work

On Pendulum Swings and Finding Ease in My Work

I’ve noticed a disturbing trend lately and it doesn’t show signs of changing anytime soon.

I almost feel like I need to lower my voice to a conspiratorial whisper as I confess this to a whole bunch of fellow dogged, hard-working entrepreneurs. Are you ready for this?

Here it is… I don’t really feel like working lately. 

After more than nine years of perpetually running uphill with our multiple businesses, birthing three more babies (in addition to the two we already had), backpacking around the world for 12 months, buying a fixer-upper in a new community upon our return, then backpacking around Europe for three months the year after (while pregnant) and then literally moving across the country this past summer, I hit my wall. 

And a big whopper of a wall it was. 

(Sorry, American friends… is it too soon for a wall metaphor? Ugh… but I digress.) 

Here’s the thing: I’ve been running hard and working long and sleeping little for most of my life. I’m not necessarily proud of all of those things, but when I look back and assess honestly, I can see that it’s true. 

It started in my teen years as I began holding down regular jobs at the tender age of 13, and by 17 I was taking university-credit classes my senior year of school, applying for scholarships, playing in city orchestra, volunteering at church and working two part-time jobs. 

It’s never really changed since then. I mean, sure, life has ebbed and flowed. 

University. Living overseas as newlyweds. Having babies while trying to pay off a lot of debt. Dealing with a serious illness. Starting one business, then another (and then another).

It doesn’t seem to matter what the season of life is. I figure out how to push hard and get er’ done. Failing isn’t an option. Neither is stopping. 

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Until this year. And suddenly, all I want to do is stop. 

Stop pushing myself beyond unreasonable physical limitations. 

Stop expecting unrealistic things of myself. 

Stop living right at the edge of what I can actually get done in any given day or week or month. 

Stop enviously watching others do nifty things like rest and have fun and relax, while I bow subserviently to my never-ending to-do list that demands I do the responsible thing and just. keep. going. 

But you can’t keep going like this forever. At some point, a rest-less, hectic, too hard-working life inevitably turns into an exhausted, broken-down, weary and empty-souled life. 

I didn’t really see it coming, not quite like this. I knew I was burnt out and that I’d been bemoaning it for too many years. I knew this past year and a half had pushed me to the end of myself. I knew that a sea change was coming and boy, did I need it. 

I just didn’t expect that when I finally stopped long enough to catch my breath, all I’d want to do was lie down on the floor and keep belly-breathing, trying to somehow make up for years of lost oxygen and this deficit of leisure time and idle moments and days where I didn’t actually do much (horror of horrors!).

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This fall, our Q4 goal at Ultimate Bundles (the business Ryan and I currently run together) has been to increase operational efficiency by 20% by the end of 2016. 

To that end, we’ve been mercilessly examining our repetitive tasks, processes, methods of communication, and any needless or ineffective practices we find ourselves doing. There’s a lot of eliminating, a little delegating, and definitely plenty of “efficienating” going on (yes, we made that term up – who says “efficient” can’t become a verb?). 

It’s working, too. Between these smart work changes we’re realizing are long overdue, and the help of a personal assistant my darling husband convinced me to hire a few half-days each week, my work and home load really is getting lighter. 

For the first time in oh-so-very long, I’m feeling my heart rate slow to something resembling normal and in that place of greater ease, I’m able to take the kind of deep breaths that felt too luxurious to even pause for previously. 

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There’s a wonderful woman at my new church who I’ve been talking to lately. She and her husband have four school aged kids, and they’re in the process of starting a new business. His hours are crazy long and she’s running ragged caring for the family mostly by herself, and when they do see each other they’re like ships passing in the night. 

As she related it to me, I had so much empathy because I vividly remember those early days for us and how much we wanted all of this (the big family, the freedom and flexibilty, the business success, the travel and adventure), but at what a cost it came. 

It was worth it; don’t get me wrong. I don’t regret what we’ve done.

But now that we’re not in that tenuous place anymore, I’m finding my relentless 100-mile-per-hour drive has petered out and all I’ve got left in me is a leisurely Sunday afternoon jaunt. 

I’m ready for big change. Ready to stop and actually taste and savor my beautiful life. Let myself be more human and needy, rather than tough and robotic. Let being present in the moment win out over being responsible. 

A wise friend once told me that when people change, they tend to do a full pendulum swing.

All the way from the far side of one way of living, right over to almost the opposite of whatever it is they’ve been doing. 

It’s like a visceral, gut reaction. Once we realize something is no longer working for us, we can’t seem to get far enough away from it. 

