Focus On This Podcast

76. Growing Closer by Growing Together



How do you align your rituals with your spouse? How can you make sure your Daily Big 3 aren’t at odds? How can you use the Weekly Preview to navigate the logistics of the coming week together?

If you’re married, want to be married, or know people who are married, this episode is for you. We’ve heard your questions about using Full Focus tools with a partner—so today, Blake and Verbs are joined by their spouses to offer some answers.

In this episode, you’ll discover—

  • How the planner can keep homeschool moms sane
  • Why Blake has middle school band to thank for his marriage
  • Four questions you can answer with your spouse to prepare for the week
  • Apps to consider adding to your morning ritual
  • Why the planner can be your best friend for making room for family time

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Episode Transcript

Verbs: Welcome to another episode of Focus on This, the most productive podcast on the Internet, so you can banish distractions, get the right stuff done, and finally start loving Mondays. I’m Verbs, here with Blake Stratton and two of our most favorite people on the planet. Blake?

Blake: That’s right, Verbs. This is exciting, because today on the podcast we have Nick, our producer, and his beloved Sweater Cat painting, and I am so excited.

Nick: Yes. Your favorite people on the planet.

Blake: Finally we get Sweater Cat on the pod. No. We actually have real guests. Sorry, Nick. I’m excited to see you every week, but especially, Verbs and I have our spouses on the cast.

Verbs: We do indeed.

Blake: To my left is… It’s too bad this is an audio medium. We did audio strategically based on my appearance, but now that my wife joins me, I wish we were broadcasting live to the nations. This is Alaina.

Alaina: Should we say “Hey”?

Blake: Yeah. Say hi.

Alaina: Hi, everyone.

Blake: Hi, podcast world.

Alaina: Hey, podcast world.

Blake: That’s what they like to be called: podcast world.

Alaina: Okay. Hello, everyone.

Verbs: And I’ll introduce my wife as well. This is my wife Verna. Feel free to say hello to the podcast universe.

Verna: Hi, podcast universe.

Nick: Alaina and Verna, did you ever in your wildest dreams imagine that you would be married to podcast royalty? Did you ever see this coming?

Verna: No.

Alaina: I actually did a little bit. Blake had a podcast before we got married, and I’ve always seen his podcast talent, so I’m actually just thrilled that I get to be a part of it again.

Blake: Yeah. Single gentlemen, just start a podcast and then ask your crush to be your guest every week until she says yes, and then before you know it, you’re in a room alone together, two microphones, emotions running high.

Verbs: A lot of the comments we hear in the Facebook group revolve around productivity, marriage… How do you navigate those ups and downs, different facets of productivity while being married? Verna and I have been married for 15 years. We have three children, ages 10, 9, and 7. You guys have heard me talk about them pretty frequently here on the podcast. That’s our story. We’ve been using the planner in an on-and-off sort of way for quite some time, so we’ll give some of our thoughts as far as trying to use it as individuals, as well as couples, and how planning affects our family, and all that sort of thing. How about you guys, Blake?

Blake: Alaina and I met in a middle school band room, me playing the clarinet.

Verbs: Wait. Is this true?

Blake: This is real.

Verbs: Okay. Just have to double check. We need to do the truth check.

Nick: I didn’t know this story involved middle school band. I used to be a band teacher, everybody. This is so exciting.

Blake: If you thought a podcast was romantic, let me tell you. Playing clarinet when you’re 12 years old… I’ve had a crush on Alaina the vast majority of my years here on earth, and I still do. We’ve been married five years now. We have one daughter who is currently sleeping in the room next to the room we’re in right now, so let’s all send one up and just speak a beautiful long naptime so we can make it through the pod.

I’m excited to have you on, Alaina, because I think you’ve brought me a lot of perspective and a lot of learning when it comes to all this stuff. Being outside of Michael Hyatt & Company, you bring a lot of perspective as someone who has started using the planner yourself and doing this whole Full Focus stuff. It’s a practice we’re working through every day.

Nick: I’m going to be here to ask questions that we see a lot in the Full Focus community, just to see how it’s going and see what feedback and ideas and advice we can get from our lovely couples here. I think maybe a good place to start would be to ask…In your partnership, was there somebody who came to it with a desire for organization and planning? It doesn’t matter what it was. Was this something that anybody came to and said, “We’ve got to lay down the law here” or is it just a chaotic assembly of atoms bumping into each other? Verbs and Verna, why don’t you hit it off first?

