Self-Directed Life Newsletter: Start, get unstuck, or level up
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One of the finest protections against disappointment is to have a lot going on. — Alain de Botton

Hey guys,

How was your week?

Here’s my simple advice for starting, getting unstuck, or leveling up with PBH:

      – Can’t get started? Do the smallest version you can think of.

      – Something working well? Invest more there (time, energy, attention).

      – Something not working? Change it.

      – Overall level-up? Simplify it.

The easier it is, the more likely you are to do it — both starting from scratching and keeping it up over time.

Once you make it easy, don’t stop there — always be looking for ways to make it easier. Tiny tweaks to make it easier to start, easier to finish (e.g., clean up, display, share), easier to move from “maybe I could…” to doing it.

The simpler your system, the easier it is to fix when it breaks down. Think about how you journal. How many steps does it take for you to go from not journaling to journaling? What goes wrong that stops you? Can’t find your journal? Phone not charged? Backlog of photos to upload? It may be pretty, but it’s too complex for in-the-trenches PBHing.

I tried bullet journaling and loved it, but as soon as my life went sideways, my bullet journal died a lonely death. It was like a persnickety fern that has to be misted vs. the philodendron that you can’t kill.

Scatter post-it pads and pens around the house and you’ll always be able to take quick notes. Hold onto questions and ideas and you’ll remember them so you can help your kids remember them — and you’re making it obvious that you think your kids’ work is meaningful enough for the effort.

Like everyone else who loves tools and materials and talking about process, I like to try new things, experiment, etc. (No matter how much I love my favorite notebook, I’m always up for trying a new one.) A new way of journaling/making lists/storing photos/washing paintbrushes? Tell me more.

But that’s when everything is going smoothly. Life with kids, life balancing kids and doing your own meaningful work, all of the above and homeschooling… it’s fun, it’s wonderful, but it’s an unpredictable, bumpy ride, and things can go flying if they aren’t tied down.

So tie them down.

If your system (for homeschooling, for journaling, for doing your own work) is too persnickety, you end up doing nothing, and then feeling bad about yourself.

If your system is bone simple, you limp through the weird times and you feel good about yourself because dang, even with all that going on, you still managed to keep the plates spinning.

Life with children is a state of constant change. Kids are always getting older and their needs evolve and change, sometimes from week to week, sometimes from day to day. You no sooner nail the toddler years than those years are over and you’re on to the next adventure. What worked with kid #1 doesn’t work at all for kid #2. As a parent, you never leave the R&D phase. Eureka! Problem solved … new problem arises. This is just life, folks. I keep this quote written in my journal and read it every day:

Enjoy your problems. — Shunryu Suzuki

To dodge and weave successfully, the simplest process, tools, and routines work the best.

Always be trying to simplify your current routine — think about how you could make it even easier, more flexible, less stressful, with fewer rules and fewer requirements.

Play and experiment with new materials, tools, and processes, but keep track of what works so you can do more of that and not accidentally replace it with something that looks cool but actually (if you’re paying attention) is not as effective.

Don’t be afraid to go back to what worked well before you monkeyed with it.

Remember that summer is around the corner and that’s the best time for experimenting — but this time, instead of experimenting by adding something new, try subtracting.

Build more empty space into your routine — use it to cushion your project time, your best time, whatever you’re doing that is working well. Nurture that success — feed it with extra, unhurried time.

If no one is using the art materials, try taking 90% of them away. (This almost always works.)

If no one is playing with the toys, try taking 90% of those away. (Need everyone’s focused attention? This does it.)

Not using your journal? Go back to pencil and paper.

Aren’t doing your own meaningful work? Give yourself 10 minutes a day. Don’t know how to start? Don’t worry about it — just get ready to start next time.

Even when things are going really well, don’t forget to do a regular check-in with yourself — if you don’t, something will break down before you notice there was ever a problem.

Even when you’re satisfied, ask yourself — Can I make this simpler? Easier? Can I clear some clutter away? Remove any small impediments?

This regular reflection might be all you need to keep moving — maybe not quickly, but moving! — in the right direction.

Why is patience so important? Because it makes us pay attention. — Paulo Coelho

Before a child works, creates, shares an idea, tries something new, they ask themselves… Is it safe here?


Kids need to feel what it’s like to be calm, not be told to calm down. — Why It’s “Self-Reg,” Not Self-Control, That Matters Most For Kids


We’re enrolling the new PBH Master Class and we won’t have another one for at least a year, so join us!


I’ve been rereading Teaching as a Subversive Activity — here are Austin’s notes.


Related to my mantra “when you can’t work, get ready to work,” here’s Derek Sivers’ answer to the question What do you do when you don’t want to do anything?


What happened when one school banned homework — and asked kids to read and play instead


I’ll probably write an entire newsletter about this, but in the meantime: Culture is the behavior you reward and punish. What is your family culture? It’s what you pay attention to… it’s what you ignore… it’s what you celebrate and what you punish. Forget what you say — those choices tell your children what matters to you. Those choices build your culture.

You may ask yourself what is the point, and I don’t think there is a point, so why not do something and have a good time? — Maira Kalman

Want to comment on this week’s newsletter, share a story, or ask a question? Just hit reply on this email. I read and respond to every email. And if it says something nice about me, I will reread it in times of stress.

If a friend forwarded this newsletter to you, you can sign up to receive it yourself (and read back issues) here.

Buy something (anything) from Amazon after clicking an Amazon link in this newsletter and we get a little kickback which we use to buy books. Recent great reads include Patti Smith’s M Train, Mary Oliver’s Upstream, and Janet Malcolm’s Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers.

A few things in the to-be-read pile right now: Letters from Iceland, Declining by Degrees, and Ursula Franklin’s The Real World of Technology (recommended by Austin!).

If you don’t shop at Amazon but you’d still like to pitch in, you can Paypal us a donation — every dollar helps! THANK YOU to everyone who has already donated — you rock!

Have a great week!
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