Zibby Owens: Kendra Adachi is the author of The New York Times best seller The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done. She’s also the host of “The Lazy Genius Podcast” and has a blog. In fact, all of this together she calls The Lazy Genius Collective, which I think I might have to steal. That’s so genius. Kendra lives with her husband and children somewhere.

Welcome, Kendra. Thanks so much for coming on “Moms Don’t Have Time to Read Books.”

Kendra Adachi: Thanks for having me. I’m so excited about this.

Zibby: I am too, oh, my gosh. I feel like your book, it was like, here’s how to live your life a little bit better than you’re doing. Here are all my tips. I just took all those and I’m running with these now. Thank you very much.

Kendra: I’m so glad. Who knew that we would also have a pandemic that we would need to manage? The timing is not great, but also really great. I’m so glad.

Zibby: I’m sure the timing for you is not great with the launch. As a reader, the timing is pretty great for the content. On balance, maybe it works out.

Kendra: Totally. I’ll take that.

Zibby: The Lazy Genius Way: Embrace What Matters, Ditch What Doesn’t, and Get Stuff Done, tell listeners, please, what your book is about. What inspired you to write this book?

Kendra: What inspired me to write the book was hearing myself and a lot of women that I was doing life with and writing on the internet for just so tired all the time. We’re always just so tired. I was like, we were told to pair back our to-do lists and we need to say no more and simplify our lives. I saw a lot of people doing that, and they were still really tired. Just tried to pay attention to what was going on and realized that I think that what we are doing is trying hard at too many things and then often trying hard at the wrong things or things that don’t really matter to us. Everybody gets to decide what that is. As I started to unpack that idea, I was like, oh, my gosh, I think we might have cracked a code here. I think we might have found something really great. The book, The Lazy Genius Way, it’s not about doing more or less. It’s about doing what matters to you. If you actually spend your energy on what matters and sort of let go of the things that don’t and then also begin to accept and engage with people in your life who prioritize different things than you, that we have permission to care and to care about different things, what a world, man. The Lazy Genius Way is basically a self-help, personal-growth book for people who are just really tired of reading them and highlighting a few things and cobbling together a way to live a meaningful life. It’s a guidebook of principles to help you live a meaningful life by your own definition.

Zibby: Love it. Let’s backtrack. How did you become the lazy genius? Why you? How did you fall into this? How did you come up with this? When did the whole thing start? Did it start with the blog? Tell me the order of everything.

Kendra: I’ve been writing on the internet for over ten years. It’s been very different stuff. I wrote about food. I was a cooking instructor for a while. Then I had a blog, sort of, that was celebrities and desserts paired together because those are two things that I really love. I made things like cumber cookies which were cookies inspired by Benedict Cumberbatch. It was very niche. It was a very specific thing. It was so much fun. I’ve been writing on the internet for a long time. The through line of my life is perfectionism. I’ve always had the genius part down. I don’t mean that in back-patty, I’m so good at things way. I just mean really, really focusing on trying so hard at being good or the best at everything and then just being worn down. That was my own personal journey. I had kids. You learn a lot about yourself when you have kids. By the time the third kid rolled around, I was like, wait a minute, I do not have energy for the things that I used to think I did. How do we do this? Living my own life, I sort of have a systems brain and then I’m a writer, and all of these things came together into this conflation of The Lazy Genius. Then my best friend who’s a writer, Emily P. Freeman, she wrote a book called The Next Right Thing, she’s really, really good at giving names to things. It’s like a superpower of hers. It’s really weird. She was like, “You’re kind of like a lazy genius.” I went, . The floor opened up. It was beautiful.

Zibby: Her forward was so nice, by the way. I was like, if I ever write a book, I need to grab my best friend to write my forward as well. She was so nice about you coming to her aid and packing up her house and just jumping in and doing what needed to be done. It says a lot. Sometimes you can tell more from what a friend says about you than what you could possibly say in your own introduction. I thought that was pretty genius.

Kendra: I cried a lot when I read it, for sure. It was the nicest thing ever. It was really sweet. It’s a pretty special thing. Like you said, what a special thing that my best friend got to write my forward and that she’s a writer, and so that got to be a thing. It was really special, for sure.

Zibby: Aw, that’s so nice. Then when did you start your podcast?

