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19 Ways to Boost Productivity

Do you start every new year like I do, with a long list of things you want to accomplish in the following twelve months? Wouldn’t you love to look back on 2014 next December, having actually completed a large portion of that list? What follows are nineteen habits that can help those dreams become a reality:

19 Ways to Boost Productivity | Loving Life at Home

  1. Stop procrastinating.

    We tend to over-estimate the time required to do a dreaded task, and under-estimate the amount of work we can accomplish in incremental units. Stop putting it off and just do it. (James 4:17)

  2. Make a schedule.

    This needn’t be rigid and inflexible, just a barebones game plan for your day, a general idea of what you plan to do and when you plan to do it. As Alan Lakein so sensibly observed, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” (Proverbs 16:9)

  3. Eat breakfast.

    Never skip the most important meal of the day, as it will provide the energy you need to greet the day’s responsibilities with vim and vigor. Be sure to include complex carbohydrates, for staying power that will carry you till lunchtime. (John 21:12)

  4. Exercise regularly.

    Aerobic exercise increases your energy reserves, so get your heart pumping. You’ll expend a little effort upfront, but you’ll build your endurance and ward off fatigue in the long run. (1 Timothy 4:8)

  5. Preserve margin.

    Don’t pack your schedule so full that you leave yourself no time to rest and reflect and recharge. Such times of relaxation are vital to our health and well-being, which is the whole concept behind Sabbath observation. Margin also leaves room for unexpected interruptions and unforeseen emergencies. (Exodus 34:21)

  6. Review your goals.

    Zig Ziglar once said, “Don’t count the stuff you do, do the stuff that counts.” Make sure the goals you’re pursuing line up with your core priorities and values. Remind yourself of these things often, and stay focused on what’s really important. (Philippians 3:13-14)

  7. Work fresh.

    If you’re a morning person, get up early and tackle important tasks then. If you do better in the evening after little ones are in bed and the house is quiet, then be a productive night owl. When your energy starts to sag, take a break (or take a nap). Go for a jog, grab a cup of tea, or catch forty winks, then return to work with renewed vitality and clear thinking. (Proverbs 31:15-18)

  8. Rethink perfectionism.

    Perfectionism is often at odds with productivity. In fact, sometimes perfectionism can be downright paralyzing. I’m all for pursuing excellence, but some of our responsibilities warrant less attention to detail than others. We must tend to trivial tasks quickly and efficiently if we want to have the time and energy we’ll need to do our most important work well. (Matthew 23:23)

  9. Put On Some Music.

    For physical labor, tune into something upbeat and energizing; if you’re doing mental work, try something calming and classical. Listening to music in the OR improves surgeons’ job performance, and the same principle may hold true for you. (2 Chronicles 5:13)

  10. Forgive those who wrong you.

    Don’t harbor bitterness or nurse grudges. You’ll waste a lot of valuable time perseverating over past offenses. Fully forgive offenders: just let it go and move on. (Colossians 3:13)

  11. Turn off the T.V.

    The average American watches five hours of television a day. If you fall into that category, flip the switch. You can pack a lot of productivity into five hours a day. When you’re on your deathbed, I guarantee you won’t be lamenting, “Why, oh why, didn’t I ever watch that last season of Survivor?” (Psalm 101:3)

  12. Work offline.

    I don’t know about you, but I find it terribly distracting when I’m trying to work to receive a constant stream of bells, whistles, dings, and other alerts notifying me about new emails, texts, tweets, and Facebook messages. I make a lot more progress on my writing when I turn off the wireless connection to do it. Likewise, anytime I need to focus on a task at hand (like schooling my children) with minimal interruptions, I leave my iPhone on my nightstand, my laptop on my desk, and let the answering machine deal with any calls that come across the land line. (Hebrews 12:1)

  13. Brainstorm.

    Got a problem? Don’t be afraid to think outside the box. If something isn’t working, try a new approach. Don’t just keep doing what you’ve always done, expecting better results next time. (Wasn’t that Einstein’s definition of insanity?) What are you trying to accomplish? How can you make it happen? Unleash your creativity. Dream big. Then come up with a plan to accomplish those dreams. (Proverbs 16:1)

  14. Set a timer.

    Overwhelmed by the sheer volume of work that needs to be done? Break it down into manageable chunks. Set a timer for ten (or twenty or thirty) minutes, delve in with gusto, and see how much you can knock out before the buzzer sounds. (Proverbs 13:4)

