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Our 2018 Team Retreat

February 25, 2018

Simplified Team Retreat 2018

 

Perhaps my biggest professional goal this year: connection. Just like SELF CARE was laid on my heart at the beginning of last year, CONNECTION was laid on my heart at the beginning of this year. I want to connect even better with my team and with our community (you!). More on that second part later. :)

   

Our team is 100% remote - all six of us. We each work from home (with different hours to provide optimal work/life balance in our different lives -- ranging from fresh-out-of-college-and-single to married fifteen years with four grown / almost-grown kids). Our team members live in Illinois, North Carolina, and in Florida (in different parts). Though we talk every day via text, calls, Asana (our project management system), emails, and video chats, (and often travel as pairs or groups for work projects) we've never actually all been in the same room. In ten years. I've thought about the idea of hosting a team retreat before, but never decided to do it because it just felt so big and complicated. In my head there were presentations that would need to be made, grand goals established, fancy events to orchestrate, and complex travel arrangements to manage. 

    

Sidenote: I wonder if this is why I haven't hosted any friend get-togethers lately. They sometimes just feel like they need to be so grand in our heads, no?

   

In reality, we could have continued on without getting together in person just fine. It's true! But the idea of connecting more with my team was something I just couldn't shake. So, in just a few weeks, we pulled together a really fun and productive weekend. My goals for our Team Retreat were few: 1) Great food (great food begets great conversation and maximum comfort). 2) Thoughtful touches and surprises at every turn (one of my love languages in gifts; making sure people feel known and appreciated individually for the important work they do is so important). 3) Unity and friendship (I've heard it said that you shouldn't be friends with your employees and I think that's bologna. Friendship fuels our best teamwork). 

   

Here was our agenda: *note, we did this on a Friday through Sunday for child-care reasons. Thanks to all the friends and hubbies who held down many forts for us to be away for a bit!

   

Friday: everyone arrived to my house at different times. We hung out, played with the kiddos, and got ready for dinner. All our team members were there and any families who were local came to join us too. I insisted everyone dress super casual and greeted everyone with special gift bags that included monogrammed clipboards (in our new [secret until April 25!] Simplified Planner cover patterns), legal pads from our shop, bundles of our favorite Pilot pens and highlighters, Kendra Scott bracelets, and more. Dusty (our Community Development Director) made everyone pizzas, salad, and a delicious charcuterie board. This is her THING, so she loved doing it and I loved being able to be the hostess and chat with everyone. We played team trivia (I asked our team, via a Wufoo form, questions like "Were you ever a child model?" or "What random awards have you won?") and used post-it notes on a poster board to make up the game board. Brady and Jessa (our new designer!) were on a team and tied with Dusty for the win! We also threw a surprise baby shower for Whitney (our Art Director) with cupcakes and gifts from everyone (we each gifted Baby Hawkins our favorite children's books).

  
Saturday: We met at the infamous Oxford Exchange in South Tampa. I'd rented a meeting room there (with HDMI hookups to the television in the room, a large easel, and - most importantly for our team - soundproof walls. We like to laugh... loud! :) I'd also arranged catering from their restaurant and Buddy Brew coffee (would have been Concord if I had the choice; but Buddy Brew did not disappoint)! We met from 9am to 12pm to discuss our 1, 3, and 5 year goals and how we were going to achieve them (new products, new community development initiatives, etc). I'd prepared a very simple keynote presentation to guide our discussion, but we didn't need to use it too much. The ideas just kept flowing! We're so specifically focusing on helping busy women like us simplify their lives and are just exploding with ideas! My friend Sarah helped facilitate our Saturday, which was a great decision. She was an enormous help and allowed me to focus on our team rather than logistics. We arrived back at my house for hair / makeup and light lunch from McAlisters (a family favorite). When the girl arrived, they were welcomed with a candy buffet (complete with each of their favorite treats - labelled, of course) - and adorable "Emergency Hangry Snacks" bags from Ladyfingers Letterpress for them to stash extras away for their Sunday travels home. After hair / makeup, we did a photoshoot with Tiffany McClure (who was AMAZING). It was low key, high energy, and simple. A short pre-written shot checklist was helpful in guiding our time with Tiffany. After photos, we did a Facebook Live to share our retreat time with our community and headed to a celebratory dinner at OnSwann (a local favorite of ours). There, we toasted to an amazing ten years and to the next ten years. We also celebrated a few birthdays. Jessa's was Saturday and mine is Wednesday. They gave me a gummy bear fanny pack and its my favorite thing ever!! :) And, lastly, I passed out funny awards (thanks to my sister-in-laws Cricut skills - she cut out adorable little award ribbons). We laughed REALLY hard about these. For instance: Brittany, our Director of Sales and Logistics was awarded "Most Likely to Stop Us from Doing Something Impulsive" (She's such the voice-of-reason and my creative fast-paced brain needs that!) and Whitney received an award for "Not Throwing Up in the Middle of a Team Meeting" (She's very, very pregnant and had terrible morning / all-day sickness!) Haha! These were one of my favorite parts of the retreat!

