I took a spring break from my blog. I'll be honest - for these past couple of weeks, I didn't know what to write because I've been feeling very "out of order," and I felt a little like a fraud for even having this blog when I felt so out of control. Control, that's a little word that seems to cause me so much trouble!
Last Sunday at church, was the first time in a while that I felt like it was ok to just sit and be. I was allowed not to worry, not to feel guilty about all I should be doing, and didn't feel inadequate for the things I've been trying so hard to do and not succeeding at. I was reminded that most of the minutia of my life, in the grand scheme of things, isn't really a big deal. The things that ARE a big deal, well, I can't really change the outcome in any way by worrying or fixating on them. The Bible verse, "Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life?" from Luke 1225 is so true, so simple, and yet so hard to put into practice!
Like so many of you, I'm a faithful This Is Us watcher, and a couple of episodes ago, Randall and Beth were shown as young parents, playing the "what's the worst that could happen" game. I loved the reminder that even though there are always bad possibilities, the likelihood that they are going to happen is very slim, so it's not worth my energy to worry about them.
Most of us have had times in our lives where we wake up with a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs thinking about what could happen today, and sometimes we convince ourselves ahead of time that we know what the outcome will be. I've learned through experience that there are two things I definitely can NOT do and those are predict the future or go back in time. Because I can't do those things, I'm trying to make it a habit to focus only on what I can control and not what I can't. It helps me to actually write out a list of each. When I spend my time on what I can control, it makes it easier not to fret about the rest. I realize now that being out of control is ok, is natural and once I accept it, can actually be freeing!
I found that the number of things I can control is much less that what I cannot. But that's what makes it manageable! My general list of what I can control is just this:
"When I spend my time on what I can control, it makes it easier not to fret about the rest."
For everything else that is swirling around in my head... it's helping me to identify specific things that are worrying me that are beyond my control. When I physically write them down it makes me admit that they are taking up space in my head and there's really nothing at all that I can do about them. Then I can give myself permission to just forget about them! I know that there are serious worries that many of us have related to our kids, health concerns, financial pressures, etc. I'm not saying just pretend they are not there, but focus on the parts of those that you can actually do something about. It's comforting to think that there's a bigger picture than I can understand, and I'm only responsible for my piece of the puzzle.
I'd love to hear your thoughts on control - how do you preside over your own life and how do acknowledge when something is truly out of your hands?
I want to be a morning person, I really do...but, I'm not! I'm always looking for ways to make things go more quickly in the morning so I can sleep in just a little bit more. I don't have a magic list of things that create a perfect bedtime routine to prepare for a calm morning, but I do have a list of things I've learned over time to help prevent a mad rush in the morning.
1. Limit morning decisions
Either prepare for the morning the night before by completing tasks before bed or by creating a few standard choices for your regular morning tasks. For example you could lay out your clothes before you go to sleep or you could pre-define a few pair of pants and a few tops that match so it's very easy to pick out an outfit in the morning. You could make your lunch at night or you could have several items that you know you like, don't take any preparation, you know fit in your lunch box, and are all located in the came general area in your kitchen that you can mix and match into a lunch bag in the morning. The fewer decisions in the morning, the more energy you'll have during the remainder of your day.
2. Set an alarm you can't ignore (or two)
I used to be a serial snoozer. I could hit a traditional alarm clock's snooze button every 9 minutes for a good hour before finally rolling out of bed. I tried using my Fit Bit as an alternative and set multiple alarms that would vibrate until I turned them off. That worked better, but I soon learned, I can turn them off in my sleep! I think I may have found the best solution for me - I have been setting an alarm on my Google Mini and when it goes off it the morning, I have to actually speak to turn it off, "Hey Google, cancel alarm." Even if I don't get out of bed immediately, having to talk out loud seems to wake me up enough so I don't fall back asleep. I like setting backup alarms to make sure I'm out of bed in time. Additional alarms throughout the morning can also keep you on track - try an "it's time for breakfast" alarm, an "it's time to dry my hair alarm", or an "it's time to load the car" alarm. Remember all those little things you do in the morning that could be wasting time - like checking email or social media on your phone or watching the news. If you want to build those into your morning, give yourself a set time so you don't get carried away!
3. Time yourself
I'm a big proponent of timing everything you do so you know how long things really take. I used to think it took SO long to do my makeup that on most days, I'd just throw my makeup bag in my purse and do my makeup at work. Once I timed myself, I realized it takes me less roughly 5 minutes for my entire regimen and there's usually plenty of time for that in my morning! I also know how much time it takes me to take a shower with and without washing my hair (so I can sleep in a little on days I don't need to wash my hair.)
4. Do things in order (or at the same time!)
Think through everything you have to do in a morning, and figure out the most efficient order of tasks. It doesn't make sense to put moisturizer on first and then put in your contacts just like it doesn't make sense to fix your hair before putting on your pullover shirt. Also consider which things can be done at the same time. Multi-tasking isn't usually a great idea, but for some mindless tasks, it's great! For example, I get my jewelry out while I'm brushing my teeth and use my Turbie Twist towel to absorb the moisture from my wet hair while I'm doing my makeup. This is one of my favorite morning hacks because it significantly reduces the time it takes to blow dry my hair!
5. Limit the number of times you open doors and drawers
I try to only open a drawer or a door twice a morning - once to get out what I need and a second time to put those things away. I open my top bathroom vanity drawer to get out my contacts, my hairbrush, and my makeup bag. Then I close the drawer and don't open it again until I'm done with all of those items. I open the door under my vanity to get out my curling iron and/or hair dryer and hair products, and then I close it. I don't open it again until I'm ready to put those away and while I have it open I spritz myself with body spray before closing the door for the final time.
6. Put things away as you go
I like to wake up to a clear bathroom counter and leave for work with a clear bathroom counter. It allows me to start the day with a little control. When you do your makeup, try taking out all the items you will use out and set on the counter. As you use them, put them back in a makeup bag, so when you're done, everything is back in your bag and it's easy to just put it back in its place. Try a heat proof bag or container for curling irons or straighteners, so you can put them away as soon as you're done instead of leaving cords all over the place! Keep a wastebasket next to where you get ready so you can throw away cotton swabs, tissues, cotton balls, etc. as you go.
7. Empty your head
Whenever you think of something you need to do, either write it down in a place you will see before you walk out the door or set a reminder on your phone that will create a notification so you can feel confident you won't forget. If I need to take food for a carry in or return a library book or drop my car off at the repair shop, I set a reminder for early that morning so that when I look at my phone before I walk out the door, I'll see the notification. This helps me sleep better not trying to remember what I have to do in the morning. I also set reminders at times all throughout the day for things I need to buy, errands I need to run, phone calls I need to make, etc. It's nice to get them out of my head and into a system I trust.
I've said it many times before, I'm not great with time, which is why I try to come up with systems and habits to help me. I'm not going to lie and say I'm never late or I always have a calm morning, but these few tips have helped me greatly reduce the amount of mad rush mornings!
I cracked open my brand new journal on my birthday this week. My first entry is titled "38 Things I Want to Accomplish While I'm 38." Last year, I wrote down one less goal for a 37 year-old's version of this list. I made the list with various types of goals - some fun, some frivolous, some personal, some professional, some physical, some spiritual, but all just for me. I made some easy and some a real challenge. I was thrilled to mark off one of them very early in the year - I beat my husband at chess! Sometime in my first three months of being 37, I was able to check off another one - I found an appropriately sized and stylish black purse - I call that a win! I didn't buy a new shower curtain or finish reading the whole Bible, though. In fact, I only completed 20 of the 37. Let me rephrase that, I completed 20 of the 37 things I wanted to do last year - that's over half, and some of them were really big!
5 reasons you should make your own birthday goal list this year!
1. It's fun
The goals can be anything - they can be meaningful or can be purely indulgent I kept mine private so I didn't feel embarrassed about how silly or insignificant some may have seemed to others.
