Category: Motivation

We don’t like imperfect starts, do we?
We want perfect right out of the gate.
But all plants grow through the dirt, and so do we.
Making a mess doesn’t mean you become one. – Cultivate

Feeling guilty about not making progress on your goals or not starting them at all?

February 1 can be your January 1!

Some guilt is good—it can spur us on to make good choices. But, there’s another kind of guilt that doesn’t help you or anyone else: imperfection guilt.

You know the feeling. You mess up and immediately go into I’m-the-worst-person-in-the-world mode thinking, Why can’t I just keep it all together? Why do I have to be so flawed? Why can’t I just do it ALL and do it all well? Why can’t I just be like so-and-so? 

Here’s the thing. We are imperfect. Me, you, all of us! And the truth is that all progress is imperfect progress. Good things grow through challenges and missteps and slow growth.

My peonies literally cannot bloom in the spring unless they go through many weeks of bitter cold in the winter. They grow little-by-little, and they grow through the dirt.

So, my friend, I propose we let go of the imperfection guilt and embrace the perfectly imperfect ground we’re standing on, right where we are. This is our GROWING ground.

Goodbye goal guilt.

Goodbye, quick fixes.

Goodbye, expecting overnight change.

Goodbye doing too much at once.

Hello little-by-little steps.

Hello trying new things (and redirecting when something isn’t working!).

Hello progress not perfection.

Hello slow rooted growth.

Hello bravery. Because it takes a lot of guts to live intentionally.

Hello knowing that our worth is not based on our performance. Who made up the rule that you had to make perfect progress on everything in January?

Hello doing this differently.

Hello what actually works.

One way to give the imperfection guilt the boot is to embrace the truth and tension of “and.”

Ready?

You can be a goal getter and embrace imperfection.

You can grow slowly and make significant progress.

You can make imperfect progress on a goal and still achieve your goal.

You can grow tomatoes in your garden and have weeds.

Are you with me here? What “and” do you need to embrace to move forward?

For me: I can do less and be more effective. More giving. More productive in the things that are important to me. More at peace.

January was a month of embracing these truths, digging into new habits, and setting out with a clearer direction. Anc clarity breeds action! I shared my Top 10 Tips for Getting Started on Your Goals, How to Get Unstuck, and in taking my own advice, I made some significant changes to how I use my time.

Here’s a recap of my January progress and what I learned:

Monthly Goals:

Seek God first. Before seeking answers or wisdom or comfort anywhere else, I tried my hardest to go to God first this month (instead of to my phone or snacks or to complaining) and I pray that continues.
— Add 2018 goal steps to the calendar. I took 30 minutes in January and added all of my goal starting steps from my PowerSheets to my iCal and my Things app. For example, doing my Cultivated Calendar prep each month (preparing for birthdays, holidays, milestones) is important to me this year to help me grow several of my 2018 goals. I created a one-hour time block on my calendar each month to do it. I also created a yearly recurring task on Things that pops up a few days before the new month to remind me what birthdays or milestones to prepare for. A little intentional forethought has already gone a long way for me!
— Memorize Study Aleph + Bet. This is one place I redirected! I realized I bit off more than I could chew with memorizing Psalm 119 and reading the Bible this year, so I’m studying it instead. This is do-able and also challenging, which keeps me motivated! More here.
— Prayer journal date. I’m trying something new with my prayer journal this year. I’m having a longer prayer date to write out my prayers for the month and pray them right then instead of waiting for times later in the month. It’s one big prayer session to kick the month off, and the two times I’ve done it so far have been fantastic! I bring my prayer journal to church every Sunday and to our Sunday afternoon Bible study, so I check in on my prayers and add new ones (and notes about answered prayers) then as well.
— Have a day “on.” So, this is new. And this was not an easy one for me at first, but I knew it was necessary. This is something that came out of feeling spread thin in December and wanting to prevent any burnout on my part for my family and my team. In helping to write new employment contracts this year, it dawned on me that I’ve never taken all of my own allotted vacation days. I’ve certainly worked hard to not grow too much at once and to have strong boundaries, which has been wonderful, but I’ve come to a place in my life where I need more (to use my word of the year) light space. So, two Friday’s a month, I’m taking a day “on”—not a traditional day off, but a day to spend intentional time with God, the kiddos, and to step away from regular work so I can be refreshed and refueled for Ari, the kids, homeschooling, and work. I’ve done it twice so far and it has been helpful. It’s certainly tricky for me though. I am trying my best not to use these days to get one more thing done or clean or organize, but to really make it about soul care and being my best for others. I’ll keep you posted on how this goes throughout the year.
— Pray over new hires. Yes, many prayers have been offered up and I’m excited to see where God leads us.
— Pray over 2019 product development. I’m writing the 2019 PowerSheets this week and have been praying over our production process. By the way, we just sold out of all of our 2018 PowerSheets this week, but more 6-month sets will be back in May to help you finish out the year.
— Finish clearing out the attic. I made progress here, but I haven’t finished. There are two more bins of old college books that I need to go through!
— Take 1 step forward on 2018 budget. My one step was identifying my “block” on this goal. What’s been causing my inaction: I haven’t had clarity on the end goal or exactly what steps need to be taken in general! More below in my February goals.
— Cultivate Calendar prep for February. Yes! You can catch the replay of my live class about this with Emily Ley here.

