Friday, July 31, 2015

Minimalish: How Did I Do?

A few weeks ago, I shared the chart below and embarked on a 30-day challenge toward more minimalish-ism. I'm not a minimalist and I don't intend to be, but I want my life to be as full of the good, important things and as shy of the distracting, clutter-causing things as possible. I thought this challenge would be a good way to examine those values and make any adjustments.

I set myself some ground rules:
  • Activities don't need to be done in order, but each needs to be done (or at least solidly attempted).
  • Except for ones that can be done several times (1, 2, 4, 6, etc.), have discipline to do one task each day—meaning, don't do five items on one day to "get them out of the way." Each day should be a practice in one of these minimalish activities.
  • For items that I've done already or aren't really possible (I just don't have a junk drawer, and I already follow a morning/evening routine), find some way to connect a task/activity to the intention of the prescribed one.
So after 30 days of attempting to bring more mindfulness to my daily life and become yet more minimalish, how did I do? (Might want to grab a beverage; this one's a little long...even for me.)
1. Stay offline for one day • I did my very, very best with this one on the Fourth of July. I was down the shore with family for the weekend, having the best time as we do every year. I pulled out my phone to text with my cousin who was on her way down, to call my brother for his ETA, and I only checked one Snapchat. Other than that, phone was put away all day. I don't count calls/texts as being online, so the Snap was my one minor fail. Better than I expected, really.

2. Meditate for 15 minutes • Luckily I'm given the opportunity to meditate for a few minutes every yoga class, but that's not always enough. I managed to get a full fifteen minutes in once or twice, but I really need to make time for go for a full hour-long chakra balance meditation.

3. Declutter your digital life • This felt so, so good. I cleaned out my drafts folder, sifted through starred tweets and bookmarks on my computer browsers and my phone, went through the few dozen Google docs and calendars and iPhone notes I use to run my life, and just dumped all the excess. Ahhh.

4. No-complaint day • I was super conscious of pretty much everything that came out of my mouth on this day. I was off from work, or else I never would have done it. And by the end of the day, I was down at the shore house with my family. How could I have possibly complained?

5. Identify your three to six main priorities • It was sort of by accident that this ended up getting done today. I was emailing with a friend about a(nother) potential collaboration, and still processing my decision to take a 40% pay cut for a new job. Without really thinking about it, I was saying it, and I knew it was true. Aside from the incredibly obvious and non-negotiable family and friends coming first, my priorities are words (writing, writing for a living, working on my book, editing other amazing books, bringing good words to good people), yoga (my physical practice, my internal practice, and bridging the gap for others who deserve this wonderful, transformative discipline in their lives), and running (being healthy, pushing my limits, learning how strong I can be, and defying expectations). I did a bit more in-depth exploration with respect to my career, and identified a few things that are crucial for me to have from my work. Still not sure how I will get them all, but at least now I know what I'm after.

6. Follow a morning ritual (x 6) • Most workdays, I follow the same morning routine: Wake up, yoga, shower, find a podcast for the morning, pour coffee, makeup/hair/dressed, make my bed at some point in there, head off to work. I usually skip morning yoga on Tuesdays because I take class in the evenings. I skip parts of my a.m. routine if I haven't slept well and need to prioritize extra sleep instead. The uncounted days here were either weekends, days off work for other reasons, and days I slept in—insomnia got the better of me a LOT this month, and many mornings on four hours of sleep were rough. Also, I left my job and "routine" went right out the window after the 17th.

7. Streamline your reading list • Apologies to anyone who follows me on Goodreads. I merged a portion of my Google Doc list with my Goodreads to-read list, and got some semblance of order there. My multiple lists of books to read are still longer than they should be, but they're much more organized now.

8. Learn to enjoy solitude • I spend a lot of my out-of-work time alone, and I very much like it that way. Living by myself makes it easy. I rarely don't enjoy the alone time I have, and when that happens, I usually just call up a friend and...stop being alone for a little while. On a few July days, I made it a point to really be present in my solitude and appreciate it for what it makes me capable of.

