Sunday, January 31, 2016

Family Meeting Hardware.

There are a few core pieces of accessories that support my family meeting.  I thought it'd be useful to detail what they are and how we use each.

1. Notebook

We've cycled through lots of different notebooks and tasks lists, the general idea is a place for each family member to keep their to do list for the week.  Mine, unsurprisngly, is much more invovled and complicated.  It also changes every few years.  For a while, I kept my lists electronically.  Currently I'm using an ARC notebook from staples.  I love that I can rearrange the pages.  Each week I start a fresh list.  My hsuband prefers a simple spiral notebook.  It doesn't matter what kind of system you use, but sticking with one will be incredibly helpful.  For example, make either your electronic or paper list your 'master' list.  In my experience trying to maintain both is a recipe for things getting left off or falling through the cracks. 

2. Clipboard

Our clipboard serves as our 'family' lists for the week.  For a while, we kept both of our tasks lists on it as well, but ultimately the personal notebook system worked better, not least of all because we found that each person making their own list, even if we agreed on what should be on it, made it much more likely things would be completed that week.  Now, our clipboard maintains lists we all need access to for the week; for example a list of errands, shopping list, discussion lists for the next meeting, a list of current 'projects' and misc notes.  As much as I love forms (I really love forms) creating a form for this sheet has always been unsuccessful.  For us, this sheets needs to be incredibly flexible each week.  Still, because I'm to embarrased to share our actual clipboard sheet, I made a quick sketch up of how we currently use it.

In case you are skim reading, I don't actually use this sheet.  I use a blank piece of colored paper that approximates this.  I switched to colored paper to make it easier to find the sheet if it happens to get shuffled into a pile of paper.  I keep it on a clipboard to prevent it from getting lost and to make it easier to make notes on it.  I've tried hanging in, but it was too hard to write.

I'll breifly cover the categoties:

1. Notes

This is where we make random notes from phone calls or anything else.  If it has no further action, we strike it out.  I also tend to use the back of the sheet for this purpose.

2.  Discuss List

This is the area where we write things we need to discuss at the next meeting.  It might be an argument we postponed, something from our to do list we need to verify, or a funny story we don't want to forget to share.  If we have time to talk about it during the week, we strike it out, but if it's in this section, we can be confident we won't forget about it.

3. Projects

We try to keep our number of 'active' family projects to 5 or less.  This is where we list them so we know what we are working on as a family.

4. Zone (More details on Zones here)

This is where we write the house zone for the week.  We have our house divided into 6 zones.  We keep a separate list of the activities for each zone.  Organizing our chores like this has made it much easier to get to annoying tasks like cleaning the inside of the dishwasher, scrubbing the trash cans or doing the shredding.  

5. Errands & 6. Shopping Lists

These categories are pretty self explanatory. 

3. Family Binder

My family binder houses everything we need for our meeting and other things we might need to reference.  I'm a big fan of electronic files, but I still find it useful to keep these things accessible. I often think of how beautiful someone with more of a design vew could make their binder, but mine primarily reflects my preference for functionality.  Although I do have photos on the front! See?

1. Calendars

In this section I keep a sheet with every birthday, anniversary, and holiday that we celebrate in our family or for which we send cards and gifts.  We also keep any hard copy calendars we have (dance studio, preschool, work holidays, etc).  Even though I put all of that information in my google calendars, I still keep the hard copies here.

2. Goals

Each year when we set our goals, we determine the frequency we will check in with them.  I make a one page (front and back) sheet for each member of our family and we check off what we accomplished each week at the family meeting.

3. To Do lists/Projects

This is where we keep a list of all of the projects we'd like to eventually complete as a family.  This includes home improvement, future vacations and service projects.  When we complete a project, we look here and decide what we want to tackle next. 


I maintain our budget electronically, but each year I put a hard copy of our budget and goals in this category for us to reference if necessary.  It also has a list of major bills and due dates (particularly things like insurance, property tax, etc)

5.Wish Lists/shopping lists.

Each member of our family has a wish list.  We add things we want to purchase.  We also keep a list of things we might want but we are still thinking about.  This has helped us be much more intentional with our purchases.  

6. Chores/Zone tasks

In this section I keep a list of the responsibilities for each house 'zone'.  I'll post more on this soon.

