Continuous Quality Improvement-4 Life

Do you know the management concept of continuous quality improvement? 

I have begun to realize that a lot of people practice continuous quality improvement (CQI) on themselves.

Not everyone does, and no one does this in every area of their lives. There are some people who have found a place of contentment around certain things. Something that just works for people. My old officemate had the exact same breakfast and lunch every single day. This worked really well for her. It was on autopilot, and she could focus her time and attention on other parts of her life. 

But I am realizing that there are big parts of my life that are in CQI mode. Part of it is the old, “when you know better, you do better,” part of it is growing discipline as you age and mature, and part of it is figuring out what does and doesn’t work for you.

I think the best way to approach a CQI is with a sense of curiosity and wonder. Otherwise, you can get frustrated at yourself and the fact that you are constantly “in progress.” 

Yellow hibiscus

The things that I am working on are these:

  • Getting my health in order
  • Money management
  • Investments
  • Home organization
  • Travel
  • Income generation
  • Blogging
  • Work
  • Dissertation
  • Digital
  • Green life (gardening and houseplants)
  • Community
  • Hobbies
  • Reading

Getting my health in order

I tend to take a “does not apply to me” approach to nutrition and exercise, and this is not a good way of being. My father had a 5-way bypass when he was 53. I think this has left me with a lot of fear that I tend to deal with by ignoring the problem. And I suffer from a severe lack of discipline in many parts of my life. Exercise and nutrition are a constant struggle. But I know that I am empowered to improve and I have the tools I need. 

I have been reading Brain Food and combining it with knowledge of the MIND diet and I think the arguments make a lot of sense for me and my circumstances.  I am trying to eat fewer animal products (recommendation is 1 ounce of cheese per week-not anywhere near that yet!), fewer processed foods, less sugar. And I am increasing my fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and so-called superfoods. What this looks like day-to-day is evolving, but I am trying to focus on making smoothies with a lot of ingredients (including bananas, spinach, hemp fiber, and flaxseed), using coconut sugar in my coffee, and drinking more water.

Pacific Ocean and sand
Drink more water, but not this water


For the exercise portion, the Dude and I try to take Dex for a 15-20 minute walk once or twice a day. And I signed up for Body Groove on Demand. One morning I was thinking about the fact that I don’t move my body hardly at all, and then a while later, Facebook put a Body Groove ad on my feed. I like that they are not focused on doing specific things so much as moving and having fun, and they remind us that things like our heart beating faster is a good and healthy thing.

It sounds silly but because of health fears, I freak out a little when my heart rate gets fast or I am trying to breathe. So getting that audible reminder is useful. That said, I signed up for the course last month and have only done it once. So my continuous improvement goal is to do something with it everyday, starting with the 30 day challenge. 

Unfortunately, the best thing for my health has not yet entered the realm of improvement yet: sleep.

Small dog practicing continuous quality improvement in snoozing
Dex knows the importance of sleep

I am one of those lucky folks who hardly ever runs into insomnia and I can fall asleep in no time at all. But I get so interested in whatever I am doing (like writing this blog post at 2:30 am), that I fight myself from going to bed at a reasonable time. Even though morning me will be exhausted, I have not found a way to make nighttime me see the wisdom. 

Money management

We tried for a no-spend year last year. We ended up having a no-spend 5 months! Which is better than nothing. I will fully admit that I am the culprit. Everyone else in the house was good about sticking to the budget. I consistently overspent in “house decoration” and “groceries”.  I am not mad about it, but I want to be more mindful of the categories and stick to them this year.

In the first half of the year, we stuck to our no-spend budget and paid off $15,000 in private student loan debt. We didn’t really set a goal for ourselves in the second half. I bought a new car. I will save the story for another post, but I put $6,000 down on the car, which was about ¼ of the purchase price. And I paid the taxes up front. 

I put a lot of improvements into our living space. After years of making due with a low income and having lived in this rental for seven years, it has been nice to intentionally put time and money into the space. 

Continuous quality improvement of my living space-wooden giraffes
Some of my intentional giraffes

Sometimes after a lifetime of scrimping and saving, it is nice to exhale and just spend on some things. I am trying to learn how to release the scarcity mindset while not being frivolous. It is a weird balance. 

We are not attempting a no-spend year this year. But I am trying to be mindful of our budget as I am making purchases. I have set up an account and a budget in Mint and will be actually consulting it throughout the month before I make purchases. 

Our budget has all the necessary categories and then a few more, to plug in after we increase our income to a target number. I will talk about our income generation plans below. 

