Dec 14, 2018

20 Things I Invested in This Year That Paid Off

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20 Things I Invested in that Paid Off

It’s about that time of year — the time when we all start to make decisions about what “program” we’re going to invest in next year. What goal setting system, what nutrition plan, what Bible reading plan, what journal, what skincare regimen, what podcast? Where will we spend our time, our money, our energy? Where will we invest our attention and our trust?

In 12+ years of business (and 38+ years of life!) I’ve tried a LOT of things that made a LOT of promises. Few are worth sharing. But the ones that are – oh, friends! I could talk your ear off about each one of them! 

Last year, I shared 20 things that made a difference in my life and our business (and I still stand by all of them—go read the list if you haven’t yet!). I’m back with another 20, and I’m equally as excited about each of these investments. Here’s this year’s list, with some notes on how I invested my time. No matter where you are in life or business, I hope you find something that will help you cultivate what matters!

20 Things I Invested in that Paid Off

10 things I invested in personally that paid off:

1. The garden. The lessons we learn in the garden are endless and our time there is never wasted! This year, we were overjoyed to finally grow a pumpkin. Do you know how many years we tried to grow a giant pumpkin—or any pumpkin at all for that matter? Seven. Seven years, people! Year one: squirrels. Year two: yep, Nutty the Squirrel does it again. Year three: our baby pumpkin was run over by a car. Year four: too much rain. Year five: too much heat. Year six: I just don’t even know. Year seven: We switched seed varieties, and I got some advice from a wise farmer friend.

Over these seven years of waiting and patience and waiting some more, the Lord was teaching us a beautiful lesson: all things (and life change) come in His perfect timing. We didn’t grow a giant pumpkin overnight—it grew us over the last seven years. Rita came right on time. (I even took her to Making Things Happen!)

2. My homeschool planner + (Pam Barnhill’s Autopilot courseMoving into our second year of homeschooling, I have learned a few things, but I’m still—and likely always will be—a student, too. Taking the time to develop The Cultivated Homeschool Planner helped me get organized and focus on what matters most in our time together. It’s a simple system that helps me keep sight of our big picture goals while getting the day-to-day learning done, too. It’s a free download — I hope you find it helpful! 

3. Cultivating my calendar. A little forethought goes a long way. You’ve heard it here before and you’ll hear it again 🙂 Investing just a little bit of preparation time each month to mark occasions big and small helped me shepherd the hearts in my care well (and helped me save money, since I wasn’t rushing out to the store last minute or rush shipping gifts!). I have loved using our new Celebrations Binder to keep all my plans in one place – a simple system for keeping it all together!

4. Morning time. We do “morning time” in our family: gathering the kids together at the table each morning to grow our faith and family bond. My first action step: gathering a few boxes. I made a box for each kiddo and filled each with a Write the Word for Kids journal, craft supplies, and a few books. And…

5. A kid-friendly place to gather. I bought these wipeable indestructible chairs to replace the not-so-kid-friendly upholstered ones from IKEA that were falling apart anyway. (Bonus: they came fully assembled!) Then, I bought this plastic table cover to protect our table from art supplies and the general wear-and-tear of morning time. I gathered all the kiddos at the table with some snacks (a tip I learned from my friend, Sally Clarkson—snacks make new things more appealing!), I prayed for us, and I read them a book while they colored. That was it. It lasted for 15 minutes and it. was. awesome.


6. Prioritizing with my PowerSheets – Investing time in my PowerSheets (a mere 18 minutes a month!) was the number one thing that gave me my time back and helped me invest it in the right places. My PowerSheets have helped me prioritize this year—including making some major decisions—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!

7. Books on Audible. We did a few drives to the mountains this year (I fell in love with hiking!). How did we keep the kids entertained during all the driving? We listened to books! We finished the entire Little House series this year, the Winnie-the-Pooh series, Aesop’s Fables, and a collection of Peter Rabbit stories. I’ve also enjoyed Emotionally Healthy Spirituality and I’m really looking forward to listening to God and Money in 2019!

