I'm a real life pinball machine. I feel that little ball pinging around inside of me. There are flashes of light competing for my attention, and I'm constantly pounding on the buttons that control the flippers to keep the ball from escaping the course. There are times I can remain focused, keep my eye on the ball and keep it from being lost. I feel proud of being in the groove and seeing my 'score' going up and up. But just when it seems like I've figured out this game called life, somehow I level up, and now instead of one ball to keep track of, there are two. And so it repeats until the pinballs have multiplied and become unmanageable and overwhelming. As my stress level increases, I can feel them in my chest, and I have to remind myself to stop and breathe. My head doesn't stop considering all of the demands and expectations. They are ever present - even in my sleep. I want to stop pounding the flippers and just let all of them slide, unopposed, down the chute. That would allow me to start a new game, a fresh one, where it's really possible to keep track of my responsibilities.
Rather than quit, we need to come up with strategies to make us better. Here are four ideas to get you started:
1. Recognize why you are overwhelmed
Are you always "on", always connected? Are you saying yes too often? Do you avoid delegating? Do you over promise or set unrealistic deadlines? If you answered yes to these, try disconnecting some of the time, saying no, sharing the load and giving yourself some margin!
2. Remove distractions
When you try to do too much, it's easy to try to multi-task to get it all done. When we try to do more than one thing at once, what we're really doing is building in distractions for ourselves. Work on short bursts of real focus. Try the Pomodoro Technique where you work without a break for a period of time, and then get up and away from your work for a short break time. Turn off notifications or even (gasp) close your email and instant messaging programs for a while so you are not tempted to check for incoming messages. If you work from home, designate an area that is your "office" and use that space only for working.
3. Take a break
Take short breaks like described above during working hours, but also consider taking a longer break from some responsibilities. It may be time to prune your schedule to allow for some free time in your week. Scheduling time to do nothing does not mean you are a slacker! Consider an actual vacation where you can really disconnect from your day to day responsibilities including the technology that ties you to them.
Practice really does make perfect. If there's something you want to accomplish, you have to get better over time. Learn from your mistakes, and systematically improve. Make lists, read books, seek advice from those who have been successful already.
I'm excited to share a very special post from my first guest blogger, Csaba Vadadi-Fulop from www.productivity95.com. I met Csaba when we were both part of the 10 Steps to Ultimate Productivity book launch team. He has great content on his blog, and in this post he shares tips on remaining productive while parenting.
Productivity and Parenting
By Csaba Vadadi-Fulop
When your baby is born, a lifelong odyssey begins. You quickly realize that you must harness your down time more than ever before. Maybe you experience a paradigm shift in your life in terms of how you perceive your world: you might be more selective in what's important and what isn't. Both happened to me.
You, however, can't prepare for having a newborn―no matter what people say. But you can make significant adjustments to your life both before and after the birth of your baby and that's the topic I want to discuss in this post.
By the end of this post, hopefully, you'll get valuable insight about how you can channel your life back into order.
Adjusting Your Lifestyle
It goes without saying that you'll likely develop sleep debt, exercise debt, and the like. What's less obvious, though, is that it's much more than time. It's about your space-time continuum. The arrival of a baby and the events downstream will consume your space and time in a non-linear fashion.
It's beyond the scope of this post to discuss nursing, psychology, time management, and the like. Nor am I capable of giving such advice. I just want to share with you how becoming a parent literally changed my life in terms of how I operate on a daily level.
First, it forced me to switch from the PC to a MacBook. I've flirted with the idea for years, but it was the birth of my baby when I realized that the PC simply consumes too much space, cables are in mesh, and I have less flexibility to work. The MacBook was a game-changer. I was able to work practically everywhere at any time with the comfort of a king.
Second, when I purchased my wireless headphones I quickly discovered that I won't miss my loudspeakers anymore. I can listen to inspiring podcasts or my favorite band and take care of my duties, simultaneously. Washing the dishes, taking out the garbage, lifting my dumbbells? No problem, I just put on my magic headphones―with my iPhone laying on the kitchen table (!)―and my favorite podcast is with me all the time, regardless of whether I'm in the bathroom, bedroom, or yard. And my baby would still be sleeping or wondering what the heck dad wears on his shiny head.
Luckily I switched to consuming eBooks a couple of years ago, and I can say it was a good deal. EBooks don't take up any place; they're sitting in the cloud (Kindle cloud, by the way). So I can reserve some shelves for the storybooks dedicated to my little baby.
I've been extraordinarily resistant to changes for years including those related to the above-mentioned (portable device, headphones, eBooks). I always had an excuse―be it finance, reluctance, or fear―preventing me from diving into new things. Having a child is a perfect time to say no to your reluctant self!
Let's discuss the tech side of all those changes a little bit...
Adjusting Your Techniques
I use Nozbe as my task manager that's highly flexible to keep my life in order. I created a Baby project in Nozbe to home tasks that are related to parenting. When my wife was in the hospital with our newborn, I made a grocery-like checklist in Nozbe to ensure that I buy and deliver to the hospital everything my new family needed.
It was a highly demanding period: the born of your baby is psychologically demanding itself; on top of that you're supposed to take care of a lot of things, including the certificates of your baby, among others. Nozbe was a great partner in this period, too.
Later on, I kept important deadlines in Nozbe about vaccination and the like.
I still have my Baby project with a traveling checklist, recurring tasks such as weight recording, and more. This project will never end. Maybe I’ll rename it to, say, "Parenting" for the next twenty years.
It's one thing that you keep your tasks in a trusted system, another thing is finding a system to organize your notes.
Evernote is the note-taking app that I use on a daily basis to record and keep my notes, clip articles, save my journal entries, and the list is almost endless. I keep a lot of parenting related stuff in Evernote: baby first aid guides, nursing guides, weight journal, notes from the pediatrician, consultation hours, screenshots of diapers and medications, and much more.
Keeping a record of the baby's weight is a must. I created automation on my iPhone with the Workflow app: each week when my wife and I are recording the baby's weight, I just push a button on my home screen, enter the weight, and it will automatically appear in my Evernote weight journal with the appropriate date and time.
Sounds good? I still have much to improve...
There's always a place to improve and adjust your productivity system.
Selecting the clothes that I like the most is still ahead. The rest is best to go for a charity that will open up a lot of space in my wardrobe. But, again, it goes beyond space: it will free up mental space for me.
Integrating regular exercise into my weekly routine is another challenge: I want to fight off this challenge with immersing into different new sports and picking the one I like the most. Without feeling anticipation, it's hard to build a long-lasting habit.
It's my sincere hope that you got some ideas and motivation to adjust to dad life (or mom life). Parenting is a lifetime commitment; productivity is a never-ending journey: why not combine the two for multiple outcomes?
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!
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.
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//0022-35184.108.40.2067.
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/.
Even though we got an extra hour of sleep this weekend, there’s still only 24 hours a day. Sometimes it’s just so overwhelming to try to fit everything into our lives! There are many resources out there for time management, but I wanted to share 5 simple tips that have helped me improve how I manage my time.
1. Track your time
If you’re anything like me, you are so busy that you feel like writing down what you’re doing is just another task you don’t really have time for. But, if you commit to just one week, 7 days, of writing down what you’re doing in 15 minute increments, you will be amazed to see how much you actually accomplish in a day’s time! If you’re really honest when you track your time, you will see more wasted time than you like, but you’ll also see how much time of your life is spent doing things you can’t NOT do – eating, sleeping, grooming. When you know what time you have left after those kinds of non-negotiables, you will automatically feel more in control and more motivated not to waste those remaining hours. Take the time to track your time! Download this free printable to track your time this week. It’s broken up into 4, 6 hour sections, so you can visually see how much of your time is really spent during the overnight hours (hopefully sleeping), morning, afternoon and evening/night. You’ll be amazed how many hours are already spoken for, so that’s what makes being productive in those remaining hours so important!
2. Time yourself
Once you’ve finished a week’s worth of time tracking, you will see patterns in your days. There are things you do every day. Some of those repetitive tasks will occur at the same time each day, but others could be mixed throughout your day. In your time tracking phase, you were only recording in 15 minute increments, so you didn’t find out how much time it actually took you to empty the dishwasher or take a shower or drop off the kids at school. Identify the things you do at least 3 times/week and then get your timer out! Time yourself doing each of those tasks. Don’t rush to beat the clock – just do them as you normally would and then keep a log of the tasks and the times they take. If you want to be really scientific, do the tasks multiple times and then take an average time. There are lots of time tracking apps out there - one free one I've used is Toggl. What you can gain by timing yourself is a realistic expectation of what you can accomplish in a certain time-frame and the ability to insert quick tasks into random time openings in your day. Have 10 minutes before you need to get in the car – well, now I know it only takes 6 minutes to empty the dishwasher – why not?
