If you have a ‘to do’ list that you never get to the end of, this is for you.

If you were forced to write your to-do list on a scrap of paper tiny enough to fit in the smallest pocket of your jeans, what would you put on it?

Or (just in case you don’t wear jeans!) what one thing can you do today that’ll make this day a win?

Under-scheduling. Leaving room for the magic. Setting the bar super low. Whatever you want to call it, what if you didn’t force yourself to do all of the things today?

We live in a society that is always on. Pushing ourselves late into the night is seen as something to be celebrated. Time quilting is lauded as the greatest strategy ever to get stuff done that you won’t otherwise squeeze into your day.

And I get, really I do. With everyone else hustling, getting so much done in the time it takes me to make a coffee, if you’re not careful it can start to feel like you’re going to get left behind.

Do you ever pause, look around you, and wonder where everyone’s in such a hurry to get to?

There are exceptions of course. In the wee small hours of April 10th 2007, my poor mum was mentally willing my husband to please tie his shoe laces faster – she was afraid our son would be born in her kitchen!

But exceptions aside, life is a marathon, not a sprint. Can you imagine Usain Bolt running twenty six miles at the same pace he does his 100 metres? Crazy! It just can’t be done.

Instead, what if we chipped away, little by little? Under-scheduling.

Repeated daily actions over time adding up, over the course of a year, to super-human achievement.

Write five hundred words every day for a year and you’ve got yourself two weighty ninety thousand word manuscripts.

Eat just 135 less calories every day for a year and you’re looking at the most painless one stone weight loss ever. (Assuming all calories are equal and “calories in equals calories out.” Personally I’m not convinced!)

Read just five pages of a book every day for a year and you’ll get through … okay, that one depends on the size of the book – but you get the idea!

Slash the to-do list (or throw it away completely. You can remember one or two things without needing to write them down and if you can’t remember something, it probably wasn’t that important in the first place!)

You’re not a hamster. It’s time to climb off the wheel and enjoy the view – but only if you slow down enough to see it! Are you game?

Know someone who needs to do less?

Everyone’s a little bit crazy …

Some people are just better at hiding it than others!

Because it’s been so ridiculously hot here the last couple of days, yesterday afternoon I left a few minutes earlier than usual when it was time for school pick up. I decided there wasn’t much worse than rushing if I didn’t have to! Having arrived at school early, it gave me time to catch up with one of the other mums. Her son’s in the infants so I tend not to see her unless I’m early so it had been a while.

About this time last year she made the decision, with the support of her family, to go back to university and study for a degree so it was fab to hear just how wonderful her first year had been (after we both got over the shock that she’d finished her first year already!)

She then asked about my work and we chatted about how much we both appreciated the flexibility and freedom to do things our own way. I don’t remember how it came up in conversation but I made some throw away remark about how everyone’s a bit crazy, some people are simply better at hiding it than others.

She agreed and we spent a delightful few minutes talking about some of the wonderful crazy people that have impacted the world.

It wasn’t until later when I was back home that I realised this is what I really mean when I talk about you being you. It’s always felt like quite an abstract concept. You being you. What does that even mean?!? But thanks to my friend at school I now have a new picture, a better way to express it.

Because on the face of it, most of us look pretty normal. Married, kids, dogs, mortgage. Unless you dare to have a conversation and actually get to know most people, you’d never even know that underneath they’re just as crazy as you are!

But what if we let the crazy out to play?

You don’t have to be obnoxious about it. It can be a light touch, a little bit of whatever makes you quirky. The majority of people will never even notice but those that do? Instant connection. Smiles. A little bit of brightness in the day. And let’s face it, who doesn’t need more light in their day?

And there’s a deeper side to all this too, because it’s the crazy ones who change the world.

Maybe you have a crazy dream, something so bonkers you sometimes don’t dare speak it out loud, except maybe in a whisper. But no matter how many times you ignore it or push it aside, that crazy dream keeps coming back. (I love the crazy dreamers, they’re my favourite people to be around.)

What if you didn’t ignore it this time? What if you embraced the crazy and let it out to play? What might that look like? And how is that going to change the world?

Over to you …

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The fifteen minute play thing that’ll unlock your best ideas …

When it comes to tech, I tend to think of myself as an early adopter. I had my first iPhone nearly a decade ago, before it became the norm for high school students up and down the land, our first DVD player cost at least ten times more than a basic model today (and it worked fractionally worse too!) and I’m eagerly awaiting the “paper tablet” from reMarkable. (Mine’s due to land late August. I cannot wait!)

But I realised this week that I can also be incredibly slow!

