Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we bring more peace and joy into our lives, just by reducing the number of urgent decisions we need to make.
The podcast in which we acquire a few tools that will help us bring a bit of fairy dust to some otherwise boring, annoying, often mind-numbingly dreadful tasks to help our families run more smoothly.
The podcast in which we recognize the value of thinking ahead and just how precious this can be for the people we love.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your Fairy Godmother for the next half hour or so.
For the last few weeks, we have been talking about the various circles that make up the enticingly beautiful Venn Diagrams of our lives. We’ve already talked about our Health and loving our bodies, we’ve talked about work and how we each received very specific superpowers we can put to use to make this world a better place. This week, our topic is our Schedule and Planning, both short-term and long-term.
Before we jump in, I wanted to assert my privilege as your fairy godmother for a second and say thank you for listening. I have been just so delighted to read about the ways you are out there working on your Ideal Life Exercises, doing your Mise en Place…
And I am also incredibly excited and humbled that you are out there sharing the podcast and the ideas we are exploring here with the people you love.
Already, it’s a rather niche conversation we are having, and podcasts, themselves as a medium are, rather niche as well. So thank you for doing the hard work of educating your friends and family members who you think would find some encouragement. You are the official podcast ambassadors of Wonderland.
Whether you listen on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, Google Podcasts, Amazon Music, Audible, all I can say is thank you. And I am so glad to be part of your journey towards your Ideal Life.
I haven’t mentioned it before, but I do post the audio of the podcast to YouTube every week, as well. This might be an easier way to introduce the idea of podcasts to the people you know because all you have to do is share a link. I’ll put that link in the show notes.
Today, as we talk about Scheduling and Planning, I want you to consider how this looks in your life. If you can, return to your “In My Ideal LIfe, I am a person who…” statements, and look for all the ones that might sound something like,
“In my Ideal Life, (that is you. You sound like an adorable country bumpkin.) I am a person who knows who has to be where when.” or “In my Ideal Life, I am a person who knows what is for dinner tonight.” or “In my Ideal Life, I schedule time for my spouse.”
When I say the word “schedule”, what does that evoke for you? Whose calendars do you have to manage in your house? When you look at your calendar, what is the farthest-reaching date you have something written down on? Do you ever feel overwhelmed by all the places you and the people you live with have to be in the course of a day, a week, or a month?
And what about the word “planning”? What does that stir up for you? Do you plan ahead, or are you a “fly by the seat of your pants” kind of person? Are there aspects of your life that would be simpler if you just planned ahead a little bit more?
Remember, as we think about these different themes, we always ask ourselves four questions: What is working? What isn’t working, What do I need to think about, What one thing can I do today to make progress towards my Ideal Life?
Let’s get started.
Point One: Planning ahead
Have you ever heard of “decision fatigue?” It’s the reason why candy is always near the checkout lanes–to take advantage our declining faculty to make good decisions after we have been making lots of little tiny rather insignificant decisions while we shopped for groceries. Charmin or Cottonelle?
Decision fatigue is one of the reasons why we relegate self-care to the end of our to-do list–with so many other seemingly more important things to do, we systematically make trade-offs in which our own good is traded for something more urgent.
Decision fatigue is real. Every day, we have hundreds of tiny little decisions we have to make. Do we hit the snooze button or do we get up right away? Do we take a shower now or later? What am I going to wear today? Do we park our car right up next to work to save us time when it’s time to go home, or do we park at the far end of the lot so that we can enjoy the Spring sunshine at the end of the day?
Stay up and watch the Late Shows or go to bed at a decent hour? Turn on our alarm for tomorrow morning or not?
Those are the ultimately unimportant decisions that really only impact us. But by the time we are done making them, we have used up a ton of emotional energy.
If those decisions only really impact us, there are dozens of other decisions that impact those we live with: Should the kids wear their winter coats this morning or would a hoodie be sufficient? Who is picking up the kids from school? What is for dinner? When can we get our spouse alone to have that important conversation about our job?
The more we can automate the recurring, relatively easy to make decisions–like what time we wake up, when we are going to take our shower or setting ourselves a bed time and sticking to it, the less mental energy we have to spend on making those decisions. If we can take those easy decisions and turn them into habits, then we are freeing up space in our heads for more important considerations.
By making the decisions in advance, by “planning ahead”, we are saving ourselves time in the long run. In a few weeks, we will dedicate an entire episode to talking about habits and routines. But for now, we are talking about planning a ahead.
