Growing up on a farm, of course involved quite a bit of heavy manual labor without paychecks and vacations. I didn't receive any allowance or payment for my work on our farm. I think my parents looked at it as pro bono work, which means literally: for the good of, and in this case, for the good of the family, our family. But what both of my parents missed is that there was a quid pro quo involved - an exchange of one thing for another thing of value.
I have three brothers, and we were all quite young when we moved to our first farm. I remember well the day my mom gave me a choice: you can do housework or barnwork, but you have to work. Well of course I chose the barn work. My mom was so cool. Still is.
I loved taking care of the animals every morning and night, feeding and watering, brushing the horses, collecting the eggs, sweeping the long barn aisle, cleaning the stalls and spreading fresh sawdust. It was difficult. The bales of hay and straw were heavy. In the winter, the pipes froze and we had to carry all the water by hand in five gallon buckets. Pouring the grain into the wheelbarrow required deadlifting one hundred pound burlap sacks of oats and corn. All of this had to be done morning and night, freezing and sweltering weather, school days and weekends, summer vacation, holidays, seven days a week, 365 days a year. We didn’t take vacations. It’s one thing to have someone dog sit for you when you go to the beach, and another to ask someone to take care of a menagerie of horses, goats, chickens, hogs, cows and even a few ducks. Our vacation was the Butler Country Fair, one summer week a year where we camped out and showed our horses and drove home everyday to take care of the animals. I credit it for the work ethic that I hold to this day.
In this scenario, I was getting a quid pro quo. I was able to be outside in the fresh air, taking care of animals, letting my imagination run wild with ideas and stories and interacting with nature. It also engendered the feeling of a job well done – the stalls were clean, the aisle well-swept, the animals fed and watered.
I have a firm belief that parents should never underestimate the power of using a quid pro quo with their children. It can be simple, “If you stop whining, I’ll give you a cookie.” Or it can be deeper and healthier: a sense of accomplishment, learning something important, putting newfound skills to use.
When I wrote my first published book, Bloomers Island, I wanted to incorporate this concept. I made the moral of the story, everything is more fun when it’s a party. That’s why I called it, “The Great Garden Party.”
Maybe it was my inner Mary Poppins. It was one of the few movies I saw as a child, because the closest movie theater at that time was all the way in the North Hills of Pittsburgh. What a great movie Mary Poppins was! I loved that she made cleaning the room fun for Jane and Michael Banks. A spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down after all. If you clean your room we will use magic and have fun. I still remember the lyrics:
In every job that must be done there is an element of fun
You find the fun and snap! The job's a game
And every task you undertake, becomes a piece of cake
A lark! A spree! It's very clear to see that
A Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
The medicine go down-wown
The medicine go down
Just a spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down
In a most delightful way
There was no payment nor were there prizes involved or rewards. It was just finding the fun and the sense of accomplishment in a job well done.
Many of the Bloomers, little plant, flower and tree sprouts, weren’t that enthused about gardening. Rosey Posey thought that it seemed like too much work. And Basil confided that he didn’t like getting his hands dirty.
So Professor Sage, in all of his sage wisdom, decided to make the act of gardening a game. He sneakily constructed a series of contests, each one an important element of learning to grow food, so that the Bloomers learn to garden, without even realizing it. He gave them a quid pro quo - which was learning something important and a sense of accomplishment. Whenever I perform school author events, I tell my audience that this is the moral of the story and I tell them to tell their parents.
Mark Twain was a genius at this. He figured out how his fictional character, Tom Sawyer, could get his friends to help him with his punishment of whitewashing the fence. His friend, Ben Rogers commented about Tom’s work. Tom simply asked, “What work?” He pretended like it was fun. And when Ben wanted to join in, Tom wouldn’t let him at first. Finally, Ben gave him an apple to let him paint the fence.
That’s what you can do with your kids. Make it fun. Figure out how you can do that. Be creative, and that in and of itself will be fun for you.
You want your kids to clean their room? Time them and give them a prize if they can do a series of tasks in an allotted amount of time. Do your homework early? We can watch that movie you wanted to see. Do your laundry? Yes, even young children are capable of sorting, stuffing it in the washing machine, adding a cup of soap, then the dryer, and folding their own laundry. Quid pro quo: your clothes smell as sweet as a flower. Pull weeds in the garden? Quid pro quo: I’ll let you help harvest the fruit and vegetables. Eat their vegetables? I’ll allow you to pick out a fun recipe and cook it together. Figure out what they want to do. Ask them what they like doing: housework or barnwork, or yard work, or garden work. If they’re doing something they like, it won’t feel like a chore.
Of course, when doing your own work, you may want to keep this in mind yourself, and in a most delightful way.