Verna: First, I just want to clarify. It’ll be 14 years this year, not 15 for us.

Blake: He’s future oriented.

Verna: But forgiveness because of COVID. We’ll just blame it on COVID. Okay?

Verbs: No. We like to live in the future.

Verna: I would say, I’ve seen the transformation with my husband just using all of the planners and seeing him get more organized and everything. When I’m homeschooling, it’s me and three kids. I’m like a DJ juggling all three kids at the same time, three different grades, so it can get a bit wild up there for me. When he introduced me to the planner, yes, it was very helpful to get some structure. I will say this for me, personally. I’m not super excited to plan every day. That’s not my natural bent. I’m a creative person. That’s how I’m wired, and I’m used to going with the flow and improvising.

But I will say the greatest impact for me was doing one day at a time. Planning my three big goals for the day has helped a lot, and the Full Focus Journal as well, just reviewing the day before. It makes you think about, “Okay. What am I doing tomorrow? What do I want to do better?” So, for me, it has been pretty simple. I just use what I can that I know will be beneficial for me without overwhelming myself.

Nick: Verbs, do you have any addendums? I know you work for Michael Hyatt, but did you use a planner before this?

Verbs: I actually did not. I was not a planner at all. But even before I came as a team member here at Michael Hyatt & Company, when the planner first came out, I actually ordered one because I was like, “Okay. I’m going to have to, at some point, get a little bit more organized than I am currently.” That was actually my first introduction to even trying to plan on paper.

Before that, I was pretty much just using my calendar app on the phone and trying to track with those sorts of apps. None of them really worked, or maybe I didn’t maximize on those systems in a way that worked for me. So, definitely having that planner coming out and forcing me to write these things down on paper and keeping everything out in front of me helped. So, yes, first introduction was the Michael Hyatt & Company planner.

Nick: I have a sense based on previous things Blake has said that Blake had some system in place at some point, perhaps, before you guys got together or got married, but what’s that journey? Who’s a planner? Now, not to be that guy. I was a band teacher. Clarinetists do tend to be planners. Am I correct? Are you both planner people?

Blake: We are both planner people. I think, Alaina, you are even more naturally… You gravitate toward wanting to have a plan, wanting to be able to see the whole picture. Wanting to even write things out by hand has always been a natural bent for you. The earliest planning I feel like we did together was we did, essentially, weekly previews when we were dating.

Alaina: What I’m remembering is that we would do… Wasn’t it the four questions? We would sit down once a week and talk about the week coming, and the questions would be like, “Who do I want to see? How do I want to feel? What do I want to do? What do I want to accomplish?” We were doing that before we even got married.

I’d also like to point out that once we did get engaged, after celebrating and that being all wonderful, the first thing we did was we sat down at a coffee shop with our laptops and talked about not just the plan for engagement and how we were going to plan our wedding, but we literally laid out guiding core values for how we were going to approach this season and how we were going to approach the planning itself. So, I would say we’re definitely high planners.

Nick: We talked about values. Let’s talk about that. One of the things that’s important in a system if you’re doing it by yourself, if you’re doing the Full Focus System or any system, is to have some sense of central core values and beliefs you can plan off of. That’s easy and/or hard enough if it’s just yourself. Let’s talk a little bit about general family relationship values and does that factor into how you plan out your week to your month to your quarter. What’s the role of values in your planning?

Blake: This may be counter to my scuba-diving tendencies, but I actually feel like, for us, it has been helpful to have tools that are independent of a particular… I guess, to take the Weekly Preview, for instance. We like to do that together. It has been nice to have a tool that is what it is, and we tried it, we experiment with it. We’ve started with the tool and then, I feel like, incorporated our values into that preexisting tool.

An example of that would be we are going to go through the two to three pages of the Weekly Preview, but then there’s usually a space afterward where we want to just connect or we want to talk about other logistics, because we talk about logistics as much as we can on one day, because we have a value for connection throughout the week, and we’re trying to grease the wheels of connection throughout our week.

