Sunday, 21 August 2016

Moved!

I recently moved this blog over to a new platform! Please update your bookmarks accordingly :)

Go to:
      www.royalmusings.com

and check out the new posts.

Join the fun!

Friday, 12 August 2016

Planning to plan.

So.. if it isn't obvious by now, I am a single mom of 5 children. I cook their meals, wash their clothes, bathe them, play with them, read stories, kiss owies and do bedtime. I also make sure they have clean dishes, a clean bathroom (or 2!), an organized playroom, and generally tidy house to live and work in. I homeschool said children, teaching (in 2016) from preschool to Grade 7. I also work from home, as a business researcher and virtual assistant.

Obviously I do a lot of planning.

I plan daily, weekly, monthly, seasonally, and yearly.

It sometimes feels like I do more planning than living, but the planning is the key to my living, and still keeping my sanity. I know I talk a lot about planning and organizing and schedules and routines, but that's because I honestly believe that no one who wants to do everything they need to do and not be overwhelmed with it all can do anything without a plan.

Planning is the first step to doing anything. But how do you plan when you're in the middle of actually trying to live and work and keep house and eat and still have time to sleep?  Children have the most annoying habit of needing you right when you need most to concentrate. Planning around kids takes .. a plan.

It seems counter-intuitive to plan to plan. I get that. Preparing to plan actually doesn't take that much work, but just a little bit of forethought, and the right tools.

For me, the planning starts with my yearly plan. Once a year, I take 2-3 days to lay out a foundation for the planning of the rest of my year. Right now, this coincides with the week or so that my children spend with their father over the Christmas holidays. But when I was still married, and in the middle of having babies, I still took the time to plan, if loosely, a year in advance. It took me a bit more time (usually a week, instead of 2-3 days), and it did require some help from family (usually my mom), but it still happened.

This kind of planning happens best when you can have someone else watch the kids. That's why I usually do it over the holidays. I actually find it restful, because I'm away from my daily routines, without the sink full of dishes, crumbs on the floor and kids yelling in my ear, even though I'm still working.  I use a vision planner (I like the one from Kimberlee at ThePeacefulMom.com) to help guide my thinking, but sometimes just a notepad and pen, and some quiet time to think, is all that is needed, along with a year-long calendar, so that you have an idea of dates.

What do I plan for my year? I plan out a vision. Or rather, I refresh the vision I already have. Did you know you can have a vision for your family? Most likely, you already do, even though you may not have verbalized it. I have articulated and specified what my vision is for my family, and I refresh myself and my vision with review every year. (This is best done with your partner, if you have one, by the way.) Then I plan out our holidays. For me, this is also our homeschool calendar, so if you have children in school, be sure to include that in your plans. Last, I plan out any major changes I know in advances, like having a baby, or moving, or work changes.

The planning continues seasonally. Every 3-4 months, I look ahead to the next season and update our calendars. Usually I'm at my parents, where my children are occupied, but that doesn't always happen. Sometimes I have them at home, and it ends up being a few days of movies, playdates, or indoor playground time. I arrange something to occupy them for at least 2-3 hour blocks, so that I can have the uninterrupted time to plan. This planning happens in my PlannerPad, where I look at the monthly calendars over the next few months.

So what gets planned here? This is where I plan our extracurricular activities - swim lessons, baseball, dance class or martial arts. I think ahead about what family activities we want to do, such as barbecues to invite the neighbours to, birthday parties, beach trips or sledding days, field trips and festivals, concerts and movies. I plug these into my monthly calendars, and compare to my budget for those months. This way, there are no budget surprises or missed events, and I know ahead of time whether or not we can say yes to that impromptu visit to the zoo. And I make sure that everything fits in with my vision for our family. That makes it easy to say no, even when it's "good". Good doesn't mean best fit.