As many of you have read, I grew up on a farm. Maybe it’s the power of nostalgia, but I’ve described my childhood as pretty idyllic and I believe that it was. I actually felt guilty that I raised four children in a big city like Los Angeles where they didn’t have the freedom to be outside playing all day, swimming in the creek, riding ponies, or catching fireflies.
As wonderful as I felt my childhood was, though, life on a farm is dangerous. Farming has the third highest accident rating of all professions — surpassed only by mining and construction. On our street alone, a neighbor boy lost his arm in a posthole augur (digger) and the farmer on the other side of us, a woman, lost two fingers in the grain elevator. My best friend in the first grade fell off her pony (before we used to wear helmets) and died instantly when her head hit a rock. Her father promptly took his shotgun out to the barn and shot the pony — a tragedy all the way around.
Childhood can be dangerous everywhere, and as a parent, it felt like I was always scrambling to protect my children and make sure they were safe, without keeping them cooped up and under foot all day. To be sure, living in a big city had its own form of lurking dangers. I worried about any crazy, creeper that I never had to deal with living in the country. Every few months I would check the Sex Offender Registry. I gave them all whistles to wear around their necks with the instructions to blow the whistle if anyone bothered them. I gave them tips about only walking down the side of the street that goes against traffic, because anyone trying to steal them would have to do a U-Turn which would make it much more difficult. I told them to fight and scream because abductors are less likely to take a child if they are making a big fuss. They want it to be easy. They will just move to the next kid. Yes, I researched all of this. Speaking of stealing kids, my worst nightmare was just that. One time my toddler son got lost at the mall (he was playing the newly discovered game of hide ‘n seek). I was in a complete panic and when we finally found him, well, let’s just say that he was pretty much scarred from ever playing hide ‘n seek again.
Tip: don’t ever read, The Silence of the Lambs.
It’s probably to their benefit that my children weren’t as concerned about these issues as I was. Nevertheless, I had a job to do! I was protector in chief!! After the umpteenth time yelling at them to quit doing this or stop doing that, I happened upon an idea. I would tell them a story as to why they shouldn’t run at the swimming pool. I created a character that had encountered every imaginable accident while not taking the precautionary measures that I wanted my kids to take. I used the name of an old friend of mine, and Nancy Gump, the unluckiest girl in the world, was born.
“Don’t run around the swimming pool. I had a friend, Nancy Gump, who did that and she fell and hit her head and went deaf in one ear.”
“Don’t run with a stick in your mouth! I had a friend, Nancy Gump, who did that and the stick poked right through the top of her mouth and then she could only eat vegetable soup for the rest of her life.” (Do you like the vegetable soup touch? Yes, sadly, most kids don’t like vegetable soup.)
“Be careful with that saw! My friend, Nancy Gump, sawed clear through her leg doing that.”
“Don’t sleep with a rubber band around your finger. Nancy Gump did that and her finger turned black and fell off.”
You get the point.
Even though it was gross, it worked really well. I’m proud to announce that all my children have all their limbs, senses and digits. And the best part is, I didn’t have to be the nagging mom all the time. One Nancy Gump story and the rule was established. But the real power behind my method was the stories. Stories are immensely effective with everything from public speaking, to sales, to convincing children to listen to you.
In, How to Use Stories to Win Over Others, Jennifer Aaker, Professor of Marketing at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, says there are four characteristics of an effective story:
1. Goal — Why are you telling the story? To protect my children.
2. Grab Attention — Why would the audience what to listen? Cutting off your leg is definitely an attention grabber.
3. Engage — Why would the audience care? Because they love their leg.
4. Enable Action — Why would the audience want to share the story? So all their siblings and friends can save their leg too.
Aaker states that we should all have a signature story. She goes further by saying that we need a portfolio of stories for different goals and different audiences. Here’s the really cool thing. If you’re trying to convince someone to do something, sharing a story with them is forty times more effective than giving them data or statistics. And combining the two is even more effective.
According to Horst Kornberger in his book, The Power of Stories: Nurturing Children’s Imagination and Consciousness, he states, “From the great myths and legends to enchanting fairy tales, parables, fables and folktales, stories can have a great healing and educative power. They come from our subconscious and imagination, deep inside us. They have much to teach us about ourselves, therefore, and the world we create around us.”
When my daughter was in Preschool, she sat down one morning and wrote the story (phonetically), “The Bare and the Hare.” It was about a little girl going into the forest and finding a “Bare,” who she was terrified of and after being helped by the Hare, she realized that it was only her little sister. (Her dad and his new wife were having a baby girl.)
A couple years into the Nancy Gump stories, I reconnected with her and set up a visit for the next time we went back to the family farm. When we knocked on her door, my kids were petrified, imagining a woman without arms and legs, eyes and ears. Out came Nancy Gump, intact and giving out kisses and hugs and presents, and my kids were dumbfounded. They knowingly looked at me. I smiled. The jig was up. But they were already past the age of reckless behavior. I had protected them. Mission accomplished.
