Hitting the Refresh Button (on Life)

We’ve all experienced a slow-loading internet page and the magic that is the refresh button. Or when the computer’s lagging and a little restart fixes everything. Or my personal favorite–how taking the battery out of a cell phone and putting it back in cures 97% of problems (including acne.)

Don’t you wish there was a refresh button for life?

You may have noticed that I haven’t been as chatty as usual. I slipped into a little period I like to call “Bare Minimum Mode,” which was a combination of many many preschool obligations, an increased effort to organize my home, a sudden change in routine with preschool ending, and an unexpected work slump. I felt simultaneously overwhelmed and underwhelmed.

Bare Minimum Mode can be useful–temporarily. I gave myself permission to do only what absolutely needed to be done and took a break from the things that are nice to do, but not essential. I reminded myself that my bare minimum of keeping a business running and raising a toddler is probably more than someone else’s 110%! The danger of Bare Minimum Mode comes when it goes on to long. Once the preschool yearbook was printed and distributed, the closet was organized, and we were settled into our new summer routine, it was time to step up my game again.

The problem was, I couldn’t. I was feeling really stuck. I had let myself slide too deep into the sticky mud of Bare Minimum Mode and I was starting to feel depressed.

Fortunately, a couple very well-timed emails landed in my inbox. Who knew a little email newsletter could have a real impact in someone’s life? But these both seemed to speak directly to me.

The first was from April Bowles-Olin. She and Mayi Carles are launching a 21-day program called Busy-to-Happy that starts on July 1st! It sounds like exactly what I need to screw my head back on in terms of my business! A refresh button for work. They challenged their readers to set a goal and make a public declaration on social media and blogs. So here you go! My slightly grainy selfie holding my declaration to launch a fun and beautiful new line of invitations by August 1st! (And I won’t let those evil gremlins Fear, Procrastination, Exhaustion, or the super evil Facebook stand in my way!)

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Somehow the Universe knew that I needed even more of a forklift to get me out of my slump, though. A few days later I got an email from Sage Grayson inviting me to be a beta tester for her new Life Editing for Beginners program. It starts June 30th, so I was a bit hesitant to sign up for both programs (does an overwhelmed person really need two programs at the same time?!) But I wrote to Sage and she reassured me that the two programs actually complement each other very well. So I signed up right away. Life Editing is going to be my refresh button for my life!

As I get older it feels that time is slipping by at a faster and faster pace. I keep finding myself saying “How is 2014 almost halfway over already?!” I’m certainly not halfway through my goals for the year! I think these two programs will be just the refresh button I need to make the second half of the year AWESOME!

 

 

I am not Supermom!

A few times within the last couple weeks someone has said to me, “Wow, so you’re like… Supermom!” And every single time, it stopped me in my tracks. While it’s flattering to think that I hold some sort of super power that allows me to juggle orders in one hand while snapping onesies with the other, mostly I just feel… like a total fraud! I am no Supermom. I am the farthest thing from it. I do not have my shit together. (Sorry if that offends you beyond belief and you have to stop reading because I said “shit!” My new theme is being real and the real Emily is a little rough around the edges.) If anything, I’m looking around at all the other moms, wondering how they manage to get multiple people dressed and out of the house before noon. Wondering how they can play and play and play for hours without turning on Dora or Daniel or Doc McStuffins. Wondering how they fit grocery shopping and laundry and dishes in along with work and birthday parties and toddler swim lessons. Everyone looks like they have it more together than I do. So who are you calling Supermom?

Don’t get me wrong. I am proud of the choice I’ve made to leave the security of the classroom and run my dream business. And I feel beyond fortunate that I get to do it all from home so I can be with my wild little red head. I wouldn’t trade this life in for anything! (Even if I could go to work in a beautiful office where real adult-sized humans get to interact and drink coffee and then pee in private.)

But when I say I am running a business out of my home and making a living and caring for a toddler, please don’t mistake that for me saying I’m doing it all. I am far from doing “it all.” Working while parenting doesn’t make me a Supermom. It makes me really really tired!

