Setting Systems and SMART Goals to Help 2021 Start on the Right Foot

A #Reclaiming2020 Thread

For so many of us, the end of 2020 can’t come soon enough. The allure of a new year and the proverbial blank slate is something that has incredible psychological power.

Well now we’ve got 30 days left and, though the last few months have given me hope for a brighter future, my own personal future is still a bit of a hot mess.

While the allure of January 1st as a clean start is tempting, I know from personal experience that starting a brand new routine or adopting new habits is a process of trial, error, success and failure, highs, and lows. Starting on a new blank routine from day zero anticipating perfection and success is a recipe for disappointment. Logically, you wouldn’t sign up to run a 10k on January 1st without participating in some kind of training regimen beforehand. So why do we consistently operate on the idea that we can successfully launch ourselves into a brand new routine or lifestyle with zero preperation?

There are 30 days left in 2020, and I intend to use them as my ‘training period’ for 2021. Trying new routines, new habits, training for a fresh start at the beginning of the new year.

So, with 2020 coming to a close, I’m setting SMART goals to try new habits and routines leading into the New Year.

What are SMART Goals?

SMART Goals are something I first learned about in business school, but have recently been used by self improvement and study guru’s to help people create more effective and targeted methods of reaching their goals.

Full Function Rehab | SMART Goal Setting Vaughan
For more on how to create SMART Goals, click HERE

The underlying idea of SMART goals is to find a way to make us accountable. ‘I want to find a job’ or ‘I want to write a book’ or even ‘I want to get an A in Genetics’ are all wonderful goals, but because they are so vague they can often be difficult to track, and therefore difficult to stick with. You can find more on how to create effective SMART goals HERE, but the general idea is in the name; make your coals specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound.

Kaizen – The Art of Continuous Improvement

Something else that I have found makes a vast difference for me ties in with the Japanese Concept of Kaizen – or the art of continuous improvement.

Kaizen de-emphasizes perfection, which can be a leading cause of stress and a major contributing factor to giving up or abandoning our goals altogether, and instead focuses on improvement. The idea is not necessarily to get it right the first time around, but instead to do just a little bit better than last time.

In that thread, I focus less on my relation to an ultimate and ever-changing goal, and more on my engagement and performance in the day to day process of it all.

Otherwise called a ‘System’.

Atomic Habits – Systems not Goals

If you have not yet heard of Atomic Habits by James Clear, I really must ask what rock you have been living under. Even if you do not have the time to read the book in full, there are plenty of taking aways and summaries that can be of tremendous insight. But for our purposes, we are going to be focusing on the delineation between goals and systems.

If your goal is to be able to deadlift 200 lbs by the summer, and you spend every day pushing yourself closer to that goal, you may ignore warning signs from your body in favor of adding on just a few more pounds. But if you end up injuring yourself in the process, you could be setting your goal back by months if not years. By shifting focus from your proximity with the end goal to continual growth and consistently showing up, this changes the pressure we put on ourselves and makes our goals, ultimately, more achievable.

My 30 Day End of 2020 Goals

My general goals for 2020 focus more on routine and continuous improvement. They also happen to fall into the four general categories of self-improvement that most of our New Years goals tend to fall into, but perhaps that will make them easier to relate to or use to draw on for examples when making your own goals.

My 2020 – 2021 Goals

My general goals are blocked under four categories but are free to change from day to day. The ultimate takeaway is my ‘participation’ in that given area.

Physical Goals

I want to be more physically active and just generally take better care of myself. Sitting in front of a desk for hours on end is not generally a good thing for either my spine or general level of fitness. It would also be good if I ate less like a gremlin and more like a hippie, but I’ll settle for somewhere in the middle.

Intellectual Goals

I want to learn something new every day. And yes, I’m in grad school, so learning is kind of par for the course. But diving through pages of notes often feels less connected to learning than mastering a singular concept. So even if I’ve been studying ‘phenotypic heritability’ for hours, I’ll only be counting it if I have an ‘Ah-ha!’ or ‘Eureka!’ type moment while doing so, or if I have that moment in a completely different subject.

Creative Goals

The same general principle holds true for creative enterprises. As a children’s author, I spend a lot of time thinking about stories, characters, impact, engaging readers… but that doesn’t result in a finished product. So much my collecting of ‘Ah-ha’ moments above, I want to be able to wield tangible results in my hands for it to be able to count. Whether that is words written, pages drafted, characters sketched, or even scarves knitted… I will be focusing on things that yield tangible results in real time.

