be like the ducks

No, the title of this post is not referring to the Mighty Ducks. {But you can be like them, too.}

I’m talking about literal mallard ducks. Let me explain.

This afternoon, I went on a lovely walk at the lake by our apartment — we are so fortunate to live near an amazingly gorgeous recreation area and I am trying to take full advantage of it before we move! It was a beautiful, sunny, clear winter day. The lake was so still it looked like a sheet of blue-green glass.

As I gazed down at the lake, I noticed some ripples close to the shore. Floating in the water was a cluster of ducks. One was paddling around, looking just like a toy duck floating in the bathtub. But the other two were nothing more than little duck behinds–their entire heads and necks were submerged in the water as they scrounged around for lake grub. It was a pretty adorable sight. I smiled to myself and kept walking.

At first, I thought the ducks were nothing more than a peaceful sight. But, as I walked along, my thoughts kept coming back to them. Nature was reminding me of an important lesson.

Lately, I’ve been feeling more distracted than usual. I came into 2018 feeling a little bit “behind” — I wasn’t planning on undergoing surgery at the end of 2017, and instead of launching into the new year full-throttle I eased into it slowly, letting my body and spirit recover. That was soon followed by an emergency trip to Ventura to visit my Gramps in the hospital, and then a fun trip to NYC to visit my brother. When I returned to my everyday life at the end of January, I felt like I was in full-on “catch up” mode — responding to what felt like an avalanche of emails, unpacking my bags and finally taking down the Christmas decorations, scheduling students and clients, trying to get organized.

The result? Dizzying distraction. My mind has been spinning itself silly as it bounces around a list of tasks I “need” to do or “should” be doing; no matter what I’m working on, it feels like I should be working on something else. My attention zooms from responding to an email to drafting a blog post, but before I finish I jump over to prep for a student appointment I have later, and oh wait I should probably get dinner started…

Does this sound familiar to anyone else?

And when the day is done, I’m left feeling depleted — like I’ve spent all day with my butt in the chair in front of my computer, and I don’t quite know what I have to show for it.

Yesterday as I drove home from work, I listened to an episode of The Minimalists’ podcast where they answered questions from the audience at one of their speaking events. A woman asked for advice on how to make time for priorities. “It seems like I never have time for what I most want to do,” she said. I found myself nodding along.

Joshua and Ryan’s advice was simple yet profound. Their words were exactly what I needed to hear. {Why are the simplest things often the hardest to actually implement?} They advised her to schedule in FIRST — not last — the tasks that are most important to her, that speak to her core values, that relate to her passion projects. Then she can fill the rest of her calendar with other tasks and obligations and desires. But if she leaves her own priorities until the end, they will quite possibly get left out of her day. And then they’re not really priorities, are they?

This advice reminded me of the oft-evoked metaphor of the glass jar. Imagine your day as a glass jar: your important tasks are represented by big stones, while the less-important and niggling everyday tasks are represented by pebbles and sand. If you fill your jar with sand and pebbles first, there is no way you can fit the big stones inside — there’s not enough room. But if you put the big stones in first, and then fill the rest of the jar with tiny pebbles and sand, the smaller stones will fit in around the big ones and you will be able to fill the jar to its fullest.

I need to get back into my routine of doing this. The past couple of weeks, I’ve spent most of my time on the “urgent” tasks and I haven’t been able to nourish my most important projects. In The Minimalists podcast, Joshua gave an example from his life: “Every morning, I exercise, read and write.” My heart soared with recognition: That’s what I want to do, too! That’s important to me, too! So I made a schedule. I’ve found that often my brain likes the idea of an unscheduled day — it sounds so loose, so free! — but when I actually move through my day, not having a plan makes me feel unproductive and unmoored. When I could be doing anything, I feel like I should be doing everything.

So I am tweaking my morning plan to be like this:

  • Wake up and immediately write for thirty minutes.
  • Enjoy a healthy breakfast and read for pleasure.
  • Go through my favorite 15-minute yoga routine.
  • Meditate for 3-5 minutes.
  • Go to the gym or go for a walk.

Then, once I get home from exercising, I shower and dive into my emails, daily tasks, “urgent” business, etc. I am much more happy and productive, and feel less “behind” on my day, when I have already written, read, exercised, and gotten in some heart habits like yoga and meditation. BUT all of this is easier said than done! I often feel pulled towards my email inbox and my phone throughout this morning routine. I need to force myself to stay true to my plan and to commit to these tasks that are most important to me. Stones first, then pebbles!

