How I Stay Sane in Chaos
For those of you who know me, I am sure that it will not come as a surprise to you that I welcome chaos. I like a challenge. I like to fix things. Being bored is my worst nightmare. I have not had many boring jobs in my life, but the ones that I have were the worst. The constant watching of the clock. Trying to make up things to do. Organizing folders for the 12th time that week. Just shoot me now…
Like many of you, I also take a lot of ownership over my projects. I feel as though the things I accomplish are a direct reflection of me, so I want them to meet the high standards that I have put in place for myself. That also means that by nature I have a terrible work-life balance and I am constantly struggling with how to monitor it. [insert Millennial stereotype here].
Early on in my career, I let my work take over. Granted, I was working a (more) than full-time job plus going to grad school in the evenings, which made it extra challenging to make time for myself. I felt as though I lost three years of investing into people, which is ultimately what makes life rewarding. When I wasn’t working or in class, I was at a networking event or meeting with the right people to help teach me how to be a better business woman. When I graduated, I was incredibly proud of my hard work, dedication and accomplishments, but I also had an epiphany that I needed to shift my priorities. I had not let myself enjoy the things that were really important to me. Ever since, I have been working to create the life that I want and have learned a lot in the process. There are a few things that have really stuck with me over the years…
Never Respond With “I’m busy, but good.”
My least favorite response to “how are you?” is “I’m busy, but good!” Everyone is busy. No one has enough time. Everyone is stressed. In America, we are expect to work hard, not to settle, and to sweat, bleed and kill for what we want. When you think about it, it’s actually more difficult to respond to that question with something meaningful. But what would happen if everyone actually thought and answered with something that inspired the person that they were talking to?
Although I do not always have the perfect response to that infamous “how are you?” question, I have challenged myself to choose a different answer other than “busy” to remind myself that being busy is not what I want my life goal to be. If I cannot respond to that question with something meaningful, then I should probably reevaluate what I am spending my time doing. I want to be able to tell the person that I am interacting with that I actually heard the question and am going to respond in a thoughtful way.
I’m going to pull out the nerdy marketer in me here, but it’s kind of like when you create a super generic tagline that says, “We are changing the world, one life at a time.” That tagline could be for any organization in the world. It says nothing about what you are actually doing. I don’t wan to be a generic tagline. I want to actually connect with people.
What I have found from this practice is that it brings life into perspective and helps remind me to be proud and celebrate my accomplishments. A wise person once told me, celebrate everything, often. This is one way to do that.
If there is anything that I have learned that has transcended all areas of my life, it is breathing exercises. I first started learning about breathing when I began taking Pilates classes 3 or 4 years ago. If you are not familiar with Pilates, it is similar to yoga, but focuses on core strength and building muscle. For those of us who want to feel sore after a work out, it’s a great alternative to yoga. Similar to yoga, each movement in the class is associated with an inhale or exhale. You begin building a habit of breathing deeply, especially when you are experiencing something challenging, which increase oxygen intake to your body and brain.
After developing that habit in Pilates, I subconsciously began applying it to running. When I would get to that point in a run where I did not want to go on any further and all I wanted to do was quit, I would find myself taking really deep breaths, which inevitably calmed me down and gave me the strength to push through. Then, I started working with an amazing career coach and she suggested the same thing for the work place. So when I am about to go into a meeting that I know will be stressful or at times of the day where I can feel myself getting overwhelmed, I make time to pause and take a few deep breaths. It sounds so simple, but if you start doing it regularly, you will be amazed by the power of it.
Do Something for Myself Every Day
Most of you know that running is my thing. It’s my favorite addiction. Running gives me time to be alone, think about whatever I want to, process the day, get the endorphins going and keep me in shape. It could be running, reading a book, sitting silently by the fireplace, taking a walk, cooking a meal or whatever helps me relax, but at the very least, I try to do something for myself every single day. There is enough weighing me down and causing me stress, so remembering to squeeze in those things that are light and carefree help bring balance to the other more intense parts of my life. These moments can be life changing.
