February 24, 2013

Time Management for Real People: 7 Tips to Keep Your Sanity

What do the president of the United States, a college student who sleeps until 2:00 pm, and you have in common?

You all have 168 hours in each week. (Yep. I did the math.)

What you choose to do with those precious hours is up to YOU. Whether I want to admit it or not, the busier I am, the more I accomplish. The more free time I have, the more time I waste. Sad, but true.

The lesson?

Busy people get things done.

It's not about having more time. It's about doing a better job of managing the time we have.

The next few months will be the busiest I’ve had in a while. Between a couple of jobs, participating a bible study or two, taking a trip across the ocean, turning a big dream into reality, being the wife of my hunky husband and the mom of my favorite little person, there’s lots to do.

It’s time to dust off my laser-focused time management skills.  

Since I’m pretty sure you’ve got a lot on your plate too, I thought you might like to revisit them with me.

Time Management for Real People
1. Write it down. If you write it down, it’s real. Back in my Mary Kay days, I used to fill out a weekly plan sheet each week. It has space for each hour of the week, from 6:00 am to 10:00 pm daily.
The idea is to be intentional about your time. Take 15-20 minutes on Sunday night to plan what you’ve got coming up for the week. (Bonus points if you color code for work time, business time, family time, personal time, etc.)

Action step: Print one out. Or buy a planner that fits your needs. Fill it out. Not every hour has to be filled in at first, but try to account for as many as possible (think Dave Ramsey envelope system). Use pencil if it makes you feel better.

2. Work in chunks. If you’re anything like me, you check your email, Facebook, or Twitter accounts all throughout the day. It’s become a reflex. In some ways it’s great. We feel more connected. In other ways, it’s awful. We always feel connected.

It’s best to set aside one or two dedicated chunks of time to sit down to work. If you do a little bit here and there, all throughout the day, you will feel like you’re working all. day. That’s the fast track to burnout. (I know.)

Action step: Plan realistic chunks of time to complete your work. Slap yourself with a wet noodle when you find yourself letting work sneak into personal time. That email can wait until its designated appointment.

3. Sit at a desk. If you do a lot of work on a laptop, you may find it helps to sit at a desk as opposed to the couch (or somewhere else that’s perfect for napping). Sitting at a desk just makes things feel more official and focused.

Action step: Select a designated workspace. Make it enjoyable! De-clutter the desk. Find some music that gets your creative juices flowing. Avoid working where you play.

[Full disclosure: This one should be easy for me. I recently knocked our personal laptop off of our desk. Our desktop is now my number one (only) option ;)]

4. Unplug. Mentally and/or electrically. (I’m talking to myself here.) I have to be more intentional about my time off. When you work from home, the lines can blur so easily. It’s hard to mentally check out when there’s always something productive you could be doing.

It’s tempting to stay connected to gadgets and gizmos for fear of missing something. Check out anyway.
Whether you need to unplug to fully be present, or whether you need to unplug to just veg out for a bit, do it.

Action step: Turn off your phone. Focus on the lovely people in the room with you (especially if they're your kiddos!). Take a brisk walk or leisurely stroll. Curl up on the couch and watch your favorite show (yes, that requires a plug-in). Set your brain to cruise control for a minute. Don't worry about being "productive."

5. Take time for you. Put on your oxygen mask before assisting those around you, friend. Most mornings over the past few months, I’ve woken up before my little one. Even if it’s just an extra 30 minutes. That time helps set the tone for my day.
I wake up, get my makeup on, and get dressed before I come down the stairs. Honestly, on some days, if I don’t do it then, I may not do it at all.

I mentioned I’ve been doing a bible study. Having a dedicated time to reconnect with my Creator each morning gives me peace and perspective. The day is in His hands. (Whether or not I choose to trust Him to handle it is the question!) If I miss that morning time and wake up late, it’s the last thing I do before bed. I have to have that time.

Action step: Make a date to recharge your batteries (I vote morning!). Don’t break it. Even if it’s just five minutes, locked in your bathroom. Don’t be a martyr and say there’s no time. There is. Find it.

