How you can utilize quarters to frame your personal life

This year I've dabbled with personal quarters, and I'm excited to use them next year with even more intention. Personal quarters are time-wise aligned with tax quarters or fiscal quarters, but for the purpose of your growth, individually. 

1st quarter: January - March
2nd quarter:  April - June
3rd quarter: July - September
4th quarter: October - December 

I've done an imperfect job this year of trying on the personal quarter. Regardless, I've really enjoyed the new perspective. 90 days is that sweet spot.  It is enough time to get big things accomplished, but it isn't so little time (like a month) where stopping to plan and reflect gets in the way of actually doing the work.

Here's a specific illustration of how the use of personal quarters helped me this year. My 3rd quarter was very medical.  We had ER visits that led to the boys' diagnosis of hemophilia. I had a lot to learn. Essentially, think crash course in hemophilia. There were numerous, numerous long conversations with specialists, our pediatrician, our at-home nurse, and our insurance company. I walked through a bit of the grieving process to readjust expectations and let my momma heart breathe.

Then, I was looking at the last three months of the year & felt joy. I've become accustomed to new starts every three months.  I was able to frame July, August, & September around this positive sense of learning lots about my boys and hemophilia, something waiting in them for two years for us to discover.  Even though that aspect of our lives is not neatly tied up and put away, there won't be the same intensity with which we had in this specific chunk of months. I was able to start October fresh & joyful.  I was able to look forward and not feel stuck, to readjust and feel renewed to keep going.

That's why I love stopping every 3 months to pull everything back together to rewrite the plan. It makes room for the unexpected, but also helps me remember not to get distracted from my original intentions.

Here are some ways you could use the personal quarter framework for you. Pick and choose what you want:

1.  Use a personal quarterly review guide.  You are welcome to use this one that I created. (I modified it from something I found on another site and as soon as I find that site I'll give her due credit here.) You also could create a simple one for yourself that's essentially directed at reviewing the previous quarter and planning for the quarter ahead.  I get such a sense of pleasure in taking pen to paper, but you can also walk through these questions with mind maps or talking through them with someone else.

2. Block out a 2 - 3 hour chunk of alone time to think.  Journal at Panera. Go on a long hike. If you are in a survival season, maybe just a super long soak in the bathtub, candles lit and lights dim. Just pick your flavor of whatever that will allow you space from everyday life and especially that long to do list.  This is time to think big picture.  Replay scenes from the last three months. What did you feel? What did you learn? Now visualize what you want the next three months to look like, to feel like. Are there things in your value system that need fed? You don't have to write down a single thing to make use out of personal quarters. Sometimes the best growth happens when we stop to be still and listen.

3. Retool the budget. Where our money goes is a good indication of our values.  Security. Friendships. Time with family. Flashy, nice things. Freedom.  It will show up in the numbers, so updating a budget also serves as a way of thinking about your value system as well.  Then there's changes. Salary changes. Changes in family size. A notice that your mortgage bill went down. New opportunities that cost or bring in more money. Just on a practical level, I've found updating (as in actually revisiting what amount we are allowing for each area, not in making sure the numbers are accurate) the budget every three months is the most realistic.    *I would love to share how we use our online bank, Simple, to budget (it's flipping awesome--the best!), but I need to figure out how to do that tech-wise and if there's any interest, so let me know if that's something you would like to see.

4. Celebrate! If you don't take time to acknowledge the great things that you accomplished or ways in which you grew, you are robbing yourself of extra energy to take on even more.  I've found celebrating insights, new skills, and achievements to give me both gratitude and contentment. It isn't all about being goal driven. It's about seeing that life is both good and bad and that there is always good to be recognized. Life will go on. There will always be difficult things. We should take time to savor the good things too! Date night. A special, related purchase. A bottle of wine and a special meal made side by side at home with your husband. Stop, celebrate and be glad.

5. Keep it simple with answering this one statement-- "I need____________________"
How would you finish that statement? For me, right now, I need everything in its place in our home. That's why I'm reorganizing all the spaces in our house for my 4th quarter.  This need was really "highlighted" as soon as we started homeschooling.  What this statement really delivers is tackling your biggest problem.  If you can take on your big problem, other things will fall into place as a benefit.  Do you need to feel healthier? Do you need to have more time? Do you need to reconnect with your spouse? Do you need to feel happier at work?