8. A mini trampoline for the kids. Three active kiddos can easily equal chaos. I loved having this option to let them bounce off some steam whenever needed—and yes, it lives in our living room!

9. Blogging about my goal progress here—and the challenges along the way! Our monthly coffee dates here on the blog have been some of my favorite times. Looking back on these updates makes me so grateful—we lived so much life together this year, friends! I love you!!! Monthly updates: January, February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, October, and November!

10. The YouVersion Bible appYes, this was on my list last year, but it is holding its place as one of my BEST investments! 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 I spent about 10 minutes reading each morning. 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 2019! P.S. You guys. I am SO excited to have worked with YouVersion to create a reading plan about God + Goal Setting that is now live (and free for anyone)! Ahhh!!

Okay, let’s talk business! For the record, everything on my list from 2018 is still going strong. I can’t recommend these things enough! Here are 10 things I invested in for our business in 2018 that paid off:

1. Crucial Conversations training. This could go in either the business or personal sections, because it’s impacted all aspects of my life! Kaylee, Emily, and I attended a two-day workshop this spring, then came back and taught the curriculum to the rest of our team. Gaining new tools to have effective conversations that resolve conflict in a healthy way has been so fruitful. If you can’t attend a training, I recommend the book!

2. The StoryBrand framework. We worked with a StoryBrand consultant as we developed our website refresh and then went through Donald Miller’s StoryBrand class as a team this fall. As an Enneagram 1, I do well with frameworks, and I’ve loved learning how to serve people well by becoming a more effective writer! The book is also great!

3. A fresh perspective. How’s this for simple?! A few weeks ago, I rotated my desk 90 degrees, so I faced the door instead of the wall while sitting down. Now, I can move about more easily, greet incoming team members, and I have better natural light, too! Sometimes we get so stuck in the way we’ve always done things that it’s hard to see another way, but all it took to make this improvement was a minute of stepping back and considering the possibilities — and then a little effort pushing! (Ha!)

4. A fractional CFO. Though PowerSheets have helped me reframe my thinking on the subject of money (“I am learning to be more skilled with numbers” versus “I’m not a numbers person”), the fact remains that my expertise does not lie in financial spreadsheets or sales projections. As our cyclical online retail business has grown more complex, I’ve found great comfort in having a trained guide to help us make decisions. Enter Stephanie! I love that she specifically works with purpose-driven organizations (mostly non-profits), so we are kindred spirits!

5. Encouraging Ari’s newfound talents. We consider all of our gents honorary members of the Cultivate team, and they play the key role of supporting each of us throughout the year! This year, though, Ari took a more active role in the business – in the form of customized Cultivate raps! I’ve loved watching him flex his creative muscles. Also, there’s that time we gave Ari and a friend a box of Cultivate What Matters products. This is what happened. 

6. Boostopia. Many of you know that one of our core values is the Power of One. This means that we care deeply about every conversation we have with you, and are fanatical about our customer service — or “customer delight,” as we call it 🙂 Boostopia is a support platform that gives us better analytics and insight into the work we do in our customer service inbox. They’re based in Durham, and we were connected to them because the founder goes to Kaylee’s church – such a small world!

7. 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. If you haven’t gotten your PowerSheets yet, a great option is the Make It Happen bundle, which includes three of our most helpful products!

8. AllBirds sneakers. Ari and I are both happily on the AllBirds train (branch?). I wrote about my wardrobe switch-up in last year’s list, but I’ve loved having these go-to sneakers that look polished but allow me to move and stand at my desk in comfort (especially important for our wellness sprint weeks – see below!). We both have the Wool Runners!