Now that you know what you do, and how long those things take, you can now really prioritize. Once those things are you’ll need to do a big bad brain dump! Get out pen a paper or try the sticky note mind mapping that I tried in “Confessions of a List Maker.” After everything is out of your head, begin categorizing all of the to-dos. Don’t get hung up on your system, your goal is to have a master list of all of the things you will want to plug into the open slots in your days. Last week’s post talked about how to figure out what to do next – take a few minutes to read that post. If you set a focus for the year and related goals, take a look back at those to make sure the items that are on your list help you get where you wanted to go. Now, review your list again and get rid of some things! There are many things we think we need to do, that can either be done by someone else or just not done at all. Ask yourself what would happen if you didn’t do X? If you can live with the answer, cross it off! Now prioritize what remains within each category so you have a next action for every category of your life. Remember this process can be done on paper or in your favorite digital tool.
Finally it’s time to put it all together. First take a blank time tracker and plug in all of those everyday must dos for tomorrow– include everything that you have to do from meal prep to kid drop off to brushing your teeth – you now know exactly how much time each of those take. Now take a look at your prioritized lists and choose what you’re going to fill in the blanks with. Remember the importance of margin. You can’t really make back to back meetings work. What if you need to walk or drive to the meeting or even just take a bathroom break? That means you’d have to leave one meeting early or arrive at the next meeting late. Instead of booking yourself solid, give yourself some leeway. I like to see at least 10 minutes between appointments. If you have a task that you haven’t or couldn’t time, give your best estimate BUT add 25% to that estimate. The worst thing that will happen is you finish early and you plug in another task (maybe one that you previously timed so you know that you can absolutely run to the pharmacy and back in 20 minutes.) Fill up every box in your day’s time tracker even if those boxes say “rest” or “watch TV” or “family time.” If you give purpose to each slot of your day, you are less likely to squander your time.
5. Take shortcuts
Always be looking for ways to be more efficient! Are there things that you can do in the background while you are doing other tasks? – like watching your favorite TV show while you fold laundry. Be wary of attempting to truly multi-task because that usually leads to poor quality or longer efforts. Read about the benefits of single tasking in a previous post. Are there things that you just don’t need to do or can replace with something easier or quicker? For instance, I believe with my whole heart that a damp dishrag thrown in the dryer with a wrinkly shirt while I shower is much more efficient than ironing! Do you really need to re-pot the flowers or is the plastic one they came in just as worthy of the position on your front steps? Sometimes shortcuts do mean lowering our expectations – I’ve become pretty good at that – but others are just a smarter way of doing things. Remember to enlist your family and/or be willing to pay for services that help save you time.
I'd love to hear from you if you try these 5 steps and learn how they worked for you! Please comment below or email me at email@example.com If you want to read more about time management, one of my favorite authors who writes on the topic is Laura Vanderkam. I read (and thoroughly enjoyed), I Know How She Does It: How Successful Women Make the Most of Their Time and have her latest book, Off the Clock: Feel Less Busy While Getting More Done, on my bookshelf ready to read!
“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!
Staying productive is hard. If we only had to worry about our own priorities, it would be a little easier, but in real life, we have requests and expectations coming at us from all directions. The biggest avenue for those outer expectations is our inboxes. Most of us have at least two inboxes – a physical paper inbox and an email inbox. I wrote about how to wrangle your paper in a previous post, and today, I want to start a series on how to manage your email inbox.
Even though email is dying a little because of other messaging apps, it is still prevalent especially in professional settings. Most of us have at least two email addresses – a personal and a work address and receive many messages each day. At my day job, I easily get over 100 emails every day, and at home, I may get 30 or so. These add up very fast, and if you don’t know how to efficiently triage your messages, you can quickly get buried and miss the important messages because they nearly disappear amongst all the junk.
I use Microsoft Outlook at my day job and Gmail for personal and My Life In Order email. These platforms are very different, but both common, so I will be using them as examples in this series. Regardless of what email platform you use, the overarching principles of email organization are the same. Email used to be a great, time-saving tool to replace handwritten or typed memos that had to be circulated through the office, but it’s turned into an invasive nuisance that the Washington Post reports takes the average white-collar worker a little over 4 hours each day to deal with. This equates to 20.5 hours each week and more than 1,000 hours each year! Even with the quantity of email we get, it doesn’t need to take up half of our work day, and by implementing some of these ideas, you should be able to dramatically improve your email efficiency!
Process your email, don’t read and re-read it
You should do 1 of 4 things with new emails - delete, file, do, or move to a task management system (we will talk about the details of this in a later post.) Don’t just read the your messages and leave them in your inbox to come back to later because you will end up either losing it, forgetting about it or you will re-read it over and over, which is just wasting your time! If a message is obvious junk or something you are sure you will never need again, just delete it! If it’s reference information that you may need later, file it. If it’s actionable use the 2 minute rule that David Allen talks about in his book, Getting Things Done. If the action can be completed in 2 minutes or less, just do it. If it will take longer than 2 minutes or can’t be done until you have additional information, add the action to a task management system and then either file or delete the message.
Over time, we all sign up for various newsletters either on purpose or inadvertently. Instead of continuing to delete them each time they are delivered, take an extra few seconds and unsubscribe from the ones you are no longer interested in. Every email marketing platform (that’s legit) has a little button somewhere at the bottom of the message that you can click on to get off of their email list. There are also some services that will help you get unenrolled from unwanted lists. Of course those of us who have an email newsletter don’t want you to unsubscribe (it hurts our feelings) but I care more about your productivity than my email list, so do what you’ve got to do! If you’re too scared to make that drastic of a decision to never receive a particular newsletter again, you can use the next tip instead.
Also be sure to report spam so it can be blocked for the future. Most email platforms have a mechanism to report spam. If you get rid of most of the junk, you'll spend less time sifting through all the things that don't matter for the few messages that do.
Rules, Rules, Rules
If you aren’t using rules in your email, pay attention! You can set up a variety of rules in whichever email platform you use. This allows you to never touch a message and direct it to go right to a particular folder, to be marked as read, or even go straight to the trash. For those newsletters you were too scared to unsubscribe from, you could set up a rule to move them to a special folder. Set a reminder on your calendar for a couple of months in the future to look at that folder. If you haven't missed anything important, you may feel comfortable completely unsubscribing.
You can also create rules for message you send. I have a rule so that if I put myself in the BCC line, it moves that message to a folder I have named “Waiting.” This allows me to remember to follow up if I don’t receive an answer to my message. You can also set up conditional formatting so messages from your boss are displayed in a different color. In the next installment of this series, I’ll show you some examples!
It’s ok to be a little lazy with your email! There are many ways that you can cut corners. In Outlook, my favorite is to set up quick steps to use just one click to complete an action like moving a message to a folder, creating an appointment with the contents of the message in the body, forward a message to a particular address, or create a new message to a particular address. Learn how to drag and drop messages either to a folder or to your calendar. Explore the menu that is displayed when you right click on a message. Add commonly used folders to a favorites area to save a few seconds each time you want to access it. Next time, I will provide some demos of how to set some of these shortcuts up.
Simplify your folders
I used to have an elaborate foldering system with folders for each project with sub folders and sub-sub folders, but what I realized a few years ago was I was spending so much time deciding where to folder things and nearly that same amount of time selecting the folder to look in when I wanted to find the message later that it just didn’t make sense. Now, I have only one folder per year with a sub-folder for every month. Anything I don’t delete goes in the folder for the month it was received. All email platforms have search functions, and the two I use – Gmail and Outlook – have excellent search tools, so you can find any message without having to know what folder you put it in. Some people like to keep EVERYTHING in their inbox and just search for what they need. Now, that makes me a little anxious, so I prefer to folder when I’m done. I look at my email inbox like my home mailbox. It’s just for new stuff that comes in, and just like I take in my physical mail every day or so, I like to keep my email inbox emptied.
In the second part of this series, I will have some demos to show you how to implement some of these tricks, but I need your help. I could use several of you to email my demo email address with various subject lines. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to help me create a good tutorial for you!
“Analysis | How Many Hours of Your Life Have You Wasted on Work Email? Try Our Depressing Calculator.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 3 Oct. 2016, www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-intersect/wp/2016/10/03/how-many-hours-of-your-life-have-you-wasted-on-work-email-try-our-depressing-calculator/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.bd59896565f2.
Ansaldo, Michael. “3 Tools That Easily Unsubscribe You from Emails.” PCWorld, PCWorld, 22 Mar. 2017, www.pcworld.com/article/3181014/software/3-tools-for-easily-unsubscribing-to-emails.html.