Now answer this question: What needs to be true in order for _____________________ ?
 & fill in your need. Ex: What needs to be true in order for us to feel peace in our home? What needs to be true in order for me to have time to be creative? What needs to be true in order for me to get a promotion?

How do you set goals? Do you set monthly, quarterly or yearly goals? Have you every tried to use some version of personal quarters?

Five Easy Ways to Gratitude

I’ve done a lot of work in cleaning out the yucky parts of my heart to make room for joy this year. One of the things I’ve found is that gratitude clears a wide path for joy. It’s as if in seeing that we have much, we are given even more good.

I'm sharing today a few of the things that I do to bring myself back to gratitude and therefore joy. These are all easy practices that could be done almost at anytime and anywhere.

1. Cleaning

Doing the dishes, sweeping the floor, and scrubbing the toilet can be an exercise in gratitude if we let it. It’s when I clean up my fridge that I see I have so many things to eat. It’s in putting little boys’ clothes on hangers that I can smile for the little stinkers who made a cloud of dirt settle on that fabric just the day prior. It’s in tidying up books I can love the authors who’ve dedicated themselves to the words. It’s funny. I never feel like buying more clothes after a day of catching up on laundry. Sometimes even a purge or reinvention of things we have on hand can give us delight, all without reaching into our wallets.

We've reached critical mass at our home. It's as if we took a path out and now we hit then end and have to return to the trailhead. This is the first year that we've had way more things leave our house than come in. I haven't been able to purge all at once as suggested in The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, but we are getting there. After each chunk of purging, I've been truly, truly amazed at how different I felt about the things that remained in my closet, book shelves, the boys' room and the garage. The things that no longer "sparked joy" were getting in the way of the things that were. When we removed the things that were no longer meant for our home, the things that are seemed to come to life. I think this is true for the things we store internally as well, and I wonder how much we clean up internally when we are busy tending to the external weeds at our feet and hands.

2. Praying for others

It was just this year that I started regularly praying with my kids at night. With the twins, it’s a very simple prayer. They are usually busy setting up their stuffed animals and asking for their fifth drink of water. With Thomas, it’s a little something more. Whether we pray about our day or say an Our Father, we always pray at the end for those who are lonely or have little.

Without prompting, Thomas joined in saying the Our Father last week. I hadn't realized that he had it memorized since I just say it to him and when he prays he tends to do free form shout-outs to God about his friends, his brothers, his dad, and Legos. It hit me that Thomas might find mention of bread odd in a prayer, so I explained to him what asking for our daily bread meant. It hit me there in that retelling of "just enough, not more". Of course it is important to think long term and big picture. It is important to have extra savings and a plan for retirement. But at the end of the day--if we had enough for THAT day, our hearts should be thankful. It's this art of contentment that I'm learning as I age and it is a much happier place than the frenetic hustle for tomorrow's fruit. As my favorite poem states:

"Oh, leave tomorrow's fruit to providence

and dote upon the bud--from which is spun

a leafing-out to love in increments, "

It’s in meditating on the true suffering around us that we’ve taken more pause in our lives to think of those around us who are suffering, even those we don’t know who are suffering. Our extremely simple and humble prayer (think one or two sentences) puts into perspective the troubles of our day. It is all too cliche to say but true. There has never been a night I went to bed without shelter, clothes, or food. I have very much to be grateful for and also to be a good steward of.

Of course, actually helping others is even better. But when you don't know where to help or when to help or how to help or it's the end of the day and even your own life needs help -- one little prayer is good enough, is very good indeed.

3. Margins & Pauses

What good is the hammock if we do not lay in it? What good is the speaker system without the occasional weekend dance party with the family? What good is the hydrangea bush without a bouquet on the table? We can’t fully enjoy the things we already have if we are always rushing, rushing, rushing without margin.

Sometimes we are so busy working for the next good thing, we forget about the good things we already have. Say no to obligations that aren’t essential. Put away the phone. Give yourself permission to take a quiet walk, paint your toes bright pink, light a candle, and pick up the child and dance. Invite a friend over and pour a glass of wine. No one will step in and make margin in your life. You have to be firm in making white space. I’ve found that that’s where all my brightest colors bloom.