6. Be flexible. Now that I’m a mom, of course, flexibility is more important than ever. Several hours of my weekly plan sheet will be blocked just for “playtime,” naptimes may vary from day to day, and some tasks and errands will take longer than I anticipated. That’s okay.

The plan is a goal. Things change. Life happens. If I have more intention behind each day, I will have more to show for it.
Action plan: Chill out. Set a goal, but don’t feel like a failure if things don’t go as expected. Lots of the best stuff happens beyond the plan sheet.
7. Don't get crazy. Life will probably keep getting busier. Future me will look back at 2013 me and say, "Really, Nikki? That was too much for you to handle?" 
Wanna know the truth about all these plates I've got spinning? They're great plates. They're blessings. Jobs? Dreams? Trips? Family? My cup runneth over! It's important to keep that "stress" in perspective.
Action step: Stay motivated. Do what you need to do. But don't lose sight of the blessings amidst the busy-ness. Instead of being "stressed," be thankful. As Matthew 6:34 says:
Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.
Couldn't have said it better myself.
So here we go, friends. Lord-willing, this crazy week is going to pass whether we make a plan it or not. What will you do to make it count?

I’m interested in how you make the most of your time! In the comments below, please share: Which of these tips and action steps will you try? What are your secrets to effective time management?

If this post is helpful to you, share it with three friends who would benefit from it too. The more who join the discussion, the merrier!

P.S. My business is about helping bright entrepreneurs attract their dream clients, one brilliant message at a time. If you like my writing and want help with your own, sign up for free tips at www.nikkielledgebrown.com!

photo credit: H is for Home via photopin cc

February 18, 2013

Dreaming big. Who's with me?

When you're a freshman in college, it's inevitable that you will be asked the following question, in many different forms:

"What do you want to be when you grow up?"

One summer break after a weeknight church service, myself and several of my high school classmates were faced with the question. Seated in a circle of the finest quality folding chairs, we sat and listened as each person spilled his (or her) guts vocational goals.

"I want to be a teacher."

"I'd like to become a doctor and open my own practice one day."

"I'd like to travel the world!"

By the time my turn came around, I said the first thing that came to my mind:

"I want to be happy."

Cheesy, yes? (And would you expect anything less from yours truly?)

Seriously. That was my answer. It was true then, and it's true now.

I've never really had ONE dream job or career path, but several. At one point or another, in no particular order, I've wanted to be a news anchor, a TV host, a college professor (check), a mom (glorious check!), a counselor, a published (and worth reading!) author, a fundraiser, a professional speaker, and a professional organizer. (Really thought about that last one, then realized I should probably have all my own closets organized before I consider calling myself a professional.)

In some ways, I've done a little of each of these. But in many ways, I know there's more I'm called to do. I've been thinking about it, praying about it, and reading about it until I couldn't keep my eyeballs open any longer, and I've got a new, much, much bigger dream.

Here's the scoop.

Lessons from a Screensaver
When I first started Stories from a Screensaver almost exactly a year ago, the point was to share stories from our life out here in Aloha Land. We live too far away from most of you, and I wanted to keep you in the loop AND keep record of these precious moments and memories before they're flushed out of my brain forever.

The response was so much more than I expected! By just a few posts each month in the year since then, this little corner of the blogosphere has welcomed over 1,100 unique visitors and over 8,200 pageviews. Sure, half of those are probably from my mom, and a handful of visitors have accidentally arrived by googling "Park Ranger Barbie" - but still. I think this means we're onto something.

Pageviews and visitor counts aside, what means most to me is your encouragement. I have received so many sweet messages from you, letting me know that you enjoy reading what I write. It's insanely humbling. And I really think it means something. I take each one of your messages of encouragement to heart. To me, each is affirmation that I'm on the right path.  

Thank you for that!

The New Dream
So here's what's going on. I'm going to start a new website at my own domain. Not a mommy blog, not a total business blog, but a fusion of the two. I'm not ready to tell you what it will be called just yet, since it's not set up! But I think you'll love it.