This week I found the sweet spot between being a jerk and being efficient. Every day this summer during my one-hour commute home from work, I’ve dealt with construction on the dual lane, split highway I drive (aka the bypass.) The construction moves a little bit every day so I never know exactly where it’s going to be. The westbound lanes are restricted down to one lane for just a few hundred feet, BUT since you don’t know exactly where it’s at, cars who drive the same route every day, start getting into the right lane in expectation WAY before the actual lane closure. I typically sit in a long line of traffic in the right-hand lane for 10 solid minutes before the left lane is actually closed off. There are a high percentage of semis, so you can’t see very far ahead to know if the left lane is closed just ahead or a mile away. Since the left lane isn’t actually closed, there are these few, what I used to call “jerk cars,” that speed by on the left (they were probably going like 27 mph which seemed like speeding to my 4 mph) Daily, I’d grumble, “Oh you jerk cars are going to speed past all of us who are doing what we’re supposed to be doing -patiently waiting in the correct lane.”
Well, one day this week, I was kind of in a hurry and didn’t have that extra 10 minutes to spend in a line of traffic inching forward waiting for the construction to appear, so I thought, “I think I’m gonna try being a jerk car…” I started rationalizing – they’re not really breaking the law - the road isn’t actually closed, and it’s probably wise to use BOTH lanes while they are available to make things more efficient, right?” So, even though there was a long line of traffic stacked up in the right-hand lane, the left lane looked clear. I turned on my signal and went for it and became a “jerk car!” I drove and drove and drove at a speedy 27 mph and was amazed how many cars I passed in the right lane waiting patiently (probably cursing me under their breath.) As soon as I saw the orange sign that tells you to merge, there was this heaven-sent opening that I easily moved into. Then almost immediately, the blinking sign and the construction barrels appeared that officially closed the left lane. There I was in the correct lane, breezing through the short actual construction zone. In no time, I was back to cruising toward home, and I was so proud of myself! This was efficient!! So you tell me, was it a jerk move or a genius one?
I started wondering why I’d been wasting so much of my time waiting in traffic this summer and wondering if there are other things in my life that I think of as “jerk moves” that would really just be more assertive and efficient? I asked myself why I was in that right lane. The answer was easy - because everyone else was there. I seemed like what I was “supposed” to do –like I was following the rules and being a good citizen and a good driver. Really, the people who I thought were being jerks, well, they were the ones that were doing what was actually much smarter and much more efficient. Are there practices I’m following or things that I’m doing just because others are doing them? Maybe what I should be doing is paying attention to the people who are doing something different– what is it and is it working for them? What would happen if I did that and put myself first – would I become more efficient and successful? What if I said, “I know that there’s going to be a roadblock up ahead, but I might as well make up some ground while I can.” WOW is that a metaphor or what??? I realized that I apparently learn a lot from traffic metaphors since this is my second post about them - I learned a lot from left turns in a previous post!
"Are there practices I'm following or things that I'm doing just because others are doing them? Maybe what I should be doing is paying attention to the people who are doing something different - what is it and is it working for them?"
Make forward progress while you can, don’t just sit there and waste time. I think that applies in so many ways – if you are unhappy in your life, you can sit in line behind all those other unhappy people, or you can do something about it, take a chance, and get in that left lane and move forward. There are always going to be roadblocks ahead as well as things you don’t even know are coming. Do you want to get behind a line of people who are waiting for bad things with the mindset, “I know that construction is ahead, I’ve gotta prepare, move slow, and be cautious.”? With that school of thought you are already in the right spot, and though you’re prepared, it’s going to take you FOREVER to get anything accomplished. Instead, you could take a chance, get out in that left lane, speed past a bunch of people, get some stuff done. Realize it may be a little tricky or take a little time to get back in the correct lane to get through the actual construction zone, but be forward thinking enough to realize that by getting out from behind that traffic allows you to see what’s coming and know when to shift back to seamlessly move through a challenging spot. If you start preparing for disaster or roadblocks far in advance or are scared to take a chance, you’ll just be stuck in traffic.
As I was thinking about this, I realized this is something I deal with often – similar to analysis paralysis! I know there’s going to be a problem, and I start thinking about it and don’t know what to do, so I just get in line behind everyone else in the “safe” lane and sit and barely move forward. I do this so often – even though I know the path and the potential outcomes, I’m scared to get in that other lane and make forward progress, because what if I make the wrong decision and I take the wrong path and then it takes me time later to get back into the right lane? But you know what – that is rare. When I, the safe, rule-following patient driver, get to the part of the road that narrows to one lane and see some of the “jerk cars” who passed me along the way waiting to get back into my lane I think “haha jerk cars, I’m already in the right lane and now you have to wait!” But you know what, it took me 10 minutes to get there, and even if the “jerk car” had to wait for a couple minutes to merge, they STILL spent much less time on that same stretch of road because they took a chance and now they get to do more with that time they saved! Why am I not taking more chances and getting in a position that I can see further ahead? Fear is the answer, but I don't want it to be! Once I'd been a "jerk car," I wasn't as scared to try again. I want to continue practicing what's different, what's assertive, what's efficient, while still remaining kind and considerate - I don't really want to be a jerk!
This week, I had a unique experience at work - the opportunity to focus on one project for two days straight! This is far from the norm for me as I'm usually switching from project to project and being interrupted by one "fire" after another all day long. It's difficult to get any one project completed (let alone completed well) because there are so many projects and so many urgent little things that take my attention away from the important tasks. I can almost see you all nodding your heads in agreement - this battle between the important and the urgent coupled with the sheer volume of expectations placed on each one of us in both our professional and personal lives is almost an epidemic in our society.
When I was forced into focusing on an important project it felt odd, and a little wrong, to put everything else to the side and do just one thing, but it was AMAZING! I felt more clarity and forward momentum than I'd felt in a very long time. Interestingly, because I'd been thinking about one thing all day, my mind just kept on working efficiently even after I was "done" for the day. I had ideas and worked out problems in my head overnight much more easily than I would have if my mind would have been all over the place during the day as it usually is.
Those of us writing resumes in the early 2000's probably all listed multi-tasking as one of our strengths. Being able to do many things at once was looked at as desirable. Since then, a lot of research has been published to debunk that myth of multi-tasking. Dave Crenshaw says in his book, The Myth of Multitasking: How "Doing It All" Gets Nothing Done, "Remember this rule: the more responsibility you have, the more hats you wear, the more likely you are to become inefficient." You may be thinking, but if I don't do at least some things at the same time, I'll never get anything done! I hear ya, but stop to consider what you could accomplish and how fast you could accomplish it if you did only one thing at a time.
Productivity coach, Marcey Rader, describes different types of tasking methods in one of her blog posts. Multi-tasking is truly doing two things at once, and since only 2% of the population can actually do this - stop trying! What the rest of us are doing is called switch-tasking. Rader describes switch-tasking as "juggling two tasks by refocusing attention back and forth and losing time and progress in the switch." Switch-tasking makes us 30-40% LESS productive because we are switching our focus about every 3 minutes. There are some tasks that can be done as background tasks which do allow us to complete more than one thing at a time. A great example is listening to music while running or folding laundry while watching TV. Listening to music and watching TV are done in the background, while the other task is done in the foreground.
"Multi-tasking is truly doing two things at once, and since only 2% of the population can actually do this - stop trying!"
So, how do we realistically create an atmosphere where we can focus on one thing at a time? I think this starts with remembering that you're in charge of you (one of my early blog posts talks about this in depth.) I'm the one who thinks I need to do dishes, do laundry, help with homework, post to social media, and talk on the phone all at once - no one makes me do that. I am guilty of being what my husband calls, "willy-nilly" all too often. It's so easy to blame others for having to multi-task - "my job demands it" or " I have so much on my plate" - but if we are really honest with ourselves, we may realize that switching from one task to the other is something we do at home when no one is looking, too. If that becomes our normal, we're going to do that in whatever situation we find ourselves in. And it's going to become more pronounced when we are under stress. For me, it's a way to avoid decision making - if I do just a little, just the part I know how to do, and then flip to something else and yet something else, I can avoid doing the hard parts. The hard parts might not be as hard if I didn't have to reacquaint myself to the project every time I switch back to it after focusing elsewhere.
A to-do list or a schedule with only the most important tasks in a natural order of your energy level goes a long way in helping you stay on task. A timer can also help you, especially if it's something you don't particularly love doing. Setting clear expectations about your time with those who you feel accountable to may be the most important aspect in being productive. If you tell your boss or your spouse or your kids that you will do multiple things for them in an unrealistic time frame, you are going to naturally try to switch back and forth to try to get things completed. Pad the time you think you need, so you can over-deliver and gain momentum. Finally, decide what NOT to focus on. Cal Newport says in his book, Deep Work: Rules for Focuses Success in a Distracted World, “What we choose to focus on and what we choose to ignore—plays in defining the quality of our life.”
