Reduce distraction and stress: Turn off notifications from messaging apps

Recently, I made a small change that turned out to make a huge difference in how distracted I felt and how much stress I experienced. It was a little change that I’d been considering for a while but didn’t quite have the guts to make. Now that I’ve implemented it, I’m not going back.

Namely, I stopped getting notifications from messaging apps. I still have the apps on my phone, but I only open them when I choose to. My attention is no longer drawn to them continuously as messages come in.

The bleak past

Over the past few months, I’ve mostly been at home (sound familiar?) because we’re in lockdown here in the Netherlands. As I was going about my day, messages kept coming in to my phone. I’d be having breakfast with my family–a message comes in. Cleaning up the kitchen–a message comes in. Trying to work–a message comes in. Playing with William–a message comes in. I felt drawn to check the message even if I knew I should wait and shouldn’t interrupt what I was doing. It took willpower to not check it, and this constant battle was exhausting.

Of course, this problem could be avoided if I simply put my phone out of sight. Then I wouldn’t see that I’ve received messages and wouldn’t be distracted. However, I tried this for a long time, and it didn’t work for me. I often ended up inadvertently glancing at my phone, almost just to check whether there was anything I needed to respond to. I also use my phone as a clock, so then every time I checked the time, I’d also see if I had gotten any new messages.

This all led to a feeling of unease. Even if I didn’t read the new message, it still weighed on my mind, as though there was something I was forgetting, something I still had to get to. Like an item on my to-do list that I kept checking off, but it constantly kept undoing itself and had to be done again.

If I did check the message, it was almost never something urgent. It was usually a nice message, maybe something funny or maybe a friend reaching out, but it still drew my attention away from my chosen activity.

And I’m all about setting priorities and following through with them, right? It felt very uncharacteristic for me to be pulled away by distractions the entire day, and yet this was too powerful for me to resist.

So I decided to take action. If I couldn’t fight the temptation the whole time, I had to eliminate it.

Making the plunge!

I went ahead and stopped all notifications on messaging apps. This included WhatsApp, Viber, and Messenger. I also turned off notifications from Gmail and Mattermost (similar to Slack) already a while ago. I always had notifications from Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram turned off.

Now, I have to say, this is not technically easy to do. Some apps make it impossible for you to turn off notifications from within the app, or maybe it’s possible to turn them off for 12 hours max. Very clever! So I went into Settings -> Notifications and completely disabled notifications from the apps I had chosen. Ha!

At first, I felt great fear of missing out (FOMO, anyone?). Maybe something important would come my way and I wouldn’t respond in time. To be fair, when I turned off email notifications a couple of years ago, I had the same fear, but I never ever missed an important email or didn’t respond to it in time. Maybe it’s just that there are very few urgent matters in my job.

To be fair, communicating with Jacob, my husband, could be urgent. Perhaps he was taking care of William and needed to ask me something. We agreed that he’d send me a message (an SMS), which I do receive notifications for. He could also call, of course. The same goes for William’s daycare; they call if they need something, and in that case I answer right away.

Riding off into the sunset

The way this works for me is that I still check my apps often. I end up responding in a timely manner most of the time, and I don’t think anyone has noticed a change from before.

The big difference is that I respond when I choose to. It ends up feeling like a break I enjoy: I connect with my friends, I see a funny image, I have a fun moment. It no longer feels like an item on the to-do list that constantly keeps coming back up and I never quite get it done. This is the biggest win for me.

And I still respond to my friends and family and reach out to people. I check my messages quite often, maybe a bit more often than I’d like to, but the feeling associated with it is completely different. I highly recommend this to anyone who feels controlled by their messaging apps. And I certainly recommend it for social media–there’s really nothing urgent there.

William also enjoys my phone, even if he can’t (yet) access my messaging apps.

Habits I’m working on in 2021

Are you curious about the habits I find difficult? Inspired by the start of the new year, I set up goals for a number of habits. These are the same old important habits, but right now I’m actually tracking my compliance with them. Some of these started falling away towards the end of 2020 (such as getting enough sleep), so I am now making an effort to do the important things. Here are my habits and goals.

1. Walking

I may be overwhelmed, tired, stressed, or upset. The best thing I can do in that moment is to go for a walk. It works every single time.

Going for a walk is often the best thing I can do for my mood, especially during this time of year when there isn’t much sunlight and I’m spending a lot of time indoors. Yet it’s easy to convince myself that there are more important things to do than go for a walk: work, do household chores, take care of William, etc. It often feels like a luxury I can’t fit into my day.