2. It's low pressure
This birthday goal list was in addition to areas of focus for the year and related goals, so they weren't high stakes to me. They were just for fun and some were long shots - like I wanted to get 1,000 likes on my Facebook page - I made it to 335. I'm not upset because it was just an arbitrary number and working to get there got me to where I am!
3. It provides you multiple small wins
When you create lots of small, easy to attain goals, it makes you feel good about yourself as you check them off. This gives you momentum and motivation to attack larger goals! When you make attainable goals that are split up into digestible and measurable pieces, you set your self up for success. For example, don't set a goal to "read more" instead, set a goal to read a book. That's not too hard and once you've done it, you will likely want to do it again and again.
4. It allows you to dream of your future self
It's fun to daydream about where you will be in a year. Thinking about how we want our future self to look, feel and act can be fun, but also help us to set goals to help us get there. I often think about my future self - what would my future self appreciate me doing now (like stashing a dark chocolate Dove bar in my car's console so that I find it on a day I'm starving on my drive home and unexpectedly find this treat!); how will my future self feel when I've gotten through this tough season that I'm dealing with in the present (pride, joy, relief, or will I regret how I handled it?) ; or how will my future self benefit from this thing I'm doing today (exercising, eating right, etc.) If you've never considered the concept of your future self, listen to this Happier with Gretchen Rubin podcast episode.
5. It gives you perspective and helps you give yourself grace.
Since I made this birthday goal list last year, I was able to read through what I wrote last January and reflect on why those things were important to me then. I realized some of them are no longer important to me now, and there are new things are in my life now that weren't even on my radar then. I did transfer a few of the undone items from last year to this year that I still care about. But I was also able to easily let go of some of the things I didn't accomplish. I gave myself permission to just not do them - just like that - no guilt or explanation needed!
Let us know in the comments if you make a birthday goal list this year!
I enjoyed the review and reflection process that I just went through about 2018 and how it helped me prepare for this new year. I was planning to end the exercise with a perfect, one word representation of what I wanted to be in 2019. I really wanted to wear one of those bracelets that have been in all the social media ads with the little metal disc displaying my whole annual plan distilled down into one word...but I couldn't do it!
Last year, I came up with a series of questions to ask myself that helped me define not just one word, but several areas of focus for my year. I wanted to try something different this year, but I realized that different doesn't mean better and after a few false starts, I stuck with last year's method. You can read about it and download FREE worksheets here.
This year, I was able to add a new portion to my review - I analyzed my last year by jotting down some successes - and failures - from each area of focus that I’d defined during my planning session for 2018. I was kind of rough on myself, recognizing more failures than successes. I almost stopped the review feeling like it wasn't worth doing, but then I decided to look through my calendar to see what I'd been up to. I made a list of all the cool things I'd done, and for those that were repeated (like date night, volunteering, and time with friends), I began tallying all the times I'd done them. Soon, I started feeling pretty accomplished and began to realize that some of my proudest moments weren’t ones I’d planned for. My prior year's planning and goal setting process provided me the structure to accommodate and excel at unexpected opportunities.
"...some of my proudest moments weren't ones I'd planned for. My prior year's planning and goal setting process provided me the structure to accommodate and excel at unexpected opportunities."
One thing that I had no idea would happen in 2018 when I did my planning last year was that I would dip my toe into sales through Clever Container (and be pretty successful at it!) Though this experience only lasted about 6 months - you can read about how I handled my disappointment about that here - it got me really excited about 2019! What is ahead for me that I can’t even fathom right now?? It also helped me realize that the unknown doesn’t have to be scary, it can be exhilarating! Be wary of counting on things to just fall into place, though. I really believe reflection and planning are still critical to our own success and well-being.
It doesn’t matter that January 1 has come and gone - that’s just an arbitrary date that many people use to give them a clean slate, but you can do this exercise anytime! Give it a try - ask yourself some questions about your past and your future. It is really enlightening to see what commonalities appear and how you can get laser focused on certain areas of self-improvement and set yourself up for growth in ways you can’t even imagine at this point in time.
I’ll share my 2019 areas of focus with you below, but I want to be clear that these are just categories or cues for specific goals that I will create and review throughout the year. Read about some goal setting tips here. This year I want to focus on:
I’d love to hear about your plan for this year! Were you able to come up with just one word to drive your whole year, or do you have several areas to focus on? What are you most excited about for 2019? Share with us below in the comments or join me on Facebook!
On a whim, back before I'd even had the courage to publish my first blog post, I applied to be part of a book launch team for a new productivity book from the founder of the task management software I use, Nozbe. I was thrilled when I was selected as one of approximately 100 people worldwide who would have the opportunity to review and offer suggestions for this book. At that time, I had no idea that I'd actually be quoted in the book! It's been over a year, but the book has been written, edited, and published! 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity by Michael Sliwinski is now available for purchase!! I'll give you a summary of some of the great content from this book below. Make sure to read to the end for info on how to get entered for your chance to win a copy!
The first thing you need to know about this book is that its author definitely has the authority to be writing it! I had the honor tointerview Michael Sliwinski last year and learned about why he's a true productivity expert. Click here to read the post for more background on the man who created a productivity platform that nearly half a million people use daily!
Each chapter of the book is one of the 10 steps to ultimate productivity. For each step, you will be taught why it is important, learn from some real life examples, receive tips about how to put the step into practice in your own life. There are also bonus materials that you can access online to help with your own personal productivity system.
The ten steps are:
I'm so excited for you to read this book that I'm going to give you the chance to get one for FREE! There are two ways to enter (and you can do either or both for an additional entry!) A winner will be drawn on Thursday, January 17, 2019.
I have two weeks off for the first time since before I entered the workforce (of course I'm not counting maternity leave because that is NOT vacation!) To say I'm excited is a severe understatement. Many people have asked me what I'm doing and where I'm going. My answer is nothing and nowhere - and that's by choice and why I'm thrilled! I love the holidays - the decorating, the Christmas sweaters and socks, the cooking and baking, the gift giving and the family gatherings are all fun! But just as much as I love the holidays, I love the fresh start of the new year that follows.
I have a busy life just like most of you. A wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, volunteer, employee, boss, entrepreneur, piano teacher - there are so many roles I play. I enjoy having all these varied experiences, but there is one area that I tend to neglect - ME!
This week between Christmas and New Years is one of the best times to recharge your battery. During my time off, I plan to reflect on the past year, plan for the new one, rest, relax, enjoy things I want to do, make memories with my family, declutter and purge, and reorganize. Try this quick list of tasks to help you transition from the holidays to the new year!
1. Un-decorate - I prefer to leave my Christmas decorations for a few days after December 25, but no later than the weekend after New Years Day. Once your decorations are down, you can see the new start that the new year brings.
2. Purge - after receiving Chirstmas gifts, you are more likely to be willing to part with old items around the house. I start with my kids' rooms where most of the new "stuff" from the holidays tends to end up. We do a system of 20 minutes at a time of hard core work, going through every item and nook and cranny. I have two kids so while one kid is decluttering with me in their room, the other gets some screen time. We alternate until we are done. I can't wait to complete the purging process in my own space as well - look out small appliances, your days may be numbered!
3. Organize - The kids don't totally hate the purging process,because they get to rearrange, redecorate and reorganize their room how they like. We focus on function first - where do you like to read, why is it so hard to get your dirty clothes in that type of hamper, would those drawers be easier to get to in a different spot, are you more likely to play with your action figures if they are all in one bin, etc. I also make a list of what is missing (so far the list includes a LED light for my son's closet, a poster frame, and some floating shelves.) We use Christmas money to buy any supplies needed.
4. Reflect - try the exercise I did last year of asking yourself questions about the past year to help set your focus for the new year. Look back through your calendar as a family and reminisce about all the things you did over the past year. This is a great time to review your photos and make a family photo album. Review the goals you set for yourself last year and note your progress.
5. Plan - create some new goals for yourself - make sure to make some small ones and some lofty ones! After you've chosen your planner (tips on how to do that were in last week's post), start filling in the calendar with all the dates that are set in stone. If you created monthly goals, noting them in your planner is a great way to keep them top of mind.