This coming week, I'm going to try to improve my productivity by trying single-tasking. I know I can't spend two whole days on one project again, but I can spend blocks of time this week with head-down focus. I'm excited to see the results!
Crenshaw, Dave. The Myth of Multitasking: How Doing It All Gets Nothing Done. Jossey-Bass, 2008.
Rader, Marcey. “Multitasking, Switchtasking, Background Tasking or Hypertasking.” Marcey Rader Coaching, LLC, 13 Dec. 2017, www.marceyrader.com/multitasking-switchtasking-background-tasking-hypertasking/.
Newport, Cal. Deep Work. Piatkus, 2016.
I remember distinctly the night I published the first post of my blog one year ago. It was very late and I was very nervous, but once it was done, I felt so good! I’d been writing about my journey to get my life in order for nearly a year before that. I did lots of research on domain names, website platforms, social media strategies, blog best practices - so much research that I scared myself into delaying the launch. I asked some very close friends and family to read some of my posts and give me their feedback. I visualized complete success and total failure. I was scared and excited all at once. Back then fear carried more weight, but these days excitement is starting to overshadow my fears.
In many ways it seems like this blog has always been part of me, and in other ways I still feel like a newbie! I’ve found writing therapeutic and the regularity energizing. I’ve learned and experienced so much during this past year, but here are the highlights.
Done is so much better than perfect
The very first line of my very first post was, “I'm a recovering over-achiever people-pleaser. I had high expectations for others and even higher ones for myself.” Those high self-expectations can be a blessing and a curse. A blessing because it leads to quality work, but a curse because I’m often paralyzed with the thought that I could still improve some little detail before calling a project complete. This affects me both in my personal life and work life. My husband once said to me, “Just lower the bar for yourself a little and then you won’t be so stressed out.” I remember thinking that it must be nice to be happy with less than your best and then feeling a little smug because obviously I was better off with my high standards. Then I became so stressed that I turned to a coach to help me work through it - she helped me realize I was expecting so much of myself that it wasn’t realistic. I hate to admit it, but my husband may have been right, but it took someone outside of my inner circle to make me believe it. I did start lowering my expectations and started producing without killing myself in the process. I still struggle sometimes with editing my work too much, but repeating the mantra, “done is better than perfect” really helps me! There are aspects of my life that it was VERY easy to lower my standards - dishes, laundry, housework, yardwork- I don’t freak out about those not being perfect or complete, and I ask for help (or require help from my kiddos!) I still take pride in my work, but now pick and choose what is worth the painstaking efforts of perfection and what can be delivered in a very good state instead of perfect.
"I still struggle sometimes with editing my work too much, but repeating the mantra, 'done is better than perfect' really helps me!"
Accountability breeds success
Having a weekly deadline - even if none of my readers really cared, made me get things done. I have posted at least weekly for a year - even when I was sick, we were on vacation, or very busy with school or sports activities. I felt like readers were counting on me, so I made accommodations to make sure I had a post completed every week.
In January of this year, I joined a Mastermind group led by The Productive Woman, Laura McClellan. I found this so motivating. I gained this whole new set of accountability partners and could share goals and dreams with them that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. During the 12 week session, I reported back on the mini-goals I set for myself each week and found myself making much more forward progress than I ever would have without them to answer to. I’ve become friends with these women, and we still connect monthly to share our struggles and our successes and set goals and report back on our progress. I share in their excitement and they share in mine when something we’ve been working toward comes to fruition.
I’ve long thought of myself as a hater of teamwork, rationalizing this feeling by saying I could do things faster and better alone. Even when I would admit that maybe I couldn’t do them better, I still held that at least I had control and didn’t have to rely on anyone else to determine my success. Throughout this year, I’ve gotten better at asking for feedback and advice, working as a team and accepting constructive criticism. I ran across a quote just this week that hit home. “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”
Inspiration is everywhere
I remember being asked if I thought I’d run out of material to write about and if this outlet that I thought was going to be fun and therapeutic for me would turn out to be a burden. So far, I haven’t had to struggle to find things to write about because my life is a work in progress, and I just write about what I experience. Sometimes I have things to share that may be helpful and other times I just write about the raw honest truth of my shortcomings. Just like you see more pregnant women when you are pregnant, I have found more inspiration now that I’m looking for it.
Because I’m always looking for an inspiring quote, an interesting article, a great organizing idea, or something worthy of a Friday Funny title for my social media posts, I have read more books and articles, learned more about organization and productivity techniques than ever before in this past year. The stories I’ve heard from readers who have been inspired by something I have written have truly brought me joy.
Productivity allows for growth
Because I’m continuing to improve my own productivity, I’m able to do more things I enjoy. Even though I’m technically busier than ever, it feels the same or less as before I added in additional things I like doing- helping people get organized, teaching more piano students, selling organizing supplies, reading more, and becoming more involved in church - in addition to my day job and my role as a wife and mother.
I definitely feel that I still have lots of room for improvement. I still do best when I’m working alone, but am striving to get better at keeping projects moving when they involve others. I’ve found that shared tools are the best way to stay on the same page with others. One example is how my husband and I share events on our calendars to keep track of who is where when (which is tricky sometimes!) We also do a review of our upcoming week during the weekend to plan meals and child care and pickup. A regular touch base meeting either personally or professionally may take time, but it pays for itself in the time it saves!
Choosing your tools and sticking to them is critical to productivity. There are always new tools that may tempt you, and though it’s important to stay up to date with technology, you need to limit the tool-jumping so you can become an expert in your own system. Don’t spend your time creating your system over and over, spend your time doing the stuff your system is supposed to help you control.
Thanks for a great year!
It’s been a fun year, and I’m excited to see what the next one will bring. I sincerely appreciate those of you who read and comment on posts and on social media. I feel like I'm on this journey with you. I'd love to hear from you about what topics you'd like to read about in year two of My Life In Order. Submit your ideas through the contact page or by email.
A few months ago, I wrote a post about my struggle with laundry (A Laundry Experiment: Part 1). You can go back and read it, but the basics are this: There was too much laundry and we never had the right things clean when we needed them or they were clean, but were buried in a giant pile of clean clothes on the couch, coined "laundry couch." I tried to figure out how to overcome my laundry woes, and vowed to try the following:
Though this experiment wasn't very scientific, I did have a hypothesis and have reached a conclusion (that are one in the same) - I HATE LAUNDRY!!!! I've failed pretty miserably at most of the points above, but I did learn from my experience. Since I have accepted the fact that laundry will never end, I have some new ideas to try as a result of my failures.
The daily sorting is the ONE part of my experiment that really worked. We don't do it at night, but rather the kids do it every morning. One kid empties and sorts the laundry from the first floor and the other kid takes care of the upstairs. We have a two sided laundry sorter for lights and dark as well as a hard plastic hamper where we put the "hots" (things that should be washed in hot water.) I really like this new habit. It keeps hampers in the bedrooms and bathrooms from overflowing and makes it visibly obvious when we need to do a load! We will definitely keep this one!
Washing on Demand
I have been doing laundry during the week much more than I did before, so I'll continue putting a load in the washer when I notice the sorter is full. The problem has been that I sometimes forget to move it to the dryer and then it gets stinky and has to be rewashed. The next point about the reminder is what I was really missing!
I originally thought I'd make some cute sign that I'd hang near the laundry room to let me know when there was laundry in the washer, but instead I thought I'd go the technology route and set a recurring reminder on my iPhone. Spoiler alert - - it didn't work. I quickly became immune to the reminder and just swiped left to dismiss it every day, twice a day.
Instead of this type of reminder, I'm going to try pairing, when you connect two activities or make one dependent on the completion of the other. I first heard about the strategy of pairing from author and podcaster, Gretchen Rubin. I'm thinking that I will pair TV with laundry. Before I will allow myself to watch TV, I'll have to check the status of the laundry and do the next step - starting a load, switching a load to the dryer and/or folding a load.
Use the Laundry Room
I was naive to think that folding laundry in my un-air conditioned laundry room would work in the summer - it was just too HOT! In addition, my laundry room is the landing zone for things that have to go to the basement. I keep clothes that are too small for my oldest son, but still too big for my youngest son in the basement, and with the way my 11-year-old has been growing, each week there have been new things to retire from his wardrobe. I almost constantly have a bag or just a pile of clothes on top of the dryer poised to go to the basement, which doesn't allow me any room to fold even if the temperature were comfortable.
Since I'm planning to use TV watching to remind me to do the next step in my laundry, I'm going to go back to folding while I watch. I used to do this after it got really piled up, but if I fold this each time I watch TV (which is most days) I should be able to avoid laundry couch!
