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Jun 3, 2010

Keeping the Right To-Do List

by fivesimplethings

Last week, I couldn’t sleep because travel had thrown my body clock off.   This week, I’m having trouble sleeping for another reason.  As we head into summer, the list of things needing to get accomplished seems overwhelming.  I have a desire to throw off the pressing things around me so that I can mimic the carefree attitude of summers past.  However, the act of casting out my problems and concerns has become stressful in itself.

If you’re like me, you can get caught up in a cycle of worry that just feeds on fear.  What if something doesn’t get done?  What if that conversation goes poorly?  What if we aren’t able to close that deal?  What if?  What if? What if?

One of the reasons I’ve tried to become so focused on the four simple things I need to accomplish everyday is that it forces me to sort through what I am trying to do because of worry rather than out of necessity.  If I limit what I am trying to get done, I’m required to center on what matters most.

When you can’t sleep, start discarding the things you can’t change or the things that are simply irritants to accomplishing your goals.  Focus on what you CAN do.  The problems will still be there in the morning.  However, you’ll have a roadmap for  accomplishing things that matter.

What are the unnecessary things you are worrying about?  Take them off your to do list. Let me know in the comments section or on twitter with the hashtag #fivesimplethings.

-John Tolsma

May 25, 2010

Sleepless Nights

by fivesimplethings

I’ve been in Asia this week and my body is still trying to figure out what time it is.  Whenever I travel abroad, I experience a couple of sleepless nights as I adapt to the new schedule.

So, last night, I was fully awake at 3:07a.

What do you do?

I started thinking about everything that needed to be done the next day, and I started to feel my heart speed up.  That wasn’t going to work.

Instead, I decided to figure out something that I was grateful for that started with each letter of the alphabet.

A-     Airlines were on time on the way over

B-      Breakfast at the hotel was excellent

C-      Calls to the US got through so that I could talk to the kids

You get the picture.  By the time I got to P, I had already gone back to zzzzzzzs.  This really works.

What do you do when you can’t sleep?  Can you turn it into an opportunity for gratitude? Let me know in the comments section or on twitter with the hashtag #fivesimplethings.

-John Tolsma

May 20, 2010

The Blank Slate of Summer

by fivesimplethings

This morning I dropped two of my kiddos off for the last day of School.  As I drove away from the parking lot, I was reminded of the way I felt at the end of every academic year.   Whether I was a child or a law student, there was nothing so completely freeing as knowing that every obligation had been met and that a blank slate awaited me the next time I showed up for school.

The morning after the last day of school you had to be creative about what to do because there was no homework waiting, no papers to be written, no meetings with professors.  You could literally design your day with no constraints.

Don’t you miss that?  I do.  Nowadays, when I finish a big project, there’s always one waiting that hasn’t been tended to while I worked on the other.  When I pay off one bill, there’s one from another company that keeps showing up in my mailbox.

Do me a favor.  Encourage the little ones around you to relish in the summer.  Use  their carefree attitudes to transport you back to a simpler focus and a carefree time.  That project can wait.  It will be there in the morning.

Finally, ask yourself, “if I had a blank slate tomorrow… if I had a new ‘summer’ ahead of me… what would I do differently?” Let me know in the comments section or on twitter with the hashtag #fivesimplethings.

-John Tolsma

May 17, 2010


by fivesimplethings

I just got off the phone with a recruiter who was checking references for one of my former employees. The recruiter set up the appointment in advance so I had a few minutes to write down all of the good things I wanted to say about him. I ticked off the three things that distinguished him and waited for the call.

As I wrote, I thought about the fact that while he worked for me, I didn’t do a good enough job of recognizing his accomplishments. Most days, I could write out the three things I needed him to do or the three projects that seemed to be lagging. However, I didn’t tell him the three things he did really well that week.

Why do we focus on the negatives so often? Why do we wait until people aren’t around anymore to celebrate successes and the positive attributes that endear them to us?

Here’s my question. Who is the person you see every day but fail to give your “references”? Is it your spouse? Is it a coworker? I wonder if it is even your child? Let me know in the comments section or on twitter with the hashtag #fivesimplethings.

Go ahead. Find them. Tell them what makes them stand out.

-John Tolsma

May 10, 2010

The Value of Surprise

by fivesimplethings

I underestimated the value of surprise yesterday when I went to the airport to pick up my brother who was coming into town for work. As we lifted his bags into the car, I noticed a woman coming out of the airport. I was turning to my brother to mention how much she looked like our mother when I realized it was our mother!

She had totally surprised me by arriving on Mother’s Day. I honestly don’t think I’ve ever been so glad to see her.

Isn’t that the value of surprise? It moves us past the planned, over-scheduled lives we lead so we step back and consider the real meaning of the people and events around us.

I want more surprise in my life. I want to live off script more often. Don’t you?

That’s the reason I look to do one random act of kindness every day. It forces me to incorporate surprise in my life. My mother’s arrival was a random act of kindness to me and my whole family that brought us such joy. How can I turn around and share that with someone else? What’s the greatest surprise you’ve ever given someone?  What will you do today to surprise someone?

Let me know in the comments section or on twitter with the hashtag #fivesimplethings.

-John Tolsma

Apr 15, 2010

Affirming Others

by fivesimplethings

Let’s keep this focus on the positive thread in order to effect change.