  
Sunday: Everyone headed home.

   

It really was a wonderful few days together. Mostly, I loved that we were all about to connect, laugh, and enjoy each other in person. And, keeping things low key and simple made our time together even more connected to our mission to help other women simplify. Catch a few behind-the-scenes peeks (and a look at our finished photos) over on Instagram @Simplified and @EmilyLey.

 

Lessons learned: ACTUAL in-person connection is so important. Getting together with friends with worth any work that goes into it. I see more team retreats (and local girls nights!) in my future. :)

   

xo,

   

Emily 

2018 Simplicity Challenge

February 06, 2018

 

The process of simplifying your life is a BIG one. It’s so freeing and exciting and it’s HARD WORK. Our 31 Day Simplicity Challenge features one step for each day that can be completed in 15 minutes or less. Physical clutter = mental clutter, so both of those areas are addressed throughout the challenge. At the end of the challenge, you’ll be able to breathe easier knowing that you’ve completed the process of purging, decluttering, and organizing your life to make margin for what matters! For daily encouragement and extra tips on the process of simplifying, join our Simplified Planner Community Group. To sign up for our newsletter and receive a FREE printable e-book of the challenge, click here.

No. 1 of 31: Walk your home with a trash bag or five. Be ruthless. Papers. Receipts. Tags. Empty bottles. Go.

No. 2 of 31Go through your kitchen drawers. Do you have three carrot peelers? Two ice cream scoops? You only need one.

No. 3 of 31Clean out your fridge, pantry, and spice cabinet. Check expiration dates and throw things away. Make a list of restock needs as you go.

No. 4 of 31Simplify your phone. Delete old contacts and unused apps. Refresh your wallpaper and lock screen.

No. 5 of 31Organize the Notes app on your iPhone to hold lists of all kinds (books to read, hashtags you use, or other information you often need to retrieve).

No. 6 of 31Use the Reminders app on your iPhone to set alerts for routines or habits you’re trying to create (IE: take vitamins, put phone away, go for a walk).

No. 7 of 31: Consider reading as a brain break. Make a list of 10 books you’d like to read this year.

No. 8 of 31Walk your house with a donate bag. Schedule a pick-up or drop it off as soon as the bag is full.

No. 9 of 31Start the habit of throwing a small load of laundry in every morning.

No. 10 of 31Set a recurring alarm (or use the Bedtime feature on iPhones) for every weekday. If you’re letting your kids wake you, set it for one hour earlier.

No. 11 of 31Go put gas in your car today. While you’re there, clean out your car. Throw trash away.

No. 12 of 31Buy a few birthday cards (and small gift cards). Keep them on hand for birthdays that pop up that you’re not prepared for.

No. 13 of 31Put your number on the Do Not Call list. Visit donotcall.gov or call 1.888.382.1222.

No. 14 of 31Do something with all those precious photos and videos on your phone. Print. Back up. Store.

No. 15 of 31Consider the amount of INFORMATION coming at you all day. What can you turn off to quiet your mind? Turn off the television. Perhaps (gasp!) take a break from social media.

No. 16 of 31Identify “pain points” in your day (IE: kids getting shoes on in the morning). Alleviate these (IE: put a basket for shoes near the front door for easy access).

No. 17 of 31Dump out your purse. Throw away trash. Create a little bag of essentials. Make your bag work for you.

No. 18 of 31Ruthlessly clean out your closet. Goodbye clothes that “will fit one day.” Goodbye clothes that “don’t fit quite right but I paid too much for them.”

No. 19 of 31Clean out your medicine cabinet. Trash anything expired. Restock essentials.

No. 20 of 31Detox your social media feeds. Follow inspirational accounts. Unfollow anyone draining. Are there platforms you can quit?

No. 21 of 31Go through your credit card and / or bank statements. Identify any “subscriptions” you forgot you had and don’t need and turn them off.

No. 22 of 31Clean off your desk and wipe it down (and your keyboard). Ditch clutter. Keep only the essentials including your computer.