I'm also going to use pairing to get items down to the basement. I have one solid nighttime routine, and that is tucking my kids into bed (I've told them this will continue until they go to college!) Since the only time I don't do this is when I'm not home or I am sick, I can count on this nearly every night. As the kids start brushing their teeth in preparation for going to their bedrooms, I'm going to take one load to the basement. If I do this nightly, the laundry room should stay manageable.
I did notice a couple of new problems while being more aware of my laundry process these past few months. One was that my youngest son has TOO MANY CLOTHES! This is not because we buy him stuff, but because he gets hand-me-downs from a few different sources. It makes it difficult for him to put his clothes away because his drawers are stuffed! Many times clean clothes end up on the floor and it's difficult to tell the difference between then and the dirty ones, so clean clothes are getting washed again! It's time to purge again!
The other problem is socks. I'm starting to have a hard time telling the difference between my older son's and my husband's socks, so we bought a different color and brand for each and solved that problem!. I also continually struggle with odd sock problems. I've tried having my kids put their socks in mesh bags and washing them in there, but that didn't work - they were as successful getting them in the mesh bag as they were at getting them in the hamper! I've decided that once a week, I'm going to take all the socks in my odd sock bin where I put socks without a match after each load of laundry and put them into "sock purgatory" a separate bin kept up high on my laundry room shelf. Once a month, I'm going to match any socks from my odd sock bin to my sock purgatory bin and any that are left will get thrown away.
Laundry will never be something I enjoy, but it's not going away, so I'm hoping these observations I've made will help me keep up with it better! Do you have any great laundry tips to share? I'd love to hear them - please comment below!
I’m so ready for back-to-school! Not because I’m tired of my kids being home for the summer, but because I’m ready to get back into a routine. I always loved the beginning of the school year as a kid – new clothes and shoes, freshly sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, locker organizers – kind of my dream come true! I was thinking today about why the beginning of school still excited me as an adult. Yes, I get to buy supplies for my kids, but there’s more to it than that. There’s something about a fresh start that appeals to me, and I think we can all learn some lessons from school to help us live our best life this school year.
Refresh your wardrobe and get a haircut
Kids usually get a few new outfits and shoes because they’ve grown out of the clothes from the previous school year. We go through their entire wardrobe and get rid of things that are too small or they won’t wear to avoid any fashion arguments! This time of year is also a great time to refresh your own wardrobe. Go through your closet and donate items you haven’t worn in the past several months, items that don’t fit, or ones you just don’t like. Make a list of what items you need to “fill in the blanks” of your wardrobe. Watch for sales and treat yourself! We get our kids a haircut prior to the first day so they look fresh and clean. Make an appointment for yourself, too. This could be the one time per year that you spend a little extra or try a new style.
"I always loved the beginning of the school year as a kid - new clothes and shoes, freshly sharpened pencils, blank notebooks, locker organizers - kind of my dream come true!"
Keep a regular sleep schedule
Just today, our family discussed what fair bedtimes are for the kids when school starts and what time they need to get up to have plenty of time in the mornings before school. This will be a big change from our summer routine where the kids’ bedtimes go out the window – and so does mine. I find myself staying up way too late on a regular basis, but still having to get up at the same time to go to work. By the end of the summer I’m exhausted and sleeping in late on the weekends to try to catch up. When school starts, the kids will each have a set bedtime and wakeup time. I plan to create my own, reasonable bedtime as well as a wakeup time that doesn’t involve the snooze button!
Eat healthy breakfasts and pack a lunch
When school is in session, I make more of an effort to feed my kids a healthy breakfast to give them a good start to their day. It’s so easy for us as busy adults to skip breakfast or scarf down something on the go. When school starts, it’s a great opportunity to plan your morning to include a healthy breakfast at the table with your family. Many days my kids pack their lunches, and we have various options that are easy to pack and are fairly healthy. Packing a lunch for myself alongside the kids will help me not only to save money on eating out, but help to control my portion size and the nutritional value of what I eat for lunch.
Embrace a fresh start and the opportunity to learn new things
Kids literally start the school year with a blank slate, and they have the opportunity to take new classes from new teachers. It’s a great time of year for us to forgive ourselves for failed attempts in the past and make new resolutions and plans for new habits. Is it time for us to take a class, read a book, attend a webinar about something new?
Be active and enjoy recess
My kids have gym class at least once a week, and recess every day. They also participate in sports during the school year. I need to follow suit and be more active. I can use the time they spend at sports practices to be active myself, and why not enjoy a “recess” during the day and take a quick walk?
Create systems to manage time
With all the commitments kids have these days, they have to learn to manage their time, plan ahead and just plain remember what all they need to do! We are in the process of finalizing what the daily routine will be and then will create a checklist to keep track of it all. I will print out a grid with the items that need completed down the left-hand side with the days of the week across the top. The paper will go in a page protector and be displayed on the fridge with a magnetic clip. The kids will use a dry erase marker to mark off their daily accomplishments. This makes it reusable, but also easy to change if we add or take away a responsibility. It’s great to pair one of your own responsibilities to your kids’ – for example, when they practice piano, you wash dishes or when they do homework, you read. Consider planning your day the night before with specific timebound tasks. Always overestimate how long it will take you to do things so that you don’t get frustrated!
Cut back on screen time
During the school year, our kids don’t have any screen time from Monday to Thursday (unless homework requires it.) We started this a couple of years ago, and it’s amazing – attitudes are much improved and since there is no expectation of screen time, we don’t hear whining or complaining. This means my husband and I don’t turn on the TV until after the kids are in bed, and sometimes we don’t even turn it on at all. It’s my goal to use the time I normally would watch TV to do other things – read, play board games, talk to my husband, take bubble baths, take a walk, etc.
Catch up with friends
One of the best parts of the first day of school for me was always seeing my friends that I hadn’t seen much over the summer. We would catch up and tell each other what we did over the vacation. We looked forward to eating lunch together and playing at recess together. As adults, why don’t we designate the start of the school year as a time to plan some lunch dates and fun activities with old friends?
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.
I like to be self-sufficient, and I enjoy learning new things or figuring out how to accomplish a new task. There are some types of tasks that I won't even attempt, but for most things, I'll at least do a little Googling or YouTube video watching and give it a go. Though this "I can do it" attitude may help me become more well-rounded, save a little money, and keep things interesting, it can also severely impact my productivity and can create frustration both for me and my family! Over time, I've learned that there is real value in finding the right person for the job!
At work and at home, it's impossible for us to do it all, though I'm guilty of trying to do it anyway. I used have a hard time with the group project concept. I felt like it would just be easier to do it all myself. At least that way, I knew it would get done. Doing it myself meant that I knew the progress of the project and the barriers to getting it completed so I could figure out ways to overcome the barriers and meet the deadline. This mentality causes stress, burnout, and ultimately leads to lower quality work and delayed results. Why is it then, that it's so hard to relinquish a little control and trust others to help me?
"Though this 'I can do it' attitude may help me become more well-rounded, save a little money, and keep things interesting, it can also severely impact my productivity and can create frustration both for me and my family!"
A great example of how finding the right person to do the job produced fantastic and quick results was when I wanted to create a logo for my blog. I had an idea in my head, but I thought it would be too difficult for me to articulate that to someone else, so I tried to do it myself. I tried and tried to bring my vision to life, but without the proper tools or expertise in graphic design, I just couldn't produce something I was happy with. I considered hiring someone, but I talked myself out of that by rationalizing that I was saving money by doing it myself and I could remain authentic to my own creative plans for my logo. Well, what happened is that I didn't launch my blog because I didn't have what I felt was the perfect logo, and I became more and more frustrated and wasted a LOT of time.
I finally got over myself and hired someone to design my logo. But, even then, I tried to maintain control over the process giving her very specific instructions about what I wanted, what colors I liked, etc. It wasn't until I gave the designer greater creative space that I got exactly what I had been dreaming of! I finally got down to the core of what I wanted to accomplish - a clean logo in soothing colors that showed you could be creative and have beauty while still being orderly. The graphic designer quickly created several mock ups for me. I chose the one I liked best, asked for a couple of tweaks, and tada -I had a beautiful logo that I love as if I created it myself. I think that I actually love it even more because I didn't create it!
I now am much more inclined to hire work done or ask for help and suggestions. The old saying, "time is money" is so true. I could spend ten times as long doing something that would be a lower quality than if I hired the right person for the job. I could use that time in a different way to produce real results. I'm a big believer in frugality, so of course I don't hire someone to do everything for me! I pick and choose what I can afford, what meets the biggest and most urgent need, and what I don't want to or don't have the capacity to learn how to do myself. There are some things that are just fun to dabble in and the difference in the end result of me doing it versus a professional wouldn't be that noticeable, but then there are all the other things where an expert is definitely the right choice.
