How to Organize Your Week for Essentials & Simplicity

I wrote earlier this week about the seemingly rampant disease we have these days of being so busy. There are some serious costs to always being busy, not the least of which is missing out on living an intentional life according to our values and goals. I firmly believe that focusing on the essentials, as Greg McKeown tells us in his brilliant book Essentialism, is key to living a meaningful life and meeting your goals. Taking quiet time to sit down and evaluate our values, goals, habits and schedule, and then organizing and simplifying our homes and day-day, will help us get and stay on track to a highly productive yet less busy life.

(See the 10 steps to finding balance in a busy life here.

The point of being organized isn't to be rigid or perfect, it's to make your unique life easier and allow you better flow and focus so that you can achieve your goals and feel at peace. Simplifying your weekly schedule, building consistent habits and organizing to make them easier to keep will enable you to live an outstanding life and accomplish more than you ever did when you were so crazily busy. 

how to organize your week for essentials and simplicity

The first step to organizing your week is goal-setting.  

Keep a personal notebook for journalling about your intentional life. In it you'll want to write down your values and dreams, what you'd like your life to look like, and goals you'll need to reach to get there. I like to have a 5-year plan, and then narrow it down to yearly and monthly goals. I commit to "must-do's" at the beginning of each year, and "extras" that I'd like to get to but that are not essentials. When these things are written down, I can go back to them frequently and hold myself accountable. 

Then fill in a weekly planner. 

Get in the habit of a Sunday ritual (or choose another day that works for you). On this day every week I review my values and goals, then use a written high-level weekly planning sheet to prepare for the essentials for the coming week. I include any yoga or other classes I want to attend, walks with friends, errand time, etc. I also meal plan on this sheet. And I plan full days or half days for essential work tasks like writing and networking. You'll need to take a serious look at your schedule and find the things that are sucking your time but not contributing to accomplishing your goals (or your family goals). These things may be important (to you? to others? to what society says is normal?), but they are not essentials. Make sure that you include time in your planner first for the essentials, then for adequate sleep, exercise, meal and quiet time in order to maintain the wellness and energy you need to thrive. Then comes everything else. If you find your week is too full, you know you need to cut back. 

The planner I use is a simple high-level printable sheet (go grab it here) that I post on a bulletin board and can see daily. It's not fancy, but it allows me to use brain energy for planning once a week, and then I don't have to use up more energy and time later on figuring out what to have for dinner or what yoga classes I can make it to, and by the way where are my gym clothes? 

And block time in an online calendar. 

I use Google - it's simple, works well for me and for collaborating on meetings with others, and it's always with me on my phone and laptop. My calendar is critical for blocking time for my essential things - right down to walking breaks and meditation time - plus any specific client meetings, conference calls, appointments, etc.  

Then do a little prep work:

Quickly scan what clothes you'll need and what laundry needs to be done so you'll have gym and meeting clothes ready, and pull out any clothes and sports equipment, etc. your kids will need this week so they have them at the ready (or get your kids and spouse in on this Sunday ritual and they can do their own organizing and prep!). Check the kitchen and write down what groceries you'll need for this week's meals. Anything else that you can prep ahead of time to make your days easier, do now. 

Finally, build consistent habits to make your week simple. 

Consider having the same thing for breakfast every day (I eat a home-made oatmeal mix of rolled oats, raisins, seeds and cinnamon every. single. day. along with a glass of warm lemon water). Have only two packed lunch options - a favourite and whatever is leftover from dinner the night before. Get up at the same time every day and start your morning with 15 minutes of quiet time in prayer, meditation or reflection. Get some exercise at the same time every day so that everyone knows that for that half hour you are not available. Make time for a 15 minute phone chat with a family member or friend at the same time each week, and because you both know it's a standing date, you won't end up talking for an hour. Set your phone alarm for a half hour before you want to be asleep, so you'll be able to get ready and hit the pillow on time. During that half hour, turn the dishwasher on (or do the dishes by hand) and put the clean dishes away every morning while your coffee or tea is brewing. Good habits are not only the backbone of a healthy, productive lifestyle, they also save a lot of time and energy. 

Have a simple & non-busy week! 

how to simplify with a weekly planner and essential goals

The cost of being "busy" and 10 steps to finding balance

I'm sure you've noticed that in the last few years the standard response to "how are you?" has become "good, busy." Maybe you say it yourself. Busy seems to have a positive connotation associated with being important and/or doing well. If we're not busy, it seems perhaps that we're not productive. We keep busy at work and at home, we keep our kids busy and even our vacations are busy. Perhaps we're "accomplishing" a lot, but at what cost? 

