Posted in Goals, Life


Not long after we started dating, I noted MFB’s desire to hit the gym for an hour every day.  This surprised me, because I tend to view exercise as a physical torture.  Why do it on the weekend, when you’re supposed to be relaxing?

“It helps me keep my center,” he explained.

The concept of finding a point inside yourself that gives you focus wasn’t entirely new to me, but I’d never heard it phrased quite like that.  An image came to mind of a plank with a fulcrum at it’s center, giving it perfect balance.  That picture has remained with me over the years, a visible reminder of two parts that must both be in the correct place in order to work.  If you add unequal weight to the ends of the plank, you have to move the fulcrum in order to keep it balanced.  If you move the fulcrum, you must add weight toward the other end of the plank to keep it balanced.

A couple of years ago, I started working for a company experiencing explosive growth.  It’s exciting to be in the middle of that, but my work hours rapidly expanded, and why not?  I was an empty-nester with a deployed spouse, so there was nothing to pull me home at a decent hour.  And look how much I was accomplishing!

What I ignored was the toll the long hours were taking outside of work.  Regular exercise (did I mention I view it as torture?) was the first thing to be jettisoned, because it’s really easy to talk yourself out of taking a walk at 10 pm.  Eating habits?  My spouse is the primary cook in our family, and in his absence I was too tired to prepare meals for myself.  Sleep?  It’s hard to rest when your mind is constantly reviewing the events of the day and dreading the stack waiting on your desk for tomorrow.  The things I enjoy doing, such as writing, kayaking or scrapbooking?  Hah!  I was too busy to indulge.

I didn’t just lose my center; I smashed that plank into a million pieces and buried the fulcrum under a mountain of pig slops.


If I were to write a list of decisions that have changed my life, attending that writers’ conference would be on it.  I spent an entire week doing nothing but writing, sleeping, eating, making new friends, and learning more about writing.  All of that was beneficial, but the greatest gift was one I didn’t expect — time.  Time to reflect, time to ponder, time to take a hard look at my life and see what needed to change.

Time to put my life back in balance.

It began with a statement from one of the conference presenters, something along the lines of ‘To be successful, you must first know what success looks like.’  I wish I could remember who said it, but I lost track of everything else in the session because suddenly I wanted to envision what my success looked like.  I started slamming notes into my laptop, and when I stopped, I realized I had written a detailed description of a destination.  What was missing was the path to get there.

Laying out that path was rough, and I knew walking it would be even harder.  The direction I needed to go was clear, but the sheer number of steps involved seemed overwhelming.  Time and again my finger drifted to the ‘delete’ button, tempted to eighty-six my dreams as I had so many times before.

But this time felt different. Something had changed; I had changed.  I was older, and if not wiser, more experienced.  I had completed large projects over the course of my career, and those opportunities had taught me how to eat an elephant.  You simply carve off one slice at a time.


When my plane touched down in Florida on Sunday, it carried more than people and luggage.  Inside my laptop was a detailed list of SMART goals I needed to accomplish in order to achieve what I defined as success.  There are many steps involved, but the first is the most important:

  1. I will get my life back in balance by working no more than 9 hours a day and 1 Saturday per month.  I will no longer bring work home, even mentally.  I will rely on my team to perform to the best of their abilities and remember there is always tomorrow and the work will still be there.

In order to be specific (the ’S’ part of a SMART goal), I had to include that bit about not bringing my work home with me, wrapped inside my head.  I didn’t realize the extent of the problem until I caught myself thinking about work-related matters no less than seventeen times, and that was just on the drive home from the airport.  I had to forcibly remind myself that I wasn’t allowed to think of work unless I was driving to my office or sitting at my desk, and that doing so would keep me from quitting my job because of burn-out.  I also refrained from opening my email, which I hadn’t checked at all while I was in Arizona.  The temptation to view it on Sunday night was strong, but every time I wavered, I recited Step Number One.

It was no surprise when I sat at my desk on Monday morning and logged in to find 223 emails waiting for me.  I did what I could, and left the office when I’d hit my ninth hour.  Then, because I wasn’t exhausted, I came home and worked on the outline for my book.  The world felt right because I could create, and I could create because I found my center.

And that is what success looks like.

Posted in Life, Organizing

Calendar Crisis

Hi, everyone.  My name is [REDACTED], and I have a terrible addiction.

My habit started early.  I was thirteen, at the mall with a group of friends.  They were checking out the clothing stores; I was wondering how soon we could leave and if my friend’s cute older brother would be the one picking us up.  Bored, I wandered to the darker part of the mall, the place where more questionable items were sold in dens of iniquity like Buster Brown Shoes and the Lechter housewares shops.

I can’t remember the name of the place, but it sold stationery and office supplies.  It was small, nowhere near the scale of the ubiquitous Hallmark shops.  I hesitated before crossing the threshold of the dimly-lit store.  I was a good kid, raised by godly parents – what was I doing in such a place?  But what I found in a dusty corner proved to be too much temptation for my young soul to resist.

Two hours later, my friends finally found me, stretched out on the bench near the arcade.  I tried to hide the evidence, but they were too quick.  The bag was taken from my hands, and the contents were spilled for all to see my shame.

“What is it?”

“A planner,” I mumbled, peeling back the velcro clasp.  “You know, for keeping track of appointments and stuff?”

“You’re thirteen.  What appointments do you have?” my friend’s older brother scoffed.  Suddenly, he wasn’t quite so cute anymore.

“It’s more than a calendar.  Look, there’s a schedule at the back for my homework, and an address book…there’s even some stickers and a matching lilac pen!”

From that moment on I was hooked, and I’ve been a user ever since.  At thirteen, I mostly just used the address book for my friends’ phone numbers and the mostly-empty calendar to track birthdays.  The homework schedule remained empty, as I was a fan of the three-day method.  (If the assignment is due in three days, spend one day vaguely considering the effort it will take to do it, one day to forget about it entirely, and the third day to complete the assignment in a state of panic.)

The obsession continued well into adulthood.  I’ve always been an early adopter when it comes to technology, but my paper planner still ruled.  Sure, I could keep my address book on the computer, but how would I access it?  My planner fit in my purse, and there were so many varieties!  I did have my favorites – my kids thought Franklin Covey was the name of Mommy’s boyfriend and GTD was a car I wanted.

The day I discovered the Palm Pilot, my planner hit the trash.  Who needs to lug a heavy brick around when I could fit this tiny thing in my purse pocket?  And yes, I use the same rationale to upgrade my cell phones.

Little did I realize that tossing my paper planner would send me on an eternal quest for something better.  Technology continued to advance, rendering devices and software obsolescent in a pace where even I couldn’t keep up.  I also didn’t foresee that the day would come when I would have multiple email addresses and calendars, all of which needed to talk to each other.  The perfect solution is just around the corner!

It’s still just around the corner, laughing at my failing attempts to catch it.  All I want is software that will contain the information from ALL of my calendars, ALL of my contacts, ALL of my emails, AND has project-based tasking.  Is this too much to ask?

Apparently, it is.  I have tried a lot of products, all in the effort to stay on top of my schedule, my projects, and my life.  My workplace uses Microsoft Outlook, which I dislike because it only has tasks, not projects.  (Hint:  If it takes more than three unique actions to accomplish a goal, you have a project, not a task.)  Microsoft would happily sell me the Project software, for a not-so-nominal fee, and it would still reside outside my other software.

Google’s Gmail is my preference for calendars and email, and it allegedly can be interfaced with Outlook 365, but my workplace uses a much older version of Outlook that doesn’t support this feature.  Outlook has a better Contacts section, but trying to merge it with my Google contacts creates duplications I can’t seem to unravel.  My calendars?  They’re nothing but constant event duplications, except when they overwrite themselves.

IQTELL was supposed to be the game changer, offering a resting place for the information produced by native apps.  I loved it and used it a lot, but I must have been in the minority because the company folded last month.  I also used Pocket Informant for about a year before that, but the app was full of bugs.  Both apps seemed to be the only ones to address my need to integrate projects into the mix.

So many apps, and so little satisfaction.  My frustration mounted, but I believe I’ve found a wonderful solution.  At the recommendation of an author whose page I follow on Facebook, I found a lovely little place online called

That’s right, I got a paper planner.  And a lilac pen.  And stickers.  And more colored pens because how boring is just one color, and also some matching sticky notes, because you can never have enough of those and they snapped in right next to the extra dividers and the zip pouch and oh my, I really am an addict, aren’t I?

So is it truly the perfect planner?  Well, no.

The best planning system in the world can make me very productive and allow me to accomplish amazing things, but it still can’t give me what I don’t seem to have enough of right now – time.  At the end of the day, there are still only 24 hours in it, and the week has only 7 days.  I can use those hours wisely (or not), but I get no more than the given allotment, and no planner in the world can alter that.  The stickers and colored pens are just there to make me feel better about it.