Having What Matters

Solutions & Simplicity in the Workplace

Demands on a professional woman can be intense; with a career in law, I understand completely. We may all have different work circumstances, but whatever your position is, I’m guessing that like mine, it isn’t easy.

But just as I’m creating systems and processes at home to help me simplify, streamline, and manage everything better, I’m doing the same thing at work. In correlating the home and the workplace, a few of these quick tips will help relieve some of the pressure.

Ask yourself good questions

In creating systems at work, I start out by asking myself high-quality questions. It sounds trite, but I strongly believe in the whole “Ask a better question, get a better answer” mantra. When I approach work, I try to ask myself good questions to help me prioritize my work and create the best possible outcomes for myself and my organization.

Here are a few starter questions when facing an avalanche on your desk: (Note from Miranda – these should be bullets)

What has to be done now?

  • What can wait?
  • What can I delegate and to whom?
  • Who can help me with this?
  • Should this be done by me or someone else?
  • Why are we doing it this way?
  • What other ways could we approach this?
  • What paper/process/red tape could we eliminate to make things simpler and more streamlined? (Can I get an “amen” on that one!?)

Create radically simple solutions.

Right now, I am amassing resources on creating radically simple solutions for workplace problems. First, I need to learn as much as I can about the challenge I’m facing — again, applying the “ask good questions rule.”(Note from Miranda – these should be bullets)

  • What is the history?
  • What has been tried before?
  • Who are the stakeholders?
  • What are their interests?
  • What are their concerns?

Next, I need to figure out how to provide better service or outcomes with leveraged energies. I want to strip down each challenge to its core and construct a solution that uses less money and energy. The solution should also improve outcomes and generally make life better and easier for myself and others. That’s a winning solution! It does, of course, take an initial investment of time when creating solutions this way because the most elegant and radically simple solution is rarely obvious. Keep excavating, digging deep until you can get to the very core of what needs to happen and the simplest way to make it happen. Then, garnish support from key people who will be impacted by the change or whom you need to help you champion the change. Make your case for why you believe this is the best solution, based on your research and strategic thought. Be prepared to course-correct as you go, but don’t wait for a perfect solution before you start making things simpler.

Build healthy boundaries

This is a hard one for me! I always want to help everyone, all the time. However, if I do that, I won’t get the big work or the big tasks done. I’m working on time blocking within my schedule so that I am intentionally creating time for the projects that require more deep thinking. I try to schedule meetings only on two days of the week and then block three days for projects. This is far, far from absolute. Meetings always sneak in on my non-meeting days; it’s just the nature of my work. I will also schedule a lunch meeting on any day because I need to eat and so does the person who needs to meet with me, so we might as well eat together. I’ll keep you posted on my progress on this, but I know that I can’t move forward on any big ideas and projects in 15-minute increments between meetings. So while my schedule is sometimes at the mercy of others, for the large part, it isn’t. If I’m really honest, I am responsible for creating the chaos in my calendar by not being more thoughtful and purposeful with my own time. I am the one who has allowed or scheduled back-to-back meetings, rather than simply saying “Could we meet later this week? I’m already booked up on Tuesday.” Even though there are sometimes situations you need to deal with immediately, for the most part people are very understanding and flexible if you need to wait a few days. It is as simple as asking yourself what you need and what time you need. We don’t need to be at everyone’s “beck and call” all the time. This is a potential area for growth (and a concept that I need to remind myself of daily) so be grace-filled with yourself as you make changes in boundaries.

