My birthday month review

August is my birthday month and so I thought I’d share just some of my thoughts.

A reminder that I happen to use this review format around my birthday. You can do the same or if it doesn’t matter to you, then pic a random date and do an annual review, like now.

The end of the year is not a good time for me because kids are doing exams, then schools are closing, Christmas, holidays, etc. I do my annual review in November but I like the time around my birthday to do a more personal review.

Here’s the free printable birthday review PDF I made for us to use.

I didn’t want to use the same questions here, and I saw Jessica Honegger (founder of Noonday) talk about this method, so let’s try a start, stop, keep. list.

Start

  • Monthly one-on-one dates with the kids. These were going so well for 11 years and then… Covid. I need to bring these back again before it becomes even more difficult.
  • Dates with Dion. We left the kids alone for an hour and 10 minutes the other day and… nothing happened. It’s a start to the old life πŸ™‚

Stop

Working so hard and work smarter. I’ve already started putting a few new things into practice like being very good with daily focussed time

Keep

Reading – I’m reading at least 10 books a month on a consistent basis and have found a really good rhythm of audio, physical and ebooks that works well for me

Friends – I connect with one friend a week, on average, and I have one book club a month for fiction, and another book club every 6 – 8 weeks for non-fiction

Exercise – Zumba and Barre classes are going well. And due to Covid restrictions, if I miss out on a live class, I now know I have the option of an online workout. E.g. the other weekend the wind was howling outside (atypical Jhb weather) and we all slept through so I missed my Zumba class, but then I did an online workout.

Holidays – we tried one new place in this crazy year and it was a delight for my senses, especially during autumn, the most beautiful season πŸ™‚

Play – remembering my word of the year and saying yes to different things to keep it front of mind.

Some other birthday review posts:

My annual review in 2016

My annual birthday review in 2018

I made a birthday list in 2020

Do you do a birthday review?

What do you want to start, stop and keep in this next journey around the sun?

My absolute favourite pens – gel pens

Let’s get it out of the way – I like the look of pencils but I don’t ever use them. I went through a stage, maybe 10 years ago, where I bought some coloured pencil lead – pink and blue – which gave me some joy, but certainly not as much joy as my absolute favourite pens – gel pens!

I have three favourite gel pens and they all have three things in common:

  1. They’re point 0.7 mm
  2. They’re colourful (no black and boring blue; I do like a nice navy though)
  3. They all have retractable points

I started out with Pilot G2 0.7 – hunter green, sky blue, dark red, metallic colours, they’re all so good

then Pentel brought out such amazing colours in their energel brand – purple, pink, orange in addition to the green (I’ve been using them for 7 years)

and then my friend, Suzy, sent me a full set of Papermate Inkjoy Gel pens in the most delicious colours. At the time we couldn’t get them in South Africa. Now we can get them, but they’re R53 per pen! (see the pics in this post for the Papermate pens)

Which are your favourite pens? Or pencils, if that’s more your thing?

My favourite work notebooks

I’m fussy about my stationery but even I’m surprised at how specific I like my various items of work stationery to be! These are called campus notebooks by Typo and I pay R69,99 each or R100 for two (they have them on special a couple of times a year). They’re spiral-bound, a little wider than A5, have 4 sections (more on these sections later) and have lined paper.

They are my favourite notebooks which I use in the following way:

  1. I keep about 4 pages free in the beginning of the notebook for a few lists: lists of my clients, lists of new business I’m working on and any other lists I might need (sizes of meeting rooms are current favourites because I book enormous meeting rooms during these times, current work projects, and so on)
  2. I then make a daily eat the frog list, and my ta-da list and goals for the week at the end of each week. It’s my whole end-of-work week routine.
  3. I start each day with a daily list, make meeting notes and actions, both in preparation for the meetings I run and when I’m a participant. One day can use up anything from 3 – 8 pages, depending on the types of meetings.
  4. These notebooks used to last 6 months each but during these pandemic times where we work mostly from home and have far more meetings than ever before, they’re stretching to 3 months if I’m lucky. (I just checked my current notebook – I started it on 18 May and looks like I’ll start another one on 18 August).
  5. I completely ignore the partitions. I know some people like to use one section for clients, one for team meetings, one for something else and one for to-do lists. That’s not how my brain works – my brain works strictly in chronological order. E.g. “when was that client meeting? oh, 4 August.” I then flip to 4 August and find my notes. So I (horror of horrors) just cut out those partitions and I keep just one for a few post-it notes.

