109 – Make Your Life Matter with Guest Laura McClellan

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Make Your Life Matter with Guest Laura McClellan on the Write from the Deep Podcast

It’s 2020! Now is the time to ask yourself what you want this year to look like? What do you want to accomplish––and why? Guest Laura McClellan, a productivity pro, joins us to talk about that. But here’s the beauty of what Laura does: she doesn’t focus on “getting things done,” but on being productive so we can have a life that matters. Join us for a great start to the new year!

About Laura McClellan

Laura McClellan is a lawyer, a writer, a productivity enthusiast, and a tech geek. Married for 40 years to her high school sweetheart, with whom she’s raised five amazing kids, she’s passionate about encouraging women in their individual journeys as people, wives, mothers, citizens. Laura has been published both in professional publications and inspirational magazines and has been a contributor to the popular Stepcase Lifehack blog and she hosts a weekly podcast, The Productive Woman. Find out more at theproductivewoman.com.

Thanks to our sponsors on Patreon, we’re able to offer an edited transcript of the podcast!

Karen: Hello, everyone, and welcome into the deep with us today. We are just delighted to have a guest who is going to talk with you and help you as you start into a new year.

I cannot believe it’s 2020 already, can you? It’s crazy how fast time is going, but we have a wonderful guest who’s going to help you make the most of this new year. Erin, tell us about her.

Erin: Our guest is one of my good friends. I get to introduce her. Her name is Laura McClellan. Laura is a lawyer by day and a lover of the written word since childhood. Laura has been published both in professional publications and inspirational magazines, and she’s been a contributor to the popular Stepcase Lifehack blog.

She’s a member of American Christian Fiction Writers, and she’s a past women’s fiction category winner in the Phoenix Rattler Fiction Contest and the Olympia Fiction Contest. But she also hosts a weekly podcast called The Productive Woman. I love this podcast, you guys. The purpose of the podcast is to help women find the tools and encouragement they need to manage their time, life, stress, and stuff so they can accomplish the things they care about most and make a life that matters.

I’ll tell you, I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Laura for a couple of years now, I think. I have to say, not only do I value her friendship, but I find her to be one of the most purposeful, intelligent, insightful women I know, seriously. I’m just delighted to have her with us today. Welcome, Laura!

Laura: Well, thank you, Erin. The pressure is on now.

Karen: We see each other on video while we’re talking and I’m watching Laura’s face as Erin is introducing her and she’s like, I’m being so set up here.

Laura: Hopefully I can sound intelligent and articulate.

Erin: Well, she does on the podcast and she does in person, so there you go. On her podcast, The Productive Woman, again, I’m going to encourage you guys to listen to that one. We’ll have a link in the show notes for that.

Karen: Laura, as you know, when our victims, I mean our guests come onto our podcast with us, we always ask them what the deep means to them. So Laura McClellan, what does the deep mean to you?

Laura: You know, I have been thinking about that ever since you all asked me to join you here. I know people have different takes on that. To me, the deep means that place, obviously beneath the surface, so that when I am in the deep, or, you know, if we’re writing from the deep, we’re going beneath the surface to––it’s hard for me to articulate this and I probably should have written it out––but it’s the more real place. Getting beyond the surface and the superficial into the depth of who we are, who God is, whatever it is, that deep place is there.

Karen: I like that. There’s way too much superficiality in the church, in Christian writing, in the Christian market. It’s hard because if you’re not authentic, if you’re not vulnerable, if you don’t go beneath the surface, our work really isn’t going to accomplish much of anything.

God is all about being authentic and vulnerable. So I really like that.

Laura: I guess that’s what I was trying to get at. I think for us to accomplish anything, for us to––and I guess we’ll get into this––to make a life that matters, we have to get to the deep. We have to go beneath the surface, beyond the superficial, to the reality of who we are.

I think a lot of that superficiality you mentioned came because going beyond that is scary.

Karen: Yeah. I was texting with a good friend of mine a couple of days ago who was talking to me about something that God had confronted him on and how he needed to confess to God the places that he had gone in this wrong thinking.

He said, “I had to tell him everything I’d been thinking and feeling. Everything.” Then he said, “But it’s not like God didn’t know it, and it’s not like I needed to say those things so that God would know them. What I needed to do was surrender those things and lay them before God, and in doing that, I realized the depth of God’s love for me and the freedom that comes from unburdening yourself from those things that you’re ashamed of.”

Erin: Yeah.

Laura: Yeah. I love that. And it’s so true and so much of what goes on in our world today, whether it’s fiction or in writing or in politics or anything, so much damage I think is done when we stay on that superficial level. We make judgements on other people based on superficiality, instead of going deeper with them. Trying to understand people that maybe have a different perspective than we do. We look at the outside and say, “They’re not like me. They’re wrong.”