  15. Work ahead.

    If looming deadlines stress you out, pace yourself. Start early and give yourself plenty of time to finish the task without rushing. My sister has successfully used this strategy since grade school, and I’ve seldom ever seen her flustered. (Luke 14:28-30)

  16. Harness adrenaline.

    If you work well under pressure, capitalize on that fact. Tack as many extras onto your “to do” list as you can think of, then race the clock to see how many you can finish before time is up. I do this whenever we host a party. My “must do’s” (send invites, clean house, prepare food) are invariably followed by a slew of “want to’s” (paint kitchen, redo landscaping, sew curtains, clean attic). I never finish everything on the extended list before the guests arrive, but I usually accomplish far more than those few items on my short list. (Philippians 4:13, Ephesians 3:20-21)

  17. Multi-task wisely.

    Sometimes doing two things at once is smart and efficient: If you have a long daily commute, it makes good sense to listen audio-books or language tapes while driving. If you’re facing a long wait at the doctor’s office, by all means bring along a book to read or some knitting to do or some papers to grade. At other times, however, multi-tasking is foolish, dangerous, or just plain rude: Texting while driving? Not smart. Checking stocks in the middle of church services? Don’t do it. Perusing Facebook during family dinners? Think again. Pocket your phone and connect with the people seated around your table instead. (Deuteronomy 11:18-19)

  18. Be Polite.

    Show kindness and consideration to everyone. Be as helpful to others as possible. Be generous with your time and money. It may sound counterintuitive, but showing uncommon courtesy is not only right and good from an ethical standpoint, it is also smart and savvy from an efficiency standpoint. Sure, it requires a little extra time and effort upfront, but it pays off in the long run. When you are terse and rude and cold toward others, not only are they disinclined to help you, but they’ll often work actively against you. You will be thwarted at every step, and everything you try to accomplish will be undermined by your own insolence. By contrast, when you are warm and caring and helpful toward others, that kindness will neither go unnoticed nor unrewarded. What goes around, comes around. We reap what we sow. (Proverbs 19:17; 2 Corinthians 9:6)

  19. Say a prayer.

    Although I’m ending my list with this, prayer should really be our starting point. Martin Luther’s approach to an unusually busy day was not to skimp on his quiet time with the Lord, but to extend it: “I have so much to do that I shall have to spend the first three hours in prayer.” He knew his only hope for accomplishing everything on his agenda was divine empowerment. I don’t think in all my life I’ve ever spent three continuous hours on my knees, but I can testify that my days do go more smoothly, and far more gets done by the end of them, when I begin my mornings with Bible study and prayer. (1 Thessalonians 5:17)

Those are my tips for being more productive. What helpful hints would you add to this list?

Lesson #4: Perfectionism is a Trap

Perfectionism is a TrapMy father was a general contractor. He was also a perfectionist — not a perfectionist about everything, mind you, but certainly a perfectionist about his work.

When Daddy did a job, he did it right. When he built something, he built it to last. If you hired my father to do a project, he’d deliver beautiful results… but it would take him forever and a day to finish it.

That’s because perfectionism is often at odds with productivity. In fact, sometimes perfectionism can be downright paralyzing.

I didn’t understand that fact when I first married. Back then, perfectionism seemed to me a good thing. Why, I wanted to do everything perfectly.

And that included ironing.

My goal: to keep my husband’s closet stocked with painstakingly-pressed, wrinkle-free clothes, so that anything he needed would always be clean and ready to wear.

My reality: I’d spend a full hour at the ironing board and have only two shirts to show for it. Doug would wear the first, the second would hang in an otherwise empty closet, and the rest of his wardrobe would languish in the bottom of a laundry basket awaiting my next regularly scheduled ironing day.

This frustratingly inefficient pattern continued until my husband convinced me to change my technique.

“You can’t spend thirty minutes ironing a single shirt,” he insisted. “Spend three minutes max. I’d rather have ten shirts with the biggest wrinkles ironed out than one that’s pressed to perfection and nine more that look like I’ve slept in them.”

That sounded reasonable enough. So I tried it his way, and — guess what? — it worked.

But old habits die hard, and I’ve needed (and received) more than a few reminders over the years — and not only as the principle pertains to ironing.

I am grateful for my husband’s balancing influence. He has a no-nonsense approach to most chores, and his tactics have forced me to rethink a lot of the myths I had carried into marriage with me.