7. Contacts.

I printed out a copy of our Christmas Card list and stuck it in. If I get a change of address during the year, I update the list and it's available for anyone to reference if they have something that needs mailed. 

8.  Miscellaneous 

This section has packing lists, babysitter emergency information and other hard to categorize information that we need frequently enough to justify it being in our binder.

I hope this information has been useful and I'd love your feedback or tips on how you keep your family running smoothly!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Family Meeting Agenda Details.

I posted recently about the how critical our family meeting is to the smooth (er) operation of our family and home.  Just in case I convinced anyone to start this powerful habit, I thought I'd share a little more of the nuts and bolts of how we run our family meetings.  First, a simplified version of our weekly agenda:

For people less prone to using an agenda than me (possibly every one?), let me try to make an argument for it.  The idea behind any list I make is to get the information out of my head and in to a safe and reliable place where I can access it later. An agenda ensures that every thing is addressed without needing to spend half of my mental energy trying to remember what comes next.  But an agenda should be a tool, not a mandate.  Our agenda almost always has things crossed out or added until the next time I revise and print it.

Discussion Topics

For a long time, this was the last item on our agenda, but ultimately we decided that addressing any outstanding issues first made it much easier to focus on the other items.  This is the time of the meeting when we talk about the things that came up during the week.  Sometimes it's an argument that we agreed to table until the meeting, a hurtful comment one of us needed to share, an idea for a family project or vacation or anything else we didn't want to forget about but didn't have time to discuss throughout the week.  

Goal Check in

Every year we sit down as a family and set goals.  This is when we sit down and check in on how they are going.  For example this is when I update which books I finished that week or how many miles I ran.  It provides weekly accountability.  Sometimes it also means reevaluating those goals.  If week after week we fail to make progress on our goals, we take that as a sign that we need to change something.  Does that person need more resources or time?  Has that interest changed?  We also add relevant goal related tasks to our to do list.  I love having this early in the meeting because those are the first things on my to do list each week.

Discuss Last week

When we open our calendars, we usually take a minute to look over the last week just in case there was anything else we needed to discuss that didn't come up during our discussions.

Calendar & Schedule update

This is the majority of our meeting.  We compare work schedules, double check childcare arrangements, transportation, etc.  To make sure we don't miss anything we have a sub list that we review every week.

§  Work Schedule
In our family work schedules change from week to week, so this is when we talk about when we are working and make any necessary changes.

§  Activities 
This is when we discuss classes, appointments, parties, etc.  It's also when we add any related items to our task lists.

§  Athletic/Workouts
Because one of our family goals is to be more active, we started planning our runs, workouts, and family bike rides at the beginning of the week.

§  Special Events
Vacations, visitors or other things going on.

§  Chores/this week’s tasks
Any major cleaning or maintenance tasks that need to get done this week get added to the schedule

§  Group responsibilities
We participate in a variety of community and hobby organizations.  This is when we review each, from book club to church, to volunteering.

§Kids Activities
I'm always amazed at how such small people have such busy schedules!

Menu Planning & Grocery List

When we had more time and less to discuss, we used to make our menu for the week as a family.  Now we take turns, but we still take a minute to discuss it and make any last minute changes.


Each week we try to focus on getting one area of the house clean, this is when we assign chores for that area or anything else that needs done.

To Do lists

Unfortunately, we rarely fully complete our to do lists.  In order to support each other, we share what we didn't get done and offer help when we can.


We do our budget yearly, so this is just a check in to make sure everything is going as expected.  We also discuss any major bills or expenses coming up.


We have a list of projects, both personal, professional, and as a family.  We keep a full list in our family binder, but the few active projects are discussed at the end of the meeting and we make sure we know the next steps for each.  Examples of projects are "Remodeling Master Bedroom" "Prepare Taxes" "Find a Preschool" etc.  


Especially if involving children, I think it's great to end with a treat.  We used to have brownies, but since we made our recent dietary changes, Brownies are out!  I'm still on the lookout for a a great end of meeting treat!

For a look at the things we use in our family meeting, check out this post: Family Meeting hardware

Sunday, January 24, 2016

My Family Meeting

Family Meeting.