Spiritual

Being in Sweden, so far from most of my family, in the middle of lockdown, the short days and long nights are easy to let get to you. It is so much simpler to turn to merge dragons than it is to turn on mentally. But that is neither healthy nor sustainable. I want to do things that feed my soul. I want to reconnect with friends and family (even if it is digitally). I want to consume media that helps me grow. and I want to take the time to check in with myself on a regular basis, rather than just keep on pushing forward.

Trackable SMART Goals Example

The four categories above, while representative of most of what I want to do, are hardly specific. So for a better idea of what those goals will look like in the real world, here are a few of the micro goals I will be setting myself.

Drink Water

And oldy but a goody, and yet I still never do it. I will be attempting to drink 2 liters of water, each and every day, of 2020 and beyond.

Read in Swedish

This is really a 2 for 1 so I should want to do it even more but, again, it often gets pushed to the wayside. I’ve picked up two children’s chapter books in Swedish from the second hand shop and intend to read 5 pages (one sided) before bed at least 4 times a week (70%).

Stay off Social Media

I feel bad leaving this for last as this goal will actually affect those reading my articles here at TNN. I walk more about the why’s behind this on my YouTube channel HERE, but suffice to say I have a busy month coming my way in December. And, as such, for the rest of 2020… this will be the last you see of me. I will be staying off Facebook, Instagram, Youtube, and, yes, even TNN.com for the remainder of this year.


At the end of my free trial run for 2021 (also known as December 2020) I will create SMARTER Goals moving forward. SmartER because I will Evaluate (E) and Review (R) the steps I have taken, the systems I have tried, and see what really works for me and what doesn’t and adjust. Hopefully, I’ll be back and writing away with a clearer head and more time to focus on what is important, but I am trying not to enter into this trial run with any preconceptions. This is an experiment after all, and as any student at the school of Bill Nye will tell you, bias = bad science.

So, until next time, here’s hoping to a better and brighter future in 2021.


Check out this and more original content available every week at TheNerdyNanny.com by subscribing to us on Facebook or Instagram.

You can also check out Eve Daniels, author of The Nerdy Nanny books, on YouTube where she gives writing and academic advice as well as updating you on all of her latest and upcoming projects.

My Perfect Planner – The Lazy BuJo

Do you resentfully like photos of perfectly designed and colorful Bullet Journals on Instagram? Are you desperately trying to get organized or keep on track with your plans and goals but every single system seems to inevitably fail? Did you read the title and laugh? Good Enough. Meet your new Planner.

Hi! Just in case you’re new here, I’m the crazy person who decided to launch her own independent publishing company, apply to grad school, create 10 kids books in two years, get into grad school, and then move halfway across the planet in the middle of a pandemic. There – now we’re all caught up.

And as crazy and insane as my life may sound, finding a scheduling system that works for me has always been a problem as over-complicated minute by minute planning a) never works and b) never works. While Bullet Journaling is an artistic and utterly customizable trend that would seem to solve this problem, I was less inclined to sit down for 20 minutes at the start of each month and draw out a million little perfectly illustrated boxes in different color-coded systems.

So with store-bought planners frustrating me, Grad School creeping up around the corner and neither the time nor inclination to hand draw a Bullet Journal, I found I had to create my own.

The end result was The Lazy Bujo.

Why this Planner is Different

It Never Expires

As in, there are no dates marked anywhere in this journal. This was such a small thing but I found it severly limited the usefullness of store bought planners for me.

As COVID has undoubtedly proven over the last few months, sometimes things don’t go to plan. I always wondered why academic planners bothered to include June and July, but likewise found that, for whatever reason, I would have random months or partial months that I just… didn’t use.

In a normal planner, it’s use it or loose it. With the lazy Bujo, it’s more use it … or don’t, it’ll still be here when you need it.

Monthly / Weekly / Daily

Each section starts with a monthly spread, again unmarked and undated so these planners never expire.

The weekly break down is a little different because a) the week is split into two parts and b) there is no Sunday. By splitting up the week into two parts I found there was enough room in each grid for daily planning without needing to carry a 365-page book around (yes, that’s how many days are in a year).

