What I’m Reading Now

Essentialism diagram of chaos to order

I’m a big fan of meditation and yoga, and everything I’m learning about buddhism is bringing me more and more wisdom and inner peace. I’m also irreverent and sarcastic, and probably used to make fun of people who talked about ‘inner peace’. Life is messy 🙂 

So, while my reading lately has been spiritually enriching (Rebecca Solnit’s Field Guide to Getting Lost touched my soul in ways I didn’t know were possible – I’m still re-reading it often, then sitting in awe while I digest it), I thought I’d drift back into mainstream business productivity books for some straight-talking, practical inspiration.

Wow, did I find it with Greg McKeown’s Essentialism! . This guy has a fancy MBA and is writing for corporate business types and entrepreneurs and what he is saying is pure gold. 

He says, “I’ve coached “successful” people in the quiet pain of trying desperately to do everything, perfectly, now. I have seen people trapped by controlling managers and unaware that they do not “have to” do all the thankless busywork they are asked to do.” SAME. HERE. I’ve been both the person doing it and the coach to those still trapped. 

He gives reasons and ways to eliminate and say no to everything that isn’t essential. And in doing so, to produce better, more fulfilling work and enjoy a more fulfilling life. 

“I challenge you here and now to make a commitment to make room to enjoy the essential. Do you think for one second you will regret such a decision? Is it at all likely you will wake up one day and say, “I wish I had been less true to myself and done all the nonessential things others expected of me?””

Give this one a read, your life will be better for it, guaranteed.

(Nope, no affiliate links – I don’t get money for any of this, just sharing my enthusiasm!)


Finish Chewing Before Filling Your Fork: A lesson in decluttering

food on forks

It was in an article about the Queen of England that I read about this habit. She takes a small amount of food into her mouth, puts down her fork and chews completely before loading her fork for another bite. As someone who approached every meal as if it were a speed-eating contest … I was interested in the idea of slowing down and dining more like royalty, less like a wild dog. I quickly (haha see what I did there?) followed the Queen’s example, and found I enjoyed my food much more when I savoured it one small mouthful at a time. (This post is not actually about eating habits, but as a side note: With the help of a charming little book called “How to Eat” by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, I further grew my eating habits to become almost meditative – highly recommend it.)

The lesson about eating had a big impact on the rest of my life too. I noticed that I was always gathering up new things before I’d finished chewing what I had. I bought books as though I were building a library. I gathered up scads of cheap yarn to go with the reams of crochet patterns I was always adding to a pinterest board. And surfing the internet. Well. There are always so many awesome ideas out there, I had to explore them all. It was my bookmarks list that put me over the edge, when I realized I had overwhelming indigestion from all the information I was trying to digest as I crammed more and more in. I was setting up a new computer and was asked about importing bookmarks. I had so many folders within folders and random sites, I spend an hour just trying to make sense of the mess, never mind actually read any of the information on any of the sites. I deleted them all. All. And my life’s been immeasurably better for it!

Stop shopping for new things and new ideas. Use what you have. Do not buy or borrow any new books until you’ve read the ones you have. You may find you have some that you aren’t actually interested in reading after all – give them away or sell them, someone else is ready to read them right now, and you’re not. And from now on, finish the one you’re reading before getting a new one. When you get that new one, you know you will read it right away because you’re picking one you’re interested in right in that moment. Marie Kondo explains this well in her

The thing with the books, and yarn, and everything else, was that I spent so much time gathering it, managing it, and searching through it, only to find that I rarely had what I wanted at the time. I often ended up getting something new anyway.

I deleted most of my pinterest boards and similar ‘storage of ideas’ sites and folders too. I keep a couple, to gather up ideas around one or two specific projects that I’m actively working on at a time. When the projects are done, I delete them. When I’m going to start a project, it’s easy to find great information, and it’s more relevant information because I’m actually using it right away.

Back to food. I love cooking (this is new – I didn’t used to have time to love cooking, now I savour the process, the simple tasks of chopping and stirring, the smells and tastes and textures, mmmm.) I was tempted to gather up ALL THE RECIPES but I’d learned from royalty, and when I see a new recipe I want to try, I either plan and make it within the next few days, or I don’t save the recipe. I don’t have any recipes sitting around that I haven’t tried – when I’m done chewing on the ones I do have, I pick up my fork and load it with a new one 🙂


The Year Of… ?

loaf of focaccia bread

A favourite habit of mine is naming my day / week / year – giving each one a theme or a focus. I’ll have a day of Ideas or week of Calm, and picking the name makes me smile, even when my teenagers roll their eyes at me repeating the really good ones way too often. Sometimes it’s just fun to say the word – when I first made focaccia it seemed like a miracle to have this yummy bread appear from scratch in my kitchen, so the next weekend I had another Day of Focaccia. Try not to smile when you say that out loud a few times, it’s impossible.

