What causes someone to set a goal and actually make it happen?

The pain of staying the same becomes greater than the pain of change.

Woosh!

When I think back to the turning points in my life, that truth is clear as day:

When I struggled with anorexia and depression in college.

When my marriage was falling apart.

When I took the leap of faith to start Southern Weddings ten years ago.

In our season of having two babies in 6 months.

When I was facing fear in starting to homeschool Grace.

When I let go of my role as Editor-in-Chief of Southern Weddings this year.

At the start of this year when I wanted to read the Bible again.

You guys, my list is long.

In all of those things, there was first a moment of brutal clarity: Something needs to change!

Then, there was a moment of faith–believing in what I couldn’t yet see: If I were to take a leap of faith and step into this change, good things could come. But… I won’t know until I leap!

Many times, it was sharing my frustration where I was that sparked change and helped me see a different way forward. When I let someone else in, or let my true thoughts hit the paper, something magical happened: accountability.

Accountability means to count someone responsible, trustworthy, or true.

When you are accountable, it means you will follow through and do what you set out to do.

When someone holds you accountable, it means that person loves you enough to help you walk the walk. When you hold someone accountable it doesn’t make you their judge, but rather their loving advocate. You commit to helping them be their best. It means seeing the good in another person and being willing to cultivate it alongside them–which can be hard work at times! But, what a joy and a gift that is for another.

We each have unique gifts to use–good tools with which to grow good things. If our “irons” aren’t sharp, or they sit in a toolshed doing nothing at all, then nothing gets cultivated. Accountability helps us to bring our gifts out into the open and use them well: “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17 ESV).

A life of accountability is a life of humility. It’s hard to let people in and share our weaknesses, isn’t it? But, it’s so rewarding!

I’ve built accountability into my life in several ways this year, both through tools I’ve used and through relationships:

  • I’ve blogged my PowerSheets goals here for you each month, sharing my progress and challenges openly. Writing my goals down and tracking my progress keeps me accountable, but sharing it adds another level of commitment.
  • I joined a group of fellow CEO’s where we are accountable each month to the goals we set each time we meet. We even have a system where we pay $10 for every to-do we don’t complete! We pool that money together and donate it when a need arises.
  • And, among many other things, this post was inspired by the fact that I’m going through an Advent study with two sisters from church this month. It’s super simple. We do it each day and text each other our thoughts. This is the reason I have stuck with it consistently!

If you’re still not convinced, consider the alternative to a life accountable. Here’s what a lack of accountability can look like (and I have experienced each of these things before!):

  • We go through the motions in life without purpose or clarity on where we’re going. If we don’t share our goals with anyone, we don’t have to do anything about them. We can just stay the same, going in circles, lacking direction. “You’ve got to be very careful if you don’t know where you are going because you might not get there.” – Yogi Berra
  • We miss opportunities to love others and grow good things. When we lack accountability, we are more likely to waste time. We are more likely to shrink back.
  • We crave connection with others. When we lack accountability, we can often miss out on meaningful connection with others. We begin to feel distrust for others and for ourselves. “Anyone holding themselves accountable to nobody ought not to be trusted by anybody.” – Thomas Paine
  • We don’t make progress. Nothing measured, nothing managed. “Accountability breeds response-ability.” – Stephen Covey
  • We hide our passions. This is a dangerous trap. You were created for a purpose and the world needs your gifts and talents, my friend. If no one knows about your goals, it can be pretty easy to let them fall to the wayside. Out of sight out of mind, right?
  • Our lives can become complicated and distracted. Accountability simplifies life and makes us more productive in the right things. Accountability helps to cut out the time and energy you spend on distractions.