There are seasons in life that are so busy that even the word margin feels a bit like a joke. I know when the twins were newborns, there was little room for margin. Just their sleep cycle alone kept me on my toes and barely sleeping myself for a stretch of months. This is where I think a pause does great work. No one should have to feel heavy with stress and scrolling the to do list all day. Even 15 or 30 minute breaks to do something silly or fun or quiet recharges us and makes us return to even our grungiest, most difficult work with a bit of joy. Thomas and I do one art activity a week. This is something I let myself get lost in for a bit of time. I feel no shame playing and coloring because I've seen how I bounce back into my work with more enthusiasm and focus.

4. 3 Good Things journaling

Pick a month to declare a gratitude reset. Heck, pick a week. We don’t need to always write down the blessings in our lives, but doing it for a bit of time can spark back to life that joy we left behind when life got busy or stressful or just such a overstuffed bag that gratitude sifted to the bottom. At the end of each day (for whatever amount of time) take a moment to replay the day.

Did you love that you dressed up and felt beautiful? Did you take extra time to love on someone? Did you make a new recipe and strike gold? Did you see some great thing someone else did? Write three good things down.

I kept this practice this summer. It was incredible. The things I wrote down were very eye opening. They helped me to really take a step back from my life and see how truly good it is. I had a ton of wonderful things that I was very, very quickly forgetting because of all the looming things I needed to fix or get done or get through.

I know November is just around the bend, and with it Thanksgiving. It may not be a bad month to take notes on your good things. Ann Voskamp's books are good recommendations for listening and listening to our gifts. And there are plenty of tags on Instagram for directed focus on the beautiful things and people in our lives.  But don't think your gratitude list has to have anything grand on it. Every time I take a shower I feel like a million bucks and a walk around my neighborhood brings me so much joy it's impossible for me to hide it on my face. Simple things. Simple things. 

5. “I am ready for this.”

It’s easy to be grateful for the good, but what do we make of the difficulties of our lives? I think we can find a way to be grateful for those too. Each struggle is a door to something new. If we didn’t struggle, than it would be of nature something we already know. Me? Becoming a wife: difficult. Becoming a mom: difficult. These things were struggles (are struggles) because they pull me from what I was to what I need to be.

Do you know that ache in your chest when your heart is raw and your entire body, mind, and spirit are processing the “foreign”, the burden, the difficult—you know you have to get from A to Z and you’re confounded as to how? That's tough stuff.

Some difficulties land in our laps as if from the sky and I don't mean that as a nod to heaven. These problems are random and may not have much meaning aside from the character that we come to exercise in dealing with them.

But I think there are some difficulties that we specifically take on because we were ready to do so. It could be problems in our marriages or our relationships with others. It could be in taking care of that underlying, nagging issue with the house or the finances. It could be in apologizing to someone, confronting someone, or just simply going to someone to be honest about something you have harbored for some time because you couldn't find the words for so long. It could be in seeing that your kid mouths off or that it is time to put the dog down. It could be a big conversation about why your family is doing things the way they are and if that's the path you want to keep going down. These are all examples of things that we should meet when we are ready and because we are ready we should do them with a touch of joy for being ready. This is when we can say: "I am ready for this. I am strong enough for this! I'm glad I'm here to do this work."

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What do you do to increase your gratitude ? What's that thing you do to recenter your life and plant your feet in joy? I would love to know!

Things that are making me happy right now

1. phone free walks - 

I wake at 5:30 each morning, and get ready for the day while all my guys are still sleeping. When Paul travels, this looks like journaling and reading mostly. When Paul is home and it’s safe to step away, I try to take a 2 mile walk around my neighborhood. I love these walks. A couple months ago I felt a tug to not listen to anything but what I was walking past—birds, leaves, squirrels, the spillway behind the lake. It was wonderful. 

My head is stuffed with thoughts. I need quiet to sift through them and see what’s worth what. I also have such a drive to learn that I feel compelled to listen to as much information as possible on housekeeping, finances, homeschooling, etc, but there needs to be a better balance of quiet & learning. I’ve been taking a lot more silent walks, as I like to call them. 