9. Downsize your beauty collection • I like makeup. I like products. I was, at one time, a bit of a product junkie. And then I moved into a studio and got rid of a lot of them. And then I simplified my makeup routine and a lot of stuff sat around because maybe I'd use it for the next fancy occasion. Fancy occasions came and went and I still didn't use the extra makeup. I've tossed a lot over the last few months, but I still found a few items to get rid of.

10. No email or social media until lunch • I thought this would be challenging, but it was actually a super welcome way to start my day once I embarked on my funemployment just after mid-month.

11. Evaluate your commitments • I have my hand in a LOT of things right now: (1) job transition (2) Feather Magazine (3) marathon training (4) yoga practice and preparations for teacher training (5) full manuscript edit of a client/friend's novel (luckily due for publication in September) (6) my book of essays (7) the novel I've just begun and hope to blast through (8) a literary magazine I'm co-directing (9) this blog (10) family and friends and associated commitments. I actually paused to write out this list and identify the statuses of each and considered how to fit everything in. I think I've got this handled, but it's definitely work. Luckily, it's work I love.

12. Define your goals for the year • In conjunction with letting go of a few, I reshaped the ones I still had and set some new ones that align with some new endeavors and developments.

13. Clean out your closet • I really did try to get rid of more clothing/shoes/accessories, but I do purges pretty frequently, including once just in June. As of now there's nothing left to toss.

14. Take a step toward learning a new skill • I was invited this month to collaborate on a project that feels like I was destined for it, and it for me. My co-collaborator and I were certainly destined to work together, as previous successful endeavors have shown. A lot of the necessary work was already in my wheelhouse, but I spent this day doing the research for some new tasks and jobs to make this effort successful. More on this here.

15. Examine your daily habits • I don't really know that I got much out of this, because I'm a pretty habitual person and like routine, as far as my daily need-to-dos go. But I paid attention and "examined" my morning and evening habits this day, and at least I can say I was mindful of them.

16. Don't buy anything for 24 hours (x 10) • Almost every month I set a goal for a couple of no-spend days. This month's goal was 10 days, and I passed! I needed to, for sure.

17. Practice single-tasking • It is so, so rare that I'm sitting down or standing, doing one thing at a time, without a million other things in various stages of done-ness—and without my mind wandering to what else I need to/should be doing. I decided to commit myself to a project and really plugged myself in, shut everything else out, and wrote.

18. Unfollow and unfriend • So long, people I had one class with in college and never spoke to again. See ya, people I went to high school with and could barely stand back then, and don't even know anymore. Take a hike, friends of friends of friends I met at a party and talked to for three minutes at some point over the last decade. It never stops feeling good to remove the extraneous noise from my life.

19. Go for a walk and practice mindfulness • I actually hate walking, honestly. I mean, I don't mind walking to a place that it makes sense to walk to, but if I were going to go for a walk, I'm just going to go for a run. I did, however, have a bit of room left at the end of a run, and walked the rest of the way back to my apartment with music off, checking in on my body.

20. No TV all day, read instead (x 12) • We really never watch TV down the shore, and I've been watching much less TV at home lately too. I've been listening to more podcasts, reading more, and only turn on the TV late at night when I'm ready for sleep, because I'm a loon and need background noise to fall asleep. I don't count this as "watching TV," because, well, I'm not watching it.

21. Journal for 20 minutes • I rarely journal for this long anymore, but it started with my daily gratitude one day and I just let myself keep going.

22. Create a relaxing bedtime routine • I have been a troubled sleeper literally my entire life. Since I was born. (Well, all babies are, but I was a special kind of difficult at bedtime.) When I moved into this apartment back in September, it took me less than a week to identify a few things I have to do in order to have any chance at sleeping well, and I do them—or at least a truncated version of them—just about every night. Makeup off/wash face, brush teeth, peppermint oil on my nose and brow bone, load coffee pot and set timer, check alarms, read, Reddit (I know, I shouldn't before bed, but I do), background noise, sleep mask, sleep. Weekends vary a little bit since my mornings aren't as time-crunched, but this is pretty much every night for me, regardless of what time I'm heading to bed.