Eventually, at some point, we stop swinging violently to an extreme and usually find our way to a more comfortable middle. 

I think I’ll get there at some point. But I’m not there yet. 

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I don’t want to take a quiet, free evening and use it to work ahead on an important project. I want to paint my toenails with my girls and read a novel by the fire with a mug of tea. I don’t want to discipline myself to get up early, hit the ground running, and use my golden morning hours to squeeze in more time for the book I’m writing. I want to sleep longer and wake when I feel ready to greet the day and then saunter through breakfast and my morning coffee. 

And I think that’s ok. I think it’s part of the process of slowing down and learning to just be. I’m working on assessing myself and my worth simply on who I am, and less on what I do or accomplish. 

I don’t know who needs to hear this message today. Maybe you’re stuck where I’ve been these last few years and you’re tired and reading this makes you want to ugly cry or maybe throw your laptop across the room in frustration. I’ve been where you’re at and I feel you. 

I don’t want to tell you to give up or stop pressing forward or stop being responsible or not to reach for your dreams.

We have seasons in our lives that are tiring, and they’re hard, and they require us to reach deeply inside of ourselves and find what we’re made of. Maybe you’re in one of those seasons. I believe in you and that you have what it takes to make it through to the other side. 

But here’s what I’ve learned: you also have to recognize when that season is over and then let it go

Do what you need to do, yes.

And then stop making excuses for why you’re still there, still yanking on those damn boot straps when they’re already on your feet. 

There’s a moment when you pause and say “Wow, I did that. I got through that difficult season. I accomplished that thing that really mattered to me. I invested what was necessary and now I can reap the benefits of my hard work.” 

And then do it. 

(And I’ll be right there with you, sipping on my tea while my pretty painted toes warm up by the fire.) 

Are you exhausted from working so hard? Or have you ever realized that you were still pushing hard when it was actually time to stop?

Images from unsplash.com or my Instagram feed.

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It was a big decision, but in this post we share the ins and outs of why we put our kids in school after homeschooling for seven years.

Why we put our kids in school (after 7 years of homeschooling)

Before sharing we we put our kids in schooling after homeschooling, ’ll begin by stating what may be the obvious, but there is no perfect option when it comes to educating your children.

At least that’s been our experience this spring, as for the very first time ever we opted to put our three oldest kids into school after seven years of solely homeschooling.

Although we surprised a lot of people with our decision, it didn’t ultimately feel surprising to us. Different, outside of our norm, a learning curve for us and our kids — it was all of those things and more.

But it wasn’t a total surprise and this is why: because although we’ve never actually gone and done it, we’ve discussed and contemplated the idea of school myriad times before. We’ve frequently said we would never say never and just because the time hadn’t arrived yet didn’t mean it wouldn’t come at some point.

Several wise friends have encouraged me over the years not to hold tightly to any particular choice, but to take each year as it comes. None of us know what life will hold, and so we’ve come to agree with them that a “one year at a time” policy might be best.

That said, I thought it might be helpful to work through some of the questions that might be on your minds…

It was a big decision, but in this post we share the ins and outs of why we put our kids in school after homeschooling for seven years.

The reasons why we put our kids in school after homeschooling

Back when I was pregnant with our fifth child Oliver, I wondered if we might want to temporarily put the kids into school and began researching local school options last January.

After having such a great experience balancing homeschooling and work while traveling and spending some time in Europe, we came home encouraged and sure that we’d be ready to jump back into homeschool after summer, new baby or not.

What we didn’t take into account was that we’d end up spending 2 months living in Nashville and more time driving across North America, or that we’d spend 3-4 months this winter developing a brand new business with a model that was unfamiliar to us.

In other words, we got worn out (it could even be argued that we wore ourselves out; let’s just tell it like it is).

Whatever the case, by the time we hit January, we were plain old tired.

I had struggled with a lot of postpartum depression and anxiety this time around and was having a hard time doing life in general. Although we were more or less “keeping up”, we weren’t thriving and didn’t feel like we were giving the kids our best.

This brought us back around to the school conversation and within one short week, we knew it was the right decision for this season. We went forward with applying at a local private school that stood out to me when I looked around last winter.

The kids were quickly accepted and the school worked hard to accommodate us and make the process speedy. Within two weeks start to finish, we were dropping them off for their first day (whoa Nelly).

It was a big decision, but in this post we share the ins and outs of why we put our kids in school after homeschooling for seven years.

Why did we choose a private school?