Maybe it’s time for you to rethink them, too:

  • Myth #1: “Any job worth doing is worth doing right.”

    Au contraire. Some jobs are important enough (and time is short enough) that we must settle for doing them half-way. When my toddler eats a chocolate donut on the way to church and smears icing in her hair and on her dress, she might benefit from a full bath and a change of clothes, but circumstances dictate that I clean her up with a wet wipe instead.

    Of course, the donut itself was a compromise. “Doing the job right” would mean serving my family a well-balanced, home-cooked breakfast every day, wouldn’t it? But when we’re pressed for time, grabbing a donut on the go is better than letting them starve (though some of you hard-core nutritionists might disagree with me on that).

    This same principle applies to spiritual food as well as physical. Beginning each day with an uninterrupted hour of Bible study and prayer is a great goal, but on mornings when that plan doesn’t pan out, meditating on memory verses and praying while you work sure beats skipping your quiet time altogether.

  • Myth #2: “Never put off till tomorrow what you can do today.”

    There’s a big difference between procrastinating and prioritizing. Sometimes putting something off for another day (or even another season of life) is the most prudent course of action we can take.

    There are only so many hours in a day and only so much one person can (or should) accomplish in that time period. We must invest that time and energy in the things that matter most.

    The trick is in discerning what truly matters. “Important” doesn’t always mean “big.” In God’s economy — and especially for those of us with young children still at home — the things that matter most are often quite small.

  • Myth #3: “If you want a job done right, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

    Just because you are capable of doing a job and doing it right does not make you the person to do it. Our time, again, is limited. There is no shame in acquiring help, expert or otherwise (which is why we now send my husband’s dress shirts out to be laundered).

    Moreover, it is of vital importance that our children develop a strong work ethic. A competent mother who insists on doing every job herself to make sure it’s done right is effectively robbing her children of the opportunity to develop life skills that will serve them well in the future.

    Our children’s work may not meet up to our standards initially, but it is important that we recognize and appreciate their efforts, nonetheless, and provide them with ample opportunity for improvement.

  • Myth #4: “The important thing is to always do your best.”

    Doing our best in one area will often mean neglecting another. That can cause problems, especially when the thing we are presently doing is not as important as the thing we should be doing or need to do next.

    This (partly) explains why I am such a slow and sporadic blogger. As much as I enjoy writing and feel compelled to do so, my responsibilities as a wife and mother trump my aspirations as a writer. And so, during this season of training little ones and homeschooling our eight children still at home, I try to keep book projects and blog posts on the back burner during their wakeful hours.

    That’s the sentiment behind the poem, “Rocking My Baby.” We could clean house all day and still find corners that need attention (or post and pin and share and tweet every spare minute, but still find more to say). Dust and cobwebs (and social media) we’ll always have with us, but our babies will eventually grow up and leave home. We must redeem the time we’ve been given with them wisely.

So what does all this mean? Rather than always striving to do our best, or to do everything ourselves, or to do it all now, perhaps we should focus instead on maintaining balance. Diligently do the things that matter most with excellence, then tend to less significant duties with due (but not undue) care and consistency.

That’s my goal. Won’t you join me?

And if you’ve debunked any other myths in your search for balance, be sure to share those, as well.

Go To >>Life Lesson #5

Consistency is Key

Establishing New HabitsLast January, I wrote about the different approach I was trying for my 2012 New Year’s resolutions. I purposed to work on one new habit at a time and allow it to become firmly established before moving on to another.

Although I never got around to blogging about my progress as planned, it’s not because the experiment didn’t work. It did. But I stayed so busy plugging away at those goals that little time was left for documenting my success.

I may not have built all twenty-four habits I was aiming for, but I achieved many of them, and made decent progress on the others, as well: I read my Bible every single day and finished it in a year. I lost 30 pounds and kept them off for six months (so far) through daily exercise and calorie tracking. I invested daily in my marriage (which really makes our whole family happy, but especially my husband). I taught two more of my children to read. I’ve gleaned and tried lots of new ideas online for projects, crafts, recipes, and organization. I remembered family birthdays in time to get cards or packages signed, sealed and delivered on or before the big day. And I tried to economize in every way I could (although other family members sometime work against me on that one :-)).

The key to developing any new habit is consistency.