Leave work at work (as much as possible)

This is a hard one and I know it’s not possible for many people to do this 100%. In fact, I think it works better for some people to bring some work home to do after the kids go to bed or first thing in the morning when your mind is most sharp. This provides a little bit of relief because you can be more flexible with other commitments (like being at a kid’s after-school event). That being said, the idea that I also try to calm the mental clutter spinning in my head and allow myself to focus on work at work and home at home is proving to be very helpful. It’s hard to stayed tuned in to everything all the time, almost as if your mind is a web browser that has far, far too many windows open. Focusing and being present is actually much more efficient. (We will unpack the myth of multitasking another time.) It’s been said that tasks expand to fill the time allotted. So, to the extent I can, I allot time during the day for tasks and give myself hard-stops at the end of the work day and consequently, I find myself to be more efficient. If my whole 24-hour day feels like a possible work day, I will let projects and tasks linger because there is always a “later.” If I tell myself I must turn off the computer by a certain time (end of work day, like 5:00 or 5:30 p.m.), then I push myself a little harder to get through the workday to-do list.

Take mini-breaks during the day

This is also a productivity hack that takes intention and discipline. Studies have shown that we are much more productive when we take mini-breaks throughout the day to let our mind rest and reset a bit. While taking too much time away during the day can be challenging, mini-breaks will ultimately make you more productive. I don’t know about you, but there are days where I’m so laser-focused on my email inbox, crossing things off my to-do list, or running from meeting to meeting that I barely take time to use the restroom much less take a five-minute breathing break. I’m working on actually calendaring small breaks into my day or setting the timer on my phone to remind me to walk to get a glass of water, stop and say hello to a colleague, or do anything to let my mind take a breather. These mini-breaks make us more efficient in the bigger scheme of things by not asking more of our brains than they can provide. Some people build in time ratios like, working for 50 minutes and then taking a 10 minute break. Do what works best for you, but let your brain reset a bit throughout the day. This may also look different for extroverts than it does for introverts. Extroverts get their energy from interactions with others, so a trip to the water cooler or a coffee run with a colleague will recharge them. Introverts, on the other hand, recharge by having time alone, so a mini-break is more likely to be shutting the door and having a bit of alone time or taking a walk around the block alone. It’s important to honor your own style because the mini-break should fill you up, not deplete you.

There are lots of ways we can improve our work habits that ultimately support us in creating better outcomes in our jobs while also fostering more clarity, focus, intention, and simplicity in our minds and lives. I’ll be sharing more of these hacks as I find them, but these are five that are foundational and a great place to start bringing simplicity into the professional side of life.

4 Reasons to Remodel Rather than Move

Have you ever wanted to press “reset” on your home and start over? You’ve watched all the flipper and rehab shows and perhaps you look around knowing your home is a diamond in the rough. Then, maybe you sigh (like I did) at all the work and money that that would take. And perhaps you’ve wondered, is it better to move or rehab? Excellent question! Here’s our story.

We are just wrapping up a significant home remodeling project. And by significant, I mean we gutted and remodeled our whole kitchen and three of our four bathrooms. We also added a transom window in one room and replaced the picture windows in our living room. We put down new flooring in our laundry room and built new cubbies to hold the kids’ school stuff. By the mountain of mess and sawdust, I consider that yes, it was a significant remodeling job!

And we did all that pounding and sawing and mess-making in November and December this year, because why wouldn’t we do it during the holidays? Crazy, I know.

Of course, I had also started a new job in October, so I was “drinking from the firehose” learning a new position, being in a new team, and holding a new role.

Why not bring on all the crazy at once and just get it out of the way? That’s what we intentionally decided to do.

Now that we are on the other side of it, I get questions as to why we chose to remodel instead of move. This is a fair question and we had asked ourselves the same– whether we should remodel or move — for about a year prior to engaging a contractor to help us knock out almost all our walls.

I read an article recently about how Americans are obsessed with remodeling right now and are spending unwisely on superficial changes to their homes. While this may be true for some, that doesn’t represent everyone. We were living in a home built in 1982 that was designed for a middle-aged couple with no children. It was a great home for them, and it worked for us when we moved in in 2006 with our toddler and newly-adopted infant. Fast forward to today, with three middle-schoolers, we were bumping into each other left and right, fighting over who got access to the sink and shower upstairs, and elbowing each other out of the way to open the fridge.