The content will be very similar to what you've read here, but it will be less about me, and more about YOU!

I want to do what I can to use what I've got to help you, the reader. Since the biggest focus for me right now is my role as Mama, most of the focus will be on that. {NOTE: I know that you may not be a mom, and you may not want to be a mom just yet, or ever. I hope you keep reading too!} I will definitely keep telling our stories and using our experiences to provide context and keep my own flavor, but the goal of most posts will be bigger than that.

I want to make your life easier, more efficient, and more enjoyable. I may do that by sharing a list of must-haves for the hospital, or by sharing a fun video of my favorite tiny dancer. I may research an important topic to provide you with the key takeaways, or I may pose a provocative question to start a discussion worth having.

I want to build a community. I don't want to just spit out information and personal stories and leave it at that. I want to engage with you. I want to engage with your friends! A huge part of this dream is that you will share content that you think is worth sharing, encouraging others to do the same. That's the best way to grow. I want to create a community where we can learn from each other and laugh at ourselves, knowing that time we spend together in this space is worthwhile.

I want to provide tangible help. I've always wanted to write a book, and I've got some big ideas that just keep popping back into my brain. These are books I want to read, but they're not written yet. (So I better get busy, right?) This new website will be a great way for me to test out those ideas and see if you think they're worth pursuing. Your honest feedback throughout the whole process will be crucial!

Eventually I'm hoping to find a seamless way to incorporate everything I care about - not just toddler mom stuff, but pregnancy, military life, faith, career, writing, presentation tips, then of course one day he'll be a teenager, which will be a whole new mom level...

The possibilities are so endless, it's crazy. And so exciting. I just gotta stay focused and start.
Your Support Means Everything
As I mentioned, your support means everything. It really does. First, if a blog posts in a forest, and there's no one around to read it.... you get the idea. Without anyone to read what I write, this is a glorified diary. Second, I'm a pretty confident person, but I can't count how many times I've called myself a bit crazy over the past couple of weeks. 
  • Why would anyone want to read what I have to say?
  • It'll be boring. No one will care to share it.
  • Everything there is to say about [motherhood, communication, basket weaving] has already been said. Why do they need to (want to) hear it from me?
These are legit questions that I will wrestle with on a regular. Turning a dream into reality is scary, people. Exciting, but scary. I mean, I'm really about to put myself out there (and here I am, telling you about it)! There's no turning back now.

I'm trying to drown out the negative and focus on the positives. 

Thankfully, I hold onto those positives for rainy days! That way, when I'm feeling cynical, I can reread some of the amazing encouragement you've sent me over the past year, and I do. 

To me, these gems are like messages sent from angels, guiding me in the right direction:
  • "Btw, your blog is amazing! You are truly an incredible writer."
  • "I think you've got a great blog and the uplifting messages are wonderful to read...you could write something publishable that could be appealing to a large market...in turn helping many mothers out there."
  • "I love your blog. You have such a gift with writing, and I cannot say that emphatically enough. Seriously, keep writing." 
  • "I enjoy reading every blog you write. Please write a book." 
Seriously. Have I mentioned that your support means everything?

Preparing to Launch
Even though I feel like this is the right thing to do, I know it's not going to be easy. 

I know I will doubt myself along the way. Not all of the feedback I receive will be sent via butterflies traveling over the rainbow, and that's okay. 

When all is said and done, I want to use the gifts and talents God has given me to make life better for the people I get to "do life" with. If I can find a way to help support my family by doing that, well, I'd be livin' the dream.

I don't have an official launch date, since there are plenty of details to work out. I just wanted to write this to keep you in the loop. I'm putting a lot of thought into this new digital home of ours. I want to make sure the name is just right. I want to make sure the design and layout are just right. And I want to make sure the first few posts are just right. I genuinely believe this could be the start of something big, friends, so I want to give the best first impression possible!

What I'll do for now is continue to post here once a week while I'm working behind the scenes to get everything ready for launch in the new 'hood. I want it to be just right the first time you see it! 

