I have two weeks off for the first time since before I entered the workforce (of course I'm not counting maternity leave because that is NOT vacation!) To say I'm excited is a severe understatement. Many people have asked me what I'm doing and where I'm going. My answer is nothing and nowhere - and that's by choice and why I'm thrilled! I love the holidays - the decorating, the Christmas sweaters and socks, the cooking and baking, the gift giving and the family gatherings are all fun! But just as much as I love the holidays, I love the fresh start of the new year that follows.
I have a busy life just like most of you. A wife, mother, daughter, granddaughter, sister, aunt, cousin, friend, volunteer, employee, boss, entrepreneur, piano teacher - there are so many roles I play. I enjoy having all these varied experiences, but there is one area that I tend to neglect - ME!
This week between Christmas and New Years is one of the best times to recharge your battery. During my time off, I plan to reflect on the past year, plan for the new one, rest, relax, enjoy things I want to do, make memories with my family, declutter and purge, and reorganize. Try this quick list of tasks to help you transition from the holidays to the new year!
1. Un-decorate - I prefer to leave my Christmas decorations for a few days after December 25, but no later than the weekend after New Years Day. Once your decorations are down, you can see the new start that the new year brings.
2. Purge - after receiving Chirstmas gifts, you are more likely to be willing to part with old items around the house. I start with my kids' rooms where most of the new "stuff" from the holidays tends to end up. We do a system of 20 minutes at a time of hard core work, going through every item and nook and cranny. I have two kids so while one kid is decluttering with me in their room, the other gets some screen time. We alternate until we are done. I can't wait to complete the purging process in my own space as well - look out small appliances, your days may be numbered!
3. Organize - The kids don't totally hate the purging process,because they get to rearrange, redecorate and reorganize their room how they like. We focus on function first - where do you like to read, why is it so hard to get your dirty clothes in that type of hamper, would those drawers be easier to get to in a different spot, are you more likely to play with your action figures if they are all in one bin, etc. I also make a list of what is missing (so far the list includes a LED light for my son's closet, a poster frame, and some floating shelves.) We use Christmas money to buy any supplies needed.
4. Reflect - try the exercise I did last year of asking yourself questions about the past year to help set your focus for the new year. Look back through your calendar as a family and reminisce about all the things you did over the past year. This is a great time to review your photos and make a family photo album. Review the goals you set for yourself last year and note your progress.
5. Plan - create some new goals for yourself - make sure to make some small ones and some lofty ones! After you've chosen your planner (tips on how to do that were in last week's post), start filling in the calendar with all the dates that are set in stone. If you created monthly goals, noting them in your planner is a great way to keep them top of mind.
6. Relax - choose some things that you love to do, and make the time to do them. For me this includes taking bubble baths, reading, getting a massage or a pedicure, writing, watching TV, going to the movies, organizing (I know, I'm a geek!), playing board games, playing the piano, getting together with friends, and hanging out with my kids and husband.
By next week's post I should have finished steps 1-5 and will still be enjoying step 6! I will share with you some of my reflection and planning process next time. Happy Holidays!
As 2018 comes to a close, there are many decisions to make, but one of the biggest is which 2019 planner is best for you? I'm kidding (a little) but if not one of the most important decisions, it's definitely one of the most fun!
Planning saves time and helps us feel in control. There are many options for planning tools from a simple notebook to a pretty planner to slick digital apps. There is no perfect method for planning your days, but there several questions that you can answer to help you choose the right planner for you!
Once you've answered these basic questions, you can move on to the more detailed options based on your paper vs. digital preference.
I like a hybrid approach and use a digital calendar, digital task manager with digital reminders, as well as a paper planner. I prefer to keep personal and professional somewhat separate, but do combine them in one view. For example, on my iPhone's calendar app, I have my personal Google Calendar, my "side hustle" Google Calendar, and my work Outlook calendar overlaid on one another so I can see everything at once. For me, I want to capture time bound meetings and appointments, deadlines, and special dates like birthdays and anniversaries on a calendar and to-dos in a task list. I need a place to jot down notes and ideas, and a place to store a piece of notepaper as well. It may seem redundant to have tasks in both a digital and written format, but the physical act of writing things down helps me process and remember them better. When I transfer items from my digital task list to my physical planner during a regular planning time, it helps to cement in my mind what is truly a priority.