6. Relax - choose some things that you love to do, and make the time to do them. For me this includes taking bubble baths, reading, getting a massage or a pedicure, writing, watching TV, going to the movies, organizing (I know, I'm a geek!), playing board games, playing the piano, getting together with friends, and hanging out with my kids and husband.
By next week's post I should have finished steps 1-5 and will still be enjoying step 6! I will share with you some of my reflection and planning process next time. Happy Holidays!
As 2018 comes to a close, there are many decisions to make, but one of the biggest is which 2019 planner is best for you? I'm kidding (a little) but if not one of the most important decisions, it's definitely one of the most fun!
Planning saves time and helps us feel in control. There are many options for planning tools from a simple notebook to a pretty planner to slick digital apps. There is no perfect method for planning your days, but there several questions that you can answer to help you choose the right planner for you!
Once you've answered these basic questions, you can move on to the more detailed options based on your paper vs. digital preference.
I like a hybrid approach and use a digital calendar, digital task manager with digital reminders, as well as a paper planner. I prefer to keep personal and professional somewhat separate, but do combine them in one view. For example, on my iPhone's calendar app, I have my personal Google Calendar, my "side hustle" Google Calendar, and my work Outlook calendar overlaid on one another so I can see everything at once. For me, I want to capture time bound meetings and appointments, deadlines, and special dates like birthdays and anniversaries on a calendar and to-dos in a task list. I need a place to jot down notes and ideas, and a place to store a piece of notepaper as well. It may seem redundant to have tasks in both a digital and written format, but the physical act of writing things down helps me process and remember them better. When I transfer items from my digital task list to my physical planner during a regular planning time, it helps to cement in my mind what is truly a priority.
I am so excited that this year, I have the 5x8 size of the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley. I'd been eyeing this online for quite some time, and then a few weeks ago, a friend who knows me well surprised me with a super cool and pretty 2019 planner! I will set aside some reflection and planning time between Christmas and New Years to begin filling out this colorful notebook! Here are a few tips I've learned over the years for written planners:
Buy a special writing utensil to use with your planner. A mechanical pencil may be your best option - it's erasable, the tip will always be sharp and it won't bleed through the pages. But there's something fun about using a special pen that writes so smoothly... Just make sure to test pens on a small section of paper to make sure it doesn't bleed or smudge. Different types of paper react differently to different types of ink. Consider a couple of colors of pens/highlighters to use and make a system of what each color means. For example, if you decide to add both work and personal obligations, you may want to use one color for work and one color for personal.
Create a way to keep your place. Find a reliable bookmark, fun binder clip, or reusuable sticky note tab to mark your place in your paper planner. My planner comes with tabs for each month, but I will still want to mark which date I'm on to make it that much quicker to do my planning.
Decide how far out you will plan. Most people do well to put in the big events for the whole year on the calendar and then plan around those on a monthly or weekly basis. A quick review of your calendar and digital tools before bed allow you to write down your appointments and must dos the night before in your paper planner. This will allow you to rest easier knowing you haven't forgotten anything and that you have a solid plan for the next day.
Set a regular planning meeting with yourself and your family. My husband and I both work full time and have a significant commute, plus have some volunteer commitments, lots of parenting commitments and also appreciate some downtime. We have to have at least a weekly check in to figure out who's going to pick up the kids, what we will have for dinner, etc. This doesn't have to be a formal meeting - ours is usually after a meal and we both whip out our phones and check who has to go in early, who has to stay late, and what kid's activities are coming up that week. This allows us to plan our grocery shopping list and arrange childcare for the week ahead. We invite each other to events using our digital calendars so know what is expected of us.
I hope you can find your ideal planner in the next couple of weeks so you can start off your 2019 feeling like a planning rockstar! If you have another planner you love, please share with us in the comments.
Anger (/ˈaNGɡər/) - a strong feeling of annoyance, displeasure or hostility. I've never thought of myself as an angry person, but I've realized lately that 'strong feeling of annoyance' can begin to control me. When I use so much of my energy either thinking about why I'm angry, talking about it, or trying to stuff it down so I'm not rude, I don't have much left for the things that really need to get done. Anger also causes me to stop thinking clearly, so even if I had energy left, my quality of work would suffer.
I want to use my energy in a positive way to accomplish my goals efficiently. So how do I stop the feelings of annoyance and anger that suck up so much of that energy and cloud my thinking?
"What if you said in your head, 'na-na na-na boo-boo you can't make me mad' and created a new identity for yourself as someone who is slow to anger?"
Do you have other tips for keeping it together when you are dealing with a difficult situation or feeling angry? Some readers may appreciate the tips heading into the holidays when stress levels and frustrations tend to run high! Share with us in the comments.
Emmons, Robert A., and Michael E. Mccullough. “Counting Blessings versus Burdens: An Experimental Investigation of Gratitude and Subjective Well-Being in Daily Life.” Journal of Personality & Social Psychology, vol. 84, no. 2, 2003, pp. 377–389., doi:10.1037//0022-35126.96.36.1997.
Tracy, Brian. “Plan Ahead and Increase Productivity.” Brian Tracy's Self Improvement & Professional Development Blog, Brian Tracy International, 22 Sept. 2017, www.briantracy.com/blog/time-management/plan-ahead-and-increase-productivity/.
“I have so much to do, that sometimes I don’t even know where to start!” How many times of you heard yourself say those words? I know that’s how I’ve been feeling the past week. When we have unexpected things happen, our responsibilities don’t just stop. Things keep piling up and eventually there is this big bunch of things to do and you almost feel paralyzed because you feel like no one thing is going to make a big enough dent to actually be considered a priority. In order to know where to start, you have to know ALL that there is to do. That’s why it’s important to have everything that you need to do in one place, and then you can more easily decide what needs to be done first.
I like digital tools, but before technology can help, I have to know what I’m going to put in that tool and how I am going to structure it. I was feeling really out of control last week, so I did what always calms me down – got out a pencil and paper and start dumping my brain onto the page. If you try this, don’t worry about it being pretty or cohesive or anyone else understanding what in the world you’re writing. It’s so freeing to get what’s in your head onto paper, and then you can actually SEE all the things you need to do. Unless you are super-human, it’s nearly impossible to figure out what to do and when if everything you have to do is floating around in your head all at once.
If you’ve read the book The One Thing by Gary Keller, you know that he says there is always one thing that’s more important than everything else at that very moment in time. Sometimes it’s so hard to figure out what that one thing is and it’s so much easier to just do busywork and make yourself feel like you’re being productive when in fact you’re doing nothing! A good example of this is spending the entire day working out of your email inbox just responding to messages and taking care of brief little tasks, and then putting other, bigger projects aside for “later”. If you do that type of triage all the time, “later” never comes, and those big tasks begin to create an overwhelming pile.
I’m trying to unbury myself and am doing this in my personal life using Trello. It’s a free app that I use on my laptop and on my iPhone where you can create different teams (which I’m using as areas of my life) and within those teams, you can create as many project boards as you want. These are kind of like digital bulletin boards where you can create lists and tasks. Trello gives you a visual representation of all of your to-dos and lets you drag and drop them where they go. I took my handwritten notes and figured out there were several areas of my life: Me, Family/Friends, Household, Volunteer, Side Hustles, and Work. I use a different task management system at work called Nozbe. Some people like to use the same system at home and at work, but I prefer to keep them separate, so I decided for these purposes to nix the work category in my Trello app.
"Don't worry about your system being perfect - an imperfect system is better than no system at all."
I started getting so excited about my new system that I spent a lot of time designing it, thinking, “should I have a separate areas for my blog, piano lessons and Clever Container sales or should they all be in one area called Side Hustles?” I realized I was going down a dangerous path spending more time designing a system than using it! I’m giving myself permission to start where I’m at and improve as I go. That’s one of the things I like about Trello – it’s really easy to drag and drop tasks to different lists, put things in different order, and move boards to different teams.
Once you get going and have all your responsibilities out of your head and in your chosen system, give yourself time to review all tasks and decide what is the “one thing” is that will move you forward, and what the next one is, and the next, etc. Consider assigning due dates and reminders. If you have projects that you repeat, create a template so you can copy and repeat what works best for you. Don’t worry about your system being perfect – an imperfect system is better than no system at all!