I know the phrase makes some people cringe, maybe it’d be less dull sounding, although twice as cheesy, if we called it the team huddle, the go party, or some other euphemism for ‘sitting down to get your rear in gear and your life in order.’

I’ve decided that the family meeting has been my “Keystone habit”; the single habit that has had an incredible ripple effect of positive changes everywhere in my life.  Because of our family meeting, our days run smoother, we accomplish more of what we want to do and we move with intention and purpose towards our long term goals.  Our family meeting has become the single most important hour of our week and I can’t imagine how we’d keep everything straight without it.  But inevitably, when I mention our family meeting, I’m met with a mixture of amazement or disbelief. I’ve been thinking a lot about the purpose and power of this relatively simple habit, and I can’t stress enough how important it has become to me.

Our family meeting is a safe and special time and place to come together as a family.  We discuss grievances, share ideas, support each other’s goals, and take care of the daily business of running a household; things like work schedules, kids classes, and our budget.

The top three reasons people have given me for not having a family meeting are detailed below:

  1. There is no way my spouse would participate.

That’s okay!!  We can’t change anyone but ourselves and in my experience trying only causes problems.  I think it is wonderful for families to come together and meet regularly, but even if that’s not possible, a family meeting is still possible.  In fact, it’s probably even more important.  Bills still need paid, appointments confirmed, goals checked in with. In other words, the family meeting is steering the ship, and someone needsto be at the helm!  Long before my husband participated, I had a ‘family meeting’ each week.  My children are very young, so they don’t currently participate, but I hope that as they get older, they will.  Not because they have to, but because it provides a way to help steer the direction we are moving as a family.  Because ulitmately that's why I want my family meeting to do:  provide direction and purpose.

2. I’m too busy!

I work almost full time, I have 2 toddlers, and I strive to be a contributing member of my community, so I do know how it feels to be too busy to breathe.  Still, I truly believe that a family meeting is a worth the time investment.   If you’ve never read Stephen Convey’s book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change , I urge you to do so.  In it, he tells the story of a man who is laboring to cut down a tree.  Someone suggests to him that he should stop and sharpen the saw. The man believes he is too busy to stop sawing and sharpen the saw.  Sharpening the saw would take no time at all compared to the time saved by using a sharper saw, but the man is so busy cutting down the tree he hasn't taken the time to really think about what he needs to get the job done.  Each swing would be that more effective and the work would be reduced by simpling sharpening the saw. A family meeting is sharpening the saw. It takes time, usually about an hour for us, but I can guarantee that I save more time than that each week as a result.  Time spent frantically looking for a babysitter because my husband and I didn’t realize we both had important commitments on the same night, time running out to buy a last minute gift for a party I forgot about, time on the phone with a utility company dealing with a bill that’s past due.  Not to mention the mental and emotional energy of worrying tasks that slipped through the cracks, goals and dreams that seem further from reality with passing years or relationship tears that fester instead of being cleaned and allowed to heal.  I’m not saying our family meeting eliminates these things, but in our family, it dramatically reduces them.  An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. I am not arguing that time isn’t a valuable and scare resource, but I do hope I have made the argument that the time invested in preparation and planning will pay dividends.

3. I have no idea how to even start.

If you have never had a family meeting, I imagine it can be a little intimidating to start.  The most important step is the first one, right?  For most families, I would say a calendar is a great place to start.  Family calendars get crazy fast.  Most people I know have a calendar of some sort, so the first step is to simply sit down with your calendar and a notepad.  Make sure every time dependent task is on the calendar. (Work, school, social commitments, classes, bill due dates, holidays, service appointments, workouts, etc).  In our family, we look at the next two weeks in details. If you’ve never done this, you will be surprised at how many things will come up.  For example, the appointment for “Book Club” on Tuesday might remind you that you need to finish your book and pick up the wine you are bringing and the appointments for your son’s doctor’s appointment might remind you to jot down your questions for the doctor and pull out the immunization records. We often find more logical or efficient ways to get things done when looking at things together.  By writing it in my notebook ahead of time, I have plenty of time to make sure I’m not rushed or missing anything when each appointment arrives.