Therefore, I’ve set the goal to go walking 5 times a week! I have to say that so far I’ve been sticking to it, and it feels fantastic. Interestingly, I haven’t gotten bored of walking yet. I really look forward to my daily walk.

What have I done to stick to this habit? First of all, I’ve scheduled my walks: I go on most days around 15:30. I make sure to go on Saturdays and Sundays, and I also usually go on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. I often schedule a walk + talk with a friend, either in person or by phone, to make my commitment even stronger. It also helps me to think that William (my son) needs to go outside, so when I put him in the stroller and go for a walk with him, I feel like I’m doing something good for him too.

2. Exercise/Movement

This one’s been in flux a bit. I’ve been exercising consistently for years, but I wanted to try out something new. I used to train for 1-1.5 hours 3x a week, but I started dreading the exhausting workouts, and I really missed the movement on the other days. So I decided to incorporate some movement into my day 5x per week for about 30 minutes. I find it feels amazing when I move my body every day for a short amount of time.

What I’m trying to do now is to strength train at home 3x a week and do relaxing yoga or dance 2x a week. Strength training helps me stay healthy and avoid getting back pain, while the yoga and dancing are just super fun!

I’ve been sticking to the strength sessions, but I’ve been having trouble with the fun movement sessions. I find it difficult to make the time instead of working/cooking/doing household chores. But it’s been helpful to have it as an explicit goal, and by doing fun movement more often I also remember how nice it is and want to do it again.

This is how I track my habits in the app HabitHub.
This week, I’m doing well in terms of movement, walking, and drinking water but not so good with meditating.

3. Meditate differently

Ah, that’s not working out well. I used to meditate regularly in the past, but since having a little one, I haven’t been managing as much. In the beginning, there was so much time just sitting while he was breastfeeding or sleeping in my arms that I couldn’t handle any extra time sitting still on purpose. And now during lockdown I find it difficult to justify to myself sitting down and staying still instead of doing stuff.

The point is that I’m not making ‘strict’ meditation a priority now. Instead, I’m doing something new.

I’m adding 5 minutes after my movement sessions where I lie down or sit and listen to a relaxation or meditation exercise. It feels extremely luxurious and suuuuuper pleasant! It doesn’t always work because when William sees me sitting, he climbs onto my lap. Even better, if I’m lying on the floor, he comes over and climbs on my head (he literally lies on my head and bites my cheeks!), which doesn’t make it too easy to relax.

Still, I try to do a mindfulness exercise for 5 minutes a day 5x a week, usually after my movement session. It doesn’t always happen, but I’m doing my best with it.

4. Drink 2 full water bottles (water + electrolytes)

The permanent struggle to drink enough water + electrolytes! I like drinking water, but I enjoy tea more, so if I don’t pay attention to it, I end up drinking lots of tea and not enough water.

Since I’ve made it a goal I track, it’s been going better, and I think I am really making it most days. On days when I’m working, I have my bottle in front of me, and I drink one in the morning and one in the afternoon, so that’s easy. But the trick is to still drink enough water on days when I’m not working. If I’m running around the house and going out, I just forget to drink my water, and then I feel it (I get low blood pressure, and I feel low-energy).

Note: I have low blood pressure in general, so I put electrolytes in my water. That’s much more helpful to me than only water.

5. Do 4 Pomodoros a day

Pomodoros are 25-minute work periods free from distraction. They’re usually separated by a 5-minute (or longer) break. Read more about the Pomodoro method here (at the bottom, item 7).

I’ve set this goal in order to help myself do more distraction-free work. It’s super easy to constantly check email, Mattermost, messages, which prevents deep work. I’d like to do more deep work, so I try to eliminate distractions for 4 x 25 minutes a day (for a day on which I work).

To be honest, I’m pretty bad at this. As I’m writing this, Jacob (my husband) is texting me, and I’m responding. If there’s any type of activity that demands attention and concentration, it’s writing. Clearly, I need to work on this habit a bit more.

This week, I’m also doing well with practicing Dutch, doing Pomodoro’s on workdays, and playing with William, but not doing well with going to bed.

6. Dutch practice

I’ve committed to this one! I have an app (Babbel) that helps me practice and learn more Dutch. My goal is to use it 4x a week, and I almost always manage that.