If you work in an office, you know how difficult it is to avoid distraction! There are the conversations with co-workers that you want to be part of and then there are conversations that you have no choice but to overhear. "Drive-by" meetings (when someone drops by and says, "do you have a minute" and to avoid being rude, you say, "sure") eat into well laid plans for our day. Urgent issues inevitably come up on your busiest day, and you may get invited to yet another meeting that doesn't really pertain to you. Sometimes distractions can be something as slight as someone's idea of a soothing playlist, a squeaky noise coming from the vent, or the temperature being too hot or too cold. If you work at home, distractions, though different, are still there. The cat, the laundry, the repairman - the list goes on and on. It's amazing that we accomplish anything, right?!
The fact is, there are always going to be distractions. We can have a plan for an ideal day, but unless we build in some flexibility and learn to go with the flow, we will end up frustrated and unproductive. I've worked in many different environments over the years - in a cubicle in an open office, in several offices with doors with varying amounts of people nearby, at a desk in a wide open area, and even at home. Each present their own challenges, but there are a few universal tips that help to keep me focused.
1. Set low expectations
This may sounds strange, but don't make a huge list of all the things you want to accomplish in a day only to be disappointed in yourself when you can't complete them all. Instead, identify your Must Do's - usually this will be 2-3 things that HAVE to get done during the day. The time these take will vary, so if your Must Do's for the day are very short tasks, you can have more or if they are labor intensive, maybe just pick one. If you get through all of these, then you'll feel like a rock star and everything else you accomplish will be gravy!
2. Meet with yourself
Create a MEeting (a meeting with yourself) to do your most important work. Go so far as to schedule this on your calendar so that others don't think you're free all day when in fact you need several hours to complete your critical tasks. Use some of this time to plan and identify your must do's for the following day.
3. Say no (or at least not now)
Learn to decline meetings that don't pertain to you or ask for someone who is already attending to fill you in. Be bold when that "drive-by" meeting request comes to you. I know you feel like a big meany, but saying, "I don't have time right now, but how about 2:30 p.m.?" won't make anyone hate you!
4. Plan for solitude
If you really don't want to be bothered, let others know the time frame where you'll have your nose to the grindstone. Send an email to your colleagues who are prone to stopping by to let them know you will be working on a project from this time to that time and will only be available for urgent matters. Consider setting your out of office assistant on your email with a similar message and setting your instant message status to unavailable. Configure your phone to go straight to voicemail and even customize the outgoing message. Hang a sign on your closed door (if you have one) or on your cubicle wall that says, "Working hard, please knock if it's urgent." Very few people will knock!
"...you're not being a meany, you're protecting your own productivity."
5. Plug your ears
Don't actually stick your fingers in your ears, but use ear buds or headphones! You don't even have to listen to music, just put those earbuds in to instantly block out noise and trick people into not bothering you. Most people will think twice about tapping you on the shoulder if you have ear buds in. Again, you're not being a meany, you're protecting your own productivity. If you can work with music in the background, find a playlist designed for focus and jam out!
6. Plan to waste time
We all need a break and some socialization. Plan for small periods of time to do this throughout the day. Get to work a few minutes early on Monday to chat about the weekend with your coworkers, or plan a lunch date or a break at the same time as the people you most want to talk to. Get up and move every hour - even a bathroom break counts. Drink lots of water and the bathroom breaks will take care of themselves! A quick walk outside does wonders for your concentration when you get back to your desk.
7. Keep track of your time
Write down the time you start and stop each task. For me, when I'm being timed, I'm more efficient. I also learn how long it really takes me to do things so that I can be more realistic with myself. I'm not going to get through my email inbox in 5 minutes, but there are other tasks that will fit into that short of a time frame. I'm also less likely to waste time when it is written down on a piece of paper. It also helps me look back and give myself grace when I don't get my Must Do's complete because I can see that I spent 5 hours in meetings, 2 hours dealing with urgent and unplanned tasks, leaving not a lot of time to get those things I wanted to do complete. Consider using the Pomodoro technique (25 minutes of deep work, a 5 minute break, repeat) I wrote in depth about this in a previous post.
If time is really dragging for you, write down the time you'll be at work down in 30 minute increments (ex. 8:30 a.m. - 9:00 a.m.; 9:00 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.; 9:30 a.m. - 10:00 a.m., etc.) and mark them off as the time passes. You know that little high you get when you check an item off of a to-do list? You get that same feeling for marking the time off, but you also get the feeling that you better kick it into high gear because your available time is waning.
8. Get creative with your schedule and workspace
If you work in an environment where you can control your schedule in any way, use this to your benefit! Sometimes coming in 30 minutes before everyone else (or just that one person who talks so much) can allow you to get as much done as you would have in three times that long during your regularly scheduled time. Take your lunch opposite of those in your vicinity to allow for some quiet time while the others take their lunch. Try working in an alternate space, like a conference room or vacant office, if you have something to complete that takes high focus. Consider a working lunch away from the office. If you have the option to work from home, give it a try. Many people find it much less distracting at home, while others need the structure of an office to keep them on task.
Give these 8 tips a try and let me know if they help you. I'm not going to lie and say that I can always stay distraction-free or perfectly productive, but I have learned that these tricks do help! Do you have other tips to share? Please post in the comments.
Vacations are supposed to be fun...right? As a bit of perfectionist, I used to find it hard to relax and enjoy time with my family on vacation because I was so focused on everything being just right. I'd plan a jam-packed schedule, stage the perfect pictures, and get mad if everyone wasn't having a good time. In the summer of 2016, we took a vacation to Atlanta, Georgia and had a fantastic time! When I got home, I made a list of dos and don'ts from our trip, so the next vacation could be just as fun. The next time I got ready to plan a vacation, I re-read that list to help make that trip just as good as the last. Now every time we get home from vacation, I add to the list. I now have two years of tips from big and little trips. Not only is it helpful to plan future low-stress trips, it's also a lot of fun to reread the list and reminisce about past vacations.
Getting there and back
If you're flying:
If you're driving
Once you've arrived
I hope some of these tips will help your next family vacation be a little more organized! Consider making your own list of travel dos and don'ts. My list has helped me not to forget things, plan for the unexpected, and have a better plan so I can relax and have fun! If you have more tips, please share in the comments.
Almost three months have passed since we turned our calendars to 2018 - 1/4 of the year is over! Can you believe it? At the end of last year, many of us reviewed the past 12 months and made a plan for the New Year. My process included setting areas of focus and then defining goals related to those. (Follow the links to previous posts for details.) I really think identifying broad areas of focus first is critical to your success. Some people do a word for the year, while others (like me) pick several. If you skip this step and just jump into making goals, they are often too broad and it becomes next to impossible to determine what actions to take to meet them. After identifying areas of focus, you can intentionally set several small, bite-sized goals within each category.
Though it's ideal to check in with yourself weekly (or at the very least, monthly), a quarterly review is key to assuring the direction you're going is the right one by making sure you're on track with your goals and tweaking them based on new information you've gained over the past three months. If you work in a job where you monitor a budget, you know how important quarterly reports are. They help you gauge how you're doing; give you insight into how well you planned; and allow you to make projections about the rest of the year. We can use these same concepts with our personal goals.
How are you doing?
Before pulling out the goals you wrote for yourself at the beginning of the year, simply write down your areas of focus and then take a few minutes to write down what you've done (or haven't done) in each area. It's interesting to see what stands out to us before looking at the specific goals we cranked out during the first week of January.
I wrote a few lines in my journal about each of my 2018 areas of focus (in alphabetical order so I can remember them):
Next, I read through my journal for the year so far. I'm not the kind of person who often uses 'journal' as a verb or keeps a regular and detailed account of my inner most thoughts and feelings, but what I have learned is that writing things down helps me process them and makes me feel a little lighter after putting them down on paper. I don't worry about it being neat or formatted, and many times my journal is just full of lists - what I need to do today, blog post ideas, home improvement projects, etc. I recently started making lists of 'wins,' and this is quite satisfying and has really helped me focus on the positive, which is sometimes hard for me to do because the negative is just so much louder! It's kind of cool to be able to look back at your wins - it shows you where your focus has been and gives you a snapshot of what really matters to you.