23. Go bare-faced (x 7) • I try to do this for a full day once a week, or at least spend a major portion of a day without makeup. Funemployment and beach weekends mean makeup-free faces.

24. Practice gratitude (x 13) • I keep a gratitude journal, where I try most days to write down at least three things I'm grateful for, sometimes with a more thorough journal entry, sometimes without. I don't get to it every day, but try at least a few times a week.

25. Leave a whole day unplanned (x 4) • Generally speaking, this is pretty hard for me. I don't know if I can truly count Fourth of July weekend as unplanned days, because I planned to be down the shore, and I was. But as far as the events that transpired while down the shore, none of that was planned. Ditto my few impromptu days in Cape Cod. I give a pass. 

26. Identify your stress triggers • I have a lot, being that I'm highly sensitive. Luckily, a minimum amount of stress is required for me to function, since it's always been a part of my life. I did take notice of a few particularly stress-inducing events and tried to isolate the actual trigger, so I do think this was successful.

27. Clear our your junk drawer • Honestly? I don't have one. There's absolutely no "junk collection" spot in my house. I barely even have drawers (that aren't home for my clothes). I did clean my entire apartment top to bottom a time or two, so I call this a pass.

28. Let go of a goal • I set a lot of goals (yearly, seasonally, monthly, daily). As the year wears on, some become less important, less possible, or less necessary to describe as "goals." I eliminated one 2015 goal and revised another to better fit with the trajectory of this year.

29. Turn off notifications • After my cousin and brother arrived at the shore house on the Fourth of July, my phone went on airplane mode. I didn't need anyone or anything else than my big, amazing family that day.

30. Evaluate your last five purchases • Figured my last day on salary (17th) would be as good a time as any to look this over. I'm not on a freeze but I am trying extra hard to stick to my budget this month and have been doing pretty good on my no-spend days. My last five purchases are pretty solid:
(1) drink at last night's bon voyage happy hour (my amazing former coworkers picked up the rest <3)
(2) Chipotle for lunch, which feeds me for two days;
(3) chiropractor co-pay (not quite a purchase, but money spent), non-negotiable and always a good decision;
(4) brunch with friends in Philly, that I was able to keep low-cost and was worth every delicious bite;
(5) new running shoes, to alternate with my half-worn pair for the next ~8 weeks of this marathon training plan.
(I give myself an A- for these; I probably didn't really need Chipotle for lunch.)

So how I did was...pretty damn good, I must say. I managed to run out of new tasks before I ran out of days, which meant I was repeating some of the more easily-repeatable ones (gratitude, no TV, etc.) The one-off items felt really good to get done, and I felt a weight lifted each time I decluttered some aspect of my life and mind. It's really all intangible, but I do have to call this experiment a smashing success!

In fact, I think I'm going to make a list of some of these more repeatable items and see how long I can go checking off at least one every day. Or maybe look beyond and try to find or create a new challenge...

If you participated in this little challenge, I'd love to hear how you did! Did it change anything? Would you repeat any of the items or undertake the challenge again?

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Reading Right Along

It's time again for a book chat! At least, it is for those of us participating in Kels' Bookish Side of Life Summer Book Challenge.
The Blonder Side of Life
I challenged myself to read 10 books over the course of this June, July, and August. I picked a conservative number because at the time, I had never read an audiobook and knew I was a slow—if enthusiastic—reader. As of the end of July, I'm almost there!

I read four books in June, and here are the five I've read in July:

Paper Towns by John Green
I fell in love with Johnny like many of us last year after readingThe Fault in Our Stars. Actually, to be more honest, I already had a massive crush on him when I read An Abundance of Katherines first. I thought I might fly through it, but I didn't. I liked it and enjoyed the narrative, although found it a bit slow in parts. All in all a solid YA read from a super talented writer.

Recommend? — You bet!

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
I wish I had known how much this book was going to make me cry. I love books with multiple narrators, and especially when each voice is distinct and clear and nicely tells the story from each perspective. This book made my heart feel every little damn thing six ways to Sunday.