Here are some ideas on how to be accountable, either by using a great tool or through relationships:

  • Write your goals down. Research shows that, as opposed to typing something on a device, writing your thoughts and goals down in your own (messy!) handwriting changes our brains. Hand-writing things flips a switch in our brain that begins solving problems and making decisions, making us more accountable for our actions.
  • Be the invitation. Start a 2018 PowerSheets Group in your area! Host a PowerSheets party using our free Groups Guide. These groups have been so successful for women all over the world. And most of the time, the group members didn’t know each other well when they started. That changes quickly when you start talking about what matters together! 🙂
  • Get a buddy. If you are a PowerSheets user, join our private Facebook group (Search “PowerSheets Group!”). There are tons of friends waiting for someone to say, “Does anyone need an accountability partner?”
  • Do goals with your team.
  • Have your PowerSheets Tending List out in front of you where you will see it most often.
  • Use your phone screensaver to your advantage and make it inspiring words, a photo of your Tending List, or a reminder to love others through accountability.
  • This is one of the most effective things you can do: write your goal action steps in your planner and on your wall calendar. There’s is power in repetition. It takes humans at least 7 times to hear something and remember it. Use the power of repetition and write your goals in more places than you think are necessary, making you more accountable to choose to act on those goals. You will be shocked at how well this works to steer your actions when you are tempted to distractions.

To help you stay accountable in 2018, I am so excited to share an AMAZING GIVEAWAY with you! The two women who created these products have held me accountable in many ways over the years and I’ve been blessed by their products! (I am so excited for the pair who wins this!) We’re giving away not one, but TWO of each of the following for you and your “bestie” (or sister, co-worker, mom, neighbor, or classmate!):

Enter below, and feel free to share this giveaway with friends!

Winner will be selected at random and announced here on December 18.

Your turn! I’d love to hear: what are ways you have stayed accountable in your goals and in living your best life?

I’d love to hear your tips too!

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Maybe your thoughts have been similar to mine as December has begun: What does the year ahead hold? Have you caught yourself feeling doubtful, afraid, or unsure about 2018 already? Maybe you’ve felt a little overwhelmed about it, like you’ve failed before even starting.

My friend Lindsay said something last week about doing things for the good of her January self.

I really like that.

That’s what cultivating is all about: a little intentional forethought goes a long way!

Let’s do a little imagining together to kick the 2018 overwhelm to the curb, shall we?

Envision your January 2018 self.
How do you want to feel?
Where do you want your head and heart to be?

Dear All of Our January Selves,

We’re comin’ for ya!
We’re making intentional decisions for you now!
We’re thinking big picture to uncover some really good goals for you. Goals that make your heart sing. Goals that are about growing what matters. They might be challenging and hard work at times, but they will be WORTH IT!
Little by little, we’re taking steps forward for you.

January selves, you are gonna be great!

The year ahead may not be perfect, but it sure will be meaningful.

We’ve got you.
We love you.
We’re on it!

Love,

Our December 2017 Selves 😘

Starting Monday, I’m digging in for the good of my 2018 self (and everyone else!) as we kick off our annual PowerSheets Prep Week. I hope you will join me! We have a full week of goal inspiring tips, motivating prompts, and a free class on Thursday all about getting started with your PowerSheets (register here for free). I can’t wait to start my 2018 PowerSheets with you on Monday! If you haven’t ordered yet, you can still join us for the fun next week. We’re doing all the teaching early so you can do your PowerSheets prep anytime that’s best for you in December!

Here’s a look back at the progress I made on my November Goals and how I’m preparing for 2018:

We bought this 60-year-old piano on CraigsList a couple weeks ago, and the kids love it so much. It needs a tuning and some TLC, but it reminds me that things in life don’t need to be perfect to be meaningful!

November Monthly Goals:

– Prioritize with diligence. If everything is a priority, nothing is. I want to surrender the things that might be good, but might not be His priorities for me in this season–or at all. Read more about this in my November Goals post. // Yes! I learned a lot about prioritizing and seeking Him first in November. I am so grateful. It was hard and it was good. And part of this learning came in the form of an answered prayer today! Emily and I spent the morning creating a prayerful vision for the next 10 years in our company and I gained clarity on where I plan to let go of the vine. Prioritizing doesn’t mean doing more; it means doing the right things and surrendering the rest.
Cultivate my calendar.– I feel the urgency to do this task now! Grace’s 6th birthday and Thanksgiving are ahead. // Yes, I did this in the clutch! Yesterday I went to do my December PowerSheets and realized that, even though it was the last day of the month, there was still time to make some progress on my November goals! I spent 25 minutes doing the steps we outlined in our class (watch the class for free here) and it was SO HELPFUL. I now have preparation days on the calendar for every month in 2018 and I know what holidays and celebrations to prioritize. A little intentional forethought goes a long way!