I am so excited that this year, I have the 5x8 size of the Simplified Planner by Emily Ley. I'd been eyeing this online for quite some time, and then a few weeks ago, a friend who knows me well surprised me with a super cool and pretty 2019 planner! I will set aside some reflection and planning time between Christmas and New Years to begin filling out this colorful notebook! Here are a few tips I've learned over the years for written planners:
Buy a special writing utensil to use with your planner. A mechanical pencil may be your best option - it's erasable, the tip will always be sharp and it won't bleed through the pages. But there's something fun about using a special pen that writes so smoothly... Just make sure to test pens on a small section of paper to make sure it doesn't bleed or smudge. Different types of paper react differently to different types of ink. Consider a couple of colors of pens/highlighters to use and make a system of what each color means. For example, if you decide to add both work and personal obligations, you may want to use one color for work and one color for personal.
Create a way to keep your place. Find a reliable bookmark, fun binder clip, or reusuable sticky note tab to mark your place in your paper planner. My planner comes with tabs for each month, but I will still want to mark which date I'm on to make it that much quicker to do my planning.
Decide how far out you will plan. Most people do well to put in the big events for the whole year on the calendar and then plan around those on a monthly or weekly basis. A quick review of your calendar and digital tools before bed allow you to write down your appointments and must dos the night before in your paper planner. This will allow you to rest easier knowing you haven't forgotten anything and that you have a solid plan for the next day.
Set a regular planning meeting with yourself and your family. My husband and I both work full time and have a significant commute, plus have some volunteer commitments, lots of parenting commitments and also appreciate some downtime. We have to have at least a weekly check in to figure out who's going to pick up the kids, what we will have for dinner, etc. This doesn't have to be a formal meeting - ours is usually after a meal and we both whip out our phones and check who has to go in early, who has to stay late, and what kid's activities are coming up that week. This allows us to plan our grocery shopping list and arrange childcare for the week ahead. We invite each other to events using our digital calendars so know what is expected of us.
I hope you can find your ideal planner in the next couple of weeks so you can start off your 2019 feeling like a planning rockstar! If you have another planner you love, please share with us in the comments.
This weekend, I was at my last vendor event with Clever Container, and as unsuspecting shoppers walked by, I would ask, “would you like to get more organized?” Several people replied, “If I got organized, I would never find anything!” The first couple of times, I chuckled assuming they just said the first thing that came to mind to shut me up so they could pass by my booth without feeling guilty for not stopping to browse. But when I heard the same statement for the third, fourth, and fifth time, I started thinking that maybe there is a widespread misunderstanding about what organization really is or what it should be.
The Clever Container slogan (and a big reason I began selling their products) is “Make Room for Life.” This is the spirit of what being organized is to me. On my website’s homepage it says,
"Getting a life in order is so much more than store-bought organizing containers, a white board calendar, and cute office supplies -- it's about a realistic system that honors your priorities"
So the idea that getting organized would actually make life harder or less efficient is really a foreign concept to me. I wonder if those who made that comment are thinking of getting organized as a cookie cutter solution that someone else told them was the “right way.” To those of you who have avoided changing how you do things, where you put things, or how you think about your things, I want you to have hope that there are ways to change that will actually improve your life - in the way that you want to live it. We all need a personalized approach to organizing, and here’s how to get started:
How You Do Things
Ask yourself these questions:
A real life example:
My oldest son's bedroom is...well, let’s call it an organizational challenge. A few months ago, it got especially bad, so I sat in his room with him and told him he was my organizing client, so I asked him the three questions above. He loves to read, so we decided a reading nook made sense for him. Obviously he needed books, and he also wanted a lamp, some pillows and blankets. The answer to what was in his space that he DIDN’T need was the key to him really buying into getting it organized. He had a large bookshelf, but it was full of board games. It bothered him that others came into his room all the time to get a game, so we were able to do some shelf shuffling and relocate all the board games to a more central location and fill his bookshelf with books. We were able to bring in most of the other items he needed for his reading nook - a bin that fit in the bottom of the bookshelf and some pillows and blankets - from other areas in the house. We bought an inexpensive clip-on lamp to complete his nook! Now this is his favorite area in his room, and though it’s not perfectly clean all the time, it has vastly improved since we defined the space, got rid of what didn’t belong, and put everything he needed in a central location.