Thinking and planning ahead, like what I’ve been encouraging you to do with Mise en Place, when we prepare the night the space where, in the morning, we are going to be doing our Ideal Life Exercise, or when we pick our outfit for the next day in advance, means that we have fewer spontaneous decisions to make. Removing the spontaneous aspect of the decision can make the whole process seem less painful: Case in point, choosing what I am going to wear.
When the boys were little, out of what I perceived to be selfless love for my children, I would often wait until just before we were going to leave the house to decide what I was going to wear to go out. It would be a decision made in a moment of stress. There is nothing like trying to get a baby and a toddler ready to go anywhere. Trying to play referee while packing up a bag with diapers in two sizes, toys for two ages, stuffed animals, extra clothes in two sizes. Ugh. That last decision–what am I going to wear–would be the last possible thing I wanted to think about.
So, all while trying to keep two children from biting each other, from removing their coats or their shoes, I would stand in front of my closet and think to myself, “I have nothing to wear,” (Note: I had plenty of things to wear, it’s just that I was so stressed out that I couldn’t think straight to make a proper decision.”
Planning ahead–moving the decision about what I was going to wear to a different moment in the day, when I wasn’t stressed out and when no one else was around, took the struggle out of the whole process. Planning ahead is a life and a sanity saver.
If you experience decision fatigue, which in my example was demonstrated by the thought, “Ugh, I have nothing to wear,” or, can also sound like, “I have absolutely no idea what we are going to have for dinner…” I would humbly suggest carving out a few minutes when you are not faced with the need to make an immediate decision and giving that future situation some thought. The decision will seem less painful, and maybe even slightly more motivating than the decisions you make under the gun.
When I can get started, (and to be honest, sometimes, just the thought of getting started is enough to stop me before I start) if I do take the time to plan meals ahead of time, I can think outside of the usual rotation of easy-to-make staples, and imagine trying new ingredients or techniques that otherwise would seem impossible. When I can imagine trying something new, I can plan for it, and maybe even get myself excited about it. Anticipation is such a powerful feeling…in and of itself it is a significant bead of joy to put on the necklaces of our life.
This is likewise true when we take the time to think about what we are going to wear. Insignificant, unimportant decisions, when made in advance, can have the power to bring us joy through anticipation. By removing the stress those unmade decisions can wreak on us when made under the gun, we are giving ourselves the gift of peace.
Peace, anticipation and joy, even in tiny tiny measures are way, way better than stress, irritation and fatigue.
Planning ahead is a tool to bringing more peace and less stress. It’s worth giving it a try.
Point Two: A few little tools to make life easier
Many years ago, I worked as a wedding planner. I know how fun this sounds, and I will admit, that even when I did the job, I knew that it sounded way more fun than it actually was.
I think that part of my preference for funerals over weddings began around this time in my life. The planning part–the flowers, the table settings, the cake–that part was fantastic. I loved working with vendors and DJs and caterers.
One thing that I was very, very good at in my job was creating something called a retroplanning. This was a detailed little calendar of when decisions needed to be made by, when orders needed to be placed, when appointments needed to be confirmed. For the days before the wedding, it could be so detailed as to be hour by hour, and the day of the wedding was minute by minute.
Seriously, I loved doing that kind of thing.
What suuuuuuucked was working with brides. Or worse, with their mothers.
I much preferred to do the behind-the-scenes making-the-magic fairy godmother work and surprise them with how I managed to book such and such a band or hire that one florist who had already told them “no” twice.
I absolutely hated being asked “which of these two veils do you prefer?”, because without fail, the minute I would offer my opinion, they would come up with a hundred reasons why that was obviously the wrong choice for them.
But come wedding day, there was always some small way I could make magic again, whether it was loaning my shoes to the bride because her heel broke in the limo on her way over (and I always had at least one extra pair of shoes in the car!) or my little stash of safety pins that nearly always saved the day for someone.
For as much I was very, very good at this kind of planning, I am the absolute worst possible secretary for my family.
How is it that something that allowed me to make magic professionally was a trait conspicuously absent in my home life?
I have an answer to this question, finally. You see, a wedding is a one-time affair (well, at least for most of us. And my participation in those weddings was always a one-time project.) There was a start date (the date I was hired) and an end date (the day the last chair and cloth napkin were returned to the rental company.)
At home, there is no end-date. It is just this endless carousel of months that pass, often without even seeing them go by.