When we chip away daily at our goals, little by little, the results add up over time. Today’s technology makes it even easier to make steady, measurable progress. Here are seven eight online aps and resources that helped me stay consistent last year in the above mentioned areas:

  • Bible Reading Calendar – I love this free one-year Bible reading plan. It gives you a variety of passages all week (history on Mondays, poetry on Wednesdays, gospels on Saturdays, etc), so that you don’t get bogged down in the book of Leviticus for a solid month. You can even sign up to receive each day’s reading delivered directly by email.
  • Lose It! – This free app makes tracking calories almost effortless. It lets you scan barcodes, search for restaurant or brand name items, choose from previously eaten foods, or add recipe ingredients to create your own food. And if you, like I, tend to eat the same foods over and over, you can duplicate the calories consumed in an entire meal with a single click. The program calculates how many calories you should consume based on your current weight, age, activity level, and weight loss goals, and also keeps track of calories burned through exercise.
  • TTapp – After reading how a fellow homeschooling mother of twelve lost 100+ pounds by doing TTapp, I knew I had to investigate. And am I ever so glad I did! It only takes 15 minutes a day, 3-4 days a week to see amazing results. I lost 30 pounds last year using Teresa Tapp’s Total Body Core DVD and hope to lose another 40 this year. You can see Teresa’s signature move, the “Hoe Down” on YouTube. I know it looks deceptively easy, but just do a couple of sets and see how quickly it will get your heart rate up. My little 2-year-old likes TTapping, too. She looks so adorable doing hoe downs and lunges!
  • Love Your Husband on Facebook – This is a page I manage on Facebook, packed with marriage-building how-to and encouragement in the form of marriage quotes, interesting statistics, beautiful graphics, handy printables, thought-provoking polls, and links to helpful articles from across the web. We’d love for you to come join in the conversation. Just click the “Like” box in the righthand margin of this page to sign up.
  • Funnix Reading – I got a free beta-copy of this program for an old computer two years ago and enjoyed immediate success with it. It is based on the same program we used for our older children (TEACH YOUR CHILD TO READ IN 100 EASY LESSONS), but is much more colorful and fun. When we changed computers and I had to purchase a new copy, I was pleased to see how reasonably-priced it was, but would have paid even more for it as by that time I’d seen how well it works. I even bought an extra copy for my daughter-in-law to use with my grandsons. It is easy to teach two or more children simultaneously using this program, which cuts down on my instruction time as well. Funnix gets six thumbs up from us!
  • Pinterest – If you’ve never checked out this virtual pinboard, you should, if only to bookmark sites you wish to revisit or articles you’ll want to re-read. There is a wealth of information available on Pinterest. I love the fact that I can find detailed tutorials for doing just about anything I want to do on Pinterest? My girls and I have gleaned great ideas and completed countless Pinterest projects this year.
  • Birthday Alarm – I’m sure there are lots of this kind of reminder service available online, but I like Birthday Alarm because it’s free and it allows me to plug in the birthdays I want to remember manually, so I don’t have to pester my friends and family with email requests to fill out forms (and don’t have to divulge anybody’s email address but my own to use the service). Reminders are sent one week, then again three days in advance of each birthday, enough advance notice to drop a card in the mail or a gift ordered and delivered. To add dates by hand, click on “Add Birthdays,” then choose “Other Options” at the bottom of the page, then scroll to the very bottom of the next page and choose “add birthdays manually.”
  • Ebates – This is a free shopping portal that will pay you cash back on almost every online purchase you make. Shopping with Ebates was already a well-established habit in my own life, but I’ve been trying to train the rest of my family to use it, too. Simply go to Ebates and click through from there to the merchant you want to shop. Unfortunately, Amazon books does not participate, but just about every other store our family shops online does, including Target, Walmart, Payless Shoes, Office Depot, Eddie Bauer, 123 Inks, Home Depot, Linens ‘N Things, etc. Cash payouts are made quarterly.

And that about sums up my list of favorite apps and resources. What sorts of things have you found helpful in maintaining consistency and working toward your goals? Leave a comment below and tell us about them!

New Year’s Resolutions We All Should Make

New Year's ResolutionsI’m all for making lists of specific goals, but sometimes general reminders are in order, as well. Try posting these objectives on a bulletin board and reviewing them daily until they become automatic responses. (For a free printable copy, click here.)

1. Smile More

2. Spend Less

3. Stay Active

4. Don’t Worry

5. Eat Smarter

6. Pray Harder

7. Hug Your Loved Ones

8. Count Your Blessings

9. Listen Before Speaking

10. Admit When You’re Wrong

Best wishes for a healthy, happy, and productive New Year. Thanks for reading my blog. I hope you’ll visit often in 2013!

