Turning a Blank Wall into a To-do List. Just Add Post-It Notes (and washi tape)

We needed a way to keep track of our household to-do list. The various scraps of paper and online lists were not working out so well, and we were both overwhelmed with projects and tasks that never seemed to get done.

There were two big problems that our new way of keeping track of things had to solve:

  1. We can’t see our lists, so we forget about them.
  2. We don’t know what projects are most important.

We needed to have a physical place where we could see our list. It is too easy for us to forget about the list on a phone, in the Cloud, or even on a sheet of paper that gets lost in the corner of the office.

We also needed to be able to give things levels of priority. For me, if everything is important I get overwhelmed, and I do nothing. There is also a big relational component to setting priorities. Imagine this (real) conversation:

Beth: “I want to get a new couch”

Ben (in my head): “Our couch is ok, we don’t have enough money for a new couch, there are lots of other things that are more important than a new couch, our couch is long so I actually fit on it…etc.”

Ben: “yeah…..”

Ben (in my head): “we really can’t get a new couch….”

Beth may want a new couch today, or she may just want us to get one someday. I may give too much energy worrying that Beth really wants a new couch. Or Beth might be annoyed that we don’t have a new couch. Or she may not care at all, it was just passing comment. I have no idea. We don’t have a way to prioritize “new couch” among all the things competing for our time, energy and money.

Our new to-do system has to force us to set priorities.

Post-It Notes seem like a good way to make things visible in the real world. So we wrote down all of our projects and things we want to buy. We came up with three categories of priorities:

  • Not Ok – Things that are not ok right now. They need to be taken care of now. There cannot be very many of these at a time.
  • Ok – Things that are ok for now. We don’t work on these. They are ok for now. If they become more important we move them to the Not Ok section.
  • Out of Sight – things that we need to keep in mind for someday, but don’t need to take up mental space on a daily basis.

We used some washi tape to divide up the wall. Not Ok and Ok things go on the wall. Out of Sight things go somewhere else.

We try to do a quick check in every morning to see what we are working on that day, and an in-depth check in once a week. If something needs to be moved to a new priority we move it. We are not doing a great job making those check-ins really consistent, so that is an important next step.

We are already seeing some things to change for version 2.0, so more to come on how the system is working for us, and how it should change.

We are not the first to do something like this. I did not know it at the time, but our system is a really simple variation on the Agile Methodology and Personal Kanban. There are plenty of people doing similar things. For a business to succeed they have to learn how to focus entire teams on the most important things. Our small team of four has a lot to learn about how to do that for us. But we think it will be worth it to live a life that prioritizes the important things, while not neglecting the things that have to be done.

Post-It Notes, Priorities and a Life Well Lived

I want to live an intentional life. A life where I finish what I start, I am part of a story that is bigger than myself, and I use my strengths to push my boundaries and capabilities. A life where I am doing what I was created to do in my vocation, community, and family. I want our family to live the same intentional life.

It is hard to pinpoint the exact pain of not living this way. It is pain of unfulfilled potential, the pain of a reality that does not match dreams, a life that does not align with values, feeling stuck and powerless.

This manifests itself in lots of ways.

  • You can see it in our house when we are not purposeful in the things we own. As a result, our belongings overflow the space we have for them.
  • You can see it on our finances, when we have not done a good job saving for the future.
  • You can see it in our to-do list, which is full of projects we never start or finish, but that still need to be done.
  • You can see it in how we spend our time. Instead of prioritizing people, experiences, and growth we prioritize screens.

It is important to acknowledge our blessings. We live a good life, we are blessed with more than we need, we get to have cool adventures and work for causes we believe in. We have a great community of friends and family around us and we have access to great activities for our family. And yet, there is a constant low-level feeling of being stuck, disconnected, stressed and dissatisfied. If we don’t deal with whatever is causing those feeling they grow and become true issues that are front and center in our life, causing real problems. If we do not deal with them we are certainly not living an intentional life, or living to our full potential as a family.