This concept also applies to situations at home or work where we would should delegate a task to someone who is best equipped to do it. Best equipped can mean they are an expert or they have the capacity to become an expert or simply that they have time to do the task. When we delegate, though, we have to learn to accept the results may not be exactly as if we had done the task ourselves. I have my kids do certain chores at home, and maybe the cleaning isn't quite as thorough as I would have done it, but it's done and I was able to complete other tasks instead.
I also try to remember that it's all about choice. By choosing to do something myself (or learn how to do something on my own), I am also choosing not to spend that time on something else. To get and keep my life in order, I have to learn to choose to spend my time wisely so that there is time for the things I'm good at, time for the things I enjoy doing, time for the things I am required to do, and most importantly, time for the people I love.
In honor of Father's Day, I wanted to share some tips I've learned from my dad over the years. He's the guy who passed on a love of labeling things to me, and he has so many great ideas for keeping things organized!
On a serious note, I'm so blessed to be my father's daughter. He and my mom have been married for 42 years and my dad has been the best example of hard work, good morals, and generosity that I could have asked for. He was an involved parent attending countless piano recitals and school activities, driving our family on summer road trips, moving me in and out of my college dorm room, walking me down the aisle at my wedding, providing advice on car purchases, and helping with lots of repair projects! He's now a devoted Grandpa and setting the same examples for his grandchildren.
Top 10 organizing tips from my dad:
1. Label your board games
You know when you're playing a game that has questions on cards and someone starts suddenly knowing all of the answers and you realize someone put the cards back on the wrong end of the box last time you played. Well, my dad has a simple fix for that! Simply put a piece of masking tape on whichever end you designate the front. To make it even clearer, write "FRONT" on it.
2. Keep track of dates of purchase and maintenance on your owner's manuals
For large purchases, most of us keep the owner's manuals. My dad has always written the date of purchase and noted and maintenance and the date on the cover. You could also staple the receipt to the manual. Not only is it interesting to see how long things last (he had the manual from his record player from the 1970-something), but it's helpful when dealing with warranties, or knowing the timing of preventative maintenance.
3. Hang a tennis ball on a rope from your garage ceiling
My dad has a nice garage and he maximizes the space in front of where the cars park with built in cabinets and hooks on the walls. To keep my mom from pulling the vehicles in too far (and likely also to make sure the vehicles were in far enough not to get caught in the closing garage door), he long ago installed a hanging tennis ball. You pull the car up until the tennis ball just taps your windshield, so you know you are parked in the perfect spot.
4. Customize your belongings to fit your space
The bathroom I used growing up has an area that juts out just past the tub (which my dad did on purpose when he built the house, of course, for plumbing access.) The problem is the only rugs that would fit in the space were too small to really do any good. No problem, Dad to the rescue! He cut a notch in the rug so it fits perfectly against the wall and a side benefit is that it can't slip around either. This applies to so many things in my parents' house beside rugs. My dad coined the phase that my brother and I still jokingly use, "You know what a guy could do..." Whenever he said this, you knew he had a great idea!
"You know what a guy could do..."
5. Don't let sentiment cause clutter
My dad is somewhat of a minimalist. He doesn't care for a coffee table in the middle of the room or many knick knacks sitting around. My dad had a decent sized record collection, some of which he'd had since he was a teenager. They were stored in a wooden cabinet with sliding doors. Several years ago, he wanted to use the record cabinet for another storage purpose (in the garage on that wall in front of the vehicles - thank you hanging tennis ball for keeping it safe!) In order to use it for garage storage, he got rid of the records. I remember feeling sentimental about him getting rid of them and they weren't even mine. He didn't let sentiment cause any unnecessary clutter. I'm grateful that my husband and brother got several of the records for their own collections!
6. Research and analyze which is cheaper and better - fixing/refurbishing or buying new
This one may only apply if you have the ability to fix things yourself. If you know my dad, you know he can fix just about anything! There are times that most people would have just gotten a new (insert whatever is broken in your house) but my dad did the research to fix it. For instance, he put a brand new bottom in the bathtubs instead of replacing them. It was cheaper and less work in the long run than tearing out the old one and installing a new one. There are times though, were you've fixed as much as you can fix, and it's just time to buy new.
7. Label generously
My dad has been making labels as long as I can remember! His go to is masking tape and a sharpie. Putting labels on things helps to identify them (the reason spices of similar colors are labelled in my mom's spice cabinet) and helps us remember where things go (this is why I label my clear bins in my refrigerator - I certainly don't want my raw meat to ever go in the bin where my yogurt is supposed to go!) I have to admit, I did think my dad took it a little far when I saw that he had labelled the tape dispenser, "TAPE."
8. Take notes and keep things you want to reference later in a central location
My dad takes notes and records things he wants to remember later. Even if you have a good memory, you can't remember everything! Dad has his own system for reference in an Excel spreadsheet with many, many tabs, where I use Evernote to keep track of things I want to refer to later. Your system doesn't have to work for everyone - just for yourself!
9. Do things the right way the first time.
I say this to my kids often, "Do it right the first time." Often there's a shortcut or an easy way out, and if that can qualify as "the right way," by all means, take that path of least resistance. But too often, the easy way is not the right way, and then you end up having to redo the task or fix a mistake later on. Sometimes tasks take my dad longer than I would expect, but it's done right and it lasts! Several years ago, I had some issues with the caulk around my bathroom tub and my dad fixed it for us (yep, I'm lucky, I know!) It took a lot longer than I anticipated, but because he used the right materials, fixed his mistakes while the caulk was still wet, smoothed it with the correct tool, and waited the appropriate amount of time for it to dry - it looked great, served its correct purpose, and has lasted a long time.
10. Use your talents to help others
As I said earlier, my dad can fix just about anything and everybody knows it! This was demonstrated yesterday when my almost-4-year-old nephew picked up a toy that wouldn't work and bypassed everyone to go straight to my dad and say, "Grandpa this is broken, will you fix it?" Being good at something does usually mean you get asked to help people do that thing, and sometimes that can feel like a burden. Though I can't read his mind, it doesn't seem like he minds when he's asked to help with someone else's project. I think he looks at it as an opportunity to solve a puzzle while helping someone out. He's certainly helped me out more than I could ever thank or repay him for. I think because I saw my dad using what he was good at to help his family and others since I was a little girl, it seems natural to me to share my talents, too. I also think that we improve our skills, become faster and more productive at things when we do them more often - practice makes perfect, right? If we can improve our skills and become more efficient at them while helping someone out, it's a win-win!
My dad has taught me much more than these 10 things (some of them I've written about before) but these are some that I thought you might like to try out. I'm so fortunate to have a dad who has been present my entire life, and it was really fun to think of some of the things he's taught me. I challenge you to make a list of some specific things someone important in your life has taught you - and share it with them! Happy Father's Day, Dad - I love you!
When life gets busy, paperwork is one of the last things I worry about! As a working mom with active kids and couple of side hustles, I have systems to help keep me on track, but when Spring arrives and my weekends fill up, it’s easy to get a little behind. I’ve written before about how to get started with wrangling your paper, purging old paperwork, and even creating a binder system to file it all. The key, though, is regular processing of your paper! I like Sunday evenings because I’m usually home, and it’s a good way to get the week off to a smooth start.
Back in mid-May, I gave myself the day off for Mother’s Day, and I liked that so much that I just kept putting all my papers in the file box and not actually processing them. They were tucked neatly away, but because I didn’t do my weekly review, I started missing things - there was a panicky trip to the bill drop instead of my normal online payment weeks in advance, my kids missed dress up days at school because I hadn’t reviewed the paper that was in my file box, and CVS Extra Care bucks expired before I remembered to use them! I began digging through my file box when I knew a bill needed paid or a form was due rather than processing the whole stack weekly. As time went on, I became overwhelmed by the volume of things I needed to review and file, so I just kept putting it off.
I had a great excuse - I was busy, very busy. But as I heard myself telling my kids just yesterday morning, "if you pick up your room every day, it will never get really dirty and it won’t take very long to clean,” I knew that principle applies to me as well! I need to make getting through the paperwork of life on a weekly basis a priority. If I do it regularly, it won't take that long - probably not as long as the amount of time I waste scrolling through social media on a Sunday evening...It's ok to give myself a day off once in a while, but I have to remember that it's easier on myself in the long run to keep up with my family's paperwork. If I literally don't have enough time to pay bills, fill out a few forms, and file my records, I might need to consider paring down my commitments.
If you have a mound of paper that's been piling up over the course of several weeks and don't know where to start, use these 6 steps to “catch up” so you can STAY caught up!