I got inspired by my dad who’s been using DuoLingo to learn Spanish for more than a year, and he can actually speak and understand a bit now! In August last year, it hit me that I really wanted to step up my Dutch game. After all, William will grow up with Dutch as his main language, and I’d like to be able to understand it when he speaks, and I’d also like to have comfortable conversations with his teachers, friends, and friends’ parents.

So I’ve decided to overcome the embarrassment of making mistakes and having a funny accent and just speak. Using the app really helps to teach me more grammar and vocabulary and to give me the feeling that I’m on a journey of improving my Dutch. And, honestly, it’s fun! So I’m happy to report that this habit is going well.

7. Play with William for 10 minutes twice a day

This sounds a bit pathetic… but it can be really easy to rush around the whole day, switching between household chores, work tasks, and taking care of William. At the end of the day, I may realize that while I’ve done a bunch for William (fed him, changed his diaper, put him to sleep, etc.), I have actually done anything fun with him.

So I made it a goal to really play with him twice a day at least. We build towers, chase each other around the house, or read a book. It’s really fun, and it’s really pleasant for me too because I truly see him in those moments.

8. Call family and friends

Since we’re limited as to how many people we can see in person and how much we can travel, I try to reach out to family and friends more often than usual. This is more of a mental note though instead of a strict goal because if I’m too strict with it, I really don’t want to do it and end up not calling people. Instead, I let it be more flexible, and that seems to work alright.

9. Go to bed 22:00

Ah, this is my biggest struggle… It makes a huge difference for me if I get enough sleep, but the evenings are me-time, which can make it really difficult to go to bed because it feels like I’m missing out on fun time.

I’ve set an alarm on my phone to tell me that it’s bedtime at 21:30. The idea is that I get up from reading my book or whatever I’m doing, get things ready for the next day, brush my teeth, and get into bed.

Well, I can tell you that it doesn’t usually go that way. The alarm goes off at 21:30, and I turn it off, thinking “F*ck you, you’re not the boss of me, you won’t tell me when to go to bed!” At the same time, I know I used my best judgment to set up that alarm, so I can get enough sleep and be rested the next day. In the end, I’m in bed by 22:30 or 22:15 if I’m lucky, which is also not too shabby. But it irritates me that I can get myself to do all kinds of things, and yet for some reason I can’t get myself to go to bed by a certain time.

Anyway, I’m trying my best without being too rigid and allowing myself some unwind time in the evenings. I’ll keep working on it.

What habits are you working on? I’m very curious to hear from you!

A couple of weeks ago, we went to the Hoge Veluwe National Park for one of our walks.
As you can see, Jacob and I are enjoying ourselves, but William is not amused.

Yearly Review in these strange times

Happy New Year, everybody! You might think that in these strange times where so much is unpredictable there’s not much of a point in doing a yearly review. But I’ve come to tell you that every year is suited for a yearly review!

If you think about it, life is always unpredictable. 2020 has brought us particularly unexpected circumstances, but it is a fact of life that you can never predict everything that happens. The goal of the yearly review is not to try to control everything that happens to us but rather to reflect on what we’d like in our lives and go about making it happen.

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Our family traditions during the winter holidays

A year ago was the first time Jacob, William, and I spent Christmas and New Year’s together. William was a little more than 1 month old at the time, so things were a bit crazy. It was fun for sure but crazy nonetheless.

Jacob and I thought long and hard about which family traditions we’d like to emphasize as a family. As we live in the Netherlands, we are surrounded by traditions that are not really ours but some of which we like, so we could consciously choose which ones we want to celebrate family. We also thought about what other traditions we’d like to add, whether from our own cultures, upbringing, or ideas.

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What’s the secret to working from home well?

My maternity leave started in October 2019, back when the world was more or less normal and pre-COVID-19. People were working in the office, and our canteen was bustling with life, laughter, and conversation. We randomly ran into people at the coffee machine (or the tea kettle, as the case may be for me). I had just edited my new paper, making it ready for publication and leaving with the warm feeling of a closed chapter. I left for maternity leave excited to meet my baby and calmly leaving the work world behind me.

Fast forward 10 months, and in September 2020 I returned to work. Wow, had the workplace changed! People had been working from home for about 6 months now, so I felt like I had fallen behind. As though everyone else was in on a secret I didn’t know anything about. What were the secret rules of working from home? Apparently, everybody referred to it as WFH, so I started doing that too, trying to be cool.