Recommend? — As long as you have tissues nearby and a heart, yes!

The Martian by Andy Weir (audiobook)
I so did not think this was my kind of book at all—I don't do sci-fi; I barely do fantasy; the concept of "outer space" in general scares the bejeesus out of me. But after hearing so many bloggers say they loved it and it was outside their usual genres too, I gave the audiobook a try. I'm glad I didn't try to read it; I wouldn't have understood the majority of the Martian descriptions if I had. This book was another where the narrative shifted, and I really appreciated the multiple angles.

Recommend? — I think it's worth a shot if you're curious, but the audiobook is definitely the way to go.

Eleanor & Park by Rainbow Rowell
Aw. I felt all the things. I wasn't really prepared for how sad this would make me throughout. I didn't cry; it wasn't a painful, gut-wrenching read. It was just sad. But hopeful somehow at the same time. I enjoyed it, and really recognized a distinctness to Rainbow's voice. I can't wait to read more from her.

Recommend? — Hands down.

One Plus One by Jojo Moyes
Just started this one as I finished Eleanor & Park while on this mini-vacation. Will be sure to include it in the next update!
Which brings me to a grand total of nine read so far, with number 10 in progress. I'm also joining in my lovely Literary Ladies in their summer reading challenge, so here's what's next on my to-read list:

What have you read this month? What's on tap for the next? 

Linking up with Kels on the Bookish Side of Life!

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Calling it In

I hope everyone will forgive me, but I don't really have a Training for Tuesday post this week.

As you know, a lot has been kind of flipped upside down lately, and I'm a bit "in transition." As I write this, I'm on an impromptu mini-vacation and am finding there are a lot of things more pressing than coming up with and writing a post about my training. (I do do that in small batches every week, after all.)

I hope you'll forgive me for phoning it in this month and link up your posts and visit my cohost Tracy, who surely has something much more worthwhile to share today. As always, I'll pop around and see each and every one of you, and I swear I'll bring the heat times 10 next month.

Happy training, and thanks for linking up!


Sunday, July 26, 2015

Sunday Sweats Vol. 30: Marathon Training Week 4

July 20–26
Marathon Training Week 4

Monday: flexibility free-flow (10 minutes) + 3.03 mile run (9:11 pace)
I took video of myself flowing out before this run because I knew what postures I was about to flow through, and realized this would be a good homemade video to refer back to on run days. I've said it before but it bears repeating: if you primarily practice at home, take a video of yourself every now and then. You'll learn so much about your practice and your body! (And also, how do you think I get photos like this and this and this?)

I love that Mondays are always my lowest mileage of the week, and downright minuscule in comparison to the long run mileage I'll soon be hitting. It helps me start off a week of training feeling really positive and optimistic. (Let's check in on this again after the weekend, shall we?) I was looking for redemption from an awful long run on Sunday, and I think I found it—as best as you can find redemption in a 3-miler, and on a 90º night. (Yes, night. 8:30 p.m. and still "real feel" 92º. Anyone have a bridge I can go jump off?)

Tuesday: full body flexy flow (35 minutes)
It so happened that tomorrow worked out as the better day to take class, so I practiced at home today. Worked on some hamstring flexibility, opening up the obliques, and got into some deep back flexibility poses. I've only hit king pigeon once, but I'm determined to find it again!

Wednesday: 6.03 mile run (9:50 pace)
I did not love this run. I did not love running under the summer sun (even if it was a brisk 76º with only 50% humidity—practically arctic compared to the weekend). I did not love running in the wind that blew every which way. I did not love the way my chest hurt constantly. But that's the way the cookie crumbled today.

I never did make it to Donna's class this week, unfortunately. I got home from a meeting at about 6:20, and would never in a million years have been able to eat, change, and get to the studio for 6:30 start time. Le sigh.

Thursday: hip & low back flow (28 minutes)
I've been hunched over a computer screen a lot this week, what with all my works in progress in progress, and for me that means low back pain and serious outer hip flexor pain from sitting too long. I had about two hours of driving ahead of me today when I went to my mat so I wanted to treat some of the pain I've been feeling and open everything up.

