12 Dec

3 Cures for Overwhelm in December and Beyond

It’s that time of year! So let me get right to the point to minimize the odds of making it worse . . .

3 cures for overwhelm, and not just for now, but throughout the year.

Challenge: pick one idea from this list to try out for the rest of the month. Unless that feels overwhelming. In which case, just drop it ( ;

ONE:   Get your To Do’s out of your head and onto paper (either actual or electronic) If you already do this, skip to #2.

David Allen, author of Getting Things Done notes that it takes a lot of energy to hold your To Do’s in your head. You not only worry about how and when you will do them, but you also worry about not forgetting that you have to do them. Getting them out of your head and into a trusted tool or system reduces overwhelm and frees up headspace that you can then direct toward creative and productive action.

Two tools that serve well for this purpose are:

  • A Master Project List (per David Allen)
  • A Daily/Weekly To Do List + Calendar (per Christine Carter, and me)

The Master Project list is a place to write down all the projects – both professional and personal — you have going on now or want to make happen in the future. A project is any activity that requires more than one action to get done.

(“Call the plumber,” is not a project because it is just one action, assuming you already have a plumber and their phone number handy. “Fix dishwasher” would be a project if you need to first find a plumber, or will do it yourself – more than one action must happen for it to get done.)

Whenever you think of projects coming up, you capture them in your Master Project List. Here is an example of some of the projects on my list, in two of my major categories:

Class Offerings

  • Marketing plan for Spring classes
  • Outline and handout for Feb parenting class
  • Habitot Children’s Museum speaking event
  • New posters for parenting class

Family and Friends

  • Xmas gifts
  • Kids TimeFrames pictures
  • Birthday party for Mer

I like Trello.com for my project list. Other client favorites are Wunderlist, OmniPro, or a spreadsheet or Word document.

The daily or weekly To Do list is simpler and focused on actions you will take that day or week.  Every day, take a few minutes to write your short-term To Do’s onto a list or add them directly into your calendar, allocating enough time for that activity.

I prefer the physical act of writing things down so here’s what my list looks like today. to-do-list I’ve also blocked time in my calendar for two of the activities that will take more time.

This process takes about 5 minutes of thinking and dramatically reduces that feeling of overwhelm. Even if you discover that it’s not possible to do everything on your list, you now know it and can make conscious choices about what to drop, delegate, defer, or dumb-down.


TWO:   Do Less by implementing the 4 D’s: Drop, Delegate, Defer, or Dumb-It-Down

Part of the reason we feel overwhelm is because we really do have too much on our plates. So please, just take some off.

Christine Carter, author of The Sweet Spot, recommends you start by highlighting items on your (now created) to do list or project list that you dread doing. Then decide what you can defer – it doesn’t really have to happen this week, this month, or even this year. Maybe your daughter can take that art class next trimester, when soccer is over.

What can you delegate? As for me, making daily dinner was a source of dread. So, I delegated it. Most nights I pay someone else to cook for me. Best money I ever spent (and not as much as you might think!) If you are like most parents, there are probably many tasks your children could be doing (laundry, making lunch, wrapping gifts, addressing holiday cards, etc.)

Now, what can you just drop? I’m looking at my project list now and noticing items I’ve had on there for years. Just deleted two items. Wow, that felt good! I also decided (for now anyway), that I’m not doing holiday cards. I bet most people won’t even notice.

This last one is for you if you tend toward perfectionism. Dumb-It-Down simply means do it less well. Not everything on your list needs to be done well. Some things are worth doing good enough. What are those things?

I invite you to consciously decide what you will get a C on. Or even C minus. I dare you. Today it’s the gluten-free dessert I’m to bring to a dinner party. It will also be labor-free because I just bought it. Now I have time to write this blog!

THREE:   Block time in your calendar every week to tackle your To Do list

Crossing things off your list works wonders in relieving overwhelm! Obviously. However, it’s amazing how often we fail to allocate appropriate time for the To Do’s.