So, I don’t know that when it comes to planning tools we necessarily started from “What’s our values?” other than maybe just the value for we would rather be doing life and connecting with one another, so if we can find somebody’s process or dial in a process to make planning easier and shorter and logistics less time-consuming and nagging, then that’s a win. That’s my first reaction. What do you think?

Alaina: I was kind of thinking of it in the opposite. I feel like we’re really value-driven people and we’ve always been that way, so we’d always rather do something according to our values than do something that looks like how other people did it, necessarily. We want to learn it for ourselves, but we do it from, I feel like, what our values are.

Our top values are connection, communication, and having a high value for creating the unique life we’re made for with each other, in our own lives, in our careers, and with our daughter. So, I think from that, then, it’s logical to incorporate things… Truly, the planner has been such a key part of this, but you incorporate things to protect the things that matter most to you.

I feel like we’ve incorporated using the planner, doing our Weekly Previews, doing annual reviews…all of that…because it enables and protects what matters most to us, which is our connection to each other and to Felicity. Even planning things out in a certain way allows more freedom throughout our week and our months and our year so we can spend more time being together and making memories with Felicity. So, I thought of it a little bit in the opposite, but kind of the same thing you said.

Blake: Yeah, that’s better. I agree with you.

Nick: She did the scuba diving today.

Alaina: Is that a depth thing because you’re a Four?

Blake: Yeah.

Alaina: Oh no. We’re two Fours. It’s a double Four situation.

Nick: Verbs and Verna, let’s talk a little bit about the role of individual goals as they pertain to family objectives and goals. Have either of you ever set a plan for yourself and then had to navigate how that fits into what the plan for the family is or what the plan for you two is. How have you navigated that?

Verbs: If I’ve learned anything in our 15 years of marriage it’s that we’ve been married for 14 years. No. I would say, as far as the values thing, I think the one thing we do value is family time, as well as rest, because as my wife mentioned, we do homeschool as well as I work most of the time from home. So, even though we’re in the same space, it’s easy to miss each other because each one is focused on what they’re doing, whether my wife is upstairs schooling with the kids or I’m in my office working. It’s important for us to mark out, “Okay. What are we designating for family time?”

With our kids, even though they know I’m here, I’m not necessarily able to interact with them deeply during the course of the day. For them, it could be seen as, “Well, Dad is busy. Dad is busy. Dad is busy.” So, what can we do to break that up so there’s time we’re spending together, as well as time we get to spend as individuals when that does happen and together as a couple? Just having this Full Focus System and access to it helps us look at…

I think this is probably the first time, at the beginning of this year, we’ve been able to look at the entire year, school calendar-wise, work calendar-wise, and pinpoint and designate what we want to do with days off and make sure they line up with what the kids’ schedule is and be able to work from there, so as we get to it it’s not, “Oh, I’m off Wednesday. What can we do?” and it’s already Monday, because then it’s limited and everything is going to feel rushed as we try to plan something. It has given us that outlook that has really helped us set our days better, and even the rest times, help designate those better as well.

Verna: Two years ago, we started including our kids as far as their goals for the year, whether it was swimming or bike riding. We started that with them, and they get really excited. We just include them. It’s a family thing, and we just support them and try to help them accomplish their goals. Even if it’s just three big goals for the year, we support them in that, and they get excited about it.

Nick: The pandemic has been hard on a lot of people’s health and eating and movement. When I was a single man, I had a very specific way that I was like, “I need to lose weight.” If I’m by myself, I can make it happen pretty quickly, pretty consistently. Now, with an 11-year-old and a wife and this house, and whatever, it’s a whole thing.

We just started meal planning, which has been fantastic. A month of meals. It feels so great. And dinner is important. That’s an important time together. However, it’s hard for me to eat that late. Sort of a collision of goals there. I’ve been like, “Can we eat earlier?” so we started doing that. It’s all this stuff. So, are there any examples of having to navigate those kinds of individual goals with family? Does anyone have examples of that and perhaps how you are working through it or how you have?

Blake: For sure. The first thing that comes to my mind, Nick… You mentioned the pandemic. We had tried to maintain some semblance of a family Ideal Week, using that tool together, to not have every week be up for grabs or having to replan and reinvent the wheel every week, and then in March, April, May… Typically, we had just updated that once a quarter maybe, but it was a topic of conversation every week for a few weeks in there to just go, “How can we line up each other’s schedules, being at home, working?”