Another thing I hate about weekly planners is when they scrunch the weekends into smaller squares so they all fit on one page. I have PLANs for the weekend and kind of need that space. Also, some store-bought planners start their weeks on Sunday, and some start on Monday. My weeks, frequently, will switch between both. So with the Lazy Bujo, I left unmarked slots available on either page letting you move Sunday as you will and leaving an extra slot of weekly wrap-ups or planning ahead.

It’s Customizable

The grid system that makes BuJo’s so endlessly adaptable is part of what I used to create my planner. No, there are no dots, so it isn’t really a ‘Bullet’ Journal. But the boxes that you would normally draw in are marked out in an array that I find works for a variety of needs. And, again, these boxes are unlabeled other than weekly headers.

No predetermined uses for the boxed mean that I can use them however best work for me. And whatever works for me might be different on a Monday than on a Sunday. While time blocking may be useful on days when I have school, priority lists or categories may be better on weekends.

Other Features I like

I shoved in extra planning pages around the monthly calendars as a space for a brain dump, recap, planning ahead, or, quite honestly, a messy combination of the three that somehow always seems to involve also drawing a dragon somewhere.

Because the journal is black and white I’m still able to draw in some color doodle when my brain gets bored (again, lots of dragons) but I’m not required to put in any artistic time or effort before I can even start using it. I also find it’s easier for me to color code my notes or use highlighters in a blank planner as my needs change rather than being locked into a system.

The Lazy Bujo covers six months, which is further than I am willing to plan in any single instance but also means I don’t have reorder more than once a year. It also means I get a fresh start about halfway through the year, which is normally when my planners start to look a little rough around the edges.


Well, there you have it.

I made an ideal planner for me as I started into grad school and, after some gentle nudging, I’ve made it available for you too.

If you’re interested, I’m going to be doing a short video on different organization methods I’ve found over the years that may help you getting started on the right foot or getting back on track. Whether it’s with school, work, personal projects, my writing, or just remembering what day of the week it is, life is about balance. And, hopefully, this will help with that.


Check out this and more original content available every week at TheNerdyNanny.com by subscribing to us on Facebook or Instagram.

You can also check out Eve Daniels, author of The Nerdy Nanny books, on YouTube where she gives writing and academic advice as well as updating you on all of her latest and upcoming projects.

Balancing Mental Health, Productivity, and Self Care

Over the past several weeks, learning to balance productivity and keeping busy against mental health and practicing self-care has been more vital than ever.  While productivity and staying busy are sometimes a necessary part of this, it is also important to recognize that there will be times when we just need the time and space to not be okay. 

This is where an important distinction is needed.  You do not need to be in ‘extreme circumstances’ to be struggling.  Acknowledging that others may have a harder time than you does not mean that you cannot acknowledge your own difficulties.  You do not need to be in the worst possible situation for your feelings to be valid.  You just need to feel pushed beyond the boundaries of what you are capable of handling.

Mental Health

There is a common analogy given in stress management. I will link a version of down below but the essence of which is this; 

An individual is given a glass of water and asked how heavy it is.  Eight ounces, twelve, the real answer does not really matter.  The glass is light enough for you to carry with ease for a short while but, after an hour, the strain begins to build.  After a few hours, your arm will begin to hurt.  After a day your arm will feel numb and paralyzed and unable to help you do the things you need to in order to get through the day. 

Our brains work the same way.  We can handle almost anything for a set amount of time but, as the days turned to weeks and those weeks keep adding up, pretending that we are not holding onto a weight will only leave us paralyzed and cripple our ability to move forward.

We need to give ourselves permission to set the glass down which, admittedly, is difficult when you cannot just walk away from the situation… or even leave your house.  But if you can set aside the strain of it, just for a little while, and give yourself space to not be okay.

Previously we have talked over the science behind cabin fever and ways to combat its effects HERE.  These methods, while excellent for shaking yourself out of a funk, are not long-term solutions.  It is important to identify ways to protect your mental health, keep yourself occupied, and embrace self-care.


Protecting Your Mental Health

Limiting Screen Time

Sometimes we all just need a little help fighting our own bad habits.  Most of us are racking up impressive but terrifying average daily usage on our phones, not even counting the contOver the last few weeks I have racked up an impressive daily average of 7+ hours of screen time on my phone alone.  This does not even begin to count the hours spent binging on YouTube, Netflix, Hulu and Prime.  I had constant headaches, had difficulty sleeping and just generally could not concentrate.  Eventually, I just had to cut myself off.