Karen: Right.

Laura: “One of us has to be wrong. It must be them.” Instead of taking that space and that time to look inside more deeply and ask God those questions like your friend was talking about and confess to ourselves, first of all, what the truth is.

Erin: As we’re thinking about going deep and we’re thinking about the new year, let’s switch gears a little bit and talk about one of the reasons why I really wanted you on the show, Laura: to talk about your definition of productivity and what it’s all about as we’re thinking about this new year. Why don’t you share with us your philosophy there?

Laura: Sure. It has changed a lot over the years. I’ve been a productivity nerd since I was a kid. I’ve always liked checklists and charts and calendars. I’d go to the library and pull all the books about time management out and organization, all that stuff. To me, that’s just fun and it always has been.

As I’ve gotten older, and especially as I’ve looked into this more and more to make sure that when I put an episode of my podcast out, I’m adding some value in producing some content that’s going to be worthwhile, so there’s that piece of it, but also just my own life. I’ve come to go a little deeper in the concept of productivity, and I don’t believe anymore that it’s about how much you get done.

It’s not about getting more stuff done. It’s about getting the right stuff done. And how do you determine what that right stuff is? Because it may be different for everybody.

Productivity isn't about getting more stuff done. It's about getting the right stuff done. #amwriting @LauraMcMom Click To Tweet

The definition that I’ve come up with that I think you were referring to is what is a productive person? We’re three women on this conversation, but it applies to guys too. That to me, a productive woman, a productive person, is a person who orders his or her life in such a way as to maximize his or her positive impact on the world.

A productive person is a person who orders his or her life in such a way as to maximize his or her positive impact on the world. @LauraMcMom @KarenBall1 #amwriting Click To Tweet

To me, when you’re being productive, that’s what you’re doing. You’re ordering your life in such a way as to allow yourself to maximize that positive impact.

Because we all have an impact on the world around us. Whether it’s the people in our household, the person in the grocery store, or the world at large. And if you want to have a positive impact, there are things you can do to make that more likely.

Karen: I love that.

Erin: I do too.

Karen: I’ve never been a productivity person. I have a great poster in my office I’ve had for years and years. It says: I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they go by.

I make lists and then I lose them. It’s that whole idea of productivity being about completing the to do list. I’ve never connected with that, but what you’re saying, that definitely is something that would motivate me.

Erin: How does someone go about figuring that out?

Laura: That’s a great question. It’s a question that gets asked a lot, and the question I’ve been asking myself for years. To me, it started with reading books about how to do a good to do list and that sort of thing. But you have to go beyond that if you want to maximize your positive impact on the world. If that’s the goal. So it’s not just about being able to check things off a list, however satisfying that might be.

The instinct––especially if we’re overloaded, if we have too many things going on in our life and we’re feeling overwhelmed––the instinct is to find a tool that’s going to fix that, so we’ll make the perfect list, and then get all that stuff done.

But I think you have to take a breath. You have to take a step back. And again, not to be too cliche here, but you have to go deeper. You have to go beyond that superficial level of “How do I get all this stuff done” to “What is it I’m trying to accomplish here? What kind of life do I want to live? What kind of person do I want to be?”

And it goes beyond that. “What matters most to me?”

There are lots of questions you can ask yourself to get to that point, but I think if you want to be that kind of productive person, you want to maximize your positive impact on the world, then you have to start with asking yourself those questions.

The end of the year, the beginning of a new year, is a great time to do that. To take some time and sit down with a cup of tea or coffee or cocoa or whatever your choice is there, and a notebook and a pen, and do some thinking on paper about that. “Who do I want to be in this world? What difference do I want to make?”

Because we all make a difference. We can either just wing it. You know, be reactive to what’s coming at us and hope that we make the right choices and that our impact is positive, or we can be intentional about it. That requires some thought and prayer and all those sorts of things to get to the heart of “Who are you?”

“Who do you want to be in this world? What kind of life do you want to be living and what needs to change in order to be that person with that life?”

Who do you want to be in this world? What kind of life do you want to be living and what needs to change in order to be that person with that life? @LauraMcMom #amwriting @karenball1 Click To Tweet

Karen: And I think for our listeners and for all three of us, that the primary question too is, “God, who do you want me to be? God, what impact do you want me to have on the world?” And submitting it to his guidance and to his truth. Everything that we think about what we want to be and how we want to impact the world, and then measuring that against the truth of Scripture and letting God give us that inner amen from the Holy spirit.

If you can have a––I’m doing the quotation marks in the air––a productivity list that you’ve gotten that holy amen on, imagine what we could accomplish and how we would not be thrown off by things that come in and seem to be sidetracking us. You know?