A couple weeks ago we were feeling really overwhelmed with a big to-do list where everything was urgent, impossible to get done and hard to keep track of. Instead of being intentional with our time to make progress we let things continue to pile up (sometimes literally!) and become more overwhelming.

We have a tiny bit of knowledge about business-ey project management systems (really a tiny bit of knowledge) like Lean and 5S thanks to working with CI Solutions at The Journey and Kibo Group. We figured there must be some way to use strategic planning ideas from business to help us be more intentional at home. So we got out some post-it notes, wrote down all our projects and tasks, stuck them on the wall, and made up a little system for prioritizing our lives.

We will do a post later about how it works, but the two most important things are that our entire to-do list is visible and prioritized. It is literally on the wall (no, the real wall, in our house, not that thing on Facebook) for all to see. That’s it, not too complicated.

ben visible and priority

We have had the post-it notes on our wall for a few weeks now, and it has been really helpful. It gives us a way to talk about priorities. More importantly, it gives us the freedom to not think about most of our to-do list. If it is not a priority we get to ignore it (sort of, more on that later….).

This simple system of setting priorities has already helped us be more intentional with our time, money and energy. We have finished or almost finished a couple big projects that have been hanging over us for a long time. Success!

But we think there is more to do. It is really good that we are finding a way to manage our household to-do list, but we don’t want to just get really good at crossing off tasks. We want to live our entire life with intention, so we are going to do a little project. For the next few months, we are going to blog about our experience trying to apply our little bit of knowledge about project management and strategic planning to our family. Follow along, we want your ideas and input, and you might get an idea or two from us. Let’s learn together.

We want to know, if you live by yourself or with a family, how do you keep track of your household to-dos?

So…a few things have happened

We last posted 1,343 days ago. A few things have happened. Like this:

Abraham is two and will start preschool this week. Eden is five months old and is super social, which is bad news for her introverted parents.

Here is the super quick update to catch you up.

We live in a great old house in Tulsa (built in 1924). Ben works for Kibo Group International. Kibo Group is a community development focused NGO in Uganda that works with rural village communities to live full, healthy lives. Beth takes care of Abraham and Eden. Highlights of her days are story times around town, reading books and keeping Eden from eating Abraham’s small toys.

Highlights from the last 1,343 days:

We won a new roof from Roofscapes Exteriors. Really, a free roof-which is a pretty big deal. They did a great job on it. If you are in the Tulsa area and need a new roof, check them out:

Our church sold it’s big building, changed the name, and is reinventing itself. It’s been fun:

Beth’s brother, Mike, got married to Audrey and they are about to have a baby:

We still cut a Christmas tree with the Burry family every year:

My brother Daniel gave Abraham a sword. Abraham really likes to throw said sword around the house:

I am trying to fix our deck:

We are resurrecting this blog to do a little project, more on that later. Welcome back.



Back to Uganda

Beth and I are headed back to Uganda. Crazy!

We have had the honor of getting to know the people and work of Kibo Group up close and personal. I spend a significant amount of my time working for them figuring out how to tell the story of Kibo Group to more people. We have been able to visit Uganda twice. I count it a privilege to get to work with people who are trying to solve big problems around the world.

So, I am taking a little business trip. I will be making videos, taking pictures, having meetings, and learning more about how Kibo fulfills our mission. Beth is coming along to help out. Its a bit surreal actually. The last two times we have gone have been with big groups, one of which we were leading. There was a lot of work to make sure everybody was ready, I had to get shots and buy power adapters, and it was all new. This time we just went on delta.com and booked some tickets. It’s still a really big deal! We are going halfway around the world to a totally different culture and place to learn and bring back a few stories. I am blessed.

If you want to know more about Kibo Group check out www.KiboGroup.org and find us on facebook. 