Remind Myself that It’s Just a Job
Don’t get me wrong, I love my job. I find an incredible amount of satisfaction in knowing what we accomplish day in and day out. I love that I work for a company that is focused on social good, which couldn’t be more perfectly aligned with my values.
With that said, knowing my personality, I tend to internalize every project and make it a part of me. Which means that if the project fails, then I fail. And therefore, I tend to pour my heart and soul into everything I do, because I want it to be the best. This inevitable creates a stressful dynamic where I put an incredible amount of pressure on myself to do things perfectly. And inevitably, I do not do everything perfectly… Then, when I take a step back and think about how I would talk to myself if I were a friend of mine, I would say, “How the hell could you possibly expect to be perfect all of the time? That’s not fair to you.”
Life is a constant growth path, I will always be learning and improving. But a part of that process is to give myself grace. And as a part of how I do that, I remind myself that it’s just a job. As much as I love what I do, at the end of the day, it is my work. There will always be work. It’s a liberating exercise and helps me enjoy my time outside of work more as well.
If I do not feel organized in my job, I am a disaster. For example, Achieve recently switched email providers and it took me a solid two months to get used to the new system and to this day, I am sure that I lost track of things during that process. It is a daily challenge to monitor my organization structure, analyze, revisit and revise the process to make sure I am being as efficient and detailed as possible. With that said, there are so many great tricks that I have learned to stay organized in my job, which also happen to reduce my stress level. I will be writing a full blog post on this soon, but in the mean time, here are a two of my favorite tips.
This concept was introduced to me by my friend and former co-worker Katie Pellerin and it has literally changed my life. It’s simply a way to organize your emails, but here is how it works:
- Create four folders: Reply, Action, Waiting for, and Someday
- A few times a day go into your inbox and filter your emails into those folders. For example, if you get an email asking you a question that you only need to respond to, that will go into the “Reply” folder. Then, when you actually have a moment to sit down and go through them all, go through your reply folder and reply to all of the questions. Same thing for the “Action” folder. If it requires you to go and do something, like collect a file and send it back to the person, the email would go into the “Action” folder.
- The “Waiting For” folder is what changes everything. Every time you send an email to someone asking them for something, you BCC yourself and stick that email into the “Waiting For” folder. Then you can easily keep track of all of the things that people owe you and send follow up emails as necessary to collect what you need.
- The “Someday” folder is for things that are not urgent that you want to look at eventually, such as an article.
This structure has helped me from losing emails, forgetting what I am waiting for from someone else and has reduced the amount of time that I spend on email in any given day. It’s a game changer.
Ever since I was a kid, my family would make fun of me for making lists. I would create packing lists, lists of toys that I wanted, list of what I needed to do that day, lists of homework assignments, and the list goes on (pun intended). Well guess what, now it’s part of my job to create lists so it paid off! Take that family!
With Evernote, you can structure it however you want, but I will show you how I do it so that you can visualize how it works. You can create Notebooks that have a collection of notes within it, so there structure of larger notebooks that I have is this:
Within each notebook, I have a note for the specific project. So in the “Business Development” notebook I have a note for each potential client that I have been talking to so that I can keep track of what happened in past conversations. I keep all client notes in one note so that I never wonder what happened to that piece of paper that I had from a meeting six months ago.
A few other great things about Evernote:
- It syncs with all of your devices, so I can access my notes on my phone, iMac or laptop.
- You can create check lists within your note.
- You can share your note with other people (even if they are not on Evernote).
- You can use Evernote when you are offline and it will sync once you are online again.
I would love to hear your thoughts and tips on how you reduce stress, handle chaos and manage unrealistic life expectations. Give me your thoughts!