I got a very good rate on my car loan (1.9%), but we still don’t like having debt. My payment is I think $233 a month, but we are paying $500 a month in order to pay it off in just over 3 years. I could pay it off quicker, but I want to have money to do other things that will compound. 

As our income increases this year, we will do the following money moves: increase the Dude’s student loan payments to pay off his loan in about 4 years, build up a house down payment fund, start saving for a big family trip to Japan, and build up our F-U fund. Have you heard of an F-U fund? F-U money is savings and investments that allow you to live life on your terms. If you hate your job, you can look for another one more easily if you have a cushion. If you love your job but are underpaid, it is easier to negotiate if you know you will be okay no matter the outcome. If you need to go to part-time, if you need to move closer to your work, all of these things can be smoothed out if you have some extra cash. This is the year we want to start building our F-U fund. 

Currently we have a budget and we have sinking funds. Our sinking funds are in one credit union and our day-to-day money is in another. We want to set up more sinking funds and we want are money to be more streamlined, so we have signed up for an account at Alliant Credit Union, which lets you have up to 20 accounts. Their accounts earn 0.55%. Our current credit earns 1% interest, but only on one account. We really like to be able to split our money into separate categories. I will write a post about our banking habits at some point in the future. 

Investments

I feel like an impostor using the word “investments,” but we are getting started here. First of all, we have about $17,000 for an emergency fund. The Dude found this article that showed us how to get 5% on up to $5,000. The system is a little convoluted, but using this system, the money is still accessible but earning more than the .5% or even .05% the typical bank is giving. With inflation rates as high as they are, it is important to us to at least try to keep up with it. I am setting up my own 5 accounts to put in another $5000. We are thinking of keeping $2000 in our credit union that gives 1% and then putting the other $5000 in an index fund. Index funds are not recommended for emergency funds, but we are weighing the pros and cons of that risk. 

 

I have a pension and a 457(b) account at work. I raised that to the pre-50 year old maximum in the last part of 2021. I can raise it higher but I am not ready yet. We realized that it is a good idea to max out mine (or as close as possible) because my income is subject to state income tax and the Dude’s is not, based on where we live and work. So, the lower my AGI, the  lower my state income tax. We are putting some in the Dude’s 401(k) as well, to get the employer match. Mine is in a target fund and the Dude is more actively managing his. I don’t fully understand all of it and so that is all I will say! 

Home organization

I have a minimalist mindset in some ways, a hoarder mindset in others, a maximalist style vibe to some extent, and am kind of a slob. This is a tricky combination. I try to make things easy to keep organized. The kitchen is my current project. We will see.

Although my fridge organization is holding up pretty well, the kitchen  is an area I am just always going to fall back into. I am constantly fussing with my plants to make them visually appealing and not like clutter. And I have a stack of pictures that have been waiting to be hung for about a year now….

Travel

I remain committed to traveling as much as possible and we are also learning how to be travelers and what works best for us. For instance, we read in several forums that people are giving small gifts to the flight crew when they fly somewhere, just as a way to say thank you for doing a job that is fairly thankless, especially lately! A lot of folks figure out how many flight crew members will be on their flights and get the right number of gift cards for coffee shops.

There were a few reasons that this wasn’t going to be great for me, but I loved the idea of it. Instead of gift cards, we get big bags of nice chocolates that the flight crew can share, and give some to the counter attendants as well. It is a small gesture but has been met with quite a bit of enthusiasm from the crew, so I think we will keep doing this. Bringing joy to others is a nice way to start and end a vacation. It helps put us in a good mindset. 

Sunset view from a plane window
We tried to do our part to help the friendly skies be friendly

When we travel, we try to be mindful of what worked and what didn’t, what we liked doing and what we could skip. The Dude and I now get to travel as a couple. So much of our travel over the past few decades has been as parents, prioritizing what works for a family. Now we have to relearn how to travel for ourselves. The Dude is a very good journaler, and we are approaching early trips in an almost experimental way, to sketch out what we look like as travelers. 

View from Haleakala
Hawaii was worth the wait-mountains, clouds, and ocean.