Kendra: My podcast started in — well, I started the blog in August of 2015 because my daughter was born in April of 2016. I always start a business when I have a kid. Every blog is matched to one of my kids being born. It’s kind of weird. Then the podcast was June or July after that. It’s been — what is that? What’s math? Four years, I guess, the podcast has been. At first, it was not just me. It was me interviewing people. I realized that I was doing that, and this is not true of everyone, but I was doing that because I was afraid of being the only one, that no one would listen to me because who am I to have something to say? It was an interesting transition. I did ten episodes of interviews. Then I took a break and reevaluated. Then I was like, okay, I’m going to do this by myself because this matters. I feel like these are important things to talk about. That was about four years ago. We’re on 170-some episodes. It’s great. It’s a lot of fun. I love the show.

Zibby: Wow. I learned from your show some things about you that you shared in your latest episode about how you had never had a Double Stuff Oreo. How is this possible? Where did you grow up? In America? Anybody growing up in America must have — not to shame people who haven’t had it. Good for them for not succumbing to the double-stuff. I was surprised.

Kendra: It was surprising to me too. I grew up really poor. Whenever we did get real name-brand treats, it wasn’t very often and you don’t splurge for the extras. I don’t even think there were Double Stuff when I was growing up. You just get Oreos. I’m kind of a brand traditionalist. I don’t really veer off, like Extra Toasty Cheez-Its. I’m just original. If the box says original, I’ll go for that. Then I had this friend of mine who brought me a pack of Double Stuff literally within the last month. I was like, I’ve never had this. I guess it’ll be fine. It was like, where have I been? I was so upset at all the people in my life who had let me live this long without eating Double Stuff. Now we’re a Double Stuff family exclusively. I will never buy original Oreos again ever. I’m so sad. I’m thirty-eight and I’ve gone this long without having them. It’s a problem.

Zibby: Oh, my gosh, you’re so funny. Let’s talk about some of the advice in your book because you give such great advice. One of the themes that you come back to over and over again is starting small and how sometimes you just try to do one downward dog a day and that’s okay. I feel like in every chapter, whatever it was related to, again, it was, start small. Start small with the laundry. Start small with everything, every project, every everything. Tell me about that overarching principle.

Kendra: We start so big all the time, just the longest lists, so many checklists, tracking every single thing. I think there is something, maybe for a lot of us, is it about control? Maybe if things feel out of control, we have to cloak the entire situation in some grand scheme to make us feel okay. Starting small just doesn’t feel like it does anything. We’re not moving. There’s not momentum. It’s not making a difference. If I do one down dog a day, does that even count? Even saying it out loud, it seems so stupid. But guess what? I have been doing at least one down dog a day. It’s going on four years now. That’s a practice. Some days, it still is that. Some days, it’s ten minutes. Some days, it’s thirty. It’s usually closer to ten. Thirty is very rare, but I’m doing it. It’s part of my day and a part of my rhythm. If I had not started small, that embarrassingly small choice, I would still be whining to myself and shaming myself for not being good at yoga or whatever it is, fill in the blank of whatever yoga is.

I think that small choices, as long as they’re small enough that you’re like, oh, no, I can do that, I can do whatever it is, I can put my shoes by the door, I can cook one meal at home a week instead of seven — if you’re like, I’m going to become a cook and I’m going to cook for my family, but you don’t cook, if you’re always doing takeout and you try seven days, are you kidding me? You will not make it a week. Start with one breakfast. Just start small because small choices, it’s easier to keep making them. Then you keep making them. Then you have that momentum. Then you don’t stop. Then they become habits. The seduction of the big machine will get us every time. It just gets us every time. That’s why we’re all so tired, because we’re trying to maintain all these stupid big machines that we built rather than just doing one tiny thing. Just do the one tiny thing. Do one small step and see what happens. What is the worst that can happen? You won’t move. Well, you’re not moving now anyway and you’re just feeling bad about it. So why not not feel bad about? See if you actually want to move in that direction in the first place. I just think starting small, it gets such a bad rap because, again, it’s not very grand. It’s not very sexy, but it really works.

Zibby: It’s so true. What you said at the beginning too about whether or not it counts, I’m always thinking about that too. Does it even count that I’m taking a walk for ten minutes? Then I have to stop and be like, who is doing the counting if not me and my own body? Isn’t it better to walk ten minutes than what I would be doing which is sitting at my desk for ten minutes? Why talk myself out of it? At least it’s something. I feel like that’s my down dog. Although, I have no habit of it, so you’re one step ahead of me.