After this review, I pulled out the completed goal setting worksheet I did in January and read through it. Boy was I ambitious!! I had great ideas, and I have made some real progress, but there's still a long way to go! I suggest noting your progress (or lack thereof) right on your original goal worksheet. Pat yourself on the back for your successes!
How well did you plan?
After reading your high level thoughts, reviewing your journal, and noting your progress toward your original goals, you may have noticed that some of your goals don't really make sense anymore - and that's ok! Things change, you change, so your goals can change. Ask yourself five questions:
With all the information you've gained from the review so far, I suggest rewriting your goals remembering to make them specific, measurable, actionable, realistic and time related. It's ok to have long range goals, but give yourself milestones or mini-goals so you can see progress. Set some expectations for yourself, because expectation is powerful. I recently began listening to the NPR podcast, Invisibilia. There was a very interesting episode about the effect others' expectations have on us. It got me thinking about how important our own expectations are for ourselves. I think it's really powerful to expect greatness from yourself - however you define that. Make some predictions for yourself about what you will have accomplished by the time you do this review again in three months. Write down at least one statement beginning with "In three months, I will have..." In three months, I will have lost 10 pounds; in three months, I will have made $XX in my business; in three months, I will have read 6 books; etc. You likely have goals related to these, like "walk 10,000 steps a day" or "make three contacts each week with new prospects" or "read 30 minutes before bed each night" that will help you realize your expectation. Review those "In three months, I will have..." statements next quarter - I bet you'll be pleasantly surprised with the outcome!
This quarterly review may seem like a lot of work - but it's the fun part of all your efforts - seeing the fruits of your labor! It's also important so we don't continue on the wrong path. A few months ago when my old phone was on the fritz, my GPS stopped working reliably. I was on the way to an event, and I was relying on my phone's GPS turn-by-turn directions to get me where I was going. Instead of turning around when I had the first suspicion I was not on the right track, I just kept following what my GPS told me to do until I saw a sign that I was nearing an entirely different city than I was aiming for. I turned around and it took me more than twice as long as it should have to reach my destination. It's so much easier to adjust your course when you've gone just a little out of your way than it is to wait for the obvious signs that you are far, far away from where you should be. Check in with yourself and your goals often, and save yourself from having to do a U-turn!
Rossin, Hanna, and Alex Spiegel. “How to Become Batman.” Invisibilia, NPR, 23 Jan. 2015, www.npr.org/programs/invisibilia/378577902/how-to-become-batman.
Hi, my name is Claire, and I'm a list maker. Here's a list of some of my confessions about being a list maker:
Are there more list makers out there? Considering the massive amount of options available for both digital and analog list making tools, I don't think I'm alone! Several months ago I did a poll on Facebook about digital vs. paper tools, and I was surprised by how many people preferred paper! There are many advantages to paper: it's accessible and affordable, and there's research that writing things down actually helps us process and remember written material better than digital. In a study done by researchers at Princeton University and UCLA Los Angeles, it was discovered that students who took handwritten notes remembered facts and comprehended subject matter better than students who typed their notes. Now, making a to-do list isn't the same as listening to a lecture, but when you write something down, you do process it differently. On the flip side, there are many advantages to digital tools including the ability to edit and reorder tasks without having to start from scratch. Many digital tools also allow you to categorize tasks, assign due dates, set reminders, and even share or delegate tasks. So, what's the best answer? I think it's a little bit of both! I like to start and finish with paper with a digital solution sandwiched in between. Here's my current process:
A brain dump is a great way to keep your mind clear and your thoughts organized. Just write everything in your head down on a piece of paper without thinking about order or dependencies or prerequisites - you can connect and organize your thoughts later. One option for a brain dump that I tried just this week is putting each idea on a sticky note. When your brain is emptied, you can then organize your sticky notes on your wall into categories or chronological order. This idea is explained by blogger, podcaster, and entrepreneur, Pat Flynn, as it relates to writing a book, but it can easily be used for list making or project planning. Don't do a brain dump once and think you're done - this needs to be done regularly. I like to do it every Sunday so I can start the week with a clear mind.
Digitize (or at least categorize)
Now that I have everything I know I need to do or remember either written down or stuck to the wall, I add it to my digital system. If it's an actual to-do item, I add it to the task management program I use, Nozbe. (If you missed it, check out the recent post where I interviewed the founder and CEO of Nozbe!) The key is to categorize the tasks in a way that make sense to you. It could be by project, by due date, by the tool you need to do the task, etc. Though I think it's easier to do this in a digital system, you could do it on paper if you don't mind rewriting your list often. Tasks that have defined time frames, like an appointment, should go on a calendar. Again, my preference is digital so I can access it on the go, but you could go old school and use a paper calendar if you prefer. If it's something that I just need for reference later, I either file it in physical files or add it to a digital system like Evernote. A great example of this is when I wrote down in a brain dump that I needed new makeup but I couldn't remember the brand or shade I liked. I added "buy makeup" to my digital to-do list, but I also added a picture of the front and back of each type of makeup I use to a note in Evernote, so when I am at the store, I can pull up my app and be sure to get exactly what I know I like! Regardless if you go digital or stay analog, it is necessary to maintain your system with regular reviews so you can trust your process includes everything you need to remember and nothing you don't!
Daily Written List
Finally, we come full circle to pen and paper! Each day, I physically make a list of the items from my digital tools that I need to do that day. You might think, "why not skip the whole digital middle section?" If I don't go through that process, I end up with one giant list that includes tasks from all sorts of different projects and with various due dates. My digital system makes it easy for me to filter through my tasks so I can choose appropriate ones for the day.
There are three keys to making a daily written list:
Making your list the night before gets things out of your head so you can sleep better, which will help you be more productive the next day. Making your list time-bound helps you to stay on track throughout the day. There are certain markers in your day that HAVE to happen at a certain time or before or after another task. Put those in, and then you know how much time you have to work on your other to-do list items. Making it realistic is probably the most important part! Overestimate how long it takes to do things so you can actually accomplish your daily goals. Limit the number of big tasks to around three. Nobody ever got mad at themselves for getting everything on their list done!
I try to make my daily list right before I go to bed - sometimes in bed with my nightlight. I look at my digital calendar first and then my digital task manager. I fill in everything I'm going to need to do the next day from the time I wake up to the time I go to bed. I only put times next to the things that are on the calendar or relate to a goal I have about how long I'll spend on a certain task, and I also specify what time I'll get up or go to bed. Throughout the day, I reference my list to keep myself on track. If I can't get something completed, I just highlight it; if something gets cancelled, I draw a wavy line through it. When I make my list for the next day, I look back at my highlighted items to make sure they don't get forgotten. I also make sure to continue to add and mark off items in my digital tools on a daily basis.
For all you fellow list makers out there, I'd love to hear your comments about your system and any tips or tricks you have for keeping everything straight! Happy list making!
Eck, Allison. “For More Effective Studying, Take Notes With Pen and Paper.” PBS, Public Broadcasting Service, 3 June 2014, www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/next/body/taking-notes-by-hand-could-improve-memory-wt/.
SmartPassiveIncome. “How to Write a Book - The Secret to a Super Fast First Draft.”YouTube, YouTube, 6 Feb. 2015, www.youtube.com/watch?v=nWoYHAwzcpY.
Many of you will have some vacation time in the next couple of weeks, so this is a great time to finish up planning for next year. In the last post, I shared how I chose my areas of focus for 2018. It's great to have a word or words that you can keep at the top of your mind for the year, but it is difficult to make any real change without specific and measurable goals related to those areas of focus.