Weekly Goals:
— Re-creation. Yes, progress was definitely made here. More about this goal here.
— Pray over each of our children. Yes, I’ve been praying over them out loud most mornings and evenings.
— Read Traction with Emily. Yes, we have implemented most of the book so far and are about to dig into the Process chapter to start tieing it all together. If you have employees, I can’t recommend this book enough! It has changed the way we do just about everything in our company.

Daily Goals:
— Chronological Bible reading. I am LOVING this! I decided to do this differently this year and do what’s called a “Plan with Friends” on the YouVersion Bible app. There are about a dozen of us and it has been awesome to share our thoughts with each other as we read each day. Doing this with a small intimate group has been wonderful!
— Kiss Ari. I shared a little about this here, but yes, this goal is going well and I’m so grateful for how it’s affecting not only us but our kiddos who smile so big when we kiss! Joshua has started giving me kisses too. 🙂
— #RunLiftPraise. I have exercised every day, but no weights. You’ll see an update on this one in my February goals.
— Eat clean. Yes! Every January Ari does a fast of sorts where he doesn’t eat meat or sweets as a simple way to remind him to think about God more and rely on Him for comfort. I love this fresh start in our house every January.
— Cultivate better sleep. I’ve made progress here mostly through not looking at my phone after work.

The snow melting on the pansies. These little guys are tough!

On to February! This month is a bit packed, so I spent some extra time making sure my goals were clear and do-able. I’m so grateful for my PowerSheets or I would be going into this month feeling overwhelmed already. So often what leads to overwhelm is simply the unknown, right? We have so many thoughts and to-do’s swirling around in our heads. But, when we give them a place and sort through them, the overwhelm melts as we solve problems and see what needs to be done and what doesn’t. While there’s a lot to accomplish in February, I’m feeling ready because I have a clear picture of what needs to happen. And I’m excited for lots of fun things we have planned this month, too!

Monthly Goals:
First things first. Similar to my goal to seek God first in January, my top priority for February is to spend more time with God than I do with the world.
Prayer journal date. Already done (last night)! I have a recurring task on my Things app that reminds me to prepare my prayer journal a few days before the new month.
Prayerfully hire new team members.
Start seeds indoors + garden planning. More to come here!
Write the 2019 PowerSheets. Eeeeee! So excited about this!
2017 corporate taxes completed. Okay, not so excited about this, but I am staying focused on how I will feel when this is done. That motivates me to dig in and get it off my plate. Anyone have a fun way they celebrate getting taxes done?
Pray over the plan for books. I’ve been talking about the Gracie’s Garden book for a while and there’s another book we have in mind as well. I need God’s wisdom on when to start and what direction to take with both, so my goal for February is to pray about these two projects. Prayer is an action step—one of the very best you can take. 🙂
— Set strength training plan + start. If you’ve followed for a while, you know I used to be a personal trainer. I now work out at home with the kiddos in the morning. And I made some great progress on at-home strength training in 2017 using some simple free weights. I’d like to switch it up and am considering getting one of those over-the-door exercise band things. More to come here as I uncover the plan and start!
— Identify budget steps and goals. As I mentioned in my January update above, I have been stuck on this one. I realized that I have been stuck because the vision/goal and steps haven’t been clear to me. My goal this month is to identify clear goals with Ari and steps we need to take.
— March Cultivated Calendar prep.

Weekly goals:
— Write + study Gimel + Daleth (Psalms 119).
— 2 Days “on.”
— Undistracted + cultivated homeschool.
— Re-creation.
— Read Traction with Emily.
— Pray the Word.

Daily Goals:
— Chronological Bible reading.
— Soul care at night. This means spending time with my prayer journal, in the Word, preparing for the next day, or doing anything that doesn’t involve my phone. This may sound silly, but something that has helped me is turning on the digital fireplace on our Amazon firestick! Even a digital fireplace relaxes me for some reason. 🙂
— Kiss Ari.
— SLEEP.
— Pray over kiddos + family worship. Family worship is new and something that I’m excited about. I watched a video series by Donald Whitney that inspired me to give it a try. So far so great! While the kids eat breakfast in the morning, I read them a super short Bible story, we say a prayer, and then we sing a song. That’s it! It takes 10 minutes and they are loving it.

I’m getting so excited about garden planning!

Your turn! Do you have goals for February? 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!

P.S. Did you know that 80% of the people give up on their goals by mid-February? Not us, my friends! To help us all make little-by-little progress forward, and not jump ship when we mess up along the way, we’re excited to announce that the 2nd-Annual Cultivate What Matters week starts Feb 12th! Mark your planners for a week of grace-filled goal-encouraging goodness. It was a hit last year and we can’t wait to dig in with you! Details to come.