I asked colleagues and friends for their tips. “What have I missed? What do I need to know about WFH?”

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How I motivate myself to work on my PhD

If you haven’t heard, there’s a pandemic going on, and now the holiday season is also upon us. These things are timely and feel immediate (i.e., they are here right now), while my PhD doesn’t feel so urgent.

I noticed a few months ago that I didn’t feel much urgency related to my work. I thought, “I’m getting back in the groove of things, I still have 1.5 years until I need to finish my PhD, it’s all good, that’s loads of time.” That’s all fine, but time is ticking away. If I don’t focus and work now, I’ll be pressed for time later.

I needed to make my PhD work feel more urgent. But how to do that without any pressing deadlines? While February 2022 (the end of my PhD contract) keeps gradually coming closer, it’s still too far away to give me a tangible feeling of immediacy.

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A day with a 6-month-old baby

William, our son, turned 6 months, woohoo!!! He’s getting cuter every day, but he’s also becoming dangerous–he has two sharp teeth now!

He’s starting to get into a routine these days, which is music to my ears. It’s not super precise yet, but it’s much more predictable than in the early months. That feels good to me because it means I can structure my day a bit more.

The night

I’ll start with describing the night because it’s my least favorite part. Even though William sleeps much better now than when he was smaller, I still don’t enjoy being woken up in the middle of the night…

We put him to bed around 19:30, and he usually sleeps until about 22:00 or 23:00. When he wakes up, I feed him, put him back to sleep, and go to bed myself if I wasn’t in bed already. (If I’m really tired, I go to bed at 21:00 and get some sleep before he wakes up.)

Then, he wakes up around 2:00 or 3:00, so then I feed him again, and we both go back to sleep.

Finally, he wakes up around 6:00 or 7:00, feeds again, and goes to sleep again (or, like today, wakes up nice and fresh at 6:30). I usually wake up at this point–it would be nice to sleep a bit more, but I’m just not able to fall asleep again.

The morning

I love mornings, gloooooorious mornings with the suuuuuun coming in… I don’t think that’s an actual song, but I’d like to make one up. Seriously though, mornings are awesome!

I often have breakfast around 7:00 or 8:00. William usually wakes up between 7:00 and 8:00 (if he’s not awake already), and then we do his morning routine: feeding, diaper change, and get him out of his pajamas and into clothes for the day. We play a bit and go out on the balcony for some sunshine.

An hour and a half after he’s woken up, so between 8:30 and 9:30, we start the naptime routine. That includes reading a book together on the big bed and cuddling, so it’s a lot of fun! 15 minutes later, he’s in bed and soon falls asleep (on most occasions but not always!).

William usually sleeps for 1.5 or 2 hours at this point, so it’s his long nap. Not always though–sometimes he wakes up after 40 minutes, so his reliability is not 100% yet. I usually do laptop work during his nap such as writing a blog post, doing a financial review, checking email, messages, reading articles, or doing online tasks.

When he wakes up, which is usually between 10:30 and 11:30, we have a feeding again and change his diaper. We are also starting to introduce solid foods now, so he eats a little bit of that as well. Then we play, and I usually do household tasks and eat lunch around 12:00.

Two hours after he woke up, we start his naptime routine. Again, we read a book and cuddle on the bed for 15 minutes, after which he goes to sleep. This is usually around 12:30 or 13:30.

The afternoon

Once William’s asleep for his second nap of the day, around 13:00 or 14:00, I do my training. I exercise for 30-45 minutes with equipment we have at home. While I love going to the gym, I’ve found during the Covid period that it’s very convenient to train at home. Zero travel time really makes a difference and makes it possible to train a little bit every day. It also feels good to move my body, activate my muscles, and lubricate my joints every day.

In the afternoon, William sometimes sleeps for 1.5 hours and sometimes for 40 minutes. If he wakes up and I’m still training, I put him on his tummy in front of me, and we both exercise. He loves watching me do squats! He laughs like crazy–apparently, my head bobbing up and down is really funny!

Usually, William wakes up between 14:00 and 15:00. Once I’m finished training, I feed him and change his diaper. Then, I may try to give him some solid food, and afterwards we play together and call a family member or a friend to catch up. I may do some household tasks or online tasks if I haven’t gotten a chance to finish them before. If the sun is out, we may go out on the grass behind our building and chill there.

