Yesterday, a frequent reader told me that finding time to do “5 minute favors” had made a big impact on their personal (and even professional) life. They suggested that I do more posts around the concept of micro-service efforts. Though quick and easy, these efforts make a difference. And they’re perfect for those with big hearts but minimal free time.
If you were with me in January the first 10 ideas below may seem familiar but the last 10 are fresh and new.
20 ways to serve in 4 minutes or less
- Tell someone a joke. Laughter is good for the heart.
- Save someone from a work conversation they aren’t enjoying. “Hey I hate to interrupt, but can I borrow you for two minutes.”
- Actually take your reusable bags into the store with you.
- Actually take your reusable cup into Starbucks with you.
- Contact an elected official via social media to quickly advocate for a cause you believe in.
- Pray for someone.
- Make a small online donation to a charity you support.
- Teach someone something. Anything.
- Text someone a specific compliment. (e.g. “I admire how much patience you have with me.”)
- Give someone you love your undivided attention.
- Hold a door open and wait while multiple people pass through.
- Take time to write a supportive comment on Facebook.
- Hug someone.
- Let that busy person behind you go ahead of you in line.
- Leave change in a vending machine.
- Pay the toll for the person behind you.
- Discuss with a younger relative a piece of your family history.
- Cheer loudly for someone else’s kid.
- Give away an extra umbrella on a rainy day.
- If you love them. Tell them.
What are other ideas you have?
Please comment below and share freely.
First let me apologize to the month of April. The first post of every month is supposed to offer suggestions for a monthly service focus. In January, we were inspired to make a start fresh. February was all about love. March service ideas came in bracket style. But here it is a full week into the month and I haven’t given April the focus she deserves.
April sparks spring cleaning
April is the first full month of spring. And spring inspires many people to think about refreshing their spaces and purging clutter. Spring cleaning is also a perfect time to gather donations that can serve others in your community. But deciding which items you’re ready to part with is a complex process. I won’t pretend that a simple list of questions will lead you to an easy answer. Below are 10 questions that should help you think about the potential donation from multiple angles. Consider each question, but don’t get hung up on needing the perfect answer. Through the process alone you may find yourself drawn to holding on to it or being ready to let it serve someone else.
Should you keep it or donate it?
- Would I give this item away to a friend that kept admiring it?
- If someone stole this item from me, how long would it take to notice it was gone?
- If I didn’t have this exact item, would I to buy it again within the next year?
- If I didn’t have this item, is there something else I’d use in its place?
- If someone offered me fair market value for this item would I sell it to them?
- Would holding on to this item for one more year reduce its quality as a donation?
- How many items like this do I think is enough? (i.e. How many T-shirts? Pens? Coffee mugs?)
- How do I feel when I imagine this item meeting a need for someone else?
- Might someone else find more joy in this item than I do?
- After answering these questions do I feel more inspired to keep this item or donate it?
How do you decide when it’s time to let something go?
There are moments in life when you get to play the part of the hero. Maybe you rescued a toddler that fell off her tricycle. Or maybe you hailed a cab in the rain for your group of friends. It’s a blessing to be able to rescue and serve those in need. And the reminder that you add value into the world feels pretty nice too.
To gain a superpower, look no further than your local drug store. Below is a list of items that may come in handy during your next rescue mission. They vary in size from “wallet ready” to “satchel approved” so everyone can carry something. There’s no pressure to get them all, but when they’re needed you’ll be an absolute hero.
HERO TOOL KIT
- Band-Aids: There are many brands of adhesive bandages but I can’t stop myself from calling them all “Band-Aids”. You can’t predict accidents, but these are a rescue waiting to happen.
- Tylenol: There are a lot of pain relievers out there, but acetaminophen (known by the brand name Tylenol) will serve the largest audience. Ibuprofen or naproxen can cause stomach irritation if not taken with food. Also pregnant women are limited to acetaminophen for their pain relief.
- Travel Sewing Kit: It’s bound to happen. Buttons will pop off and pant hems will fall out. They vary in size, but some travel sewing kits can easily fit in your wallet. You’ll be ready to rescue someone from walking around looking raggedy.
- Tissues: Gone are the days of gentlemen having a handkerchief to offer. Tissues serve the purpose even better.