Now, I’m an over-thinker, so this decision to basically gut our beloved but well-worn home was not reached lightly. We knew it had big implications for us financially, and we try to be conservative in our financial decisions.

However, at the end of the day, I needed our home to work for us. I needed it to support the kind of family life I wanted to build. I needed our home to be a haven for us: a safe, comfortable place that worked with the family structure we have right now and for the future.

Full disclosure, we talked about doing nothing, just living in the space as it was. That would certainly have been the cheapest route. Yet, we knew the kids were only getting bigger — and more social. We wanted to be “the” house where they could bring their friends to hang out. And let’s be honest, we also couldn’t handle six more years of listening to quibbling over the sink upstairs. Personally, as a woman with high-intensity career, I needed a tub/shower set up that I could use at the end of a long day. The pre-remodel layout had a soaker tub and retrofitted shower, which meant we had two shower curtains surrounding the shower. This awkward design resulted in a wet, sticky mess both inside and outside the shower. We decided we had to do something, so the discussion became a long one about whether to move or remodel.

Our thought process went something like this:

#1. It made financial sense.

We spent a lot of time working on our financial numbers as we debated whether we should remodel or move. Ryan and I are very careful with our money and financial resources – with three growing kiddos, we have to be creative and strategic! We looked at our budget, our monthly expenses and charitable contributions (both of which were non-negotiable). We looked at what we had in reserves and what we thought we could pay off. We looked at the impact of moving. Moving to a new home that would meet all our needs would have doubled our mortgage (we locked in a beautiful rate a couple of years ago when rates were crazy-low.) We calculated how much we would lose on realtor fees, which was money right off the top. We knew we had money we had been socking away methodically for either a remodel or down payment, and we calculated what we could put toward a remodeling project home equity loan or increased mortgage rate. In the end, we crunched the numbers and it became glaringly clear to us that it made more sense to stay put and renovate. We were determined to pay off the remodel as quickly as possible, and by using our reserves and tightening our belts, we were able to pay for about ⅔ of the remodel from money we saved and pay off the remaining ⅓ (that we used a home equity line to finance) within nine months of completing the project. A move would have doubled our mortgage rate for the life of the loan, so keeping our current mortgage rate and having no debt from the remodel within one year of completing it was the best financial choice for us.

#2. We liked our location.

We have a great neighborhood. Our property backs up to a nature preserve, so no one can build behind us. We live on a cul-de-sac with lovely neighbors that we have known for ten years. Our kids can bike or walk to the community center or library. I have a reasonable commute to work (about 20 minutes on a good day.) We have easy shopping nearby (Target and Trader Joe’s). Our daughter’s dance school is a 3-minute drive. We have a good spot here. When I looked at other homes, there wasn’t anything that had all of the benefits of our location. There were some lovely, secluded, wooded lots (which I appreciate), but it meant I would be adding at least 30 minutes a day to my commuting times. I wasn’t willing to give up that extra 2.5 hours per week. Our school district is fantastic so leaving the district was a non-starter. We determined that there really wasn’t a location we liked better than where we were.

#3. There wasn’t anything we liked better in our price range.

I went to a lot of open houses. I did tons of research. For about a year, I visited at least one open house a weekend (if not more, depending on what was open) and spent countless hours scouring real estate websites. Granted, there were some very interesting and lovely properties, but they were listed at prices more than we were willing to spend. We knew approximately what the remodel would cost, and even when we added that onto the market value of our current home, we couldn’t get into a new house in a similar, comfortable price range. We didn’t want to be “house poor.” We needed to be sure we were saving for college (since we will have three kids in there at the same time!) and retirement. We wanted to have options should something change with our jobs or cash flow. Keeping a low mortgage rate was important to us, and we couldn’t do that with any of the homes we were visiting.

#4. Our unique family circumstances.