 

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Need a fresh start in these first few weeks of the year? This post is just for you!

I’ve been breaking a lot of the traditional “rules” this week with my goals, and this is my invitation to you to do the same.

Let’s get you unstuck, shall we?! 🙂

I’ve chosen to grow slowly and take January to test the waters with how I’m acting on my goals. Who made up the rule that we have to make perfect progress on our goals right from January 1st? Who says you can’t try different ways to cultivate your goals—or quit things that aren’t working? Who told us we have to follow a plan that fits in a box? Here’s the truth: there are a million ways to grow a garden, and everyone’s soil is completely unique! In the same way, how you cultivate your goals will be unique too.

But, if something isn’t working, or you aren’t feeling motivated with your goals, try one of these five things:

1. Push through and give it a fighting chance. I’m gonna pull some North Carolina history out on you: the Wright Brothers. They changed history through their persistence in failure. It takes time to move from the stage where doing something new feels hard (which most things feel like when you are just starting them!), to feeling like you’re in a groove.

2. Consider that your goal might not really matter to you. If you are feeling unmotivated, get back to your WHY. Does the pursuit of your goal fire you up so much that you are totally okay with failure along the way to the finish line? I can confidently say this about all of my 2018 goals. No matter how many times you fall along the way, you are not gonna give up because this matters to you. Your goal matters now, it matters in the in-between, and it matters in the big picture. If not, this might be the reason you aren’t motivated! If a goal doesn’t matter to you, do not pass go, do not collect your $200. Cross it out and move forward to use your energy on goals that DO matter to you. (And don’t let yourself fall into the goal guilt trap here—learn from this and move forward!) It’s easy to fall into the New Year’s trap of setting goals that sound good or setting goals out of comparison. Come mid-January we wonder why our motivation has fizzled. Wonder no more! Go back to these questions to help you set goals that fire you up for the long-haul.

3. Break out of telling the same story. A little nugget from our sermon on Sunday: People often get stuck because they are stuck telling a story about why they are stuck. I’ve experienced this countless times! For example, when I wanted to quit my business, after months of uncertainty and feeling stuck, I came to the conclusion that the only way I was going to move forward was to let go of all of my plans, my thinking, my fears, my hopes, my complaining in the wait (waiting is hard, isn’t it!?) and what I thought to be possible, in favor of listening. Maybe there was a better plan. Maybe there would be good things that would come out of my hard season. Maybe I had no idea how much I would grow and how good the changes that followed would be (I didn’t!). I was stuck telling myself the story about how I was stuck and it was blinding me from new possibilities. I finally surrendered (which is hard for those of us who like to be in control and know outcomes!) and could finally hear what God wanted me to do. I know this is easier said than done, but consider the story you are telling yourself about why you “can’t” do something or why you are stuck. Press into that a little more than is comfortable. I wouldn’t be writing you this post had I not pressed in, let go, and prayed on my living room floor that day.

4. Tell someone about your goal. Goals without accountability rarely work. Here’s what we’ve found to be true in studying thousands of women and how they make goals happen intentionally:

Community creates Accountability
Accountability creates Follow-Through/Action
and Action creates Results

If something is really important to you, remember: make sure you don’t tell a single person about it or you might DO something about it! 😉

Case in point: my goal to make 2018 The Year of Kissing. Ari peeked over my shoulder and saw this secret goal on my PowerSheets, so I had to spill the beans. I’m not too mad about it, though. He’s totally on board and helping me make it happen. He has even reminded me a couple times this week, “Wait, your PowerSheets say you need to kiss me!” I’ve been much more consistent with this goal since telling him all about it!

5. Redirect! If an action step, routine, system, or something you are doing to cultivate your goal truly isn’t working—and you know for sure that your goal matters to you—it might be an indication that you need to redirect! Redirecting is one of my favorite tactics in goal-getting. Simply try something different. A cultivated life is not about following a perfect plan; it’s about your heart. How you grow an intentional life doesn’t matter as much as WHY you do it. When you have that fact on straight, you will be willing to change and bend how you make it happen in order to cultivate your goal.

For example, my number one goal this year is to grow my faith by reading and praying through the chronological Bible again. In testing out my plan for this year, I realized I bit off more than I could chew in trying to read the Bible and memorize Psalm 119 this year. So, I changed it up! I’m still reading the Bible, but instead of memorizing Psalm 119, I’m writing each section out (just like we do in our Write the Word journals) after church on Sunday while Grace does her Bible class homework. This is a good, slow, yet intentional rhythm that I am confident I can keep this year. Because it’s do-able and also challenges me, it motivates me to dig in!

It’s okay to jump ship on things that simply aren’t working. You have permission to change things up!

Your turn! Which of these tips stood out to you the most and why? I’d love to hear!

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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.

This Giveaway has now CLOSED! Congratulations to Erin F. for winning the Best Year with your Besties Giveaway!

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!):

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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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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