I’m planning to share how we coordinate calendars and the details of our meetings soon, but in the meantime, I hope I’ve made a compelling argument for at least giving a family meeting a shot.

One final piece of advice: serve brownies.  Everybody likes a meeting with brownies!

Did I convince you?  If so, check out our family's agenda here: Agenda!

Monday, January 11, 2016

I manage what I measure.

There seem to be several themes threading through different areas of my life, and this is certainly one of them.  It's come up multiple times, most recently in Rueben's book Better Than Before: What I Learned About Making and Breaking Habits--to Sleep More, Quit Sugar, Procrastinate Less, and Generally Build a Happier Life.

It's true.  And I've decided to use it intentionally in a few areas of my life.


I don't have resolutions, they don't work for me. But I've written a lot lately about my goals. In order to achieve my goals I must be able to measure them.  Not everything I want to do is easily measured, so I come up with proxy goals to support my values. My goals graph a bit like this:

Value:                             Goal

Be health                         ------------->   Self propel 500 miles
Engage my brain             ------------->   Read 50 books
Have a strong marriage  -------------->  Plan at least one date night per month

I can manage what I can measure.  I can measure a 4 mile walk, a 2 mile run, a 10 mile hike, etc.  There are obviously mulitple metrics for measuring health, but this year I chose to focus on physical activity.  Same with engaging my brain, and my marriage.  For me, taking the time to sit down and set goals make a tremendous difference in promoting my values in my life.


Most people I've talked to with a succesful budget know you have to measure to make any changes in your budget.  Aribrary setting a budget "We will spend no more than 60 dollars eating out" is way less sucessful than first measuring how much you actually spend eating out.  I've been managing my budget this way for years.  Our budget isn't a limit, but a guide and each year, we sit down and look at how much we budgeted compared to how much we spent and make applicaple adjustments. In looking at last years budget, we realized that the less we engaged with it, the less intentional we were with our money and decisions.  So this year we came up with a new system to help us both better monitor our money.


It seems like I can't write, say or think anything lately without it somehow coming back to the Marie Kondo's books.  (I recently finished her second book, 
Spark Joy: An Illustrated Master Class on the Art of Organizing and Tidying Up days after it's release!)  It mind sound crazy to measure your belonings, but I really believe that for me that is why Kondo's method was so effective.  By collecing all of my clothes, books, tools, etc I had to measure how much I had.  Did our family need 5 tape measures?  7 pitchers?  a hundred pair of baby socks?  For me, the answer was no.  And I realized that by scattering my belongs, but NOT measuring them I had lost the ability to manage them.  I chose to keep extra hair brushes around instead of managing where I put my hair brush and made a thousand other small decisions that made my life less managable.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

What I've been reading.

One of my favorite activities is reading and one of my goals this year is to read 50 books.  I'm well on my way and thought it'd be worth while to share what I've been reading! Although I have to say, people rarely ask me what I've been reading.  Perhaps I should be a little less long winded about it...

1.Yes, Please

I really liked Tina Fey's book Bossypants and this was recommended by Kindle.  It was quick, easy and fun to read.  I recommend it to particularly to working moms looking to laugh.

2. Daemon

I didn't choose this book.  Gavin and I take turns choosing a book to read together.  He chose this one.  It was a fun read overall, but I was annoyed to discover it was part of a series (I tend to stay away from serials).  I recommend this book to technology junkies who like crime novels.


As I mentioned, Daemon turned out to be a series.  This is the rest of the book.

4.Great Expectations

I'm in a classic book club and this was our selection.  Not my favorite, not to mention I spent the first half of the book thinking I was reading Les Miserables.  I recommend this book to high schoolers who are unfortunate enough to find it on their mandatory reading list.

5.In the Unlikely Event

I loved Judy Blume as a child so I had to read the book.  It was okay.  I recommend this book to people who love to read and can get it from the library.

6.Furiously Happy

I enjoyed this book.  It's a hysterical account of a woman's struggle with depression.  I recommend it to anyone who has had or loved someone who has had any type of depression.

7.  Getting Things Done

I've been hearing about this book for ages.  This is a good system for people who feel like their lives are out of control and are looking for a system to gain some control and sense of direction.  Many of my systems are similar and I got some great Ideas. I highly recommend the book, although it's certainly not for everyone.