So to start, please pull out your calendar and block off chunks of time to just get things done. Think of this time as “committed” time – the same way you would think about a meeting with another person.

One of my clients has blocked off what she calls, “Focus Time” every Monday and Wednesday from 9 – 12. I’ve blocked off my entire Monday and most of Friday for “Planning and Preparation” – no meetings except for a weekly check-in with my assistant and the occasional 30-minute coaching discovery session.

You could also block off time in your calendar for specific To Do’s. If one of your “To Do’s” is to “plan menu for holiday dinner,” block off a specific day and time for this activity.

If the task you’ve blocked time for still feels overwhelming, David Allen recommends you break the task down into the smallest next action required to make progress — not to complete it — but to push the ball forward just a little.

The next little action for “write blog” might be to simply open up a Word document and jot down ideas. That’s it! Then often that little action leads you to the next little action, and before you know it, you’re (I’m) done.

Finally, I invite you to write, “enjoy the people I love” on your To Do list. That one feels especially good to get done, and when you make that your priority, there simply is not enough time to sweat the small stuff. And, as they say, it’s all small stuff.

What helps you reduce overwhelm?  I’d love to hear your comments below!

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27 Oct

Sugar Buzz or Sugar Bust — What To Do With Too Much Halloween Candy?

We face the same problem with Halloween candy every year.  I don’t know why it continues to surprise me . . .

Last year I was mortified by the two pillowcases full of candy that my tween brought home on Halloween eve.  And this was after the sugar-filled school parties earlier that same day.halloween-candy


I immediately began to panic . . . how could my children actually want that much candy?  Do they have an eating disorder?  Have I deprived my children of too much sugar, fueling their desperate craving for anything sweet?  Will they ever be able to moderate their sweet intake by themselves?  How have I failed as a mother?  And what about the dental bills?

All of this and more swirled through my head and I reacted the way I often do when I feel out of control . . . I grabbed for the very control I lacked.

“You CANNOT eat all of that candy.  No Way!  Give me that right now.”

I reached out for the pillowcases but (surprise, surprise) they did not land lovingly in my hands.

Instead, my daughter said, “I worked hard for this loot!  You can’t take it from me!”

And as a result, the old familiar power struggle ensued.

So this year, I’m going to get ahead of the pillowcases.

By making agreements.

Agreements are such a powerful Positive Discipline parenting tool.  They help us get in front of the problem moments, so that those moments are fewer and farther between, and pass with far less drama.

Here’s my plan:

  1. During a calm time (this is very important), I’ll invite my children to help make a plan about Trick-or-Treating.
  2. I’ll ask them to share their feelings about Halloween candy.  “I noticed that last year we had some conflict about the candy.  I’d love to hear your thoughts about what you’d like to do this year with your candy.”
  3. Then I will shut my mouth and listen to their thoughts, feelings, and perspective.  I’ll validate their feelings, “I hear you.  You don’t get a lot of candy and it is a once-a-year opportunity!”
  4. Then I’ll (succinctly) share my feelings:  “My concern is that too much candy is unhealthy.  How can we find a win/win this year?”
  5. Then we will brainstorm solutions — every idea, no matter how ridiculous, will get written down.
  6. Then we will select a solution we can all agree on.  I’ll let them cross out ideas they can’t live with.  Then I’ll cross out the ideas I can’t live with.  I’ll ask them to vote on the ideas that remain.

Before they head out in their League of Legends and Bat Cat costumes, I’ll ask them, “Hey guys, what was our agreement for trick or treating?”  When they play it back to me I’ll say, “Thanks for remembering.  I trust you to follow through later.”

I’ll let you know how it goes!

Making agreements in this way does so much more than just get in front of the problem.  It also teaches children how to solve problems:  how to listen, take another person’s perspective, empathize, brainstorm, compromise, and follow through.  Those are skills that will come in handy well beyond this holiday.