Over time, living a fast, busy life can cost us dearly. The biological costs include cardiovascular and other diseases and even accelerated ageing. The psychological costs are equally serious and include anxiety, depression and addictions. But perhaps the biggest cost is the opportunity cost. When we are too busy to live a mindful life and notice what's going on around us, we miss out on paths we could have taken, relationships that may have enriched us, and growth openings that may have changed the course of our lives. 

We've all seen friends or colleagues who seem stressed and run down all the time. And there are those who naturally operate at high frequency and seem to have energy to spare. But no one can maintain constant fever pitch without balancing it with rest and reflection. 

how to find balance in a busy life - 10 ways to keep life simple

Is being busy all bad?

I don't think so, after all, this is real life and we all have responsibilities and ambitions. We just need to remember that we can accomplish more by achieving the right balance in our lives. There will naturally be seasons that are busier than others. I'm in one right now, as an entrepreneur getting a small business up and running. But it's part of an intentional life plan to work to serve others, and build a business that provides me the freedom to fully experience family, friends, community, nature and everything that God offers me. I balance the long (and happy) work hours with coffee dates with my closest friends, Saturdays at the farmers market, Sundays outside with my family doing garden and yard work, and quiet time spent reading, meditating and practicing yoga. This busy period energizes me instead of stresses me, as long as I remember to take care of myself and balance my days. 

So the solution, of course, is simply to slow down and connect with our lives. And that means connecting with who we are, what we value, and what we want to accomplish in life. It means determining what is essential for living the life we want, and realizing that other things, though perhaps urgent and sometimes important, are not essential. Easier said than done, especially if you are in a busy season right now. But simply building good habits and taking care of yourself will give you the focus and balance you need to thrive. Here are strategies I've found to help. 

1. Determine your personal (and family) values and write them down. Then write down what success looks like for you. Next write down your personal goals for the year and month. Set aside time at the beginning of each week (I like to do this on Sundays - see details here) to remind yourself of your values and goals, and decide what essentials need to be accomplished this week to make progress on them. Use a weekly planner (free download here) or write out in a notebook what your high level schedule needs to look like to have time for these essentials. Then get out your online calendar and schedule them in. 

2. Evaluate your life and your commitments. Examine why you're so busy and make sure that the things that fill your schedule are intentional and align with your values and goals. Kids activities, networking, volunteering, weekend road trips...those are all really good things. However, if your packed schedule is leaving you feeling run down or if you're sacrificing the essential things, then busy is not so good. Use that weekly time you've set aside to adjust your calendar to make sure it fits with your values. Find ways to say "no" to the things that are not serving you or others well. Realize that every time you say "yes" to one thing, you are saying "no" to something else. Who would you rather say "no" to? 

3. Listen to how you feel day to day. That will require some habitual quiet time to just breathe and listen to your body and your intuition. Take 15 minutes each day, preferably at the same time each day so it becomes a habit, just to enjoy quiet time with yourself. Pray if that's your thing and ask God for guidance, then listen for the answer. Meditate, move to your breath, and listen to what comes. Stop thinking about what you "should" be doing and daydream about what you would like to do. Then start skewing your calendar more and more toward that. 

5. Be mindful throughout the day. Mindfully listen when talking to others, instead of thinking about if you agree or disagree or what you want to say next. Fully experience your meals and notice the scent and taste without distraction. Notice the sky and ground and sounds outside around you as you come and go. Pay attention to people around you as you commute to work or stand in line. Never multi-task- always be fully present and focus on each task at hand, one at a time. 

5. Learn to work smarter by streamlining. Figure out your most productive time of the day and block it in your calendar for essential work. Use technology to your advantage and gain back time spent on project management, social media, and financial tasks. Things like social media scheduling, setting up automatic bill payments, and auto invoicing and response emails can be very efficient and affective while conserving your time and brainpower. 

6. Eat well. I've found that when I make the effort to stick to a plant-based, whole foods, low sugar diet my energy levels are more or less where they should be and I'm less prone to stress, and more prone to productivity. 

7. Sleep well. Get your eight hours or more and keep a consistent schedule. Try setting an alarm on your phone at night a half hour before you need to be asleep so that you'll be able to to get ready and hit the pillow on time. 

8. Mindfully walk each day. Take a break at work or go for a nightly stroll and focus on nothing but your breath, your feet on the ground, and what your eyes are taking in around you. 

10 ways to bring more balance into your life

9. Make time to read. I know this is hard when you're busy or distracted, but I really find reading to be so essential in lifting us from our own self-involvement to get perspective and space. Start with one of my all-time favourites: Essentialism, by Greg McKeown. 