What makes family life difficult is that there are so many different battlefronts. There are multiple people, each of us with places we need to be at different times, and even though sometimes those can be turned into habits, there are always enough exceptions to the rule to make us feel like our head is constantly spinning.
The “project mentality” of a wedding cannot be superimposed on family life and create a functional model.
However, some of the tools of project planning can be useful to making family scheduling and planning less cumbersome.
One of these tools is very very simple: a detailed, up-to-date to-do list of everything that needs to get done. Just getting things out of our heads and onto paper can make life easier.
Another tool, which although it sounds similar is quite different: a checklist…that is, each individual step of a recurring task. Whether you are a pilot or a brain surgeon or a wedding planner or a stay-at-home mom, a checklist makes it possible to divide out complicated or multi-step activities into small, doable pieces so that nothing gets forgotten. This is especially helpful for things that are repeated week in and week out and require pulling together elements from a bunch of different places.
A calendar, obviously, which seems like a no-brainer, but I am not going to stand in judgment of past me who was so overwhelmed that she didn’t even care to know what day it was.
Another tool that is translateable from the “project mentality” is setting aside time to check-in on our progress. What is done? What isn’t done? Does what isn’t done make a difference or not at all?
This step is what I like to do when this theme comes up in my Ideal Life Exercise rotation. It comes up for me every three weeks, which seems like a good period of time to check in and make sure I didn’t forget to do anything important. I also can take that time to plan ahead.
When I am feeling particularly efficient, I will make a meal plan for the month, so that that one incredibly hateful task can be taken care of all at once, and I don’t have to think about it again for another month. When I actually do this (which I don’t always do!), I feel so, so good about my life. It makes everything easier…grocery shopping is a breeze, for example. But also, it has more subtle repercussions. *
Whereas, when I don’t plan ahead, when it comes to be around 4:30 in the afternoon, I start worrying. If we are far from home, I am already thinking about how we can escape what we are doing so that I can get home and see what is in the refrigerator for dinner.
If I do plan ahead, I am so much more chill. I can even, if I am out, call my husband and tell him to check the plan and ask him to get it started. Or, on a really, really good day, he will call me and tell me that he has already got the rice cooker started and dinner will be ready in thirty minutes.
Yet again, the fact of removing something stressful opens up the possibility for a little tiny bead of joy on the necklace of my life. And, as we have said before, “This world needs more joy.”
The last little tool is not going to be any kind of life changing idea, but it is simply this: sometimes, we struggle just to get things started. Even the act of sitting down to plan a meal can seem undoable. Getting started is the hardest part of doing something. I mean, just getting out everything we need, pulling together our thoughts can seem insurmountable and incredibly unfun.
I am with you on this. That is when we need to call on the virtue of Discipline. If we can spend just five minutes on something, even if it is just five minutes doing Mise en Place to pull together what we need to get something started, we are that much closer to actually doing it. Having a good friend who can give you moral support and help you buckle down can be incredibly helpful. Plus, you have someone to celebrate with when you actually do it. It’s a win-win.
So, just to recap, here are five little tools to help make family scheduling and planning less painful:
- Keep a to-do list on which you dump your every thought
- Make checklists for recurring tasks
- Keep a calendar
- Check-in at regular intervals
- Get started by setting a goal of working on it for five minutes.
I want to add a quick bit of color to what may sound like me trying to give advice. I do not have this all figured out for my own family.
I go through ups and downs with how well I use these tools. Usually, something will happen…I will miss an important meeting, for example, or my husband and I will have double-scheduled ourselves for the same night, and I get a renewed sense of urgency about applying these techniques.
But here is what I want to add: If you can get your family on-board with your methods, this will all be so much easier. If you are able to have easy, non-confrontational conversations with the others in your household about who needs to be where when, about their priorities, about their projects, then try to schedule a time to do this…like, a Sunday night would be a great time.
If you are like me, and are incapable of having these conversations in a non-confrontational way (and BTW, you have met my indulgent husband. He is not difficult to get along with. I am the problem element in this scenario,) then find a way to share your calendars, or have a place where you post your to-do list or checklists or meal plan so that you don’t have to talk about it, but that everyone knows where to go to keep informed.
One last word about the checklist: One of the values that my husband and I want to emphasize as parents to our scalawags is autonomy. We are not particularly young as parents to young children go, and so the earlier we could get our children handling their own affairs, in an age-appropriate manner, the better.