Because this week, for the first time ever, I started writing ‘morning pages’. (Okay, the very first one was ‘afternoon pages’ but eh, details!) You’ve probably come across this before but, just in case not, the idea is to put pen to paper (or fingers to keys if you prefer. The die hard fans might suggest otherwise but I’m more of the ‘whatever method means you’ll actually do it’ kind of girl) ideally first thing in the morning before you start your day proper, and just write whatever comes to mind. No editing, no censoring – and no need to show it to anyone else.

And that last bit was why it took me until now to play with this.

The idea of putting words on a page that would never see light of day sounded totally crazy to me. Why would I waste even just fifteen minutes every day writing something that I’ll never use?!? That’s madness! On a good day I can write half a chapter in fifteen minutes. Repeat that process every day  for a year and that’s one hundred and eighty two chapters gone to waste. That’s nearly three full novels! See? Total lunacy!

Total lunacy yes, until I actually tried it.

In just three days and a little over 1500 words I’ve somehow found myself having problems I didn’t even know were properly bugging me. I was vaguely aware of them yes, niggles and itches, but that was all. Better than that, contained within those 1500 words are some solutions. Sweet!

I still need to take those half-formed solutions and play with them a little, yes there’s work to be done, but the sense of clarity and enthusiasm is crazy. (Good crazy!)

And so I wanted to take a moment today to encourage you to consider those things you might have, until now, rejected or discounted as not being right for you.

(And yes, if you, like me, thought ‘morning pages’ was a total waste of time, a self-indulgent practice for people with too much time on their hands maybe, I’d challenge you to face that head on by giving it a try for a week.)

You might be right in your initial assessment but you might find yourself stunned by the difference and wondering why you never tried it before. But here’s the thing – you won’t know unless you try! ?

Know someone who needs this?

What if we embraced the itch?

I don’t know if it’s simply because of a change in the weather, with the promise of summer serving as a physical reminder of the pace at which 2017 is running, or just because life’s feeling pretty steady so my brain decides it’s time for a shake up to keep things interesting, but I’m starting to get that itch.

Maybe you’ve felt it too? That niggle you get from time to time, calling you to take a look at what you’re doing on this planet and if it’s everything you hoped it would be. And it feels a bit like picking at a scab – you know you really shouldn’t but you just can’t help yourself.

What if we changed the dialogue around that niggle?

What if, instead of seeing it as something to be wary of, a flaw in our makeup, proof that we simply can’t stick to one single thing, what if we embraced the itch?

It’s a bit of a running joke between me and some of my closest friends. Spirally spiral we call it. (I don’t keep a running calendar of how often it happens but a quick search tells me May , June and October last year were all spiral months! That I’ve gone a whole nine months before getting niggly again must count as something of a record! ? )

What if, instead of beating ourselves up, we took the itch as our cue to spend some time reflecting on where we are and where we want to be?

If you’re a list maker, you might like to start by listing out all the things you’re delighted with in your day to day life right now. What things are you already doing every day or most days that light you up, help you feel at peace with the world, feel like they’re exactly what you’d like more of?

On the other side of the page (and this is the fun bit!) list out any things in your day to day life that you’re ready to do less (or none!) of.

(And in case you like printables, I’ve made you a handy dandy little PDF. Print it out or, if you prefer playing with these things on your computer, you’ll see I’ve made it editable so you can type and save it directly on your machine. Click here to download it.)

The first time I tried this I was surprised by how much longer the left hand column was.

Left unchecked, my itch had me believing that everything in my life right now was directly at odds with how I wanted it to be. In my head it was all about the things I didn’t want to do any more and I was miles away from doing the work that lights me up.

The reality is yes, there are things I want to bring more of into the world, there’s an impact I want to make that I’m not making yet, a message to share that’s not being spoken, but it’s definitely not all doom and gloom and certainly nothing that a few tweaks wouldn’t fix!

And maybe that’s true for you too. If so, great! ?

But even if the list on the right is huge and there’s what feels like a massive chasm between where you are and where you want to be, getting clear on paper what that looks like is the very first step towards making a change. (And yes, you really do need to write it down. Doing it in your head does not count – just in case you were wondering! ? )

Are you ready? Great! Choose ten minutes when you can play with this uninterrupted and see what comes up.

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What if today was your last?

Waking up to yet another atrocity in London overnight, it’s hard not to find yourself silently despairing. Fear and hate has been given the spotlight, yet again.

Where’s the love? The patience? The kindness?

And this comes at a time when people are still searching for the people they love, feared lost in the tower block fire. As I looked at the smiling faces of some of these people this morning, some in family groups and others just a single photo, I was reminded, yet again, just how precious and fleeting life is.