It feels like a treat to be, in my own little way, off the grid—away from that phone. I want to have more phone detox time in my days and weeks.  I’m thinking about this. I want to enjoy my phone, but feel detached from it as well.  Or at the least, at times. I don’t want to be robbed of being present anymore. 

2. night-time prayers with the kids -  

When I heard Thomas sign his name to the end of a prayer about a month ago, “Love, Thomas” as if he was sending a letter up to God, I thought maybe we should make night time prayers a bit more of a norm rather than once every other month. 

I’m the reading mom, the walking mom, the cooking in the kitchen with you mom. I wish I was all the mom things, but I’m not.  Even praying once every day, other than at the table, felt like a stretch for me. Baby steps.  So I kept it super, super simple.  

I tuck the twins in first.  I give them their drinks of water. They make messy signs of the cross. Then I say while they press their hands together and give me the cutest little smiles I’ve ever ever seen, “Dear Jesus, thank you for this day / in every single way. Amen.” At that point they do this thing where it looks like they are releasing doves out of their hands. I’m not sure what that’s about, but it seems in good spirit of what we’re doing.  

When I tuck Thomas in, about an hour later, we have a bit messier time praying.  We talk real to Jesus. Thomas throws in things randomly and usually asks questions that have nothing to do with what we are praying about.  We say what we are grateful for and think through our day. We list family members in a haphazard rotation & try to pray specifically for thing going on in their lives. And we add one other intention, usually for the people who are lonely because that just breaks my heart after we’ve thought about our day so full with one another.

Now if only I could get in the habit of saying my own night-time prayers.  All in time. For now, just this little change in our routine has added a ton of gratitude in my heart. 

3.   afternoon clean-up time

Last weekend I took out our gate in the sunroom that has either kept the twins inside of it or locked out since they were born.  It was becoming a nuisance when guests would visit, so I begrudgingly removed it. Little did I know that I would be so excited about the change (after I spent hours purging and moving stuff). Plus, it feels like we are truly in a new season of life and I really, really love that. 

Now all the kids’ toys are either in the sunroom or put away in their room in their closet.  Before, they were in all the living areas of the house. 

At 5:00 p.m. every day, we stop whatever we are doing for clean-up time.  We don’t walk away until every single item is put away on the built-in shelves. It stays clean until bed time because the rest of the night is screen time, dinner, bedtime routine, baths, reading, etc.  

The system I used before for toy pick-up isn’t even worth mentioning. Suffice it to say it was making me very unhappy and annoyed.  I let the kids keep tons and tons of toys out, especially Thomas. I had to create a whole new norm for us when it hit me recently that Paul and I are happiest when the house is really clean and clutter-free, and so our family culture & our kids are just going to have to form around that need.

I had to really think about what I’m trying to accomplish when I’m having the kids clean.  It seems obvious, right? I want it clean. But after years of doing this the wrong way, I see there is a different purpose for each season and right now while the boys are little there are specific reasons for why I want pick-up time to be this way. 

I want them to form habits and practice doing things to completion.  Mostly, I want the process to be more peaceful, and in the past it hasn’t been.  If I see that it’s taking more than ten minutes or so to clean up the mess we made during the day, that’s a sign to me we need to simplify or let go of some things.  

The best part of our new pick-up habit is that Paul is greeted with a happier wife and a cleaner home.  Plus, the kids seem very proud of their work. So win-win-win.

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I enjoyed writing these so much.  I had more to share, but maybe on another day. Let me know if you have something that is making you happy right now. I would love to hear!

A Few Tips for my Fellow Introverts (that you might already know)

If there was some kind of Olympics for being an extrovert, my husband would qualify.  He is like the king of the extroverts. And being that I love extroverted people, I married him, among many reasons, because my subconscious thought we would work together well as extrovert + introvert.  That has become the case, but it wasn't at first. It has taken us a while to figure out how to take our differences and magically mesh them. (And we still have a few kinks in the system to work on, so I'm far from expert.)

Today, since this lovely has been circulating facebook, I thought I would chime in on how to enjoy life as a weird introvert. I kid. Mostly. 