Naming a whole year takes a bit more reflection since it’s so much more of a commitment!

In December 2015, I declared (to myself and my journal) that 2016 would be a year of Celebration and Simplicity, and it was. Having two themes was a bit much though, especially since one of them was Simplicity… so I decluttered down to one theme for 2017. It was The Year of Adventure, and what *spectacular* adventures they were!!

I was confident about my theme for 2018: Serenity. I’d learned so much about intentional, peaceful living and had (on one of my adventures) held a ceremony to release things from my past that weren’t of any help to me anymore. I was feeling very calm and thought it wise to take a break from all the adventures.

One lesson I am forever learning is that I can’t predict the future. Life is full of gloriously unexpected events and 2018 turned out to be a year of love, serene at times but far more of a roller coaster ride than 2017-Karen foresaw.

So, 2019? I’m aiming for The Year of Wisdom, bringing together all the ideas and work I’ve done and sharing it with others. Does that seem pretentious though? There will always be so much to learn and so many ways to grow, will I ever truly feel wise? Maybe it will be the year of Magic. I do think of all the great ideas as magic lessons… so that might be it. We’ll see what I decide on New Year’s Eve – I’ll put off the commitment till the last possible moment 🙂

[Updated Dec 10, I can always trust that the answer will come to me – 2019 will most definitely be the Year of Wonder! The wonder of possibilities.]

[Updated again: I just read that Socrates said, “Wisdom begins in wonder.” 😊]

While it’s still 2018, I’m going to enjoy a serene cup of coffee and a good book.

email Magic

picture of inbox with 0 messages

At my work, we had a productivity expert do a training session with us, and she asked how many emails we each had in our inbox. The answers – in a team of 15 people – ranged from 4 to 800. Everyone on the team works in a similar job, with a similar volume of messages coming in each day… which inbox would you like to have? And yes, I was the person with 4.


Don’t spend time on a complicated system – like any kind of organizing, it’s not about the system, it’s about having less stuff. With email, you want to limit what’s coming in and move stuff out quickly.

Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.

If you’re one of the lucky ones living here in Canada, then all newsletters and commercial emails must have a one-click unsubscribe option at the bottom. CLICK IT. Be honest with yourself about which newsletters you actually do ever open and read – for the couple of ones that are of use, we’ll look at how to handle those below. For sales/promotions emails, unsubscribe from all of them. All. Of. Them. You and your wallet will thank me. You’re not getting deals, you’re buying things you don’t need – there’s a whole post I could write about that! For now, Unsubscribe, unsubscribe, unsubscribe.

Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 3.54.31 PM

Move things out

Now, open the first message in your inbox. No – don’t scan through them choosing one to open, you’re cluttering up your brain with those words and ideas and worries. Open the first one. The possibilities are, it’s a request for information, for action, or information the sender wants you to have. Here are common scenarios, and how to deal with them:

  1. It’s a request for a meeting. If the sender has access to a shared calendar, ask them to use it. “My calendar’s up-to-date, please send me an appointment for anytime that’s open.” Then delete the message. If the sender can’t see your calendar, send them a couple of possible times, delete the message. Or if it’s a meeting with a bunch of people, ask them to set up a doodle ( to book it. Delete the message.
    1. You’re saying, “Wait! There’s information I might need in that message – about what the meeting’s about.” You don’t need that information. You’re not going to remember to look at the message before the meeting anyway. When you have the meeting, ask the person to remind you what the meeting’s about.
    2. But wait! “There’s a document they want me to review before the meeting! I can’t delete that.” Okay. This message isn’t a meeting request, it’s a request to review a document. Open the document, review it. Add your comments/edits and send it back, ideally saying – I think it’s good to go, no need to meet! Delete the message.
    3. “I don’t have time to review the whole document.” Yes, you do. You’re going to review it at some point, right? If you save it to review later, it’s going to take you longer than if you do it right now when you’ve just read the message about it and your brain is focused on it. So, filing it away for later and then refreshing your memory about it later – those are the things you don’t have time for. Review it now. If you read it and have to think about something in it, or get information from someone else, then see the relevant examples below.
  2. The email is a question for you: Same as the document review above. Answer the question, delete the message.
  3. It’s a request for you to approve or authorize something. Authorize it, or don’t. Send it on or reply to it as needed and delete it. If you need to keep a copy of things you approve, move your reply from the Sent mailbox to a Reference folder.
  4. It’s a message or request you need to think about, your brain needs time to process it. For these, you’re going to tag them in some way (in GroupWise, you can “Personalize” the subject line) to label it with exactly what you need to decide about. E.g., “Decide about committing to do a workshop next month.” or “Choose flyer design.”
  5. It’s a request for information or action, but you need more information to respond. Get the info. If this requires searching online or in paper files, then do those things now. Again, putting it off until later will just take more time. Find the info, reply, delete the message. If another person has the information, call them, or forward the message to them and ask for what you need. Then move the message to a Pending folder – there’s nothing more for you to do about it right now. I sometimes label these messages too with what I’m waiting for, e.g., “Waiting for Carol to send data” Depending on the situation, you might reply to the original message saying, “I’m working on this, gathering information – I’ll get back to you when I have it.”
  6. A newsletter. Click Unsubscribe. Or, if it is one you actually read, then make a rule (or filter, whatever your software calls it). When a message from that sender comes in, have it bypass your inbox and go straight to a Newsletters folder.
  7. An fyi – something you’re cc’d on or a link / info someone thought you’d find interesting. Read it. Will you need to refer to this again? Put it in a Reference folder. Do you need to share it with others? Forward it to the chair of a committee if you want to add it to an agenda (then delete it), or add it to a Committee prep folder if you’re the chair. Is it a mailing list message trying to sell you something? Unsubscribe. Delete it.
  8. Information for an ongoing project. Move these to a Tasklist, or Current Projects folder.

