Community//

Slow Down To Do More: “How Sending Birthday Cards Improve Your Life” with Ashley Graber and Dr. Frank Buck

Here’s one from my own life that everybody loves…birthday cards. The usual excuse for not sending them is “time.” “I don’t have time to write all those birthdays on my calendar. I don’t have time to make a trip to the store to pick up one card,” they say. For over 30 years I have kept […]



Here’s one from my own life that everybody loves…birthday cards. The usual excuse for not sending them is “time.” “I don’t have time to write all those birthdays on my calendar. I don’t have time to make a trip to the store to pick up one card,” they say.

For over 30 years I have kept a list of the people to whom I want to send and purchased every single card at one time. Since the list is digital, I print the mailing labels for the whole set. While watching a single TV program, my wife and I sign all the cards, and put both the address labels and return address labels on the whole set. Then, where the postage stamp will go, we pencil the date each card needs to go in the mail.


As a part of my series about “How to Slow Down To Do More” I had the pleasure to interview Dr. Frank Buck. Frankis a public speaker, coach, and writer. He is the author of Get Organized!: Time Management for School Leaders. Dr. Buck helps busy professionals achieve their goals through organization and time management. He is a member of “Global Gurus Top 30” in the area of time management for 2017 and 2018. According to Dr. Buck, “Life doesn’t have to be as hard as we sometimes make it.” 

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us the “backstory” about what brought you to this specific career path?

The journey to this role started with my own experience as a student. It extended through my career as a teacher and school administrator.

I guess I was always one of those “naturally organized people.” What I didn’t realize was these principles are teachable. The first sign I needed to move my own practices to a larger audience came as I was working on my doctoral dissertation back in 1997. The work was a study of the time management practices of school principals in my state.

As I studied the literature on the topic of time management, I found something interesting. Much had been written on time management for those in the business world. But, little focused on the needs of the teacher or school administrator. As a result, I created a small workshop to help fill the void. It focused on helping educators. Over the years, that workshop has grown and changed with the times. The work presented there has been the theme of three books. Busy people, from all over the United States, Canada, and Australia, have learned an easier way to approach their time and tasks.

According to a 2006 Pew Research Report report, 26% of women and 21% of men feel that they are “always rushed”. Has it always been this way? Can you give a few reasons regarding what you think causes this prevalent feeling of being rushed?

I’m surprised the numbers are that low! The problem of the time crunch is not new. The Harried Leisure Class, written by Staffan Linder in 1970, is a classic example. In 1973, Alan Lakein’s published his classic How to Get Control of Your Time and Your Life. It sold over 3 million copies. The first sentence of the preface said it all: “Are you always ‘busy’ but never seem to get anything done?”

While the time crunch is not new, what we experience today is different. In Lakein’s day, work showed up in the wooden inbox on your desk or in real-time conversation. Information came once a day in the form of the newspaper and the half-hour evening newscast.

Today, the demands on our attention show up in multiple email inboxes, voice mail, internal messaging systems, and the lure of social media. The next Google search has the potential to lead us into a morning-long adventure down the next rabbit hole. News sources are endless.

There’s always more we could be doing. Most of us aren’t equipped with the tools that organize that kind of volume. We’re never quite sure we’re seeing what we want to see when we need to see it.

Based on your experience or research can you explain why being rushed can harm our productivity, health, and happiness?

In an attempt to move faster, we make more mistakes. We, or someone else, spends time redoing the job or handling the fallout from the mistakes. We also tend to look for quickest way to get something done rather than the best way. We wind up interrupting each other constantly asking for information. As a result, nobody gets anything done.

Fast Company published an article with a startling statistic: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 80% of our medical expenditures are now stress related. So, when someone says, “the pressure is killing me,” it’s the truth.

On the flip side, can you give examples of how we can do more, and how our lives would improve if we could slow down?