Two hours after his waking time, so around 16:00, we go out for a walk. He usually takes a 30-minute nap at this time, but, again, not always–yesterday, for instance, he refused to sleep that late. The man is starting to have preferences!

We take a good, long walk, about 1-1.5 hours. I really enjoy that because I get nice movement, and we both get fresh air. I either listen to a podcast while we walk, or I have a friend join us for some social time.

The evening

We get home around 17:30 and relax. I feed William and warm up dinner for the adults. Jacob and I have dinner at 18:00, and at 18:45 we start the bedtime routine. We change William’s diaper and change him out of his clothes and into his pajamas. Then, we read a book on the bed, cuddle, and put him to bed. He usually falls asleep around 19:30.

Once the little one is asleep, we clean up the kitchen and living room a bit and get things ready for the night and/or the next day. Finally, Jacob and I have some time together to talk or read on the couch. We tend to go to bed between 21:00 and 22:00, depending on when we get sleepy.

And that’s it! This is William’s (and our) rhythm at 6 months of age. It’s really nice to have some structure and predictability in the day. Funny enough, everything can still move +/- 2 hours: sometimes he wakes up earlier (as early as 6:30) and sometimes later (as late as 8:30); some days I wake up early (as early as 6:00) and other days a bit later (as late as 8:00). But the outline of the day is the same, which feels comforting and makes it easier to plan things.

Little one, soon you’ll be a creature of habit just like your parents, woohoo! Until you become a teenager and rebel against any routine, staying up all night and sleeping during the day… Ah, let’s enjoy the days of (relative) predictability while you’re still small!

Create a system instead of searching for motivation

With so many people working from home during the COVID19 pandemic, finding motivation is an extremely common obstacle right now. Many of us are struggling to do our work, and we wonder why.

We assume that it’s due to a lack of motivation. “I’m less productive than usual, so it must be because I don’t care enough about my goals or because I’m not trying hard enough.”

But we miss the fact that we’re not in our usual work space, and our work habits have been disrupted. Literally nothing about our work life is the same: we don’t go to the office anymore, we don’t have set working hours, we aren’t using our comfortable work stations, and we don’t meet our colleagues, at least not physically.

Instead, we’re at home. (This refers to those of us working from home, clearly.) If we have a laptop, technically, we should be able to do everything we were doing before, so we expect the same productivity as before. But that’s not fair.

We may find it confusing to be working from home if we usually see home as a relaxation zone or simply a non-work zone. We may not have a working space set up at home, and our laptop may not be as convenient to work on as our work station. In addition, we may not have silence and/or we may be getting interrupted by the people we live with if we have a partner or children.

Alternatively, we may be lonely or bored. If we live by ourselves, we may have complete silence and calm, and that may be part of the problem. Perhaps we need the stimulation provided by many people working in the same physical space. What’s more, a coffee break or lunch break with a colleague provides much-needed social interaction, while also reinforcing the feeling that we’re at work.

Lots and lots of things have changed in the way we’re working right now. Sure, our motivation may be lower as well, but that’s probably not the main issue. Instead, we’d do well to address the changes by creating a system that gets us going.

Create temporal boundaries

Many people benefit from having specific times of day for working such as set working hours. This creates a separation between home and work even though the physical separation is not there right now.

To make this more tangible, in addition to giving yourself working hours, schedule something outside of those times: a call with a friend, a walk by yourself, or an online exercise session. In this way, you’ll actually have to stick to your self-imposed working hours because you have other things happening outside them.

For couples with kids where both parents are working from home, setting up shifts can be very helpful. One parent may work for 3-4 hours in the morning while the other parent takes care of the kids, and vice versa in the afternoon.

Whenever possible, try to create new work-related routines. In preparation for your workday (or shift), you may put on your work clothes, make a cup of coffee, and sit down at the same makeshift workstation every day. Then, once your work time is over, you can change into your home clothes, go for a walk, read a book, or cook dinner.

Create a physical workspace

If you have the opportunity, create a physical workspace for yourself. It’s great if you can work in the same workstation every day, thus distinguishing between ‘work’ and ‘home,’ which is the rest of your house.

Try to limit interruptions while you’re working. Leave your phone in a different room or on a high shelf and stop yourself from accessing social media (use an extension in your browser if necessary). Ask your partner and/or kids not to disturb you while you’re working (easier said than done… haha).

Create accountability

Many people need to feel accountable to someone or something in order to complete a task. Their own desire to do something may not be strong enough to propel them to action, but if they know someone else expects them to do something, they do it.