Our annual church family group Thanksgiving was made extra special with my mom in town!

– #GetAfterGrateful project. – My project? Writing 30 Ebenezers–30 specific remembrances of God’s faithfulness in our family (see Chapter 10 of Cultivate). // Yes, I also did this in the clutch and I’m so glad I did! I used the notes app on my phone and voice dictation to capture 30 things that God has done in our lives and it helped me prioritize. With each one I added, I saw more and more clearly His goodness and ways I can let go and trust Him! So so so helpful!
– Write my (7th annual!) 2018 Goal Setting Series with fresh eyes. – This is the most popular series here on the blog each year, and my hope is that this month prepares me to write it with fresh eyes and rooted faith. Mark your planners for December 20th, the first day of the series! // We walked through each post as a team but I am waiting till next week–PowerSheets Prep Week–to start my own 2018 goals! This goal will continue in December.
– Be a light-filled mom from resting in you, Lord. – My PostIt Prayers will help with this one. // Yes, November brought a new calm and gentleness as I practiced this–and everyone was happier as a result! I resolved to stay calm in the face of chaos, to pray more in the middle of the mess, and to not get one more thing done in favor of just being with the kids.
– Less house, more home. – We had several major home repairs made in October: replaced a cracked and moldy shower (black mold all through the insulation in our bathroom), kitchen repairs and updates, walls that were cracked from our foundation settling, leaky sinks, broken doors (our front door wouldn’t close!)–so many things needed fixing and updating. Let me tell you though, once you start fixing things, your eyes start noticing more things to fix. I want my eyes fixed elsewhere, knowing I can’t take this house to Heaven with me! While there are still many things to put back together after our repairs, my focus is on cultivating our life-giving home. Less working on the house; more nurturing the souls in it. // Piggy-backing on the goal above, this was also good. I let go of the house organizing in favor of time with the people who live here. I did, however, buy some new pillows on Cyber Monday for our bedroom in colors that Ari loves.

We celebrated 10 years of Southern Weddings this month–what a joy to reflect on all the Lord has done in this decade!

November Weekly Goals:

– Homeschool with diligence–careful and persistent work and effort. // I don’t think I succeeded in diligence, but rather gentleness. Rather than having a perfect plan and checking things off a list, I focused on cultivating her heart this month and it has been so good. We still learned a lot and did our handwriting and math, etc., but we also read a lot of books together and let our imaginations grow!
– Continue reading and implementing Traction. // YES! We completed 80% of the Traction Vision Traction Organizer today and will finish it with the team next week. This book is the best! See that little girl helping my mom bake? She turned 6 in November! I have a SIX-YEAR-OLD!!!

November Daily Goals:

– Raw prayer. // Yes, there was lots of this. Several challenging experiences in November allowed me to pour my heart out to Him in prayer, and for that I’m grateful.
– Continue reading my chronological Bible reading plan for my Number 1 goal.// Yes, and I’m SO EXCITED that it’s December! I can’t believe I’m going to finish the Bible again soon! The little by little has added up and I’m excited to celebrate at the end!
– #RunLiftPraise // I haven’t been super consistent in doing weights, so I’m making myself a sticker chart : ) I’m going to let the kids give me a sticker each time I do it in December! What for? I don’t need a prize. I just think I need to be reminded and this will help–they will love giving me stickers!
– Eat green + clean. // Yes, I am grateful for consistency here (with some chips and salsa + cookies mixed in!). I have made a lot of chicken soup, hard boiled eggs, salad, and my mom cooked for us for a week which was amazing!

And now onto December!

December Monthly Goals:

– Give LIGHT in the (7th annual!) 2018 Goal Setting Series. I hope to give truth and light to many through this year’s series! Mark your planners for December 20th, the first day of the series here on the blog.