Here’s one from my own life that everybody loves…birthday cards. The usual excuse for not sending them is “time.” “I don’t have time to write all those birthdays on my calendar. I don’t have time to make a trip to the store to pick up one card,” they say.

For over 30 years I have kept a list of the people to whom I want to send and purchased every single card at one time. Since the list is digital, I print the mailing labels for the whole set. While watching a single TV program, my wife and I sign all the cards, and put both the address labels and return address labels on the whole set. Then, where the postage stamp will go, we pencil the date each card needs to go in the mail.

The last step is to drop the cards in the “Tickler File.” The Tickler File is an old business tool consisting on 31 folders (one for each day of the current month) and 12 folders (one for each future month). Drop each card, or any other paperwork, in the file for the appropriate day. It’s too easy not to do!

With birthday cards in the Tickler File, we’re done with birthday cards for a whole year. People remark how thoughtful we are. The truth is many people are thoughtful. It’s failure to have a simple system to handle simple tasks that causes things to fall through the cracks.

Focus is the key. For that short amount of time, we’re focused on birthday cards and nothing else. When focus turns to fragmentation, that’s where the mistakes start to happen.

“Repeating tasks” is another area where going slow helps you go fast. We all have those routine tasks to perform every year, every month, or every week at the same time. Hoping we remember them all at the right time is a huge stress-producer.

Take the time to think through projects that will repeat. Identify the steps. Put each one on your digital task list with a due date. Now step back and work the system. Life doesn’t have to be as hard as we sometimes make it.

Finally, work ahead of deadlines. When you can craft your day instead of spending it handling the fallout from neglect, you can batch related items. You can plan. You can delegate and not worry if the task will be completed on time.

We all live in a world with many deadlines and incessant demands for our time and attention. That inevitably makes us feel rushed. Can you share with our readers 6 strategies that you use to “slow down to do more”? Can you please give a story or example for each?

  1. Tomorrow starts today. I feel better when I spend a few minutes the evening before identifying the “Fab 5” They are the 5 items that I want to accomplish the next day. Sure, I’ll check off many more then 5, but that small set provides the compass for the day.
  2. There’s seldom a new problem. Someone else has gone down this road before and left tracks. We don’t have to reinvent the wheel. A good Google search saves time and frustration.
  3. Everything looks different after a good night’s sleep. Tired people are irritable and overlook the obvious. Sleep gives us the gifts of time, energy, and perspective. Also, the brain has a remarkable way of working on a problem while we sleep and delivering the solution the next morning.
  4. I am the CEO of me. I’m an imperfect person placed in an imperfect world filled with others who have their own imperfections. I can’t fix it all. But I can fix me. The funny thing is this: When I’m focused on “me,” I also tend to have the thoughts that will influence others.
  5. Routine maintenance prevents problems. Preventive maintenance ignored becomes the breeding ground for frustration. How often are our days de-railed because something broke? How often does “broke” happen because we failed to clean, adjust, or replace those things that keep our lives humming?
  6. How did you make today count? Every evening, I reflect on that question and log what was significant. Sometimes, it has to do with a goal I pushed forward. Sometimes, it deals with how I helped another person. Today came as a gift. How well I used it was up to me.

How do you define “mindfulness”? Can you give an example or story?

Mindfulness is focus. It’s being intentional when it comes to what has your attention. It’s about avoiding the multitude of distractions.

An oft-repeated saying tells us, “Be where your feet are.” For the football player, it means ignoring the previous play and the scoreboard, while giving full attention to the next play.

For the young musician, it means giving full attention to the next phrase rather than how nervous he or she is.

For the novice salesman, “being where your feet are” means giving full attention to the client you are about to land. It means forgetting about the 20 other things on the to-do list. For the CEO, it means being fully present in the meeting with investors and forgetting about tomorrow’s packed schedule.

Can you give examples of how people can integrate mindfulness into their everyday lives?

Our world is full of “bright, shiny objects” that divert our attention from where it needs to be. We either have a plan for the day, or we’re going to let everything and everyone else plan it for us. Our technology interrupts us with constant “notifications.” One YouTube video leads to a dozen more.