Monthly, I take a Sunday afternoon, usually on the last weekend of the month (or maybe the first), to look ahead. I make notes about doctor's appointments, the planned fun things and opportunities, and how that fits in with visitations and social needs. I check our church's calendar, and our homeschool group's calendar. I look for days that I need to shop on (for special things like back-to-school or birthdays) and I plan out my budget for the month. It works for Sunday afternoons, because we have a regular quiet time every Sunday afternoon, where I insist that everyone sleeps (even the 12 year old!) If you have a partner, this is a great time to reconnect and make sure you're both on the same page with what you want to do as a family.

Weekly, I have a quick glance over everything on Monday morning/Sunday evening. I check for my cleaning routine and adjust for the days we might be out. I write out the top goals for my blog, work, school and personal development that I want to do that week. I jot down the reminders for the ongoing projects I might have going on. And I meal plan, taking into account days we're out versus days we stay home. Again, if you have a partner, this is a perfect opportunity to check in on priorities and plan the logistics of living together while raising a family.

Daily, as part of my morning routine, I look over the day, and the next day. My PlannerPad is usually left open to the week at hand, or bookmarked at that spot. I hand out chores to my kids, pull out meat or prep for meals, and make sure I'm ready to go out, if that's what's on our plan. I jot down reminders to call for appointments or upcoming classes, webinars or work deadlines. My children will often ask questions and I take advantage of the teaching moments, including them in the details of what's happening that day. If you have a partner, leaving out a daily plan or having shared calendars will help keep everything running smoothly, and even make it easy to work as a team, instead of running into each other or forgetting things.

You see that by the time I get down to my daily plan, it's more a case of following the plan than actually planning. I've already done all the hard work before. Planning is a priority, so our daily routines are adjusted to allow for the time to plan. All you need is a system to calendar, a notepad to jot down reminders and goals, and a little bit of regular time to do the work. Start with a year, and work your way down. Even if you don't get to plan every day, just having a month in advance or even a season will help you stay more on top of the things you want to do, and less about being overwhelmed and frustrated.

Having a plan will get things done.

Wednesday, 10 August 2016

Diagnosis and Disability

I was so excited when I finally got the call setting up the appointments with the child psychologist. It was a huge relief and yet I was nervous. It was relieving, because finally, finally, it felt like we were getting somewhere. I was nervous, though, because.. what if it was something serious? What if it wasn't?? What if it was something I had done or not done, even though I thought I had done everything I could? What if.. it was all my fault? 

In May, we went for the first of two appointments. This one was an observation/interview appointment. The doctor, and his student intern (I don't mind students -- I let the local universities use my children for their studies frequently.) sat and watched my daughter play, while they asked me questions about her history and the testing and therapy we had done up to this point. I tried to be detailed, but without bias. I have and had my personal opinions on what my daughter's challenges were, but I did want the psychologist to give her his complete attention. I didn't want to "lead" him in any direction. After all, he was the expert on child development, not me. 

The second appointment was a couple of weeks later, and took all afternoon. They asked my daughter to do several tasks, and answer questions, and solve problems. Some were timed, some were not. The intern did the actual testing, while the psychologist observed from a different room. He was observing both my daughter and his student, so I'm sure he had a lot to pay attention to.  My baby girl squirmed and rocked her way through the tests, reaching for my hand and her security toy frequently, but without melt down. I was so proud of her trying so hard, and doing so much work that was really challenging for her. 

Then came the wait. 

We waited over a month before we heard from them again. It was anxiety-inducing and agonizing. But finally, they called us back. They had some questions about the testing they had done, and wanted to do some more testing. But to save us a trip (it was an hour one-way just to get to the centre where all the specialists were), they offered to do the testing in the morning, and give us feedback on everything that same afternoon. It 

I arranged childcare for the day for my other children, and off we went. First, we did the testing. It was more of the same like before, only this time it was more academic in nature. I found it eye-opening for my future education plans for my daughter, so in that sense, it was really helpful for me personally. 

Then came the afternoon appointment. The psychologist pulled out a chart with a hundred little stick figures on it, arranged in a bell curve of sorts, divided by lines. The bulk of the figures were in between the lines marked 25 and 75. The doctor explained that this was a representation of typical abilities. If we compared 100 children aged 8, the majority would fall in that bulk in the middle. Those who had advanced abilities would be on the far end of the curve, and be considered gifted. Those who were delayed were on the other end. 