I am also trying to get into the habit of “batching” my work instead of jumping around from task to task. For example, I’ll work on a blog post until it is finished. I’ll edit student work for an hour without interruption. I’ll answer email for thirty minutes straight and then take a break, rather than checking my inbox every two minutes. This makes me more productive because I am much more focused.

Which brings me back to the ducks. As I was walking around the lake, I thought of how silly it would look if ducks acted like distracted humans. Imagine a duck diving down under the water, then coming up a second later, then diving down under the water again. A duck would never get anything to eat if it behaved that way!

Just as nature has taught me the wisdom of the seasons — there is a time for harvesting and there is a time for sowing; there are seasons of abundance and seasons of scarcity — nature has also taught me the wisdom of focus. I want to be like the ducks, calmly contemplating the stillness of the lake. I want to be like the ducks, paddling around with my little legs when the weather is sunny and still paddling when the storms encroach. I want to be like the ducks, diving down under the surface to forage for food — not too brief, not too long — then popping back up again to float around with my buddies.

 

Your turn {if you want}:

Grab your journal or open a new document on your computer and use these questions as a jumping-off point:

  • What lessons have you learned from nature?
  • Do you have a morning routine? What does it look like? If not, imagine what would be your dream way to start the day.
  • What are the “large stones” in your jar of life? What are your big passion projects? Are you making the time for these important tasks the way you would like to be? If not, what might you change in your day to put these priorities front-and-center?

a year of Wooden: final wrap-up

Hello there, friends! Now that we’re into 2015, I’ll be embarking on a new year-long challenge on Monday… but first, I wanted to do a final post wrapping up this amazing year of Wooden challenge.

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece

December’s final challenge was to brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three happiness terms. This was really helpful for me — I now have a list of tasks that are guaranteed to make me feel happy and fulfilled. If I ever feel bored or unsure what to do, I can look at this list and come up with a game plan quickly. For example, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

Looking back over the year, it has been quite a fulfilling journey!

year of wooden collage

I was looking back in my journal from the end of 2013, and I found an entry where I asked four big questions to the universe. These were issues I was really struggling with, causing me uncertainty and worry. They were:

  • How will I know when I meet the person I am meant to be with?
  • Where am I supposed to be living at this time of my life?
  • What is the next step for my career?
  • How can I give more to others?

Now, a year later, all of these questions have been answered for me:

  • I met my sweetheart and felt connected to him immediately, and our relationship has opened up a beautiful new definition of love in my life.
  • I have created a community of friends and connections, personal and professional, in the Bay Area, and — for now at least– it feels like home to me, where I am meant to be living in this season of my life.
  • I feel much more confident in my writing and teaching career, and satisfied with my decision not to pursue a Ph.D. but instead to write what I want to write, what makes me come alive.
  • And I have become involved with a multitude of service and social justice endeavors through my church, which has become one of the cornerstones of my life.

three grand essentials

I thought I was happy a year ago — and I was. But now I feel a much deeper happiness: a happiness that stems from being at peace. I feel secure. I feel connected to my inner self, and to the greater world outside myself. I doubt I would be feeling this way if not for the growth, reflection and discipline of this yearlong challenge. I am so grateful for the insights and teachings of Coach Wooden, one of the wisest human beings to ever grace the world with his presence. Though this official “year of Wooden” is drawing to a close, I will carry these principles with me for the rest of my life.

I want to leave you with one of my favorite-ever quotes from Coach Wooden:

wooden success quote

Here’s to striving, day by day by day, to become the best we are capable of becoming… and celebrating the journey along the way!

Question for the day:

a year of Wooden: week 46

Hello there, everyone! Hope your week is going splendidly, and that you are able to take some time for yourself in the midst of the craziness of this holiday season to reflect on what matters most in your life.

We are into our final weeks of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

Last week’s challenge was to break down what “happiness” means to you in three specific terms. We all say we want to be “happier” but what does that really mean? It’s different for all of us. Last week, your challenge was to rainstorm a list of all the terms that you associate with happiness. Then, place a star next to the three terms that are most important to YOU and your own individual happiness.

After much reflection and soul-searching and self-honesty, here are the three terms I came up with for my own sense of happiness. To me, feeling happy is feeling:

  • connected
  • helpful
  • productive

For this week’s challenge, brainstorm a list of activities for each of your three terms. For example, for me, doing yoga is something that makes me feel connected; volunteering at my church makes me feel helpful; and writing a page of my novel-in-progress makes me feel productive. This, in turn, makes me feel happy.