No. 23 of 31: Clear the clutter on your computer. Delete unused files and organize important ones. Empty the trash. Refresh your desktop wallpaper.

No. 24 of 31Take inventory of the mail coming to your mailbox. Visit directmail.com to remove your name from lists.

No. 25 of 31Make a list of ten go-to meals. Tape it to the fridge for simple meal planning.

No. 26 of 31Schedule a vacation or stay-cation for some time this year. 

No. 27 of 31Organize your inbox. Search the word “unsubscribe” and remove yourself from non-essential lists. Try Unroll.me.

No. 28 of 31Using a large piece of paper or poster board, make a list of all your commitments. Which ones can you say “not now” to?

No. 29 of 31Create your own weekly prep-list with tasks that make you feel prepared for the week ahead.

No. 30 of 31Make a list of household items you use frequently. Stock up on these. Pay attention to BOGO sales.

No. 31 of 31Rest. Schedule 30 minutes alone once a week. You give away what you put in. Take care of yourself.

 

 

Simplifying Travel

January 14, 2018

Hi friends!

My goodness. What an incredible few days it’s been. I’ve been able to meet and hug so many new (and old!) friends in Lexington, Nashville, Atlanta, Charlotte, Birmingham and, tomorrow, Dallas. It’s blown me away, really… and your sweet words and encouragement have meant so much to me.

Traveling is NOT something I’m good at… if I’m being honest. I LOVE the signings, but the in-between… the airports, the rental cars, the hotels, the flight delays… I’m a home-body. :) And proud of it! Haha! If I could invite you all to my house, I would. That would be fun!! In fact, one day, maybe we’ll plan a conference of sorts and have everyone come visit.

I started planning for this whirlwind 8-day, 6-city, 7-signings trip months ago. I wanted to make it as easy as possible and I wanted to really take care of myself this time so I didn’t get home burned out. I’ve learned, over the last few years, that I’m an extroverted introvert. Meaning… I LOVE making new friends…. I love being in big groups and connecting with people. And then when that’s over, I crave solitude. Quiet, alone time. Luckily, my husband knows / loves this and is the same way. He works in sales. (Hmm… I wonder if a lot of “extroverts” are this way)?

Well, here are just a few things I’ve learned along the way regarding this trip. Some are tactical, some are not but maybe they’ll help some of you:

1. Plan for EXTRA down time. Don’t overpack your schedule. I planned one night out with my dear friends Christopher and Gabe in Atlanta and that’s it. It was so much fun. I’ve known Christopher for 10 years and was thrilled to (finally!) meet Gabe in person. But the rest of my trip, I left the margin in my schedule alone for catching up on The Crown on Netflix, listening to some good audio books (didn’t pack “actual” books since I didn’t have much space in my carry-on), finding amazing coffee shops (like this one), and sleeping. I slept 14 hours last night. Not even kidding. Plan for more-than-usual down time to take care of yourself while traveling. I don’t know why – maybe its the change in routine – but traveling takes lots of extra energy. Thanks to the Westin Nashville for the amazing spa experience… what a treat during this trip!!

2. If you’re flying a lot, TRY not to check a bag. I’ve had this Samsonite carry-on for as long as I can remember. It’s been all over the place and held up so well. Though I think the zipper may give out soon thanks to how tightly I packed it this go-’round. Checking a bag adds like a zillion annoying hours to travel frustration time. Just don’t do it. Here’s a list of what I packed in my carry-on:

  • 2 pairs of jeans for events (soft, skinny jeans that basically feel like leggings).
  • 2 pairs of leggings for travel (these are my fave and perfect for traveling, though NOT perfect for cold weather).
  • A few tops for travel that go with the leggings
  • A few tops that can be mix-matched for events to go with the jeans
  • 2 pairs of shoes: these booties for events, these sneakers for traveling. And then I had these boots that got shipped home bc they’re just too bulky for quick travel – though adorable.
  • Socks and unmentionables to make it through the trip, duh.
  • A hang-up toiletries bag with more than I needed (meaning, I packed things I probably don’t normally travel with – for a little more comfort: hand-cream, face-masks, etc).
  • Bare minimum makeup in this bag set my team gave me for Christmas. I LOVE THIS BAG. It’s super high quality and it sits “open” perfectly so you don’t have to dump your makeup out on a hotel counter (germ-a-phobe).
  • Hair straightener (Didn’t pack a blow dryer since hotels have one. I really miss mine).
  • A big jacket (I wore this on the plane to save carry-on space; got mine on SUPER black friday sale).
  • A backpack (<- if you follow me on Instagram, you’re probably tired of hearing about how much I love this bag… BUT I LOVE THIS BAG. It was a gift from my husband for Christmas and I’m obsessed. It’s so high quality, so perfect – with a zillion pockets – and just so cute). I didn’t pack a purse. I slipped a clutch into the bag for anywhere I’d need to carry an actual purse, which has basically been nowhere. It has a laptop pocket too, which is awesome. In my backpack, I’ve packed: my laptop, laptop charger (in a side pocket), my phone / apple watch chargers (in the other side pocket), a phone charger block-thing (you know? the thing that charges your phone without being plugged in), my wallet, my big scarf, a few snacks [RX bars and such], and an empty, reusable to-go coffee cup), some Emergen-c gummies to help my immune system a bit while traveling and hugging so many people).
  • I packed everything in these packing cubes (thanks for the rec, Jess!)