I obviously work at Michael Hyatt & Company. Alaina has her own business that she does as well. So, having her have work time, me have work time, us be together as a family, all that stuff, it’s certainly a challenge. If you’re listening to this and you feel that tension, you’re right at home, because that is totally a challenge. But I’m pretty proud of the progress we made. Do you want to speak to that at all?

Alaina: Well, everything you just said… What that really makes me think of is how much we had to navigate not just the pandemic but also being postpartum for me and how much our weekly meetings, talking through our planners, and all of that, gave us a really great, safe space to talk about what I really needed. I think sometimes there can be some sadness or even resentment for the moms, especially those of us who stay at home. I’m with our daughter full time. I do have a business from home as well.

I think sometimes you can feel like with something like the planner, it’s like, “Oh, well, this is for the person who is like Blake. He has a full-time job. He goes into the office. This is more for him.” The truth is it’s for all of us because it has allowed us to, again, navigate some of those things for me. Being a mom at home, it helps me to organize the many things I manage, because moms are responsible for so much.

I just think, especially for couples out there where maybe one partner in the couple has an office job and they’ve really wanted to adopt this and the other half of that partnership is like, “Well, I don’t know if this is going to help us…” I think it’s a great tool to help couples align and to talk about some of the things that really matter the most in the household, which is division of responsibilities in and outside of a pandemic, in and outside of postpartum. For wives and stay-at-home moms, in particular, it can be such a powerful way to connect with your husband and feel seen, and I think that’s so important for women. I was so thankful for that, especially during the pandemic.

Verna: For us, like I said in the beginning when we started talking on the podcast, my husband has really… Just through using the planner and working with Michael Hyatt and seeing everything in front of him, we’ve actually been a lot more productive and fruitful. He has done a great job finding ways, sneaking in time, whether it’s taking some lunch break, listening to the kids, if they want to read part of a story or tell him a joke or play a little song… “Hey, Dad, listen to this” or “Look at what I drew.”

He sneaks little bits of time in to listen and to see what they are doing. When he’s done with work, he’s all in. He’s like, “Okay. I’m done. What do you need me to do?” So, it’s a great teamwork. I’m like, “Well, I need to do this for an hour. Can you be with the kids while I cook, and you guys just hang out or something?” We just tag-team, and it just flows because we’re on the same team.

Nick: That’s a very interesting point about the ability to plan your day and segment out work time. We talk about stages, all these other things. Can you speak to that at all? Before you were a planner, Verbs, is this a thing you would have struggled with? Do you feel like you’re crushing it in this department? Is there work to do? What’s the story?

Verbs: Nick, there’s always work to do, buddy. Always.

Nick: Not over here. Me and Sweater Cat.

Verbs: I think before… It’s almost that same concept of the Sunday scaries, where I wasn’t actually taking on the responsibility of looking at the week ahead because I knew there were a lot of things that were fluid that could happen during the week. I didn’t necessarily take that responsibility and say, “Hey, I need to look at this, know what day these things are happening for sure, because that’s going to afford me more time and more intentionality with my family time as well.”

What that ended up looking like was once Monday hit, then I was just trying to get done whatever needed to get done, so if that ran over into 6:00 or 7:00 at night, I was just trying to get as far as I could on that day’s work, and each day ended up looking like that. So, it has helped me considerably. I think I’ve said this on the podcast before. The secret sauce of the Weekly Preview has helped significantly.

That way, when I sit down and plan my week, I know what’s coming. I know the tasks. I know the projects I’m going into for that week, and I know when my work should be ending. I know when lunchtime might be so I can take those few moments and connect with the kids or connect with my wife, and I can communicate that to her as well.

She has things going on outside of just educating our kids. Then there are things she can do to break away to have time for herself in those moments as well. That’s the aspect of it that has helped us out significantly, because it helps us to communicate with each other. It helps us consider one another when we’re saying yes to certain things that might be outside of work and kind of keeps everything in focus. No pun intended.

Nick: Do either of our collected groups here have specific relationship goals they would be willing to share with the audience?

Verna: We have a couple of books we are reading together just to improve, you know, just marriage enrichment and all-around communication, finances.