Kendra: Thinking about the walk, there’s something really important about naming what matters about even that small choice. If you’re thinking about, I’m going to walk around the block, because that’s not a minute thing — if you live in a place where there’s blocks. Not everybody does. If you’re going to walk around the block and ask yourself, why am I wanting to do this? I think sometimes if we are truly honest with ourselves, it comes down to something that doesn’t actually matter. I know for me for the longest time — this is not true of everyone. Nothing is true of everyone. For the longest time, my pushing myself to exercise was to make my body smaller. Now I’m like, I don’t care. I’m actually like, I feel good. I feel good in my skin. I have the energy. It’s fine. I’m actually doing myself more of a disservice by beating myself up for not being thinner than I am for being in a bigger body and being comfortable in it. Then I just walk or run or do my daily down dog or whatever it is when my body goes, hey, can we move? I would really like to move right now. Just paying attention. Naming that, naming what actually matters about the walk or the run or the whatever, and exercise is just one example, when we really name what matters about it, then we’re able to actually have a deeper motivation to do it or a greater conviction to let it go.

Zibby: Love it. All right, I’m going to try to distill the essence of my walk whenever I get a chance.

Kendra: You can do it on a walk.

Zibby: I’ll do it on a walk.

Kendra: You’re like, I’m going to go on a walk and figure out why I’m here.

Zibby: Yes. I go on walks to debate why I go on them. That’s just enough for me. You also in your book talk a lot about your house rules, which I thought were so genius. I should really institute more than I have right now. One of the ones I found most interesting was that you vowed to start a new book within twenty-four hours of finishing an old one otherwise you lose momentum and don’t start books. Let’s talk about that.

Kendra: Oh, man. I always get this confused. Have you heard the whole supply and demand reader thing? Some people are supply-side readers and some people are demand-side readers. Have you ever heard this?

Zibby: I haven’t. No, tell me.

Kendra: I wish I knew who came up with this. It’s such a bummer. I get it mixed up. One kind of reader will read anything that’s in front of them, cereal box, magazine, it doesn’t matter. It’s good to put good things in front of them to read because they’re going to read anyway. Then there’s another kind of reader that will easily choose other things if there is not something good to read, so you lose momentum a lot easier. I am that kind of reader. I love to read, but I also love to watch TV. I also love to play cards with my husband. There are different things that I can do in those pockets of time that are not reading. I have just found if I lose that momentum, it’s really hard to get it back, and I genuinely love reading. That house rule has been something that’s been really helpful for me. When I finish a book, I need to start another one within twenty-four hours or I probably won’t really start. Then it’s harder to get back on the horse. It’s a really, really small thing.

That’s what I love about the principle of house rules. It’s just one small thing that sort of keeps — like when you line up a bunch of dominoes and one tips over the rest, if the rest are sort of negative things, like, oh, no, everything’s burning, everything’s falling apart, even in something like your reading life, a house rule keeps that first domino from falling. That is it for me. Just read something within a day of finishing the last book. That means that if I know that I’m coming to the end of the book — at this point, I have a ridiculous in-my-house library where I could always reach for something because I’ve been building up and paying attention to what kind of books I like and trying to buy those at book sales and all that. Before when I would get to the end of a book, I’m like, I’m almost to the end of this, I want to still enjoy the end, but I also want to think ahead. What am I going to read next so that I don’t lose the momentum? It’s very, very small. Again, it’s a very small thing. But doggonit, it really helps me keep going.

Zibby: I’m not sure anyone’s ever said doggonit on my podcast before.

Kendra: As it came out of my mouth, I was like, nope.

Zibby: I love that.

Kendra: I feel like this is a unique situation.

Zibby: It called for a doggonit. You gave it the doggonit. I love it. It’s amazing. Thank you for that. So what type of books do you like to read?

Kendra: I’m still in a place where I don’t want to feel guilty for answering that question in the way that I’m going to answer it because I don’t love to — my default desire to read is not to learn something. I do read to learn things. I balance it out. Seriously, my sweet spot is space, magic, circuses, a poor teenage girl sticking it to the man. She hates the patriarchy, but she falls in love with somebody who’s part of the patriarchy. I am such a sucker for that stuff. It just ropes me in even if the writing’s not great. I will see a good, interesting story that’s world-build-y, I will see it through even if the character’s fine or the writing’s okay. Seriously, if there’s a circus, I’m done. I’m so happy. Or creeped out fairy tales, like reinterpreted sort of dark fairytales, anything that’s fantasy. I like science fiction. Again, the patriarchy part is always fun as well.

Zibby: Got a real niche there. I’ll be on the lookout for you. I will. Any book pitch that comes in from now on, I am thinking, does this have the circus, patriarchy elements?

Kendra: I will take it.

Zibby: So watch out.

Kendra: I have mentioned it before. I have a few episodes about reading. I talk about it on my blog sometimes. The people who have been following me for a while, they know, this is the stuff Kendra likes. It is really fun when I have DMs and they’re like, hey, I just read this book, and I see the word circus. Everybody’s looking for circuses. Send me all the circus books. I’ll take every single one. Ironically, terrified of actually going to a circus. I don’t know what that says, but here we are.