Now, things I did not pack:

  • a purse (have my backpack with a small clutch inside)
  • a hair dryer (hotels have them)
  • a ton of clothes (pack capsule-ish and take pics of every outfit so you only pack what you need)

3. Use something to keep all travel details together. I LOVE TripIt <- there is a free version and a pro version. I use the pro version bc I have to travel a lot for work. It allows you to forward any hotel / rental car / flight into to an email address and it automatically updates your travel itinerary. They alert me if anything is delayed, auto-text me when I get to an airport to tell me which gate I have to run to (haha), and just hold everything in one place. I have the app on my phone and I love it.

4. Delta Sky Club. If you travel a lot, take my advice here… the American Express Platinum Card is everything. (This is not at all sponsored, I just seriously love this card). We have one for the business and one personally. We love it because a) it has GREAT perks and b) AMEX gives you a great analysis of your spending at the end of every year. It costs $550 per year, BUT the benefits basically pay for it. AND, if you are active duty military, AMEX will waive the fee!! So, we put E V E R Y thing on our AMEX and pay it off at the end of every month. We try and keep as much as possible on this card bc keeping everything in one place helps see / track your overall spending. Plus, knowing we’re going to have to pay it off at the end of the month helps us remember to watch it like a hawk. Now, there are a zillion perks, but here are some of my faves: $200 airline credit (yearly), $200 Uber credit (yearly), Clear / Pre-Check credit (every few years). 10 Go-go inflight internet passes (yearly). And my favorite benefit: access to a TON of airport lounges, including Delta Sky Club. The DSC is my home-away-from-home when traveling. They’re usually uncrowded, have nice / clean bathrooms, a place to charge #allthethings, big comfy chairs, and complimentary breakfast / lunch / coffee / bar / etc. Honestly, I basically will go straight to the airport to eat breakfast or lunch here. And they have so many healthy options. I’ve seriously saved so much money with this benefit. And when you’re traveling with kids, it’s the best. It’s just a place to rest in otherwise insane airports and I’m really grateful for it after 8 days traveling. :) Here is a referral link if you’re interested. OH, someone just told me AMEX also gives you Global Access so that when you’re returning from international flights, you skip those HUGE lines!

5. Get TSA Pre-check or Clear. Waiting in lines is the worst. With AMEX reimbursing our fees for this, it was a no-brainer.

6. Leave a little happy at home. Leaving my kiddos is the hardest thing ever — and not something I take lightly at all. I don’t do it much anymore, so when I do, I make sure to leave things as buttoned up at home as possible. I married super dad, so that’s a win, haha. And, thankfully, Nana came down to stand in and take care of everyone. I also continued a tradition I started when Brady was an itty bitty baby. Whenever I travel, I leave little happies at home to put a smile on their faces everyday. I went to Party City before I left and got little prizes – their candy is 15 for $1.00 and their little prizes are $0.25. Yes, they’ll get thrown away or lost or whatever, but for a minute, they absolutely love it – and that’s worth it. I put them in little bags (also available at Party City) with numbers on them counting down until I come back.

I’m so excited for Dallas tomorrow! I’ve been to Dallas before, but only for a hot minute. Can’t wait to visit the Barnes & Noble there!! Thank you so much for all your love and support of A Simplified Life. The movement toward simple and meaningful in a world that often feels so busy and chaotic is so much bigger than me. I’m so proud to be part of it and so grateful for all your kind words and for all your encouraging stories. Let’s keep it going!! We’re halfway through our Simplicity Challenge. If you’ve missed any, you can download a free copy of the ENTIRE challenge here!

See you soon, Texas! And to my babies – TWO MORE DAYS!!

xo,

Emily

copyright 2018 emily ley