Lesson #1: Keep Your Eyes on the Ball

Life Lesson #1: Keep Your Eyes on the BallWhen I first got married, I possessed an utter lack of coordination in the area of gross motor skills. I couldn’t catch (or hit) anything to save my life. No matter what was tossed to me — baseballs, car keys, ballpoint pens — I’d fumble and let it fall to the floor.

My father had given up years earlier trying to instill in me any sense of athleticism, but my new husband was not so easily deterred. “Just keep your eyes on the ball, Jennifer. Glue your eyes to the ball!”

It’s a simple concept, I know, but one I’d always managed to struggle with it. Even when I started out with my full attention on the object hurtling toward me, at some crucial point, I’d shift my focus from the thing I was supposed to catch to the hand doing the catching. (Is that a broken nail?) Or to my general appearance. (My shirt’s untucked. Better fix it.) Or to the ground beneath me. (What did I just trip over?) Or to my personal safety. (That thing could hit me in the head!)

Still, my husband was certain that I could master this task in time, provided I received plenty of practice and positive encouragement along the way, which he most willingly and happily gave.

His confidence was not ill-founded. These days, unless the pitch is too fast for my eyes to follow, I can catch almost anything that is thrown to me — even those bits of shrimp the hibachi chef flicks at us whenever we eat Japanese.

Focus. Focus. Focus.

The secret is staying focused. This is true in sports, but even truer in life — as my husband has been so faithful to remind me.

A Christian’s primary goal should be to serve God and share His love with others, but how that purpose gets translated into day-to-day living will look different from one person to the next and from one season to the next, depending on individual giftings, circumstances, and responsibilities.

For me, a devoted wife and homeschooling mama with lots of little ones still in the nest, that day-to-day focus must of necessity be fixed on nurturing my marriage and educating my children. These are tasks that deserve my best effort and demand my full attention.

I cannot afford to fumble things here, when so many futures lay on the line. Giving way to distraction can have devastating consequences. I must sustain my focus. I must take heed. I must prioritize.

But saying that something is a priority and really making it a priority are two vastly different things. Have you ever noticed that? I can say that I want to lose weight, but if I eat like a pig and refuse to exercise, onlookers may accurately deduce that I’m not really serious about doing so. My actions reveal my true priorities.

Prioritizing time with family must be more than a platitude. It is too easy to become distracted, to shift our focus at what may later prove to have been a critical juncture. What we need is a game plan.

Here’s mine:

  • Write down your goals.

    It is impossible to focus on something that is not clearly defined. By taking time to commit your goals, dreams, and aspirations to paper, you can narrow your focus and give attention to the things that are most important to you.

  • Review them regularly.

    Such routine reminders will help you stay on target. Try to break your general goals into smaller, stepwise tasks, then put them on daily, weekly, and/or monthly checklists. This practice will keep your goals in the forefront of your mind.

  • Examine your routines.

    How do you spend your time? Do these activities help or hinder you from achieving your goals? Every six months or so, reevaluate your current schedule and try to minimize your involvement in anything that is not moving you toward your primary focus.

  • Stay fully engaged.

    When you are with your loved ones, be with them. Remain mentally present as well as physically. Power down the laptop, pocket the iPhone and reconnect with real, live people.

  • Don’t rush.

    It takes time to build solid relationships. If you are always in a hurry, it’s never going to happen. Slow down and savor each moment. You have a relatively small window of time in which to impact the lives of those around you or impart to them your blessings, love, knowledge, and values. Don’t squander it.

  • Do things together.

    Rather than pushing your children aside to pursue personal interests, get them involved, too. Cooking, gardening, scrapbooking, exercising — learn to view everything you do in terms of its potential for fellowship and/or discipleship. Get excited about what excites them, as well. As much as possible, when your kids are awake and around, do things that can be shared, and save the other stuff until after they’ve been tucked in for the night. (For me, “other stuff” would include blogging, which explains why my posts are so sporadic.)

These are the things I have made a conscious commitment to do. Sometimes I fall short, but I’m steadily making progress. Little by little. Day by day. I’m becoming less project-oriented and more people-oriented. I’m trying to ignore the many inconsequential things that vy for my attention in order to fix my thoughts on the vitally important.