Photo Credit: Dennis P. Kamoen
“When your child enters the room, does your face light up?” ~ Toni Morrison
Everyone has access to one powerful and easy attribute that too few have learned to thoroughly leverage.
Awhile back, I wrote an article titled, “It’s The Messenger, Not The Medium.” In it, I talked about my journey in becoming camera ready. Here is an outtake:
I have a friend who was the one who got Donald Trump media-ready for the “Apprentice,” where she worked at that time as a producer. So of course I asked her what she did. Her advice was simple: practice, practice, practice. Set up a camera and film yourself.
I did this and studied the results. From what angles do I look the best? How should I smile. How should I sit? What should I wear? What colors look good on me? What about my voice? Is my enunciation adequate, my tenor too high or too low? Does my passion for my mission come across well?
Would I want to listen to me?
According to Dale Carnegie in his seminal book, “How to Stop Worrying and Start Living” (one of my all-time favorite books), people think actions mostly follow thoughts … I want to get a bowl of ice cream so I walk into the kitchen and get a bowl of ice cream. But actually, thoughts can follow actions, for example, if you are smiling, you naturally feel happier. If you are acting confidently, pretty soon, you will start to think confidently. Here is the key: it is easier to control your body than your mind. So, pushing your body to do something is easier than forcing your mind to think something (or in many cases, to not think something).
What did I learn about myself with all my practicing and recording? Two simple things actually made a huge difference. 1. Smile all the time, even when I’m talking (tricky but possible). 2. Keep my shoulders back and stand or sit up straight no matter what.
You can read my whole article here. It didn’t get a lot of attention because it was when I first started writing on Medium, but I consider it one of my personal favorites.
What I found out by watching myself on videos is the secret weapon that we all possess: our smile.
Consider what a smile does: it makes you happier, and broadcasts to the world that you are positive, uplifting, optimistic, and open. It is life-affirming. Translated, it tells people that you like them — that they make you happy. It can be interpreted to mean that you admire them. It says, “I am happy to see you!” Even if you are a stranger. People naturally want to mirror what you are doing so if you are smiling, they will feel the desire to smile in return. And as Dale Carnegie wrote, when you smile, in and of itself, it can make you happy.
While conducting research on the physiology of facial expressions in the mid-19th century, French neurologist Guillaume Duchenne identified two distinct types of smiles — one with the facial muscles and one involving the eyes. Since then, researchers have discovered that if you smile with your eyes, including crinkling of the corners sometimes called, your crow’s feet, it represents more of an authentic, joyful smile. And if you smile with just your mouth — artificially raising the corners of your mouth muscles — it can be interpreted as a “fake smile.” This is also sometimes called, “the Pan Am smile,” or “the Botox smile.” So if you are going to try your own Smile Experiment, remember to involve your eyes so you do not appear to be disingenuous.
I started experimenting with my smile in everyday life. As I was returning from a long walk, I saw an old friend in the alley. He had recently lost his girlfriend in a suicide and he was depressed himself to the point where he wasn’t sure if he wanted to continue. As I approached him, I smiled my biggest and brightest smile. His face lit up and he returned the smile. I kept smiling. We caught up chatting about this and that. The whole time I smiled. By the end of our conversation, it seemed perhaps as though a burden had been lifted from his shoulders for at least a little while.
I have talked to people about my life’s passions and dreams, and their dreams, while smiling. I make sure that when I complement people, I deliver it with a huge smile. When I am meeting friends for dinner, I smile like there is no one else in the world I’d rather see.
The results have been remarkable. Not only do I feel better and happier, I think people are more willing to accommodate me, to work with me, to help me if needed. Friends seem to want to hang out with me more. Maybe they find what I’m saying to be more interesting. They want to listen to me. They want to share their truths.
Smiling is incredibly easy. It’s free. It’s powerful. Try your own experiment for a few weeks and let me know how it went. And take Toni Morrison’s advice, smile when your child enters the room!!! You can watch the interview on Oprah Winfrey here.
My earliest memory of being bullied happened in the first grade, a sharp pain of being excluded and made fun of by my tender-aged quartet of best friends for reasons I could not at all understand.
It cut a wound that would come back again later in high school, years after that when I was betrayed by my best friend and even as a grown woman when my close group of friends banded together, gossiping about me for a relationship choice they disagreed with. They thought I didn’t know or notice. But I did. And it hurt.
I entered first grade early. Back then, you could take a test and if you passed, if you could read, you were able to start first grade as a five year old. Even though my reading skills were up to par, my social skills apparently were not; I didn’t understand the finer points of social cues. After the mean girls incident, another classmate that I didn’t know well, Jane Bulow, took pity on me. She was brave enough to show me kindness, because often that is what kindness in the face of bullies takes. Bravery. Jane Bulow really was her name, by the way. I think it is important that you know that.