– Pray through Advent with my friends and sisters, Kristy and Ruth, using the All Good Things Co devotional. We’re texting every day about what we learn and I’m so excited about it!
— Pray out our VTO. (So grateful to have already made progress today!)
— Serve with clarity at our End-of-Year Team Summit next week. I can’t wait for all of us to be together to celebrate this year and do our PowerSheets for 2018!
— Celebrate the holidays in the true meaning of the season.
— Give on my birthday. I have this dream of spending myself on my birthday for the good of others in gratitude for His grace these last 38 years!
— Celebrate Ari in his 40th birthday. I hope to encourage his faith on this special birthday. I have some surprises up my sleeve : )
— Give sacrificially. Ari and I want to give like the selfless widow.

Emily and I spent this first morning of December here dreaming and praying about the future!

December Weekly Goals:
– Cultivate Grace’s heart in homeschool. This is such a great example of how goals grow and change! Last month, I started with a focus on diligence and it grew into something different as I listened and learned. Cultivating her heart means doing a lot of praying and listening.
– Continue reading and implementing Traction.

December Daily Goals:
– Pray it out.
– Continue reading my chronological Bible reading plan for my Number 1 goal.
– #RunLiftPraise with my new sticker chart from the kids!
– Eat green. I’m comin’ for ya, January Self! 😊

Your turn! Do you have goals for December? What are you cultivating in this new month? I’ll pick one of you to send a special surprise box of goodies to from the Cultivate What Matters shop. I love sending real mail, and I love hearing your thoughts!

Congrats to November’s winner, Samantha Stith!

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Have you seen the extra tag on all those items you are considering purchasing this year?

You may not have seen or noticed this tag before, but it’s there:

The Time Tag.

Everything we buy costs not only dollars but time.

The Time Tag illuminates how much time it will take to care for, manage, or get the most out of that item. And, with what I call cultivated purchases, how much time you will potentially get back!

Everything has a time tag.

Think about it.

That new sweater you have your eye on today?

It will cost you time in caring for it, giving it a place to live, and washing it to make it last.

The inspirational book you’ve been wanting to dig into?

It will take a few hours to read, but potentially another hour to implement what you learned to really get the most out of it.

People often talk about “investing” dollars into new purchases that they hope will have a return. But, what you may not have considered before is the investment of our time in those things to get the very most out of them.

I’ve kept a running list Of the things I have invested my money and my time into this year (both personally and in business) that paid off. Here’s my list with some notes on how I invested my time!

10 things I invested in personally that paid off:

1. Date nights. Ari and I wanted to have more date nights in 2017 than we had in 2016. (Our odds of succeeding were good with only 1 date night in 2016!) I mentioned this in a blog post last year and my friend Joselyn texted me immediately after seeing the post. Knowing all we had experienced in 2016, she insisted she babysit as her gift to us. This was a gift of time, and that first date night helped us see how important it is for our family for us to have Time to talk without multitasking for three kids. It spurred us on to invest our dollars and schedules into getting more of that time together. We now have a handful of babysitters we call for date nights that have helped us make this a priority. The double blessing is being able to bless friends and college students in our church with babysitting money too. And our dates are never fancy! We go somewhere inexpensive, and we usually end up going grocery shopping together that same night. It’s a joy to hold hands through the produce section and just be together.

2. Fitbit Charge 2. This is one of the best things we invested in as a family. It took a big commitment to change how we use our time throughout each day: either sedentarily or active. Both Ari and I have been significantly more active because of the FitBit’s hourly reminders to move. We have more than doubled our activity during the day (!!), and we feel more energetic. This has helped me take action on one of my PowerSheets goals: Worship the Lord as I strengthen the body He gave me so I can love others with joy and enthusiasm. The benefits I received from using my FitBits also helped start the fitness initiative for our team (see my standing desks and desk stepper here). I gifted everyone on the team a fitness tracker and together we studied how our activity relates to our productivity and overall job satisfaction. This has been huge for all of us! (Fitbits are on sale today for Black Friday!)