Last week was rough, you guys. A combination of some bad luck, some bad timing, and some bad planning left me feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, behind on everything, running in a thousand directions, and falling very very short of Supermom. And the scary thing is–I’m looking at another crazy week ahead. I can see it, but I don’t know how to stop it. Because the truth is–while I may have some handy planning tips to share, and while yes they DO help me from losing my mind most of the time–I still struggle with the things we all struggle with. Fighting overwhelm, prioritizing, saying “no,” being present. I struggle to make time for myself, my health, and my marriage. I give everything I have to a little person and a growing business and there’s not much left of me at the end of the day. And that’s something I want to change, but I don’t know how. I know that I need some help so that I can be happier and healthier. Whether that’s in the form of an assistant or a housekeeper or a babysitter (or all three?) I don’t know. I do know that as scary as it is to admit that I don’t have it all together–it’s really not fair to anyone to pretend that I do.

I don’t want to be a Supermom. Well yes, I do. I want to be everything and do everything and still have time to laugh and play. But really, I don’t want the pressure of being super. I don’t want that kind of title. I don’t want to be admired, because people on pedestals aren’t usually offered a hand. I’m not saying I’m helpless and want to be pitied either. I just want–I just want to be friends. I want to be on the same field as every mom–the moms who run businesses and the moms who run households. I want for us to see that we’re all struggling and I want for us to help each other out a little. I want to push past the jealousy and the feelings of inadequacy and the guilt and the “How do you do it?” and just see each other as women. Women who are all fighting a great fight. Who are all trying to be the best version of ourselves and who are all failing pretty miserably behind the scenes.

So please, stop calling me Supermom. Stop calling ANYONE Supermom like they’re somehow doing more than you or doing it better. Stop thinking that anyone else has it all together while your life is falling apart. I think we’re all falling apart in some way or another. And really–all moms are super! No matter how we came to be moms or how we choose to parent, we are raising human beings! That alone is pretty damn super.

Reach Your Dreams Part 3 – The Day to Day

When I started this Reach Your Dreams series a couple weeks ago, I thought I’d just go through my steps of monthly, weekly, and daily planning. Then as I planned each day over the past week I realized that one of my biggest truths as a mom and business owner is that every day is so different. And that really, I don’t have a magic method for planning each day. What I do have is a slew of tips that help me be more productive and make consistent progress toward reaching my dreams. And I am thrilled to share those tips with you!

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Tip 1 – Write a “Top Three” for the day: This is the one change I’ve made this year that has exponentially improved my productivity, focus, and clarity. It seems so simple, but it is so powerful. There are days that are going to have a million small tasks to complete and others that will be consumed by one big project. But every day I ask myself “If I only do three things today, what do they need to be?” Then periodically throughout the day I check in on my progress toward those top three. When there’s a lull and I know I should be doing something–it should be a top three thing. When I’m overwhelmed and doing too much, I pause and look at my top three and do one of those first.

It’s not always work-related. In fact, I really try to make sure only one or two of the top three are work-related! I need to constantly remind myself that being a mother is also a job–and really my top priority. So often one of my top three is an adventure with Olivia or a reminder to take a time out and just be with her.

Remember your top three for the month? The goals you’ve been working on? How do your top three for the day match up? They don’t have to be perfectly aligned every day, but if you’re noticing that day after day your top three is consumed by tasks that don’t have anything to do with those goals, I highly recommend reserving at least one spot per day for a goal-related task.

Here are a few of my “Top Threes” over the last couple months. (Yes, sometimes taking a shower is in the top three! If you are the parent of a toddler, I know you feel my pain on that one.)

top three from day designer

Note: I owe all of this brilliance to Whitney English and her Day Designer. The concept of the top three is all over the place, but having a space for it right there in my planner has made it so much easier to actually implement. On that note…

Tip 2 – Invest in a planner you love: I know, I gush about the Day Designer pretty much every week. The truth is, you can make any planner work if you use it. And no planner will do the work for you. Over the last twenty years I’ve tried every planner I can get my hands on. Paper planners, Palm Pilots (remember those?), little monthly planners that fit in my purse and huge daily planners that take up my entire desk. My phone has so many productivity apps on it, I don’t even have room for Candy Crush Saga. But it wasn’t until I bought the Day Designer that I actually started using my planner. So what’s the difference? Well for one, the layout is pretty close to exactly what I need. But I think a huge part is that it was a bit of an investment for me. Not the most expensive planner I’ve ever seen, but certainly not a $10 planner from a big box store either. I made a conscious choice (after about a year of hemming and hawing actually) to invest in it and now I don’t want it to go to waste. The fact that I paid good money for it motivates me to actually use it.