Then he pointed to the lowest end of the curve. Figures 2-4. This was, he said, where my daughter's development was. If we compared her to 100 other children her age, 96-98 of them would be ahead of her. Only one or two would be behind her, or the same as her.  

The testing showed that she had difficulties with short term memory access and processing information. She also had challenges understanding language. (No, really??) Her comprehension of language was so low, it was actually not even on their charts. He said to compare, we'd have to compare to 1000 children, not 100. 

Because of all of this, he said he was diagnosing her with an intellectual disability.  It was mild, yes, because she was still on the charts, even if only in the 2nd percentile, but it was a definite disability. 

Mild intellectual disability.  I had to let that sink in a bit. 

An intellectual disability means that this was how she was born. It explained a lot, but it also meant a lot of adjustment of how I thought of her.. of her future. An intellectual disability isn't a learning disability. You don't change your IQ.  If it was a learning disability, we could teach her coping strategies, give her tools, use different ways of teaching, and she would "catch up", once we identified those. But an intellectual disability meant .. no catching up. 

Having an intellectual disability means forever being vulnerable. There's a reason we call it a disability. It doesn't mean that she can't learn.. it just means that there will forever be a gap between her and her peers. It doesn't mean that we stop teaching her, but it does mean that there needs to be a greater priority on practical things as opposed to academic things. It's not that there's a ceiling on what she's capable of, but more.. a time limit. There's only so much time until she's supposed to be independent, and she learns only so fast. But that's the same with all children. This one just takes a little more time than what's typical. 

Intellectual disability changes everything, but it changes nothing. It changes how I do things, but not how I feel about my daughter. It changes my expectations, but not my standards. It changes how I will prepare for her future, but it doesn't change the fact that she will have a future. 

Because God still has a plan for her. 

Monday, 8 August 2016

Asking the right questions

They say its not what you know, it's who, that determines your success. Whether in building a career, starting a business, applying to school, or even your chances of meeting a life partner, you can have all the factual information in the world, but none of that matters when you don't have the right connection.  But what if you don't know anything at all?

Your success at anything is based on what you know you need to learn. If you can ask the right questions, you can solve any problem, overcome any obstacle, and fix any issue. We can do anything with the right tools, facts or connection.

It doesn't matter what your personal standard of success is, or even what area of your life you're looking to achieve success in, it all starts with asking the right questions. There are 5 specific questions to ask to solve any problem.

First, ask why. 

Why does this problem exist? Why do I need to solve it? (Related: do *I* need to solve it? Or can someone else solve it? Is this my problem to solve?) Why does it matter if this problem gets solved or not?

Asking why helps narrow down a purpose. Sometimes, we take on problems that aren't ours to fix. Sometimes we're making a problem out of something that isn't actually a problem. Sometimes it's a problem that will eventually resolve itself, whether or not we do anything. Ask why it matters.

Second, ask what.

What exactly is the problem? What are my options? What are the consequences to those options?

You need to define the issue. Be specific. No problem can be solved without all the information about it, at least not effectively.  Sometimes if you address a problem without considering the consequences, you create more problems than you solve. Ask what, and get clear on the details.

Third, ask how. 

How quickly does this need to be fixed? How should this problem be solved? How will we know when it's fixed? How can we get through this?  How do we do this?

"How" questions are the natural result of definition. This is brainstorming in its simplest, purest form. Our brains generate tons of ideas in answer to the "what" and "how" questions, which then lead to the 4th question:

Ask when. 

What do we do first? Second? When do we need to start? or finish?

Asking when helps organize all the ideas and options and possible solutions. This is the beginning of a plan to solve your problem and move you towards success. Even if you don't write anything down (and I highly recommend writing down your ideas), you'll start to make sense of what you want, and the feeling of being overwhelmed will begin to turn into passion and anticipation.

Finally, ask where. 

