Wednesday, February 3, 2016

January Wrap-Up

And the results for January's theme of "Routines" are in...

Success! Here's a quick summary of each of the habits I concentrated on throughout the month.

This one was a quick and easy victory, and I'm thrilled with the little Star Wars bag that resulted. Starting small was the way to go; I'm looking forward to finishing more of my unfinished work!

A simple thing, but it's been nice not having to deal with this one in the morning. There were a couple of nights it required me to stay up just a pinch longer than I usually do, waiting for the cycle to finish, but I wasn't about to give up my streak!

One strategy that's helped me out with this one is packing hubby's lunch while I'm making dinner, rather than waiting until after dinner. Whereas I typically have leftovers for lunch, he's in the middle of a pretty solid sandwich and apple routine - no reason I can't put that together whilst waiting for dinner to finish.

The biggest advantage of remembering to do this all night is not having to try to find matching socks using the light from my cell phone - not even the flashlight app, because that would be too bright and possibly wake up sleeping lions!

I've been enjoying this - remembering and reflecting on what happened is a nice way to end the day. Keeping the journal in my night table has been tremendously helpful.

This went really, really well! I did of course have to make some changes as I went along, but it made the weekly shopping much smoother. I've already created February's plan, and am trying a little something different with it this month - for a future post.

This one has probably been the hardest, simply because my morning routine varies a little bit from day to day. Biggest help? The reminder the app sends me a little before bedtime - that way if somehow this had slipped, I know to forego "Harry Potter" for the evening and substitute this for my pre-sleep reading. I'm now halfway through the Bible!

And seriously, what is wrong with these Israelites???

Next up: my theme for February!

Sunday, January 31, 2016

January Routines: Monthly Habits 2

The other "habit" I'm working on on a monthly basis this year is taking time each month to finish at least one of the many WIPs (works in progress) that are languishing away in my home office. This month I started small and finally got around to making the Star Wars dice bag that my husband requested of me (and I purchased the materials for) well over a year ago. Tada!

While again it's just a small item, it's so nice to be able to check it off of the invisible list that exists only inside my head. A small accomplishment is still an accomplishment!

A little bit at a time I'll be working through a variety of projects, most a lot bigger (and older!) than this one.

And, today's the last day of January, so I'll soon be posting a wrap-up of this month!

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

January Routines: Monthly Habits

Moving on to new monthly habits I want to establish (which can also be tracked on the app!):

I have been a devout weekly meal planner for years. The #1 secret to my success in this endeavor is (what else?) an app, Mealboard! The Mealboard app allows me to program in all of my recipes/ ingredient lists for different meals. Every week I select the meals I want to cook, and the app generates an aggregated grocery list for me (i.e. tells me the total number of tomatoes I need, how many ounces of olive oil, yada yada yada). Not only will it do this in order of the grocery store aisles, but I can completely customize the order of the aisles and/or add new ones so that the list goes in the exact order I travel through the store. You now how the cold case in most stores extends across five or six aisles? I have it broken down into three different sections, so I'm not hopping back and forth on the list. Sweetness! I highly, highly recommend this app, huge time saver! Added bonus: all of my recipes are in one highly transportable place.

But I digress. Even with this amazing technology at my fingertips, it's still kind of a drag to sit down every week and think about what to eat. Hence, I am giving monthly meal planning a try. I actually do this part using (gasp!) paper. First I jotted down all of our usual meals onto little post-it flags (pink for meat, blue for veg), and divided them into categories:

Then I laid them out on a month view planner, until I had what I wanted:


I removed the post-its and wrote in the meals:

Then each week before heading off to the store I just tapped in what I had scheduled. Brilliant! (If you're wondering, Thursday night is a leftover/fend for yourself night, and on Fridays we usually go out.)

There are of course things that come up and changes that need to be made. I've tracked the changes as we've gone through this month:

I have to say, sitting down and plotting planning out several weeks at a time makes the rest of the month go very smoothly! Will be preparing February's meals in the next couple of days!

Saturday, January 23, 2016

January Routines: Intermission

You may have figured out that another routine I'd like to establish is posting a little more often. I'm not going to employ a formal process for this, but I think keeping this blog up to date with this year's project will add another layer of accountability for the other items I attempt to accomplish. Mutually beneficial routines, I suppose.