I could go on forever with the things I love about the Day Designer (I actually just deleted four paragraphs of gushing), but the point is not that you need this planner. The point is to find a planner that will work for you. Find something that makes you want to write in it. Whether it’s a beautiful cover, a funny comic on each page, or even just a special pen–find something that gets you excited to write in your planner and you’ll be way more likely to use it.

Tip 3 – Everything takes twice as long as it should. This is just a (depressing) fact. It’s magnified when you have kids. So instead of fighting it, just embrace it. If you think it will take you an hour to go grocery shopping, block off two. Want to spend 30 minutes exercising? Plan on an hour. If you have the luxury of an uninterrupted 8 hour work day, only put 4 hours worth of tasks on your list.

I know what you’re thinking, “I just need to be more productive. I need to get more done in less time.” Well that’s an awesome goal and I wish you the best of luck. But when I find myself racing from appointment to appointment, trying to do three errands before nap time and finish four big orders during nap, I get half way through my day and crash. It’s almost impossible for me to be productive for the rest of the day and I end up frantic and stressed out and tired. When I’m overly generous about how much time something will take and plan lots of time to complete tasks, I find myself moving more gracefully through my day with lots of energy in the afternoon to continue being productive. And if you do get your tasks done early, awesome! Then you’ve built in time for relaxing or you can look at your list and squeeze in one more goal-related task.

Tip 4 – Think of your day in shifts. I love the idea of scheduling tasks for specific times throughout the day. And I think that works great for some people. But my schedule is not always predictable enough to really make that work. So instead of assigning tasks to really specific times, I break my day into “shifts.” This was awesome when Olivia was younger and took two naps a day. I played with her, ate breakfast, and answered emails in the morning, printed invitations during her first nap, ran errands or went on play dates mid-day, printed more invites during afternoon nap, then made dinner and enjoyed some family time, and answered more emails and sent proofs to customers after she went to bed. It’s been over a year and a half since I had that schedule and I still miss it! But even with one nap (or even if you don’t have kids or have kids who don’t nap) I can break my day into shifts. It’s just easier to think about “what can I get done in this two hour block of time” than trying to organize the entire day all at once. My shifts these days are early morning, mid-late morning, lunch time, Olivia’s nap (when I cram a ton of work into two hours), evening, and after bed. What I fill these shifts with varies from day to day. I schedule a lot of work tasks during the two mornings she’s in school and I schedule play dates and errands for non-school mornings. A lot of emailing and design work is still done at night–but that’s something I’d like to change. Your tasks and goals may vary day to day too or you might have a pretty solid routine, but either way, thinking of your day in shifts can really help you schedule when you’re going to get things done.

Tip 5 – Remove temptation. You know how hard it is to stick to your health goals when you keep a bowl of m&ms on your desk? Well it’s just as hard to reach your life goals when facebook, instagram, and pinterest are constantly promising us delicious distraction and social connection. I feel like social media is even more tempting for those of us who work from home. Working alone is so isolating and being online gives us a sense of belonging that we crave. And that’s great–I’m a big fan of social media and using it to make real connections with people. But when I find myself clicking on that little camera icon in between every invitation I cut… well I’m not making connections, I’m just wasting time.

I do not believe that learning to resist temptation is the key to productivity. We have enough on our plates that are challenging–let’s try to make things a little easier on ourselves! Take the damn m&ms off your desk!!! There’s a brilliant app for mac called Self Control and it will block any urls you want for an amount of time you determine. Block facebook, block pinterest, hey you might even need to block your email for a while! Since there’s nothing similar for iphone that I’ve found you have to get a little more creative there. I start by not allowing push notifications from tempting apps. I’ve silenced all notifications except the phone actually ringing so that I’m not hearing dings and buzzes every time I get an email. And then I try to put my phone somewhere other than my desk when I’m working. It would be great if I could turn it off, lock it in a safe, and hide the safe at the bottom of the ocean. But being a parent often means you need to be accessible if there’s an emergency. And I would just die if something happened to Olivia at school and no one could get ahold of me. So keeping the ringer on with the phone across the room works pretty well for me.

