Making Life Run Smoothly

man and woman walks on dock
at home

We all love going on holiday, but how often do you arrive at your destination only to realise that you’ve forgotten something. One time Mr Simple forgot to pack any pants and we had to stop on the way to buy some. Fortunately they are something quite cheap, but if he’d forgotten a more expensive item or some medication we might have had to turn around and drive home.

So what’s the answer?

A packing list. Every holiday is going to be slightly different, so when you create one list, not everything on it is going to be relevant all of the time, but you will be able to adapt it. Whether you’re off for a beach holiday in the sun or a week walking in the Lake District there are basics that you’ll need. If it’s the latter you can ignore the swimsuit, but you will need the rucksac. If you’d like to see what’s on my list I’ve created a Freebie here just to give you some ideas and to get you started.  

woman in yellow tshirt and beige jacket holding a fruit stand

Another example where a checklist can come in handy is when buying groceries. I have a master list of all the items that we buy and when I do the shopping order I refer to the checklist and then see if we are running low on that item. Ideally you would notice when you’re getting low on something and add it to your shopping list as you go through the month, but that doesn’t always happen. Maybe you’re in the middle of cooking dinner and although you meant to do it you got distracted. By using this checklist it means that you don’t do your order and after it arrives realise that you’ve run out of something, but didn’t buy it. Alternatively you don’t get to the supermarket, see a product on the shelf, think to yourself, ‘I wonder if we’re running low on that?’, buy two and get home and find there’s already plenty in the cupboard.

How often do you clean the bathroom and then 30 minutes later you’re lying in the bath and you realise that you missed something – the mirror’s dirty or you forgot to check whether there’s a spare toilet roll in the cupboard. So what’s the solution I hear you ask. A cleaning checklist.

To be honest the possibilities are endless and by taking a little time to think about what areas of your life would run more smoothly and then creating a checklist, you can save yourself hours and make life run much more smoothly.  

books business computer connection
at work

I have also recently started to use checklists at work. I am a social worker. For every case there are certain tasks that have to be done. Previously, each time I was allocated a case I would sit and write a list of what I needed to do. Obviously that meant I would create that same list several times a month. Sometimes I’d miss things off, only realising later on that I’d overlooked a task. Basically, I was reinventing the wheel every few weeks. What a waste of time!

Then I came up with the idea of creating a standard list which I use every time. Now circumstances do vary and sometimes I have to add things and other times points aren’t relevant, but on the whole I use 95% of the list. It is such a time saver and I have shared it with several of my colleagues.

I also use checklists when I am writing reports. Every situation is different and there are certain issues that I need to consider; certain questions that I have to ask to make sure that nothing gets missed. Over the years that I have been doing this job I have developed a list of prompts for myself so that I don’t miss anything. There are occasions, usually fair unique situations or something that rarely comes up, where important points are overlooked and when that happens I add that to my checklist so I never forget it again.

So, it might take a little time to write out, but for many tasks you probably already have a list in your head anyway. Maybe you have written lists in the past and thrown them away. Next time you’re planning your packing or creating your shopping list, write it in a notebook and keep it. Next month, when you’re doing the shopping list again, or next year, when you’re packing for that holiday in the sun, you can just open your notebook and there it is, a list, already written for you!

If you need anymore convincing about the usefulness of checklists take a look at this short video by Matt D’Avella.

Your Future Self

I spend a lot of hours planning just a few weeks out of every year

If you’re like me you spend a lot of time planning your holidays, considering every detail of just two or three weeks of your life out of every year. In times when we could travel abroad I used to plan our annual two-week holiday to France in great detail. The areas that we wanted to visit, and then the specific tourist attractions in those areas. I’d spend ages on Google Maps looking at the route, picking out small towns where we could stop for our midday meal and consulting TripAdvisor for the best restaurants for that leisurely three-course lunch. place. By the time the holiday came round I’d have it all typed out in a lovely table, with accompanying leaflets that I downloaded giving ideas for walks and cycle rides. I’d include all the travelling times, the day’s activity and where we were staying that night.  