The True Cost of Clean Water

My wife and I live in Tulsa, OK. We usually pay about $50 a month for water. For that fifty dollars, we get to take showers or turn on the faucet to get some clean water to drink. Sometimes I water our little vegetable garden. We clean our clothes and make ice. Seems like a really good deal to me! Our water bill went up a lot in one month, a ridiculous amount in fact. So, I did some checking and sure enough, we had a water leak in the pipe that feeds our house. I poked around a bit in the yard and started digging. Our house is 80 years old, so I was not particularly surprised to find an old rusty steel pipe leaking water.

Only one thing to do: call a plumber. We decided to just replace the whole pipe instead of trying to patch it.

A few days later they replaced the pipe. It took a whole day, 4 people working at various times, 2 big expensive pieces of equipment (a mini trackhoe and directional boring machine), 3 shovels, a blowtorch, two pex expanders, a copper pipe cutter, a bucket, concrete, a masonry drill, 2 pex cutters, 3 vans, 2 trailers, and miscellaneous parts. Oh, and a city inspector. All that just to put 60 feet of pipe in the ground. My $50 a month water did not seem so cheap anymore. This month it was costing me $2,150! I started wondering what it really cost for me to have clean water.

The people and equipment that it took to replace our pipe is only a tiny part of the huge system that provides clean water to our city of 400,000 people. Tulsa water treatment plants treat 100 millions gallons of water on an average day, with a capacity to treat 220 million gallons per day. The Yellow Pages list 430 plumbing companies. The city water department changes out 16,000 water meters a year.

All this infrastructure is kind of expensive. In the fiscal year 2014 the operating budget for providing water to the city was $112,040,000. There were $15,425,000 of water system capital projects like replacing or relocating water mains and facility improvements. These were not big projects.

Big water projects cost a lot of money. Chelssa, MI recently spent $4,600,000 to build a water treatment plant that processes .85 million gallons a day. It would take 117 such plants to supply Tulsa with water. That is $538,200,000 just to build the plants. Keep in mind that this is Tulsa, a small city. New York City is in the middle of a $6 billion water project which started in 1970 and will not be done until 2020. Twenty-three people have died working on the project. The United States makes massive investments in water infrastructure, and arguably it is still not enough.

Our investment in water is more than a financial system. We have a culture that values and insists on clean water. When our pipe broke it did not even cross our mind to not fix it. We did not decide to just go get water from the neighbors. We could have saved some money by putting a faucet in the yard right next to the water meter and just carrying water into the house every now and then, but we did not consider that either. In fact, in some cities, a house will be condemned if it does not have running water. Across the country the vast majority of houses have full plumbing and running water, although not all. Many households without water are from low income or minority groups. I’m sure there are a few hippie off the grid types as well.

We don’t have a constitutional right to clean water in the United States, but we do have an expectation of access to clean water. Tulsa’s water system is run by the city. Some cities have water systems which have been privatized. However, outside of rural settings, there are few municipalities that don’t have some provision for providing water to its residents. Imagine if one day Tulsa announced that the water system would be shut down, and no private industry would take over. Everybody was on their own to find water. In time the market would produce some solution but imagine the impact. Tulsa would cease to exist in its current form, although the abandoned city could be used as a set for some awesome apocalyptic movies.

Over a hundred years of investment in infrastructure, culture, regulations, and expectations all come together so that I can pay $50 a month for all the clean water I can possible use, and when one old pipe broke I had massive resources to call on to fix it quickly. We didn’t even miss a shower.

There is some irony in the fact that I was having trouble getting clean water in my house. I work for Kibo Group, and a big part of what we do is help village communities in Uganda gain access to water. Some of our staff, Alex and Steven among others, work every day in Uganda to build and fix water infrastructure. I wondered what they would think of my situation. I even thought they might be a bit jealous of the resources I had to solve my own water access problem. But, it is a mistake to assume that there are no resources dedicated to water or no water infrastructure or investment in Uganda. A lot of money is invested in water projects. A public utility provides piped water to densely populated areas, and there is a network of hand pump mechanics who maintain wells. Kibo Group has a company we work almost exclusively with to drill boreholes, and district governments dig wells and invest in other infrastructure. The scale and effectiveness of the infrastructure is different, but it exists.