- Skittles: Yes, I’m referring to the bright colored candy. In a pinch, Skittles are a commonly used substitute for glucose tablets which can quickly raise a diabetic’s blood sugar in an emergency.
- Trail Mix: People get hungry. Save them.
- Bottled Water: This is always good for a true emergency situation like being trapped in the desert. But its more common rescue use is to help someone swallow their pill-form medicine.
- Stain Remover Wipes: Stains are easier to remove when you treat them fast. And you’ll help them get that stain remover on the spot pronto. These come in very small travel packs about the size of a hand wipe.
- Feminine products (ladies only): Maybe it’s just me, but I’ve played this hero many times. It’s really simple, travel with extra feminine products on you and someone in need will ask for them.
- An Ink pen: Even in this day of electronic communication there are still times when someone will need an ink pen. This is usually to fill out a form (or do something else involving paper). Surprisingly few people carry pens on them anymore. Be the person that has one.
What items have you used to serve a dame or damsel in distress?
A few years ago, my office held a holiday decorating contest. We each had free reign to design and decorate our individual work spaces. This contest had no prize other than bragging rights, but it somehow developed into a very competitive affair. We all selected a theme and found time in our pretty busy days to shop and decorate. I can clearly remember going out and spending WAY too much money in a craft store. I also remember standing on a chair for well over an hour draping paper and gluing stars in the middle of an otherwise productive workday.
When judging time came, each person in the office received one vote for the grand honor of “Best Decorations.” No one could vote for themselves. Now I knew I worked with some pretty talented people, but these decorations were OVER THE TOP creative and well done. I walked around seriously wondering how I’d ever be able to pick my winner.
Then I saw it.
At the very end of a long hallway was an office space decked out in red, white and green with dancing elves. But not just any elves. These elves had individual pictures of everyone in the office pasted on them. It was brilliant.
The Office Elfs won the contest in a landslide. Why? Because most people like to see pictures of themselves. Whether we like our appearance or not, we’re drawn to look at what is physically unique about us. Our eyes. Our smile. And though I consider myself a humble person, I really enjoyed seeing the picture of my elf.
Humility is not at odds with us
Here’s how I view the practice of humility. Humility is the act of lowering our ego to cultivate compassion for and provide service to others. What humility is NOT is a reason to reduce your view of your capabilities. It is NOT an excuse to hide what is great about you.
Are you a writer? Are you a good writer? Share your writing. It can inspire, heal, entertain and inform.
Are you smart? Don’t dumb down your conversation to not intimidate people. You can stimulate new ideas and bring clarity to complex topics.
Do you have a hobby you know absolutely everything about? Make that known. Teach others and help create the feeling of community that comes from shared interests.
False humility goes directly against my definition of true humility. Hiding talents takes them away from the world you’re meant to be serving. You have your gifts for a reason and that reason is to use them to serve others. Don’t be shy. We need you.
Is there a gift you’ve been holding back from the world?
As a fan, I may get too passionate about my sports teams. There are unconfirmed stories out there about tearful losses. As a mother, I try not to push sports too hard on my sons. They don’t need to be super stars. I just need them to learn what it means to be part of a team. So much of life’s success gets determined by our ability to be a good teammate.
Being a part of a team teaches you to focus on the world outside of your own needs. Being a part of a team teaches you to give more than you take.
The month of March is a fantastic time to enjoy college basketball. (And I plan to partake of my fair share). March is also a great time to serve all the teams listed above.
Below you will find a link to the Simply Service “Service Madness” bracket. There are 64 acts of service ready to face off against each other. See which ones you’re most inspired to do this month. May the best service win!
Service Madness Bracket
CLICK HERE TO DOWNLOAD: SimplyServiceMarchBracket
What lessons have sports taught you about service?
Seriously, more snow? Yesterday wasn’t a major accumulation, but it was enough to create lots of traffic. I grew up just outside of New York City so I should be used to traffic. But I’m a closeted country girl. I dream of traveling on uninhabited roads instead of congested highways. But, the country is not where I live. So I spend plenty of time in my car navigating traffic each day.
And I’m not out there alone.
If you’re out there with me, here are seven ways to serve while sitting behind the wheel.
- Sing and car dance to your heart’s desire, especially when you’re at a light. It spreads the joy to those watching.