These tips do not come without a history of learning them the hard way. And lest you doubt my melodrama, I once cried myself to sleep in our walk-in closet while guests were staying in our home. Yeah, I'm that introverted. And if you have no idea why good, kind, gracious guests would drive an otherwise relatively normal person to cry in her closet, well, you may not be an introvert. But feel free to keep reading to marvel at my weirdness.

1. Layer silence and solitude into your schedule. I realized I was an introvert my fourth year of teaching (only a few years ago---I was in denial for a very long time because I'm entirely convinced extroverts are the. best.). I was crazy busy. Taught an extra class during my prep time. Did extracurriculars. Tutored kids. Had a kid myself. And my husband was busier and busier with his job too. Oh and he traveled a lot.  Despite exhaustion and being immeasurably behind around the house, the strangest thing happened. I started waking an hour before I needed to. I would read or write or just sip on coffee and listen to the birds lift the darkness on the other side of my sun room windows. I didn't plan for it or set my alarm for it. I needed quiet so desperately, my body was willing it. And I found so much peace because of that time.  

If I know I have several social priorities in a week, I have to consciously schedule snippets of time to be by myself. I draw so much from this. And if I don't fill back up this way, I end up cranky and discourteous with others which makes me so very sad.

This brings me to my next point...

2. Develop some sort of plan.
Every time we host a group at our house, my husband and I know I have to have a lot of quiet before and after. Sounds crazy, right? Well, it's that or I'm just a horrible person.  I'm so grateful the misunderstandings about our different personalities are, for the most part, behind us.  He respects my need for space. I try my best to say yes to his desire to be out and about with people. It works because we remember we're different and that's okay.

You know the demands on you.  Figure out little tricks to refuel. You know that satisfying sense of the gas tank filling up? You should shoot for that feeling. If you are missing that as an introvert or an extrovert try some tweaks here or there. I know it's not all about "I", but if we are to serve and love others, we really need to know how to be our best selves first. If that means the indulgence of closing the door to your bedroom for 15 minutes so you can reclaim sanity--do it!

But you don't have to go big or go home. Some small ways I refuel: write, claim kid-free spaces and times, wake early, take just 5 minutes to sit outside and stare at leaves, clean, put cell phone far away, go for a 15 minute walk, take a drive, go say hello to nature, journal, make something pretty.

It doesn't take much, but you want to refuel before you are empty. It's not like you can silence life on demand. Grab those quiet moments when you can.

3. Know your boundaries. None of us get to pull the "no thanks, I'm an introvert" card and just opt out of all social engagements we don't feel like going to, but it is important to know when something is too much.  You can always engage but take small breaks that no one could care less about.  My husband is the oldest of ten and so family get togethers are pretty crazy. And I love them.  But I also know my boundaries.  When I can feel myself getting irritated I go to a room with less people, take a walk with Paul, or just hide in my room for a few minutes with a book. These small breaks make a world of difference.  I always return once again feeling like every soul around me is wonderful, wonderful!

4. Love on others. A danger I've found in being an introvert is that our relationships with others feel a bit taxing and then we can, in a long and winding journey of events, perceive it as just not worth the effort and oops, fade out of the picture. Oh my gosh. I know that just sounds like the worst. I don't know a nicer way to say that it takes us a lot to stick around and play nice.  And you know what, I'll go out on a limb and just say that it is okay sometimes.  If someone I meet is superficial, catty, petty, gossip-y or just generally angry, the chances of me investing in them are about nill.  I just can't. Big time energy suck. I don't know if that's the worst thing ever.

But the worst is when you are so in love with being alone you start just not wanting to be around anyone.  Then something is off. It's not right.  Relationships are worth the work.  Our connections with others really is what life is all about! (Or so said me.) So get your butt out there and work on 'em even when you just feel like reading on the couch until you shrivel and die...or you run out of cookies and milk, whichever comes first.

I'm so grateful Paul is my built in kick-me-in-the-pants assistant. When he sees me slip into the loner look, he sets me straight.  Thank goodness. Because with all the flour, sugar, chocolate chips, butter and eggs I buy in my once a week outings to Sam's... I could read on the couch for a very, very long time.

So, what do you think? Which side of the fence are you on? Have any tips or tricks of your own? Any questions from the extrovert crowd?