Jane approached me on the playground as I cried in a corner probably making a fool of myself and blubbering all alone. I really tried to hide my pain. Jane asked me if I was okay. I lied and said, “Yes, I’m okay” and that I was only crying “because I had a sore lip”. Jane was not fooled. She knew exactly why I was there standing alone in the corner by the brick walls and knew how I was feeling. She told me that those girls were awful and I did nothing wrong and then asked if I would like to play with her on the swings.
I was immensely relieved as Jane threw me that life preserver. In hindsight, she was bookish, industrious and reflective. I was fun-loving, silly and playful. She seemed so much older than all the rest of us and not someone I would normally befriend. She was a child that some might identify as having an old soul.
It’s amazing though how an act of kindness will engender loyalty from the recipient of that kindness. It is powerful. I ended up developing a close friendship with Jane. I learned to appreciate her studiousness. She didn’t buy into the whole ruse of the importance of popularity. She saw right through those girls too and her kindness made me realize that humanity, consideration and sympathy were character traits that I wanted to embody. I wanted to be like her. She showed me a better way and I reflect on her kindness often with everlasting gratitude.
According to GreatSchools.org:
Without any education or support from adults, the vast majority of children will not take any action if they are bystanders to the act of bullying. “The proportion of children who will spontaneously intervene is about one in five,” says Ken Rigby, adjunct professor of education at the University of South Australia and the author of many books on bullying. “Children on the whole feel bullying is wrong and unfair, and most want to intervene, but there are all sorts of reasons why they don’t.”
The first step in empowering bystanders to act is to help them see that their peers also feel bullying is wrong. “Once they recognize that many of their friends want them to intervene, they are more likely to,” says Rigby. Another imperative in the fight against bullying is to teach children that intervening can make a positive difference. Indeed, if fellow students will intervene, it can reduce bullying more effectively than anything. “Most bullies bully because they want to impress people and they like an audience. So if the audience is booing instead of clapping, they realize they’re losing their audience,” says Rigby.
In an age when bullying can lead to far more serious consequences than hurt feelings — like Columbine High School, many adults are starting to take notice. But not nearly enough. The long-term effects from bullying are grim and the societal negative consequences are staggering. But even schoolyard bullying hurts, gossip hurts, being excluded hurts, no matter what your age. Read more about anti-bullying programs here.
Looking back, I came up with a hundred or so things I could have done in that situation, but as a young child, I was paralyzed. Ultimately, it is so hard to stand up to bullies and it takes bravery, the kind of courage that sometimes can only come from an old soul, from a child who shows more wisdom than the adults that surround her.
Childhood friends come and go. What happened to my dear friend Jane? That summer, she was riding her horse when a disturbed hornet stung it. The horse bucked, as they do sometimes in such situations, and threw Jane off. In an age before we routinely wore helmets, she hit her head on a rock and was killed instantly.
My mom took me to her funeral. Jane’s mom pulled us aside and confided that her husband went right out into the field and shot and killed the horse. I was mortified. The horse. A tragedy all the way around. When we got back to our car in the parking lot of the funeral home my mom put her head in her hands and sobbed. I found myself comforting her. I asked her why she was so sad. I felt like she had no right to be more upset than me. Jane was my friend. She didn’t even know Jane. I should be the one sobbing in my hands. And my mom finally explained why she was crying and of course, it was something I could never understand until I had children of my own. Losing a child is a tragedy so profound that no one can really begin to comprehend unless they have a child. And even then… Mom didn’t say this to me in a condescending way. It was in a loving way, and that was how she, in that moment, and in many thousands of moments since, showed her unconditional love and kindness to me. My mother is an old soul, too.
For my whole life, I have always stood up for and rooted for the underdog, especially in sports. Any time I have seen some injustice happening, I have stepped in, even sometimes at my own peril. When my own children were beset by an occasional bully I immediately inserted myself into the situation, even at the risk of them being angry with me.
And as for Jane, I think of her often.
#janebulowlives #kindness #stopbullying #oldsouls
Photo Credit: Jelleke Vanooteghem
Never underestimate the play value of a mud pit for your children, and the relative ease for you to provide one.
It was the summer of 1993. I left Ohio the day after a tornado swept through, narrowly missing our home and our broken family inside it. I moved to Los Angeles with my very young children in what became the beginning of a long and painful divorce saga. Money was tight and the price of renting a house in Los Angeles, even back then, seemed outrageous. What was I getting myself into?
I was finally able to secure a bungalow near Westwood with three bedrooms and a small, fenced-in backyard. My first twelve months in California were remarkably difficult, punctuated by the Malibu fires in October and the Northridge Earthquake that January. After my third force majeure, tornado, fire, earthquake, I thought maybe God had it out for me. Fitting, I thought, after I had left my husband in the worst possible way.