Tip 6 – Celebrate along the way. I think we all find ourselves with plenty of un-checked items on our to do list at the end of the day, and it can feel defeating. But I find when I shift my focus just a little bit to the things I have accomplished, it propels me to accomplish more. So pause a few times in your day to acknowledge what you’ve done. Even if it feels like nothing, it’s something. Did you play with your daughter and enjoy her laugh? What a great mom! Did you make a bride’s day when you sent her the perfect invitation design? Hooray! Did you invest ten minutes in yourself to do a little yoga? Way to take care of yourself! Give yourself a little pat on the back, have a little five minute dance party, and then use that momentum to keep doing great things!

Tip 7 – Review and plan for tomorrow. Now, I would love to be a person who thoughtfully plans her day the night before. I’d also love to be a person who sets out her clothes ahead of time and packs her kid’s lunch more than 5 minutes before school. And maybe someday I will be! But while I work on that goal, I try to just do what I can handle before I go to bed at night. Even just 5 minutes reviewing what I accomplished and what I didn’t is really helpful. I can put a few tasks on the next day’s list and feel like I’m waking up with a place to start. I also take a sec to write down something I’m grateful for (again–a piece of Day Designer brilliance!) which helps me kind of put everything in perspective.

And that’s it! I hope these tips, along with my steps for monthly and weekly planning help you reach all of those big dreams and goals! You’re capable of amazing things and I can’t wait to hear about everything you accomplish!

Reach Your Dreams Part 1 – Monthly Goals and Planning

monthly planning for moms and entrepreneurs

I think one of the biggest challenges running a business–especially one from home–is that there’s no set schedule to maintain or road map of where to go. It’s all in your hands. (And that’s one of the greatest parts, too. But it can also be daunting to be the boss of oneself.) I think it’s easy to slip into a spot where we’re working at our businesses all the time and never working on our businesses. Emails need to be answered, orders need to be fulfilled, add mouths to feed and butts to wipe, and there’s not a whole lot of time or energy left for business building.

This winter, I looked back at my year and noticed that I barely added any new designs to my collection. I came back from Stationery Academy bursting with ideas to refine my workflow and improve my customer experience. I have pages of ideas of blog posts sitting in journals and on post it notes. Scads of sketches and ideas for innovative products. That’s a lot of potential sitting around waiting for the world to see it. And it’s all waiting on me to take it out of potential-mode and release it to the world.

Every business expert/guru/sage out there will tell you that in order to succeed in business and life, you must give time and attention to high-priority, low-urgency tasks like creating new designs and testing new marketing strategies. Spending our lives putting out fires, bouncing from one urgent task to the next puts us on a surefire road to burnout. And I found myself on a high-speed train headed straight for Burnoutsville and I had no idea how to slow down, let alone turn around.

So how did I get out of firefighter mode and get into creation mode? I planned better. And then I did better. If we wait until we’re in our day, we will always choose the urgent task (the email in front of us, the toddler pulling on our leg, the order that is due today) and the business-building tasks, personal-care tasks, and growth tasks will go by the wayside. So we have to plan ahead.

I love to read about productivity. (Reading about it is so much easier than actually being productive.) And pretty much everything I’ve read falls into one of two approaches: A top-down approach in which you figure out who you are at your core, what your priorities are, and what tasks have true meaning for you, then plan your to-dos accordingly. Or a bottom-up approach in which you collect all of your nagging to-dos, sort them into categories, prioritize them, and then plug away to check things off.

Either approach is fine–great even! But if you’re anything like me, you’re super gung-ho when you start implementing a new strategy, and then real life gets in the way and you never get to stage 2. So for me that meant I was having these great little quiet mornings drinking coffee and pondering my true purpose in life… but never getting to the point of implementing tasks that align with that purpose. So I’d switch gears and try a bottom-up approach and have these great days of answering all my emails and going to bed with an empty inbox… but never getting to the point of creating time for higher-level priorities and goals.

So what’s a busy business girl to do? Is there any productivity system or strategy that actually works? Yes! Any of them can work actually. You just might have to switch your focus. For me, I had to move my focus from the top and from the bottom. I had to focus on the middle. I was spending so much time on my “top” (defining my core/values/passions, etc.) that I wasn’t getting anything done. Or I was spending so much time getting little things done that I wasn’t doing anything with meaning. But for the last couple months I’ve tried out a different start point–and it’s working!