This is too big of a conversation for this post, but one of the reasons we choose to homeschool is our belief that public school doesn’t offer the type of education we want for our kids.

We want something more individualized, that really works with their unique personalities, interests, gifts, strengths, and weaknesses, rather than an education determined by the average student (or even the lowest common denominator) in a large classroom.

We also wanted smaller classrooms and more hand-picked teachers. We preferred a world view that matched up more closely with ours. We wanted to be more involved and feel like we were part of a community where our kids were really known and not just on a conveyor belt that pushed kids through the system with a cookie cutter approach. We also wanted really solid academics and a more rigorous approach to particular subjects.

Though there really is no such thing as a perfect school (including the school they’re currently attending), we felt overall that this private school matched up more closely with our ideals for our family and our children’s education than a public school experience would.

And I’m sure I’ll receive flack for making that statement, but it’s honest if nothing else. I don’t think a public school education is necessarily a bad thing (after all, I’m the product of public school and I’d like to think I turned out OK), but I also saw and experienced the weaknesses of that school system growing up in it and it’s just not what I want for my kids.

It was a big decision, but in this post we share the ins and outs of why we put our kids in school after homeschooling for seven years.

Filming for our current launch.

Did we do this so we could work more?

Yes and no. For the rest of the winter, we did need to work more hours as we finished getting this new business launched and off the ground as well as possible.

Beyond that, however, we looked at it as a way not to work more hours, but rather to catch our breath and feel more refreshed and rested before jumping back into homeschooling again in the fall (at least, that’s our current plan).

We’re both trying to take one weekday off “work” per week, to do projects around the house, bring some more organization and stability back to our lives, and for me in particular, to practice a little self-care and spend extra time with our pre-schooler and baby.

We also needed the mental and emotional release that came by not carrying the burden of wondering each day whether we had done enough to educate our kids.

We needed to temporarily pass that off to their teachers and be available to support them, of course (because success in school is hugely dependent on the home environment), but not be the ones solely responsible for everything they needed to learn each week.

Having them in school means one less thing occupying our mental space and will give us the freedom to not worry about school or playing catch-up during the summer either (which we probably would have done had we kept homeschooling the remainder of this year).

It was a big decision, but in this post we share the ins and outs of why we put our kids in school after homeschooling for seven years.

Will we go back to homeschooling?

Yes, we plan to start up again this fall.

Taking this hiatus has definitely cemented the fact that I love having our kids at home and take so much joy in overseeing their education. There are many things I miss about it and we both feel that it makes more sense when it comes to our family’s values and lifestyle choices.

What do we like about having our kids in school?

  • There’s something to be said for not having to worry about their education, and instead just getting to be plain old Mom when they get home each day. It simplifies our relationship to some degree.
  • Although we still have a pre-schooler and baby at home, it definitely is easier to get work done without the noise of 5 little people (and the mess that follows).
  • They’re enjoying making friends, something we’ve had a hard time doing since moving to our new community two years ago.
  • We’ve seen some big improvements in the work quality with one child in particular, and another child is receiving special learning assistance that was really needed. We’re hopeful that by the end of this school year we’ll be over the hump with the two non-readers we started out the school year with, and having all three big kids reading independently next year will make a HUGE difference compared to how hard the first half of this year was. Part of the struggle this year was just a particularly difficult mix of our kid’s ages, specific needs, and overall household dynamics. Previous years had definitely felt easier than this one did.

It was a big decision, but in this post we share the ins and outs of why we put our kids in school after homeschooling for seven years.

What’s not so great about having them in school?

  • It really messes with our evenings – we miss being more relaxed and just hanging out together. Now we have to fuss with things like spelling words, read alouds (both of which would have been done earlier in the day while homeschooling), homework for the eldest, making lunches, checking planners and signing permission forms, etc. We don’t see them most of the day then feel like our family time in the evening gets eaten up too quickly.
  • It can still be a lot of work to keep up with it all – lunches, school activities, uniforms (for those in private school), homework in the evening, field trips, drop off and pick up, etc. I would say now that we’ve got the hang of it, the work load is definitely less than when we homeschooled, but for the first month it honestly felt like almost as much work and these days it still feels fairly significant. Putting your kids in school is different, but it’s not a cop out or a way to get off scot-free.
  • We just miss them in general. They’re gone for almost 7 hours and that’s a pretty huge chunk of time.
  • They have less downtime than they used to, and the younger ones in particular have had a hard time adjusting. Our introverted son especially craves quiet, creative play time and he struggles to get enough to meet his needs when he’s gone at school all day and sometimes we have errands or other events in the afternoon/evenings. Our extraverted daughters handle it better because they love the extra time with other kids.
  • I’ve been rather shocked by the level of dramatics that play out in the classroom. One six year old darling can generate quite enough drama on her own. Put her together with 13 other girls and a heap of boys that act like, well, six year old boys… and it’s a recipe for tears and “she said this” and “she doesn’t want to be my friend”. Every. single. day.
  • It cramps our style. We now have places to be at certain times, and can’t just take off for vacation or travels when it suits our family. I get that I probably sound whiny and entitled even saying that, but there are very good reasons we value the flexibility and freedom that comes with our entrepreneurial, homeschooling lifestyle. It’s hard work, but so worth it. Yet another reason we’ll be going back to it in the fall.