9. Quarterly wellness sprints. Last year I shared the difference wearing a Fitbit has made in my life, and that we invested in a tracker for each member of our team. This year we stepped it up a notch and hosted quarterly wellness sprints – four weeks throughout the year where we compete to see who can get the most steps over seven days, with a prize for the winner! We’ve all noticed we feel more productive and happier these weeks, which is a win-win!

10. Reducing waste. This was an investment of time more than anything – working with the team to identify and then take action on waste in our business, so we are freed up to do the most important work!  We used this worksheet to brainstorm (the waste definitions are here), and also loved watching this video on the Lean desk! 

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

Affiliate links are used in this post.  

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  1. Brianna on December 18, 2018 at 12:56 pm

    I am excited to sit and think through the year and reflect on what investments I’ve made over 2018 that have paid off! Off the top of my head, the single biggest thing that has impacted my business this year is investing in educational courses. I wouldn’t be where I am today in my photography business without them! In my personal life, a recent investment my husband and I made were Hydroflasks! We bought the biggest ones (40oz!) and it has significantly increased our water intake, which we both were slacking on!

    • Lara on December 19, 2018 at 11:25 am

      Brianna, this is exciting! Thank you for sharing this!

  2. Jessie on December 18, 2018 at 3:39 pm

    I’d love to see the waste worksheet, but that link isn’t working for me.

    • EmilyAyer on December 19, 2018 at 2:06 pm

      Thanks for letting us know, Jessie! Just fixed it! 🙂

  3. Sarah Gusky Kemer on December 19, 2018 at 8:48 am

    1) I invested in my education. I took 3 graphic design classes (and wish I could have taken more, but with a change in how the college was accepting benefits, unfortunately our financial investment could not meet that gap). This was a huge turning point for me, as it really steered me in a direction I want to do for my job!! Even though I am also a perpetual student.

    2) I invested in *myself*. A lot of my goals for 2018 were around health, but I kept dictating what that should be. And it was added stress and honestly, some psychological issues too. Enter Intuitive Eating!! Without realizing it, I actually fulfilled my holistic health goal, in entirely different ways. It’s *fun* to move my body now; I eat what is *satisfying* to my body and soul; and I am healing my relationship with my body. It was honestly the best thing that could have happened to me.

    3) I invested in our family. Time: We are looking at what’s next for us. My husband and I are on the same page about what that means, and we’re working through that process. Money: We took (a small) part of our savings, and bought a Harry Potter World vacation. This is an extravagance that we could not have pictured even just a year ago.

    3a) Our kids are invested in learning how to save for pocket money there, and have been learning about financial priorities. “If we do Harry Potter World, your birthday would be smaller so we could get things there.” Starting in January we’re going to have a jar in the house for added money, to visually show those priorities. “If we skip our post-church Sunday doughnuts, we have $5 to add to the jar!” The extravagance is also a huge education opportunity for my almost-7-year olds and I am considering it all a luxurious blessing.

    • Lara on December 19, 2018 at 11:25 am

      Go, Sarah! This is great!

  4. Kate on December 22, 2018 at 7:43 pm

    I love this question. When I’m 80, I want to be able to be loving and thriving in the family culture that my husband and i have sought to cultivate. I know that family, all the times of prayer and sowing seeds of faith will matter. i know that the seeking after approval won’t. In 2019, I want to cultivate intentional leisure. Some challenges of this past year, included lack of sleep and exercise, managing toddlerhood, lack of direction with spiritual goals. I am most grateful for my husband — he has stood so faithfully with me and encouraged me in our goals!

  5. Mary R Howell on December 27, 2018 at 2:08 pm

    My first investment for 2019 (drum roll, please) PowerSheets! 😉

    I’ve been doing a lot of research on planners and stumbled over, o.k. saw it on my friend’s desk, your work…wait that might sound negative to some, your guidebook.

    I will admit, I am scared to death. But, I’m going to follow your lead and watch the vlogs. Going to deep breathe through the desire for perfection and remember that MESSY is fine.

    Here we go…

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