Verbs: I heard somebody say at the beginning of our marriage, “Always be a student of your wife.” Through her coming into the marriage previously single, becoming a wife, then becoming a mom, obviously she changes, the things she thinks about change, how she thinks about things changes, so the more we’re able to check in with each other, whether it be something around communication, whether it be something around finances…

Having these moments that we’ve, as of recently, said, “Hey, let’s set some time up so we can circle back around to these things that are going to be important for us practically,” but then just to make sure we’re thinking about them in the way we think the other person is or not and figure out where adjustments or considerations need to be made.

Blake: For us, there’s probably an indirect line with all of our goals that ultimately make them relationship goals. Or at least, for me, so often our relationship or our family is the motivator, but a couple of specific things that came to mind… You can maybe talk about this, but our rituals in the morning and in the evening. It’s simple, but the habit of when we want to end our days and how we want to end our days has such a ripple effect on every other component of our lives and our marriage. That’s one of those goals that kind of feels small, but it’s not without challenge.

Alaina: I think, especially as parents, protecting your mornings and evenings can be really challenging, especially when you both work, but using everything in our planner and the way we plan things out is that we try to make sure we are united in our nighttime rituals. So, we’re going to bed at the same time, which means we are doing every other component of our evening at a certain time. From dinnertime through Felicity’s bedtime through when we turn out the lights, there is a plan we’re united on so that we know we get to have time together. When we don’t get that time together, we both feel that. It’s just not great.

Then same thing for the mornings. We both have our own separate morning routines that without we would be so lost. If either one of us doesn’t get that time, our emotions start to crash. We’re not as connected. It’s harder for me to be a patient mommy. Those things are so important. So, yeah, those rituals of nighttime and morning especially, and that is 100 percent a relationship and family goal, because it just makes us better people.

Nick: We have two additional people here who have success in their life. It would be lovely to hear about general productivity tips, you know, for something in your life that you go, “Man, every day I do this,” or whatever, or “I use this app” or “I find this scheduling is really helpful for me.” Is there anything you would want someone else listening to this podcast to know that has been super good for you?

Verna: I would say, I have my devotional times, my time I spend reading the Bible, praying for people. Once a week or once every other week I meet up with friends on Zoom and we pray. Especially after last year, that was something that was included into my life. I am a Nine, so I always think about other people first anyway.

Nick: We’re going to need someone to put some meat… I know in Michael Hyatt land, just shouting a number like it means something… What’s a Nine? We’re talking about Enneagrams.

Verna: I care about everyone else. I don’t mind sacrificing my life. I don’t mind giving of myself. I sacrifice a lot. To some people, that might seem crazy or like you could be doing more, other big things, you know, making it for yourself, or whatever, but for me, I feel like pushing other people forward and helping other people get to where they need to be is part of my purpose and the season I’m in, and it is well with me. I’m good with that.

Alaina: The thing that comes to mind for me, especially being a mom… We already talked about the morning rituals and how important that is. For me, it was such a challenge in the beginning as well, and I find that a lot of my friends who are moms feel really limited in having a morning. Again, going back to the planner, having that to unite on with your spouse and making sure you guys are on the same page… Blake wants for me to have those mornings as much as I do, because we’ve talked about the impact of that. We’ve talked about a plan for it.

So, that’s one part of it. The other part of it is that within those mornings, something I’ve found that helps me to be more productive, helps me with my mindset, is outsourcing some of that ritual so it’s not just me sitting down every day trying to start from scratch with something. I actually use a couple of different apps.

Nick: Love it. Let’s hear it.

Alaina: This is so funny, but it has totally changed my life. I’ve been using these since the summer, and I can really tell the difference. I follow a general framework, like the Miracle Morning idea of how to do a morning routine, but I use the Headspace app to do meditation in the morning. I use a couple of different apps that have declarations and affirmations in them. One is called Peptalks, and the other one is called I Am.

It’s so important to get your mind right in the morning, especially as a mom, so to sit down with those and outsource the effort in coming up with the hopeful thought… I can sit there and declare truth and identity over myself. It totally changes my day. Then, of course, I have devotional apps, including the basic YouVersion Bible app that everybody has.