The most straightforward type of accountability is to have a supervisor you report to. You know what work they expect you to do, so you do it. In order for this to work, the supervisor needs to be familiar enough with your work and needs to check in often enough. Also, there need to be some sort of consequences that take place if you don’t complete something on time. For some people, simply not meeting an agreement is motivating enough; others may need more tangible consequences.

A buddy or a support group can also be a good source of accountability. You and a colleague may team up to tell each other what you’re going to work on today or this week and then revisit what you’ve accomplished at the end of the day or week. Support groups can work similarly where people share what they’re working on and then review their successes and challenges.

Whatever type of accountability you choose, make sure it works for you. You need to feel that someone is counting on you and that there is a real expectation that you will do your work. For more info on creating accountability, check out Gretchen Rubin’s extensive suggestions here.

Remember your ‘why’

Finally, remind yourself of why you’re doing this work. What are you trying to accomplish? Why is it important? Why do you find it interesting? What do you like about your work and why are you the right person to do it?

Once you connect to your ‘why,’ use the momentum and get going.

What helps you get your work done in these unusual times?

The sweet luxury of going to bed early

I’ve been going to bed at 9pm, and it’s been a game changer.

It feels strange to call it a day so early when the sky is not even dark yet here in the Netherlands. But I feel so much better! The next day, everything is easier and more pleasant because I’m rested.

I tried to stay up ‘late’

As you may know, I have a 5-month-old baby. He likes to wake up 2-3 times a night, so I’m not getting the best sleep of my life right now. Over the last few weeks, I decided I could take it, so I was going to bed around 10pm or 11pm, only to be woken up by him several times during the night and then again at 6:30am. That was not fun.

Then my husband started taking our baby in the morning. That meant I could sleep until 9am if I wanted to (which is super late for me!). Surprisingly, that didn’t work well: I found it difficult to fall asleep at 6:30am, and once I finally managed to sleep, it was shallow sleep. Once I woke up around 8:30am, I felt groggy instead of rested. Apparently, trying to sleep in “late” isn’t my thing.

Resisting going to bed

Now, the obvious solution would be to go to bed earlier, but I resisted it. I felt like I finally had time to myself! We put our baby to bed at 7:30pm, and after that my husband and I would have time together, or I could read a book or watch something fun. This time felt special, and I didn’t want to give it up by going to bed early.

But then I thought about it: was I really doing something special with my time? In fact, what ended up happening was that by 8pm I was so tired that all I did was to check email or social media. I didn’t really have the energy to do something more demanding like read a good book, and I didn’t want to watch a movie because that gets me excited, so I can’t sleep. What’s more, Jacob (my husband) uses this time to work, so it wasn’t actually quality time together.

Going to bed early

Finally, I gave in and decided to try going to bed by 9pm. In fact, it wasn’t as difficult as I had thought, but it felt very, very good. I got uninterrupted sleep during those first few hours of the night, which made me feel much more rested. And when my baby woke up at 6:30am, I was ready to get up with him. Okay, to be fair, I would have liked to sleep for another hour, but it wasn’t too bad.

I noticed very pleasant changes: I was more rested (duh!), so my energy was higher throughout the day, making it easier to do all my things. I was also generally more upbeat, less easily frustrated, and just experienced life as nicer. By going to bed a little bit earlier, I made my whole next day better!

And how about the special evening time? Perhaps because it doesn’t feel like free-for-all time anymore and because I’m not that exhausted, I’m able to make better choices for my evening time.

First of all, I make time to do stuff during the day: write a blog post, read a paper, do online shopping, cook, tidy up the apartment, etc. In that way, after we put William to bed, I have nothing else I really need to do. So I have about an hour (7:30pm – 8:30pm) of quality time to myself. I use it to journal, talk to Jacob, or do something else I find meaningful. Also, let’s be real, I respond to messages. It may also be nice to play piano at that time, but let’s see if that will actually happen–it usually feels like too much effort at that time of day when I just want to relax.

And then, at 8:30pm, I do my bedtime routine where I do my evening reflection, prepare my water bottle for the night, brush my teeth, put on my pajamas, etc. The goal is to be in bed by 9pm. To be completely honest, it doesn’t always happen, but even 9:30pm is good. Since the sky isn’t completely dark at 9pm, I put on my eye cover, and then it’s nighty-night!