And now for the enormous disclaimer…

There is absolutely nothing special about this notebook or any other notebook.

The best notebook is the one that works for you!

Confession – you don’t even need a fancy notebook. An A5 exercise book that school kids use will do.

I would say you need a system to keep up with your work actions, a place to hold the thoughts in your mind, a place to plan the important and not urgent matters (quadrant B items) and a place to reflect back and refer to notes.

If you have that, great!

If not, perhaps try my system – who knows? It might just work for you too. If not, keep the bits that work and start tweaking the other parts.

Which is your favourite notebooks to use for work?

PS Whenever I post something like this, people always say, “why should you use pretty stationery for work?” To that I say, I spend 50+ hours a week on work; I definitely want to use that time and make my environment and tools ones that spark extreme joy for me πŸ™‚

How to have healthy sleep

It’s no secret that I love my sleep.

I both enjoy sleep and I sleep well. Some of it is personality, I think, but I do think I have some very good sleep habits too.

Whenever I put up my sleep stats on Instagram, I always get so many direct messages from people who say things like, “oh that must be nice” and “how do you sleep so much?”.

Well, I sleep a lot because I’ve realised that when I’m tired I won’t be as productive as I will be when I’m rested. Because when I’m up after a good night’s sleep, I’m a machine πŸ™‚

Sleep also has many other benefits like being good for your mental health, stress relief, immune system, heart, good for managing weight. In addition, and this is a big benefit, it’s good for your memory, and helps you focus and concentrate. I also heard Lisa Genova on a podcast say that deep sleep helps clear out brain waste which prevents Alzheimer’s.

Here are a few of my tips:

  1. Set a sleep goal. My goal is 7 hours 30 every night. I upgraded my Fitbit recently and while my Fitbit now gives me a sleep score, my sleep score is always better when I sleep more than 7h30.
  2. Sleep when you’re tired. Realise that when you’re tired, the very best thing you can do no matter how much work there is still to get done, is to actually sleep.
  3. Move your body. I sleep my best sleep on the days I have a good workout. It’s boring to say this but our mothers were onto something when they told us to go outside and play.
  4. Stop caffeine at lunch. This is not a problem for me, but I know many people who do not have good sleep habits when they have coffee after lunch. Dr Rangan Chatterjee, in his book, The 4 Pillar Plan, talks about how, at bedtime, about 25% of caffeine is still in our system. If you don’t sleep well, stop your coffee at 12 and see if it makes a difference.
  5. Avoid your phone before bed. Everyone gives me a hard time about this one but hey, if you want to sleep better, avoid your phone for a good 1 – 2 hours before bed. You can charge your phone at an outlet across the room. I charge mine next to my bed but it’s on the floor, face down, almost slipped under the bed. I also don’t look at Whatsapp after my phone goes dark (shortly after my work day ends). There is a downside to it but I’d rather have a few more messages in the morning than have restless or disrupted sleep.
  • How is your sleep on a scale of 1 – 10?
  • Do you have good sleep hygiene?
  • Do you spend time on your phone before bed?

If you want to work on these tips, all you have to do is start working on one at a time, track your sleep, and see how it is affected.

How to do a quick and effective half-year review

It might be that I’m such a big fan of reflecting and reviewing precisely because it doesn’t come naturally to me.

I recognise the process as valuable though which is why I take the time to do a half-year review every year.

Your review is only a 20 – 30 minute process but it will make you feel that you closed off the first half of the year and can focus afresh on the 6 months ahead.

What do you need?

  1. 20 – 30 minutes
  2. A drink of your choice – hot or cold
  3. Notebook/ bullet journal
  4. Pen

You could type into a computer or your phone but I recommend doing it with a pen and paper so that your brain slows down enough to process as you think through the questions.

