I’m finally back with a video update featuring the life and times of my daughter. I talk about things like nursing and cloth diapering, and what developmental milestones she’s going through – as well as giving you a peek into life with a small and active child.
(The Friday part is arbitrary; pick a day of the week and go).
It’s something I began doing in earnest at the start of the year as a way to keep on track with my larger-scale projects. It’s easy to get mired in the details on a day-by-day basis, and I tend to lose sight of the big picture.
The Friday review is a correction for that. Every Friday, I look over my quarterly and monthly goals, and look at my to-do list for the week to assess how I’m doing. Then I draft up a list of tasks for the following week.
It’s really that simple, though I’ll get into it in more depth if it’s something you’re interested in trying for yourself – something I highly recommend.
What is involved in the Friday review?
The very first thing I do with my Friday review is go over finances. I pay off my credit card (we have no debt and I pay off our card promptly), take notes in my family’s personal budget, and note any income and expenses with my business.
Since I work with someone in my business (PianoTV.net), I make sure to send him any income he’s earned each Friday. We have small streams of income filtering in throughout the month (as well as expenses), so I need to divvy it up weekly in order to stay on top of it.
Weekly to-do list
Once the budget portion is done, I look over the to-do list I made for the week. I assess what I’ve accomplished and if there are any loose threads that need tying.
I cross off what’s finished, and I mark which ones must be carried over into the following week.
Any habit-based items on the list, such as “walk every day for 45 minutes”, I figure out how close to that figure I came and make a note of it.
Friday review: Write-up
From here, I do a full write-up. I like actually writing about my week because it’s a way to re-experience everything that’s happened, and everything I’ve accomplished. The act of writing about it has a way of slowing down time and make me more attentive to details as I go through my week. It has the effect of making each week less of a whirlwind.
I can’t really explain it, but it’s magic.
My write-ups are done journal-style, and are usually about 1000 words. It takes about 30 minutes to do. My goal isn’t to write something amazing, but to look over the various areas of my life (work, family, friends, etc.) to see if my week was balanced.
(I’ll share a write-up at the end of this post so you can see what I mean).
A new to-do list for the week
From there, I re-calibrate for the next week. I draft up a new to-do list for the coming week.
This is done by carrying over any items from the previous week that I didn’t finish, and also by looking at my monthly to-do list to see what I can tackle in the coming week.
I make sure to arrange things by category (business, relationships, etc.). I also like to be quite specific when marking things down here, because I believe in the power of specific and actionable tasks.
Update everything on Nozbe
Finally, I take my big to-do list and input it onto an app called Nozbe. It’s a paid app (monthly subscription), but it’s extremely valuable and I can’t imagine not having it.
It’s basically a beautiful, intuitive and highly functional to-do list. You can keep track of projects and larger tasks with Nozbe, you can share tasks with other users (something I do with my business partner), you can attach images, files and links to to-do list items, and so much more.
I also like to go through my calendar and mark down anything from my calendar into Nozbe. That way, when I look at my daily to-do in the morning, I have a full list of what needs to be done (including appointments).
My planning system
I’ve tried various systems over the years for keeping organized, but what I find works best is a nice, big, unlined notebook (I’m obsessed with my Pentalic, and have had several). I use this notebook for anything – lists I make, ideas I have, goals, and so on. My life is in this notebook, including all to-do lists.
Aside from my notebook, I have Nozbe on my computer and phone. This is how I keep track of my day-to-day schedule.
Then there’s my calendar – it’s just a Google calendar attached to my email. The only things that go on my calendar are time-bound things like appointments and meetings.
Finally, I use Evernote. This is where I clip anything I want for reference – it’s like my digital Pentalic. My yearly goals, quarterly planning and 100 Dreams list all live here, in addition to any other random things I decide to save (anything from a hair product I want to try, to a password for an obscure site, to a blog on brands of cat food).
I tend to clean up my Evernote once a month or so, sorting through everything, giving notes a new home or deleting things that have become irrelevant.