Who's with me?
So that's the scoop. I feel like I just publicly committed to running a marathon (I didn't. Let's be clear on that.). Back when I was in college, I attended a career conference and inspirational speaker Patrick Combs gave each of us a dream bean. He encouraged us to find out what we were passionate about and pursue it. To work at it. Find time to "water" it each and every day. 

For all these years, I've held on to my dream bean, not knowing what form it would take. Now I think I know (and now you know too!). I hope you hold me accountable and don't let me stop working on making this dream a reality. 

Even better, use my public proclamation to inspire your OWN, and start working on the dream that's been tugging at YOU lately! This new business-building, dream-chasing adventure will be a lot more fun with good company.

Are you with me? 


 I'd really like to know what you think! In the comments section below, please tell me: Why have you been reading Stories from a Screensaver? What would you like to see more of? How can this new site help you and make your life better? What are the questions, issues, problems, dreams worth discussing over there?

If you want to provide more detailed feedback (which I would LOVE), please send me a Facebook message or reach out via Twitter (@nikkielledge).

Can't wait to read your comments!

Exciting update: It's decided! My business is about helping bright entrepreneurs attract their dream clients, one brilliant message at a time. If you like my writing and want help with your own, sign up for free tips at www.nikkielledgebrown.com!

candy heart photo credit: Nomadic Lass via photopin cc

February 11, 2013

Raising a Mama's Boy

When I found out we were having a boy, a slew of thoughts ran through my brain. I felt a surge of responsibility. I wasn't just having a baby. I was having a son. A son who would someday get married and have a family of his own. A husband, a father, a leader, a friend, a......mama's boy?

Let's think about this, people.

The Mama's Boy Myth 
What exactly does the term "mama's boy" mean, anyway?

It's usually thrown around with a universally negative connotation to describe men who are "excessively attached" to their moms. The term "Daddy's girl" is used as a sweet observation, but "Mama's boy" is more of an accusation. (Double standard? Methinks yes.)

As a proud boy mom, I'd like to challenge the notion that a close mother-son relationship is a bad thing, and I'm not alone.

I recently read a TIME article by Kate Stone Lombardi, author of "The Mama's Boy Myth." She starts by saying:

"For generations, mothers have gotten the same old message when it comes to raising sons: beware of keeping him “too close.” A mom who nurtures a deep emotional bond will prevent him from growing up to be a strong, independent man. By refusing to cut those apron strings, she is on track to create the archetypal, effeminate, maladjusted “mama’s boy.” There’s one problem with this theory: it’s just not true."

The Mother-Son Relationship
YES, when boys are young, they need their dads. But they need their mamas just as much. They need us to encourage them, to listen, and to ensure they know it's okay to talk about their thoughts and feelings. Their future loved ones will thank us for it.

Telling me slobbery secrets at six months old.
Truly, I view the "boy mom" role as a huge responsibility. I want to raise a young man who will grow up to be a great listener and honest communicator. (Sure, the fact that I have two degrees in Communication raises the stakes of this one.)

Don't get me wrong; it's also a priority for his super-handy daddy to teach him 101 ways to fix a car, how to squash bugs, catch (and release) geckos, and the like, but there's more to a boy than snakes and snails and puppy dog's tails.

I want him to be strong, independent, kind, and fun, and I'll do whatever I can to help him get there.

The Mother-in-Law-in-Training Survey
I want to be a good mother-in-law, not just a good mom.

It's a high probability that my son will get married in his late 20s or 30s. That means that for most of our relationship, he will be married, and I'll be a mother-in-law. I believe that his wife should be the #1 woman in his life (thanks for reminding us, Genesis 2:24), and I wouldn't dream of anything different!

Still, I hope our relationship continues to grow and change once he's grown. I don't want to be what I would call the "mom on the shelf." Go with me on this one:

She only shows up for the holidays, and instead of being real, everyone tiptoes around her on their best behavior. She doesn't change much from year-to-year - just looks a little older and brings back the same old memories. 
Not fun.
Not healthy.
Not authentic.

