Unplug more. I decided to delete all of my social media accounts a few years ago. One of the best decisions I ever made. My brain feels calmer and quieter, less noisy and cluttered. I’m not saying that everyone needs to quit social media; if it brings you joy, then absolutely do it! But consider what could be subtracted from your life. What do you really love? What could go away? What would feel good?
As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alexandra Franzen. Alexandra is the author of six books. Her newest book is The Checklist Book: Set Realistic Goals, Celebrate Tiny Wins, Reduce Stress and Overwhelm, and Feel Calmer Every Day. Through her free e-newsletter (which reaches around 13,000 readers), she shares insights on writing, communication, productivity, simplicity, using your time intentionally, and designing a beautiful day.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?
Thanks for having me. It’s an honor!
I’m a writer, currently based in Hawaii. Ever since I was a little kid, I’ve always loved books, stories, and all things related to words and creativity. I was totally the “quiet kid” who would read in the library instead of playing sports outside! Today, I feel blessed to have a career that blends all my favorite things together: writing, wellness, mindfulness, simplicity, and living intentionally.
I also have a lifelong obsession with checklists. That’s the topic of my newest book, The Checklist Book. I love making all kinds of checklists: self-care checklists, workout checklists, mental health checklists, and lots more.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?
A few years ago, I went through an extremely painful breakup. It was my first time experiencing life-shattering grief; the kind of grief where you feel numb, hollow, and you can barely get out of bed.
It was really hard to focus on work. I felt foggy, distracted, and uninspired. Things that normally bring me joy — like writing — just felt flat.
During this time, my therapist suggested that I be extra-gentle with myself and focus on really tiny goals.
He asked, “What’s one tiny thing you could do, today, that might help you feel just a tiny bit better?”
This question inspired me to create a “tiny bit better checklist” — basically, a checklist of tiny things I could do to boost my mood and feel a tiny bit more energized and hopeful. Things like:
– Open a window to let in some fresh air.
– Drink a nice cup of coffee.
– Step outside into the sunlight, even just for one minute.
– Splash cool water on your face.
– Eat a vegetable — any kind.
– Text mom to say hi.
Things like that. This checklist helped me get through a really challenging time.
My biggest lesson from this experience was: keep it simple. Sometimes, you just have to keep things super simple, tiny, and gentle. Get back to basics. Water. Sleep. Sunlight. With patience, all these tiny wins lead to big things.
Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
Throughout my life and career, I’d say my biggest mistake has been overscheduling myself! It’s a frustrating habit.
I love so many things — writing, teaching, working with my clients, yoga, fitness, nature, swimming in the ocean, travel, quality time with the people I love — and many days, it feels like there’s just never enough time for everything I want to do! This has led to some poor decisions like cramming way too many things onto my calendar, and periods of burn out.
One question that really helps me is, “If I had 24 hours to live, what would I do with my time?” This question helps me to identify what matters most, burn away distractions, and prioritize better. Thinking about death can really help us clarify how we wish to live.
My mom is one of my biggest heroes. She’s one of the most accomplished women I know. She was a professional opera singer. She produced a Broadway musical. She has raised millions of dollars for performing arts productions and educational programs for kids. She has contributed so much to the world.
And yet, somehow, she’s never “too busy” to have a pot of tea and shortbread cookies, chat with her kids, play her ukulele, or swim laps in the ocean. In her 60s, she’s training to do her first long-distance ocean race! I mean, seriously, how cool is that?!
From here, I’ve learned that having a career is important, but ultimately, it’s all about family, friends, chocolate, and watching the sunset. Life is short and precious. And there’s much more to life than just grinding away to hit our professional goals.
Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?
So many people feel overwhelmed these days. There’s so much pressure to have the “perfect” body, clear your inbox down to zero, have a glamorously curated Instagram-worthy home and office, #slay your goals all day, go bigger, go faster, and do more than ever before. It’s no wonder so many people feel stressed, exhausted, and depressed.
What’s the antidote to all the busyness? What can help us to feel better?
Personally, the one habit that helps me feel calm, focused, and happy is…making a simple checklist.
There’s something so powerful about taking your intentions, simplifying and whittling things down to just one page, and putting things into a list. It feels so good to tick off each item you’ve completed — celebrating your tiny wins all day long!
When I make my daily checklist, I immediately feel calmer. Instant relief. I feel like, “Okay, no matter what happens today, I know what my priorities are. I’m going to do good work. And I’m going to take really good care of myself, too.”
Can you share your top five“lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.
1. Unplug more.
I decided to delete all of my social media accounts a few years ago. One of the best decisions I ever made. My brain feels calmer and quieter, less noisy and cluttered. I’m not saying that everyone needs to quit social media; if it brings you joy, then absolutely do it! But consider what could be subtracted from your life. What do you really love? What could go away? What would feel good?
2. Get some nature time.
I used to be an “indoor kid” who hated getting muddy. As an adult, that has totally changed! These days, I crave sunlight, mud, rain, and ocean water. It’s been proven that 3 days immersed in nature can “reboot” your brain in amazing ways. (Listen to The 3-Day Effect, an awesome audiobook that really inspires me.)
3. Focus on tiny wins.
When setting wellness goals, most people tend to be really strict and unrealistic: ”I’m gonna do CrossFit 7 days a week at 5 am!” Yikes. Instead, try focusing on tiny goals. A 20-minute walk while listening to a podcast you love. A do-it-at-home yoga video. Reading a real book in bed instead of scrolling on your phone. Tiny wins add up to big things.
4. Get that d*mn phone out of your bedroom.
Seriously. Just do it. Invest in a real alarm clock; ideally, one that doesn’t have a glowing digital screen. You will sleep so much better. And when you sleep better, everything — your digestion, metabolism, immune system — functions so much better.
5. Put self-care onto your daily checklist.
Your daily to-do list probably includes work, emails, errands, and caring for other people. Which is fine. That stuff needs to get done!
However, make sure your daily list includes a few experiences that refuel you. A quiet cup of tea. An inspiring music playlist. A cycling class. Two minutes of meditation. Whatever you love to do. Self-care belongs on your daily checklist, too.
It might sound silly, but if you put a tiny self-care item — like, “breathe deeply for one minute” — onto your daily checklist, then you’re way more likely to actually do it!
If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?
My movement would be entitled:
Less screen time. More sunshine. Also: just take a deep breath and make a list. One tiny step at a time. You’re doing a great job.
What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?
A few things I wished I’d learned earlier in my life:
1. There’s more to life than email.
2. You’re probably making this more complicated than it needs to be. Chill out.
3. Becoming a “published author” is really exciting. But ultimately, your proudest moments will have nothing to do with your career.
4. Just help one person today. If you can help one person to have a slightly better day, that’s a big deal.
5. Today is not over yet. It’s not too late. In fact, it’s never too late. There’s still time to make a change, try something new, or get things moving in the direction you want.
Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?
Whoa! All of them! If I had to pick just one, I’d choose “mental health” because that’s something that has touched my life in a very direct way. I’ve dealt with depression, anxiety, and OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) in the past. The more that people talk about mental health challenges — openly and honestly — the better. Sharing your story (or even just a tiny piece of it) can help someone else to feel less alone.
What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?
I don’t have any social media accounts, but I do have a free e-newsletter which I love sending out!
I also have a website where I share my latest articles, plus lots of free resources like downloadable checklist templates, free videos, podcast episodes, and more.
Thank you for these fantastic insights!