Zibby: Here we are. Sorry, I wish I had been following you before. I hadn’t heard of you before. Now I’m like, I’m one of the people in the world who somehow had not. I’m so glad I did now and that the people who I know now are going to know about you and all of that. Tell me a little more — this is kind of a big pivot. In fourth grade, your parents got divorced. You went through this tough time in your life. You referenced your childhood a little bit. Just tell me a little more about what it was like for you growing up. Then what about it do you think made you find your way in the world and had it be similar to this?

Kendra: That’s a good, layered question. My parents split up when I was — they divorced for real in fourth grade. They had split up a couple times before then. My dad had just kind of left. He just left a couple times before. I have a little sister who is seven years younger than I am. For a lot of the childhood, I was an only child for those early years. Looking back, when you’re a kid, you don’t really know what you’re looking at. You don’t always know what you’re experiencing, but you might feel it a little bit. The way that you process your life is more attuned to what’s really happening. Looking back, part of me is like, how did I not know that my dad was abusive to my mom and to sister and to me, but all in very different ways? It was a really hard thing, obviously. That’s a stupid thing to say. It was a really hard thing. But it was.

I honestly think that one of the things that has been the most galvanizing for me, maybe, from that time is I carried the — this is quite a pivot from the circus conversation. I sort of carried the weight and the responsibility of the abuse that the rest of my family was victim to as my responsibility. If I had seen it, I could’ve stopped it. It was my fault. I really think that that was a huge thing for the first two thirds of my life, really, in feeling like I had to be the best. I had to be so dependable. I had to be the greatest friend that anyone would ever want. I don’t know that it was trying to make up for failing my family. I don’t know that I would really put it into those words, but I do think that there’s a connection there. There’s always been a deep responsibility in me to make sure everything else is going okay at the expense of myself. That expense looks like I don’t do things unless I can be the best at them. It was just a very thin way to live. It was just a very hollow — there wasn’t a lot of substance to it. I just feel like if anybody blew too hard at me, I would break. I was working really hard to look put together and feel together, but anything could’ve knocked everything off its very shaky foundation.

Therapy is a real big help. I’m a big advocate of therapy. When I started going to therapy and I’d realized that responsibility I was carrying, that I think the root of it was my sister and mom, but it also was like a tree, just lots of responsibility branches going in lots of different directions, when I realized that, it made so much sense about how I look at the world, which is to fix it. It was always to fix it. I got to make it better. Now that I’ve kind of removed that negative responsibility off the table, that poorly rooted responsibility that’s not mine to hold, now that I’ve taken that off the table, it’s left the essence of my desire to make things better, but for you, not for my own protection, not for my own survival. This feels strange to say. I do think I have a gift for helping people see differently, to help people see how their lives, by their definition and their standards, can be better, not like, copy my life, my life’s great. That would be dumb. None of us need to live that way. That’s so ridiculous. I think that once I worked through that responsibility that I carried, it just left that real essence of who I am. I really do want to make the world a better place. I joke that I am Pollyanna, but with a clipboard. I’m like, guys, sunshine, hold hands, let’s do this. Then here’s a list of how. It’s a very specific vibe.

I don’t know that I would’ve ever been able to really access that without having processed where my desire to make things better came from. That’s why I love therapy. It’s also why I love suffering. What a fun thing to say. I love suffering. That’s the lesson that we can learn from hard, difficult things. There’s a principle in the book called live in your season. It’s not that we are supposed to push through our season and ignore that things are hard. I know that things are really hard for you right now. I’ve been watching your Instagram. It’s not that we’re just like, ignore it. It’s hard. Who cares? Power through. That’s not helpful for anyone. Also, to sit there and just drown in the emotional weight of everything and not tell yourself the truth — or have eyes of gratitude sometimes. I don’t mean that in a placating way, like, the trees are beautiful, it’s fine that my mother-in-law’s sick. That’s not what this is. It’s being honest about how you’re feeling and also giving yourself permission to feel what you need to feel but not let it be in charge and to tell yourself the truth. All that to say, I think that that is one of the gifts of difficult seasons. They always have something to teach us, always. My parent’s divorce took a solid twenty years to teach me something that I could put words to, but it did. I’m so grateful.

Zibby: Wow, I’m really glad I asked you about that. Now in turn, you’ve given me some therapy for the day. Thank you for that. I appreciate it. Wow, I’m going to have to just keep calling you every so often and get my daily dose, the transitive property from whatever your therapist taught you or something. Thank you. Kendra, you are doing so many things. You’re a mom. You’re doing your podcast, your blog. This book just came out. I hate to even say there could be more that you could do, but do you have a big vision of where you’re headed or what you want to accomplish or how you’re going to help everybody in the world? Tell me.