  • Restricting access to certain apps or setting time limits is a great way to keep you aware of just how much time you are spending on your devices. 
  • Lock yourself out of your device entirely for one hour to stop the temptation entirely when you are trying to be productive. 
  • There are also programs you can install on your PC to accomplish the same goals
  • Turn off the ‘AutoPlay’ feature on your streaming services.
  • Try and limit total screen time to 8 hours a day and take breaks every 2-3 hours.  I know that may seem like a lot under normal circumstances, but we are not under normal circumstances.

Stay Active

Not moving is one of the biggest contributors to physical effects of cabin fever.  Muscle aches, joint pain, headaches, even digestive problems can all arise from being sedentary for too long. 

Going for long walks and listening to your favorite podcast or music playlist is a great way to give yourself a break from the screen.  Bike riding around the neighborhood with the kids is a good way to help them burn energy.  Move along to your favorite workout or stretching video, even if you do not go full force just getting up and moving is enough.  Or dance like no one is watching… and then post it to ticktock anyways because why not.

Accountabil-a-buddy

Some people have a strong internal locus of control, setting their own deadlines and sticking to them.  For others we need an external force, be it a boss, a teacher or even a friend, to be accountable too.  If you, like me, need a little bit of responsibility to help keep you focused, reach out to your friends, family, or online community to set up an accountability system.  Check-in with them and have them check in with you.  Set specific goals and try to motivate each other to keep to them.  Often times just knowing that there is someone else keeping track is enough to keep me focused, or at least more so than if left to my own devices. 


‘Productivity’

“You are not working from home, you are home during a crisis trying to get some work done.” – the internet

Let’s share a moment of honesty here.  Being ‘productive’ should not be the end all be all goal right now.  A nice perk, yes.  But not the finishing line.  Mostly I have found keeping busy to be an excellent tool in the toolbox for keeping my head on straight. So long as I focus on what’s in front of me I can forget, if just for a moment, about everything outside my window.

School / Work

For many of us, quarantine still means responsibilities.  And while school and work are not necessarily the first things you might want to jump up and do in the morning, they are a valuable avenue to focus your energy. 

If your job has more leeway it might be a good time to try putting together a new proposal or experimenting with new ideas that you would not otherwise have time for.  I’ve been experimenting with marketing options for the bakery I work at and branching into virtual tutoring for my nanny gig.

My Organic Chemistry class meets online twice a week and, without any other fixed points in my schedule, having that constant has been a tether that keeps me grounded.  I may lose track of time over the weekend but I know, come Monday and Wednesday, I have somewhere to be (even if it is only at my computer).  Additionally, the level of concentration required to even pretend to understand my course materials gives me a reason to, at the very least, keep a clear head for that three day stretch.  While few people are masochistic enough to sign up for organic chemistry unless they absolutely had to, it, if you have ever wanted to try an online class and have

Having a Creative Outlet

I am so lucky to have a creative endeavor already built into my life.  Writing has always been an amazing outlet for me, now more than ever.   That does not mean I don’t still struggle with getting motivated.  What has helped keep me inspired and focused has actually been YouTube tutorials and live streams.  Being around other people, even digitally, who are all trying to accomplish the same goals is a great feeling.

Exploring new creative outlets and opportunities can be fun, though they sometimes require special tools or supplies that you may not have readily available or could come with an unwanted delivery bill, which we talked about HERE

Try revisiting hobbies that you already love but have set aside because you were too busy. Or look at what materials you have available to you and explore from there.  Have paint?  Turn on a Bob Ross marathon.  Randomly stocked kitchen?  Check out SortedFood, Tasty 101, Binging with Babish, or even Mythical Kitchen and get cooking.  Only pencils and paper?  Try drawing your favorite TV characters from Tommy Pickles and Danny Phantom to Sesshomaru and Angewomon.  Or join our nerdy writerly collective and finally put that story idea you have had in your head to paper.  Have a phone? Photography, video, graphic design… the choices are limitless. Find a passion that interests you and that you have the resources to explore and dive in. 

Mental Outlet 

If you are actually serious about learning another language, I cannot recommend Rosetta stone enough. For those who are just curious, free apps like duo lingo are a great place to start.

We have already mentioned online classes as a great option, especially if you want to pursue a degree or certification. For those interested in learning for the sake of learning, Khan Academy and YouTube tutorials are a great place to start. However, SkillShare is still offering one month of free classes (as of the writing of this article) which are generally more comprehensive, better produced and more reliable.