3.  Kids dental flossers. You might giggle at this, but stay with me here! Every time I went to the dentist, I felt the guilt creep up. No, I haven’t been flossing. Again. I know I know, Doc. I’ll try harder! This was such a simple change, but getting these flossers for the kids (no mess with wrapping the regular floss around my fingers and the kids pulling it allllll out of the container) ended up motivating me to make this a daily habit. And you get LOT of flossers (300!) for just $12. Why was this important to me and how did this make the list?? Because everyone in my family has had dental woes. Root canals. Gum grafting. You name it. I’m hoping to avoid all of that with a $12 yearly investment of money and a couple minutes a day! And the first time I went into the dentist after starting my new flossing habit, I felt so good confidently saying, “Yes! I floss and I love it!” 🙂

4.  PowerSheets – Without clarity on where to use my time well, I would surely waste it away in distractions! More than any other year, investing time in my PowerSheets (a mere 20 minutes to an hour a month!) was the number one thing that gave me my time back and helped me invest it in the right things. My PowerSheets have helped me prioritize, stay focused and not waste my time and life on distractions. We’re all so grateful for how the PowerSheets have helped us and you that we couldn’t help but DANCE! My friends, it is with great joy and many laughs that I officially unveil our very first music video!

The Cultivate Team Just Wants to Dance from Lara Casey on Vimeo.

5.  Yearly prayer journal. Filled with my monthly prayers, church notes, and things I’m grateful for, investing time in this journal has helped me cultivate more focused prayer. I bring it to church every Sunday and love looking back at all God has done this year! Studies have proven the power of writing things down in our own messy handwriting: it helps them sink into your brain and you start to change your behavior based on what you wrote. Much like writing down my goals each month in my PowerSheets, I have felt the effect of pen-to-paper heart and head change in using this prayer journal.

6.  The Echo, also known as “Alexa” in our house. This was a larger purchase for us (we bought it a year ago for $179 and they are significantly less today for Black Friday), but it has paid off in surprising ways. Ari’s dad is a composer and I spent most of my life in music and theatre. We use our Echo literally every day, specifically in the mornings, mostly to listen to music.

And we see it shaping our kids.

Music is the movement of sound to reach the soul for the education of its virtue. – Plato

Sarah, in particular, has been changed by the presence of music in our home. She is sensory-seeking and comes alive when there’s a beat or a melody. Her eyes light up and her body can’t help but move with joy!

This is most certainly a luxury and not a necessity, but having the ability to use this device hands-free has been one of the biggest benefits. I don’t have to have a phone in my hand. And I usually have one or two kids in my hands, so before this playing music didn’t happen as often!

We have family dance parties to worship music, play Italian favorites for pizza night, turn on composers we are studying in homeschool while the kids play, and, aside from music, I make full use of the shopping list and other features like listening to the Bible and Audible books while I cook or clean the kitchen. Grace loves asking Alexa to tell us jokes, too! There’s more time investment I hope to make here in the new year as I teach the kids different music styles and about music and culture. This excites me!

7.  The garden and my plants. We spend a lot of time out in the garden as a family, tending to the tomatoes, picking flowers, and getting our hands dirty. It’s not just a refreshing place for me to be tech-free and get some fresh air, but it has become the place where our kids’ imaginations grow and flourish. We added some fairy garden items to the garden this year and Grace’s imagination ran wild! Josh has loved picking tomatoes to snack on and Sarah can’t get enough of watching the butterflies and bees. The lessons we learn in the garden are endless and our time there is never wasted! Follow @GraciesGarden and get a copy of my new book, Cultivate, for more from the garden.

8. Amber-colored lightbulbs for better sleep. When my hormones started ch-ch-ch-changing this year (I’ll be 38 on December 27th!), my sleep quality began to suffer. I set out to do whatever I could naturally to help my body rest: lavender oil, no screen exposure at night, etc. But the thing that helped the most was changing our bedside lightbulbs to amber-colored bulbs. Fluorescent lights, laptops, and cellphone screens contain a high level of blue light that disrupts melatonin production and throws off our natural circadian rhythms—keeping us awake when we should be sleeping. Many sleep specialists suggest that this widespread exposure to blue light, long after the sun has set, is a major contributor to the modern epidemic of insomnia. However, the amber-spectrum light emitted by firelight and candlelight demonstrates no negative effect on melatonin production.SomniLight. I am sleeping much more soundly now, and noticed a marked difference on the few nights I had to be on my phone later than usual or look at a blue screen!