It’s so easy to look at those unexpected things that happen and you’re thinking, “Oh, there goes my list out the window.” But instead say, “Okay, Lord, if you’re bringing this into my day, if you’re bringing this situation into my life, what do you want me to be in this and how do you want me to impact this?” Like you said, Laura, not being reactive, but instead submitting it all and then moving forward in the plan that God helps you develop.

Laura: Yeah. I mean, any of us, those of us who are people of faith, who have staked our life on the truth of God’s Word and who he is, that is the starting point. He doesn’t leave us blind in terms of what he wants from us in general. Then we take the time to go into those deep places and get quiet. That’s hard in the 21st century society to just be quiet enough to hear. “I’ve read your Word, I know what it says. What do you want me to do with it today? Right now?” We can get all big picture and come up with big plans, which, you know, who is it that said we make plans and God laughs?

But to get into the nitty gritty of ordering our lives in such a way as to maximize our positive impact, the question has to be, “Where do you want me right now? How should I spend my time and my energy and my attention today to maximize that positive impact?”

Erin: What I like though is that we’re really talking as much or more about being than doing. It’s so interesting when you think about the people who have affected you the most and have had the most positive impact on you. It isn’t always because, “Oh, they did this.” It’s more because they were this, they represented this, they lived this. It’s more about character and I really love that philosophy when we’re talking about productivity. It’s a radical paradigm shift.

One thing, though, because it’s the new year, I know that people are going to be thinking about priorities as we’ve been talking about maximizing your impact. Do you have any tips maybe on how to set priorities?

Laura: Oh, that’s such a loaded question. We can get all philosophical about the word priority as a singular or a plural word. At any given moment there can only be one priority. And it may be different because we really can only do, in any given instant, one thing. We think we can do more than one.

But I think as far as setting priorities in the way we use that in the world––and this is just my philosophy––that has to come out of your values and who you want to be in the world. So it goes back to the things that we were just talking about.

I think on a practical level, as part of your kicking off the year and trying to make the year the best that you can, to make the year that you want to have, you can sit down in that moment with your coffee or tea or whatever and your notebook and think about “What are the roles you play in the world?”

For me, I’m Mike’s wife, and I am the mom to five adult kids, and the grandmother to eight little kids. And I’m a lawyer and I am a podcaster, and I’m a friend to certain people.

Looking at all those roles, think about what you would like to accomplish in each of those and––I’m hesitating here because the sort of traditional productivity discussion about that is ranking them, and I don’t know how you can rank them. Y’all may disagree with me on this, but you know, the traditional sort of party line Christian approach is it’s God first and then, you know, I don’t know, my husband, whatever. Well, this is just my philosophy, but I don’t see anything that says that God wants to be first in my life. What I see is he wants to be my life.

Karen: Yeah.

Laura: And everything else flows out of that. I don’t know that I’m answering your question, Erin, because I struggle with the idea of how do I rank those roles and those commitments I’ve made and those goals I’ve set for myself. To me, it’s not this one, two, three, four, five, six, and I’ve got to figure out where each of those things I talked about fits into that list.

It starts with––and I’m not saying I’m really good at this––with always trying to anchor our life in God and having him be our life and having that listening ear. For me, part of the issue is about––and again, I’m not saying I’m really good at this, but it’s something I do try to get better at––about always having my life ordered enough that I can be quiet enough to hear that voice. That voice behind me saying, “This way, this way, turn here, go there. No, this is the way. Walk in it.”

I know that’s not very practical and I can’t write a book about that. But when I think about priorities, that’s what I think. There are the roles I play, the things I need and want to do in each of those roles, and then moment by moment trying to listen to the direction that I’m getting as to where my attention and my time and my energy should be going right now.

Karen: I think it’s a lot more practical than you realize. I knew, a person once who said to me that she made out a list of the things that she wanted to be or that she wanted to do, but each day she would have that quiet time and she’d say, “Lord, what do you want to accomplish today?”

Sometimes she felt the sense that it was on one of those lists, but sometimes it was something completely different. And as I’m listening to you, I’m thinking a good thing for someone who’s my personality, who’s just off the scale right brain, doesn’t believe in linear thought, who will sit down to make a to do list and completely forget why I’m doing it and what I wanted on it.

But to figure out my priorities based on who I want to be as a believer, who I want to be as Don’s wife, who I want to be as a podcaster or a writer.

What the impact is that I want to have and how will my life matter in the context of each of those things. And then to have that kind of figured out, and then again submit it every morning and say, “Okay, Lord, is today a day where we refine Karen as a believer? Or do you refine Karen as a dog owner? Or what do you want to do today?” Which to me, adds an element of adventure to the day.