Goal setting can be an overwhelming endeavor, so working within a framework will help you to create goals that you will actually want to work to achieve! Back in 1981 the S.M.A.R.T. goal was born (and I don't think it's a coincidence that's also the year I was born...) George Doran authored the article, "There's a S.M.A.R.T. way to write management goals and objectives." in the November 1981 issue of Management Review.
The acronym S.M.A.R.T originally stood for:
S: Specific - target a specific area for improvement
M: Measurable - quantify or at least suggest an indicator of progress
A: Assignable - specify who will do it
R: Realistic - state what results can be realistically achieved given the available resources
T: Time related - specify when the result(s) can be achieved
Over the years, this has been tweaked, stretched, and molded to help people set not only business and professional goals, but personal ones as well. One common edit (and one that I find helpful) is to change the A word to "achievable" or "actionable."
So how does this work in real life? First, follow the spirit of this framework without getting caught up in doing it the "right" way so you don't fall victim to planning your planning without ever actually planning anything! Don't miss the free printable goal setting worksheet at the end of this post!
To set S.M.A.R.T. goals of your own, first take the areas of focus that you established previously and make one or more goals related to each. Here's a couple of real-life examples on how I put this into practice during my 2018 planning.
Area of Focus: Sleep
S - Specific: I will get at least 7 hours of sleep on nights before workdays to improve my health, mood and energy level.
M - Measurable: I will wear my FitBit to bed and review my sleep logs each week.
A - Actionable: I will set a bedtime alarm to remind me when to get ready for bed
R - Realistic: I would love to get 10 hours of sleep, but I know that with all my responsibilities, that can't happen on a regular basis. I worked backwards from the time I have to get up to be at work on time to determine a realistic number. I also know that weekends are different than weekdays, so I'm focusing on nights before workdays.
T - Time related: From now until the end of January, I will set a bedtime and review my sleep logs to determine if I'm getting enough sleep. In February, I will adjust my bedtime if needed. I will do this process each month.
Area of Focus: Steps
S - Specific: I will get at least 7,500 steps 5 days per week.
M - Measurable: I will wear my FitBit to track my steps and alert me to be active.
A - Actionable: I will change the goal on my FitBit app, I will park as far away as I can in the parking lot, take the stairs and walk on the treadmill.
R - Realistic: I will lower my step goal to 7,500 (as opposed to the current 10,000) so that I have a better chance of achieving the daily goal giving me momentum to meet it on a regular basis. I'd like to try to crush that goal sometimes, but want to keep it lower so on days that I'm in the car for my 2 hour commute and at my desk for 8 hours and come home with a pitifully low step count, that I don't feel like "what's the point, I might as well just sit on the couch" and instead think, "I can walk on the treadmill while I watch HGTV and get those extra steps!"
T - Time related: Starting in January, I will look at my step count weekly. In February, I will determine if I need to change my goal.
I'm not a goal setting expert, and it's very possible that I got the T (time related) and the M (measurable) mixed up or didn't make my S specific enough, but who cares?! What matters is that I thought through what I want to achieve, why and how I'm going to go about it and have at least one action that I'm going to do to get started. Download the goal setting worksheet, and give it a try yourself! I'd love to hear from you about other goal setting tips that have worked for you. Leave a comment below or contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Turn over a new leaf, make a fresh start, begin with a clean slate- - all of these are ways to express an opportunity to improve our lives by recognizing a point in time to begin that improvement. The classic way this is done is through New Year's Resolutions.
Research shows that most people's New Year's Resolutions fail by the second week of February. Why is this? Is it because we are failures? That's how I used to feel! Why did I have so little willpower, and why couldn't I achieve my goals? After years of February failures, I finally realized I'd been making the WRONG resolutions! Last year I assessed all of my previous resolutions and determined which I had kept the longest and what they had in common. I noticed that I was more apt to stick to resolutions I made as positive statements. An example would be making a goal to eat more vegetables rather than one not to eat sugary foods. I also found that when I made goals that focused on others, I had an easier time meeting them. Lastly, I realized that when resolutions were related to my priorities and not what I thought OTHERS expected of me, there was a much better chance that they would last!
In December of 2016, with all of that information, I looked back at the year to see what I'd struggled with and decided what I could do in the coming year to truly make an impact on my life. Instead of a resolution, in 2017, I chose a focus that I could come back to throughout the year. It was both singular and broad - it was "time." You can read a previous post about some ways I worked on improving my grasp on time.
The year flew by, and it's time to do it all over! I just completed a short personal retreat where I went through this process again, but this time in a little more formalized way. It was a refreshing and rejuvenating day away where I reflected on the past year and identified how I wanted to approach the new year. I encourage you to find some time where you can be alone, away from your house if possible, to go through this process. I'd recommend an entire day if you can manage it (you deserve it!) I wanted to share what I did - - this isn't a magic formula, but it was enjoyable and gave me clarity about the coming year. The rules are simple: it's all about YOU and you must be honest with yourself.
I came up with 12 questions that I asked myself to get to the heart of what was important to me. I took my time and hand wrote my answers thoughtfully. I took some breaks for things like a massage, dinner, and Christmas shopping to keep it fun! I felt no judgement because there was no one to ask for opinions or to read my answers - except for me. After I'd completed my answers, I did a little analysis to find the common themes and ranked those commonalities to help me determine what I wanted to focus on for 2018. If you'd like to try this yourself here are the questions:
1. What did I accomplish this year that made me feel proud?
2. What made me happy this year?
3. What caused me stress this year?
4. What made me feel successful this year?
5. What am I disappointed that I didn't do this year?
6. What do I regret doing this year?
7. What could happen next year that would make me happy?
8. What could happen next year that would make me feel successful?
9. If my wildest dreams came true next year, what would it look like?
10. What would my fantasy self accomplish next year?
11. If money were no object, what would I do next year?
12. If I didn't care what others thought, what would I do next year?
Download the Focus Setting Worksheet to help with this process.
When you've completed the exercise, it's time to choose your areas of focus for the year. Make it easy to remember by distilling them down to one word each. Add some whimsy by making them start with the same letter, rhyme, or all have the same number of letters - - or if whimsy isn't your thing, that's ok too - just say it like it is. I like using one word each because there can be multiple meanings which means multiple opportunities to succeed. Write your words somewhere prominent so that you can review them regularly.
My words for 2018:
The next step is to create measurable goals for each of these areas of focus and plan action steps to achieve them. I'll explore goal creation in the next post - check back next week! I hope that you find this process for defining your areas of focus for 2018 helpful. I'd love to hear if this worked for you and what word or words you chose for the year. Please share with us in the comments!
When I was learning to drive, the thing that made me the most anxious was other drivers waiting behind me. I mean, they were obviously judging my driving and everything about me! I disliked being on a two-lane road behind a slow car that I was too scared to pass and having a big truck riding my bumper, likely cursing at me for being a scaredy cat. I despised needing to parallel park and having a car waiting because they couldn’t pass until I was successfully in the spot. And worst of all, I hated being at an intersection where I needed to turn left, and there was a car, or God forbid, a line of cars waiting behind me.
I remember one of the first times I was driving with my dad in the passenger’s seat, and I was waiting to turn left onto a four lane highway. The traffic was spaced just right so there was never a big enough gap that my 16 year-old self felt it was safe to dart to the median. After a few false starts and some brake slamming, my dad said something that, in hindsight, was one of the wisest things he’s said so far. He said, “Just wait, you’re not going to have to sit here forever. It will eventually be the right time to turn.” He gave me permission to be cautious and wait until I felt safe and confident in my decision to cross the road. There have been many times in my 20 years of driving, that I’ve been waiting for a left turn when I have ignored the person honking behind me and just paused and said to myself, “You won’t have to sit here forever.” I wonder how many accidents or close calls this has helped me avoid?