9. Changing how I dress and the way I think about it. I have been thinking about how to write about this for an entire year! I have wrestled with the tension of how clothes are an earthly thing, and how God certainly doesn’t need us to dress well to live intentionally. But, something happened this year with me and clothing that did help me live more intentionally. For my birthday last December, Ari gifted me a consultation with our close friend, Joslyn (yes, the same friend who gifted is a night of babysitting early this year!), who is a personal stylist. Let me tell you that nothing about this would have excited me (I have never been into clothes or fashion!) if it weren’t for the fact that this was with Joslyn and I know her heart. She has been a gift in our lives in many ways, specifically through our adoption process and after we brought Sarah home. She is one of the most faithful, selfless, God-led women I know. Before I did this consultation with her, I feared that personal styling was all about external looks… until she came over to my house.

God used Josyln to teach me how to live my everyday life with a new integrity–matching my outside to my inside. My outside before was like a protective covering, clinging to the past and to who I falsely believed I was. I was afraid to be myself. Afraid to show my curls. Afraid to move forward and step into the new person God had molded me to be after all of the change we went through in 2016. It was a year of heart change, as I wrote about in Cultivate.

Through the process of letting go of clothes that I didn’t need and kept me hiding in that protective shell, I experienced a shift.

There’s really so much more to write here, but I’ll keep it simple and tell you the practical stuff. We took everything out of my closet and Kondo’d it–examining how each item made me feel, how it practically helped me serve others, and why I was holding onto it. I had spent the previous few years not buying much new clothing at all thanks to the Contentment Challenge, but I still ended up giving away 2/3 of my clothes that day with Joslyn. It felt so good. Fewer choices. All things I felt content in. I felt free.

Joslyn helped me choose a few new staples from budget-friendly stores like Old Navy (50% off today), J Crew Factory (50-60% off today) and Target (most of which we got 40% off when the early spring sales started). She also showed me how to mix and match clothes for work, and she encouraged me to step it up–take some risks and wear things that make me feel like I’m ready for anything.

At our Fall Team Summit, in reflecting on the year so far, Emily said to me, “Your outside matches your inside and it’s really inspiring.” I’m so grateful. I feel like I am more respectful of my team and I’ve been able to step into more corporate settings with confidence. And it didn’t cost an arm and a leg–just a perspective shift, a lot of things given away to clear the clutter that was holding me back.

There you have it. I blogged about clothes! (And it will likely never happen again! Ha!) I still don’t love fashion, but I do love feeling content right where I am and having less choices to make each morning.

10. The YouVersion Bible app. This is where I invested the most consistent time this year as part of my number one goal (much in part to the PowerSheets motivating me to keep going!). The app is free, and it cost me 10-20 minutes each day. Every bit of that time has been fruitful! I often quote Karen Lamb in saying, “A year from now, you’ll wish you had started today.” I am grateful I started this goal almost a year ago–and I can’t wait to do it again in 2018!

Okay, let’s talk business! Here are the 10 things I invested in for our business that paid off:

1.  Joining C12. Will Ray (husband of my friend Nancy Ray) has been our business financial coach for several years now, helping me gain business financial literacy, and most of all, helping me do business with God’s wisdom. A year and half ago, he took a leap of faith out of business coaching and into leading a C12 group here in our local area. C12 is a group of Christian CEO’s (12 members per group) that meet together once a month to help grow each other’s businesses and faith. When Will invited me to come to a meeting to give it a try, I was honored to be asked and also intimidated! Most of the group has been in business far longer than me, and their businesses are large. And spending all day away from the kiddos once a month didn’t seem like it would work for my life season. How could I step away for an entire day? But, with the blessing of my team and Ari, I went once and never looked back. I come back refreshed and excited about not just work, but motherhood and homeschool and marriage, every time. It has been a powerful thing in my life to spend all day with a group of gentlemen who humbly love the Lord and lead their businesses from that same humility. I have often pinched myself in being at the table with them. I still feel like the smallest fish in the pond, but this group has blessed me deeply, and I’m grateful to have helped their businesses grow as well. The financial and time investment, including all the time I have spent implementing the many things I have learned through C12, has been exponentially valuable in our business and in the maturing of my faith.