Checklists, with pictures, are huuuuuuuge when it comes to delegating responsibility to children. For example, if my eldest has swimming lessons at school, he now knows to double check his swim bag and make sure that nothing is missing (this became an issue when, pre-checklist, I forgot to put a fresh pair of bigboy pants in his bag and he came home angry with me because he had to go commando all afternoon after his swimming lesson at school. You see, he would change into his swimsuit before we would leave the house after lunch, and when it came time to change back into street clothes, well, he discovered his Mama had dropped the ball. Now he knows that Mama is not perfect and that he needs to take some responsibility for checking his bag.)
Checklists are used by pilots and brain surgeons. If they are useful to something as important as that, then surely we can use them to make our lives easier, too.
Were we to look beyond the everyday implications of scheduling and planning, there is another whole chapter in this discussion about long-range plans.
Pre-pandemic, I had concert dates on my calendar sometimes up to two years in advance. We plan weddings more than a year in advance.
But I’m talking about longer range than that. Like…retirement plans. These aren’t things we generally think about when we are in our thirties, but something happens when we turn forty and we realize that we are getting that much closer to the halfway point in our lives.
I’ll be the first to admit that I would love to have a plan. On the other hand, I dread thinking about it. Today, perhaps, there isn’t much planning to be done, or at least not much that I could do. But I could start thinking about what my ideal life will be like in twenty years. What I will be doing, where I will live. What I want from my golden years. Even if I am not ready to plan anything, I can start thinking.
But there is one kind of planning that I can and should do now, because, without sounding over dramatic about this, I don’t know how many days I have left.
This subject is one that your wicked stepsister is uniquely positioned to talk to you about, and I think once you hear what she has to say, you will start thinking differently on the subject of End-Of-Life Planning, too.
Wicked Stepsister: Just In Case
Do you remember going to the movies in 1997? I do. My boyfriend, now husband, took me to see Titanic. Such a romantic story, right up until everyone started dying. Because of the misadventures of Jack and Rose, we all know about the Titanic…the grand ballroom, lavish dining rooms, gourmet food, flowing wine and…the hubris. We all know the story of how nobody bothered to ask, are we prepared just in case something doesn’t go as planned? Well, fortunately, we learned our lesson, we know better. When we get in the car, we buckle up. If we go on a boat we grab a life jacket. We have smoke detectors and fire extinguishers in our homes. We go to the doctor and submit to all sorts of unpleasant orifice probing all in the name of ‘Just In Case.’ And we do all of these things because we know that sometimes time and unforeseen events get the better of us, so we take steps to mitigate damage.
How do you feel when you’ve checked off all of your ‘just in case’ boxes? The gas tank in your car is full, just in case you need to go somewhere, your annual doctors appts are done, you’ve been checked out just in case there was something happening in your body that you didn’t know about, you have a to-go bag ready just in case some sort of disaster happens in your neighborhood… you feel a little bit of relief, maybe dare I say a little bit of superiority, after all, you are totally killing it. Since you’re so good at the ‘just in case’ game, you’ve also completed, signed and distributed your advance directive. You have, right? Oh, you haven’t. No worries. You have a Wicked Stepsister. I’m going to tell you all about it and we’ll correct that oversite, no problem.
First, what is an Advance Directive? Generally, this is a bit of an umbrella term that refers to 3 different kinds of Advance Directives. For the sake of simplicity, we’re going to use Advance Directive as an umbrella term to include a Living Will, Health Care Agent and a Financial Power of Attorney.
Let’s start with the Living Will. What is a living will? A living will is a document that details your medical wishes should you become incapacitated either temporarily or permanently. Generally, people think of this in relation to death but it could also be useful in an accident situation where you are incapacitated. Your living will is a valuable guide for your family and health care providers. It can state things like your willingness or unwillingness to receive certain treatments, whether or not you want to take advantage of life support options, your preferences if your illness or injury progresses to a certain stage. This can be a really difficult document to work through, especially for people with small children. We might feel one way about something but when we consider that there are young ones depending on us, we may have a completely different feeling about how we would want things to play out.
After we have done the heavy lifting of completing the living will, we need to choose a Health Care Agent, Health Care Proxy, Durable Medical Power of Attorney, there are a number of terms for this depending on where you live. Whatever your state calls it, this is a person you choose to interpret your Living Will and speak for you. You need to choose a person who is clear on your values. This person should be assertive enough to ask questions and not easily offended if their position is challenged. You want to choose somebody whom you trust to be able to speak for you while enduring the stress of a medical crisis. It’s a tall order so don’t choose your Health Care Agent rashly.