A quick note: I want to make sure to note the difference between happiness and pleasure. Something that makes you happy might not necessarily be 100% pleasurable as you are doing it. And that’s okay. That’s the way it should be. For example, I do not usually feel joyful as I type every word of my daily writing goal. Writing, for me, is happiness, but it is also difficult. Hard work is hard! Work is work! But the right kind of work leads to a greater sense of joy and fulfillment… the sturdy, beautiful kind of happiness that lasts.

Question for the day:

  • What are the terms that you chose for your own individual happiness?
  • What activities could you do to make you feel this way?

a year of Wooden: week 45

Hi, friends! Hope your week is going great! We are into our final month of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

I believe the foundation of “making each day a masterpiece” is having a true awareness of how you spend your day. Last week’s challenge was to take something you didn’t like about how you spend your day, and fix it. The thing I disliked most about my daily schedule was realizing that I try to multi-task too much! A lot of this is due to checking email throughout the day — yet my inbox still feels overflowing and unmanageable.

This week, I made a few small, simple changes. First, I went through my inbox and ruthlessly unsubscribed to mailers. I realized there were a lot of messages I’d get week after week and just delete them, or not have time to read them, so I took the time to go through and unsubscribe. My inbox immediately felt more manageable.

The second thing I did was try to change how I tackle email. I am a big procrastinator when it comes to my inbox. I’ll receive an email, open it to read it, but then put off replying. So the email sits there, sits there, sits there, with me maybe reading and it and putting it off once or twice more in that span of time, before I finally open it yet again and reply {while feeling bad that it took me that long to reply.} I know, as I type it all out here, it seems like an insanely inefficient system — I don’t really have an answer for WHY I would put off answering emails in this way, other than I didn’t always feel like answering them and it was always easier to just put it off “till later.”

The simple change I am doing now is this: I read an email, and reply to it right then, if at all possible. Occasionally I will need to wait to reply because I will need to do something or research something or write something in order to reply, but I am finding that 80% of the time I can reply right away. Then the email is gone from my inbox, takes up no more of my brain space, and suddenly checking email becomes way more efficient!

workstation

On a related note, I stopped having my email open constantly and instead try to check it only at certain points of the day. In this way, I am trying to turn email into a specific “task” I complete, rather than a constant drain on my time and attention.

I’m not saying my email habits have suddenly morphed into perfect stress-free productiveness, but I have noticed a definite change in the past week with these simple changes.

If any of you have tips on managing email effectively, I would love to hear them!

This week’s challenge is to break down what “happiness” means to you in three specific terms. We all say we want to be “happier” but what does that really mean? It’s different for all of us. For some people, happiness might be associated with feeling strong and capable. Others might associate it with feeling needed. Others might associate it with feeling connected to other people. Brainstorm a list of all the terms that you associate with happiness. Then, place a star next to the three terms that are most important to YOU and your own individual happiness.

We’ll build on this in next week’s challenge!

Question for the day:

  • What is something you disliked about your daily schedule?
  • What small change{s} did you make? What was the effect of these changes?

a year of Wooden: week 44

Hi, friends! Hope your week is going great! We are into our final month of this year of Wooden challenge. For December, we’re focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Make each day your masterpiece.” In other words, we’re tying together all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

I believe the foundation of “making each day a masterpiece” is having a true awareness of how you spend your day. In that spirit, last week’s challenge was to keep an activity log for one or two or three days about how you spend your time — every minute of it! The goal of this was to create an honest assessment of how you spend your days — which is, in turn, how you spend your life.

The past few months, I’ve already started making a conscious schedule choice to get up around the same time most mornings and go to bed around the same time most nights. That has helped a lot with my daily routine, feeling refreshed, and waking up naturally without needing an alarm. I also do not “waste” time watching TV or surfing the Internet; I watch a handful of TV shows very intentionally and do little-to-no online shopping. So those were the “gold stars” of my schedule! 🙂

However, looking at my detailed daily run-down, I saw there in very clear letters something that I already knew about myself, but didn’t really want to face — I try to multi-task too much! Anyone else have this problem? I know productivity experts warn against multitasking, but for some reason I still chase that “busy busy busy” feeling. And what happens? I’m rushed and burned out and empty, feeling like I’ve gotten nothing done all day. A lot of this is due to checking email throughout the day — yet my inbox still feels overflowing and unmanageable. Something needs to change!