All in all, my Friday review takes about 2 hours to do. That might seem like a lot of time, but it pays abundantly in focused productivity during the week. It’s easily the best thing I do to stay on top of my many plans and projects.
Depending on where you’re at in life, a detailed Friday review might be overkill. But I think most people could benefit from it. Give it a try for a month and see how it feels! The worst that could happen is you’re more organized and aware of how you’re spending your time… 🙂
A Friday Review Write-Up Example
Another great week!
So what made this week great?
1. The pacing was good It can be exciting when things move really fast, when you’re bouncing from one task or appointment or meeting to the next. But I always feel dissatisfied at the end of days like this, laying in bed, the first time I’ve breathed all day. Why is the end of the day the first time I’ve breathed?
I like when life moves at a decent clip – fast enough to be fun – but you can still see the scenery out the window. And this is a delicate balance of having plans and tasks, but not too many.
I got the math right this week. Two days of work, quality time with my mother and a couple friends, and lots of time at home tending to chores, and outside tending to the springy weather. I breathed all week long. Jane and I had a lot of fun. Even when the furnace broke down again! (It’s getting replaced Monday.) Even when the giant convoy of carbon tax protesters, complete with their “I love gas” stickers on their trucks and semis, caused a stone to fly at and burrow into my windshield when I was on the highway (a $65 fix, no biggie)! Even when Jane shirked her afternoon nap today (which is why I’m writing this at 10pm).
Things will always go wrong forever. Such is life. Might as well have fun.
A meeting with ___ I had a meeting with an innovative company called ___. The two guys who run the business are very enjoyable, down-to-earth people and I had a great time chatting with them. So great, in fact, that I pitched them on participating in my online conference. I haven’t formally asked anyone yet – that’s something I’m starting next week. But I thought – hey, if they say yes, I’ll have a couple names that I can name-drop when asking other people to participate.
And they were an easy yes! They dig the idea and they’re happy to participate. My first big win. Thanks Universe! You’ve got my back on this online convention.
More on the online convention I’ve been doing a lot of prep work for next week, where I’m going to start messaging people about being speakers at my convention. Basically I’ve just searched my personal network for potential connections. It’s easier to email people who are “warm” – like a friend-of-a-friend situation – than to send cold emails, so I wanted to see how many warm emails I’d be able to get going.
Not very many. But a few. I’ll be spending the next few weeks in heavy correspondence. It’ll be tough next week, since it’s the last week of my course – the two are overlapping – but after that it shouldn’t be too heavy a load.
Blog posting I’ve been feeling a lot of energy toward posting on my blog, and rode the wave of inspiration on Wednesday. Like I talked about last week, I gotta exercise that muscle!
I have a piano teacher! Finally, after years of dallying, I’ve scheduled regular lessons with a piano teacher. I haven’t taken lessons for a decade (aside from random one-offs, usually with people I used to work with). And I wanted the experience of a mentor.
So I found a teacher through the conservatory – we’d actually met before (the piano teaching world is small in Regina). And she’s quite accomplished, having just finished a stint studying in Hungary. She’s going to help upgrade my skills so I can pass my grade 10 with a mark of 70% or higher – the mark needed to go on to the next level.
Private mentoring of any kind is expensive, but I also can’t think of anything else that’ll propel your growth faster. I’d love to have mentors forever. Universe, I’d like enough money to have personal mentors for whatever projects I’m working on, okay?
The Jesus Veggie Truck Came to Town! Shoutout to the ABC truck for rolling through Regina. I spent way too long in a semi-truck stocked with all kinds of exotic vegan meats, cheeses, condiments and so on. It was heaven. It was crowded. There were familiar faces (the vegans of Regina are a close-knit community).
Speaking of dolla bills… Mike and I haven’t had a date night in a few weeks – plans have been falling through. But the Universe did us a solid this week – there’s a six-course vegan pop-up dinner (complete with wine tasting) tomorrow, and we’re in it to win it. My mom is babysitting. She’s been helping out a lot lately, and I’m lucky for it.