Tragic, pointless loss of life. None of them woke up that morning expecting it to be their last. Very few of us do.

We make plans, set expectations, maybe procrastinate for a bit, but ultimately we expect to be around long enough to make good on the stuff we said we would. Or maybe we drift along for a time, letting life happen to us. Unconscious. Going with the flow.

What would you do today if you knew it would be your last? Who would you make sure to love on that extra bit more? What would you not do?

There’s a fine balance at play here because, given that all of expect to around next week, next month, next year, we can’t actually live all of today like it’s our last.

If today really was my last day on this planet you can be sure I wouldn’t spend it working. I’d almost certainly still write this email (although it would probably be painfully long as I tried to squeeze the next forty years of thoughts into a few hundred words!) but all the tedious little things that actually pay the bills? No chance!

Instead, much like you I imagine, today would be about the people I love.

I’d also be sure to eat a huge piece of the yummiest, most gluten-heavy, sugar-laced cake I could get my hands on, safe in the knowledge that I wouldn’t have to deal with the consequences! ?  Oh and cheesecake. There would have to be cheesecake.

But I’d want to enjoy all of it with my children, my husband, my mum and dad and brothers and sisters. Get everyone together and have a giggle. Wear my favourite perfume. Enjoy good coffee followed by passionfruit cider on lots of ice. Play board games. Make lots of memories. Laugh. And love.

And those are the things we absolutely can bring into every single day, regardless of how many days we have left.

Life is precious and none of us knows how many days we have left to love on the people we care about most. The only solution is to love on them, every single day. Delight in the silly stuff, relish the ridiculous. Love bigly, and laugh.

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What if you didn’t ignore the nudges?

Have you ever had that thing where someone pops in your head randomly and, when you reach out to them, it ends up being the most perfect timing ever?

Or maybe sometimes you feel compelled to do something (and no, I’m not talking about eating three kitkats!) and when you follow your instincts, it’s perfect? Or maybe you follow your instincts and never find out if or how it makes a difference, but somehow you just sort of know it was important?

What if you didn’t ignore those nudges? What if those niggles were part of a bigger picture (one that you might never see all the pieces of) and, by acting on them, you’re helping to create something delightfully wonderful in the world? (Or terribly awful I suppose, but let’s dwell on the positive eh!)

Chaos theory, or the butterfly effect, where a butterfly flapping its wings in China causes a tornado in the Caribbean, would tend to agree. (And yes, I feel compelled to acknowledge that I’m oversimplifying a massive mathematical concept in that one sentence.)

With so many pieces of information battling to get your attention, you can’t possibly notice or act on everything. You will miss pieces and you know what? That’s okay.

But when something gets through the filter, when you feel that nudge to act, I’m here today to remind that by doing so, you’re helping us make magic! (And on behalf of the world, I thank you in advance! ? )

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Guess what? Love’s STILL the antidote.

Did you hear the one about the Facebook page who promised to ban anyone using the new rainbow reaction (added by Facebook as a nod to Pride month) on their posts?

If so, I imagine it didn’t come as a massive shock to you to learn it was a Christian Facebook page. I took a look and in reaction to people trolling them with rainbows, they posted images of fire, calling on people to repent. And don’t even get me started on the comments. It was all terribly unpleasant.

Or maybe you’ve been caught up in the political crossfire recently? No matter who you support, it seems like you can’t express an opinion online right now without someone jumping on your every word and calling you out for being inhuman.

No matter how much we tend to avoid stepping into battles on social media (because let’s be honest, they can get brutal and too often it feels akin to smashing your head repeatedly against a brick wall!) you and I have a voice and we are called to use it.

But here’s the thought that kept rattling around my head yesterday morning … do it with love.

It echoes back to what we talked about yesterday. It’s less about what you say than how you say it.

“Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.” 1 Peter 4:8

I know it’s wishful thinking to imagine a world where every person steps into a conversation drenched in love. I know the Internet makes a delightful playground for people to give voice relatively anonymously and, as such, it doesn’t bring out the best in them too much of the time.

But if we’re going to be the change we want to see (to paraphrase the quote usually attributed to Gandhi but not actually said by him at all! ? ) it’s got to start somewhere, right?

So what if we personally, you and I, made a commitment to add love to every situation we stepped into? (Mostly at least. There are going to be times we don’t get it right!)

What might that look like? How might that love make a difference?

Just something to ponder on as we step into today but I’d love to hear what you think. ?

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If everything ever written boils down to just seven plots, how are there so many different stories?!?