I didn’t have a whole lot of toys for the kids and even less budget to buy more. What I did have was a patch of dirt and a hose, balls, little shovels and buckets, and one modest, plastic playhouse.
Unbeknownst to me one day, the children (four ranging from 3 years to almost six years-old in case you were wondering) figured out how to turn on the faucet and were squirting each other with the hose — good fun — I thought since it was sweltering. Soon, that little game devolved into them directing the hose to the dirt patch until it was a frothy pit of mud. Fun! Leave it to my kids to invent a new way to play, covered with mud from head to toe.
I didn’t really care too awful much, and when it was time to come in, I just lined them up and sprayed them clean with the hose. We all went inside and their clothes went right into the washing machine. They took a proper bath and got ready for dinner.
Playing in the mud became a repeat performance over the summer. I bought them tin pie pans and we made mud pies that we decorated with the plentiful flowers growing all around us — yellow hibiscus, fuchsia bougainvillea, and sweet-smelling plumeria. These flowers were not found in Ohio. They also made up games, dug for worms, filled up sand buckets and dangit, they were pretty sure they were going to make it to China if they kept digging.
Many years later, after I had started my company teaching schoolchildren to garden, I started noticing research about the benefits for children to play or dig in the dirt. What I learned is that there is a microscopic bacteria in dirt called Mycobacterium Vaccae, which stimulates the immune systems and has all kind of other benefits like soothing children, relieving stress and helping them to relax. It even helps ease allergies and ADHD symptoms. Heck it has the same benefits for grownups too.
There has been a lot of research on this and my take on it is that digging in the dirt is hardwired into our DNA to be healthy for us. By most estimates, we humans have relied on growing our own food for the last 12,000 years.
In a paper written for the USDA, the Agricultural Economist, Jayson Luck, says that at the turn of the last century, just under 40 percent of the total US population lived on farms, and 60 percent lived in rural areas. Today, the respective figures are only about 1 percent and 20 percent.
What does this tell us? At one point in time, we were an agrarian society and our immune systems were attuned to that, even developed around that. And now, we sit behind a desk all day. The most physical work we do is an hour at the gym. And you can buy a whole chicken at the grocery store for $6.00 rendering raising chickens and slaughtering them (not an easy task I can assure you), a losing proposition.
I grew up on a farm, and since my mom is getting older and my dad has long ago passed away, she only keeps a few chickens for the eggs. She gave my three brothers and me five acres to build a house. While I live in Los Angeles, my three brothers built their houses and live on the farm along with various nieces and nephews in a sort of wonderful Kibbutz-type situation. When my mom’s chickens got old and stopped laying eggs, she didn’t know what to do with them. In a perfect display of who my brothers are this was their advice:
My youngest brother: I’ll shoot them and you can pull out their feathers. Then we can freeze them and eat them later.
My oldest brother: Don’t do that. It’s too much work! You can buy a whole chicken in the grocery store for $6.00. I’ll shoot them and you can bury them behind the chicken coop.
My middle brother: Don’t shoot them mom. I’ll take them.
And that’s exactly what happened. They lived out their remaining days roaming around and happily pecking in the fields for grain and bugs.
When I was growing up I helped plant the garden, weed, harvest, bale hay, clean stalls, ride horses, feed animals, and all sorts of other chores. I never had one allergy. I could bathe in a field of pollen. When I moved to the city, I developed allergies and asthma.
My mom still laughs at me because I spend money to go to a gym to stay fit, when I could just work on the farm and never need to go to a gym again.
My suggestion? Garden with your kids. Let them dig in the soil. If you don’t have a backyard, take them to a park. Let them roll around in the fields. Make mud pies! Even if you live in an apartment you can buy a bag of soil and a couple pots. Give your child a shovel and let them fill up pots with soil. Who cares if they make a mess? You can clean it up later. When I work with school kids it always amazes me how much they love digging in the dirt. And if you’re lucky enough to have a backyard, carve out a mud pit. Your kids will thank you later. Mine did.
What was your or your child's favorite play area?
Photo Credit: Seth Macey
I measured 31 activities over a two month period and then averaged my weekdays. The results on where I spent my time were shocking.
Neuroscientists have been studying time perception and its fluidity. They used to imagine a stopwatch in our brains that gives us a concept of the length of time spent on something. But, more recently they have found several areas in the brain that are responsible for time and our internal timekeeping. However, time is fluid and our estimates of it are not always accurate. There is even a disorder called, Dyschronometria, in which an individual cannot correctly estimate the amount of time that has passed.
I’ve read a plethora of articles about improving your productivity by spending less time on certain things and more time on other things, and honestly, it doesn’t mean anything if you don’t really see where you are wasting time. And your time suck probably isn’t where you think it is unless you observe and measure.