Kendra: Man, I hope that this gives some permission to people listening because I did, and I think it’s not that anymore. My dream for the longest time was I wanted to own a bakery. That’s really what it was. I wanted to have a local place. I love feeding people. Everybody likes cake for the most part. I make good cake. That was my dream. I’m not sure if it still is. I’m in this place where I’m in the dreamland, but everything just went from clear to fuzzy. It’s like a reverse Wizard of Oz. It was so colorful. It was technicolor. Then I’m back in black and white. I’m like, wait, where are we? I don’t know. I think that that’s just the nature of life. Again, funny sentence to say. We think that something is going to be really valuable. It doesn’t necessarily mean that it wasn’t when it was, but things change. We change. For a long time it was to have a bakery. I think now it’s just broadened. I don’t know how it’s really going to manifest.

I just want a physical place to gather people. Part of me is like, why would anyone come? How can I support my family and my staff by trying to get people to come and stay at this property that I have, or this building? Do I teach classes? What do I even do? It does feel overwhelming to think about that sometimes because I don’t know what it is and I don’t like when I don’t know what something is, which is when I pull out different principles in the book. One that’s coming to mind right now about the dreams specifically, there’s a principle called go in the right order. You can go in the right order in cleaning your bathroom. You can go in the right order with anything. Really, the right order comes down to three steps. The first one is to name what matters. Everything starts naming what matters. The second thing is to calm the crazy. Usually when we’re like, what is happening? something feels crazy. We need to calm it down. Then the third thing is to trust yourself with whatever comes next. For this, my order is naming what matters, is that I am present in the work that I am doing now. Also, I don’t push down the dream.

I can be present and let the dream hang out in the room and be like, hey dream, you’re a lowercase d right now. I don’t know what you look like, but it’s cool. You can stay. If you decide to get brighter or stronger or sharper and you can tell me something that affects my work right now, that’s fantastic. Otherwise, I’m just going to let you hang out in the room. It’s cool. That’s what matters. Then the second part of calming the crazy is when I feel the, I don’t have a dream, starting to spin out, which I do often, the calm the crazy of that is to usually call someone who knows my heart, to call Emily, to call my best friend, to talk to my husband, to call my sister, and just be like, hey, I’m feeling really sad about not having the dream about the bakery. Can you tell me some truth? Can you tell some good things? That kind of settles down my brain. The third step, trust yourself with whatever comes next, usually it’s just to keep going. There’s not necessarily a third thing. It’s just like, yeah, you can live in this time where you don’t know what your five-year plan is or you don’t know what your big dream is. This might be what it is. That’s okay. It’s just being okay with being where I am. That was a roundabout way to answer, I don’t know. I don’t know what’s next, but that’s okay.

Zibby: Honestly, in my disheveled set of notes here, calm the crazy was in all caps, underlined. I need to post it on my computer. Do you have any advice for aspiring authors?

Kendra: There’s so much good advice out there, things like write every day, write even when no one’s reading, all of that. I think that my start small advice, honestly — a lot of advice feels sort of in the clouds sometimes or the everyday part often feels overwhelming. Honestly, I would say read a book on writing that you feel excited to read. My favorite one is The Memoir Project by Marion — what’s her name? Marion Smith? Marion Roach Smith? Marion Roach Smith, I think that’s right. I should look it up. It is a really beautiful — even if you don’t write memoir, there was something in reading that book that just made me go, oh. And to stop doing writing exercises. She was like, no more writing exercises. No more things to just doggy paddle around the idea. It was the good mentality perspective to get you compelled to write every day, to let other people into your writing, to pitch magazines to get your foot in the door, and that kind of thing. It was this really lovely permission giver, that book was, even though I’m not a memoir writer. She just writes about writing in such a way that was — and it’s so skinny. It’s this tiny, tiny, little book. You can finish it in like an hour or two, but so rich. That would be my advice, is to read that book. That feels like something people can do rather than write every day. They’re like, but what? That’s part of the problem. What do I write? Maybe reading Marion Roach Smith is a good place to start.

Zibby: Starting small, I love it. Thank you so much. I am so happy that I met you today through Skype and through this podcast and got to be entertained by your personality.

Kendra: Same.

Zibby: I feel like part of our brains are very similar. Hearing you say all that stuff really helped me. Thank you. I’m really, really happy we talked.

Kendra: Me too. This has been a delight. Thanks, Zibby.

Zibby: No problem. Thank you. Have a great day.