Here are some questions to ask yourself. Use all, or just use the first 5 questions:

  1. What went well, and why?
  2. What could be better? How?
  3. What have you learned about yourself?
  4. What energised you? How can you bring more of this into your life?
  5. If you chose a word of the year, has it been guiding/ inspiring/ clarifying for you? How are you living out your word of the year? Do you need to change your word? Here’s your permission slip if you want to do that.
  6. Looking at your goals, have you made good progress and are you on track?
  7. Are there any goals you need to let go of? Let them go and be kind to yourself.
  8. Do you know why those goals were no longer motivating you?
  9. Looking forward… what are the 3 main things you want to focus on for the next 3 – 6 months?
  10. Do you have the necessary support? I would love to help you.

Reset and refresh sessions

  • I will send you a prep pack once I receive your payment which you work though and return to me 48 hours before your session so I can spend some time beforehand preparing.
  • We meet on Skype or Zoom, whichever option you prefer.
  • We will discuss what you want to keep in your life going forward and more importantly, what you want to let go of.
  • We might set new goals and develop action plans, or tweak existing goals to suit where you are right now.
  • My goal is that you leave the session encouraged, inspired and that you have clarity on the way forward.
  • The sessions are 60 minutes long and your investment in yourself is $75/ R1000 (previous clients get a discount!)
  • I encourage you to book another session in 6 months, but only if you think it will be helpful.
Contact me now to schedule your session. I work with clients all over the world so we will find a time that will work for your time zone.

Meal tip Monday – let’s talk hosting styles

I know that a lot of people just don’t ever have people over because they think they have to be a good cook or baker.

Wrong – you don’t.

I think it’s more important to know what your hosting style is and embrace it.

this friend loves the hosting but buys all the food

If you’re only comfortable buying food, then embrace it. I have hosted people by cooking and by not cooking. Recently I hosted book club and I really intended to cook and bake (from scratch!) but I was SO BUSY with work I knew I just couldn’t add anymore stress to my life.

So I bought crustry bread, a rotisserie chicken, salad and an apple pie which we had with custard. It was delicious and not at all stressful.

I’ve also hosted book club at someone else’s house who had a bigger garden (for physically distancing purposes) and ordered pizzas to be delivered to my friend’s house. I also ordered online shopping of dessert, salad and drinks and that was that. No stress.

this friend loves to bake, and baked both the Swiss roll and shortbread

If I really want to see people socially but we’re not very good friends yet, I invite people for tea and cake. I usually serve tea/ coffee and muffins, or I buy a pie from my local grocer. At Christmastime, casual gatherings are tea and Christmas fruit mince pies. So easy but still says, “I value your company and friendship and want to see you.”

However, if you like to cook and bake, then you embrace that too. Use the fact that you’re hosting to try a new recipe you’ve wanted, or invite people over as the impetus to try something new, kind of like inviting people over to spur you onto clean the house πŸ™‚

By the way, if you don’t like to have people in your house, invite people over to a park. This is not my style because I don’t like the sun or the outdoors, but I know many who consider this method their favourite type of hosting.

What is your hosting style?

In South Africa, at the time of writing this post, only about half a million people are fully vaccinated. We are still meant to be meeting only outside, in well-ventilated spaces with physical distancing in place.

Meal tip Monday – how to plan for busy nights

Are you enjoying this focussed series? I didn’t want to announce it as such in case it brought up my inner rebel (!) but really, that’s what it is.

If you’ve missed the previous posts, here you go:

cook a double batch

know your style

Let’s talk about planning for busy nights. This might seem obvious but sometimes, and I know this is true for me, I’m planning the menu for the week without looking at my calendar. In South Africa, we have plenty of loadshedding at the moment. These tips work well for those nights too.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Check your calendar!
  2. Write in the nature of the busyness on your actual menu plan. For example, “late meeting/ 7pm Zumba/ school meeting, etc.”
  3. Think through if you have any freezer meals that will work and defrost them early.
  4. Alternatively, buy a rotisserie chicken on the weekend, heat it quickly and serve with rolls or crusty bread, and a salad. Chicken has the advantage of being good whether eaten hot or cold.
  • My Zumba nights are our standard “busy nights” on the menu as I arrive home at about 7:30.
  • For these nights I plan a “make your own ________ ” night. Burrito bowls work well because everyone helps themselves and the toppings can be prepared and set out beforehand.
  • Alternatively, I pop a complete meal in the oven and my family retrieves it via a timer and serves themselves. Any baked pasta or enchiladas is a good idea.

Which are your favourite tips for busy nights?