Your messages are all some version of a request for information, action, or reference information. Answer the requests, take the actions, or file the information. Delete lots.

Do you have other kinds of emails you get? A specific email challenge? Tell me about it in the comments 🙂


You don’t need a fancy file system – computers are wonderfully searchable. I do have a couple of folders within my Reference one: Travel, where I keep my boarding passes and itineraries so they’re easily found at the airport or train station, and Receipts, so those are handy for doing taxes. When I had a work twitter account, I had a Social Media folder there as well – I generally opt out of all notifications, but I needed them for that account because I rarely checked it. (Eventually I came to my senses and deleted the whole account… and the email folder)

Screen Shot 2018-11-03 at 3.42.42 PM

No matter what, move the message out of your inbox. The only messages in your inbox are those you haven’t opened yet. Deal with them one at a time, and move each one out.

email Habits

Set an amount of time you’re going to work through emails. When the time is up, close (or at least minimize) your inbox so it won’t distract you. If you have to end your email time while you’re in the process of working on one of them, save a draft reply, with a note at the top to yourself about what you would do next, e.g., “finish reviewing document” or “add info about next steps”.

Also set time each week to read your Newsletter folder and to check through your Pending folder. I go through my Reference folder once a month as well, deleting all the stuff I thought I needed to save forever but I was wrong. I delete from my Sent mailbox too, saving a few of those into Reference.

Take it to the next level

When there’s information in a message that I need for a meeting, such as a teleconference phone number and access code, I change the email from a message to make it an appointment in my calendar – it’s out of my inbox, and the info I need is right there when I need it.

Some software makes it easy to have rules that notify you about specific messages – so if you’re waiting to hear from a person, you can have the email program text you (or otherwise alert you) when you receive an email from them. I find this worthwhile when I’m not working on email, but I find myself compulsively checking messages, waiting for that special one, only to get distracted by the other messages that come in… cluttering up my mind when I’m trying to focus on something else.

How about you? Any great email hacks? How many messages are in your inbox now?!


My Passion Planner

passion planner

I love planners. I love them so much that I used to start at least three or four every year – shopping for them was too much fun! I made my own too. I don’t remember how I first learned about Passion Planners, but it was over 3 years ago, and I haven’t bought another kind of planner since. It just works so well for me! [and no, they’re not paying me to say any of this]

I didn’t have the awesome Blur Photo app (to take out personal stuff) when I added these photos, so here are some far-in-the-future ones that are mostly empty. The pages get much messier as I use them!

In previous years, I spent a lot of time on lettering and doodling and colouring. I use a more minimal style now, doing my creative work elsewhere… most of the time… I still love planning trips on the blank pages at the back.

The grid pages are well-used too – I have layouts that work great for me. Some are fancy, others plain – but year after year, I add them to my new planner. I have a few others I like, e.g., for tracking how many vacation days I have left, long-term planning, and also a weekly spending money chart (that goes in the weekly spread). I get inspiration from #planner and #bujo (stands for bullet journal) hashtags on Instagram, mostly the minimalist ones (#minimalistbujo is awesome) – there are very talented people sharing their beautiful, functional ideas!

I buy the undated planners because I start my year in April (it’s a work thing) and a fun little bonus with that is where I’m supposed to write in the dates for the week, I choose to use the “Week Of” box to name my week instead 🙂 I love having a ‘Focus’ for the week too, and of course, a list of great things that happened.