Friday: 11.03 mile run (10:11 pace) + deep hip flow (35 minutes)
If I could have picked one run this week to be my best, I would have picked this one. Luckily, it was! Not speed-wise, and not even pain-wise (post-run inventory: right outer hip flexor, right knee [typical], left psoas [front hip flexor], right Achilles, intermittent discomfort in right forefoot. It's really not as bad as it sounds; I did run 11 miles). But in the way I BEASTED some hills that I thought I'd have to walk up (I didn't!) and kept my pace pretty consistent after a too-quick 5k start before the hills started rolling. I felt strong and accomplished, the way a marathoner-in-training should (I think...)!

I saved the day's full flow for post-run and was glad I did. Sweet, delicious hip openers, hamstring flexibility poses, and backbends, oh my!

Saturday: "rest"
Today was beach day! Out the door bright an early, and too pooped to do much of anything (besides wash the sand out of my hair) when I got home. We walked a fair bit though and swam for about 20 minutes I'd guess, so it counts for something.

Sunday: mini stretchy flow (15 minutes)
Had to make time for something before yet another long drive that lays ahead of me.

Weekly Totals
Running: 20.09 miles
Yoga: 123 minutes

Marathon Training Week 4 Reflections:
This week marked a milestone: My 11-miler. Believe it or not, even though I've run three half marathons, I've never run over 10 miles by myself—as in, not as a part of a race—ever. Each half marathon training plan came with some disaster—moving, shoes that tried to kill me (well, fracture me, but still), work/time conflicts, etc.—that capped my training cycle at 10 miles. So to break that barrier felt good this week!

Ironic honesty time: I skipped a run this week, a three-miler. I want to say only three miles because it is the shortest distance on my plan, but I can't say only three because obviously it's on there for a reason. But this week kind of flew out of my control before I could say boo, and with this weather (when it's 80º before 8 a.m. or a low of 85º overnight?) forcing me to only run certain times of the day (it's too early to cry), I couldn't fit it in with all the last-minute changes in plans. As you read this, I'm probably in the middle of a five-hour drive and I didn't know until Friday night that I'd be making it today. So scheduling and life things (and fun things, like Blogger Beach Day—those are important too) had to come before a three-miler. It's okay. I always have next week.

OH HEY YOU! Don't forget this Tuesday is the last of the month, which means time to link up with Tracy and me and show us your health, fitness, and wellness goals, wins, misses, and triumphs. Click here for more Training for Tuesday info!

Friday, July 24, 2015

Why Your Budget Doesn't Work

I've talked dollars and sense before, so you guys know by now, I think personal finance and full awareness of your money situation is crucial. I have been comforted and helped by my (some might say over-)organized spreadsheets and budget documents countless times, and taking the plunge to write a budget and shape up my money has had a really positive effect on my life. Knowing what you have—or what you need—without having to scramble through account statements and documents offers peace of mind in an emergency and can help you make big decisions quickly.

But budgeting gets a bad rap. To a lot of people, "budget" equals "broke," or is just way too complicated to fold into their routine. I'm here to sing the praises of a monthly budget, and set the record straight. If you've tried and failed to stick to a budget, consider that you may be making one of these big budget mistakes.

Six Reasons Your Budget Doesn't Work

1. You're writing amounts based on total guesses. 
How much do you spend on groceries per month, would you say? Now, go get your grocery receipts. How much do you really spend on groceries per month? Better yet, what does going out to bars, restaurants, or coffee shops cost you monthly? I'll bet that one adds up to a bigger number than you would guess.

The art of budgeting—that is, prescribing certain amounts of your anticipated guaranteed income to specific budget categories—needs to be based on real numbers. How do you come up with real numbers? You track your spending for at least a month (ideally, two to three months) prior to writing your monthly budget.

(P.S. – I made my budget template downloadable, if you'd like to try it as a starting point.)

But tracking your spending can have some risks of its own if you aren't careful with it. Which leads me to...