2. Business coaching. I’m an Enneagram type 1 and, at heart, an emotional decision-maker and a sensitive soul! Having a sounding-board each week in making decisions has been so valuable for me (and in turn my team and husband and kiddos!). Diana helped me push through finishing Cultivate, take the leap into homeschool, implement what I’ve been learning this year through C12, and most of all she has always directed me to God’s wisdom. We talk on that level each week, we pray, and God is the one who does the heavy lifting!

3. Grammarly. You guys! Grammarly is the BEST. This yearly subscription (I paid $139.95 which comes to 11.66/month) has saved me and my team countless hours in copyediting! Using this tool in blog writing, email correspondence, product creation, and long-form writing has led me to invest time in learning to be a better writer. Becoming a more skilled writer has led me to become a better communicator, and that is a benefit that has no price tag! Well-written words can shape relationships, hearts, and entire cultures.

4. EOS principles. The thing that has had the most tactical impact on our business is implementing EOS (Entrepreneurial Operating System) principles this year. Encouraged by Will Ray, we began with changing our meeting structures in May and everything else followed… and I mean EVERYTHING! For a solid EOS primer, read Traction. You will be so glad you did!

5. PowerSheets – I know I have listed this twice, but for good reason. We have used PowerSheets as a team for the last three years and they have delivered. They have helped us uncover good goals, make action plans, and celebrate progress.

6. Asana is the project management system we use, and it’s safe to say it has more than doubled our productivity. We used to do everything in email and on paper lists. Projects would get forgotten about, tasks would fall through the cracks, and our inboxes were craycray. Asana brings it all in one hub, allowing our team to work together without the use of our inboxes for the most part. It does take an investment of time to learn to use it effectively, which we are constantly improving, but it’s worth the time invested. Simply put, we get more of the right things done. (Bonus: be sure to hunt for the Tab-B feature. You will thank me! Meow! ; ) )

7. The Making Things Happen Conference. I’ve led this conference for the last 9 years and I’ve also done the work right alongside the attendees every time. The tactical experience and clarity uncovered in this conference have been a fast-forward button on my personal and professional goals. Experiencing MTH is like doing PowerSheets in-person with a room full of passionate women who make what matters happen. It’s my favorite event of the year! Over half of the seats are gone for our spring conference. Get yours before our early-bird rate ends!

8. CAI. As a small business, I have been our finance, HR, and get-more-printer-paper departments! Until four weeks ago. CAI is a non-profit here in North Carolina that offers on-demand HR and legal services to its members at a fraction of the cost of a full-time HR expert. Our membership for a team of 9 is $900 for the year as compared to the $6K starting rate I was quoted for an individual HR consultant. Our membership has already paid for itself after one month! As part of our membership, we get access to 24/7 HR advising by phone or email (which we have already used four times!), legal support, employee handbook creation, and so much more. Thank you, CAI!

9. Zoom.We have four team members who work here in NC with me and five that work remotely from various other states. To stay connected each day, we had been using Google hangouts for video calls. But, the constant connection issues and dropped calls led us to seek a more reliable solution. Enter, Zoom! The old saying goes, “There are no deals.” Sometimes when you don’t pay for something (Google hangouts), you get what you pay for! Making the decision to pay a small monthly fee for Zoom has been a game-changer for our team. We connect more often and with zero tech troubles!

10. Steadfast bookkeeping. One of the biggest business woes I’ve experienced over the years is unreliable bookkeepers. My team knows. This is been the bane. of. my. business. existence. I like accuracy and dependability, and I finally found both plus a great client experience in Steadfast bookkeeping. Praise the Lord! Working with Stephanie and Sarah has been delightful! I can’t recommend them enough.