Money was not the only consideration. We needed to do what was right for our kids, too. We could crunch numbers all day and analyze pros and cons, but there were also three other members of the family who had their own perspectives on moving. While their opinions weren’t deal-breakers, we wanted to take them into account. Our girls had known their current house as “home” for over ten years. Our youngest came home from Colombia and spent just one night in our previous home before we moved here. (Yes, we moved from our old home to our current home 48 hours after returning from a six-week adoption trip to Colombia. Another story for another post.) Our girls loved our current home and location. Our son had just arrived in our home about two years before we were deciding whether to move or remodel. Since he came into our family at age 10, he was just settling into his new home, new country (he is from China), and new culture. It didn’t feel right to uproot him from his new home and move him to another house. Was it possible? Yes, of course. But for a 12-year-old boy who is just getting his sea legs in a new family, new house, and new — well — everything, keeping our location steady was a priority. Packing up our home and moving to another would have been infinitely more disruptive than two months of construction. Everyone has their own family circumstances that make what could be a purely financial and objective decision a little more complicated, and the unique circumstances of our family composition influenced our housing decision.

So, in the end, those four big reasons kept us in our current home. We lived through a remodel (more on that in the future). We cooked on a hot plate in the basement and ate around a folding table for two months. We all took showers and brushed our teeth in our teenage daughter’s basement bathroom. It was an adventure, but we all made it through alive!

The remodel was money well-spent. I initially resisted spending it because I don’t really like to spend down our reserves or write big checks. But as soon as we moved back into our kitchen and all five of us could be in the space together without ramming into each other like bumper cars, I knew we had made the right choice. Listening to the two younger kids banter while they both brush their teeth in the same bathroom since we ripped out the stand-up shower and put in dual sinks — that banter is priceless. Ryan and I lay in our bed down the hall and eavesdrop on their brother/sister conversations over face washing and teeth brushing. All the mess and sawdust was worth it.

And I can sit here at the kitchen table, looking out over the our own familiar woods in a peaceful, intentionally designed home, and write to you.

Let’s Do This

I didn’t have a watershed moment that made me change everything. Perhaps others experience those defining, line-in-the-sand moments when inspiration creates massive changes in their lives but I don’t have that kind of a story. And maybe you don’t have that story either.
My story is that I’m a working mom of three who deeply needed change. I wanted to change the life/work “thing.” While I did the best I could with the knowledge I had, it led me to a life of overwhelm, stress, regret, and frustration. As I looked around at dear friends pulling the same long hours and running to the same kids’ activities with the same results, I realized I needed to chart a different path. Maybe that’s why you’re here – searching for a better path.
From my place of frustration and stress several years ago, this blog was born. I trademarked “Having What Matters” long before the simplicity and minimalism movements were really chugging along in earnest (and certainly before I knew it existed, though there were some trailblazers out there!) “Having What Matters” was a phrase that came to me when I was mulling over the implications of the proverbial question of “Having It All.” I wondered, “Maybe it’s not about having it all, but about Having What Matters.”
I began reading, experimenting, decluttering, simplifying, streamlining, and trying to align what mattered to me as a professional working mom with my personal life experience.
And it’s still messy some days. And hard. (Okay, let’s be real, darn near impossible.)
That’s why I couldn’t find resources and thought-leaders geared toward working moms of older kids with dual-income families, messy teenage rooms, an overfull calendar, and children who were about as compliant as they were as toddlers.
When I would talk with other women — mothers or those without children alike — about their lives, their careers, and what really mattered to them, it gave me so much joy to share a bit about my journey! In my continuing process, I had found tips, decisions, life hacks that worked for me (and plenty that didn’t) and how to find hope when you feel like you are digging out of a deep, dark pit of your own creation.
If you are familiar with the dark pit of overwhelm, you are in the right space. I’ve been there too and have found a hard-earned pathway out.
You see, you and I live in a society where we’re told that the only way to be happy is to do more, have more, and be more. That’s a recipe for disaster, but it’s all we know. And it’s what we feel we need to do to be “successful.”
But it simply isn’t true.
I believe simplicity is possible for women who want both a fulfilling career and a meaningful personal life – to intentionally “own” their lives and focus on what really matters to them.
So this marks my line in the sand, although I started dragging my toe on the beach a long time ago.
I have two main goals for this blog:

  1. To curate and share what I’ve learned so far. I’ve been researching, following, experimenting, and fumbling around with simplicity, minimalism, work/life balance, and all sorts of personal and professional development material for a long time. I want to share it with you, so you can skip some of the bumps I’ve had along the way.
  2. To show you what the process of simplifying looks like in a dual-income, busy household of five people with two working parents, three middle-schoolers, and a slew of extracurriculars and commitments for all five of us. We have a long way to go, but we’ve started and can look back at the important changes that have come already. As a professional, ambitious woman, I want to enjoy and build a home that is a haven for those myself and those I love; I’ll share my joys and challenges, my ups and downs, what has worked and what has failed.

Let’s walk this walk together. It won’t feel easy at times. It will bring up some big questions about who we are deep down and what kind of life we want and why. There will be tough conversations with our loved ones and co-workers. It may feel like two steps forward, one step back some days, but in the end, it will be worth it. An intentionally crafted life is always worth it. I want you to know that your journey matters!
So feel free to dive right into the blog and watch for more valuable resources coming soon. We are hiking through rugged territory, but we can hike together. Who’s bringing the snacks?

The golden moments

SunsetOnMadelineIsland-300x224“The golden moments in the stream of life rush past us and we see nothing but sand; the angels come to visit us, and we only know them when they are gone.” – George Eliot

 

As we move from trying to get and do more, more, and more and toward having and doing what matters, we need to focus on also thinking more about quality instead of quantity.

This past weekend was very, very full around our home. We had family in town for four days, a memorial service for a beloved family member, a birthday party on Saturday and a dance recital on Sunday for our eight-year-old (and twelve of her closest friends!), and much more. There was lots of quantity and quality.

But I also felt throughout the weekend that I was just trying to “get through” each event and onto the next without dropping any plates that I was desperately and frantically spinning.

I wasn’t savoring all of the wonderful things going on around me. My parents who I don’t get to see as often as I would like. My daughter’s party and recital — those precious moments of her beautiful youth that I know are flying by much more quickly than I would like.

Too soon, my daughters won’t want to bounce with their mom in the inflatable bounce house in the front yard.

Too soon, my daughter won’t be up on the stage, smiling and laughing in her dance costume and basking in the glory of the lights and make-up and applause.

Too soon, I won’t have weekends where my parents come to town and we enjoy shopping and eating out and watching them spend time with their grandchildren.

Today: I will try to remember that I want to savor what really matters the most in my life. Every moment, focusing on building and adding quality moments to my life, not just more, more, more quantity. Quantity adds nothing but stress and anxiety and it takes away from my life.

Quality — really having the moments, events, people, and possessions that matter most — adds to my life, gives me meaning and pleasure, and gives me a feeling of peace and contentment that sheer quantity never, ever could.

Invitation: when you feel like you are just trying to “get through” things because there is so much to do and worry about, take a step back and remember that these moments are the moments of your life. Savor them.

Remember to hold the golden moments in your hand and visit with the angels in your midst. They may not come again.

 

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IM000261.JPG“Kendra is a gem: wise, grounded, balanced, incredibly accomplished, entrepreneurial, business and life savvy, just to name a few of her radiant qualities. I am proud to know her and would definitely want her in my corner because she is generous with her gifts.”

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Solutions & Simplicity in the Workplace

Demands on a professional woman can be intense; with a career in law, I understand completely. We may all have different work circumstances, but whatever your position is, I’m guessing that like mine, ...
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