- Respect the “fast lane”. If you don’t plan to drive fast (meaning faster than the cars in the other lanes) please move over. This is not a demand. You have a right to be in the fast lane at any reasonable speed. But, respecting this unspoken rule is much appreciated by your fellow drivers.
- Show some love. If you see a car with the name of a team or school you support, give them a “thumbs up”.
- Be honest about your sense of urgency. Decide if arriving three minutes later would make a difference for you. Sometimes it truly does. Safely rush if you’re in a rush. Yield to another car that needs to enter into traffic if you aren’t.
- Grant forgiveness. There have likely been times when you were driving too slow or made an incorrect maneuver. You were probably lost, tired or distracted. It happens. Give your fellow drivers a break.
- Never do it. Get serious about never driving while texting, under the influence, or exhausted. And don’t underestimate exhaustion. Similar to texting and being impaired, exhaustion has been proven to put lives at risk.
- Smile! People are all around you. Many get a chance to briefly enjoy your smile. Share it freely.
Picture yourself in my kitchen two nights ago. My husband and I just got home from work. I came into the kitchen a little later than him. I’d just hung up my coat and was starting to think about dinner. Here’s the exchange that followed.
Him: “Were things really crazy getting the kids out this morning?”
Me: “No, not really? School had a 2 hour delay because of the weather. I had extra time.”
Him: “Oh, because you left the cereal out on the counter.”
Me: “Oh ok. Sorry.” (Meanwhile I’m wondering where he’s going with this conversation.)
Him: “…And then I saw that you put the milk away in the pantry.”
Me: “Wow. I really didn’t sleep well last night.”
Sleep matters. For most of us, it matters a lot. The only thing that makes being sleepy better is getting more sleep. I want to make that clear because this post will not help you with being sleepy. It can ONLY help you with being tired. Being tired is a completely different animal than sleepy. Tired is more about energy and motivation. Sleepy is about a physical need to restore your systems. But it can be hard to distinguish them from each other. The chart below has some examples that might help you tell them apart.
|“I wonder if anyone would notice if I got 15 minutes of sleep here at my desk.”||“I don’t really feel like taking a nap, but I do feel like laying in my bed.”|
|“I keep trying to get online, but the light from the screen is giving me a headache.”||“Wow, have I been on this site for two hours? I can’t get anything done today.”|
|“Where did I put my keys? Not again!”||“Since I’ve gotten up and gotten my keys, I should probably head to the grocery store. But man, I really don’t feel like it!”|
|“God, please give me the strength to feed these kids tonight.”||“Why can’t these kids feed themselves yet?”|
So are you sleepy or are you tired? If you’re sleepy, stop reading and at least rest your eyes. If you’re tired, read on.
- Chances are good that you will be getting up tomorrow. Life is short, but more than likely it will be pretty long. It’s probable that you will get up tomorrow and the next day and the day after that. Point being – You are going to have a lot of waking hours to pass time in.
- You will be putting in work. If you have any obligations such as family, friends, and/or a job you will be performing work during a large part of your waking hours. Point being – Doing things that need to get done is going to be a required part of your day every day.
Can we agree on these two things? Sounds simple.
Getting up and putting in work will likely happen every day of our lives. We are going to do it regardless of how we feel about it. But what if putting in work partially feed us with energy instead of merely draining it? That’s basically what “inspired action” is. Inspired action is also a type of work but it’s work that feeds us emotionally. That’s different from plain-old “action” which is work we have to do because we’re awake and we have responsibilities. In many small ways, we can shift our thinking toward viewing work as inspired action. Most if not all of that shift has to do with intentionally trying to serve others. This can be done in small ways while doing your daily routine. Inspired action leaves you more connected and energized. Since we’re going to be awake and putting in work anyway, it just feels better to be serving others.
And it makes us A LOT less tired.
Don’t believe me? Try it for three days. I don’t mean taking time off from your job to do more community service. I’m talking about serving as part of your normal day. Easy examples are letting someone in front of you in traffic, correcting a small problem for someone on your job, or getting a meal on the table for dinner. Consciously and intentionally think of everything you do as service and then see how you feel.
Are you tired enough to try it?
Like any mother, the safety of my sons is constantly on my mind. So this week has been scary. I’ve wondered if there is an entire US state where I should not send my sons to college. I’ve wondered if a place that I associate mostly with Mickey Mouse is a place where the law can’t protect their lives. I’m not an expert on these cases. And this post isn’t about that. If I’m being honest, I’ve tried not to follow the cases too closely. They scare me too much. They make me feel small.