Self Care

Spa Day

I am not normally a ‘spa’ kind of girl.  But even I want to be taken care of every once in a while. 

If you are feeling in a funk, try some of the methods to shake yourself loose HERE first, but then follow them up with a little self-pampering. Have a nice bath or shower, bust out the good body scrubs, clean up your nails, go for a face mask or all of the above!

Eat Right & Drink Water

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the human body was not meant to survive on coffee, potato chips, and French onion dip.  At least, I know my body seriously did not appreciate it when I attempted to do just that.  Ruling out all snacks and junk food is just not an option for most of us right now.  But taking the time to make yourself a delicious, healthy meal can help your body offset all of the sugary salty goodness we’ve been ingesting in the meantime.  A nice clean stir fry or a creamy vegetable pasta are both great places to start. Fill yourself up on fresh fruits and veggies or lean proteins. Eat as much as you want, but make it the good stuff.

Find a cup that you really like, especially one with a straw, and it will help you remember to drink more water.

ProTip from R.W. –

Drinking 16 ounces of water (the size of a large travel mug) is also an excellent way to give your body a fighting chance at normal.  You can temper your water with flavorings, extracts, or even juice if plain water is not your thing.  Water with citrus is one of the best choices, healthwise, though cucumber and mint are also popular.  A 4/1 water with cranberry juice and a little mint or lemon is a great mocktail option to keep you hydrated.

Give Yourself Time to Wallow

Pretending that everything okay is a strategy as old as time and one that, for a limited, is an effective coping mechanism.  We passed the point where that was effective in week two.  Keeping calm and carrying on may be the British thing to do, but it is not necessarily the healthiest. 

Give yourself time to not be okay.  Allow yourself to deal with the stress of this situation in whatever way helps you.  Take up kickboxing, binge watch every single James Bond movie, play Animal crossing for the entire morning.  Give yourself permission, give yourself that time and then, when you have sufficiently wallowed, pick yourself up, have a glass of water and a cool shower, and bring on the day.


Check-in on your friends.  Check-in on your family.  Do what you can to help others, but do not minimize or ignore the load that you are carrying.

We have all been under varying amounts of stress for weeks without a break.  Whether you are in an ‘ideal’ situation or one that is more difficult, do not minimize the weight you are currently carrying. 

When a plane encounters turbulence you are instructed to put on your own oxygen mask first and foremost.   We are in turbulent times, and ignoring your own strain and failing to reach for the oxygen is not a sign of strength or toughness.  Find your oxygen.  Find the thing that keeps you grounded and clear-headed and grab onto it like the lifeline that it is.  Check-in with others both for their benefit and yours.  Keep yourself preoccupied to keep your mind off of things.  And give yourself the time and space that is needed to acknowledge that yes, the plane is shaking.

3 Productive Activities for Quarantine…

…and what you should actually be doing instead


Helpful Productivity Suggestions for Quarantine

As always, the internet is full of “helpful” suggestions. Well-meaning, Instagram-able and seemingly sound advice intended to help get you through the rough patches and adapt to our new situation. But while many of tips and suggestions on the internet can be incredibly helpful, they can also be unrealistic, either in their results or in their practice, and thus set individuals up for failure.

During the past few weeks, I have seen scores of activities, challenges, and productivity ‘hacks’ suggested by the world wide web and, while most are well-meaning, more than a few are a bit problematic. I have taken the top three most common suggestions and broken them down below.

Marie Kondo Your Entire House

The Internet

You have endless amounts of free time!  Now is the perfect opportunity to completely clean out and reorganize the entire house.  You have been meaning to do this for months anyways, now is the perfect opportunity.  You can even get the kids involved and make it fun!

Reality

When I first heard that Netflix greenlight a series based on a book about tidying up, I wondered who was going to lose their job over that decision… right up until I binged the entire first season in one afternoon.  The KonMarie method became a New York Times Bestseller and a Netflix hit not because it is revolutionary, but because it makes sense. The organizational steps are all clear and effective but the process is tempered with adjustments to our emotional relationships with our stuff.

  • Don’t hold onto things you do not need if they do not add to your life in a positive way. 
  • Value the things you have but respect the things you no longer need. 
  • Keep your things so that you can always see what you have.