Planning encourages mindfulness. When tomorrow’s to-do list is worded clearly, mindfulness trumps distraction. When the projects on the list are broken into bite-sized pieces, mindfulness trumps distraction.

Do you have any mindfulness tools that you find most helpful at work?

My digital task list is the #1 tool that helps me stay organized and productive. I use Remember the Milk (RememberTheMilk.com). A powerful free version is available.

As soon as I think of something I need to do, it goes on the list (in Remember the Milk). I can even add to it with my voice. When I get emails that embed “to-dos,” I forward them to the list. That way, I’m able to get email empty every day.

My digital task list holds the repeating tasks and causes me to see them on just the right day. Often, I have information I want to have at hand when I complete a task, such as points to cover in a phone call. I add those to a note attached to the task.

The biggest advantage a digital task list gives me is that when it’s on the list, it’s off my mind. I can focus on the one thing at hand and know that everything else is being kept on my trusty list. Nothing falls through the cracks.

What are your favorite books, podcasts, or resources that inspire you to use mindfulness tools or practices?

Two books come to mind. Both have been around for quite a while. The first is Time Power, by Dr. Charles R. Hobbs. The book sets the gold standard for helping people set goals as well as hammer out the daily details. It’s both “big picture” and “nuts-and-bolts.” While published in 1987 and using paper-based tools, the methodology is relevant to today’s digital world.

The second is Adventures in the Art of Living by Wilferd A. Peterson, copyright 1968. This thin work is a collection of short essays. It accomplishes exactly what the author set out to do. He wants to help the reader “hold an adventurous mental attitude.”

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

My favorite quote comes from Lawrence P. Jacks.“The master in the art of living makes little distinction between his work and his play, his labor and his leisure, his mind and his body, his information and his recreation, his love and his religion. He hardly knows which is which. He simply pursues his vision of excellence at whatever he does, leaving others to decide whether he is working or playing. To him he’s always doing both.”

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to see a movement where we plan our days, a movement where we truly believe tomorrow will be better because of the work we did today.

Thank you so much for these insights! This was so inspiring!


About the Author:

After 15 years working in Commercial Real Estate in New York City, Ashley Graber changed the coast she lived on and the direction of her life from Real Estate to the worlds of Psychology and Meditation & Mindfulness. Ashley came to these practices after getting sober and in the decade plus since, she now runs a busy mindfulness based psychotherapy practice at Yale Street Therapy in Santa Monica, CA where she see adults and children and speaks on the benefits of meditation and mindfulness practices.

Ashley is an Owner and Director of Curriculum for the next generation meditation app & mindfulness company ‘Evenflow’ and launched the company’s one to one online mindfulness mentoring program. Ashley also educates teachers and administrators in schools and presents in businesses across Santa Monica and Los Angeles.

Ashley was trained in Meditation and Mindfulness practices by prominent teachers; Elisha Goldstein, Richard Burr and Guiding teacher at Against the Stream Boston, Chris Crotty. Her Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) certification was done through The Center for Mindfulness at UC San Diego. Additionally, Ashley is trained by Mindful Schools to teach Meditation and Mindfulness practices to children and families. Ashley’s unique combination of psychotherapy, trauma reprocessing and meditation and mindfulness practices make her a sought after therapist and mindfulness educator and speaker. Her passion for the benefits of mindfulness practices as well as her enthusiasm for helping young kids and adults is the drive to teach these very necessary, life long skills and why she wrote and runs the Mindfulness for Families program at The Center for Mindful Living. This is where she teaches groups of families with children ages 6–12. Ashley was featured on Good Morning LaLa Land, presented on Resilience at the renowned Wisdom. 2.0 Mindfulness & Technology conference, and presented at the TED Woman conference offering an in-depth look at the profound psychological and physiological consequences of chronic stress, and how meditation and mindfulness practices can alleviate these effects.

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