What are your ideas for managing the abundant sugar this Halloween?  I’d love to hear them!  Leave your comments below.

18 Sep

Bye-Bye to Morning, Bedtime, and Homework Battles with this One Simple Tool

From toddlers to teens, the most effective tool to help start the school year right is . . .

Routines. There you go, I gave you the answer right away, and I hope you will continue reading to learn just how powerful they can be and why . . .

Over the summer, my 9YO daughter began having trouble falling asleep.  “I just can’t sleep!!” she whined (and she really meant it.)  After several weeks of trying to talk her out of her insomnia, I decided a new bedtime routine was in order.

We brainstormed the steps, and decided to include a short foot massage in the routine.  We also brought back lullabies which we hadn’t sung in years.  We wrote it down with colorful markers and I’ll be darned if that new routine didn’t do the trick.

Why are routines, and more specifically routine charts the most important back-to-school parenting tool?

Many reasons!

First, when practiced regularly, routines become automatic.  We no longer have to expend energy thinking about what to do and when, we already know.  Then we can use that energy for other purposes like tying shoes, giving hugs, or telling a joke.

Second, routines help children feel a sense of safety and predictability by not just clarifying what’s expected, but also giving advance notice for what’s coming next.  When the brain doesn’t know what’s around the corner, it stays on high alert and in a defensive mode.  When it does know what to expect, it can remain calm, receptive, and cooperative.

Third, routine charts provide a visual reminder of what’s coming and thus help shift responsibility from parent to child.  Visual reminders (a chart, a picture, a list) can provide a literal picture of success that your child (not just you) can see.  So rather than bark commands across the room, you can simply point to what’s next on the chart, or ask, “What’s next on your routine chart?” and let your child take it from there.  Now you’re not the boss, the routine is!  See below for some examples.

Fourth, if your child has helped to create the routine, then they are the boss, too, and that’s self-discipline (whew, a lot of italic emphasis there.)  We all want our children, by the time they are adults, to be able to stay on track, move through tasks, and experience the satisfaction of a job completed without being watched, forced, or bribed, am I right?  Most adults need external reminders to keep themselves focused (to do lists, calendars, alarms, post-it notes, etc.)  Children do, too.

How to involve your child in creating the routine chart?
– ask them to help you brainstorm all the steps needed (to get out the door in the morning, to get homework done, to get ready for bed, for example)
– ask them to help you decide the order of events
– get their help in drawing or coloring pictures for each step
– ask them to pose for a picture of each step
– get their help in picking out clip art pictures for each step
– ask them to write or type it up themselves

Aren’t routine charts just for little kids?
No. All three of my children have routine charts for various parts of the day and they are 9, 13, and 16. Many of my executive coaching clients have routine charts (or lists) too!

What if you’ve used a routine chart in the past, but it just doesn’t work any more?
Routine charts get stale after a while and need to be refreshed. Or, your child’s needs may change.  In general, re-visit routine charts every 6-12 months, or when they seem to have lost their punch.

Not just any routine will do.  There are a few characteristics that will make your child’s routines doubly (if not quadruply) effective.  In summary, here they are:

1.  Make it visual.

2.  Get your child involved in creating the routine itself or chart. Co-creation = co-ownership => better follow through.

3.  Use it.  Refer to the chart by pointing to what’s next, asking your child what’s next, or gently taking them by the hand and leading them to the chart.

4.  If it’s not working, re-visit it.  Involve your child in making changes so that it works for everyone.

Scroll down for some more actual examples.

If you have a routine chart you’d be willing to share, please send me a picture!  I’m always on the lookout for great examples.

Routines and routine charts are one of many tools we will learn and practice in the interactive, on-line class starting March 1, Peaceful Parents, Cooperative Kids:  shift from conflict and chaos to cooperation and calm in 8 weeks. 

>>Get more info on the interactive, on-line class here<<

Morning-Chart-BetteFetter.comRoutine Chart from Lisa










morning routine for 6th grader