Every day, Five Simple Things encourages us to do two things that will strengthen our faith and family. Let me give you an idea for something that would be great for strengthening your family ties.

Write the names down all of your family members–your parents, spouse, children, siblings, etc. Underneath each name write down two things this person is really good at. Go ahead-write them down.

Every day, pick two of those folks and send them the results of your inventory. Send them a note that allows them to know what you think they do well. Make it tangible and make it specific. Give them a sense of what you value most in them. Then, watch to see how they’ll take that positive reinforcement and put it into action.

Send me any other twists on this idea that will allow those we love most to know what we value most in them (twitter hashtag #fivesimplethings).

-John Tolsma

Apr 9, 2010

Begin with the Positive

by fivesimplethings

I’m just getting into the Heath Brothers’ new book, Switch.

One of their premises is that when you start to tackle something you want to change, you should first ask yourself what is really going right rather than diving into all of the problems that seem to be insurmountable. It makes a lot of sense. When you start thinking about all of the reason why something can’t be done, you can easily get mired. You can easily get stuck.

Lee Ann and I tried this on a date night over Spring Break. Rather than starting in on all the things that needed to be done and all of the pesky issues that needed addressing when we got home, we spent the whole night asking ourselves what was really going right in our marriage. We asked what was really going well with our kids.

You know what? Dinner was a lot more fun and we got to some tangible ideas about where we were headed going into the summer.

One of the drivers of Five Simple Things is starting your day with five things you are thankful for before you begin your “Do” list. It’s the same concept. Begin with the positive.

Try this. Next time you go to a meeting or sit down with a family member, start by asking what is really going well. What are the things you are thankful for in the relationship or on the work project? Let me know in the comments section or on twitter with the hashtag #fivesimplethings.

Click here to read an excerpt of Switch from Fast Company.

-John Tolsma

Mar 31, 2010

Spring Break Update

by fivesimplethings

We’re Day 4 into our Spring Break. I knew this year was going to be crazy because in the midst of the kids’ vacation from school, we’re gearing up for a big month at the office.

I’ve tried two methods for trying to maximize my time with my family.

The first method is to try to schedule all of my calls and work commitments in the morning so that I can really focus on the family in the afternoon. The other has been to try to block off two hour chunks of time when I know that our youngest kids will be down for naps.

Here’s the problem. When I try to do everything in the morning, my morning turns into mid-afternoon. If I try to make chunks of time work throughout the day, the chunks of time just keep getting longer and I start adding more chunks.

Bottom line—it’s hard to get work done when on Spring Break.

So I’m back to my original premise. Go back to the Do list and figure out the four things that need to get done, finish them, and then move on with the day. Let me know if you’re having success with what matters most over spring break in the comments section or on twitter with the hashtag #fivesimplethings.

Glad we still have five days of vacation left!  Happy Easter.

-John Tolsma

Mar 29, 2010

Thoughts on the Census Ad Blitz

by fivesimplethings

Something is really getting under my skin this week. Whether I’m driving in my car, watching the NCAA tournament, or sorting through my mail, I’ve been bombarded by paid advertising from the US Census Bureau reminding me to send in my census.

I can’t imagine the cost of this advertising campaign. I just know that each day I’m inching closer to April 15th where I’ll get to send a check to the Federal Government to help do my part to pay for this seemingly unending series of reminders for people to complete the form.

Here’s where I come down on this. As a society and as individuals, we’ve got to take some measure of personal responsibility for ourselves. If Lee Ann and I want the kids to pick up their rooms, we tell them once or twice. After that, there are consequences for not responding. More often than I’d like, we have to serve up those consequences. However, we don’t give them hundreds of media impressions to encourage them to do something.

Have you had this same response over the course of the last few weeks?

It’s made me ask how I can be more accountable to my Do list and support my family with theirs, particularly when a mandatory deadline exists. Self-discipline not only ensures accomplishment, it can encourage those around us to stay on task which can save lots of time, energy and resources. How do you mark everything off your list?  Let me know what you think in the comments section or on twitter with the hashtag #fivesimplethings.

By the way, I sent our census form in on March 17th.

-John Tolsma

Mar 23, 2010

Spring Break

by fivesimplethings

Now that our son is five years old, we’re settling into the groove of living by the academic calendar. I’ve got to admit, I think I look forward to Spring Break as much as he does. For the last two weeks, the promise of warm sun has melted away the wintry forecasts that seem to affect every area of life right now–the economy, politics, and everyone’s mood in general.

I’m so looking forward to a chance to refocus on the brighter, warmer season that is sure to come. I’m also looking forward to being very methodical about spending focused time with each of my children. It seems that cancelled flights, constant meetings, and colliding agendas have kept me very preoccupied this winter.  If I’m serious about doing something to strengthen my family, I can’t just look at the chance to be with them as “time in the sun”.  Anticipation has to meet intentionality, so I’m beginning to think about one thing I can do with each of them individually for a two to three hour block of time. I’m also trying to think of things that I can do with the whole gang of three to free my wife up for a day.

Here’s the premise–we’ll be at the beach. So you know the trappings–sand, ocean, good ice cream places, lots of open time. What are some ideas for things I can do with my kiddos–ages 5,3, and 1?  What’s worked for you that your family has loved? Let me know what you think in the comments, or respond on twitter with the hashstag #fivesimplethings.

-John Tolsma