Atos - Zero Email - Zen and Stress

This week’s challenge is to take something you didn’t like about how you spend your day, and fix it. Maybe you feel rushed every morning getting ready for work, and a simple change of waking up ten minutes earlier or not hitting snooze will change the pace of your mornings entirely. Or perhaps you’re always saying you want to read more, but you tend to spend evenings watching TV just because it’s on — that could change if this week, you make a conscious choice to turn off the TV and read in bed for half an hour before falling asleep each night.

I’m eager to hear how this week goes for you! And remember, this isn’t about overhauling your entire schedule in one week. We’re all about the small, little-by-little, day-by-day changes here. Pick one small thing to change, do it every day, and see how you like it. We’ll check in again next week!  

Question for the day:

  • What is something you disliked about your daily schedule?
  • How might you make a small change to create a different effect?

a year of Wooden: week 43

Hi, friends! We’re officially three days into December, which means we are moving into our final month of this year of Wooden challenge!

For the month of December, we’ll be focusing on my favorite item of Coach John Wooden’s 7-Point Creed {which you may have been able to guess from the title of this blog!}… Make each day your masterpiece. In other words, we’re going to be tying everything together — all that we’ve learned and all the ways we’ve grown through this challenge the past eleven months!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.
  • December: Make each day your masterpiece.

Before we move on to December, let’s wrap up November, when our focus was to pray for guidance. Last week’s challenge, in honor of Thanksgiving, was to pray about everything you are grateful for and journal about your feelings. After a week of praying about everything that I am grateful for, I felt filled with abundance and joy. On a related note, I wrote an essay for Chicken Soup for the Soul about the wonderful life changes I experienced from the simple act of counting my blessings each night while falling asleep. You can read it here!

Moving into December, I think the foundation of “making each day a masterpiece” is having a true awareness of how you spend your day. What is your daily routine? Once you know all the details and idiosyncrasies of your routine, you can work on squeezing all the richness out of your days as possible. 

In that spirit, this week’s challenge {which was inspired by one of my favorite bloggers, Nicole Antoinette} is to keep an activity log for one or two or three days about how you spend your time — every minute of it! For example:

  • What time do you wake up?
  • What time do you go to bed?
  • How often do you check your email?
  • How much time do you spend browsing the Internet or watching TV?

It might feel a bit cumbersome at first to keep track of your day like this, but it is an important step. You are creating an honest assessment, there on paper in black and white, of how you spend your days — which is, in turn, how you spend your life. Be as detailed as possible!

And be honest. There’s nothing wrong with watching TV or playing video games; be honest and keep track of how you feel. If you notice feelings of guilt or discomfort about any parts of your daily routine, take note of those feelings. We’ll unpack all of this next week!  

Question for the day:

  • How did last week of praying for guidance go for you?

a year of Wooden: week 42

Happy Monday! Before we get into this week’s year of Wooden post, I wanted to take a moment to thank you for all your kind comments, emails and words of encouragement after my post last week! It is always a little scary to make yourself vulnerable, but one of my goals as a blogger is to be honest with you guys — not to edit my life into a Pinterest-worthy highlight reel, but instead to give you a true picture of my ups and downs, highs and lows, nitty-gritty daily living. Thank you for always being so supportive!

a year of wooden

  • January: Drink deeply from good books
  • February: Make friendship a fine art
  • March: Help others
  • April: Build a shelter against a rainy day {financially}
  • May: Be true to yourself
  • June: Give thanks for your blessings every day
  • July: Love
  • August: Balance
  • September: Drink deeply from good poetry
  • October: Make friendship a fine art {new friends}
  • November: Pray for guidance.

Our focus for November comes from Coach Wooden’s 7-Point Creed: “Pray for guidance.”

Last week’s challenge was to pray about a big dream or goal you have for the future. I have a variety of dreams and goals I want to pursue — sometimes the trickiest part is choosing what to give attention to, and what to put on the back-burner. Thanks to last week’s prayers, I feel more centered and focused heading into these finals weeks of 2014. Excited to see what 2015 will bring!

This week’s challenge, in honor of Thanksgiving, is to pray about everything you are grateful for. When you wake up in the morning, journal about your feelings. 

Question for the day:

  • How did this week of praying for guidance go for you?