I was reminded by a friend on Facebook that individual lives may feel small at times, but they are powerful.
This was his response to one of my status updates.
“Think globally, act locally. If everyone looks after their family and friends, a geometric progression suggests everyone is better off and taken care of.”
Here are six things we can do whenever we’re feeling small.
- Be still. Notice that I didn’t say pray. Prayer is speaking to God. Stillness is allowing time to listen.
- Cook for someone. Sure you can eat some too, but cook with the idea of serving and nourishing another. Any recipe will do.
- Seek out a child. There is something about a child’s energy that neutralizes defeat.
- Find art that moves you. My favorite book is Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett. I find it hard to believe that a person could weave together a story so complex and vivid. It reminds me that humans are capable of beautiful things. Sometimes I need the reminder.
- Take up someone else’s cause. We all have struggles that are unique to our position in life. Help someone else with theirs. Embody the spirit of Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous quote, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
- Serve in the way that only you can. If you aren’t sure what that is yet, refer to #1 on this list.
What do you do when you’re feeling small?
About a week ago, we had an opportunity to talk with college-bound teenagers about money. We had their full attention once they saw the charts of average starting salaries for different fields of study. Clearly graduates from some fields (mostly in the hard sciences and technical disciplines) made much more money than others. Some fields required additional graduate degrees and that meant a potential for larger student loan debt.
We still encouraged the students to follow their talents and passions. We talked to them about how passion would play out in the long run which was loosely defined as 10-15 years into their career. It’s passion that drives people to work harder, smarter and network better. Then those passionate people get promoted, make more money and far outpace their peers financially. Passion is still an important factor for long term financial success.
Honest Conversations About Money
So why even give them the starting salary data if we still think they should consider any field they like? The point was to have an honest conversation about money. It was to help them make an informed decision about which field to pursue. It’s a complex decision. We also discussed the social and emotional impact of making more or less money than their peers at any stage of life. We acknowledged that some jobs would always pay less than others even if they’re successful at them. This talk was to help them make decisions about their life and the role money will play in it. Deciding how important each factor is to them is something they will have to do on their own.
Even as adults we are often left uninformed about the social and emotional factors surrounding money. When I was single, it was hard to make decisions and place priorities on my money. Should I save more for a rainy day or take a trip with my family? When I got married again it became even more clear that I needed to learn and communicate my financial needs better. I say “needs” and not “wants” because how much we derive pleasure, connection and/or security from money is core to who we are. These factors aren’t simple preferences that can be ignored. This is something you may already know if you’ve ever managed money with someone that doesn’t share your financial values.
Luckily, there are resources to help us get informed about our financial preferences and have more honest conversations about money with each other. The link below will take you to an online tool that will “find your money mind” and uncover your personal biases about money’s value. A friend suggested this site to me and I wanted to pass it on.
Three Types of “Money Minds”
- Happiness: The Pleasure Seeker
- Committed: The Giver
- Fear: The Protector
Once you take the quiz for yourself you can also take it with someone you manage money with. This will give you insight into your collective priorities and styles. You will also get communication tips to have better and more honest conversations about your needs.
So what does this have to do with service? Everything. Money has a huge impact on our relationships and resources. Our relationships and resources will have everything to do with how and who we serve.
Who else wants to have an honest conversation about money?
How can I help?
Recently, a friend’s young and insanely full of life husband passed away suddenly. I was with her the day before he died. It still runs through my mind every insignificant thing we talked about that day. Even writing this now, it is hard to believe this isn’t a fictional story. When truly awful things happen to people we care about we want to help them. We want to be doing something (anything) to make them feel supported.
I came across the Lotsa Helping Hands website when offering to deliver food for my friend following the funeral. Someone had set up a private community page for her. Once accepted into her community, I could sign up for days to do tasks and deliver food. These communities can be used for shorter term support like during the early days of grieving or when someone is recovering from a medical issue. It was originally designed to provide longer term support to care for caregivers. These are the people that provide daily assistance to another person like an aging parent or a special needs child.
The possibilities to coordinate and serve each other through these sites are endless. I just wanted to pass this on as we are all likely to need it some day. Please tell everyone you know.