The last piece of the puzzle that we need to get sorted is the (Financial) Power of Attorney. The person whom you choose to act as Power of Attorney will be able to handle financial affairs on your behalf while you are incapacitated. Examples of this would be collecting benefits checks, paying your bills, filing your taxes, buy/selling/managing your property, hiring someone to represent you in court. Even though you’re incapacitated the world will keep spinning and someone is going to need to be able to act on behalf of your financial affairs.
Finally, make copies of your completed document. Give one to your health care agent, give one to your doctor and have it added to your medical record, register it with your state if that’s an option where you live, keep on in your In Case of Emergency file. Give a copy to whomever you think needs to know this info.
I know these are not fun tasks but they are extremely valuable…you know, just in case. You can likely find free or low-cost versions of documents like this online. If you find the whole thing rather intimidating, there are people like me who help you work through your questions. Some of us even like to throw some fun in there. I call it Death, Drinks & Directives. Get together with a small group of friends, bring in some help if you need it and have a lively chat about all the “just in case” issues we’ve talked about today and create your advance directive.
Remember, talking about death won’t kill you…I promise.
Leave it to LiElla to turn making advanced directives into a party. You’ll find a link to LiElla’s website for more information about Death, Drinks and Directives.
And don’t forget that Virtual Death café on April 30! Check our social media for the Zoom link as we get closer!
Let’s zoom out now, and let you answer those four questions about your Ideal Life in the area of Scheduling and Planning.
What is working? Do you have a method for keeping track of everyone’s schedule? Does your meal plan bring you joy? Write that down!
Next: What isn’t working? Is there a doctor’s appointment you have been putting off making but you know you should do it? Is there something you desperately want to do but can’t make the space in your head to enjoy because there is too much stuff left undone?
What do you need to think about? When it comes to those things that aren’t working, what is keeping you from solving those problems? Do you simply not have the new phone number for the doctor’s office? Or is it that you are afraid of making the appointment because of what you might find out? One of those is easily solved. The other one may require you to be brave.
In either case, I want you to think of one little tiny thing that you can do today to get you closer to your Ideal Life. Make that appointment. If finally getting around to doing something you are looking forward to means that you have to cancel something, you have my permission, as your fairy godmother, to do that. You also have my permission to say “No” to invitations or solicitations that do not fill you with joy.
If you are struggling to plan for the future, try sitting down for five minutes today and making a list of all things you need to plan for. Get them out of your mind and onto paper. You’ll see where to go from there. Just get started.
I came across the writings of a medieval philosopher named Eckhart Von Hochheim. Here is what he wrote, back in the 13th century, “And suddenly you know: it’s time to start something new and trust the magic of beginnings.”
Just getting started…just taking that first step to planning and thinking about the future is the magic of a new beginning.
Get started and make it easy.
Go write the “Virtual Death Café” on your calendar right now…11AM Mountain time on April 30. It will be an opportunity to ask questions about end-of-life issues and get straight answers. Even if you aren’t planning on dying anytime soon (and I hope you aren’t!) opening up a discussion about death can open up a whole new love of life. So as counterintuitive as it might seem, facing the topic head-on might just bring you unexpected joy.
The details will be on our Social Media and in next week’s show notes!
Thank you so much for listening to the podcast. I love hearing from you, on Instagram @lilyfieldschallenge, or on Facebook I’m just Lily Fields. You can read more on the blog www.lilyfieldschallenge.com.
A great big thank you to Seven Productions here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
This is your Fairy Godmother signing off. Just remember, it is never too late to start singing with your feet.
Talking Points: Decision fatigue; Life lessons from a wedding planner; The humble checklist–if it’s good enough for a brain surgeon it’s good enough for me; a wicked “just in case” discussion.
Lily’s YouTube Channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCipXE0M_lxUh6l3fUFRAwlA
Virtual Death Café, hosted by LiElla Kelly of Leaving Well End-of-Life Planning will be held on April 30 at 11:00AM MT.
You can also find LiElla on her website, https://leavingwellmt.com/ or on Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/leaving.well.death.doula/ or Facebook https://www.facebook.com/search/top?q=leaving%20well%20end-of-life%20planning
A great big thank you to Seven Productions, https://7prod.fr/, here in Mulhouse France for the use of the song La Joie for the Intro and Outtro to the show. Also, thanks to Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.