Where You Put Things
Ask yourself these questions:
A real life example:
In my video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen, I talked about organizing in zones. I have a baking zone with one cabinet that houses baking ingredients and measuring cups and spoons. In the cabinet directly beneath, I have a plastic bin with a lid containing all my cake and cookie decorating supplies - sprinkles, cookie cutters, piping bags, etc. The counter top between those two cabinets has an outlet where I can plug in a mixer and has space for mixing bowls. I created this zone in a logical area near the oven. I made it accessible by making sure I could reach everything easily. Using a bin that I could just put up on the counter instead of having to get on my hands and knees to look through a shelf in a lower cabinet was a great improvement! Finally I made it pleasing to the eye with matching, labeled canisters for my flours and sugars.
How You Think About Things
Ask yourself these questions:
A real life example:
My youngest son is fortunate to be near the bottom of a great hand-me-down chain, so he has a LOT of clothes. It is overwhelming sometimes with how many little shirts and pairs of pants I’m trying to stuff into his dresser drawers. When there is too much, he finds it difficult to put things away and we end up with half open drawers overflowing with unfolded clothes. I get mad because of the mess, but feel guilty if I don’t use all the clothes we have been given. Then we both get frustrated when we can’t find that one shirt that he actually does like because it’s smashed among all of the other shirts that he finds just so-so. I had to learn that less is definitely more in this situation! Now we go through every piece of clothing to decide if it fits AND if he likes it. If the answer is no to either of those questions, the item gets donated or trashed. As you can read in a previous post, The Seasonal Switch, we only store one season of clothes in all of our rooms (partly due to the lack of closet space in our 100+ year old house). When you store things out of sight for months at a time, when you get them out, they feel novel and fresh again! I also do this with stuffed animals and rotate occasionally. There are a few instances were we don’t have ENOUGH of something, and I finally realized that it was worth the extra few bucks to buy another package of underwear to stop the frantic morning rush to find a clean pair!
I hope this personalized approach will prevent you from scoffing at the idea of getting organized. Or maybe you now realize that you are pretty organized, it's just not what you thought of as the "regular" way of being organized. If you can find things, don't feel overwhelmed by your stuff, aren't frustrated or angry because you lose things or forget to complete tasks - you're already in really good shape! If you've still got a ways to go, that's ok, take this approach to get organized space by space.
The title of my my blog is My Life In Order, but I have to admit, this weekend, I did not feel very orderly! One of the things I enjoy most is ending - in a quick and unexpected way. I learned this weekend that Clever Container is going out of business in just a couple of weeks. Clever Container is a company I have worked for since June selling organizing supplies. It has been more fun and fulfilling and I was more successful at it than I ever expected! I had plans for a long future and a lot of growth with the company, and it all just ended with one phone call. To say I’m disappointed is a severe understatement.
Over the weekend, I felt like doing a whole lot of nothing. All my grand plans for Saturday got derailed when I learned this news. I didn’t feel like cleaning, wrapping gifts, doing paperwork, or even spending quality time with my friends and family. I really kind of wanted to just crawl into bed and binge on Netflix while eating chocolate, but instead, I trudged on reluctantly. I soon realized this disappointment was interfering with my productivity in a big way, and that made me kind of mad! My future had already been changed by this news, and now I was struggling to do some basic tasks and to enjoy the things I normally look forward to. I had a couple of choices. I could be upset and wallow in it or I could control the things I could control in the moment. For me, a clutter free house, organized paperwork, and a productive day are things that I can directly control. After giving myself some alone time to mope a little, I spent time doing things that had a visible impact in my house. I needed some quick wins to make me feel back in control. Clean laundry and dishes, clear surfaces, and a to-do lists with lots and lots of checks were just what I needed!
Even after this take charge approach, I still felt down, so I decided to break it down so I could turn it around. Here’s what I figured out: I needed to identify what I was feeling and sort out which of those were rational and irrational and then figure out how to move forward. Of course, I whipped out my journal because writing things down always help me process them. I’m no therapist, but here’s my list of feelings:
Next I wrote down part a Bible verse that most of us know “All things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28) I knew this intellectually, but emotionally it was hard to accept! You’ve all heard the first part of this famous quote, “When one door closes another opens;” but I had never heard the second half which is really profound,”but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the one which has opened for us.” Alexander Graham Bell, you were wise! Thinking about this, led me to write three words that gave me some hope:
Reflect - why did I choose to join Clever Container? What did I like about it? What didn’t I like? What would I do differently if I could? If it could have continued, what would my success have looked like? What were the costs to this opportunity - financial, time, etc? What were the benefits of this opportunity? What could have gone better and worse?