Again, as a mom, and for anyone who’s busy, our time is valuable, and it’s limited. I can’t waste time trying to make 500 decisions every morning. I’m exhausted, and I have an hour before my baby wakes up, so I need to wake up and get into it. So, I found outsourcing it and spending a couple bucks on some app subscriptions… No shame. Just use the thing that’s going to work so you can be productive and feel great as a mom or anyone else.

Blake: The one app you didn’t mention I’m seeing in your little morning setup is Ember. We have one of those mugs that keeps your coffee hot, so when your toddler ends up taking more time from your morning than you expected, your coffee stays warm. Maybe that’s one of the most valuable productivity hacks we can give.

Alaina: That’s key for moms: the Ember mug. Any husbands who are…

Verna: I need that. I need that.

Alaina: Yeah. All husbands, it’s a great Valentine’s gift.

Blake: You can control the temp from your phone.

Alaina: Anniversary gift, birthday gift… All mommies need that hot coffee. Everyone on Instagram is joking about how their coffee gets cold over and over every day.

Nick: Last question. We’re going to do some scuba diving, hopefully. What’s the best part about being married to your partner? What’s one of the best parts? Free yourself up from the answer. What comes top of mind?

Alaina: Do you need a second? I already have an answer.

Blake: Obviously, it’s my Greek god physique. We know that’s what you’re going to say.

Alaina: Easy answer. No. Blake and I always joke about how we love the deeper life. Again, we are Fours. We do love the scuba dive. I think the Lord really knew us and knew what we would need. I’m so thankful to have someone who wants to be united with me, who wants to run toward growth and abundance, and who wants to heal from the past and grow toward the future and do that together and just go for that deep dive, because that’s such life to me: to have someone who is hungry for life, hungry for healing, hungry for abundance, and we just get to run for that together. It is everything I would have wanted in marriage.

Blake: Dang!

Alaina: And also your Greek god physique.

Blake: We’re still relatively new parents, and one of the best things is to experience this phenomenon of your heart expanding somehow to contain more love but sharing that together. With Alaina, I have freedom to be the biggest softie of all time. We’ll just talk about our daughter for five seconds and I’ll start crying and be a softie dad, and she accepts me in all of my feelings. Having that mutual, for lack of a better term, love expansion as we learn how to be parents and live that chapter of life is phenomenal.

Nick: Verbs and Verna, a lot of pressure, but it’s just one thing. Just one thing that’s great about your partner.

Verna: It’s hard to pick just one thing. He has been doing so many amazing things this past year. He turned into a handyman since last year. Now he can fix anything.

Nick: I heard he put some wallpaper up.

Verna: He put up wallpaper. He’s building things, fixing things. I’m like, “Wow! New guy.” I’m really loving that about him right now.

Verbs: All thanks to the Full Focus Planner.

Verna: Yeah, I really do. I’m really enjoying that about him. I just love him. He’s an all-around amazing guy. He has my back, especially with the kids. As the kids get older, you might get some back talk or you might get some tones that are a bit like, “Wait. Who are you talking to?” kind of thing. He has my back, because sometimes I’m just done. I’m like, “Honey, I’m done for the day.” He’s like, “Okay,” and he’ll step in. We are like a wall. We’re just closer, more unified, and I love that about him. He’s intentional. In a nutshell, that’s the best I can do for just one. I don’t know.

Nick: That’s great. If anyone described me as intentional, I’d cry. What a great description.

Verbs: We actually talked about this recently, but for me, just simply I love the way she loves God. I love the way she loves other people. I love the way she loves our kids and the way she loves me as well. Again, she has my back. Even when I might not see what’s coming at me in the peripherals, she’ll give a heads-up and say, “Hey, you need to consider this. You need to be looking at this. Think about this maybe in a way you haven’t yet, but it’s on the horizon, so you need to consider this intentionally.” Just little things like that lets me know that, obviously, she’s in my corner. It’s team Boyer. We’re not opponents in this house, but we’re here to work together and continue to build.

Nick: Thank you all so much. Thank you to our guests. Verbs, I’m going to let you close this up. This is your job.

Verbs: Let’s do it. Thank you for joining us on this episode of Focus on This. This is the most productive podcast on the Internet, so please share it with your friends. Remember to use #focusonthispodcast. We will be here next week with another great episode. Until then…

All: Stay focused!