Because it isn’t enough to suit up to play. It’s not enough to make it onto the field. If I don’t keep my head in the game, it will all be for naught. If I want to win, I must stay focused. I have to pay attention. I’ve got to glue my eyes to the ball.

Won’t you join me? What are your goals? What steps are you taking to reach them?

Go to LIFE LESSON #2 >>

My Empty Nest List

My Empty Nest List | Loving Life At HomeI distinctly remember crying when my firstborn was only four days old, because our time together was ticking by so fast. And sure enough, it seems like I barely blinked before he was grown and gone, with a wife and four sons of his own.

Although I still had nine little chicks in my nest when that first one fledged and flew away (and have added a couple more hatchlings since), I realized with a wince that, one by one, his siblings would soon follow. The next two are perched on the edge even now and will have flown off for good by late spring.

It’s a bittersweet time for mama bird. I’m proud and excited to see them go, so full of promise and potential, yet I’m painfully aware that our home will never be the same without them.

It’s hard to let go, and I don’t anticipate the process getting any easier. So several years ago, I began to compile what I call my empty nest list.

Some of the items on the list are things I enjoyed in earlier seasons of my life and would like to revisit:

  • backpacking Europe
  • singing with the symphony
  • teaching calculus
  • painting porcelain

Some activities are things I’ve never tried but am intrigued by:

  • glass blowing
  • salsa dancing
  • mountain climbing
  • scuba diving

Some are opportunities to minister in ways that my current responsibilities don’t allow:

  • rocking babies in Russian orphanages
  • counseling women through Crisis Pregnancy Centers
  • feeding the hungry in Third World countries
  • accompanying my husband on medical mission trips

Some entail expanding my skills in current areas of interest:

  • writing and publishing prolifically
  • memorizing large portions of scripture
  • learning to play a few beloved classics on the piano
  • becoming fluent in Spanish, German, French, and Chinese

Some involve traveling to places I’ve never been before:

  • Beijing
  • Costa Rica
  • Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania
  • The Moon

My original list is impossibly long, with more on it than one could hope to squeeze into a single lifetime. Some of the ideas may lose their charm long before I have time to devote to them, but that is okay. It was never meant to be a bucket list of exploits to check off before I die.

Rather, it was intended to serve as a reminder that life doesn’t stop when your last child leaves the nest. All sorts of new and exciting possibilities await, even after this precious, fleeting season of child-rearing comes to its inevitable end.

In the wise words of Dr. Seuss, we “don’t cry because it’s over, [we] smile because it happened.”

And then we do the next thing. What will yours be?

How Will You Be Remembered?

The Flanders Family: Mom and KidsAn interviewer once asked Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison how she had become such a great writer. Did she study a particular method? Read books to hone her craft? Study under famous authors?

To which Morrison laughed and replied, “Oh, no, that is not why I am a great writer. I am a great writer because when I was a little girl and walked into a room where my father was sitting, his eyes would light up. That is why I am a great writer. There isn’t any other reason.”*

I find this story both encouraging and convicting. Encouraging, because it shows what a profound effect this man’s love for his daughter had upon her development. Convicting, because it begs the question, How will my children will remember me?

Will they remember a mother who took utter delight in their company? Or one who was too distracted to notice when they entered a room?

Will they recall eyes that danced as she listened to their stories with unfeigned interest? Or eyes that drifted back to an iPhone or computer screen before half a dozen words were uttered?

Will their minds replay the unceasing stream of affirmation, love, encouragement, and respect that flowed from their mother’s lips? Or will they be haunted by criticism, disapproval, and remarks made in anger or frustration?

Will they envision a mother who willingly laid aside projects, plans, and pastimes whenever she heard them call, “Look, Mom! Watch me, Mom! Mom! You’ve got to see this…”? Or will they remember a mom too busy to be bothered?

Will they remember a mother who smiled?

The mother I want my children to remember in the future is the mother I must be in the here and now.

How do you want your children to remember you? What steps will you take today to make today to make those memories happen?

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~
Further reading on related topics, may I suggest:

One Awesome Piece of Advice Every Parent Should Know by Darlene Schacht (The Time Warp Wife)
Missing More Than Life by Rachel Stafford (Hands Free Mama)
The Interrupted Life by Charlotte Siems (This Lovely Place)

*As quoted by Nancy Campbell on page 362 of her newest book, CHEER UP!

A New Year/ A New You

Even in grade school, my favorite section of the library was the “how-to” shelf. While my friends were reading their way through all 175 volumes of Nancy Drew, I was checking out book after book on crafting and building and drawing and sewing.