I initially hesitated to buy tickets because it’s expensive, but then I realized that life experiences are far more valuable than money in a bank account (especially when it’s a relatively inconsequential amount – it’s not like it was the difference between us having groceries for the rest of the month or not).
Gardening So this is random. But every year I declare how much I hate gardening. It’s not because of the gardening itself, it’s because I suck at it. But you suck at everything until you learn about it and get good.
My parents live out of town and have good land. I’m there often enough anyway, so I’m going to grow things on a plot there. I have a little greenhouse in our sun room and am armed and ready with some early-start seedlings (tomatoes, peppers and eggplants particularly enjoy an early start). I’m also starting some lettuce, collards and chard because they can be transplanted at the end of April – they can tolerate some frost and don’t like it too hot.
I like the idea of growing things. There’s an appeal in country life, in sinking your hands into dirt. But I also hate bugs. There was a spider in my lettuce the other day and I started screaming – no control over that reaction at all. Mike thought I was dying. So there’s a disconnect there. Ha!
But then, I like the convenience of buying things. Of having people grow things for me. Skip out on all that labor. But then I wonder – in doing so, am I also skipping out on something fundamentally human? I love to do “higher” work – work that involves more high-level decision-making, more intelligence – but those kinds of things take me out of my body.
I spend so much of every day in my head. The idea is that gardening is a way out. A way into the present moment.
Plus it’s something I’d like Jane to grow up experiencing. It’s a productive way for us to spend time outside.
Other habits Other habits I have on the go – walking 45 minutes a day (I succeed most days), baby gym 2x/week (it’s basically a BYOBaby HIIT thing), other workout 3x/week. Mostly consistent.
Mostly eating well, but I’ve definitely enjoyed a thick slice of banana bread or blueberry scone when the opportunity arises. And I’m not losing weight as a result. But I’m cool with that for now. I might not be losing weight, but I can eat as much as I want with very little restriction and not gain weight, so that’s a good place to be.
Listening to audiobooks and podcasts on my drives. Still reading voraciously (particularly enjoying James Altucher’s Choose Yourself right now). I’m also reading a meditation book so I’ll try to meditate for a few minutes each day and see how that goes.
In a previous post I talked about knowing what you want. And how, if you live in a constant state of ambivalence, you’ll just keep getting what you’ve always gotten, regardless of if you want it or not. If you want something different, you have to choose. Even if choosing means the exclusion of all other options.
Those are nice words to say, and I stand by them 100%. That doesn’t mean I’m a pro at decision-making. Decision-making is a huge area of weakness for me. I’m barely evolved beyond being able to answer “What do you want for dinner”, let alone answering larger, more life-changing decisions.
One area that I’ve struggled with for years is the decision between city and country. Michael and I have had countless conversations on the matter since we started dating in 2012, and we’ve never settled the matter.
Each time we chat about it, I hope that the conversation will unearth a strong opinion in him. I hope that, after some deliberation, he’ll declare, “I’m all for city life. Let’s do city life!” And I’ll be tugged along with the gusto of his decision. My own ambivalence will be transformed by his certainty.
I’ve basically been hoping that he’ll make the decision for me.
Alas, our most recent conversation about city versus country yielded no such fruit. Even when I asked “If you had to choose one right now – gun to your head – what would you choose?”, he still didn’t give a confident answer. We just kept deliberating the pros and cons.
Small Town Life
Right now we’re not living the city or country life, but a weird hybrid: small-town life.
It’s not such a small town. A little hamlet or village would be equivocal to country life, I think. No, our town is townly enough to have a Wal-Mart. It’s not country living.
But, even though by definition it’s a city, it’s not city life either.
Back when we used to live in Toronto, we learned that the perspective on what constitutes a “small town” there is very different. In Saskatchewan, a small town is something like Radville or Milestone – a little place with no grocery store and less than a thousand people.
In Toronto, I had a piano student who purportedly grew up in a “small town”. When I asked him what town that was, he said, “Niagara Falls”.