A while back, I started a Series on Medium called: The Secrets of the Universe. How You Can Use Quantum Physics to Immediately Improve Your Life. The first installment was titled, What Is The Most Powerful Tool You Can Access? And it was all about the observer effect:
Measuring things changes them. Information collection can be the single most powerful tool to change your life. Want to get your financial life into shape? Measure everything you spend your money on. Simply by virtue of the fact that you are measuring it … changes it.
I gave a brief example of how I kept track of everything I ate to lose ten pounds, and it worked remarkably well. My surprise was not that I could do it, or that this method would help me, but that by the simple act of observing, measuring and tracking everything I ate, caused me to eat less. It was almost like I didn’t want to disappoint myself.
After my trial run with losing ten pounds, I thought, if it worked so well with that, why not observe and measure how I spend my time, because I want to be more efficient and thus more productive. This article is a follow up report with my progress and observations over the last two months.
I used the app I recommended in my article, ATracker, set up categories of Health, Work and Personal and then broke those three areas down into different activities. I tried not to get too granular but yet, I wanted to get enough information that I could come up with realistic ideas on how to cut back on things I’m spending too much time on and spend more time on the things I should be spending more time on. Not unsurprisingly, there were a lot of surprises!
Before I launch into those, I would say to you, don’t make decisions based on what you think you’re spending your time on. Measure it over a period of time. I did two months and I averaged the results for weekdays because this study is mostly about work for me. ATracker (and I’m sure there are others — this is just the app I used) is really flexible and simple. You have a lot of leeway to set up things however you want and the timer is an easy stop and start button, and if you forget, it is easy to go back and reconstruct. For example, if you are working on writing and switch over to bookkeeping and forget to press stop for writing and start for bookkeeping, you can easily go back and change that based on your best recollection. You can also export your data in a csv file which can then be sorted to analyze. Overall, it took effort, but the whole study did not take too much time in and of itself.
Here is my analysis:
The Good, The Bad, and The Surprising
You may notice that the total time is more than 24 hours, but that is because I am multi-tasking; Like walking my dog, Pietro, practicing Dutch, exercising, and listen to audiobooks (Reading) at the same time. That adds about two hours to my day which is great.
To increase my productivity, I tried to focus on what I called my, “time sucks” — things that seemed to use so much of my time. Broad stroke, I am spending more than 75% of my time in each category on just a handful of activities. I spend more time sleeping than any other activity — that old saying, “You can sleep when you’re dead,” comes to mind, but I believe we all need eight hours a day to function, so no time savings there. How can I be more efficient without sacrificing my health? There are only 24 hours in a day after all. I also don’t want to sacrifice the things I cherish most like my loved ones, exercise, and learning foreign languages.
Clearly, though, I need to spend more time on Bloomers Island, Real Estate, and Writing, and less time on Watching News, Housework, Cooking/Eating, Morning Routine, and Exercise to bring my dreams to life. How do I do that?
By becoming more efficient.
Here’s my list of ideas:
1. Hire a housekeeper even if it’s just twice a month, to help with housekeeping. The time I spend on that (mostly weekends), I can use to write.
2. Grocery shop every other week instead of once a week. Explore grocery delivery services. Load up once a month on dry good staples like coffee, paper towels, etc.
3. Eat out more and implement meal prep on Sundays.
4. Every meal doesn’t have to be made from scratch. Utilize some shortcuts like buy a jar of minced garlic instead of mincing my own garlic.
5. Rinse dishes right after eating to eliminate time-consuming cleanup.
6. Develop more intense workouts in the morning to reduce time, e.g. run for an hour instead of walking for two hours.
7. Watch less T.V. and spend that time writing. Carve out an hour each morning for writing.
8. Be more focused — finish my task instead of jumping from one task to another and then back again — because that takes extra time. Honor transitions between right brain and left brain activities for improved focus. (Time tracking actually helps me do that.)
9. Implement the Pomodoro Technique: I’ve experimented with this and it works better than I expected. I spend 25 intense minutes working on a particular thing, and then I take a five minute break.
10. I can definitely get moving faster and better in the morning. Do I really need a half hour to drink my coffee and rub the sleep out of my eyes? I don’t think so.
My conclusion after seeing the results of my study is that most of us believe we are spending more time on the things we dislike than we really are, and less on things we love doing or should be doing to bring our dreams to life.
Our perception of time is distorted. And you may think you know what you are spending your time on but you may not. I suggest spend a couple months measuring it (observing) and see if your perception changes. After just the first couple weeks of tracking my time I saw that I was only spending an average of three hours a work day on Bloomers Island. I was shocked. That was not nearly enough! I made an immediate effort to increase that and it went to four hours. The simple act of observing, changed it.
Accept my challenge in trying this for a couple months. Let me know what your surprises are.
I wrote about this awhile back in my article: “Where The Heck Is My Comfort Zone and How Do I Get Out Of It?”
I was in pursuit of magic.