Where do we begin?  When you ask where, you're asking for the actual steps of your plan. In GTD-speak, (David Allen's book "Getting Things Done", a method for time management and organization) you're looking for the "next action". If you can identify the next immediate thing you can do, you can actually do something that will actively move you forward towards your definition of success.

All the tips, tools or right connections in the world can't help if you don't know what you're looking for. Asking the right questions is where you always need to start, no matter if you're deciding who to date, where to live or how to start a business. But when you have the right questions, the answers are easy to find, and no obstacle then can stop you from doing exactly what you want to do. When you ask the right questions, success is easy.

Thursday, 4 August 2016

Habit forming and Change-making

artur84 @ freedigitalphotos.net
Recently I've had 6 different women ask me how and when I knew enough was enough. How did I make the decision, the big scary changes, in my life? They were specific about my choice to leave my marriage, but this applies to any big, drastic decision.








You decide to make a change when
  • the pain of the status quo outweighs the fear of the unknown. 
  • the terror of staying is bigger than the agony of leaving. 
  • the frustration of life as it is now is more intolerable than the irritations and uncertainties of starting over. 
You decide to change when changing is easier than staying the same.

In terms of my marriage, I realized that it would be easier to be a single mom of 5, in terms of physical, mental and emotional health, in terms of productivity and parenting, in terms of financial and spiritual peace   -- it was going to be easier to do it all myself than try to do anything with my then-spouse.  Parenting would be easier. Making meals would be easier. Doing housework would be easier.  Even financially, I would be better off.  (I was right, by the way. It has been easier.)

In terms of life, I've made several changes over the last year or so.

I've changed how I view relationships and dating. (He has to be incredible to be worth my time.)
I've changed how I view money and budgeting. (God always provides what I need, and I will have enough.)
I've figured out a direction for my life .. well sort of. I'm still working on that one.

I've made smaller changes too. I've changed habits, things like remembering to take my vitamins, and putting on lotion, drinking water and planning meals.  I've created routines for my family, that I tweak and adjust, but the core routine is pretty solid. All these changes have made my life easier.

That's probably the key to making a change. You change when it makes life easier. You see this in nature too, right? Water always takes the easiest path downhill. We human beings are naturally lazy, procrastinating people. We all can claim to be type A personalities, but be honest here: would you really rather clean up your kitchen than watch the latest episode of whatever on TV?  (If you do, can we talk? Please?)

Habits, they say, take 21 days to form, and 90 days to make automatic.  For me, habits start with a realization of how my life could be easier. Those 21 days are a continual reminder of how to make my life easier. Then 90 days of simply practicing and relaxing into the easier life I've decided on firm up the new habit.

Change isn't actually painful. Contrary to popular belief, the pain associated with change isn't coming from the change itself. It's coming from the impulse and need to change.

One of the biggest life decisions, outside of deciding to keep my baby at 19, and deciding to end my marriage, was deciding to start a business. Every day, I'm faced with decisions that are definitive and scary and the whole process has been nerve-wracking. But every day, I think -- I'm willing to deal with this because the alternative .. not having this business, not succeeding, not working from home .. and the consequences, such as giving up homeschooling in order to work a job, or the scary future without income options ... is intolerable and unthinkable. I can't not do this.

A metaphor for any major life decision is childbirth. There are stages of childbirth -- early labor, active labor, transition and delivery. The most painful point, physically and emotionally, is transition. Up to that point, you've done all the work -- researched the options, thought about do I, don't I, weighed the pros and cons, figured out what you should do, but you haven't actually made the decision -- just like a woman's body has done all the work of dilation and getting baby into position. But transition is when everything is ready, and it's time to do the real hard work of pushing through. The pain in intense, there's fear and panic, but there's no going back either. Change, like the baby coming, is the natural result of all the work. The pain of pushing through the delivery isn't as intense as transition.

Feeling overwhelmed is a natural part of change. Feeling scared and panicky and unsure -- it's all normal and natural. A former mentor of mind often said, "When you want to make a change, you actually have to make a change."  You'll change when you can't stand the way things are one minute longer.