 

Another part of it is the money piece. We are refining the budget to allow for enough funds to travel. I notice that when I travel, my sense of frugality goes out the window. I am trying to find ways to balance abundance and frugality and not let it explode as an oxymoron. We are also continuing further and further down the travel credit and cheap flights route. I am still trying to learn everything I can, and apply it as I can 

 

Income generation

I made the most realistic budget yet. Now I have a few years of expense reports to pull from and I can see what we truly spend. Given our current salaries, we can make it. We have enough money to do what we need to do, travel, pay off debt, and keep saving some. But for the extra categories I discussed? We need about $15,000 a year. Some will come from raises, but we also need to figure out ways to diversify our income streams and generate some sweet side hustle cash. 

I will blog more about this later, but we are looking into: bank account sign up bonuses (some folks make about $2000 a year for something that takes very little effort), sales of vintage pen/office stuff/kitchenwares/knicknacks, recording audiobooks, credit card sharing with authorized users (a random but totally legit way to super passively make some extra cash). I think there might be some other ideas, but I can’t remember right now and we did not do a good job of writing them down. I will keep y’all informed of this as we go!

Blogging

This blogging thing is tricky. There is always an underlying question with it: am I doing this just an outlet for myself, a way to talk to friends, and potential help to a reader? Or do I want to make money from it? Everything I see and read tells me that I may have to change the format and even my mindset about it if I want to make money. The other option is just to keep this blog for my heart and soul material and build another one as a monetization tool. I am currently (VERY SLOWLY) working through a course that will teach me how to either turn this blog into a business or build a new blog that will attract an audience. The new blog would be more of a niche blog. 

The whole subject leaves me cold. I like blogging, but building a blog post takes me quite a while, especially if I am trying to pay attention to SEO and want to have good pictures and so forth. It ends up slowing me down and sometimes I think that I would rather not bother and instead go and write a facebook post. I run into the same thing with Instagram. If I post a pic on there, I feel like it has to be well framed and have a good caption and hashtags. So a lot of times I just throw a pic into Facebook instead.

I do not have the heart or mindset of an entrepreneur. Can I get one? I don’t know. But I do want to get back into the habit of blogging, even if it is only for me to remain in the practice of writing. This gives me a chance to document plans and changes and holds me somewhat accountable to my goals. 

Over the next 3 months, I want to finish the blogging courses I have signed up for and decide if I want to pursue monetization and if so, what that looks like. 

Work

Overall my work is going well. However, I want to learn and get very good at the following things: SQL, dashboard building, and program evaluation. I need to build out my learning calendar. That might not happen until Feb because Jan is dedicated to quarterly and semi-annual reporting. But those goals are out there.

Dissertation

I am now almost 4 years out from defense and I still haven’t tried to get anything published. Once I put my mind to it and reopen the document, I think I can pull something together into an article for submission pretty quickly. I just have to do it. I have time set aside on my calendar. The next step is to stop ignoring the calendar event. 

Digital

Oh my digital life is a mess in a million different ways. But here are the things I am trying to work on: 

  • Email
    • My gmail account has thousands of read and unread emails. Sure it is sorted into promotions and updates tabs, but those tabs get so full and cluttered that I can’t even find the things I am looking for. I get so many emails from companies that I have never even purchased from. And some of the companies that I do purchase from will send me multiple emails per day. It is all too much. I am spending some time unsubscribing from lots and lots of things, and searching by email address and bulk deleting as much as possible. 
  • Files
    • This is mostly a work thing, but I need to decide on a file naming convention, tidy my file folders, and delete the rest. I spend too much time searching for things. 
  • Youtube
    • I have a bad habit of hitting “Watch Later” on Youtube. I have 1800 videos in my watch later. I am committing to watching and/or deleting at least two per day. So as long as I don’t add more than one per day, I might start getting the number down. It is a silly thing but it is bugging me. 
  • Internet usage
    • Use and overuse continues to be a problem. It is my social outlet, my information hub, and my catchall. I am writing this blog post while on the internet. I stay in touch with people on the internet. The exercise course I talked about earlier is on the internet. How do you find balance with it? I am still working through it, but I am trying (again) to be mindful of it. This is not so much a continuous improvement situation as it is a back to climbing out of the bottom of the barrel one. I need to reread Digital Minimalism and think about a fast.
  • TV watching
    • The Dude and I enjoy watching things. We tend to sink into one thing at a time and watch until we finish. This is nice for me because I like to multitask so I will usually have my computer open and work on the budget tracking or grocery shopping while we are watching.

