Sara’s Key Action

woman-journaling-iStock_000015527481XSmallOur 16yo daughter is, and always has been, a self-starter.

She’ll probably make us famous some day with her knowledge of the Classics.

She knows Shakespeare really well, she currently teaches a mythology class for local students, and she reports to me from time to time the progress of the several books she’s writing.

But earlier this year she seemed to be in sort of a slump.

She was still taking the personal time to study, but she seemed sort of unanimated–maybe frustrated with life, or something.

Then I got a call from a gentleman in our neighborhood encouraging me to enroll her in a certain class.

I couldn’t for the life of me figure out how to make it happen for our family; we’re booked right about to my comfort level.

But the thought kept nagging me and I proposed it to her.

To my surprise, she readily accepted the offer, and made the necessary adjustments to her schedule in order to make it happen.

It’s like I have my old Sara back!

She’s got the spring back in her step, she volunteers with the littler ones when she sees a need, she steps in to do what she sees needs done around the house without being asked…. YAY!

It made me think of another conversation I had this week with a TJEd mom who is a community leader, mentor, writer, teacher, etc.

She had been feeling out of sorts herself, and was trying to figure out what she should be letting go in her life and drawing a blank. She felt right about everything, but still felt out of sync.

She called me to say that after the couple of overwhelmed emails she had sent, she had figured out what was needed: She was supposed to start writing more.

She had interpreted her malaise to having too full a plate, and was really surprised to find it all fitting together when she actually added something to her roster.

I think these are an example of what Oliver calls “Key Actions.”

My key action lately is to play around in the kitchen for the first couple of hours of the day (before the family is really up and at it), experimenting and inventing with fresh foods.

When I do this, I manage my time better, I make better choices for my health, I’m not too engrossed in my writing or emails or what-have-you when the kids awake to put the day on course and attend to their interests and needs, and I feel a real lift from doing something I enjoy.

Sort of a funny Key Action, but its working for me.

The thing is, Key Actions can be sort of tricky.

I have yet to find someone whose Key Action is actually the single most important thing on their list–like, say, studying from their Core book or praying.

It’s absolutely true that my life is more peaceful, richer and more inspired when these things are prioritized.

But it’s also true that simply doing them doesn’t necessarily seem to get the ball rolling so that everything else falls into place.

It may be that your Key Action intricately related to these habits, or not at all; and neither case is a reflection on what we value.

For people who tend to be materialistic in their pursuits, a spiritual- or interpersonal-type Key Action can help them to channel their energies into a good balance, and provide grounding and meaning for their focused efforts.

For many TJEd’ers, I’ve found that a Key Action is often something a little more mundane.

In fact, for many, mundane is precisely the point.

As a demographic, TJEd’ers are often passionate and mission-driven.

This can translate to a level of selflessness that can encroach on being neglectful of ourselves.

Our energies can tend to be other-oriented, and don’t lack much for spiritual connectedness.

The fact is, your Key Action is likely something that doesn’t regularly appear on the Top 5 of your to-do list.

You likely either do it intuitively, or feel the urge to do it and brush it off as less important than the other things on your list.

Some Key Actions that I’ve heard of:

  • Drink 2 quarts of water before 4pm
  • Stop whatever I’m doing once an hour and ask myself, “What is needed?”; then stop and fill the need (call so-and-so; put my feet up for five minutes; start the crock pot; put away what I’m working on for another day; go to the bathroom
    [moms put this off so often as to jeopardize their health!])
  • Go to bed by 10:15pm
  • Fix my daughter’s hair when she dresses in the morning
  • Polish the kitchen sink after each meal
  • Plan tomorrow the night before
  • Put on sneakers when I dress in the morning
  • Play the piano for 30 minutes each day

The Key Action, whatever it may be, tends to put everything into balance, or create a positive momentum, or bring peace and a sense of well-being.

It’s not, strictly speaking, the thing we value highest or most deeply but it is the key to our serenity, productivity and clarity.

Again: of all the things we do or don’t, the top priority isn’t always the most Key thing; it’s the Key Action that makes everything else fall into place.

What’s your key action? Do you put it off? Do you get it done?


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About the Author:

Rachel is the co-author of Leadership Education: The Phases of Learning and the audio series Core and Love of Learning: A Recipe for Success, and the author of the award-winning educational resource, This Week in History. She is an accomplished musician, writer, literary editor, public speaker, consultant and momschool organizer.


  1. Marie Arnold March 8, 2011 at 7:56 am - Reply

    I love how you have stated this true principle. So often in my life it is simple things that do “get the ball” rolling again. The basics are in place (the high priority and valued items) and the addition of one of the small and simple things that never make it to my “Top 5” provides an energy that can be astonding at times. I like how you call it a “key action”. I can think of it as a little key that can open a treasure chest of untapped power for our busy lives. I also love that it is “My” key actions. They are different for each person and personality. I will be looking more carefully for “my keys” and using them. THANK YOU!

    • Rachel DeMille March 8, 2011 at 8:17 am - Reply

      Thanks, Marie. I think sometimes we get so excited about something that makes all the difference for us that we tend to think it’s everybody’s magic bullet. More useful to share is the fact that there’s away to find your magic bullet, your key action. I like the idea of the treasure chest. I’ll be pondering that imagery and what it has to tell me all day!

      xoxo rd

  2. Jackie B March 9, 2011 at 3:50 am - Reply

    I really appreciated this thought. It sparked in me to really question what my key action is. There have been other things recently that have pointed to this idea. For example I came across this inspirational video again after not seeing if for a few years.
    I love this thought, this idea that we just need to put something simple into place in our lives and we can achieve that which is excellent instead of just mediocre. Whether that is taking care of ourselves first, or whatever, it’s possible.
    There is a principle behind this that I noticed first when I was working out with an exercise video one day. I was stretching pretty far on this one move/pose and the instructor said “now stretch just a little farther than you are now.” I did not think it was possible, but I tried and I was able to. Not only that but it kicked in other muscles I had not been engaging and it made it a much more comprehensive and meaningful stretch. That experience has come to me many times over the years as I reflect on how almost always it is the simple things that make all the difference. A smile, one herb in a recipe, flowers, spending 5 minutes to clean a room, etc.
    As I pondered the thought of a “key action”, I realized that this action could change with different seasons of our lives.
    I appreciate how this thought played into my personal thoughts at seemingly the perfect moment.
    Thank you for sparking this thought in me to ponder on, and then apply!

  3. Toni March 12, 2011 at 6:23 am - Reply

    I have found my key action is reading my Bible and spending time with my Heavenly Father every morning. When I make it a priority to begin my day with this, it seems that everything else falls into place.

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