Reevaluate - what are my true goals? What are my priorities and how do my goals align with those? What am I missing that is necessary for me to meet those goals? Where can I get those missing pieces?
Refocus - what can I let go of that is hindering progress? what is my plan to actually do the things that will get me where I want to be? What do I need to add or subtract from my life?
So far my reflection, re-evaluation and refocusing efforts have gotten me here: Clever Container was fun and lined up with my desire to help others achieve their goals, but I’m fortunate to have my blog where I can still share my love of organization and productivity. Maybe this is the perfect time to refocus on the blog and other avenues to help people get organized and stay productive. I get to choose how I will spend the time I otherwise would have spent on Clever Container - maybe I’ll start practicing piano more, start a new hobby or side hustle, exercise or read more (or find a new Netflix show to get into, go to bed earlier, enjoy more bubble baths). Who knows - the possibilities are exciting!
I know this disappointment is minor compared to many things others are dealing with like loss of jobs that is a primary source of income, broken relationships, sickness, or loss of a loved one. I am aware that my direct sales business closing up shop doesn’t even come close to the disappointment and emotions related to these more serious events, but I do think that the same exercise may apply to help identify what we are feeling and why and then to give it the attention it deserves through reflection, looking beyond it with re-evaluation and starting anew with refocus. The highs in life wouldn’t seem so high without the lows, so let’s choose to let our lows teach us and bring us up!
Around the holidays, I always get the urge to purge! Life gets so busy between Thanksgiving and Christmas around my house with school programs, parties, shopping, decorating, family gatherings, etc. It seems extra difficult for me to stay on top of the regular tasks like laundry, dishes and clutter, so this is the time that having less stuff is really appealing. Whenever this feeling strikes me, I take advantage and get out some trash bags and cardboard boxes!
I like to do pre-holiday purging in the areas that I'm most likely to acquire new stuff. The prime location to begin, kids' rooms! It's ideal to involve your kids in this process, explaining that if they want to enjoy new toys or gifts, they have to make some room. I like to give the kids 5 options on every item in their room:
For me and my sons, it works best if I'm in the room with them, holding up each item, but if you have older kids, they may be able to do this process on their own. Since there are 5 options, we use 5 containers - a combination of trash bags, boxes and storage bins. To be very thorough, have your smallest child crawl under the bed or to the back of the closet to make sure you get everything! I have found that option 2, keep as a keepsake, has helped reduce the time it takes to make a decision. Kids are sure about the things they want to keep and get rid of, but there are some items in between. Rather than force them to decide one way or the other, we keep a box of keepsakes in the basement. Occasionally (but not as often as we should) we go through those keepsakes and purge further. I also throw in the option of giving away to someone we know because it's easier to get rid of a beloved toy if they know it's going to their younger cousin who will like it (and they may get to play with it at their house, too!)
Just like I make my kids go through this process, I like to do it myself on my clothes, coats, jewelry, and shoes. It works out well since this time of year usually aligns with when I do my clothing seasonal switch. I also like to go through things like CDs, movies, craft supplies, and kitchen gadgets. If you want to do some in-depth work on your kitchen, check out my video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen!
I have a hard time getting rid of things that prove my kids are growing up - like kids' movies and music, games for younger kids, coloring books, and even little spoons and cups. This is where giving to someone I know comes in handy for me. I can much more easily part with a Sonic the Hedgehog activity book, a plastic Spiderman plate and silverware set, or Veggie Tales DVDs when I know my nephews (and now niece!) or a friend's child will enjoy them.
In addition to purging, I love to use this time to get organized as well. The key is to be realistic about how you use your spaces and to store items near where they are typically used. Using the correct storage solutions is important. For example, you don't want to stack bins on top of one another that you want to access often. Instead, consider a shelf with bins, hanging closet shelves, a set of drawers, or stacking bins with front access. Make a list of what storage problems you have and then do a little organization browsing online or in person. Select one area to focus on first and either purchase or re-purpose some organizing supplies for that area to be complete. This will give you so much more satisfaction than getting one thing for each room. You can slowly add to your collection of organizing supplies as time goes on.
On my last day of Thanksgiving vacation, I'm planning a fun filled day of purging! So family and friends (you know who you are,) prepare yourself for being offered a bunch of stuff we no longer need! I remember receiving lots of hand-me-down clothes and toys from others who had older kids, and even if I didn't keep everything, I always appreciated free stuff and knowing that someone else thought enough of us to pass down things they used to love. Happy pre-holiday purging to all!