Three, six, seven. The “official” number varies according to who you talk to and which book they’ve been reading but it’s widely recognised that there are a finite number of unique plots in the world. Try and come up with a brand new plot and you’re likely to drive yourself crazy!

But that’s not to say that as writers we can’t be original. No-one wants to trawl through yet another rewrite of Cinderella, even if she is bouncing around the universe in the TARDIS! (Okay, I admit it, I would totally read that story – but I’m sure you get my point.)

If you stop for a moment and consider how many millions of stories are published (and that’s not even taking into account all the unpublished works of genius gathering metaphorical dust on hard drives up and down the land) it’s staggering!

Millions and millions of stories from just seven plots. How is that even possible?!?

Plot all on its own is dull. It’s not really about the plot at all, it’s what you do with it. Putting characters in messy situations and watching them wiggle their way out of it. (Or not, that’s always an option too.)

And the same is true of real life. (Which of course is why I’m bothering to mention it! ? )

Ask a roomful of experts the step by step process for doing something tricky and you’ll only get a small handful of unique answers. What really makes a difference, the thing that’ll help you stand out, is how you execute those steps.

Do it with a bit of pizazz, show us who you are, inject your personality into it, and we’ll love you for it.

(Some of us, maybe even most of us. Others will hate it and might not be particularly quiet about telling you so. You’re not to pay any heed to those people. They are not your people.)

It’s like your mother always told you, it’s not so much about what you say but how you say it.

Or, to take your mother’s advice and tweak it to serve my purposes, how you show up saying it.

There are a finite number of chromosomes in the world, we’re all made of the same basic DNA, but like the millions of stories spawned from just seven plots, each of us is a unique story, itching to be played out.

Your story is yours to tell, and we definitely don’t need a rewrite! ?

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Reminder: You are not a tree!

After moaning to myself over the weekend (in my head! You’ll be glad to learn that my long-suffering family weren’t forced to hear all about it!) about how I wasn’t writing enough, I woke up this morning realising that there was only one way to fix that – write more!

And it seems so simple but how many times do we talk (or think!) ourselves in knots?

Overanalysing, planning, following every and any random link on Facebook that promises to be the ultimate guide to getting all of the things done (or maybe that’s just me?!?) when ultimately, all any of us really needs to do is decide what the thing is (or isn’t – moving away from something is perfectly valid too!) and take steps in that direction.

And so this morning, as you step into a brand new week. take this as your gentle reminder (or kick up the pants if that’s more likely to get you moving!) that, if you’re not happy with something, now is the time to do something about it. Because you are not a tree! ?

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Love is the only antidote

When I woke up yesterday morning to see one of my friends in the US had changed her Facebook profile to a union jack in the shape of a heart, I knew something bad had happened. The caption on her photo Pray for Manchester told me where and BBC news filled in the details.

Thanks to our increasingly connected world, whether it had been Manchester or Madrid, Newcastle or New York, we all know someone who knows someone who lives there. The world feels smaller, and not always in a good way.

As the stories of everyday heroes pour onto social media, the rest of us are left wondering what we can do to help. Sure, we can share the help line numbers (so that our someone who knows someone who knows someone has the information they need) or donate to the fundraising appeals. We can offer our prayers and show our support, but what can we actually do?

And yes, as the Jesus geek in the room, I should be advocating prayer as the most powerful thing we can offer and, logically at least, I know it is. But I still feel like there ought to be something we can actually do.

And it was as I was pondering on the helplessness of it all that a friend shared a post on my Facebook wall. (Thanks Richard. You’re a star and your timing was perfect! 🙂 )

And that’s when it hit me.

When there’s nothing we can actually do, we can still do love.

In a weird way, this sort of feels a little bit like the lead up to Christmas. (If you just rolled your eyes, hear me out.)

You know that feeling you get that everyone’s trying their best to be a little kinder and more loving? Of course it’s without the presents and the magic and the tinsel and with none of the excitement or music, but the love that underpins it all? Yeah, that.

Love is the only antidote to any of this.

Even as the list of confirmed dead children and teenagers grows.

Even when you see name of the daughter, whose mother was on national television appealing for any information about her child’s whereabouts, among the list of confirmed deceased.

Even as your heart feels like it can’t sink any deeper.

Even when you decide the only way you can mentally cope with this right now is to shut down the news and social media.

Even as you then feel guilty for doing so, because you know it’s off the richter scale more impossible and unthinkable for the poor parents and grandparents who’ve lost loved ones.

Even when you feel trite and silly for trying to get your head round any of this and start to wonder if you maybe shouldn’t have even tried.

Love is the only antidote.

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