8. Opposite of Spoiled

Sometimes when  I look around at my house and my neighborhood I'm terrified about how my children will grow up.  How can I give my kids everything and still expect them to be grateful and realistic and understand how lucky we are?  So I read this book and I really liked it.  It made compelling arguments for allowance (an issue I hadn't really considered, yet) and like most great parenting books I read was more about the adult then the child.  I recommend it for anyone who is wondering how to teach their kids about money and find balance in parenting.

9. Between the World and Me

This book was incredible.  I don't know exactly how it got on my reading list, but it came up so I read it.  It's a book written by a father to his son about life as a black man in America.  It provided me a perspective that I did not have before and was beautifully written.  I would recommend it to anyone who is interested at all based on the description.

10. Essentialism

I loved this book.  I love the idea of identifying what is truly important and pursing it totally.  This book is about simplifying and that's been a primary purpose for me lately.  I'd recommend it for anyone who wants to think about what's really important and find ways to make more time and energy for it.

11. Art of Tidying

I've written quite a bit about this book already. If you have any interest in simplifying your possessions and your life, read this book.

12. Trigger Warning

Much like series, I stay away from short stories, although for the opposite reason.  If the author can't be bothered to flesh out a story and really write it, why should I read it?  I did not realize this was a collection of short stories when I got it.  Still, I like Gaiman a lot so I decided to stick with it.  It is enjoyable and his mind fascinates me.  I would recommend it ot Gaiman fans or aspiring Sci Fi writers.

13. Art before Breakfast

I got this book thinking it was "The Artist's Way" (it is not).  But I read it anyway.  It's a book about drawing.  I recommend it to any non-artistic person who wants to be inspired to draw and think creatively.

14: Finders Keepers

Lots of strikes against this book, although most of them are my fault.  1: It's a book in a series, and even worse it's not even the first book in the series. 2.  It's not a "King" book (aka scary as hell and creepy) book.  It's a crime novel.  It's a good crime novel, but not what I was expecting, although it hinted at it almost enough for me to read book 3, but not quite.  I don't really recommend this book, although if you're looking for a crime novel, it's a fun read.  (Mr. King, if you happen to read this, please don't kill me in one of your books.  They scare me enough already).

15.  Dad is Fat

Gaffigan is funny.  Parenting is funny.  Him writing about parenting is very funny.  Despite his firm entrenchment in the attachment parenting camp, I liked the book and laughed a lot.  I'd recommend it to parents looking for a laugh, but far behind Yes, Please or Bossypants (sorry Jim).

16. Better than Before

From the Author the "The Happiness Project" one of my favorite books from a few years ago.  I can't decide if I'd love Gretchen or really dislike her, but I like her books.  This book tackles Habits, how they are formed, how they are eliminated and how they can help our lives.  Her voice is a bit strange in this book, though.  It's written a bit like a memoir, but a bit like a self help book.  It's lke she is unwilling to assume the role of guide, expert, teacher, etc. (Although her stories indicate that's not true in life).  Which is weird because her friends and relatives didn't seek out her book to read... still, I really liked the book.  I'd recommend it to anyone looking to make life a little easier and find out a little bit more about their own personality.

17. Beautiful Struggle

The next Coates book I was able to get my hands on.  I would recommend Between the World and Me first, but this memoir provides great context and background and is also beautifully written.

18. Silence

A book written by a Buddist monk about the value of finding Silence, mostly internal, in a loud and chaotic world.  Despite my goal of simplifying, it had not occurred to me how valuable silence could be towards that goal.  My favorite quote from the book:

"The more space we make for stillness and silence, the more we have to give both to ourselves and to others."

I was inspired to work towards making mental space as I work on making physical space and to evaluate why it's so hard for me to do so without filling every second with some type of input.  I would recommend this book to most people.  In my experience we could all use a reminder to slow down every once and a while.

I have a few books lined up, but I'm always looking for suggestions!

KonMari: Hitting the wall, then climbing the wall, then...

falling off the wall...

If you are considering jumping into Kondo's book and method, there's a few things I think you should know.