When I think back to times in my life that I felt the most out of control and craved order, I was usually at a crossroads and needing to make a turn. Quick decision making has never been my strength. I am an information gatherer, and after I have a lot of information, I need to analyze it. Then I need to talk to others about it, then think about their perspectives and perhaps gather more information. More information requires more analysis and more discussion, and soon, it becomes a cycle that usually results in a delayed decision. I used to feel like this was a fault, but recently I realized that was not the case. I began picturing myself in a car getting ready to cross lanes of traffic to turn in a brand new direction. I wouldn’t turn when there was something barreling down the road at me, would I? Of course not! I would turn when the coast was clear, and I felt confident I could do so safely - when I was focused and had my full attention on the road. Sometimes the coast wouldn’t be clear for quite some time, and it would feel uncomfortable having others wait on me, potentially judging my driving skills. Going in a new direction isn’t something you should do immediately when you think of it. You should prepare, note the “traffic” in your life, and just be patient and wait until the time is right regardless what the others on your path think. Almost as important as choosing the right time to start your trip across the road is to follow through. Once you decide it’s your time, you’d better gun it and get out of that intersection! Hesitation or going in reverse could cause just as much damage as not even looking to see what was coming.
"Just wait, you're not going to have to sit here forever."
One example in my own life when I applied this was when I wanted to have a more flexible job when I was preparing for my second child. I didn’t just quit my job when I got the whim that I’d like to do something with a flexible schedule. I researched, I chose what I wanted to do, I talked about it with the people I loved, I took classes to get my real estate license, and I began saving money to have six months of expenses covered in case I made no money at first! I had a few ‘cars’ behind me questioning why I wasn’t moving or why I was even at that intersection, but I waited until the time was right and then accelerated. In the end, did I make a wrong turn in that situation? Maybe, but I’d much rather have done that and have the option to turn around rather than have crashed by making the turn too soon.
As we near the end of the year, this is the ideal time evaluate your own "traffic report" and map out next year. If and when you think you may need to make some sort of change in your life. Give yourself permission to wait at that intersection until the time is right and you feel confident in your decision to go for it. But be aware that sometimes the right time to move might be right away, so make sure you have your full attention on the road ahead so that you don’t miss an opportunity. No one likes it when they realize they should have just put the pedal to the metal and made the left turn when they had the chance rather have waited and then sit there and say to themselves, “Why didn’t I turn?! I could have gone six times, and now I’m stuck here.” And don't forget, there's no shame in making a U-turn if the landmarks are telling you that you are going in the wrong direction.
Thanks, Dad, for the tiny nugget of wisdom so many years ago that has helped me to accept my questioning nature, to make better decisions, and to perhaps be a little bit better driver!
It's party day, I have 30 people coming over, and I want to have my whole house sparkling. For some reason, I think it's a great idea to also do my entire week's worth of laundry because I'm feeling like a superstar hostess. A couple hours before the party, I realize that I forgot to clean the toilet, we need to set up all the tables, I'm a sweaty mess and still need to take a shower, AND I have a mountain of clean laundry all over my living room. I begin barking orders at my son and snapping at my husband to do what I think is important instead of whatever silly thing they thought they should be doing. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law arrive earlier than I expected, and as the minutes tick down to party time, I throw all my notions of appearing to have it all together out the window as I frantically reveal to my sister-in-law all the places in my bedroom where clean laundry can be stuffed out of sight! I finally jump in the shower and emerge from the bathroom with wet hair and no makeup as the rest of the guests arrive. True story - Labor Day party 2010(ish).
A very similar version of this story would happen almost every time we had friends and family over for the next several years. I love to host parties at our house, and we have several a year. I started getting tired of being a grouch (or even mean) during party prep, feeling unprepared, and rushing around at the last second. As the years have gone by things have improved, and at this summer's 10th Annual Labor Day party, my whole family was laying around resting a couple hours before guests were supposed to arrive. I started thinking about what was different this year so I could recreate the calm and prepared feeling I had! Here are the 10 steps I came up with for planning an organized party! We just got through Thanksgiving, and though I didn't host this year, we still did plenty of cooking and planning, and these steps did not fail me - it was a great and relaxing day!
1. Set realistic pre-party project goals and prioritize them!
The reason we started our Labor Day party tradition was because we had several large outdoor projects we wanted to get done and thought if we had a firm deadline like a party at our house, we'd be more likely to actually complete them. It worked, but it was a ton of work and very stressful! That year we rebuilt walls on an outbuilding, put on siding, installed an overhead door, painted some doors, stained our deck, built a fire pit, and did some landscaping. I'm tired even writing all of that!
In the years since, I've learned to set smaller, more realistic project goals and to determine up front which ones must get done and which ones would be nice to get done. Of the optional projects, it's important to prioritize them so you don't start them all and finish none! It's also necessary for my husband and I to discuss the priorities together because we don't typically agree on what should be done first (maybe we're unique, but I don't think so.) You want the projects that don't get done to be the ones you care about the least and/or the ones people won't even notice aren't complete.
2. Lower your standards.
You have to cut yourself some slack to stay sane (and not yell at everyone in your path.) There are some things that aren't going to get done, and honestly, no one is going to notice. In the past, I wanted to have potted flowers on the steps by the door. Since I'm terrible at keeping plants alive, if I have an event that I want flowers for, I have to buy them just a day or two ahead to make sure they live long enough. For my last party, I forgot to buy flowers ahead of time, so a couple hours before the party, I looked at the existing dead flowers in the pots, considered driving to the store to get fresh, living flowers, but then just decided to stick the pots with dead plants in the garage. No one would know that I had even intended to have potted flowers.
I've also had several parties where I didn't mop my floors (gasp!) Mopping is one of those jobs that no only do I hate, but it holds up progress for everything else because no one can walk on the floor while it dries. If anyone noticed my unmopped kitchen, they didn't mention it, and I don't think I lost any friends over it.
I gave up the idea that I had to make everything I serve. I'm now ok with buying prepared foods if it's quicker, easier and tastes just as good.
3. Start preparations early and keep running lists.
The first part of party prep is to pick a date and send out invitations. I think the sweet spot for sending invitations is about a month in advance. It's long enough to get on people's calendars and allow you time to get ready, but not so long that it gets lost in the someday syndrome (someday I'll plan that/do that/go there - - and then it never happens.)
Once the party is on the calendar, it's time to start a few lists. They don't have to be fancy, you can use good old paper or if you prefer an electronic version, my choices would be Google Sheets or Evernote. Depending on the type of party, your lists may vary, but I usually have the following:
4. Ask people to bring things
Just as I discussed in one of my very first posts, asking for help is one of the key ways to really live a life in order. I used to want to do everything myself to give the illusion that I was the proverbial "hostess with the mostest," but after a few of the clean-laundry-stuffing-into-the-closet incidents, I realized that doing it all myself, while still working full time, being a decent mom and wife, and maintaining my sanity, just wasn't possible. Now, I almost always ask guests to bring food, drinks, supplies, chairs, tables, or even come a little early to help with final preparations. I've never had someone say no or not come because I asked for their help, so I will keep it up!
5. Do as much the day before as possible.
The less you have to do on party day, the better! Having your lists made will help you to identify what can possibly be done ahead of time like cooking, cleaning, and set up. We used to get up really early on the day of a party and start cooking only to be exhausted by the time guests arrived. My husband, who does most of the cooking, decided one year to try smoking the pork the day ahead and then warm it in the oven the day of. We both had reservations about how it would taste, but it turned out just as good and as a bonus our house didn't smell like a BBQ pit!
I used to think that I couldn't clean ahead of time because it would just get dirty again, so I'd wait til the day of to dust, vacuum, clean the bathrooms, and mop. I'd often run out of time and either do the cleaning half way or not at all. It's better to do it ahead of time and risk a little dust settling rather than not do it at all (unless not doing it at all is good enough - - see lower your standards above!)
This gives us plenty of time, even if some guests are early, and it makes me feel in control of the day!
6. Get yourself (and your family) ready before you think you should.
As I would scurry around and yell at my family while getting the house ready, I would more often than not forget to get myself ready. I finally realized that I could handle some house details while people were still arriving, but it was really rude to be completely MIA because I was showering and getting dressed and ready. Now, I set an alarm at least 2 hours before the start of the party to stop everything and make sure the whole family is presentable. This gives us plenty of time, even if some guests are early, and it makes me feel in control of the day!