And then the best bit, implementing the plan and getting to visit and experience all the exciting things on the plan. Occasionally things wouldn’t always go as planned – places would be unexpectedly closed or we’d come across a more interesting place to visit than I’d proposed, but on the whole, we did what it said on the plan. It was great. We didn’t spend hours working out what we were going to do or where to go whilst we were actually in France, as all of the hard work was done beforehand. We just typed the day’s destination into the sat nav and off we went.

What do you want to have achieved by the time you’re old?
What about the rest of our lives?

Now, I love holidays and I’ve certainly missed going away this year, but they are only a small part of most people’s lives. The rest of the time, the 47-50 weeks of the year when you’re not away, just happens. When it comes to that time, i.e. the majority of our lives, few of us take the trouble to consider our destination or what we actually want to do on our journey. We all know the general plan – school, uni and/or job, find a partner, buy a house, kids, grandkids, retirement, death.

The trouble with not making a plan is that you may arrive at a place that you never wanted to be or you end up sitting in that chair in the old folks’ home thinking about all the things that you were going to do, but never did.

It will always end like this, but what about the journey?
Advice from Stephen Covey

Stephen Covey, the authority of ‘The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’, talks about beginning with the end in mind. In order to decide what you want ‘the end’ to be he suggests imagining your funeral. I know it’s morbid and not something most of us want to think about, but bear with me here. Just take a moment to consider what you would like your family and friends to be saying about you after your life is over. What have you achieved? What good have you done in the world? What was important to you? This can help give you some general themes e.g. she loved nature and wildlife, he was an entrepreneur who took risks and made a million, he devoted himself to his family.  

Write to Yourself

In order to begin to me more specific about your future life, what I recommend is writing a letter to the present you from a you in the future. Decide how far into the future you want to go. Imagine it’s 2025 and Covid19 is a distant memory. Describe your ideal life. Consider areas such as your family, home, health and job. If you’re reading this in December and about to make your New Year goals perhaps just take yourself a year into the future and contemplate how you’d like to be living in December the following year. You can make your new life as realistic or fanciful as you want.

As well as activities you can also look at the sort of person you want to be e.g. someone who looks after their health, a person who gives to charity, a non-drinker. You can then use those principles to guide your current choices e.g. cutting down how many glasses of wine you have on a night out. You don’t need to change everything all at once, but just know the direction in which you’re going.

My Future Self

I’ve started to do this recently, looking at the life I’d like me and Mr Simple to be living when we’re retired. Not only does it give you long term goals to work towards, you can also identify things that you can do now. Mr Simple and I met in a walking group and we used to spend one day most weekends out hiking in the years before we lived together. More recently, particularly since we’ve moved to our current home, we’ve spent most of our free time working on the house. When I saw that in our retirement I’d like us to spend time together hiking I realised that was something that I could implement now. We don’t plan to go every week, but I’ve put it in the diary for once a month. So far we’ve managed to do this on two occasions. It was great to see the hills again, although my body’s not used to it now, but it was amazing. It’s particularly good at these times when you have to enjoy the simple pleasures that life has to offer.

Get Started

So, do you want to put as much thought into the rest of your life as you do into your holidays? If you’re not sure where to start I’ve got a freebie for you setting out areas of your life to consider. Just sign up below to get a copy and start planning the rest of your life.

Further inspiration from my favourite life coach – Natalie Bacon’s podcast and future self free training.

Lessons we can learn from the pandemic

Over the past year all of our lives have changed enormously as a result of the restrictions imposed by the government due to the Covid19 pandemic. None of us chose the circumstances in which we found ourselves or wanted to make the changes that we were forced to implement. As the restrictions start to ease and there is the possibility of ‘going back to normal’ have you asked yourself whether you actually want to return to that place?