Niagara Falls has a population of 88,000. I’m not saying it’s a thriving metropolis, but it certainly isn’t the grassy, deer-filled expanse of Radville, Saskatchewan, population 860.
For the last four years we’ve lived the small-ish town life. Michael grew up with this life, but it’s new to me. I’m not sure how I feel about it.
Ultimately I think I’d rather dwell in a place that was either definitively a big city, or definitively country. A town just sort of feels like it’s half-assing it. A town is ambivalent, unsure of what it wants to be.
But when I used to live in Regina, the second-largest city in Saskatchewan (population 200,000, give or take), I used to say the same thing. “If I’m going to live in a city, I want a city,” I would declare. “This city is too small. There’s nothing to do and you always run into people you know.”. Besides, it was too big to afford the unlocked-door safety of a smaller town.
(True fact: Regina used to be ranked in the top 5 most dangerous places to live in Canada. Anecdotally, I always felt much, much safer in Toronto despite the significant difference in size.)
Big City Life
Michael and I, having debated the merits of city versus country life early in our relationship, decided on city life in the summer of 2013. We were in our mid-twenties and were passionate musicians. We had fantasies of “making it big”, and had all kinds of plans, from playing rock shows to teaching cooking classes together.
Nothing panned out the way we had dreamed. Looking back, we lacked an essential component of bringing dreams to life – action. We only half-heartedly searched for a guitarist and bassist to complete our rock quartet, of which I was the singer and he was the drummer.
If we’d been really passionate, we would’ve written music together. Keyboard, vocals, drums. People have done more with less. But we didn’t bother.
After spending a month or two planning a cooking class that we ultimately didn’t get enough sign-ups for (despite having a space and getting a write-up in a local news column), the cooking class dream died. Really, it was cowardice. I didn’t want to teach cooking classes. I was too scared. I was secretly relieved when we didn’t have to do it
But there we were, in Toronto, the best city in Canada. In a great, well-connected neighborhood, we enjoyed our 450-square-foot apartment and all the amenities of city life.
…In theory. We were mainly too broke to enjoy the nightlife, and while I loved small-space apartment life (and could even tolerate the silverfish that sometimes surfaced in the bathroom), Michael didn’t. He’s the kind of guy who wanted a yard and a mortgage.
So after a couple years of Toronto, we moved to a small town, where we’re debating city versus country all over again. It’s as though we’ve been in a holding pattern the last four years, a waiting room. Life is asking, what’s it going to be next? And we’re twiddling our thumbs.
It’s not all bad. There are things I like about small town life. The fact that I’m able to both raise a child and work part-time without the exorbitant costs of a big city is nice. Michael and I see each other more because he doesn’t have a 90-minute commute to work. Our life is good.
But it’s not our final place. Does anyone ever move somewhere and think, “Yes, this is it. I’m here forever.”? Really, I want to know. I’ve never felt that way about anywhere.
I’ve had the experience of country life, too. Once when I was a baby. But that doesn’t count, because I don’t remember it. Though I suspect that my early unremembered childhood experiences have contributed to my feelings of longing toward country life – in a way it feels like home.
My second country experience was as a teenager. To the horror of my family, I had dropped out of my final year of high school. I was a degenerate.
After a year of aimless drifting, I decided to finish high school after all. But I didn’t want to do it in Regina, a place filled with, to my binary teenage thinking, mean girls and uncompassionate teachers.
I decided I wanted to finish high school in a small town, where my grandparents resided and had a beautiful acreage. It was close enough to town that you could walk if you really wanted, but far enough that, at night, it was quiet. And my goodness, the starry sky.
Everyone agreed to this arrangement, probably because they were desperate for me to resign my degenerate ways. And so I lived the country life for six months.
…Sort of. I didn’t do any country chores, such as gardening, landscaping, and lawn mowing that naturally go along with country life. It was more of an amuse bouche of country life.
I remember how the quiet nights always drew me into the deepest of existential questions. In the country is where I became fascinated with life’s mysteries, like Easter Island, Atlantis, near-death experiences and pretty much everything guys like Alan Watts wrote.