Things I learned from Downsizing
Downsizing from 1000 square feet with a garage and basement to a less than 600 square foot studio apartment was challenging. It is in my nature to enjoy overcoming such challenges, so I felt very accomplished at the end of it, but the entire process absolutely sucked. I spent nearly six weeks of nights and weekends cleaning out drawers, closets, cabinets, boxes… And over that time brought at least six car loads of stuff to Goodwill, plus sold dozens of random knick-knacks and furniture. I know that everyone can relate to the feeling that it is so easy to accumulate stuff and it seems as though no one knows how it happens. It just happens.
At the end of the day, I have no regrets downsizing. I’m guarantee that no one comes out of the downsizing process feeling like they miss the things that they gave up. Personally, I feel a stronger bond with the things that I did keep and feel and that each one has a value and place in my home. There is nothing extra, because each piece was carefully chosen. Everyone should go through this process at least once in their life. It helps to do it during a transitional period as it can be incredibly therapeutic.
If you are thinking about downsizing, here are a few things that I learned:
1. If you have not used it in a year, you don’t need it.
There are so many things in our lives that we keep around because we think we will use them or will need them in the future. For me, I had a shit ton of art materials left over from college and there was a part of me that didn’t want to give them up because I felt like I was giving up the idea that I was an artist. I had to come to terms with the fact that even though I am still creative and express art in a different way, I am no longer and painter like I used to be. I needed to let go of that piece of my life and move on to what I am good at now. I hadn’t touched my oil paints, brushes or watercolors in years, so it meant that it was time to give them to someone who would use them.
2. I only use a fraction of the space in my house.
Part of the reason that I decided to downsize in the first place was because over time it became very clear that I was only using a fraction of my home on a daily basis. I would come home from work, cook a meal, and spend the rest of my evening in my bedroom with my pets. I hardly even used my livingroom. I started to wonder why I even had a dining room. Or a basement. Or a garage. Or an upstairs. Then I started reading blogs about small living spaces and how it forces you to use community spaces more. As a huge advocate of sharing resources, I was sold. Small living, it is.
3. Community parks are better than having your own yard.
It is bizarre to me that it is a part of the American dream to have your own yard, garden and lawn, which to me just means more work on the weekends. Instead, I seek out community space gems that provide the peaceful seclusion of a yard, but also allow for meeting your neighbors and building a stronger community. My new apartment has a fenced-in park across the street where I take my dog to play fetch. Don’t even get me started on the benefits of knowing your neighbors – that’s another blog post in itself. There is also a small pagoda in the park where I could host parties if I wanted to. Less work, less time, less money, more connection to your neighbors. It seems like a no-brainer to me.
4. Small living space means less cleaning.
Before I moved to the smaller apartment, it was SO challenging to keep my space clean. Granted, I probably have higher “clean” standards than the average person, but I couldn’t figure out how to be a single working person and also live in a clean place. It came to the point where I felt like I had no choice but to hire a cleaning person. I figured that the cost of what I was paying that person was worth the 2 hours that I would spend cleaning it myself. Those are billable hours, right? In my new apartment I can clean it top to bottom in less than 30 minutes. That saves me $150 a month. Pretty awesome.
5. Figure out your deal breaker.
Just like relationships, there is one thing in a living space that you must have to be happy and have a high quality of life. Mine is to have a deck. Instead of having a full yard that I need to take care of and spend my weekends maintaining, I made it a priority to have a deck. I absolutely LOVE being outside and feeling the outdoor air and sunshine, so this was an important part of my search. The benefit of a deck is that it doesn’t need maintenance like a yard does, but you can add things like planters and flower boxes if you want to – the nice part is that you can create as little or as much of a green space on your deck as you want to. During the warm months, I spend at least 80% of my time home on the deck (at least in the warm months). Figure out what really makes you happy and focus on that. If you have too many things, nothing will really bring you that intense joy that you crave. Having less makes you more grateful for what you have.
I would love to hear your thoughts, tips, and advice for downsizing. What are your stories?