The process itself is mildly chaotic because it involves pulling out everything that you own that you can see what is really there.  It is not something you would do on your average weekday afternoon.  As we are all hopefully remaining at home as much as possible right now, it makes sense to want to tidy up, get organized and do a little spring cleaning. 

The problem is that the KonMarie method is not just ‘a little spring cleaning’.  It involves completely taking apart your house one section at a time (Clothes, Books, Paper, Miscellaneous and Sentimental).  While dealing with these sections independently can help make the process a little less daunting, there will still be entire days, if you are lucky, where it looks as though your house has thrown up. 

To make that problem even worse, the KonMarie method usually results in a large number of things destined for either the trash or the donation pile or both.  Most donation centers, salvation army’s and secondhand stores are currently closed and will remain that way for the foreseeable future.  Which means that, unless you are prepared to throw out multiple trash bags of clothes, toys and (gasp!) books, you will be living with a small mountain of stuff that you have already decided that you do not want or need living somewhere in your front hall or living room or garage for at least the next few weeks. 

Instead

Marie Kondo your bathroom and your bathroom only.  Go through your medicine cabinet and double-check the dates on everything.  Clear out your drawers along with the remains of that shattered bath bomb down at the bottom and that soap that someone gave you but you are never going to use.  Find all those stray hair ties and put them all in a little cubby.  Go through your makeup and your random loofahs and your face creams.  In most houses, the bathroom is plenty to take on all at once.

The KonMarie method goes category by category.  Instead, take all of your organizing and purging energy and put it to use in one specific place.  I suggest the bathroom because it is small, contained, probably messy, and most of the things you are getting rid of are bound for the trash can rather than the donation bin.  If you have more than one bathroom, do them one at a time.  If you still have organizational energy when your bathrooms are tidy, move onto the spice cabinet -we both know that paprika is not supposed to be that color.  Want to keep going?  Try the pantry, the laundry room, your desk.  Work in areas that are small, contained, and probably won’t lead to a lot of donations.  Go one at a time.  If you really want to keep going, try organizing your digital files too.  By the time Goodwill is open again you will be further along then you are now.

Work Out Every Day

The Internet

This is great!  You’ll have plenty of time now to really push yourself and get SWOL!  Push it to the MAX!  Don’t forget the cardio!

Reality

As the quarantine and stay-at-home advisories continue even those of us who lead largely sedentary lives eventually start going a little stir crazy.  I have seen more people walking around my neighborhood in the evening than I do even in Resolutions Week (beginning of January). 

I own almost zero workout equipment, do not know many exercises, and have zero interest in needing to seek medical attention if I manage to hurt myself.  If you have no history of working out, it is unlikely that you will suddenly become super fit given unlimited access to Netflix and snacks.   While being active can be crucial to not just your physical health but also your mental health, trying to throw yourself into an intense exercise routine with no experience or supervision is an excellent way to get hurt.

Instead

Try new ways to stay active.

Plyo, Ballet, Pilates, Tai Chi, Dance – none of them require any equipment, there are plenty of free videos online by certified instructors, and they can all be scaled up or down depending on your comfort level.   A variety of gyms are even offering free streaming of certain classes to try and maintain a following.  So often in my endless internet scrolling, I see exercise or fitness videos, think “oh, that looks like fun!” and then never do them.  Human beings are creatures of undeniable habit.  But if you were ever curious about trying Zumba, or Pilates or strength workouts now would be a good time to give them a try.

Because you are exercising at home and trying something new, it is important to take it slow and ease your way in.  Make sure to stretch fully before and after, drink plenty of water, and have at least a full day of rest between workouts so if you have any excessive soreness or discomfort you will be able to tell which activity caused it.

Start a New Hobby

The Internet

We have always wanted to try scrapbooking!  Now is be the perfect opportunity to collect up all our family photos and arrange them in this adorable binder with lots of little decorations.  Or maybe I can finally try some of those gourmet recipes from my Pinterest board!

The Reality

I don’t have a binder or any of the cute decorations or even print outs of all our family photos (most of them are on Facebook).  As continued employment is an unnervingly uncertain thing these days, it might not be a great time to indulge in a potentially expensive round of online shopping.  And many of the recipes that wind up on Pinterest boards include ingredients that you may not have access to right now.  Some even include special tools or pans to get them right.

Hobbies are expensive.  Anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is selling something… usually, something craft related.  Whether they are worth it or not depends on a delicate balance of cost, disposable income, and personal gains.  If you have a lot of disposable income and you want to take up an expensive hobby that you kind of enjoy, go for it! For those of us on a tighter budget, if you want to take up the same hobby, but you really love it, you can still do that. But you have to be willing to forgo a few creature comforts to make it happen if it does not work within your budget.  Some hobbies can even add value to your life, if it is a necessary skill or if it saves you from needing to pay someone else for service.

I am fond of the occasional bit of knitting.  As I go through around $3-4 of yarn per month, it is a hobby I can idly enjoy.  Gardening is something I care more deeply about, but that, unfortunately, does not equate to being very good at it.  With my garden having a tragically high mortality rate, it can be a very expensive past time that, unfortunately, I just can’t afford to indulge in beyond my little kitchen window box garden. 

When you are looking to start a new hobby, doing so when you have a large amount of free time on your hands is tempting, but sets you up for a false expectation.  Maybe you can do this five days a week now but what happens when work and life start pulling at you from all directions?  Starting a new hobby can be exciting, but it is also easy to overinvest or overcommit yourself to an activity that does not fit into your day to day life.

Instead

Examine your hobbies, old and new, for cost, value and, most importantly, how much joy they bring into your life.

Most people have multiple hobbies over the course of their lifetimes.  These often leave remnants in our lives, some more subtle than others.  Sometimes these hobbies are left behind, not as a conscious decision, but because life simply got in the way.

Maybe you were once an amateur chef but cooking was traded in for the drive-thru when double shifts or work and kids got piled on top of each other. Now would be a good time to learn new knife skills, try out different recipes, and explore your culinary imagination with what you have left in the pantry. Being able to cook a delicious meal for yourself or the ones you love will never be something not worth knowing.

Maybe you were really into film making for a while but lost focus because other things in your life took priority. If you have a smartphone and a laptop, play around with them. Create a short film, or a silly montage, or a family video album. Most computers come with free editing software and, if this is something you decide to get more involved with later, you can always make the decision about investing in a better camera then.

Or maybe you always wanted to write a book but just never had the time… well, we’ve got time now.

So go for it. Look at your passions in life, the things that once inspired you, and revisit them. Explore subjects and creative passions that you have been interested in for a long time but never took the plunge. Just, maybe hold off on buying that $80 worth of scrapbooking stickers for now?


The Internet is always full of suggestions.  Usually inspiring, helpful, and well-meaning. But this advice can sometimes do more harm than good. 

Too often we try to compare our own realities to another’s narrative.  By holding ourselves to an immeasurable standard, we set ourselves up for failure and can be unnecessarily stressed or upset for being unable to achieve similar results.  

Whether you choose to do one of the three activities above, or more than one, or none at all, just remember to be kind to yourself right now. We are all adjusting to our new ‘normal’. There is no universal mandate to use each spare minute we have productively. Some days will be filled with workouts and duo lingo and learning the guitar. Other days will be filled with pajamas, animal crossing, and baking pound cake while binge-watching Nailed It.

No one knows how long this may continue. The best we can do is be patient, stay safe and continue to be kind to each other and ourselves.


Healthy Habits: Meal Prepping Made Easy

A lot of us are trying to stay healthy as we kick into the new year. And we all know what the Internets golden advice for this is – Meal Prep. But even for those just looking to save on the oh so valuable resources of time and or money, meal prepping is still one of the best solutions.

And yet for the longest time, the thought of meal prepping, quite frankly, terrified me.

Every book cover, health app, or youtube series seemed to be trying to guilt me into ‘Meal Prepping’, like some kind of deranged cult of Tupperware wielding soccer moms. Everything I read online always seemed so endlessly complicated. All of the organization, the separate containers, the itemized grocery lists. It took me years to learn the diabolical truth:

Meal Prep is just making leftovers

On Purpose

That’s it. Really. That is all there is to it.

Every complicated shopping chart, menu catalog, and Tupperware organizational system ultimately came down to… making leftovers. The only stressful thing about the entire process was why it made me so unreasonably terrified to begin with – the guides I had found for Meal Prep were all insanely detailed. These references were overwhelming and overcomplicated a problem that I didn’t even have to begin with.

So if you are still feeling a little uncertain about where to begin but want to avoid the same overwhelming feelings I experiences, a few simple questions that can help un-complicate the process and prove, once and for all, that meal prepping isn’t really all that hard after all.

1 – How many meals do you want to prep?

One of the most common mistakes people make when first trying meal prep is thinking you have to plan out every single meal of every single day. The simple reality is – you don’t.

Life happens, plans change. Maybe you don’t eat your lunch on Thursday because someone brought in free pizza, or you really weren’t feeling the chicken and broccoli you brought that day because you’ve had it for four days in a row.

Planning for every meal locks you into a rigid schedule which can turn your meals into a chore and, because, you know, life happens, often ends up with extra uneaten meals at the end of the week.

If are just starting with the meal prep monster, start slow and build your way up. Even making a couple of meals a week is a great place to start. You can slowly work your way up as you get more comfortable and work this into your regular routine.

Start by making two big meals a week, with enough leftovers for two to three servings of each. That means 4-6 meals are already taken care of.

Continue with 2 big meals, and add in a single breakfast option. Try one of our Fast and Easy Breakfast Solutions and make 3-4 servings.

Add in some snacks. Something as simple as a granola bar in your bag or as fancy as your own little charcuterie box for snacking on at work.

You can add on from there. A third large meal in the week (3 servings) is totally doable, but any more and you can easily end up over-scheduling your own life. With 2 meals, a handful of breakfasts, and a reasonable selection of snack options you still have about half of your weekly meals are already taken care of.

2 – What Recipes do You Already Like?

It is surprisingly obvious. But so many people get caught up in the process of meal prepping that they forget about the actual reality of having to eat the same thing for several different meals.

Starting with recipes you already know and like makes the transition into creating regular habits smoother and easier.

I like buffalo chicken. So one of my meals, more often than not, is just cooking a bunch of chicken tenders, sometimes with a cooked side but usually just with carrots or celery sticks. I will then buffalo them up and pack a few little boxes of buffalo chicken with veggies and a small side container of blue cheese dressing (not ranch!) for dipping.

Boom. Three to four meals are done and, for me, it’s something I know I won’t get sick of and will enjoy eating throughout the week.

Like pot roast? Make pot roast. Like Stir Fry? Make Stir Fry.

Start with recipes you already know and love and, as you get more confident and comfortable and it begins to become routine, stretch yourself a bit. Tweak recipes you already know. Try something relatively simple but outside of your comfort zone. Recipes don’t have to have five million components to be a success. Sometimes it really is as simple as making chicken tenders.

Sometimes your recipes will flop, and that’s okay. Annoying, as you are now short a few lunches for the week, but survivable. You are building a growing catalog of meals that you can choose from at any point in the future and know you can accomplish with relative success. For every recipe that implodes catastrophically, you will have two that turned out pretty okay.

3 – When is a good time to cook?

Again, seems fairly obvious, but this is not a question you should skip. For me, Sundays and Thursday evenings are usually reliable times.

Find times that work for you and are somewhat consistent. If you only have one afternoon (or even morning) a week that is absolutely fine and completely doable. A crockpot can help this process if time is at a premium.

Because I have more free time on Sunday than Thursday, I do most of my cooking and all of the grocery shopping then. Not to say I don’t have to occasionally stop off for the odd ingredient that I’ve forgotten, but it’s mostly taken care of. Knowing that have the things I need at home is a huge resource for me and a huge relief for my mental checklist.

Sundays I put together a few breakfasts, a handful of snacks, one of my bigger meals for the week. Bonus point- because I nibble while I cook I rarely eat dinner that day. Additionally, I sometimes start marinating or soaking a protein for Thursday, but not always.

Keep Things Simple

A lot of times meal planning guides come with colored charts, labeled containers for individual meals, irritating reminders, or promptly delivered boxes of single-serve meals (not the most environmentally friendly option). Sometimes, they help. Some people like the organization of a spreadsheet. Others prefer to pin their favorite recipes for easy review later. But all too often, those new to meal prepping will find their zeal is in the new hack or app and quickly loses its luster… along with their interest in meal plans.

Meal Prepping is supposed to create LESS work. Not more.

I will tell you right now that if you are getting frustrated with meal prepping, it is probably more about the method than the actual prep. Finding what works for you can be a difficult and frustrating challenge for some, especially if you are relying on rigid or pre-prepped systems. But, again, the biggest mistake is typically in trying to over complicate things.

Meal Prep is not the scary monster of mass organization and itemized lists it sometimes seems. It is the simple act of making the foods you already love, with enough left over to enjoy a second and even third time.

That’t pretty much it. Really.

And you know what? It only ever gets easier the more you try.