Ask Cultivate What Matters: Library Books, How to End the Workday, and More

Ask Cultivate What Matters: Library Books, How to End the Workday, and More

by: Emily Thomas

Cultivating what matters never ends.

Absolutely, you get better at it over time, with practiceat uncovering what matters, breaking it down, and living it out in every part of your life, from your work to your marriage to the four walls of your home—but you never really arrive. You never get every piece of a full life perfectly into place at the same time, no more tweaks needed, forever and ever amen.

And while that might sound defeating, we think it's actually liberating: while we're still breathing, we're changing! We're growing! Of course what works now won't work forever. The goal is progress, not perfection. The goal is the right solution, mindset, or habit for this season, not for all of time.

And so, because we'll do it over and over again throughout our lives, it's worth it to get really good at the process of cultivating what matters:

  • At quickly and honestly naming what matters (and what doesn't)
  • At making a simple, clear plan you can follow through on with ease
  • At taking small steps, one after the other (imperfectly yet consistently!), and noticing as they add up.

That's where today's post comes in! We're answering questions from this community of Cultivators, and while not every question we tackle today will be relevant to your unique life and season, we hope watching the process of cultivating what matters in "real time" will give you ideas to tweak and adapt for your own life. Let's do it! 

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I love to read but have so many library books coming and going! What matters to me is always having great books on hand and avoiding paying fines. — Adelyn

Adelyn, I'm sure you're not alone! The library is a gift to readers everywhere, but it can feel like a lot to manage (especially if there are multiple family members in the mix). From one library lover to another, here are a few ideas to consider:

  • Start with what your library has to offer. Mine went fee-free a few years ago (hallelujah!) and sends automatic emailed reminders a few days before books are due. It's also easy to renew or place holds on books online.
  • Sign up for Library Elf. If your library is still charging fees or doesn't offer reminders, considering signing up for a service like Library Elf. It will collect all the items on a whole family's collection of cards (even across different systems!), keep track of due dates, and send you reminders.
  • Set limits. Maybe you're a strict one-book-in-one-book-out gal—or maybe you always check out three at a time. For kids, consider letting them choose as many books as their age. This way, you'll always know how many books you're looking for when it's time to make returns.
  • Prioritize your stack. Maybe you're a more-is-more gal, and nothing feels more luxurious than checking out a towering stack! A free-for-all mentality might help you feel more willing to try new genres and authors, and give you plenty of back-up options if you're not loving any one pick a few chapters in. If this is you, consider loosely prioritizing your stack to make sure you get to the books you're most excited about.
  • Designate a spot. If you have kids, reserving a basket, shelf, or tote where library books live is an easy way to make sure you have what you need when it's time to make returns.
  • Designate a day. Working a library visit into your weekly or monthly routine helps ensure a steady stream of books coming and going. Maybe you go every Monday after work or school, or on the 1st and 15th of the month. Even if you miss a day here or there, you'll still have a regular routine to fall back on! 
  • Reframe fines. You said avoiding paying fines is a priority, and there are absolutely ways to more regularly return books on time. But if it's more the principle of the thing, perhaps a mindset shift is in order? You might be able to release some guilt if you reframe fines as simply a civic contribution to support the library :)

Happy reading!

How can I end the work day feeling "done" when I'm never really done? — Chelsey

I love that you named what matters to you right from the start, friend. It's not getting every single task completed (because we both know that's not usually realistic!), it's ending the work day feeling satisfied with how you spent it. I have two suggestions that have helped me.

First, I block my time, prioritizing deep work. This will look different in every job, but for me, when I started intentionally reserving hour-long blocks (I aim for three a day) to work on creative projects that require thoughtfulness and originality, my experience of my day totally changed. When I was constantly checking texts, emails, and Slack throughout the day, and bouncing from task to task, I often felt frazzled and discouraged by the end.

Now, I get all those same tasks done, and still respond to messages, but my big chunks of focused work make all the difference in feeling like I've put my talents and gifts to good use and produced something of value. That makes it much easier to log off with satisfaction.

Second, I complete a shutdown ritual. This comes from the deep work guru himself, Cal Newport. 15 minutes before I end my day, I stop working and begin my shutdown ritual. "This ritual should ensure that every incomplete task, goal, or project has been reviewed," Cal writes, "and that for each you have confirmed that either (1) you have a plan you trust for its completion, or (2) it's captured in a place where it will be revisited when the time is right."

Cal's shutdown ritual includes taking a final look at his email inbox to make sure there's nothing urgent, transferring tasks from the day into official task lists, looking a few days ahead in his calendar, making a rough plan for the next day, and then turning off his computer and saying (out loud!) "shutdown complete."

Mine includes scanning email, Slack, and our project management platform a final time, logging out of all programs, reviewing tomorrow's time-block schedule, and then physically organizing my workspace for the next day—putting everything back in its place. I haven't yet adopted Cal's triumphant "shutdown complete" declaration, but I probably should :)

Chelsey, you're right—there are always more tasks to complete. But happily, we don't need to complete a task to get it off our mind—and to go and enjoy cultivating all the other things that matter! I hope these ideas help.

Going into the summer with kids. I work from home and my kids are a little older, but it still feels like... a lot. — Mari

You and me both, Mari! 

If you haven't already, the only place to start is by uncovering what matters—and you get to decide! What matters could be:

  • You're able to complete your work responsibilities with minimal stress
  • Your kids spend a lot of time playing outside
  • Summer feels slow and boring—or summer feels fun and exciting
  • Your kids read or otherwise exercise their brains every day
  • You don't clash with your kids over screen time
  • Lunch and snacks feel simple

Write out a quick list. Of course, there will probably be several things that matter on it, so spend a few more minutes prioritizing to what matters most (I'd recommend no more than 2-3 things to focus on).

Then, break it down and make a plan! This is another place you get to flex your creativity and ingenuity, but the plan might include:

  • Having a family meeting to set expectations or gather ideas from your kids
  • Creating a loose schedule and posting it where everyone can see it
  • Choosing one lunch each week—or a rotation of lunches you keep all summer
  • Restructuring your work hours (possibly starting earlier or ending later, with breaks in the middle)
  • Reaching out to other parents to figure out where you can work together
  • Reevaluating what your kids are capable of, and what they can graduate to doing independently
  • Setting thoughtful screen time expectations (which could be anything from no screen time to unlimited screen time—you get to choose!)
  • Rearranging toys, crafts, or games, or ordering a few new ones

When school's out, it's time to live it out—and pivot along the way.

One final suggestion: before things get tough, it might be helpful to choose a simple phrase that loops back to what matters: for example, "Boredom sparks creativity" or "My work matters, too" or "They're only this age once."

Uncovering what matters, breaking it down, and living it out—this is how we cultivate what matters! We hope this post gave you some fresh ideas on how to do just that, no matter what your season looks like right now.

Have a question for a future column? Drop a note below. We'd love to hear!

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Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas

Emily Thomas is Cultivate What Matters' Content Strategist and Writer. With over a decade at Cultivate, Emily loves helping women uncover what matters, set good goals, and live them out with joy. Her free time is spent with her high-school-sweetheart husband and three young kiddos.

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