In 2017, Morgan Shidler, a former OUSD educator and independent photographer, decided, in an effort to transform her own life instead of buying a new planner, to create one of her own: Hustle & Play: A Workbook For Your Best Life. She was hitting a wall. “It was built out of a love and commitment to being at home in Oakland,” Shidler said. “The love and wanting to stay in a place that I loved and I am thriving in because of it.”
Hustle & Play: A Workbook For Your Best Life is a planner that helps the users outline their goals based on their value. Users of the book are part of a virtual community support group, allowing space for participants to be compassionate with themselves through reflection.
At the beginning of each new year, or even before, people purchase new journals and planners, setting the expectation that they can start anew with the new year. A common catchphrase is “New Year, new me.” However, 2020 was an unusual time to have a planner. The world that we had become accustomed to came to a halt and there were no plans to be made.
The goal in using Hustle & Play is about creating a ritual which allows a person rethinking how their time is used and changing the focus from being in the constant hustle and bustle, to reflecting about where time is being spent.
It takes approximately 2 months to develop or change a habit that would lead to the version of “new me.” Using a planner to organize and track habits was found to be beneficial. A study from 2014 found that people who use a paper planner are more organized, less stressed and show improved performance. It was found that writing things down had a beneficial impact on individuals, even though they also used smartphones.
Hustle & Play differed from other planners. “I think when we call it a planner, people go into it with that expectation,” Schidler said. “It’s really an all encompassing workbook around your whole life. Not just planning forward.”
The workbook is filled with reminders, tips and reflective questions. The book has multiple checkpoints for users: weekly, monthly, quarterly and mid-year. There’s sections for the weather, a habit tracker, on-going goals and a section for expressing gratitude daily. At the end of each week, users plan for the next week and take time to reflect on the previous week’s activities with sections.
“I had resistance, thinking this is really detailed and some of this seemed a little overwhelming,” says attorney Shumsha Hanif-Cruz, owner of SHC Law and Krack Sauce, a condiment sauce which is currently in development. Hanif-Cruz explained once she got into using it she focused on enhancing her strengths, organizing her businesses and changing habits.
To ease some of the intimidation, users were not only buying a planner or wellness workbook; the planner also comes in with a sort of built-in community of people, who were on a similar reflective journey. The community included a private Facebook group with discussions and check-ins.
“The reflection is the most important part,” Shidler said. “These reflections at this part of the year become even more powerful and interesting and informative for how you can pick and choose what you really care about as the year heads to its downward slope.”
Shidler provided direct support for some people using the workbook. Beginning in January, there was a series of meet ups to discuss how individuals could create a practice of reflection. Shidler conducted multiple in-person workgroups in Oakland and “That’s What She Said,” a monthly womxn only event in San Francisco, for those who purchased it. In one orientation workshop, participants were asked to write a letter to their future selves, writing their goals in the past tense as if they had already happened. The purpose is to focus on the feeling they would have at the end of the year, participants would read back the letter with a sense of pride in accomplishing the goals they set out in that letter.
The workbook isn’t solely for women. “It’s really designed for anyone who wants to be in touch with their feelings and where their choices are aligning or misaligning,” Shidler explained, adding that while it has been most appealing to womxn, the men who have used it have seen rapid results in habit changes.
“The reflection asks you every month to go back and look at themes of your gratitude. And over many months, those themes are likely to be consistent. And those are areas where you may choose to invest deeper,” Shidler said.
As with many plans, things changed once Shelter-in-Place due to Covid-19 came in. It provided a new challenge for users of the Hustle & Play workbook. However, Hustle and Play was the best tool for some of the participants. “When transitions happen, you don’t move too fast. Move slower. Allow yourself time to pace,” Shidler said. In May, Shidler shifted from in-person meetings to utilizing Facebook live coaching videos, phone calls, and by offering to facilitate small groups of Hustle & Play users in their reflections.
By June, Shidler offered some of the remaining books to users for low to no cost along with a personal coaching phone call to guide them into the reflection. The year was half over, but she felt that people could still utilize the reflective tools the book provided. She said she just wanted people to use the tools and learn from it. If they liked it, when the next book came out, they would be more likely to buy it.
“You get somebody hooked on it. They’ll have no problem buying it when it comes up for the next year. I bought one for my niece when I was telling her about it,” Hanif-Cruz said. “She’s 16 and to think about having a tool like this at that young age. And to really be using it, I mean she’s going to be so ahead of the curve.” Her niece could learn early to use the tools Hanif-Cruz was learning at a later age.
The mantra Shidler uses frequently in her Facebook groups videos and in workshops is, “You have to slow down to speed up.” The idea is that to be successful in any practice, people need to slow down and reflect on the actions they are taking. By taking slower actions, people can readjust and realign their plans for a better result.
“I think it has helped me track and helped me really look at all the things I do on a daily basis, in terms of holding space for myself and my family and my community,” Hanif-Cruz said. “Really acknowledging the accomplishments that I have achieved thus far.“ Hustle & Play gave something to control and a focus on how to make plans when life changes plans.
Having an interactive community in the form of a reflective work group provided the additional support to stay on task and be accountable. “One of the things you really learn is to be compassionate and have grace for yourself,” Hanif-Cruz added. Every Monday, participants from different perspectives in Oakland met virtually to dive deeper into using the book for self reflection and improvement by focusing on improving their strengths. They were given assignments to reflect on. They were also tasked with being accountable to one another in taking some action in their lives.
“Keep nurturing the yes,” Morgan said during my own coaching call while using the workbook. Nurturing the yes is learning to say yes to opportunities as they come along and recognizing that some challenges are opportunities for growth. My friends introduced me to the book. I also use the workbook to reflect on my own journey in journalism through Oakland Voices, setting Smart Goals, monitoring where I spend my time, and acknowledging lessons I’ve learned along the way.