2. You're not counting the "random purchase" here or there.
You got your oil changed—that expense won't come up again for another few months. You had to pick up a gift for your sister's birthday—won't have another one of those till next year. Oh, and you had to replace your bathing suit after you discovered last year's summer left your favorite bikini in shambles—that's another annual purchase.

It's easy to convince yourself that those big(ger), one-off purchases don't come up all that often and they don't need to be factored into your budget. But once you start tracking your spending, you'll see just how often—like, pretty much every month—"something comes up." It's best to anticipate these items when you can, and roll those figures into your tracked and budgeted amounts to be best prepared.

3. You're not leaving wiggle room.
As we just learned, say it with me now, something always comes up. Budgeting down to the penny might work for one or two categories here and there. But stores and manufacturers change their prices, the cost of gas can fluctuate week to week, and sometimes even the best of us leave our coupons at home.

The problem with this can become even bigger, if you're like I was when I first started budgeting: Sometimes, all it takes is blowing a budget category by $1 to blow your entire resolve. A familiar refrain: "I've already gone over budget, what's the use in trying to stick to it now? BUY ALL THE THINGS."

Give yourself a spare dollar or two in your categories to account for these unanticipated fluctuations and watch your budget stay in tact.

4. You don't know your spending habits.
Did you know that every time you get on the road you have to stop for a cup of coffee? Have you ever noticed how every time you're standing on line at the grocery store you end up tossing a few backs of gum and a magazine into your cart? What about your habit of ending up with a few extra apps on the table every time you and your colleagues go to happy hour?

When writing your budget, you need to look carefully at your interactions and spending habits, and be honest with yourself. Sure, there is room to be aspirational—but the time to do that is not when writing your first budget ever. That is the time to be blatantly honest. You won't fix or change habits that you don't first acknowledge. Examine your habits and then allow for them, OR, depending on your financial situation, begin a weaning process to change them. But it won't happen overnight.

5. You don't anticipate your month ahead.
Some people find success in leaving their budget categories fixed every month—I'm not one of those people. I change up my categories based on what I'm running out of, what I need to buy, what trips I have planned, etc. For example, this June, I drove to and from West Virginia, to and from Philly and to and from a concert venue twice within that Philly trip, to and from Upstate New York, and to and from the Jersey Shore—on top of all my other usual driving. I would have been absolutely crazy to not change up my gas budget for a month like that. Similarly, I wasn't home on any weekend throughout the month, so my grocery budget looked a lot different too. For another example, this month I had to factor in a pair of running shoes. I wouldn't normally allocate $130 to my running budget, but I certainly had to this month. Most other months it sits at $0-$40 for the errant piece of apparel.

What are you running out of? Will you be replacing your shampoo and razor cartridges this month? Are you traveling for a friend's wedding? Are you planning to pay a race fee? Are you going on vacation and planning to bring home some souvenirs?

Consider all of these and other possible expenses before you write your budget and see how some categories swell and others shrink down to nothing. Some things may stay the same month to month—my "lazy food" category stays the same—but as life presents new things, your budget must adapt if you have any hope of keeping to it.

6. You're not tracking your spending.
This is, to me, the simplest part of the whole thing. But I know that a lot of people have trouble sticking to this practice. The blatant truth, though, is that you cannot hope to stick to your budget if you're not tracking what you spend and checking in periodically throughout the month. You can write down every expense in your phone or a notebook, use an app like iSpending or Mint, or save all your receipts (not recommended as you don't always get them, and they can get lost easily) and count them out every week. 

But the bottom line is tracking your spending is crucial to a successful budget from beginning to end. I use iSpending and take about 30 seconds after each purchase to punch it into my phone, and a few times a week I sit down and transfer those numbers to my spreadsheet. It doesn't take long, and the few seconds it does take are more than worth the peace of mind I have by keeping my finances organized and readable at a glance.

What are your biggest budget challenges? Is there anything you've been battling with in writing your own budgets? Or do you have any awesome budget-writing tips to share with the class? Please do!