What have we learned?

  • There is no perfect solution. Each educational option comes with pros and cons.
  • We weren’t doing as bad a job as we thought. In fact, we’ve recognized that we were actually doing a pretty good job most of the time. Having the kids in school has highlighted some of their strengths and the benefits they’ve received from all these years of homeschooling are shining through.
  • Deep down, we really love and value our unconventional lifestyle and are eager to return to it BUT it’s been a beneficial experience. Honestly, it was the right thing for us in this season. We have no regrets and we’re both grateful that we did it.

It was a big decision, but in this post we share the ins and outs of why we put our kids in school after homeschooling for seven years.

Image credits: school supply bucketsdesks in classroomgirl blowing dandelionswings, school bus, and our own cute kiddos dressed in their school uniforms from my Instagram account.

What a Maker’s Schedule is and how it’s revolutionizing my work time

The longer I’ve been a “creative”, the more I’ve realized that inspired work doesn’t just happen naturally.

Nor does it fit in around the cracks of a busy schedule.

At least for me (but I’m quite sure this applies to many or even most creatives), I work best when I have solids chunks of time to settle in to my work, to get focused, to brainstorm, to dream, to invent, and to immerse myself in what I’m doing.

Though I can write, work on design projects, and do important strategizing work in shorter stints of time, the simple fact of the matter is that I don’t do it very well in those circumstances.

I need time. Time to engage in what I’m doing. Time to work without distraction. Time to let my mind wander and to run through possibilities and ideas and wild thoughts. That’s often how the creative process works best.

Perhaps that’s why for many people, their best business ideas or that amazing new title for their book or those brilliant lyrics came while they were jogging or washing the dishes or driving their kids to karate.

Creativity requires play and freedom and open spaces. It can’t always be told when to show up. It’s rather impulsive, and flourishes best when given room to wander.

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Enter the Maker vs Manager Schedule

About a year ago, I first read the article Maker’s Schedule, Manager’s Schedule by Paul Graham, when my friend Myquillin wrote this fantastic post about the concept.

I thought it was brilliant. Essentially, this is what he says:

Makers work best in uninterrupted chunks of time.

Managers are used to scheduling things by the hourly slots in their planner.

When people who do “maker” work try to function on a “manager” schedule (ie. I’ll spend this hour writing this one thing, then the next hour in this team meeting, then I’ll have 30 minutes to edit some photos and make graphics, etc.), they struggle. Even one task that breaks their creative workflow, such as a half hour meeting, can throw off an entire morning, or even a whole day.

This quote from the article says it well:

When you’re operating on the maker’s schedule, meetings are a disaster. A single meeting can blow a whole afternoon, by breaking it into two pieces each too small to do anything hard in. Plus you have to remember to go to the meeting. That’s no problem for someone on the manager’s schedule. There’s always something coming on the next hour; the only question is what. But when someone on the maker’s schedule has a meeting, they have to think about it.

For someone on the maker’s schedule, having a meeting is like throwing an exception. It doesn’t merely cause you to switch from one task to another; it changes the mode in which you work. (bold mine)

When I first read this last year, and then came back to it again this fall, it stopped me dead in my tracks. I can’t state strongly enough how true I have found this to be.

Putting a Maker’s Schedule into practice

Ryan and I have been tooling around with our weekly schedules lately, especially as we plan out 2016 and figure out how we’re going to make time and space for our most important tasks.

I came to the realization that my most important work is my creative work. All the other “manager” type tasks I do matter, and clearly, I’ll never be off the hook. To my utter dismay, answering emails, attending meetings, giving people feedback, and fixing technical issues will always have their inevitable place in my work.

And yet, if I don’t make time to write well and write often, work on design and branding concepts, create marketing and business development strategies, record podcasts, etc. then I will lose my impact, because those are the principal things I personally do to add value and substance to our businesses.  