Not long ago the United States water infrastructure was more comparable to Uganda than what we have now. In 1924 more than 88 percent of the population in cities of over 100,000 disposed of their wastewater directly into waterways or into the ground without being treated. It was not until the Federal Water Pollution Control Act was passed in 1948 that wastewater treatment was the norm. It was only 150 years ago that major cities in the United States started building centralized water supplies. At that time water was not treated in any way. It just came from clean water sources (consider the above statement about sewer discharge when imagining the clean water sources). In 1849 John Snow proposed the idea that water contaminated by fecal matter could spread disease, his theory was rejected. It was another 50 years before the Germ Theory of Disease was finally applied to city water and treatment systems were developed. It has taken our culture of clean water centuries to develop, and we still have a long way to go. The same is true of Uganda, their culture of clean water is still developing, and they have a long way to go.

I hope that someday everyone in Uganda and the rest of Africa will have clean water. But don’t be deceived. Kibo Group will never dig that many wells. It is an impossible task for a western NGO to accomplish. But Kibo Group and other NGOs can be part of building a culture that invests in long-term water access. Working in a village to help plan for future repairs helps build this culture. Sanitation and hygiene projects teach people about the exact same concepts that John Snow was figuring out back in the 1800’s that took 50 years to be accepted: open defecation contaminates water and spreads disease.

I do not feel guilty for the ease at which I have water, or how simple it was for me to get my pipe fixed compared to people in other parts of the world. Thankful, but not guilty. It is a clear picture of the hard work it takes to have a stable water infrastructure. This is work that must be done by people all over the world, here in the United States, and in other countries.

Ten years!

We’ve been married for 10 years today.

Ten years!


We’ve had an incredibly blessed 10 years. Lots of adventures, lots of friendships, lots of love from our families. Very little hardship.

We’ve lived in campus housing that was so close to the radio station that anytime someone called our land line before 5pm, the AM radio station coming over the phone was louder than our conversation.

We’ve lived among a community tucked back in the woods where we learned to be married. And we were loved on so well there.

We’ve lived in the heart of the city and are part of a community that loves us so well. To the extent that they know just how much a gift like this speaks to our hearts.



We’ve spent time in the mountains of Colorado, walking along the cobblestone streets of Europe, experienced the joy in a Ugandan smile.

We have many adventures ahead, and though we don’t know what those might be, I am grateful for such a perfect partner to go through life with.

“In the presence of God, and before our friends and family, I thank God for you. I thank Him for entrusting you, his beautiful creation, to me as my wife/husband. I promise to be your best friend, to honor you and to respect you. I promise to help you become the person God wants you to be. I will count it joy when we experience trials, knowing that through the struggle God will draw us closer to Him and build us up. I will strive to love you as Christ does. This is my vow and promise to you that will not be broken-in good times or bad-as long as we both shall live,or our Lord should return.”

Celebrating a decade.

It seems sort of amazing to me that Ben & I have something to celebrate that happened 10 years ago.


10 years ago, on St. Patrick’s Day, I came home from work & was sent on a random scavenger hunt that led me to Ben, a fondue dinner out in the woods, a Big question, and a sparkly ring.

1-2013-03-14 10.03.04

We usually celebrate St. Patrick’s Day with a fondue dinner. Here’s our current favorite fondue recipe. (Getting the gruyere cheese at Sam’s is usually a better deal than getting at the local grocery store-it’s a little pricey.)

1-2013-03-19 19.27.38



This year our dessert was Reese’s s’mores in the toaster oven. YUM!

1-2013-03-19 19.43.44


Our Home

About 6 months ago we entered into something that is undeniably “adult.” We bought a house!