      But the Dude cannot multitask, which means he is spending hours watching shows and then feeling stressed because he isn’t getting things done. And I feel stressed because I can only do sedentary things while we are watching and we end up going to bed fairly late due to the show watching.
      We don’t have the willpower to only watch one or two episodes. We just did another watch-through of Mad Men and I suggested that we take a TV break after that. Tonight is night one. I am not sure how long the break will go, but that is what we are doing right now.
    • We watch Youtube videos during lunch and I don’t think that will change. We have a handful of youtubers that we really enjoy.
      • One is the Cottage Fairy, who posts whimsical little videos about her simple life in a cabin in the mountains of north-central Washington.
      • Another is Eva Zu Beck who is a solo adventure traveler who documents her experiences that include going to off-the-beaten path locations and hanging out with locals and trying to share those perspectives with the world.
      • Cecilia Blomdahl lives on Svalbard, which are Norwegian islands above the arctic circle. She films what it looks like and talks about her life there.
      • And then we watch random videos from people who live all around the world and are doing interesting things. So far, this ritual fills our cup, especially as the COVID isolation continues. 

Green life (gardening and houseplants)

My houseplants continue to thrive and my flower growing outside went well last year. My goal for indoors is to just keep everything alive. I have recently purchased a couple of fiddle leaf figs and a bird-of-paradise. These plants might need a little more attention.

Houseplants

I got lots of grow lights and have finally set them all up on timers so that they go on about 10 pm and go off about 6 am. I think I have all of them adjusted for maximum effectiveness. I have also purchased a humidifier to help keep my tropical plants happy. And I have some moisture meters to keep an eye on the soil. The next step is learning how to do the fertilizer. So far, I have just watered my plants but I need to start feeding them too.

Houseplants
The adjustment to indoor life has been rough on the banana, but I have added friends and grow lights. We are still in wait and see mode


Since my flowers lived last year, I am going to once again try to grow some vegetables. I have never had luck. I am going to do containers and grow some fairly foolproof options. We will see. I am starting early by growing some alfalfa sprouts in a jar on my kitchen counter. I just put them in today. 

Community

Community and hobbies are next up. They are areas I struggle with. Building community has been tricky since I moved over the mountains to work on my dissertation. In other iterations, I have had friends that coalesced around a common interest or phase in our lives. Now I have local friends, but no cohesive community. I belong to community online, but I don’t have anything replicable locally. It was difficult during school because of school/work/family. And then the Dude got sick and my commute was long. Then the pandemic hit.

But as it eases up (here’s hoping), I really want to find a community of friends and loved ones again. I adore each of my friends, but there is something so relieving about truly belonging to a community and having them all to fall back on. And my online groups give me life, but as one of my goals is to spend less time online, I would really do well to have that community in person. I am still not sure where to find it. People often draw upon their hobbies to connect to community, but…

Hobbies

…hobbies are so hard for me! When I was a kid, I liked to read. The end. Read and sometimes talk to people. And I wasn’t reading those gothic, world-building sort of series that lends itself to a fandom. They were books about the fairly ordinary lives of ordinary people. I was destined to be a sociologist, I just didn’t know it. 

I really enjoyed decorating my house, but it is kind of done and I don’t like clutter, so I don’t see myself doing much more, except some every now and again things. I like my houseplants, but not to a hobby level. I look at them, diagnose problems as needed, water them (and soon, fertilize them!).

Maybe gardening will rise up to be the next thing. I like thrifting and that is where the vintage side-gig comes in. I have to do it in small doses.

I guess I do have hobbies: decorating, organizing (sometimes), thrifting, watching Youtube, traveling, penny-pinching, and learning the credit card travel rewards game.

And Dex!! Dex is definitely my hobby too-providing emotional support, taking his pictures, making up stories of his life, trying to understand him on a very deep level….

None of these feel like stereotypical or creative hobbies. I guess my goal around this is to learn to be okay with that and embrace my hobbies for what they are. 

Reading

My reading skills have yet to really return post-dissertation. Not my skills so much, but my ability to read a paper book for more than 5 minutes at a time. But I am working on it.

I have three books that I have recently been gifted or bought due to a recommendation:

I have also been working my way through:

I aspire to get through:

And I want to give Digital Minimalism and Essentialism both another read.

My plan is to sketch out a schedule that will allow me to read them each this year. 

Continuous quality improvement for life looks like for me

There is a lot in my list. A whole lot. But I don’t try to do it all at once. I can work on whatever is most pressing to my heart on any given day. Some days I want to work on 3 things, sometimes zero things. 

I don’t do New Year’s resolutions. I do “right now I am in a productive mode-what do I want to work on?” Which lends itself to a continuous quality improvement model. And so that is what I will strive for. Every day, some part of it, a little bit better. How about you?