My secret? Planning my month. Over the next couple weeks I’ll also share how I plan my weeks and my days, but it really hinges on planning my month. Now I’ll be honest–I think this works best when you do have some bigger, over-arching goals (whether you like to do goals for your year, six months, or even just three). But leaving it at big goals is too daunting and usually the goals are too big or too vague. So whether you have big goals written down or they’re just sort of in your mind and heart, the key is picking some manageable goals and tasks for the month. A month is long enough to accomplish some real stuff, but not long enough to put things off for when you “have time.”

If you’re at the stage where you really don’t know what your big goals are, I highly recommend Lara Casey’s goal setting strategies. Here’s the link to the last step, which has links to all of her steps. I also use and love Whitney English’s Day Designer and the front pages are all about defining your core and setting goals for the year. There are a ton of great goal-setting activities, workshops, and books out there. (Tell me your favorites in the comments!) Pick one, make some goals, and then stop dwelling on this stage and move on!

HOW I PLAN MY MONTH:
Step 1 – Plan to Plan: This is a little gem I get from Whitney English. It seems so simple, but it really was a missing link for me. I can do all the reading and thinking I want about productivity. I can know exactly what I need to do to make things happen. But while I’m busy fighting fires and potty training and filling orders and answering emails, I forget to actually set aside time to fill out my planner or set goals! So I have to plan to plan. Like I actually put it in my planner! I pick a day–I like weekend mornings when everyone’s asleep, but you can pick whatever time/day works for you. I set aside about an hour each on the last Saturday and Sunday of the month to plan the upcoming month. (I split it between two days because inevitably someone will wake up early and require something of me. If I luck out and feel confident with my plan after an hour on Saturday, awesome! I can sleep in on Sunday or use that time for something else.) So I want you to open your planner, calendar, to-do-list app, whatever you use and find an hour near the end of the month that you can set aside just for planning. Write “Plan my month” in there right now!

Step 2 – Review goals and pick a focus (or three): I have ten big overarching goals right now. Ten is a number that works for me for the big picture. I have goals in all the areas of my life: mother, wife, friend, business owner, and just as a person. But I can’t give all ten equal attention each month. There just isn’t enough of me and there aren’t enough days. I’ve realized this after spending a few months working on these ten goals, there are some I’m actually making progress on and others that continue to go by the wayside. So I’ve started picking a “top three” for the month. Three goals/areas that are going to take priority above the others.

For February, I’m focusing on my health/fitness, my marriage, and creating new invitation designs. It doesn’t mean I’m not working on other things like being a joyful mother or improving my workflow (or keeping up with Mompreneur Monday posts!) It just means these are areas that need attention and I want to focus on them this month.

Step 3 – Write some actionable tasks to accomplish this month: Here’s the good stuff. Goals and values and hopes and dreams are all great. But in order to make real progress toward any of those, we have to take action. Start with your top 3 and ask yourself “What actions can I take this month that will help me toward this goal?” These can be small tasks or larger projects, but they should be something you can finish and check off before the end of the month. (If they’re too big to do in a month, then what steps can you finish in the month?) Here are a few of mine:

  • Plan and go out for a date night
  • Try one new workout activity
  • Complete the first assignment for Hand Lettering Class
  • Clean Olivia’s room
  • Create a questionnaire for custom design clients
  • Prepare materials for taxes and make appointment with accountant

You can see that I still include tasks and projects that aren’t directly related to my top 3–and that’s ok! The top 3 goals are shaping the first tasks on the list and there’s still room for others.

Step 4 – Write actionable tasks to accomplish weekly – Some goals require repetitive tasks. I could say for the month, “Design 4 new invitations.” But I’ve known myself for over 30 years now and if that was my task, I’d be looking at my list on February 27th going “How can I design 4 invites by tomorrow? Not happening.” Instead, I have “Design one new invitation” as one of my weekly tasks. Here are a few others:

  • Plan meals and buy healthy food
  • Write a love note
  • Play date adventure with Olivia
  • Write Mompreneur Monday post
  • List two items on website