Laura: Sure.

Erin: I think you’re both right in terms of focusing on listening. Productivity is so much more about simply listening to God and we’ve lost that in our culture. We’ve lost the ability to listen, to sit still. I mean, nobody seems to listen very much on social media. It’s more about talking.

Karen: No, it’s not about talking, it’s about yelling.

Erin: So yes, that’s in our culture right now. It’s very difficult to battle.

One other thing I wanted to cover, because we’re running out of time here. The three of us have been talking a little bit beforehand about pruning. When we’re thinking about priorities, it may come to pass that we have to prune some things.

Any thoughts on that, Laura? Any tips on pruning or what that’s like? I know you’re going through a little bit of a pruning process––as I have recently in moving––and you’re moving as well.

Laura: Yeah. Pruning as a concept, you could get into the whole thing of why pruning happens in gardening, for instance, and the parallels there in our lives. It can apply to our stuff. It can apply to our commitment. It can apply to our attitudes. All sorts of different things.

We were talking earlier about pruning our belongings because you’ve just moved and, as we were talking, we’re in the process of packing up and getting ready to move to a new home.

To me, it’s really helpful to keep in mind why we would be doing the pruning. We’re not getting rid of stuff just to get rid of stuff. That to me is part of ordering my life in such a way as to maximize my positive impact on the world. The more stuff we have, the more time, energy, and attention we have to spend on cleaning it, moving it around, taking care of it, all of that kind of stuff.

I’ve been trying over the last two or three years to little by little whittle down the amount of stuff we have. Some of that is harder for me than others. We were talking this morning about books. I love me some books. My mother said I came back from the first day of kindergarten just disgusted and said I wasn’t going back because I went there to learn to read, thank you very much, and they were wanting to talk about colors, and I already knew all my colors.

I’ve been collecting books since then, at least, and I have lots of them, but we went through this morning and boxed up a whole bunch of them that we’re going to donate for somebody else to enjoy.

Why do you do that? Why do you consider pruning something? Not just to be doing it, but this again goes back to being purposeful and intentional about it. What is this adding to my life to have it and what would be a good reason to get rid of it? Well, so that I don’t have to take care of it and I can put my time, my energy, and my attention on other things that matter more to me. If there are things that matter more than books, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say that on this podcast.

Karen: Of course you are.

Laura: I think it’s a matter of looking at the belongings you have and thinking about why you have them.

Karen: Right.

Laura: And do you like the reason you have? I don’t know that there’s a right or wrong answer, but the question you ask yourself is, “Why am I hanging on to this and how do I feel about that reason?”

If you like the reason you’re keeping it, then keep it. But if you go deeper, “I’m keeping this because I’m afraid I’ll need it some day and I won’t have it.”

Karen: So are you keeping it out of fear and if so, then what’s the fear? And dig deeper into helping God prune you on those emotions that can be damaging.

Laura: Exactly. Because a lot of what we keep, you know, everybody knows the statistics about how much stuff, especially we in America have, and how many households can’t park their car in their garage and they’re paying for outside storage. And I’m not condemning anybody for that. But the question is, if you are wanting to be intentional about living a productive life in that sense of making a meaningful life, a life that makes a positive impact, then maybe you want to think about it.

“All these things that I have, are they adding value to my life? Could I do something better with my life if I let some of this go?”

Karen: And, “Are they adding value to the impact that I’m having?”

We have some antiques that came from my husband’s family years and years ago. But the memories that they carry with them are not positive memories. They’re memories of the abuse that was also handed down from generation to generation. Whenever my husband sees them, he thinks of his grandfather, but those are not happy memories.

We are out of time. Laura, it’s been so much fun to talk with you and I think that we have so much more than we need to talk about, so we’ll look forward to maybe having you on again to dig deeper into all these ideas. Thank you so much for being here with us, the beginning of 2020, for being our first guest, who is helping our listeners to decide how to go into this new year and how to have a life that matters and what kind of impact they want.

Friends, as you’re thinking about those things, as you’re pondering that in relationship to your family, to your writing, to those people that you encounter in whatever role you play, remember the first and foremost thing to do is to ask God who he wants you to be and what he wants you to do. Then you can move forward in real freedom doing those things that help you to develop a life that matters in an eternal sense and not just a temporal sense.

So thanks again, Laura, for being here and getting us started off right for the new year.

Laura: My pleasure.

Erin: Thank you, Laura, and we’ll have a link, everybody, in the show notes to that podcast, The Productive Woman.

we want to hear from you

As you think about the new year, in what ways would you like to maximize your positive impact on the world? What steps can you take to help make that happen?

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