I remember gazing into my grandparent’s artful expanse of a yard, with neat hedges surrounding a gigantic, abundant garden. The edges of the lot were lined with poplars that permanently swayed in the breeze, the rustling leaves as liquid as a rushing stream.
Armed with a notebook, a cigarette and some coffee, I spent many mornings on the patio overlooking the garden. I worked out my teenage angst on those pages. To the relief of my family, I began to heal. I became a little more like an adult, a little less like a delinquent.
When my grandparents sold that lot a decade ago, I felt like I’d lost the only real home I’d ever had. I spent my babyhood and a brief – but significant – window of my teenagehood there. The country was there for me at pivotal moments of growth.
And so, country life tugs at me, soft but insistent.
Country versus City
“I want a hobbit house,” I declared to Michael for the hundredth time in our relationship.
“You can have a hobbit house as long as it’s in the yard of a real house,” he countered.
“So if we lived on the country, then I’d get a hobbit house?” I asked.
And that’s how the hundred-and-first conversation about country versus city began.
One day I’m fantasizing about hobbit houses and having a dedicated grand piano room, complete with a sprawling library. I think fondly of putting my hands in the dirt and raising children who can spend most of the hours of their day outside.
The next day I’m daydreaming about living in Manhattan, one of my favorite places on earth. Living in a small condo above a bagel shop, being at the center of the universe. Finding energy and sustenance in the hustle and bustle, existing among the highest achievers.
And then I’m back to my fantasies of country life, finding energy and sustenance in the quiet and space. Cities are loud, polluted and expensive. The country is clean, quiet and affordable. On the country you have more time for meaningful hobbies, for family, for the things that matter most.
But you’re alienated. You can’t walk everywhere – you have to drive if you want groceries. There are the countless chores. You can’t rely on Skip the Dishes if you’re in a rush at suppertime. You don’t see your friends as much. And that’s not to mention the bugs, rodents and pests.
In the city, everyone’s so close. You can walk to all the stores and swing by a friend’s house. There’s no lack of fun, interesting and enriching activities to do. Kids have more schooling options, and those options don’t involve rural bus routes. You’re closer to every type of service, including emergency services.
But in the city it’s easy to get distracted by all the shiny things. You spend so much time coming and going, and not enough time being. It’s too easy to get caught up in the whirlwind and abandon productive and meaningful hobbies. You don’t spend as much time outside, and that outside time is spent marinating in the exhaust fumes of thousands of vehicles.
As Michael so succinctly said, city life is “rush rush go go fast.”
But then there’s the diversity in a city. People from all over the world, speaking all kinds of languages. And whatever weird niche thing you’re into, there are others who are too. The city is a great place to be a vegan. It would be great if I was a Wiccan scholar or a video game entrepreneur or any other random thing I could conceive.
Country life tends to bring with it a certain stubbornness of mind, a certain clinging to tradition and fear of the new. The city is open, where the country is closed. I fear that living in a town, and the country, would create a closed mind in me, too.
What they say about small town living is true – people are generally very friendly. But there’s a price to pay if you exist outside the norm. In a city, you can let your freak flag fly
So we oscillate, back and forth. How do you decide between country or city once and for all?
Is one or the other objectively better?
Or is there a clear internal signal that guides you in one direction?
This is the easiest question, this is the hardest question.
(It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way – in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.)
-Charles Dickens, A Tale of Two Cities
List of 10 ideas
As I ate my big bowl of morning oatmeal, I penned down yet another “list of 10 ideas”, a habit I’ve adopted at James Altucher’s suggestion. Sometimes the process is challenging – when you’ve spent a couple months making lists, you’ve exhausted a lot of the good and obvious ideas. You’ve hit the point where you need to dig deeper.
The idea of being “the best” at something stuck in my head, so I decided to make a list of 10 things I could be the best at.
Since we’re all friends here, here’s my list:
Best piano player
Best piano teacher
Best piano website/channel
Best non-fiction writer
Best fiction writer
Best script writer
Best personal growth leader
Best vegan chef
Being the Best Ever
As I looked over my list, I realized that I wouldn’t actually want to be the best ever at most of these. I don’t have the desire to be the best parent or wife ever. I want to be a great parent and wife, but I don’t feel the need to be the best. For now, good enough is good enough.
And as much as I love cooking, I don’t need to be the best at it, either. My husband is a better cook than me and I don’t even feel the need to be better than him, let alone better than everyone. So scratch that.
Thinking about being the best piano player is laughable. It’s just impossible. I don’t have what it takes, and I have no inclination to compete at the back-breaking level necessary to get there.
Here’s what feels like an actual possibility: Having the best piano website/channel. It feels real because I can visualize it. I can come up with 100 ideas of things to do over the next 5-10 years to become the best. And then I can come up with 100 more.
This is something that feels within my grasp to be the best at. And it’s different than being the best piano teacher or piano player. I need to be good at both of those to have a relevant website/channel for piano players, but building an online business, recording videos and creating courses and events are unique to having the best piano website/channel.
Yes, this is one that fires me up.
But there are a couple ideas on my list that scare me.
Follow the Fear
Be the best personal growth leader? How could I ever hope to be better than David Allen or Stephen Covey? I’m a little baby and they’re giants in the field.
But there’s a difference between a scary thought and an impossible thought. Being the best piano player is an impossible thought. Being the best personal growth leader isn’t impossible. It’s scary. And where there’s fear, there’s something to examine more closely.
Can I be a better non-fiction writer than Cal Newport or Michael Pollan? Would I even want to play in that league? The thought makes my blood run cold.
Thinking like this changes everything.
I write every day. I read every day. I’m obsessed with personal development. But journaling and blogging with the intention to have fun and introspect is one thing. Writing with the intention of becoming the best is a completely different thing.
If I wanted to be the best writer, what would I do differently? Would I journal differently? Would I read different books? Would I take classes? Would I spend more time writing, or would I spend the same amount of time writing differently? Would I need a mentor? How would I go about getting better, aside from repetition? How would I earn a living from writing? Would I have to drop everything else? What if I could never be good enough? What if people said I was a terrible writer and that I’m wasting my time? What if I built my whole life around being the best writer ever and it was all for nothing?
These are scary, scary thoughts. Because making decisions here means rewriting my life. It means living differently.
It means getting clear on what I want.
That’s the scariest thing.
It’s fun to daydream about all the could-be’s. I love taking 20 minutes imagining all sorts of futures, just me and my brain. It’s one of my favorite quiet activities and I engage in it several times a week, usually as my daughter’s falling asleep for a nap.
Sometimes I’ll imagine traveling to beautiful places. Sometimes I’ll imagine having an abundance of wonderful friends. Sometimes I’ll visualize my perfect office or library or piano room.
These could-be’s are lovely because they’re ephemeral. It’s one thing to dream up a lovely future and watch it disappear as pleasantly as steam from a cup of coffee. The moment passes, the coffee cools, and nothing changes.
But if the thing you’re dreaming up is no longer a could-be, it’s a will-be – that’s scary. It means making decisions. It means saying yes to 1 thing and no to 100 other things.
I want to stay in a state where anything is possible. It’s the most comfortable place in the world to be.
But if I choose to be the best writer, I’m doing so at the expense of being the best at pretty much everything else in life.
If I decide to become the best writer, then I will probably never become the best piano player. Not ever, not someday. Never.
What’s more scary than the death of infinite possibilities?
This is why deciding what you want is the hardest thing. It’s a “yes” to one delicious meal, while saying “no” to every other potentially delicious meal on the menu. And you can’t come back to the restaurant ever again. At least as far as you know.
Thinking about what you want is fun. Deciding what you want is something that most of us avoid. I know I have. I know I do.
But I must observe the quantum particle. I must take it from the state of infinite possibilities into flesh-and-bones reality.
What do you want to choose?
“What is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” – Mary Oliver