Empty all your file boxes and baskets, and move your piles to a clear area (floor is the best!)
Separate into piles
Put the relocate items and mementos in their proper places.
Separate the "do" pile into categories to make it more digestible. Examples could be:
Then DO them! As you do each item, the associated paperwork should be put into one of the remaining piles: file, shred, or recycle.
Take the file pile, and get to it! In a previous post, I explained my binder system that may help you. Regardless of your filing system, be certain that each paper that you put in your files is necessary to keep. If it's available electronically or can be scanned, consider shredding it instead of filing. You may not need to clog up your files with every bill, receipt, or statement you receive, but instead you may be able to simply log the information. For example, you could keep a log of your vehicle maintenance instead of keeping every oil change invoice. Read the post about the paper purge for more ideas and some free printables. Sometimes you may keep only the most recent version of a document, so as you file the current one, be sure to add outdated items to either the recycle or shred pile.
Recycle and shred. This should always be your last step. It's easy to want to do this first because it gets rid of two piles at once, but since you add to these piles through the process, it's best to do this last so you don't have to do this job twice. Shredding is a great job for kids - at least in my house, using the shredder is a real treat!
You're going to feel SO great, when you get through all your paperwork. Just do yourself a favor and don't get in this situation again (but if you do, just re-read this post!)
"I feel good today - ordered, calm, focused, pretty, competent. Ah, so rare, but so nice! Why today?" This is what I wrote in my journal one day several months ago. After that, it was my quest to figure out what I'd done differently that day which caused me to be in such a good mood. I made a list of what had happened that day, and then made a plan on how to recreate it. I wanted to make the rest like my best!
Here's my list and what it taught me:
I slept til 8 a.m.
I realized that I needed more sleep. I sometimes have trouble sleeping, so I needed to make it a priority. I decided to set a bedtime, get a new memory foam pillow, and change my bedtime routine so I wasn't working or on a screen right before bed. Since then, my sleep has definitely improved! I love my memory foam pillow, and I’ve also started using a meditation app, some essential oils at bedtime, and I even gave a sleep mask a try!
The downstairs of my house was clutter free and laundry was caught up.
Visible clutter makes me anxious, so I needed to look at clutter clearing as self-care. I committed to keep my kitchen clean for the whole upcoming week and make note of how I felt as a result. Laundry has always been my nemesis, so just keeping it out of sight was what I promised myself for the following week. I've since started a laundry experiment which I wrote about a few weeks ago - it's working! Clutter is a constant battle, but one thing that always helps is having less stuff! For the past few months, I've been slowly and steadily purging my house, room by room,
My new curtains were up and I loved how they looked.
I'd invested a lot of time making a decision about new curtains, and I was relieved that I liked them. (I'd had the previous ones for about 14 years, so I knew it was a big commitment!) I usually beat myself up about how long it took me to make a decision and how much effort I put into analyzing my options. This time, I felt proud of the research and bargain shopping I had done. Since then I’ve tried to spend my analysis efforts on big and important things, but with smaller decisions, as soon as my criteria are met, I go with it!
I had some alone time.
I've always been labelled an extrovert, but with even just a little alone time that morning, I was energized. This showed me that maybe I am similar to my introvert husband -- I need to be alone on a regular basis so I don't get drained. I decided on some regular alone time the following week while the kids were at soccer practice. It was only about an hour two times that week, but just knowing it was scheduled helped. I now spend time at the library about every other Saturday and have given myself permission to miss the occasional kid’s sports practice for some time at home alone.
I was given a compliment from my husband.
After reading The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman, I had no doubt that my love language was words of affirmation. Hearing a compliment from anyone boosts my mood, but when it comes from my husband, it means so much more. I had a lasting smile on my face after hearing that compliment, but I had to figure out how to feel love in ways other than just words, so I decided to consciously look for other ways I was loved besides just in words in the upcoming week. Since then, I have noticed love and kindness being shown to me in other ways like having my back in a tense situation, doing me a favor, asking my opinion, giving me a gift, or giving me a hug. Turns out I’m pretty blessed by all the people in my life!
I did not check email or the news in the morning.
I normally checked email and news first thing in the morning, and usually there was something negative in the headlines or something stressful in my inbox. That morning, I didn't let my device control me. I realized I didn't feel as down during the morning when I wasn't consumed by negative thoughts. New plan - no news til lunch time and no email until I've at least taken a shower! The only problem is sometimes I feel that I’m not keeping up on current events as much as I should. It’s a tough balance between being informed and staying positive!
I sent a message to a friend and received a reply.
I sent a Facebook message to a friend because they were on my mind, and they messaged me right back. Having that connection made me smile. I decided that everyday, I'm going to reach out to at least one friend- it could be in person, on the phone or via a message on Facebook, Snapchat, etc. I’ve been doing this faithfully, and I love this so much! It’s fun to let my friends know they are on my mind and even better to hear back from them!
I spent time doing my hair, makeup and picked out a cute outfit.
That morning, I had the time (and took the time) to fix myself up a bit. It made me feel confident, put together, and in control. I realized that too often, I sported the "I didn't have time nor do I care" look, especially during the work week. I vowed to put on a little makeup and make an effort with my hair every morning. Time was my biggest barrier, so I tried washing my hair at night and using dry shampoo every other day. I also planned to do what I knew worked for me - picking out my outfit the night before. Last week's blog post explored this phenomenon in a little more detail - how we look impacts how we feel. I still enjoy a good no makeup (or shower) day, but that’s more of the exception than the rule these days.
I encourage you to go give this a try - remember one of your best days, and really think about what you did and which of those things you can recreate or even improve upon. Don’t think you can do everything every day, but even small changes will make a difference! I'd love to hear your thoughts, please share with us in the comment section below.
During a recent "discussion" about what my son should wear to school, he told me that I didn't do laundry often enough. Before I realized that I felt like a failure as a mother, I kind of lost it! That day, I washed ALL the dirty clothes and had a giant pile of clean laundry waiting for him in the middle of the living room floor when he got home. I had him separate out what was his to demonstrate that he produced a LOT of dirty laundry! I explained that if you don't spill something on them, fall and get mud on your knees, or pee your pants, jeans really don't need washed all that often! I also suggested that a shirt can be reworn if it passes the armpit sniff test! I promised if we had less dirty laundry, I could keep up with it better.
For the next couple of weeks, it was working! Then I began to notice the same exact clothes being worn day after day. One morning at breakfast, I required both boys to change into something they hadn't worn the previous day, and I heard, "But you said to wear clothes more than once!!" I explained that didn't mean they could wear the same things multiple times IN A ROW. My oldest responded, "This is so confusing!!" I get it - laundry is confusing. We needed a new plan. My son and I brainstormed together to come up with some new ideas and he said, "Hey mom, you could write about this on your blog!" So here we are!
My little analytical mind started thinking through how we could start a laundry revolution, and of course, I turned to a spreadsheet and chart.... It takes about 30 minutes to wash and 60 minutes to dry in my machine, plus there's folding and putting away time, which I'll estimate at 15 minutes/load. If I did 6 loads sequentially, the least amount of time it would take me is just under 7 hours. In real life, I'm not usually standing there waiting for the washer or dryer to finish, so I need a better plan, so I don't have laundry couch all week and am not stuck at home all weekend.
We have hampers everywhere - one in each bathroom, each kid's bedroom, and one in the laundry room. On laundry day I have three other pop-up sorters. I'm not a crazy sorter, I just do lights, darks, and stuff that needs hot water (sheets, towels and stinky stuff). Mine and my son's idea was rather than keep dirty clothes in the hampers and dump it into a giant pile to sort once a week that instead we leave the laundry sorters out in the laundry room all week and sort as we go.
Lastly, I have made a pact with myself to continue doing what I started this weekend. I will not take clean laundry out of the laundry room unless it's folded or on hangers. My ultimate goal is as soon as I take laundry out of the dryer, to fold it or hang up on my over-the-door hook immediately. But even if it's not immediate, I vow not to empty another load from the dryer until the previous one has been put away. No more laundry couch for me!
I'm going to give this experiment about a month and then will give you an honest report of how it went. Laundry has been my nemesis for years, and I'm determined to beat it! Some of you may suggest having kids do their own laundry, but I've been hesitant to do this because I don't want to waste water with small loads of individuals' clothes that could be combined. I do get my kids involved by switching from washer to dryer and starting new loads in the washer. I'd love to hear any other ideas you have for keeping laundry under control so please leave a comment below.
1. "Clean" Your Digital Photos
Start by deleting unwanted photos from your digital camera and/or smartphone. On iPhones, once you delete a photo, it will go to a 'deleted' folder and will remain there for 30 days before it's completely deleted. If you need extra space on your phone, you could permanently delete items from your 'deleted' folder sooner.