How about you? Do you stick to a bedtime, or do you go to bed whenever you feel like it?

Start the day with intention and finish it with reflection

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that I needed more intentionality in my day. I was basically reacting to whatever came across my path all day long, and that’s not how I usually do things. Baby crying? Take care of him. Feeling hungry? Eat something. Toys lying scattered on the floor? Tidy up. Package delivered? Open it. Feeling tired? Sleep.

Now, I’m over-simplifying things. I had certain things scheduled such as going to the gym three times a week (ah, the good times when the gym was open…) and going for a walk with William in the stroller every afternoon. But mostly my days felt like a random sequence of events.

There’s technically nothing wrong with having a day full of random events except that it made me feel like I didn’t have a purpose and wasn’t doing anything meaningful with my time.

I felt this very clearly when William was taking a nap and I finally had an hour or so to myself. What should I do? There were so many things I wanted to do! I’d start one thing, only to remember something else and then something else. I was running around like a headless chicken, half-finishing a couple of things, only to hear my baby crying and drop everything to attend to him.

That’s when I instituted the Daily Morning Practice and the Daily Evening Practice. As you might imagine, I don’t have tons of time for these, so they’re short and sweet. I’ve kept to them every day since! These practices are so powerful and at the same time so easy, and they are exactly what I need.

Start the day with My Top 5

Every morning, while having breakfast, I take out my little notebook (it has a llama/alpaca and a sloth on the cover! It’s awesome!). I start by writing the date. That’s important in itself because sometimes I remember there was something planned for today or perhaps I recall it’s someone’s birthday. Then, I check my calendar and my tasks for today. Jacob and I often do this together because we need to coordinate things.

The notebook in which I do my morning and evening practice.

Then, I write down my Top 5. These are the main five things I’d like to do today, and they’re usually very, very simple. These days, I always include “exercise” (during this staycation, I’ve been exercising for about 30 minutes every day), “walk” (I take our baby for a walk every day–we both benefit from the fresh air and sunshine), and “take care of William.” This last one can be fifty tasks on its own and it will happen for sure every day, but I like to include it anyway. I was falling into the trap of taking for granted all the stuff I do for William, and then I was wondering why I’m not very productive on top of that. I had to remind myself that taking care of him is a big job, and the fact that I’m accomplishing it every day is already productive. That’s why I include it in my Top 5 every day.

The other 2 tasks vary day-to-day: they may be something like “write a blog post,” “do the financial review,” or “tidy up the bedroom.” I make sure they’re not impossibly big tasks; it’s really important to keep these manageable. At the same time, it’s nice to be slightly ambitious because it makes me feel energetic and inspired about the day.

Set an intention

I also set an intention for the day. It’s something that I want to remember throughout the day and let it guide my thoughts and behavior.

These days, my intention often is to “be kind.” It’s super simple, but it encompasses so much. If I’m feeling frustrated, remember that I don’t need to take it out on someone else (usually Jacob, my husband, since he’s around all the time). If someone is being not-so-nice to me, give them the benefit of the doubt: maybe they’re having a hard time. If my baby is crying, that’s not a reason to get annoyed; he (probably) genuinely needs me.

Complete the day with reflection…

At the end of the day, I open up my notebook again and look at my Top 5. I check off the things I’ve completed and maybe add an extra task or two that I’ve managed to do. This shows me how much I’ve accomplished in that day even if it doesn’t feel that way (if the day was chaotic, went differently from expected, etc.).

Then, I write down a take-away message. These are one or two sentences about something I’ve learned that day or a conclusion I’ve come to. Sometimes it’s linked to the intention I set in the morning, and other times it’s completely separate.

These take-away messages can be profound (e.g., “changing my perspective changes everything”) or practical (e.g., “sleeping one hour more in the morning does wonders for my energy”).

Here is a sample entry from my notebook.

…and gratitude

I also write down five things I’m grateful for that day. I know that five sounds like a lot, but once I start thinking about things to be grateful for, many come to mind. It’s a wonderful way to reflect on and complete the day.

By taking a few minutes for these practices every day, I feel that I’m much more focused and intentional while going about my day. I still respond to the circumstances that come about, but I keep in mind what’s important and what I’d like to do that day. In the end, I don’t think it makes me much more productive, but it makes all the difference in my attitude. At the end of the day, I don’t need to be more productive to be happy; rather, I need to be content with what I’ve accomplished and be happy with what I already have.