But that's all I'll write for this weekend, if for no other reason than my family room looks like a scene from an Oliver Stone film right now and it's sapping my motivation:

Friday, January 22, 2016

January Routines: New Habit - "One Year" Bible Plan

Continuing on with failed habits of the past that I have resurrected...

I am starting year three of a one year Bible reading program. Yes, you read that right. Here's what happens: I get into a solid routine of completing the daily reading, then something changes in the routine and it all gets tossed.

Typically this is because I do my readings while eating breakfast, and then there will be a time when I decide to eat breakfast at work instead of at home. Usually this is to buy myself a little bit more sleep time. Have to get up extra early to squeeze on that day's marathon training? If I eat my breakfast at my desk while triaging and responding to emails I can stay in bed 10 minutes longer. 

And then it doesn't occur to me to move the reading to lunch or some other routine time.

Well no more! I will be finishing this one year plan THIS YEAR. Having to mark it DONE or SKIPPED in the checklist app is going to keep me on track; seriously, I don't want to have to mark it skipped! I also now have back-up strategies. If reading during breakfast isn't a possibility, then I shall read during lunch, afternoon tea, or worst case scenario before going to sleep. Whatever it takes not to skip!

Sad that it took me two years to come up with this ultra-sophisticated back-up plan, I know.

I'm anticipating two questions:

1. Afternoon tea? Why yes. I have a cup of tea at 3pm every work day. It's a nice, soothing ritual that forces me to slow down, take stock of what I've accomplished so far that day, and what else I want to finish before going home. It's a wonderful way to break up the afternoon doldrums. It's also delicious.

2. A One Year Bible Plan? Why yes. I use the mobile app (of course) Bible by Life.Church. While I miss holding a physical Bible book, the app is super convenient as it automatically cues up the day's reading for me and tracks my progress. When you miss a couple of days (months...) the app automatically reboots your schedule with one tap of the "Catch Me Up" link. There are tons of plans to choose from, with variables such as time frame, theme, specific parts of the Bible, age of the reader, groups, etc. I'm reading the One Year Chronological Plan. If you're at all familiar with the Bible you're probably aware that it kind of skips around a lot, and will tell the same stories from multiple points of view throughout. This plan arranges them all in chronological order. It's pretty cool to read the accounts of various authors back to back. 

This is the year! If for no other reason I have got to get out of the Old Testament. I'm so weary of these Israelites, continuing to make the same mistake over and over and over...

Thursday, January 21, 2016

January Routines: New Habit - Journaling (Consistently!)

While setting out my work clothes, packing lunches, and emptying the dishwasher in the evening have been consistent (though not perfect) habits of mine for quite a while, there are others that I have struggled to establish in the past that have not yet worked out.

I own a 10 year journal.

Actually, I own two, because I started one three years ago and have done a terrible job of keeping up with it, so rather than facing that shame and having an incomplete journal at the end of its decade, I am starting over. A big accountability helper is that I do not want to have to mark anything as SKIPPED in the app.

Second, I know from the past that one thing that tends to throw me off is going out of town. It's a big book, I don't want to give up the packing space for it :). My back-up strategy is to tap out entries for out-of-town days in a document on my phone each evening, then copy them over when I return home.

Finally, I keep the journal in the drawer of the nightstand by my bed. That way it's right there as I'm turning in for the night if I realize I've forgotten it.

Anyone else out there trying to establish a journaling habit? Any tricks to share?

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January Routines: Prepping for Morning

I am all about making mornings as peaceful and free of chaos as possible. As such, I try to complete several of the typical morning tasks the night before.

Back in 2011, my New Year's resolution was to set out my work clothes every pre-work evening. For some reason this takes a lot less time the night before than it does the morning of. I started slacking on this a little here and there when we moved into our new home mid-2012: our closet is actually in the master bath, making it all too convenient to just pick out clothes in the morning after my shower. But, again, this always seems to be a pain, so I'm locking this one back in again.

Packing lunches is another one of those tasks that seem to eat up a lot of time in the morning, but take very little time the evening before. On the checklist it goes.

Finally, if the dishwasher isn't emptied of the previous night's dishes, then the breakfast dishes have nowhere to go (and we have two kittens who are constantly sneaking into the sink!). Emptying it in the morning isn't such a big deal, but it's difficult to do it quietly enough that it doesn't wake up my hubs. Also, putting the dishes away at night makes for one less hassle in the morning. Onto the checklist!