Next, back up your photos! I recommend having your precious memories backed up in two different ways - one in the cloud and one on physical media. There are many cloud options like DropBox, iCloud or my personal favorite, Google Photos. To make this even easier, you can set up an automatic sync to the cloud services so you don't even have to think about it! In addition, I also hook my phone to my computer about once a quarter and move photos to an external hard drive. I make the folder structure very simple - top level folders are years and subfolders are month and year. Check out the video to show you how! After all your photos are backed up, then you can remove old photos you don't want to have immediate access to from your device (and rest assured that you can access them via the cloud storage option anytime you want them!)
Don't forget to DO something with your photos. It could be as easy as making a shared album in Google Photos or designing a Shutterfly album.
2. "Clean" Your Podcasts
I am constantly hearing about a new podcast I might like. I usually just immediately subscribe so I don't forget. Pretty soon, I've got a ton of podcasts that I don't have time to listen to. First step to get your podcasts "cleaned" out is to unsubscribe from ones you never listen to or don't care for. For ones that you do listen to or know you like, check the download and episode order settings to make sure they are set up like you want them. I made a video a while back to show you how to do this.
3. "Clean" Your Contacts
Your phone may have contacts that are synced from various sources, and some are unclear or incomplete. Start by deleting unwanted contacts all together. Then, on the remaining contacts, delete old phone numbers, add new ones, and assign the appropriate label to each number. (I know I've had some numbers listed as 'radio'!) On an iPhone, confirm the Siri suggestions if they are correct. Add physical and email addresses you know to existing contacts. Create new contacts from previous calls or texts for people you may want to contact in the future. Edit names and add descriptions to make existing contacts more clear and easy to find. Finally, link duplicate contacts. Here's a quick tutorial video to help you with this process.
4. "Clean" Your Apps
Start by finding out how much time you use on your apps. On an iPhone go to Settings>Battery and under the Battery Usage section, click on the clock icon and you can actually see how many minutes (or hours) you spent in each app either in the last 24 hours or last 7 days. Here's a quick tutorial. If there are apps you haven't used in the past 7 days, consider if you may want to delete them. Make sure remaining apps are in folders with similar apps and reorganize your folders so they are the most accessible. Here's a previous video about organizing apps on your phone.
5. "Clean" Your Digital Calendar
First, delete unnecessary appointments (especially recurring ones) or entries that really are not time sensitive. If it's not something that has to be done at a certain date and time, consider moving it to a task management app. For remaining entries, change any that will happen on a regular schedule to recurring appointments. Next add details to all your entries like the address where you'll be going, the phone number of who you need to call, links to websites, etc. Set the default calendar on your phone to the one you use most often so you don't have to edit appointments as often. For example if you have a work calendar and a personal calendar, determine which one you set the most appointments on your phone and change the default. Watch this short video tutorial to help you.
6. "Clean" Your Digital Lists
I have several digital lists - Netflix and Hulu watch lists, Amazon wish lists, digital task lists to name a few. Spring cleaning time is a great reminder to clean these up. For streaming video services, consider creating separate profiles for each family member so that you can keep your watch lists separate. Then go through them periodically and remove things you've already watched or are no longer interested in. Amazon lists are a great way to capture gift ideas or items you are considering for yourself. Use this review to create separate lists for each person or event, add or remove items, and share lists with family or friends.
Finally, make sure your digital to-do list is comprehensive and up to date. There are many options for task management apps, and the one I use is Nozbe. (If you missed my interview with the founder and CEO, check it out here!) Make sure your head is emptied into your system and everything in the system still needs to be completed. Categorize and set deadlines as necessary. Reviewing this system is something you should really do on regular basis, but use Spring Cleaning as your motivation to get your system in order!
7. "Clean" Your Computer's Desktop
Have you ever looked at someone's computer desktop and gotten the heebie jeebies because of all the clutter? Keep your own desktop clear by deleting unnecessary files (or moving them to the correct location). You can also pin commonly used programs to the task bar and then delete the shortcut from the desktop. Rearrange icons so they are pleasing to the eye and even change up your background every once in a while to keep things interesting! Here's a brief tutorial video about decluttering your desktop.
8. "Clean" Your Files and Folders
Review all your files and folders, edit names, and reorganize. Delete unwanted files including temporary files and ones in your downloads folder. As you save files, make sure to name files descriptively and create folders that are easy to understand so you can actually find the files you want later. Start with very few top level folders and then get more specific with subfolders. You can save different file types in the same folder (ex. you don't need separate folders for Excel and Word files.) Top level folders should be broad and based on projects or subjects rather than time frames (ex Finances rather than 2018). If you create subfolders for date, make sure to use two digits for months so they sort correctly (ex. 01 for January instead of 1). You should also backup files to either an external hard drive or to a cloud storage provider.
I hope these 9 tips will help you get your digital house clean this Spring. If you have other tips, please share them with us in the comments! Happy Spring (digital) Cleaning!
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.
A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about how my journey to get my life in order began. There were two key things I learned initially that I've been trying to implement ever since:
Today, I want to elaborate on the first point. I had an AHA! moment when I talked to my coach about all I was dealing with. She repeated everything I had listed on my responsibility list and asked me if I would expect someone else to handle all of those things in the manner I had explained that I wanted them done. I immediately said, "No." When she said if that was true, then I couldn't expect that of myself, I felt kind of stupid. I mean, that made a lot of intellectual sense, and even though I wanted to insert a "but" and follow it some logical reasoning - I couldn't. She was right, just plain right.
Realizing, and then internalizing that lower self-expectation didn't mean I wasn't good at my job, good at being a mom or a wife or a friend or a homemaker or any of the other roles I was in - it was FREEING! I could be a "regular person" and didn't have to keep up the superwoman facade. I deserved the same respect and grace that I gave to others, and I was really the only one who could give that to myself. As easy as it is to complain about how others treat us or what they expect of us - as I've often told my kids, "you're in charge of you." I needed to realize that applied to me as well!
"Done is better than perfect."
So since then, I've been all about lower expectations. My new mantra has been, "Done is better than perfect." I've become aware of how many things that I used to think were important were things that no one else would notice if I did or didn't do. I've always loved productivity and organization, but now I had a new found passion for it because I wanted to accomplish the most I could without torturing myself! Here are a few ways I lowered expectations and added in a little extra productivity:
Keeping expectations for myself at bay is a constant struggle, but it's a struggle worth having. Feeling accomplished and satisfied with my less-than-perfect life is so worth it! Do you agree that lowering self-expectation is a good idea, a way to survive and thrive in this fast paced world we live in? Or do you disagree and feel that we should expect more of ourselves? I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.
I had a couple of experiences in the past year that made me say, “Well, that was easy!” out loud. I was both surprised and impressed by the speed and ease of which my requests were fulfilled, but then I started wondering why an easy process was almost shocking. I realized it’s because many of the tasks we do daily and interactions we have with businesses are unnecessarily difficult.
First to give credit where credit is due - here are the two experiences that were easy peasy lemon squeezy!
I was so pleased with these two experiences that I told a bunch of people about them (even better marketing idea than giving kids free tickets to an event - make people talk about how great you are!) One of the people I told was my mom, who made a very interesting observation. Both of those interactions involved human beings, not merely technology. Now, I work in a technology area, so technology is something I like and am familiar with, but there was no denying what she observed was true.
"...the key isn’t personal interaction in and of itself, but instead the focus on how customers want to use and access their products and services and how those same customers want to be treated during the process."
It seems like the businesses that are thriving these days are the ones that are make things easy - Netflix, Amazon, Uber to name a few. These examples certainly use technology, so maybe the key isn’t personal interaction in and of itself, but instead the focus on how customers want to use and access their products and services and how those same customers want to be treated during the process. Have you ever been to Chick-Fil-A where they are extremely polite or to Dress Barn where they learn your name and bring you different sizes and suggest additional styles that may be flattering? They seem to be concerned about how people want to be treated. My local pharmacy considers how I want to access their services and realizes I don’t want to wait in line - they texted me when they noticed my insurance card was out of date, and all I had to do was text them back a picture of the card to get it updated prior to my next visit.
Staples started the ‘That was Easy’ campaign in 2003, and even though they abandoned that a few years ago, I think a lot of us would really like to push the metaphorical “Easy Button” a lot more often! Since my recent positive experiences, I’ve been brainstorming about how to make tedious or inconvenient processes easier either through human interaction or technology or maybe a balanced combination- - hoping for a lightening bolt moment to start the next big thing!
I took away a few things for personal productivity from this:
What processes do you dread because they are over-complicated and what ones make you say, "That was easy"? How can you make your own life more productive and how can you impact others to make their lives easier? Share with us in the comments below.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!