I wanted to do an update on this article because I thought people might want to know how I fared. Here’s my list:
“Read and negotiate an important contract with a potential licensee. Ask a company that owes me money for said money. Go into a local Target Store and confront the Lawn and Garden section to see how my Bloomers Island products are displayed and selling. Call another potential licensee. Then another. And then another. I really, really want to find a food company that I can work with for Bloomers Island healthy snacks. I’m going to call a CEO of one targeted food company. I’m going to put together a group of Curriculum Bytes for plant science and present them to a well-known school magazine.”
Here’s the Magic:
P.S. If you’re having trouble, read my original article, it gives nine tips for getting past what’s blocking you.
The Magic Garden Shed
Photo Credit: Andy Feliciotti
It was the 1980s, a time of Talking Heads, padded shoulders and big hair. I had just graduated from college with a B.S. in Agriculture. A younger sorority sister of mine at Penn State with a really cool name, Mimi Roma, told me she was moving to Washington D.C. with her boyfriend and was going to finish her degree at Georgetown University. I didn’t know of Georgetown. I was a country bumpkin from Western Pennsylvania who only applied to one college and didn’t even know the meaning of Ivy League.
I also didn’t know exactly what I was going to do after college. I didn’t have anything lined up. The United States was in the middle of a terrible recession. I went to the library near the grassy center of campus and looked up Georgetown and saw that it was considered one of the best universities. I didn’t know anyone in Washington D.C., but I got the idea that I should go there, too.
My boyfriend agreed to move there with me. He had some fraternity brothers who were renting a house in nearby Alexandria, Virginia, and they could rent us a room. We drove there in my bright orange Ford Pinto with one hundred dollars and a couple of suitcases. We clutched on to the concept that with our degrees, along with a hope that only a freshly educated co-ed can realistically muster, we could find jobs.
Things were rough. The two of us slept on a single bed. My first task was scrubbing the bathroom we shared with four other guys. Boys can be so filthy. That first year, I hawked encyclopedias door-to-door. That was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had in terms of learning to sell and overcoming rejection. It was an education in and of itself. My boyfriend couldn’t find a job. Finally he found one, but it wasn’t in the Washington D.C. area and so he moved away. I stayed.
Back to my idea to attend Georgetown University. I took my GRE. Got my undergrad transcripts and the whole nine yards. Referrals from three of my professors. Applied. Started taking part-time night classes in the interim. Met and pretty much camped out on the doorstep of the Chairman of the Economics Department. Finally after doing well the first semester, I was accepted and given a fellowship. Execution.
Washington, D.C. was a wonder. Although it is small compared to cities like New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, to me it was vast. I was nervous just driving around the Beltway. I walked everywhere I could with my worn tennis shoes and Sony Walkman. I passed iconic government buildings on the mall, like the museums and different Cabinet Departments. There was also The World Bank and the Peace Corps. I had the idea, I can work at one of those places. And I did. I became a typist for the CIA. I got an internship at HUD where I wrote a book that was published. I made a friend in my graduate program and he introduced me to my future boss at the World Bank. Execution, execution, execution.
Looking back, my entire life has been about coming up with ideas and executing them, by almost any means necessary.
And it has been that way with my business today, Bloomers Island. I nurtured the idea for a long time, then raised seven figures and started executing. I won’t go into the nitty gritty of it and how difficult it has been the last few years (my investors have been both patient and supportive), but I am starting to see a light at the end of the tunnel. To be sure, it is a light that at any moment can be snuffed out, but it is there, faint, dispersed and faintly glowing through the fog of the future.
It was one of my most trusted advisors who first uttered the saying to me, There is no such thing as a good idea, there is only good execution. Immediately it was love at first hearing. How many times has someone told me that theyhave a great idea, this or that, and I listen to them and know they will never execute; they will never put in the work and dedication, along with the money and the risk, to bring it to life?
Photo Credit: Brittany Colette
How do we bring our ideas to life? How do we bridge the gap between coming up with brilliant ideas and then following through on them? I did some research on this, and thought a lot about how I have been able to bring my ideas to life. This is what I do:
1. I honor my ideas. I write them down. I try to bring them to life.
2. I tell everyone I know. You never know who is going to share your enthusiasm. It might even be a potential investor.
3. I figure out a way, strategically and tactically to achieve my ideas. I make a plan.
4. Failure is never an option for me. I burn my ships.
5. I am patient, but not so entrenched that I am not willing to pivot.
6. I persevere. Character is sticking with a project long after the mood has passed. I forget who said that, but it’s true. Perseverance is about 90% of success.
Think about all the times you came up with an idea and then executed it. You can repeat that! It doesn’t matter if you work for yourself or work for a large company.
Let me know the best idea you ever had that you were able to execute.
Here are some great articles that may also help if you’re struggling with bringing your ideas to life.
My last article on Medium : Where The Heck Is My Comfort Zone And How Do I Get Out Of It?