1. It's going to get worse before it gets better.

Perhaps this is why she offers the advice that you should fully discard before you organize.  And I tried, I really really did. But there's some obstacles!  For example my garbage cans can only hold so much garbage (same holds for the trash cans at the pocket park, not that I would desperately take anything there ever...)  Also, there were LOADS of things to be taken for donation. (Hmm, come to think of it, she may have told me to identify that ahead of time, too...) And there were things I was pretending to sell by posting witty captions on my moms sale group and people would fail to pick them up and my entry way filled up with weird things.  The short version: It's going to get worse before it gets better.

2. You're going to need a sanctuary, and possibly wine.

For me, it was my closet.  I followed her instructions and started with clothes and my closet was as close to a magazine spread as I care to get (no one is getting between me and my Princess Leia footy PJs,)  Anyway, I am very lucky to have a large and now insanely clean and organized closet.  Multiple times during the process I'd retreat from a lumbering pile of towels (every towel?? Are you SURE?  Geeze that's a lot of towels.)  with a cup of tea or glass of wine to remind myself this is why I'm doing this.  Once I got started I desperately wanted (want) to finish.  So things not only got messier, I got a bit frantic about it.  Sanctuary was necessary.  I am lucky I work so I had to leave the house and work, God help the Stay at Home parent who lives in their self imposed prison of purging 24 hours a day.  

3. This might actually change your life

I didn't really expect life changing to happen.  I mean, every book I read changes my life in some way, but although I was excited to 'tidy' I didn't really anticipate magic.  But there is some magic!  For me, the magic was the insanely simple sounding idea that my belongs should be taken care of.  This is literally so easy I try to teach it to my 3 year old every single day.  Yet for some reason it was out of my reach.  I actually laughed when I first read that "Every thing should have a home."  But guess what?  EVERYTHING SHOULD HAVE A HOME!  Because then it can go there.  And when you need it, it will be there. Everything.  And since we've started working on this the amount of times my husband and I have asked "Hey, where is the___?" or "Do we have any ____?" has dropped dramatically.  

I'm not done, but I can see the start of the light at the end of the tunnel.  And as promised, the process gets easier and more automatic as I go along.  I'm still dreading sentimental items, particularly photos, but I firmly believe in the principles and the process.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Goals: New Years Edition.

I posted in October about my goals for the year.    I know January is "Goal Month" for lots of people, so I thought I'd use this opportunity to revisit my goals and update my progress!

One of the wonderful things about October start is I get a 'test run.'  A few of my goals just didn't pan out, some of them, on the other hand, are going like gangbusters!!

First, I revised my Goal Image:

Intentionally is my overriding theme for the year (actually it might be for my life in general, but we'll start with the year!)  Inspired by some of the books I've read and ideas I've been exploring in my writing, I added it to the top of my list.  I'll see it daily and hopefully live it daily as well.

500 miles: This goal has really been inspiring me lately.  When I have a few minutes and I'm not sure what to do, I tend to consider a walk or a ride, which is awesome since the mission behind this goal is to be more active.  As of today, I'm up to 124 miles. 24 miles ahead of my required pace to achieve 500 miles by October!

50 Books: I plan to post about my recent reads, but I'm already up to18 books!

Publish Weekly: This goal has been a bit of a challenge, I've been writing frequently, but I sometimes find it difficult to share my voice and broadcast my ideas.  I've opened up some new creative avenues that I've really been enjoying though, so I've made my goal consistently.

Create Daily: I've been primarily writing, but I've also had opportunities to express creativity in other ways with craft nights and creating activities for the kids.  I've also read several art books that have inspired me to try drawing!

Build Community: I've decided that one of my core principles is community.  I've also come to realize that I can build the community that I want for my family.  It's something I've been working on consistently even without labeling it a goal, but it is a critical component of my life and worth adding to my sheet.  I've also come up with a very specific goal in this area that I'll share more about soon!

Family Adventures: I addition to my goals as a mother and a wife, adding adventure is a primary goal for the year.  Train Rides, exploring new places, novel culinary experiences, are all aimed at adding more fun to our days.

Foster Friendship:  I want to build community and try new things.  I want to be open to new people and experiences and be willing to push myself outside of my comfort zone.  In order to be successful, I need to foster the friendships that inspire, motivate, and comfort me.

2016 is going to be incredible, I can just tell.