About the time I was running out of projects in McCALL’S GIANT GOLDEN MAKE IT BOOK, I came across a curious manuel entitled A NEW YOU, all about the benefits of regular face-washing and how to do a proper push-up.

I devoured it cover to cover.

It wasn’t that I was dissatisfied with the “old me,” but the book fell into my hands just as puberty was setting in. I’d like to think that reading it helped me navigate the attendant changes with a little more confidence and grace, despite the fact that my “awkward stage” was, by all other accounts, rather protracted.

So I rechecked the book about thirteen weeks in a row and would have kept it indefinitely had our school librarian not insisted I find something new to read and suggested I try ISLAND OF THE BLUE DOLPHINS, (which I likewise loved).

All this to say, the idea of self-improvement has intrigued me for almost forty years now. I normally start every January with a ridiculously long list of resolutions, but this year, I’m taking a different tack. I still have lots of areas that need attention, but I’m not going to tackle them all at once. Instead, I’ll take the entire year to focus on one improvement at a time. Since it takes roughly two weeks to establish a new habit, by the end of 2012, I’ll have made 26 lasting changes. Doesn’t that sound doable?

And since it is only by the grace of God that any endeavor meets with success, I plan to focus first on cultivating a more vibrant prayer life. Anybody care to join me? I plan to post plenty of how-to’s, progress reports, and other inspiring thoughts along the way, so check back in and let me know how it is going, okay?

In Pursuit of Lasting Results

I have a friend who refuses to iron more than one piece of clothing at a time. She believes that dying with a closet full of clean, pressed clothes would be testimony to a wasted life. Why bother ironing something you may never get the chance to wear?

“I”d much rather spend my time mowing the lawn,” my friend confides. I assume she just enjoys being out in the fresh air and sunshine, but no, she explains, the reason she likes cutting the grass is because she knows it won’t need to be cut again for a full week — or at least five or six days. Not so with any other domestic task.

I can see her point. You can knock yourself out scrubbing bathrooms, mopping floors, or washing windows, and the results can be completely undone in a matter of minutes. (And the more young children that share your household, the more likely your efforts to keep it clean will be thwarted.)

Even a home-cooked meal is summarily demolished once it’s been brought to the table. No sooner do you wash and dry the last dish from one meal than your famished family is back in the kitchen, asking when they may expect the next and begging for a snack.

But a freshly-mown lawn? Once that job’s done, you can take a well-earned break and enjoy it for awhile. There is something very gratifying about that fact.

As a wife and mother, I must deal with an endless barrage of demands upon my time and energy, of which there is a very limited supply. If I do not choose wisely, I will end up squandering it to achieve results that are fleeting rather than investing it in something longer lasting.  I want to make taking care of people, not possessions, my focus.

Of course, at some point, the laundry does have to be washed, the meals prepared, the floors swept. Life has always been a balancing act and always will be. The challenge is to tend to the temporal duties in such a way that we achieve lasting results. Not that the same chores won’t have to be done all over again tomorrow, but that in the doing, we are training children, teaching teamwork, showing appreciation, offering encouragement, modeling diligence, radiating joy, building character, and making memories together.

That kind of time investment will yield results that endure.

My Sunday “To-Do” List

Do you ever daydream during worship services? Even as your lips sing the words to the songs and hymns, does your mind flit to memories from the past week or plans for the next?

Ecclesiastes 5:1 commands, “As you enter the house of God, keep your ears open and your mouths shut! Don’t be a fool who doesn’t realize that mindless offerings to God are evil.” (NLT)

I sometimes feel a vague sense of guilt when the last amen is said, and I realize I haven’t heard a word of the sermon. But I’ve never regarded my tendency to daydream as being particularly evil. That’s a pretty harsh term!

Yet God says that we are fools if we think He is pleased with mindless offerings. When we go through the motions of worship while our minds wander far astray, we miss the entire point. God wants us to love and serve and worship Him with our whole heart and our full attention. His strong words to the hypocritical pharisees should prove that He is not impressed by the external trappings:

Mark 7:6-7 – “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from Me. They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

So I’ve made myself a very short “to do” list for tomorrow:

1. Go to church.

2. Arrive on time.

3. Pay attention while I’m there.

Not in an effort to earn my salvation. Not to be bound by the rules of men. Only because I love the Lord and want to worship Him with my ears and my heart wide open.

My Sunday To-Do List