Which means that I absolutely must factor Maker time into my schedule and make it a priority.

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This is what it looks like for me right now.

As you can see, most days I work 9:30-3:00 (with a break for lunch as a family), and on Tuesday and Fridays we have a nanny here until 5:00pm. This hasn’t really changed much from what we’ve previously shared about our schedule.

What has changed is the way I’m structuring my days and my week. There are a few key things to note:

  • Email distracts me greatly. When I open email early in the day, I feel anxious and struggle with letting other people’s needs/demands/desires direct what I do the rest of the day. So, I’m trying not to dig in to email until my most important work is done, at the end of my work day. My really key team members have ways to contact me directly if they need me earlier.
  • Since my afternoons are a bit shorter, and honestly tend to be hold more interuptions, I’ve kept most of them as Manager time. I’m using these spots for scheduling meetings, or working on things that require a bit less intense focus or can be done in shorter periods of time.
  • I included one entire Maker day on Tuesdays. This is a day when we have someone with the kids and I can actually get out of the house (because I work best when I escape our home office), and spend the entire day throwing myself into big projects.
  • There are three other full mornings with a Maker focus, for my various work projects and our different businesses.
  • I have a few spots in the week where I have what I call “Maker Flex” or “Manager Flex”. I’ve defined “Maker Flex” as post writing, copywriting, scriptwriting, video directing/editing, design/graphics, podcasting, photography, brainstorming, book writing. “Manager Flex” includes phone calls, meetings, being interviewed, extra email or slack, looking at things for other people, mastermind conversations, errands, site maintenance. The idea behind this is that there are plenty of other small tasks that have to fit in somewhere, but they can generally be classified as something I would do better when I’m in either Maker or Manager mode. It also lets me use these flex times to give extra time to particular projects that need more of me than usual. 

This realization has literally begun to revolutionize my work. 

When I have Maker time, I can (usually) really clear my plate and focus only on the task at hand, allowing myself to get into a clear, productive, creative place.

When I have Manager time, my shoulders relax and I let go of the tension and anxiety I usually feel, because I know that what I’m doing isn’t an interruption or distraction – it’s what I’m actually supposed to be doing.

What the Maker's Schedule is and why it's revolutionizing my work time

Does this resonate with anyone else? For my fellow creatives, how have you worked to implement a “Maker” schedule?

Image credits – top image, desk and chair, coffee on table

Why I’ve never considered myself to be lazy (until now)

“Doing less meaningless work, so that you can focus on things of greater personal importance, is NOT laziness. This is hard for most people to accept, because our culture [American] tends to reward personal sacrifice instead of personal productivity.” Tim Ferris

I’ve never considered myself to be a lazy person, and if you knew me, you’d probably agree.

I often work longer hours than most people I know. Sometimes, when it seems necessary to meet a deadline or complete an important project, I’ll even pull all-nighters – working 30-40 hours straight without so much as a break for a proper meal.

If you’re anything like me, you take a certain amount of pride in being the guy/gal that’s willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. Nothing short of excellence (perhaps even perfection) is acceptable.

When it comes to your work, you are consistently reliable, infinitely available, and doggedly indefatigable.

If you’re anything like me, you’re probably pretty proud of yourself right now, too.

Not so fast, cowboy.

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Podcast #8: What you need to know about working and traveling (with kids)

It was a bit longer than usual in coming, but the newest podcast is up and ready!

In this episode, Ryan and I talk together about what it looks like to work while we travel. People frequently misunderstand our trips to be “vacation”, but that’s really not accurate – rather, learning to run our businesses from the road helps us to overcome the barrier of having to save up or wait to take a vacation.

Instead, we are blessed with the opportunity to do regular, daily life (cooking and cleaning, homeschooling and raising our kids, working, etc.) from all sorts of amazing locations.

We get the best of both worlds. A unique, fascinating cultural experience that grows and benefits both us and our kids, while keeping up with the work we love to do (and that keeps food on the table).

But working from abroad, while you’re moving around, in developing countries, and especially when you have young children, can be a genuine challenge at times. We get real about the things that are hard, mistakes we’ve made, lessons we’ve learned, and our best tips for other families who want to give it a go.

Thanks for joining us! It’s a bit of a longer listen than usual (either we had a lot to say on this topic, or we really missed you all since we skipped an episode…), but we hope you enjoy it anyways. And the top photo on this post? Taken from our current rental home here in Cadenet, France. We love it here. Swoon.

In this episode you’ll hear:

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