The 12 Things That Successfully Convert a Great Idea Into a Reality by Glen Liopis for Forbes.
How to Execute Great Ideas by Marla Tabaka for Inc.
How Do I Actually Execute On My Ideas by Art Markman for Fast Company.
Eventually, Mimi Roma and I drifted apart. The funny thing is, she never went to Georgetown. But I did.
I remember when I was a little girl, the mail lady drove up and down our suburban hill putting letters in the spacious silver mailboxes at the end of each driveway. If we wanted to mail something, we would put it in the box and raise the red flag that rested dutifully at its side. The mail lady was very sweet to all the kids and at Christmas we would leave her a little box of holiday cookies or a card with some cash in it. She would take my envelope with its carefully printed address to Santa Claus at the North Pole, usually with an S&H green stamp in the upper right hand corner, and earnestly promise to deliver it to him. "Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
We would get stacks of Christmas cards from all my mom and dad’s friends near and far, back at a time before social media could catch them up on everyone’s doings. I imagined that every letter in the mailbox was from a place I had never heard of and never been to, which was probably true, but those places were the nearest big city which was Pittsburgh, and not somewhere exotic like Hawaii or Europe or Australia. China was a place we thought we could reach by digging a hole in the back yard, and all the way through the planet.
The idea of getting a letter was fantastical to me at that time. I didn’t even get mailed letters or cards from my grandparents because they lived close by and I saw them all the time. But when we moved far away from our suburban home to Misty Hill Farm, written in neat block letters on our new mailbox, I promised to write to my friend Cindy Wolf, who in addition to sharing the same first name and last initial as me, also shared my birthday. I even got stationery for Christmas that year and we were pretty conscientious about our writing until we weren’t anymore.
When my first children’s book, The Great Garden Party, was published last year, a lot of my friends and family asked me to sign their book for a special child. For those children who I didn't know or didn't live near me, I thought, why not send them a postcard instead, with my thanks and well wishes (and remind them to eat their veggies of course). That way, they would get something in the mail... an unusual occurrence for any child, in any time.
I set about designing and printing the postcard which is from an exotic place: Bloomers Island, located somewhere in the South Pacific Ocean and that no human has ever seen let along visited. The Bloomers even have their own mail system (the Snail Mailman) and their own stamps (worth 50 Golden Suns). I thought that would be much more exciting and the child could use it as a bookmark too! And then I thought, why not offer that to every child who buys a book? So that’s what I’m doing. If you buy one of the Bloomers’ books, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org, (I will get that promptly), with your child’s name and address and I will send her or him a postcard from Bloomers Island. Remember though that since it is coming from the Snail Mailman on Bloomers Island it may take a little while!
Remind your special child to enjoy their book, eat their veggies, and I look forward to hearing from them. The book, Bloomers Island, The Great Garden Party, can be purchased at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and bookstores everywhere.
Spring has sprung and it’s time to get outside with the little ones. When I’m not writing or running my business, Bloomers Island, I work with schools to set up school gardens and get kids excited about gardening.
When my children were little and I was trying to get them to eat more vegetables I created stories about little plant, flower and tree characters (not vegetables!) called the Bloomers. I drew upon those characters and their home, Bloomers Island, and wove them into my lessons. Bloomers Island is a mysterious place far away in the Pacific Ocean that no human has ever seen, and where plants became the intelligent species. The Bloomers have to learn how to garden along with other important life lessons at their boarding school, a tree house held in the arms of Mr. Banyan.
I turned my stories into books where kids are inspired to grow their own food and eat their veggies. Here are some of the ideas and activities that you can try with your kids right now:
1. Make gardening a game. Make up little prizes to give away to your children as they complete a gardening task.
2. Invite friends. Let them have friends over to help them.
3. Don’t forget the value of a scavenger hunt! Hide a couple of seed packets around the house or outside in the yard and let your kids look for them. When they find the seeds, help them choose what they want to grow.
4. Bring technology into it. Let’s face it, kids love technology and there are many gardening apps they can use to plan a garden.
5. Remember, gardening can be done indoors or out. You can grow lettuce, herbs, onions or radishes in a pot on a windowsill as long as there is sunlight.
6. Kids love digging in the dirt! Give them a trowel and see how fast and how deep they can dig a hole.
7. Kids love tools in general. Invest in an inexpensive gardening apron with their very own tools.
8. Look up recipes together. Make a dish with whatever vegetable they are growing.
9. Come up with some science experiments. Do fruits of the same size (avocados and tomatoes) have the same size seeds? For the little ones, cut open different fruits, pull out their seeds and put them in order from largest to smallest. Do the seed sizes correspond to the size of the fruit? What about peaches and apples?
Be creative and think of your own ideas to make gardening and healthy eating fun for your kids. Better yet, ask them! And share your ideas with us.