Having these three items out of the way has been making for much more peaceful (and less frazzled) mornings, and given that I'm on an 18 day streak I'm not likely to skip out on them any time soon. Seriously, this app is a great motivator!

Tomorrow I'll dive into the newer daily habits that I'm adding this year.

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Focus for January: Routine

"Routine" is what I am focusing on in January for my Happiness Project. My most successful New Year's Resolutions have always been centered around forming habits rather than achieving goals, as I find that the former tends to lead into the latter.

What I'm working on this month is solidifying parts of my daily and monthly routines that are almost automatic, and folding in a few new habits in as well. My first challenge has been to create a method of accountability. For example, I have a mental checklist of items I want to accomplish every night before going to sleep. The problem with a mental checklist is that if I'm already tucked in before I run through it and realize that something is missing, it's all too easy to convince myself it can wait until morning. I need something more tangible, a physical checklist.

I have always been a huge fan of checklists. A couple years back when my commute was close to an hour one way, I had a checklist in my car that I went over every work morning before pulling out of the driveway (purse, phone, laptop, graded assignments, materials for lessons, etc). It was enormously helpful - and saved me from having to turn around at the first exit to go back for something I'd forgotten.

Then about a year ago I read Atul Gawande's "The Checklist Manifesto." I highly recommend this book, whether you're a checklist person or not - by the end, you will be!

I settled on a mobile app called "Productive," a habit tracking app. I can set up all the habits I want, when and how often to schedule them (beginning/middle/end of month/day), what time the reminders go off - it's pretty sweet. Then I can easily view my record. Once you have a streak going there's motivation to continue it!

Tomorrow I'll begin writing about some of the specific elements of my routine, and why they're important enough to be addressed first in this year-long project!

Monday, January 18, 2016

My One Word Theme for 2016

Inspired by my sister-in-law, I have decided to embark upon a "Happiness Project" in 2016. If you've not read the book (which I highly recommend you do), the very general idea is to focus on one area of your life each month to improve your overall happiness.

One thing the author recommends is choosing a one-word theme to focus on throughout the year - this has become a fairly popular idea, so you've probably seen one version of this or another out there somewhere.

My one-word (technically two-word) theme for 2016 is this: Look Up.

I tend to get so locked into what I need to be doing right now, what I need to do next, what is the quickest and most efficient way to get through my to-do list, etc, etc, that I miss what's happening around me. This year I'm going to work on reminding myself to "Look Up," to appreciate the present, to take in the moment.

Tune in tomorrow for what my focus has been in January!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

2015 Wrap Up: #3 - #10 (oops!)

So I went on break and completely dropped my wrap-up, so I'll list them all here and skip most of the pics in the name of gettin' it done.

#3: Blackhawks

The Chicago Blackhawks won the Stanley Cup again! We went to a (regular season) game - great time!

#4: CSA

Inspired by a food fair I attended with friends in Chicago, I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) workshare right in my hometown! In exchange for two five-hour shifts on the farm per month, I earned a big box of fresh veggies every week. How could it get any better?
Unfortunately it resulted in a hamstring strain that haunted me throughout the summer, and I had to throw in the trowel early in the season.

#5: Team in Training

Upon deciding that in addition to the Rock 'n Roll Half Marathon this would also be the year I ran a FULL MARATHON, I joined the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's Team in Training to run in memory of Mike's mom. Though terrified of the fundraising requirement, I can't imagine training any other way. It was a fantastic experience - hopefully I'll eventually post about it!

#6: Riggie

This one's a heartbreaker. Our little Riggie had a stroke during a routine vet wellness visit in July, and we lost him immediately. I still can't believe he's gone. Love you forever, little Rigatoni.

#7: Scooter & Beeker

Pippin (our older cat) doesn't do well as an only cat, but at 12 years old is too much of a curmudgeon for a kitten. So a few months later we adopted two littermates from the Humane Society. Two sisters for Pippin! (And yes, Beeker is deliberately misspelled - we realized all of our pets have had double letters in their names, and had to continue the pattern!)

#8: McNugget

A new nephew is on the way! McNugget is his placeholder name; hopefully they'll come up with another one by April!

#9: The Chicago Marathon!

Two huge accomplishments here: I finished the Chicago Marathon, and raised $3900 for blood cancer research!

#10: Fifth Anniversary

On December 18th we celebrated our fifth wedding anniversary. Where did the time go??

And there's my 2015 wrap-up, ten major highlights/events in roughly chronological order. Now on to 2016!