Meal tip Monday – Know yourself

One of the secrets to menu planning and meal success is to know yourself. But not only to know yourself, to accept yourself.

Let me give you a few examples:

  1. you might be a cook who likes leisurely weekend cooking sessions but hate the haste of weeknight cooking, or the opposite
  2. you might like the fact that you have to get a meal prepped and put on the table within 30 minutes because the torture is then done
  3. you might be a batch cook once a month and a heater-upper of food
  4. you might be an excellent assembler of random food (do you remember Cher in Mermaids?!)
  5. you might be an excellent orderer of food, or picker-up of convenience meals at the grocery store on the way home

Why is this important?

You know what works, you accept that this is who you are, and you remove decision fatigue thinking through options all the time.

I’ve shared before on the blog that my mother-in-law lives alone and hates cooking (although she’s good at it!) so she cooks four-portion meals for 5 nights every month, eats one and freezes the other three.

These meals change according to the seasons (soups and casseroles feature more in winter) but this system works really well for her.

She doesn’t concern herself with what other people are doing, or that others (like me) would be bored eating the same meal every Tuesday for a month. It works and that’s it.

I am a combination of a Saturday afternoon/ Monday evening leisure batch cook but I also like the competitiveness of getting a meal on the table in 30 minutes or less. I love variety (more on this later) so I like a combination of mixing up some freezer meals with one or two freshly cooked meals too.

The great thing is I know I’m never ever going to like cooking complicated meals so if I glance over a recipe, see that it’s complicated, I can swipe through with wild abandon. No, not for me.

What is your meal planning style? Have you accepted it yet?

I’m actually going through slight boredom with my meals at the moment. Any quick and easy winter meals that you recommend? I would love to hear because I’m tired of chilli con carne, curries and bolognaise. And if you have some tried and tested, easy chicken recipes, I would love those too.

Meal tip Monday – cook a double batch

While I enjoy cooking, I don’t like panicked cooking when my family is hungry and waiting and I have to produce a meal – and quickly.

I therefore strongly believe in cooking a double batch whenever I can.

It takes just a little bit longer than cooking a single batch of your meal – you already have the chopping board out for your vegetables so you might as well chop just a bit more onion or carrots. Instead of adding one can of tomatoes, add two, and so on. Double up on the meat portion.

The magic happens after the meal is cooked though. You have enough for tonight (or tomorrow, as I do it) and another meal for next week!

Which meals translate well to cooking a double batch?

  1. Baked pastas (surprisingly!) but the trick is to not leave it to thaw out on your counter the whole day unless you like soggy pasta. Defrost fast in the microwave and bake it in the oven.
  2. Curries
  3. Chilli con carne
  4. Bolognaise sauce
  5. Enchiladas

Do you cook double batches of meals? If you haven’t tried yet, this is your nudge to do so this month.

PS My mother-in-law has taken this up a notch. She lives alone and cooks 4-portion meals during one week a month. The next three weeks of the month she just pulls out what she feels like eating to defrost it. So clever!

Weekly planning – should you or shouldn’t you?

I started off with the question in the title because we are all different.

I can definitely say that weekly planning helps me in my life, but I recognise that we all prefer to do things in different ways.

If you’re very happy with your current non-weekly planning process, I’m delighted! However, if you feel like things could work a bit better here and there, then, as I always tell my coaching clients, test it and see. At the most, you’ve had two weeks that were more structured and a learning that the exact way you did it wasn’t optimal for you. But who knows? The opposite is also true – you might love something and never stop doing it (menu planning for me the last 15 years).

If you do decide you want to play with weekly planning, here are some ideas you can try planning:

  • meals (supper, or all meals) for 5 or 7 days – put down some ideas and pick from your list every day
  • exercise days – my gym requires that we book our classes to avoid capacity issues
  • connection time with family and friends
  • personal goals – like reading a book or working on your photos
  • house goals – organising your clothes
  • work/ side hustle projects

Please note all of these are just ideas – the thought of doing all of that might overwhelm you. Don’t let it. Pick what you want and leave the rest.

I know that Laura Vanderkam recommends one goal in three areas every week: work, personal, and relationships.

If you don’t like those three categories, choose your own πŸ˜‰

Who’s ready to try weekly planning? Which categories are important to you?

Other posts on weekly planning:

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