a sick child after already going to bed much later than was ideal. (May is, after all, the new December! 😳) My husband’s away, so tagging out was not an option. (My hat is off to so many of you who parent solo 24/7!)
So this morning, I needed to swim through fatigue and find my way back to being fully present—my kairos moment, here and now. And this is what I came to: I need time to read and sip coffee on my front porch.
My dog and I got a much shorter walk, but a long walk did not feel nearly as important as going treasure hunting in the pages of these books.
I set a timer and let myself be fully present to the singing birds, neighbors on their morning walks, sounds from the construction zone down the street, lawnmower up and running first thing a few doors down, strong (decaf) coffee in my mug, pages of my books, and smooth feel of the highlighter in my hand. When ideas came that tried to take me away from this here and now (the email I need to send, appointments I need to make or cancel, paper I need to work on for class, thoughts for the coaching calls I have later today, and even this Instagram post), I jotted it down on my “for later” list then got back to my books. The other things will get done, but by putting them in their place (“Later”), I could be fully present to what I’ve recognized is what I most need here and now.
“Beware the barrenness of a busy life.” (Socrates)
Getting a lot done is not the same as being busy.
I get a lot done.
But, increasingly and with much intention, I’m very rarely “busy” these days. It’s an important distinction.
Decision fatigue refers to “a state of mental overload that can impede a person’s ability to continue making decisions.” (AMA) The basic idea is that, the more decisions a person makes throughout the day, the harder it becomes to make decisions, or to make good decisions.
It’s a real thing, and it’s something that comes up a lot with my clients, most of whom are professional women in high levels of leadership (entrepreneurs, small business owners, executives) who also run busy households (i.e. they have children at home). These women have to make all of the decisions for themselves at work and at home, plus the decisions that impact others—employees, colleagues, and the children and other adults who live in their home.
As I’ve coached my clients (and myself!) to deal with decision fatigue, I’ve identified three key areas to focus on: creating systems and maintaining routines, delegating decisions to others, and editing your life to reduce the number of decisions you have to make. I thought I’d share a bit about what each of these might look like in hopes that it might be helpful to you as well!
First, reduce decision fatigue by creating systems and letting those systems make many of the daily decisions for you.
Over the years, I’ve played around and created systems for my household for everything from meal planning and grocery shopping (Taco Tuesday, anyone?), to household contributions (you might call them chores), to scheduling, to gifts for the (many) birthday parties my kids get invited to (I buy a bunch of craft kits and my kids can pick one from the gift closet when it’s time to go to a birthday party).
But one of my favorite systems has to do with getting dressed in the morning.
If you are someone who has a lot of responsibilities at work and at home, sometimes the last thing you think about is what to wear. So, you grab whatever and throw it on, then realize later in the day you feel, as one client put it, “like a schlump.” Unfortunately, this affects your confidence, because everything is connected. As Image Consultant Kim Peterson writes, “Research reveals that dressing your truth and authentic style builds up your resilience. Even though you may be still working from home, there is tremendous power and value in getting dressed and showin’ up – even if it’s just for yourself.” What we wear matters!
We need a system for simplifying getting dressed without compromising style.
In 2014, I became a mother through foster care. In one day, I went from no children to two children, ages five years old and five months old. Suddenly, I had an overwhelming number of decisions to make! The best advice I got came from entrepreneur Cara Veale Coniglio, Owner/Designer at Time and the Bell and mother of two, when she said, “You need a uniform.” What she meant was, you need an outfit that you don’t need to give a second thought to—you put it on because it’s your uniform. Your uniform should be functional for the season of life and work you’re in, but also something you feel confident in.
I have carried this concept through the last eight years, from the stylish cotton tunics and leggings of my midnight feeding days, which went from night to day (and sometimes back to night again 😬), to the jeans, graphic tees, and blazers I’m into right now. And I borrow the “Geranimals” concept: I can mix and match tops and bottoms without much thought. Easy peasy.
From a professional standpoint, this also ties in with personal branding. By having a “uniform,” you have a very simple built-in plan for dressing confidently and communicating something about who you are, which, whether we like it or not, is part of how we attract new clients.
The second area to focus on when seeking to reduce decision fatigue is delegating decisions to others. It’s vital that we develop the mindset and skills to delegate effectively, both at work and at home. Always be looking for who within your sphere could do a task that naturally defaults to you.
Because I work four days a week, I cannot possibly carry the full responsibility of doing everything that needs to happen in order for our household to function. I can manage it, but I can’t do it all. At home, our kids have morning and evening checklists to help them remember what they need to do before leaving the house and before going to bed. We have a chart showing which parent is reading to which child each night (the chart decides for us). We also have a very long list of household tasks that need to be done on a daily or semi-daily basis. Everyone is expected to contribute, and we have a record of who does what, because everyone initials next to the job they’ve done. We discuss the contributions, and how folks are doing with helping out, at our weekly family meeting. I also delegate meal planning to my kids once a week or so—yes, even my seven-year-old takes a turn planning dinner. With some coaching and guidance (which I wrote about here), they plan what we’ll have. It’s empowering for them, and takes one more decision off my plate. All I have to do is add their ingredients to my shopping list.
At work, delegating tasks is a wonderful way to identify and empower leaders in your company, whether you are a small business or in the C-suite of a major corporation, and it’s a great way to reduce the number of decisions that fall to you. One of the best questions a boss can ask an employee is, “What do you think we should do?” Usually, they have been thinking about it and already have good ideas for how to handle something. Take time to ask yourself, “Do I need to be the one doing this? Is this something I could delegate?” If the answers are “no” and “yes” respectively, delegate.
The last recommendation I make to clients who suffer from decision fatigue is to edit your life and reduce the number of decisions you need to make!
I borrowed the term “edit your life” from Gary McKeown’s phenomenal book Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (here is a great summary of the book on Medium). The concept is simple: editing is “the strict elimination of the trivial, unimportant, or irrelevant.” Successfully editing your life involves cutting out options and knowing when to say “no.” In fact, McKeown devotes a section of this book to ways to artfully and gracefully say, “no.” I have found it such a helpful concept and saying “no” is now something I love to do, because I know it means I’m saying, “yes” to something better. As my friend and mentor Sean Callahan of Strategic Impact UK often says, “By saying yes to that, what are you saying no to?” This is such an important concept, and it is a vital component of reducing decision fatigue.
Decision fatigue is a common challenge for professional women managing a busy company and busy household. By identifying and addressing the ways we can reduce it, we can create more margin for ourselves, lower our stress, and flourish at work and at home.