I’d love to hear! What did you invest your time or money in this year that paid off?

P.S. Our Black Friday / Cyber Monday sale is ON (our biggest sale of the year!), and so many intentional gifts are on sale!

Affiliate links are used in this post. All proceeds are donated!

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I wish I had a direct line to my loved ones’ brains so I could know exactly what gifts would make them feel most loved and appreciated.

I’ve done a lot of thinking lately about gift giving in general, and how a meaningful gift can quite literally change someone’s life.

Wrapping paper from The House that Lars Built

When I think about the most memorable gifts I’ve received, the things that top my list are gifts of time. When a friend insisted that she babysit for us early this year so we could have our first date night in a long time after a hard season. When we got home from adopting Sarah and our church small group and my team had filled our kitchen with encouraging notes and groceries. And the time my friend Marcia wrote 30 prayers for me on separate notecards–one for each day in the final month I was writing Cultivate.

There have been physical gifts that meant a great deal too. Grace made me a little pink candle holder last year (melt my heart!), and I have felt such joy in receiving gifts for the garden. The women I work alongside gifted me a beautiful set of garden tools with my initials on them. I almost didn’t use them because they are so pretty, but they are happily covered in dirt now from many gardening adventures!

These are the gifts I remember and cherish.

I love the idea of wrapping spring bulbs in pretty fabric or paper! Source.

A timely gift, given with love, can change someone.

I want to be that kind of gift-giver.

But, I have to tell you that I sometimes feel inadequate when it comes to gift-giving.

I am not the best gift wrapper. (I have high hopes of improving my gift wrapping skills this year so I avoid getting added to this list. 🙂 )

I have often waited too long and had to make last-minute purchases.

And, because I want gifts to be meaningful, I often get stumped on what to give!

My garden-loving heart loves this simple wrapping with a sprig of peach buds!

I don’t want to gift people things that they won’t use, or surface gifts–things they might like for a moment but then forget about. I want to gift things that add meaning to people’s lives or bring them delight and refreshment. And I know this may sound strange at first, but I don’t want to give gifts that make people think about how great I am, but rather gifts that help them cultivate gratitude and celebration for their lives as a whole.

Do you have a list of gifts you are considering for friends and family this year? (Or perhaps a list of items you are wanting to invest in for yourself?)

What are you hoping to make people feel or experience in your gifting?

Early this year, we decided to curate an intentional gift list for the holidays, and we’re so excited to reveal it today!

Our first-ever Cultivate Gift Guide is a bit different from your average guide. It’s a curated list of meaningful gifts (starting at $0!). Our hope is that these gifts help you, and your loved ones, cultivate what matters.

Inside you’ll also get a preview of our biggest sale of the year that starts next Tuesday starting at 10 am ET. I’ve already talked to many of you who are excited that Write the Word will be in the sale this year!

Your turn! I’d love to hear: what are the most memorable gifts you’ve received? What gifts added value to your life and others?

P.S. Next up, I’ll be sharing the 20 things I invested in this year, both personally and for our business, that paid off. I can’t wait to share!

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I don’t know about you, but I need some recharging after a full week. You too?

Here are three things I’m doing:

1. I’m going analog. For the last 8 years, I’ve gone social-media-free on the weekends. If that feels totally terrifying, all the more reason to give it a try! I did it once and never looked back.

2. I’m not trying to fix anything or start any new projects! This month, I’m focusing on less house, more home. Less cleaning the house (because I do that sometimes when life feels messy), and more loving the people in it.

And…

3. I’m letting myself laugh. All three of my kids are currently downstairs singing their new hit single, “Pooopeee diaper!!” at the top of their lungs and rolling in giggles. Their chorus of silliness has me in stitches too! It feels good to have a belly laugh, doesn’t it? Why is that? Research has proven it reduces muscle tension, opens our brains to solve problems, and helps us feel renewed hope in challenges. Need some of that right now? Here you go! We gave two men a box of PowerSheets and here’s what happened.

Two Gents Unbox the 2018 PowerSheets Collection from Lara Casey on Vimeo.

Happy weekend, friends!

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