Passion Planner collage

They changed the size of planner this year, and I’m not sure how I’m going to cope with that – I bought two extras of the current (PERFECT) size so I don’t have to figure it out for awhile, and I’m hopeful they’ll bring back my (REALLY PERFECT) size before I run out.

I’ve realized that for me, having a written planner isn’t about effectiveness or efficiency. It’s because I like having it. I like writing things down (pens!) – it helps me think through what’s coming up, what to prepare for or recover from. It helps me visualize my time better than anything electronic, and some things – my meditation for the week, lists of what to kijiji or packages I’m expecting – are simply easier to jot down (with a lovely pen).

So that’s my treasured planner – I find writing in it to be a joy, its focus on self-reflection so powerful, and the fact that it helps me stay organized is a bonus!

How do you want to live your life?

doodles from my passion planner

“What do you want to achieve in your life?” It was a question that made me uncomfortable when I was first asked as a teenager. I thought it was because I was young. Now I’m in my 50’s and I still don’t know what I want do with my life, though I have some solid ideas about how I want to live.

Goals aren’t really my thing. Or at least not goals about achieving a certain outcome – I do have goals about the process to get there, again, the how.

When I first joined a gym, the trainer asked my friend and I about our goals. We said we wanted to exercise. He asked what we were hoping to get out of doing the exercise… and we said, exercise. It was a painful conversation as he insisted we must want to get stronger, or lose weight, or have better endurance. We agreed those all sounded like lovely things, and if they happened that would be great. But if we exercised – moved our bodies in ways we enjoyed – regularly and none of those things happened, that would be fine too. He never understood.

How do you want to spend your time?

A few years ago, I made a list with my kids about our “intentions” (not sure that was the best word, but it was fun to draw it with pretty pens). Our list:

  • loving people
  • caring for our bodies
  • being outdoors
  • caring for our home
  • caring for our minds
  • exploring ALL THE PLACES
  • making beautiful things
  • changing the world

When someone says they’re bored… we go to the list. When I’m wondering if I’m spending my time in the best ways, I check in with the list. Your list will be different of course, or mean different things to you.

What isn’t on the list?

Deciding what you’re going to stop doing, or do less of, is just as important as knowing what you are going to prioritize.

For me, when I switched from thinking about “long distance running” to “caring for my body” I had the aha moment that I wasn’t really enjoying the running much anymore, and it wasn’t really great for my body. Cutting back on the time I spent running has been so incredibly freeing! I do much more walking, yoga, and weight training, not to mention all the other things I do with the extra time I have.

Pick ONE focus for the day!

Even with a short list, you can’t do it all every day. I pick one thing each day – relationships or exploring or whatever from the list. I still go to my job and make meals and chat with people of course, but I do it through the lens of my one focus. If it’s “being outdoors”, then I do walking meetings with people at work where we get out in the sunshine, and maybe the kids and I eat dinner on the porch – have a picnic – and I might cut the grass instead of sweeping the kitchen floor. I trust that my body, heart, and mind will tell me when the time is right to focus on each of the things on my list. 

Enjoy your dreams for the future, and live what you can of them today

I have dreams – ooooh owning a pen and stationery store, or living by the ocean, or being a grandma – and vague plans for the future. I’m really really awful at predicting the future though (aren’t we all?) and I do love surprises, so I’m always excited about all the unexpected twists and turns life takes.

The dreams are fun ideas to play with and they give me clues to what I’m valuing in life. If one of my kids has children and lives near an oceanside stationery store that’s up for sale, well then great! But if none of those things happen, my life is no less rich. My kids are sick with colds right now, so I get to baby them. I’m travelling soon, so I’ll visit a new pen shop and maybe find a treasure or two. And I always find ways to be near ponds, rivers, lakes, and yes, the ocean. I live my dreams every day. 


Our home is full of space and openness – every room has clear surfaces, with only houseplants and truly treasured items out on display. It’s not a stark minimalist look – it’s a colourful and cozy 100+ year old house, just with not much stuff. It’s me and my two teenagers (and often their friends), so there can be noise and clutter for sure, but in general: Serene and tidy.

Here’s my nightstand.


And our linen closet. daxEMtpOQS60+He0OSGwtg

Kinda empty right? Then… then there are the pens… ALL THE PENS!!! I never go anywhere without my 3 Coletos, 2 fountain pens, and Muji 0.38. I use them all, so joyfully, every day, so they get prime real estate in our office.


My daughter uses them too, and has pencil crayons and markers to add to the mix. fullsizeoutput_1a58

I can talk forever about which pens I use for which tasks and why – that will be a blog post or two in the future! For now, I’m going to go put some ink on paper 🙂