Whatever happens we can’t entirely go back to how things were before as we’ve all experienced life where our freedoms are curtailed. It has made us appreciate some of the simple pleasures life has to offer and also made us be more inventive.

We all need to assess what the positives have been during this time and think about how we can retain those as part of our future lives. Here are a few that I’ve learnt which you might want to think about.

A well-stocked pantry is always useful
the importance of a store cupboard

We all had to rely on our store cupboards at the beginning of the pandemic, when the supermarket shelves were emptying fast. Even when we’re not in the middle of a global pandemic it’s good to have a well-stocked pantry that you can use to whip up a quick supper when you haven’t got time to go to the shops. Under the Median has recently done an episode entitled ‘Fifty Frugal Pantry Staples‘ if you’re thinking of starting one in your home.

We can still use Zoom even when we’re allowed to meet up again
keep in touch virtually

Without the option of meeting face to face many of us turned to Zoom and Skype. When we can hug our friends and family members again I’m sure we’ll all jump at the opportunity, but don’t discount the option of catching up with people virtually still, particularly if you don’t live near your family. Perhaps you’ve got some old school friends who you keep meaning to catch up with, but they live on the other side of the country. Give them a ring and set up a Zoom call.

Walking is great for the body and the soul
walk

In March 2020 it felt like the amount of people walking past our house increased exponentially. Not being able to drive for exercise and families being at home together all day both meant that people were eager to get out for a daily walk. I think that the sunshine helped as well, as we had good weather last spring. If you’ve made a habit of daily walks, why not try and keep that as part of your routine. Perhaps, if you have to return to the office to work, you may not have as much time, but how about on weekends or just three times a week?

Once you’ve tasted homegrown produce you won’t want to go back to shop-bought
having a vegetable garden

Some people turned to their own back garden for a supply of fresh vegetables, choosing to grow their own, even if it was just a few salad leaves. There are so many upsides to growing your own vegetables – no food miles, reduction of pesticides, better flavour and freshness. It’s also great for your mental health, just being outside pottering in the garden. It doesn’t have to be difficult and you don’t have to have a lot of equipment. You can make your own pots from toilet roll tubes or newspaper. There’s loads of information on the internet or get a book out of the library. A packet of seeds is also really cheap. If you don’t think you can get them to germinate, just buy some young plants from the garden centre. Once you’ve tasted home grown tomatoes you’ll never buy a supermarket one again.

Create new routines for you and your family
start a new routine

For some I know that life has been chaotic, juggling work and childcare, so you may feel as though any routine has gone out of the window. As the children return to school and life begins to get back to normal use it as an opportunity to create a new routine for your family. ‘Returning to normal’ is okay as long as you were happy with your ‘normal’, but if you weren’t have a think about the shape you’d like your mornings to take.

gratitude

Limited freedom has made us all appreciate what previously we took for granted. As you go for your first meal or your first day at the beach, take time to really appreciate it. Sit for a moment, in silence, and take in the view. Drink it in and remind yourself how lucky you are, because although it may not always feel like it when times are tough, on the whole life is good.

What are the parts of your life from the past year that you want to keep? I’d love to hear them. Let me know in the comments.

Want to learn more about life coaching and how to design your life? Why not check out ‘Grow You’, Natalie Bacon’s life coaching programme (affiliate link).

The Bullet Journal

Diary pages
A simple life is an organised one

Get your life organised

Do you want life to be easier next year? Want to feel on top of your task list? How about learning to meal plan? Want to keep track of the cash that keeps disappearing from your purse? Would you like to have one place for all of this? A place which you can tailor exactly to your specific needs? The answer to all those questions is a bullet journal.

The problem with other planners

The bullet journal is a planning system that I have been using over the past two years. When I was first looking at planners I bought a Passion Planner. The trouble was it was too big and had a lot of space for listing your appointments during the day. I wanted something to organise my personal life i.e. my evenings and weekends, so didn’t need all the space for weekday appointments. I then discovered the bullet journal.

What is a bullet journal?

