For a few years now, I’ve been a devotee of The Five-Minute Journal, a wonderful book with daily reflection prompts. I love that there’s an inspiring quote each day. It’s reassuring to me that the journal is designed so that you write in the date yourself, so there’s no guilt if you skip a day or two! And I love that there are prompts for both morning and evening. Best of all, it truly only takes five minutes. (Pro tip: if you’re going to get a copy, don’t buy the knock-off paperback version. It’s not the same!)
There is one question in the daily prompts, however, that has bothered me for a while. “How could I have made today even better?” is the last question on each page.
This question always oriented me mind toward failure, rather than gratitude. I know that wasn’t the intent of the question, but it wasn’t working for me. Although all the other prompts lifted me up, that one brought me down. So I abandoned that question. Every day.
Recently, though, I started a new practice in place of that one. Now, each day, I cross off that question that doesn’t work for me and replace it with this one: “What did I simplify today?”
Earlier this year, I took on a number of new projects (e.g. co-hosting the Parents at Work Podcast and starting a Working Parent Group Network for the leaders of working parent employee resource groups). And while each of these new commitments left me energized, my plate was starting to look more full than usual. I felt a bit like J.K. Rawling, spewing out a new 1,000 page Harry Potter novel, and I now wanted to cull that back to 500’ish pages.
But what to cull?
As I started to think about what I could trim, without losing the many pieces of life I care so deeply about, I started to hone in on one word. Simplify. There were so many things in my life – in particular, in my business – that I was doing the hard way. That could be automated. Or that could be made more efficient with a little bit of extra effort.
Concrete Ways I Discovered I Could Simplify Things
I started using the “what did I simplify?” prompt to get me in the mode of thinking daily about simplification. Once I worked the question into my daily thought pattern, the ideas started flowing.
To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, here are some very specific examples of things I simplified, and wrote in the journal:
- Had my children select all of their own clothes for our upcoming vacation, rather than picking them out and packing them myself
- Handed off the invoicing process for my business to my VA
- Automated my new employer client onboarding
- Stopped cutting up blueberries when putting them into my chia pudding
- Cut out commentary and judgment (in my own head) when I went to a 5Rhythms dance (and just danced!)
- Wrote an extra blog post during a slow week, to queue it up for the future
- Consolidated my hair ties to one place in the closet, so I didn’t have to search the house for them anymore
- Built an e-mail list for contacts at employer clients, so I could stop e-mailing them each individually before each Mindful Return course session started
- Gave up on a book I was reading that dragged me down, and picked up a fresh one instead
- Agreed with my podcast co-host to scale back podcast recordings to one per month, rather than two
- Hired a landscaper instead of tearing out poison ivy in my front yard myself
- Asked my tech guy to fix a form on my website instead of figuring out how to do it myself
- Reached out to Mailchimp for help in fixing an auto-populated field that I was correcting myself, week after week
- Moved my toothpaste to the front of the closet shelf, so I didn’t have to hunt for it
Categories of Simplification
As you can see, these examples tend to fall into 4 categories.
Delegation: First, there are things I can assign to others, be it my kids, individuals I already have in my world who could be doing more, or new hires.
Mental Shifts: Second, there are things I realized were sucking energy from me (reading a book I didn’t enjoy, negative swirling commentary in my head). Simplifying these things meant a mental shift. Giving myself permission, really, to think differently.
Automation: Third, there are processes that can be automated. In the digital world, this meant streamlined e-mails and lists. And in analog life, having one spot for toothpaste and hair ties.
Abandonment: And finally, I realized there are things I do every day that I can simply give up. Cutting blueberries? (What was I thinking?!) And eliminating a second podcast recording.
Do you have ideas on other things to simplify? Please, please share in comments. The working parents who read this will take all the advice they can get on making our crazy full lives more manageable!
If you need more help getting your head in a better place to return to work after maternity leave, join us for the next session of Mindful Return.
Want more practical tips on working parenthood? Check out my book, Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave