keeping it together


One of the questions I get most often online and in “real life” is, “How do you manage it all?” And when I stop and think about it, my life is a little crazy right now. I guess when you’re in the middle of it, you don’t realize how precarious your juggling act is. Maybe this is a survival tactic.

So here’s the God’s-honest-truth answer to that million dollar question: most of the time, I don’t.

Balls get dropped. Emails sit in my inbox and collect dust before I have a moment to wade through them. Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and tip-toe into the kitchen to call my flower supplier and whisper an important forgotten order into their voicemail. I run out of underwear before I realize it’s been two weeks since I did a load of laundry. I miss networking events because all day I thought it was Tuesday, and holy #$!@ it’s Thursday. I don’t call my mom and dad enough. And that’s just the tip of the slippery iceberg, friends.

Some days, I dominate my to-do list with time and energy to spare {ahhh, those days}. Other days, I want to hide in my bed for 48 hours and pretend my looming responsibilities don’t exist. {Respect to you mommas out there who juggle work and littles; I can’t even imagine it.}

Unfortunately, you don’t get sick days when you’re the big cheese and your fate rests on your tired droopy shoulders, so I’m working on achieving more balance and organization in my day-to-day. Please note that I said working on. As in, I don’t have all the answers. But I do have a few “keep it together” practices for myself to keep me going {and I don’t even drink coffee}. Even if you’re not self-employed but feeling a little overwhelmed, try these out and see if they help!

Write it down.

Or even better, write it down twice. I pride myself on my elephant-like memory (for serious, it’s a steel trap) but even I can’t remember every little detail or customer request. I keep all of my calendars, to-do lists, and project details in a binder that goes with me just about everywhere. I love the arc customizable notebook line by Staples, because you can tailor your day planner with dozens of styles and options. I also keep pretty notebooks and colorful pens near all my workstations at home and at the shop, because — let’s be real — I’m more likely to use an organizational system if it’s cute. I also try to keep my iCalendar updated and synced with my iPhone so my schedule is always on-hand.

Eat well.

Not to be confused with it’s elitist and unachievable sister, Eat Perfectly. Go ahead, eat a cupcake and don’t beat yourself up about it, but make sure you’re fueling your body with the good stuff, too. A car can’t run on cheap gas, and you can’t run on non-fat lattes and Happy Meals. My super-healthy friend, Lisa, put this all in perspective for me one day when I was bummed about falling off my gluten-free diet wagon. She said to forget about trying to follow some unachievable diet perfectly. Just try to make more good decisions than bad, and eventually it becomes a lifestyle! I swear by green monsters and home-cooked meals. No matter how tired I am at the end of the day, I try to cook a healthy dinner every night for Chad and me.

Get a hobby. 

For me, it’s this blog. Among my other favorites are photography, jewelry-making, cooking, restyling, music, and reading . The point is to have an outlet to focus on, and to flex your creative muscle. Before I started A Pretty Penny, I thought my hobby was shopping. But it was really just a time-filler and temporary band-aid that ended up getting me in a lot of financial trouble and exacerbated my stress and anxiety.

Know when to ask for back-up.

I’m a perfectionist and control freak, and I hate to ask for help. Some sick part of my brain equates reaching out for back-up with weakness, I think. So rather than teach someone else a task so I can take it off my plate, or accept a kind offer for assistance, I prefer to do it allll myself until my plate runneth over into the dark corners of oblivion. It’s not because I want all the glory or think other people are incompetent, it’s because I guess I think I can do it all and when I do it all it will be exactly the way I want it. This is stupid. And I’m working on it. Don’t be like me. Know when you’re getting a little overloaded and need someone to step in and take some of your to-do list off your hands.

Lose the guilt.

It took me a long time to learn the power of saying no. Or, in my southern-raised case: “no, thank you.” As in, “No, thank you, I can’t make it to XYZ this weekend because I’ve had a really crazy week and I just need to clean my house and take a 6-hour nap,” or “As much as I love the cause of ABC Organization, I don’t think I can commit my time on the board this year because I’m a little overextended and probably wouldn’t be much help.” Don’t feel guilty because you can’t do it all. Otherwise you’re going to find yourself stretched thinner than plastic wrap and you’re going to be worthless in just about all of it.

Follow the 80/20 rule.

I was chatting with a relative at a family get-together last night. He’s a seasoned and accomplished businessman, who’s had several successful and different ventures throughout his career. We were talking about how busy things have been at the shop, and laughing about the myth of “business ownership equals more time and freedom” {trust me ya’ll, it does not}. He told me to always remember the 80/20 rule.

Forget the illusion that you’re going to finish 100% of your to-do list every day. Just make sure you finish at least 80% before you lock it up every night. The remaining 20% can wait until tomorrow. If it’s one of those rare and luxurious days that you finish 80% early, start on the rest and see how far you get and call it a win. But as long as you’re always operating on 80/20, and getting 80% of everything done every day, you’ll make it and be successful.

Make time for fun.

It doesn’t really matter what your idea of “fun” is, just make sure you pencil in time for plenty of it. You know what they say about all work and no play.

I’d love to hear your “keep it together” practices, too! If there’s something that works for you that I haven’t mentioned here, please share it in the comments. I’m sure we’ll all appreciate any tips we can get!

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  1. 3.28.12

    Great post! I think it’s so important to find that balance. I struggle with it all the time. I can especially relate with our “Find a hobby” part. I too used to think shopping was a hobby, but its not! And unless you have a limitless budget it causes more stress than it helps. I started my blog to help me feel creative again. Love ur blog! Keep it up!

  2. 3.27.12
    Anja said:

    really good tips and a great post – especially the fun time and 80/20 rule need to be introduced to my daily life. Sometimes it is all so overwhelming, I don’t manage to think of myself enough

    Thx so much for reminding me!

    A Heart and Soul Story Blog

  3. 3.26.12
    J. Gale said:

    Such a great post. It was exactly what I needed to hear as I soldier through a busy week. The 80/20 idea is fantastic.

    I really adore your blog. Thanks for sharing your wonderfulness!

  4. 3.22.12
    lea.vdk said:

    These are great tips, and just what I needed! Love that notebook, I think I will have to grab one of those to help organize my life right now!

  5. 3.22.12
    Anna said:

    This is such a solid list. Great read!
    And oh, heavens, that Arc system looks amazing. Definitely going to have to look into that.

  6. 3.22.12
    katefranco said:

    amen sister friend! this post is so real. sleep is my biggest thing; if I don’t get enough sleep I’m worthless the next day and then all that strung out late night work was for naught.

    • 3.22.12

      Sleep is HUGE for me. I need a solid 8-10 a night, or I’m struggling the next day. I’ve pulled those all-nighters, too, and woken up exhausted and frustrated because I did most of the work wrong anyway. I love cuddling up with a book around 9:30 to start winding down, and try to be asleep by 10:30ish.

  7. 3.22.12
    Erica said:

    The 80/20 rule might have just saved my day, thank you! I woke up feeling overwhelmed with my to-do list, and as soon as I gave myself permission to NOT check every single box, I felt like *maybe* I could. Please do a post on your organizational style!

    • 3.22.12

      I definitely will! So glad you found this post helpful! :)

  8. 3.21.12
    Becca said:

    Great advice! Thank you for sharing. I sometimes feel overwhelmed with all of the things on my plate – even the most are there because I want to do them.

  9. 3.21.12
    Anita said:

    I’m also a person who writes down to do lists in my daily planner. and normally I also work with an 80/20 scheme like you.
    and what I really need is some time for sports. I didn’t do any sports except running until last june, when I got serious problems with my back because I had graduated from university and started to work, I really was sitting on an unhealthy and uncomfortable chair what caused me quite some pain. and then I started to go regularly to yoga and pilates classes – and even if my day is quite full and my to do list is not at 80% – I will go to my yoga class, because it helps me to get my mind free and to feel better afterwards. 2 hours of just me and my body and my mind – that’s such a wonderful thing in this busy and fast world. and I’ve learned to continue with my to do list then the other day – that works because I always order the things i need to do after their importance!

    xxx Anita

    • 3.22.12

      Anita, this is so true! I’ve heard amazing things about yoga, and there’s a studio just a few doors down from my shop. I’m really hoping to make some time at least once a week to take a class.

  10. 3.21.12
    anastasiac said:

    great blog post – i can use this right now…some days I get so frazzled with whats on my ‘to do’ list, keeping house, working, making sure my boys eat well, homework, after school activities, making time for my hubby, finishing paper good orders and keeping my ETsy shop stocked up!…it all gets so overwhelming…as woman we can do anything but we cant do everything right?

    • 3.22.12

      “We can do anything, but we can’t do everything” — LOVE this!

  11. 3.21.12
    Bethany said:

    This was just what I needed to read today! I’m still learning how to say no, and to make sure I make time to relax! Great post, thanks. :)

  12. 3.21.12
    jcharbour said:

    Love your organizational style! In the picture you posted, what products from the arc customizable notebook line by Staples are there? Also what pretty notebooks and colorful pens do you use?

    • 3.21.12

      I’m thinking I could do a whole separate post on this. In fact, I think I will! Stay tuned :)

  13. 3.21.12

    Awesome advice! Regardless of what you do or what you’re trying to achieve these tips will help. Thanks for sharing!

  14. 3.21.12

    Also, I am gluten-free as well and was just beating myself yesterday for having a weak moment with some wheat thins. Sigh.

    • 3.21.12

      Grace, here’s what I’ve decided about trying to be GF: I’m on a gluten-limited diet, not a gluten-free one. I avoid gluten because it makes me feel yucky, but sometimes I really want to eat pizza on a girl’s night and I don’t want to beat myself up about it. So I guess I apply the 80/20 rule to gluten, ha! Do what makes you feel good.

      I’m so glad you like the post :)

  15. 3.21.12

    Good lord – this hit the nail on the head, I feel exactly the same way! Great post!!! (I wrote about a similar sentiment last Friday… lately it has felt like I can’t keep all the balls in the air, and that all I do is say no, over and over again.)

  16. 3.21.12

    I love love love this post. All so true. I believe that we have time for what we make time for. I dislike when people say they don’t have time to work out and yet they have time to watch t.v (or whatever the situation may be). Point is: make time for what you consider a priority. I think exercise is an important factor in keeping it all togetehr and recharging your body and mind. However, I also believe in pampering yourself on bad days or when you deserve it (i.e. retail therapy, cupcake, starbucks, etc).

    Everything goes in writing for me too, it helps me to keep my ADD mind in check and not do a trillion things at once. I like to be busy, but sometimes I make myself take a step back and not spread myself too thin to have some fun.

    Once again, great post. Honest and realistic. Noone lives a perfect life witha great work-life balance. We all make sacrifices to do what is important or what needs to get done.

    • 3.21.12

      I love this — learning to prioritize is a major factor in figuring out work-life balance. There are so many times that I find myself in front of the t.v. for a couple of hours, and I’m like, “wait a minute, I could’ve read a good book in that time or taken the dog for a long walk!” And you’re so right about exercise!

      So glad you took something away from this post, Jess! :)

      • 3.21.12
        angel2x said:

        I just joined the gym, so I can get up and get out, as I work from home at the moment. I’m will try and go swimming from 8:30am twice a week..

        Interesting reading..

  17. 3.21.12
    angel2x said:

    Loving the half glass of red wine in the picture..

    A great read, I’m inspired..

    • 3.21.12

      I’m so glad you found it inspiring! Red wine is definitely a big part of me keeping it together ;-)

      • 3.21.12
        angel2x said:

        Yes as sometimes I feel I can’t drink if I’m working, you see, your work life balance is great.. I need to do a bit more of that.. ;) thanks for the inspiration..

  18. 3.21.12
    kebs said:

    Great Advice…

    I look for “me time”, every once in a while, when I can indulge and just relish at being me, no work, no school, no friends, nothing, just me, then I can recollect and later have enough strenth to get back to the hustles and bustles…

    • 3.21.12

      You’re so right! I recently had a two-week stint of no “me time” during a busy holiday, and I almost lost my mind. This is essential for me, even if it’s going out to lunch by myself with a stack of my favorite magazines, or window shopping for a couple of hours.