It’s basically a notebook where the pages are covered in dots. The pages are numbered and there is space to create an index at the beginning. It was created by Ryder Carroll who has recently written a book about his system. Although he gives ideas for various page set-ups and symbols that you can use within the journal, basically there are no rules and you can use it however you want.

writing at a desk
Bullet journalling can be a lot of work if you don’t keep it simple

Possible downsides

Some people are turned off because it can be a lot of work setting up the different pages each month, whereas something such as the Passion Planner does all that for you. The answer is to keep it simple. There are loads of YouTube videos out there about how to create beautiful bullet journal pages, but if you’re gonna use it to save time, then you don’t want to make work for yourself.

Then there is the cost. Although you can buy the trademarked Bullet Journal notebook, they are expensive. There are other dotted notebooks out there which you could buy instead or just use an ordinary notebook at first and see if you like this system.

Ideas for how to use a bullet journal

To give you an idea of how I use my bullet journal, these are the pages that I set up every month…

Diary

This is simply the date and day of the week in a list and I can write events and appointments next to it. For example…

1M 2pm Haircut
2T  
3W  
4T  
5F Drink with Sally
6S Lunch at Mum’s

Spending

As I am doing my best to keep track of where every penny goes, the next page in my bullet journal keeps track of my cash spending. I withdraw money once a month, having worked out how much I should need and every time I spend some I write it down. It looks very similar to the diary page, but instead of appointments it shows what I’ve bought and how much it cost. It has also helped me to keep track of how much Mr Simple owes me. Before starting this system I would pay for things in cash and forget that he owed me for half. This may be a step too far for you, but if you really want to dig deep into your spending habits then this is a good way of doing that. Here’s what it looks like…

  Me Him
1M Eggs £5.20 £2.60 £2.60
2T Pilates £8.00 £8.00  
3W Groceries £3.90 £1.95 £1.95
4T    
5F Tea and cake   £4.50  

Task List

This is just half a page or a page with the heading ‘Tasks’. I write a very simple bullet-point list, adding to-do’s as the month progresses and when the task is done I put a cross through the bullet point. At the end of the month you look to see what you haven’t done, decide if it is still a task that needs doing and if so, carry it over to next month.

recipe book with kale leaf
Find recipes to cook throughout the month

Meal Plan

For the last two months I have created a meal plan table. This is the beauty of the bullet journal. The dots allow you to draw, using them as a guide. I create a table with 30/31 boxes, with the day and date in each box. I then write in a meal for that day…

1F Vegetable lasagne and salad. 2S Pizza 3S Chilli and rice 4M Paneer curry, dahl and flatbreads
5T Chickpea and squash stew and couscous   6W Vegetarian shepherd’s pie with green beans and peas

I don’t always stick rigidly to the plan, but it at least gives me ideas as opposed to scrabbling around after a long day at work trying to think what to make.

Daily Logs

Ryder Carroll calls daily logs ‘the workhorse’ of your bullet journal. Just write down today’s date and all your notes for the day go here. You can write the day’s tasks and appointments or use it for journaling, whatever you want. Here’s what mine looked like the day after we came back from our short break in Somerset:

28.10.19 Monday

Had a sunny walk up Dunkery Beacon yesterday and then came home and went out for a curry. Nice to be back home, but have to think about work now. Planning to make time each morning to work on the blog.

  • Transfer money to AM for Xmas meal
  • Advertise bed on Facebook Hub
  • Ironing
  • Order Tesco monthly shop

As you can see I often write tasks on the daily log rather than on the ‘Tasks’ page. It just depends how I feel. Like I said, there are no hard and fast rules.

I hope that this has given you a little taster of how versatile a bullet journal can be. Ryder Carroll’s book gives other ideas e.g. custom collections and trackers, but I think I’ll leave those for next time.

Do you plan? What planners have you tried? Have you ever tried bullet journaling? Is there anything you’d like to know about setting up a good planning system? Just drop me a comment below.  