Step 5 – Write actionable tasks to accomplish daily – Some of our goals are really habits we want to form. And this is where daily tasks really help. The key for me is to not write too many. It’s challenging for me to incorporate even ONE new task into my daily routine. I use Lara Casey’s Powersheets for my monthly plan and there’s room for 5 daily tasks/goals on there. That is the maximum I think anyone can handle! And I’ll be honest, I’m usually doing pretty well on 2 or 3 of them and the others don’t get checked off as often. But I’m trying to embrace the whole “progress not perfection” idea. My daily tasks are:

  • Do yoga, walk, or move
  • Eat power foods
  • Design my day
  • Tidy for 10 minutes
  • Turn off my phone and spend real time with my family for at least an hour

Step 6 – Put it in your planner. The first few times I tried monthly planning, I stopped after Step 5. I kept my sheets in my pretty binder. And forgot to look at them for the rest of the month. You can imagine how many tasks got checked off. (I’ll give you a hint, it’s less than one and rhymes with “hero.”) I have to have something right in front of me if I want to actually remember to do it. I actually have to have it in front of me in 3 or 4 places. I have to make it impossible to ignore. So I tape my list right in front of me at my desk. I see it a million times a day. And when there’s a lull or a moment of “Hmmm, what should I do right now?” I look at my list and see if there’s something I can do right at that moment.

This month I took it a step further and planned when in the week or month I’d like to work on my tasks. (I was finding myself on Fridays trying to do all of my weekly goals and it was a little manic.) Picking a day to work on something helps alert me if I’ve planned too much and prevents me from putting everything off until the end of the month. So I plan to blog on Mondays and Wednesdays, list new items on my website on Tuesdays and Fridays, and work on new designs on Thursdays. Date night is planned for Valentine’s Day, I blocked off time on the 21st to watch the first part of my online hand lettering class, and cleaning Olivia’s room was the perfect snow day activity this weekend. Due dates give tasks more umph and importance. Spreading them out through the month makes them more manageable.

Step 7 – Look at the whole month and rearrange as necessary. I also take this time to make sure my calendar is up to date with orders that are due, appointments, and social engagements. After all, it’s these everyday obligations that tend to be the reasons to put off working on our dreams and goals. If I see that I have too many orders scheduled to go out the same day, I see where I can spread those out and I don’t plan to spend hours on a blog post like this one. If I see a stretch of a few days without an order due, I make sure to plan a goal-related task like designing something new or organizing a section of the office so that I don’t just piddle that time away on little tasks that don’t really matter.

Step 8 – Be patient and forgiving with yourself. The first time (or first 5 times) you try this you’re going to plan too many things. More than you can realistically finish. I don’t know anyone with an entrepreneurial spirit who has too few goals, so I won’t even entertain the possibility that you have too little planned for the month. But even though I never end a month with all my tasks checked off, I do accomplish way more than I ever did before I started monthly planning. So when you start to get discouraged, look at all you have accomplished. Then look at what you haven’t and ask yourself “why?” Was it too lofty a goal for the month? Was it specific enough? What did you do with your time instead of that task? Are you planning too many things to realistically finish? Maybe the tasks that keep not getting checked off need to become your focus for next month. Or maybe they aren’t really that important to you and don’t need to make an appearance for a while. You’ll get a sense in your heart of what feels right and what doesn’t. And you’ll do even better at this next month!

Whew! This is a long post! Thanks for sticking with me through the whole thing–I promise that if you follow these steps, next month will be your most productive one yet! Stay tuned, because next week I’ll tell you how I plan my week and after that I’ll share how I plan my day!

Share with me! What goals are you going to make progress on next month? How will you plan to make them happen? Comment below!

There’s No Time To Lose

There's No Time To Lose

 

Olivia turned to me yesterday morning and said, “Come on Mommy! Let’s do this! We gotta get movin’ there’s no time to lose!” (Ok it was more like “Dare’s no time to woos” but you get the point.) It stopped me in my tracks. I mean she’s always been adorable, but when did she get so wise? The things that come out of that two-and-a-half-year-old little mind just blow me away.

I haven’t been able to shake this little pearl, and I don’t think I should. I’m making it my new mantra. There really is no time to lose. My sweet friend Megan just blogged yesterday about time and it really resonated with me. I’m always grumbling about needing more hours in the day. And that’s stupid. Because 1) No one ever gets what they want by grumbling about it. And 2) No one’s going to give me more hours in the day! I get 24 just like everyone else and I need to choose what to do with them.

So I’m choosing to get movin’! What about you?