So. Because I'm slightly nerdy and yes, genuinely that curious, when I was still pregnant, I started dreaming up a mother-in-law-in-training (MiLiT) survey for three special groups:
  1. Moms who are happy with their relationships with their adult sons. I imagine they'll be happy because they talk to them enough, see them enough, and love each other for who they are now - not just who they were in the old days.
  2. Adult sons who are happy with their relationships with their moms. I imagine they'll be happy because they feel loved, supported, and encouraged, but not smothered by their moms. They'll be happy because their wives and moms get along well, and the kids love to visit grandma's house whenever they get the chance.
  3. Daughters- and mothers-in-law who enjoy their own relationship. I imagine they'll enjoy the relationship because they love and respect the man their mothers-in-law raised, and they genuinely enjoy their company. They'll be happy because they can trust their mothers-in-law with the kiddos, and appreciate the healthy boundaries they all respect.
I imagine once I start finding these magical unicorns (kidding...kind of), I will discover that as with all things, the key is balance.

[There's oh-so-much more to be said and explored on this topic, friends. I know you're thinking it.]

Call me, maybe?
So that's that.

Time is moving so quickly. Someday soon this little fella will be out of diapers and into preschool, then high school, and then I'll blink and he'll be bringing my future daughter-in-law to our home for Christmas. (WHAT?!)

I treasure this time for what it is. I value my front-row ticket to the early years. I relish the opportunity to be here for him every single day. I get to be here for just about every bump, bruise, boogie night, and bedtime routine that shapes him into who he's meant to be.

I'm not worried that I can be too close to him. I'm not worried he's too attached now, or that he ever could be. All-too-soon he will be out on his own, living the life he's meant to. Independently.

So for that reason and those that preceded it, I would now like to make a direct appeal to my son: 

You can call me "mother."
You can call me "mama."  
Please just call me on the weekends.

Great Resources for Boy Moms: An Ever-Growing list

What do you think about the mama's boy myth? What makes a mother-son relationship work for a lifetime? Share your favorite boy mom resources here in the comments!

P.S.  This post is not related to my business, which is about helping bright entrepreneurs attract their dream clients, one brilliant message at a time. HOWEV - if you like my writing and want help with your own, sign up for free tips at www.nikkielledgebrown.com!

chalk photo credit: pacres via photopin cc 
elf photo credit: Bernzilla via photopin cc

February 3, 2013

What to Pack for the Hospital: A Packing List for Labor, Delivery, & Beyond

Hey, you!

Yes, you!

The one with the uterus the size of a honeydew (which, according to The Bump would make you about 36 weeks pregnant or so...).

Have you packed your hospital bag yet?

If not, what are you waiting for, friend?

I'm a planner. I make lists. I realize that I can't control everything, but making lists helps me pretend I have at least a little bit of control. So I go with it.

I made the following list for the hospital just as I finished my first trimester of pregnancy. You may be thinking that's a little early. And yeah, it was. I did it anyway. I knew I wouldn't be packing a bag for the hospital for months, but I wanted to know I'd be prepared when delivery day came along (2.5 weeks sooner than anticipated - further incentive for you to pack today!).

Since I've taken the time to compile a list, and since several girlfriends have asked me to share that list at one time or another, I figured it would be great to share it. All moms-to-be need a helpful list to maximize the precious real estate of "the" hospital bag.

So here's what I've got.

We'll start with a top five list, compiled by responses from some of my favorite mommy friends. Whether you consider yourself high or low maintenance, whether you go in for a vaginal birth or cesarean delivery, these are the essential items for your hospital bag(s):
  1. Comfy outfit - nursing tanks or nightgowns with comfy shorts or sweats and...granny panties!
  2. Nursing pillow - Boppy or My Brest Friend (Highly recommend both!)
  3. Your own comforts - pillow and/or blanket, slippers, robe or sweater if it gets chilly
  4. Travel size toiletries - toothbrush, toothpaste, shower stuff, beauty essentials
  5. Camera - with batteries, charger, and plenty of memory!
If you pack nothing else, these will items will get you through.

If you're like me and want to feel a liiiittle more prepared, however, (you will be in and taking LOTS Of pictures for your family's historical records, after all) here's the comprehensive list.