The Power of Positive Thinking

As you know I’ve been working my way through Tom Corley’s book Rich Habits Poor Habits. His eighth habit focuses on positive thinking, or as he calls it, rich thinking, which he suggests you should engage in every day.

This post contains affiliate links. Please see here for more information about my use of affiliate links.

Practise Gratitude

In order to cultivate positive thinking he says that successful people use the tool of gratitude. He believes that gratitude is the gateway to optimism and a positive mental outlook. You can simply think about the things in life which many of us take for granted and yet lots of people in the world don’t have e.g. I have a home, I can put food on the table. By recognising the things in your life that you are grateful for this shifts your outlook on life from negative to positive.

Looking on the bright side

For me, positive thinking is about changing your view from a ‘glass half empty’ one to a ‘glass half full’ one. You always need to try to look at the positives in a situation. One thing that I didn’t share with you about my recently holiday in Italy was that my mum fell over a couple of days before we were due to leave. Unfortunately she had a lot of bruising to her face and we ended up having to use the Italian health service (which was excellent I have to say). This was obviously all extremely upsetting and we ended up missing the trip on the last day.

Understandably Mum didn’t want to go down to the restaurant to have our meals and so instead we ended up taking them on the balcony of our hotel room. Up until that point we had had to share a table each evening with a couple who would not have been our first choice to spend our holiday with. The events which happened meant that we no longer had to do so and we enjoyed an evening meal, a picnic lunch and our last breakfast in Italy, on the balcony. Now, I’m not saying that what happened to my mum was a good thing, but I have to say that I really enjoyed those meals sitting and chatting together looking out at the glorious view. Part of the reason for going away on holiday together each year is that it is a chance to catch up as we don’t see each other very often. This enabled us to do just that. A very difficult situation had a positive spin off.

Affirmations

As well as gratitude another tool recommended by Tom Corley to alter your mindset is positive affirmations. These represent the picture of the individual you hope to be. For example, I am confident, I live my life in moderation, I am successful, I accomplish my goals.

He recommends making a list of positive affirmations and keeping them with you. These should be reviewed once in the morning, once in the afternoon and right before you go to sleep. Eventually they will take root. Events and circumstances will begin to manifest themselves round your positive thinking and opportunities will appear seemingly out of thin air.

One of my favourite life coaching podcasters, Natalie Bacon, also talks about affirmations. She believes that the trick with them is to make sure you believe them. Ones she uses are, ‘bad things are supposed to happen’, ‘nothing has gone wrong’. For me her ones are more like things that you would say to yourself in difficult situations rather than morning, midday and evening.

For example, a couple of weeks ago someone crashed into my car. Fortunately the accident wasn’t too bad, but I had to drive a hire car for a couple of weeks whilst mine was repaired. I am not a confident driver and having a large, fairly new and technologically advanced car to drive freaked me out a little. The handbrake was a button rather than a lever and I was so nervous about doing hill starts. I was also worried about having to park it in a multi-storey car park. Despite my fears I did manage to drive it without incident for the time that I had it, but for the first couple of days I would talk to myself, telling myself that I just needed to remain calm, that I can do this, that I am a competent driver. It’s the things that your best friend might say to you in the same situation.

Returning to the idea of positive affirmations to read each day, I’ve tried to think about what mine should be. It’s something that I’ve not tried before. I remember being at a training event at work last year and one of my colleagues said that she does this every morning. One that came to mind initially was, ‘I enjoy my work’. On the whole this is true, but sometimes I feel that I lose my way and see it as a chore. Reminding myself that I have a career that I chose and that has the potential to make me happy, even if the day has been tough, is no bad thing. This is definitely an area that I need to work on and I may just make it one of my October intentions to come up with some daily positive affirmations to consider.

So, do you have any suggestions for cultivating a more positive outlook in life? What tools do you use to help you manage stressful situations? Please let me know in the comments below and don’t forget to check out Tom Corley’s book.