10. Take a digital detox vacation at home. Vacations are important, but not always the ones where you're spending time and money travelling and rushing from place to place to cram in as much as possible, or driving hours to a destination to give the kids an "experience" only to have them in the back seat on their phones the whole time. Simply unplug at home. Schedule a long weekend or even a full week with no phones or computers allowed. Just play, you remember, like we did when we were kids. Get outside. Sit in the sun. Read books. Have a picnic. Go for a hike. Clean the yard as a family. Go to the local beach or park. Have a movie and popcorn night. I promise that down time at home, but away from work and email and daily responsibilities, will make you even more productive throughout the year. 

10 steps to finding balance in a busy life

Ready for more balance, more productivity, more meaning, but less busyness? Take just a little time daily and weekly to build habits and practice mindfulness, rest, and intentional living according to your highest values. 

The Simple Guide to Creating a Light, Bright & Positive Home (and why we need it)

I've lived in many homes and apartments over the years, and I've come to realize that the ones that had lots of light and white or neutral walls are where I've felt the most at ease. These spaces seemed to welcome me every time I walked in the door, and I not only instantly felt more relaxed in these homes, but also more energized and uplifted as well. I can tend at times toward anxious and depressed moods, but my emotions are consistently the most positive and calm when in light, bright spaces. 

I'm not imagining it. Encouraging mental wellness through the use of colour is a practice that has existed in many cultures for centuries. Practitioners of Feng Shui, for example, introduce various colours in the form of gemstones and fabrics to shift the energy in a home.  Light spaces, which can be achieved through natural light and white or light neutral walls, amplify a sense of space, harness positive energy, and promote serenity.  There's plenty of psychology and wellness research to prove it. 

the simple guide to creating a light, bright, positive home

Yet everyone seems to be deathly afraid to choose white. Whether it's fear of choosing the wrong white or off-white and ending up with room that feels cold, or the notion that white is boring, almost every client and friend I know is resistant to white walls. 

I'm here to shout out loud: white is not boring and not cold!

It will bring clarity, tranquillity and positive energy to your home. It's flexible - over time you can simply add colour to liven things up, or subtract it to calm things down. And it's durable - you can clean it easily and touch up the walls when needed without it looking obvious. It's classic and timeless and will never go out of style. It's also the perfect clean backdrop to showcase the things that are meaningful to you, like artwork, photos, books and collectibles. 

creating a light, spacious and bright home

Yes, you have to do a little work to find the right white or light neutral colour for your space, but it's not as complicated as we sometimes make it out to be. Here's the simple guide to creating a light and bright home, filled with positive energy, clarity and serenity - by enhancing the light and using white or other light neutral colours.

1. Start by letting in as much natural light as possible throughout your spaces. Open heavy curtains and blinds and rehang them outside your window casings if they aren't already. Curtains add texture and softness to a room, but they shouldn't block any of the window itself. Clean your windows inside and out. And knock down any partial walls or heavy furniture that blocks light from flooding the space. Make sure you also have ample light fixtures in the rooms, through a combination of overhead and ambient lighting. Choose LED bulbs that give a daylight feel. 

2. Paint all of your trim untinted white. Yes, many designers will tell you not to use untinted white, but make it simple and just pick up a can of untinted white semi-gloss and freshen up your trim. Letting the true bright white trim shine and reflect the light from your windows and doors will do wonders to brighten up your home and it will add nice contrast to the other off-white colour you put on the walls. If you have wood trim, ok, you may not want to paint it, but consider lightening up just some (perhaps the ceiling moulding) if there is an over-abundance in your home. 

3. Determine whether you want a cool or warm feeling in your home, All whites and neutrals have an undertone - warm (red, yellow, pink, orange) or cool (blues, greens). There are a few pure whites that work either way, but they all tend a little one way or the other. You can and should use different shades of white in your home, but keep them in the same family - either cool or warm.

Warm works well in older historic homes and homes with a lot of wood finishes to complement the style but also brighten it up. If you're going for the romantic Parisian apartment look, tend toward a slightly warm creamy white. 

Cool is perfect when you want a beachy, relaxed vibe or a minimal, Scandinavian feel. Cool shades work well in kitchens and baths with marble countertops. Slight green undertones (think aqua) promote balance and harmony. Blues are soothing and restful. 

4. Consider the brightness of each room. Warm whites will help warm up north and east facing rooms that get only limited sunshine and have shadows. Cool whites will actually keep south-facing rooms cooler. 

5. Add layers and texture. Layer in materials that will warm up the space and make it liveable. Wood pieces like a coffee table, wood blinds and photo frames will look spectacular against white. Area rugs, pillows and drapery add softness, and baskets and trays add dimension. Natural elements like plants and branches or even rocks and shells come alive in white rooms. 

That's it. It's really not too hard at all, and spending a little effort to make your home feel as bright and airy as possible will undoubtedly pay off in how good it makes you feel day after day. It's time to lighten up and bring more positive energy into your life, isn't it? 

For a guide to choosing the right white paint, check out this post.