Let's get to it.

I recommend two bags: one for labor and delivery time, and one that can be fetched from the car later for what will most likely be a one- to three-night stay at the hospital after your little bundle arrives.

Labor and Delivery Hospital Packing List

  • Birth plan copies (Confession: I never took mine out of the bag, but I knew my options and what to ask - whether delivery was vaginal or via c-section!)
  • Call list - top family and friends who should be called, texted first once baby arrives. (They don't want to find out with the rest of the world via Facebook. It's also a good idea to make your birth announcement policy clear before you go into labor. If you don't want anyone posting about baby before YOU do, now is the time to make that clear to the inner circle.)
  • Pillow
  • Tennis balls in a sock for back rub (Had a c-section. Didn't use. But sounded nice?)
  • Lip gloss (Yes, I did use that!)
  • Socks (hospital will have some for you)
Entertainment and Communication
  • iPod and/or iPad with carefully crafted playlists (Can't recommend this enough! Here's why.)
  • Battery-operated iPod speaker (like this one)
  • Candy bag/basket for nurses (Why not make it a party?)
  • Journal and pen (to keep track of notable milestones, memories for future reference)
  • Camera
  • Charged batteries, extra batteries, battery charger
  • Plenty of memory on each memory card!
  • DVD or two (a girl can dream...it could be a looooonnnng night/day)
  • Book
  • iPhones and chargers
  • Cash/change for vending
  • Jolly Ranchers - snacks for the support team
  • Deck of cards (More for your support team if you've got a long labor. If you somehow find yourself bored during this experience, REST.)
Post-Natal Hospital Packing List

  • Two nightgowns that allow for easy breastfeeding
  • One pair of throwaway granny panties (Do not bring any undies you're emotionally attached to.)
  • Nursing bra
  • Nursing Pads (Get ready to leak, friend.)
  • Shoes (flip-flops for the shower if you'd like) 
  • Comfy and cute maternity dress to wear home (I preferred breezy dresses since I had a c-section incision to deal with, but packed comfy sweats which worked great too.)
  • Your own towel (Again - don't bring your favorite, beautifully monogrammed wedding gift towel. This first shower is a doozie.)
  • Makeup
  • Travel size shampoo and conditioner
  • Other hair products (Hair ties or clips, headband, dry shampoo, mousse, whatever you'll need to look photo-ready if/when you care to look photo-ready!)
  • Hair dryer and/or flat iron
  • Toothbrush, toothpaste, floss (Now is NOT the time to get gingivitis, missy.)
  • Deodorant
  • Eye makeup remover + cotton balls
  • Moisturizer and SPF
For You and Dad
  • Snacks! (Unless you want to be at the mercy of hospital food...)
  • A power strip - the more outlets you have for your various chargers, the better!
  • See "Entertainment" section above if you can't sleep, otherwise any spare time should be spent sleeping. Trust.
For Baby
  • One carefully selected going home/photo outfit
  • Burp cloth
  • Socks
  • Blanket
  • Hat
*diapers and such are provided by the hospital - I'll get to a typical diaper bag list in another post!

Take Home Extras (Like a goodie bag from baby's actual day-of-birth party.)
  • Diapers
  • Potty pads (For lack of a better term - this is what you can lay under yourself to protect your sheets for a few more days. Glamorous, right?!)
  • Ice packs (Those who have pushed babies out of their hoo-hahs tell me these are a must.)
  • Lansinoh lanolin for sore niblets
And there you have it, Mama. You are officially out of excuses to procrastinate, so scoot your cutie booty over to your closet and start packing!

There are just a few items on this list that can't be packed in advance. The rest is just ready and waiting to be toted along for the most amazing day of your life.

What do you think, moms? Did I miss anything? Which of these items were the most critical to making your time in the hospital more enjoyable?

P.S.  This post is not related to my business, which is about helping bright entrepreneurs attract their dream clients, one brilliant message at a time. HOWEV - if you like my writing and want help with your own, sign up for free tips at www.nikkielledgebrown.com!