7. Have specific jobs for your kids.
My kids get really excited when we have a party, and they usually actually WANT to help. They have certain things they like to do more than others, but if I give them small, manageable jobs, they are much more likely not to whine and complain than if I say things like "clean your room." That is overwhelming and doesn't give them a specific task to accomplish. Encouraging the kids to help with getting ready for parties is how a little game we call "Fun Things and Jobs" was invented. I'll talk about this system detail in a future post!
8. Remember a later start gives you more time.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Consider having an evening party instead of an afternoon one or if you already had it planned for evening, start at 6 p.m. instead of 5 p.m. - voilà - a free hour!
9. Don't cook any meals on party day except for what you're serving at the party.
Don't add to your stress by trying to cook anything additional on the day of a party. Either plan for take out or very simple meals like cereal or cold meat sandwiches. McDonald's drive-through is always my favorite option on days like these - no prep and very easy cleanup!
10. Have at least one room that you can close off if needed.
No matter how much planning has taken place or how organized you are, life happens, and there are going to be things that may not get done (like laundry..) Choose a room in your house with a door that you can toss items into if needed and close the door - out of sight out of mind!
I hope these tips will help as you prepare for your upcoming Holiday parties. Keep in mind that what you and your guests will remember is the company and the conversation, not how clean or perfect your house looked! Share any other tips you have for an organized party in the comments.
My husband has a superpower - his awareness of time. He can be away from anything that would give him a clue to what time of day it is for hours, and still, if someone asked him what time it was, he’d be correct within 10 minutes. Always - I’ve never seen him fail at this - seriously. He also has an uncanny ability to estimate correctly how long it’s going to take to drive somewhere or complete a task. I’m so envious because time is my nemesis! I regularly underestimate how long it takes to do things and sometimes get lost in a task and lose track of how much time has passed. I live 5 minutes away from a different time zone, so you'd think I would have become an expert by now at converting time, but I honestly still often Google time zone conversions. And my brain nearly exploded back when Indiana adopted Daylight Savings Time. Since we "fell back" last night, my time deficiency reared it's ugly head again. I literally made a chart to figure out how it would work!
It really bothers me that I struggle with time awareness - especially since I pride myself in being organized and a planner. For the past couple of years, I have chosen a word or two to focus on for the year. This year, I chose “time.” After contemplating what I wanted to improve on and how I could do that, I realized something. My natural inability to be aware of or estimate time has actually been what has improved my organizational, planning and time management skills. I think because I crave control over time, and can’t do it naturally, I’ve had to come up with systems to do so. This allows me to complete a project by a deadline, fit a lot of tasks into one day, develop plans to assure all bases are covered when I have multiple projects going on at once.
One way I’ve started improving on time awareness is so simple - just a little mantra I’ve started saying to myself. When I see something that needs done, instead of storing it in my head, I say to myself, “take the time” and just do it right then. This clears my head, gives me a feeling of accomplishment, and helps me to be aware of how much (or little) time that task actually takes. I do this for picking up a piece of paper off the floor, putting away my jewelry as I take it off, writing down something I need from the store right when I think of it, cutting out a coupon and putting it away instead of stacking the entire ad somewhere for later, and the list goes on and on.
"Take the time."
Another tool I’ve been using is the stopwatch feature on my phone. By timing myself, I found that it takes way less time to empty the dishwasher than I thought it did (6 minutes -- who knew?!?) and way more time to empty my inbox every morning! This helped me to start fitting in tasks that only take a few minutes into the small pockets of time I have throughout the day as well as to plan better for the tasks that take longer. I used to allow only 15-30 minutes to get settled in at the office, process my email inbox, process any paper on my desk, review my tasks for the day and choose my must dos. I rarely, if ever, accomplished all of that in the allotted time because it just wasn’t possible. This would cause me to either do the tasks poorly, skip steps and/or feel like a failure every day for not meeting my goal. After I timed myself for a few days, I found that to do these things well and completely, I needed an hour, on average, each morning. Setting a realistic expectation for myself helps me not get discouraged and actually be more productive in that hour.
I now use a timer to help me stay on task and not get so consumed in one task that I forget to work on other priorities. I also use the Pomodoro technique for intense projects that might not be my favorites. That is where you set a timer and work for 25 minutes and then take a 5 minute break and repeat until the task or project is completed. There will be a whole post about how this has worked for me coming up soon.
I used to sometimes lose track of time and be late for a meeting. It wasn’t that I was spacey, it was that I was getting some deep work done! I started setting an alarm that makes some sort of funny noise that I couldn’t ignore. The typical 15 minutes before a meeting alarm was too far in advance. I’d see that I had a FULL quarter of an hour left and would try to get just one more thing done - then I’d end up being late anyway. Now I do 10 minutes which is enough time to finish whatever thought I was on, gather my materials, go to the restroom and walk to the meeting, but not long enough to start any new tasks.
I’m still not “good” at time, but I’m becoming more aware of it and using tools to make time work for me instead of against me. I think getting a handle on our time automatically helps us feel in control of our lives and equates to a sense of order. Have you used any of these tips or have others that you could share with us?
I began getting my life in order by recognizing what order was. I narrowed it down to four parts: completing tasks in chronological order, arranging within boundaries, directing in an authoritative way, and making requests. This and the following three posts will explore each of these in more detail. Today, let’s tackle chronology!
Doing things in chronological or sequential order can be a key to success. It's the reason they make Lego® instruction manuals with numbers next to the pictures. Being mom to two boys, I’ve studied many a Lego® instruction manual (or “constructions” as my 6 year old calls them, and I never want to correct him, because it’s the cutest. I hope he calls them Lego® “constructions” until he’s 30!)
My kids are pretty self-sufficient at Lego® building, but occasionally there will be a frustrated, “Mo-om, I need help!” If they realize they missed a step only a couple of steps later, no big deal, they just take a few of the 2x4 bricks off, remove a tile here and there, add a plate with a clip, and then reassemble in the correct order. But…it usually doesn’t happen that way. Just the other day, I had to figure out why the wheels on a Lego® vehicle wouldn't turn - it was due to an oversight on step 2 of the “constructions.” I undid steps 7,6,5,4,3 and 2 and then redid them all. How much better would it have been if he would have asked for help on step 2?
Unfortunately, in Legos® and in life, we don’t usually feel the effects of doing things out of order until much later in the process. In the Lego® analogy, it’s when the tire won’t spin or the mini figure won’t fit in the cockpit or the critical weapon mechanism won’t fire. You have to tear the whole thing apart and add that one. little. tiny. piece to make that umpteenth plane or weapon-wielding fantasy ship look and function like the picture.
In life, there are things that we all do that have a definite requirement to complete tasks sequentially, but there are others that the steps can be done in parallel or in any order we choose. The key is to recognize ahead of time which tasks are dependent on others and which can be done at any time. Understanding that can help us to fill in the spaces in our schedules with tasks that can be done independent of other ones while saving tasks that must go together for a larger block of free time. This is why planning is such a valuable skill. Brian Tracy, author of Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time, says, “Every minute you spend in planning saves 10 minutes in execution; this gives you a 1,000 percent Return on Energy!” I think the reason this is true is because you’re not going back and deconstructing your Lego® ship, you’re simply taking time to lay out the pieces before you put them together.
Many of you are nodding your head in agreement, and then those really creative types are thinking, “I don’t need no stinkin’ directions – I’ll create something unique.” I agree that there is a time for creativity and that a “mistake” or a task done out of order can lead to creative problem solving which may result in a similar, or even better, end product. But that end product will be different than the original goal. If the task allows for that latitude – trash those “constructions” and go at it – or find a different task or project that gives you the freedom to skip around from step to step. Unfortunately for the free-spirited creatives, many of the tasks we face at home and at work, as well as those our kids will encounter at school, require more precision to achieve the desired outcome, and this is why planning and chronology are key!
Lego® Instruction Manual
Tracy, Brian. Eat That Frog!: 21 Great Ways to Stop Procrastinating and Get More Done in Less Time. Oakland, California: Berrett-Koehler Publishers, Inc., 2017. Print.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!