Monday, 1 August 2016

What does it take to be an entrepreneur?

Entrepreneurs are a rare breed. We have certain skills and traits that create the kind of crazy person driven to work for ourselves. Owning a business isn't for the faint-hearted. It requires dedication, passion and a certain sadomasochism. After all, when you're the boss, there is no such thing as time off! And we love it!

There are specific characteristics that are common to all entrepreneurs. How much these traits describe us will determine just how successful we can be, though effort can make up for a lot of shortcomings. Developing these mindsets further is what helps create a good entrepreneur.
  1. A good entrepreneur is able to delay gratification.
    This one seems kind of obvious on the surface but its true. To start a business requires a lot of sacrifice, and you don't always see the results right away. But to the entrepreneur, the timing of the reward isn't the concern. We aren't worried about being recognized or compensated right away.  We aren't intimidated and we don't feel entitled to anything. We're in this for the long haul, and a lack of immediate success isn't going to stop us.
  2. A good entrepreneur can tolerate conflict.
    Whenever you start something new, there is inevitably conflict. Whether its with your schedule or the people around you, there will be some contradictory demands made on you. The successful entrepreneur is unafraid of conflict. We don't seek it out and we don't cause conflict. But we don't take attacks personally, and we maintain composure in the face of stress. We never attack personally either, but deal with the issues at hand.
  3. A good entrepreneur can focus.
    It can be hard to start a business, among all the many other things we do in our busy lives. But the difference between the dreamer and the entrepreneur is this: focus. The entrepreneur doesn't let the distractions of life and work deter them from turning the dream into a reality. He keeps his eye on the end goal and focuses on the plan, doing those things necessary to bring success.
  4. A good entrepreneur is judiciously courageous.
    The mark of a successful, creative thinker is the ability to ask the embarrassingly simple questions. We challenge the current status quo and ask why a lot. Sometimes this gets us into trouble, which is why we also need to know the proper timing for such questioning, and to use some common sense. It takes courage to ask the questions, but also takes discernment to know when and where to ask them. And sometimes it takes a little common sense to see the answer before you ask.
  5. A good entrepreneur can control their ego.
    Sometimes when we start new things, we make mistakes.  Being willing to admit to them is what will create the atmosphere of respect and openness that every new business needs to succeed.  We need to acknowledge the contributions of others and be willing to accommodate them. We also need to recognize our own contributions without fanfare. An ego trip is bad for business.
  6. A good entrepreneur is never satisfied.
    Business Insider recently ran an article quoting AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson, who stated that those who don't spend time learning new things will find themselves obsolete. If this is true for those working for big corporations, its even more true for the entrepreneur. We need to be always learning, always looking to improve, always looking for the opportunity to gain a contact or relationship or new skill. We're never satisfied with the current state of affairs.
  7. A good entrepreneur solves problems.
    Rather than complain or criticize, we work for the greater good. A successful small-business owner doesn't sweat the small stuff, but handles each detail as it comes up. No issue is too small, since we know that its in the seemingly trivial things that can make or break us. We don't tolerate waste, whether its in operations, in capital or in our time. We look for the solutions.
  8. A good entrepreneur is accountable.
    The words "it's not my job" are not in our vocabulary. We own our work, and we own our mistakes. We may not have a boss to report to, but we are accountable to a mentor, a coach, our life partner, or friends.. and we are most definitely accountable to clients. If you can't be accountable, you will not be a success.
  9. A good entrepreneur is marketable.
    As much as a good product or service is essential to business, so is the person behind the product. To be a success, the entrepreneur must sell themselves as much as they sell their business. You have to be likeable and have a certain amount of charm and ease around people. We create a sense of trustworthiness and integrity with how well we represent ourselves to others.  It's the leadership skills - true servant leadership - that will ultimately make a client decide whether or not they work with us.
Everyone dreams of being the boss. But it's those with the key traits of an entrepreneur that turn their dreams into reality. While not everyone is good at everything, we can develop these traits, and as we do, we will find that our hard work turns into the success we're looking for.