And I have to say, after 9 years & 8 homes, it feels really good to be in a place that we can call our own. A place that allows us the freedom to make significant changes to walls & room colors & the yard.

We have lived in some really great houses & apartments. And most all of them really felt like ours. But this is different. This is our home. The one we searched for & the one that best fits the way we want to live. And the part of town we want to live in.

There is a deep-rooted peace I’ve felt about this home since we first moved in. We don’t know what life will bring us in the next years, but I feel like for the first time, I’m able to settle in & get attached to this place in a way that I haven’t before. And we love that we get to be a part of the history of this home that has been home to many other families through the past 89 years.

So, how about a tour! [WARNING: some of these are not-so-great camera pics]

2012-09-15_1347743123[a fabulous front porch, just waiting for some big, comfy chairs & a swing]

1-IMAG0016[kitchen organization]

1-IMAG0017[Where the coffee magic happens. (Thanks, Klendas!)]

2012-10-06_1349543649[One of the first home improvement projects-and we LOVE it!
It’s so great to have everything out & in easy reach of the stove.]

[What our room looked like before we moved in.]

1-IMAG0010[And after. The color isn’t quite a dark as it looks in this pic.
But it is a deep, gorgeous shade of teal & I absolutely love it.
Fun things to point out: nightstand made of old encyclopedias (Thanks, Deedra!),
& a duvet cover I made from a $17 sheet set from Target.]

1-IMAG0018[And one of my favorite parts…we’re only about a mile from downtown.
And we have some great views of the city from the back of the house.]


So come visit-we have an extra room & everything!



A guide to watching #firstworldproblems

Today’s popular facebook cause (at least in my feed) seemed to be a first world problems video. First world problems has been around for a while of course (and frankly gotten sort of silly in twitter land), and I have always felt it needed a little bit of a filter. So, here is my guide to watching the first wold problems video:

Remember the danger of the single story.
A story of a place is powerful, so powerful that you might forget there are other stories . In this case there are two single stories. First, that the developing world is just a place of pain and helplessness. There are true problems, true crises and true needs, but those are only part of the story. Not the whole thing. The second single story it tells is that everybody in the developed world is shallow, greedy, impatient and generally selfish. Again, there are people who fit this description, but its not the whole story.

Don’t forget your own poverty.
Lack of things is not the only form of poverty. We all have poverty in our lives. Broken relationships with people and God are two that are easy to pick out. If you peel away some layers in this video you can get to this. It is true that we often consider silly things problems. The question that must be answered is why. What is the poverty in our lives that drives us to lose perspective?

Let this video be a commentary on yourself, not people you don’t know.
I think the way (and the way it is intended) to watch this video is consider it as a reminder to those of us who have more material resources to use that privilege well. If we flip it around and think it is just a reminder of how there are people in need we may gain a little bit from it, but we miss the point that we need change in our lives.

Keep those handy tips in mind as you watch:

now I’m going to get back to trying to reload the operating system on my fancy phone. Which is not a first world problem.

Buy Some Cobbler. It’s tasty

I’m trying to sell ten pans of blackberry cobbler this month. It’s truly good cobbler . It even won second place in a contest. See:

2013-01-04 12.47.41

Here is how it works: There are 10 cobblers available this month. A pan is 9 x 14 or so and costs $25. Just send me an email (ben@poolhouseblue.com). Ill make it fresh the day you want it (schedule permitting of course, we can work that out), and deliver it to you if you live in tulsa. If your outside of the Tulsa area we can figure something out. Pay cash when i deliver it.

There is a reason for this of course. Our church is trying to pay off some debt. A few of us thought it would be interesting to each take $50 and try to multiply it into as much money as possible. So, for this little project im donating the $50, after that I will be paying myself back for the cost of ingredients, but beyond that all the money will be applied to our churches debt, or toward ingredients for a second round in February.

10   3 Cobblers Left in January