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//0022-3518.104.22.1687.
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/.
As the holidays approach, I begin to think more about my Grandma who passed away on Thanksgiving Day 5 years ago. She lived 98 years, and I had the privilege to know her for 32 of those. Appropriately, earlier this week I saw a quote, "Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone," and it made me sad to think about three of my four grandparents who are gone. But then I realized how fortunate I am to have had so many good examples in my life (including my other Grandma who I'm blessed to still have!) What a great way to honor them by being the things I loved most about them!
"Be the things you loved most about the the people who are gone."
I have two Grandpas and one Grandma who are in heaven. I don't know if there's anyway that they can look down on this world or not, but it's comforting to think that they might be. I hope that if that's the case, they'd be proud to see their granddaughter living out the lessons they taught me. One of my grandfathers died when I was only 9, but I have vivid memories and lessons learned from him just like I do my other grandpa who died when I was almost 30. I've chosen three qualities from each of my grandparents that I want to display in my own life, and I'll start with my Grandma Lena who I had a very special bond with.
Grandpa Ralph (married to Grandma Lena)
I'm a bit tear-stained as I write this because I miss them all so much, but it is nice to relive these memories and see how the things I loved so much about these pillars in my life still resonate in me today. Were these people perfect? of course not, but in these few ways and many more that I don't have time to share, they provided me a framework for a really fulfilling life. I want to apply these qualities to my life and I sincerely hope that some day my kids and future grandkids will remember some of these same types of things about my life that will help guide their future. Take the time to list out the things you loved most about the people who are gone from your life, but certainly not forgotten. It will make your heart feel very full!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
Life isn’t always fair or fun. It can be full of fear, sadness, and unknowns. We often mess up, are imperfect and make poor decisions. Lately, I’ve felt like there are so many bad things all around me - bad things affecting strangers, my friends, and my family. Sometimes, it’s easy to be so focused on the bad, that we begin to expect it. I even verbalized this to a friend, “all this bad stuff is happening all around me, and it’s just a matter of time ‘til it happens to me.” I sometimes almost feel guilty (rather than grateful) when bad things aren’t happening to me.
I was right in the middle of this spiral of sadness and expectation of disaster when I got a text from my cousin, Darra. A few months ago, I'd ask her to send me the next funny thing that happened to her and I'd include it in an installment of 'My Life In Laughter.' These are posts that include audio recordings of me telling a funny story and laughing at myself. I recorded a few gems including Cozy Shirt, Gold Saturn, Drive Through Judgment and A Cat Litter Incident. I did this, not because I think I'm so hilarious, but because I truly believe in the power of laughter - especially when we can laugh at ourselves! I knew I'd soon run out of funny material, and that Darra was a great storyteller who had funny stuff happen to her all the time (she was actually on Candid Camera once!)
Well, she came through at exactly the right time! She made me laugh so hard listening to her tell this story of travelling alone to her grandmothers’ funeral. Doesn’t sound very funny, does it? But it just showed me that God gave us laughter even in the midst of sadness. And to get a little deep and metaphorical – the title of her recording “Travelling Solo” – made me think how we really aren’t alone, and giving ourselves permission to laugh – especially when we share it with others – is good therapy to get through dark times. When we are sad, scared, angry and our lives feel chaotic, maybe a little laughter shared with those around us can bring us a joy. Take a listen to Darra’s ability to laugh, even in one of the saddest times. Don’t feel bad laughing with her – it helps us all to heal!
Last winter, my kids had a magical three days when my husband’s and my flu-like symptoms overlapped. It’s not that they wished us poor health, but they did enjoy our lack of enforcement of the no TV during the school week rule. We were too tired to care, so we all got too much screen time for those few days.
When are bodies are worn down, our regular routine usually goes out the window. It’s so easy to get behind while we are sick – dishes pile up all over the house, hampers overflow, tissues cover end tables and the floor next to trashcans, and stacks of mail begin to topple.
The best way to keep it together when we don’t feel good is to create systems to follow while we are healthy so that we can afford to take a few days off when we're sick without things falling apart. If you do these seven simple things on a regular basis, your house will be manageable, and when you get sick, you’ll have a little latitude to slack off.
"The best way to keep it together when we don't feel good is to create systems to follow while we are healthy so that we can afford to take a few days off when we're sick without things falling apart."
When you are under the weather, give yourself permission to take a few shortcuts to keep your house from becoming a disaster zone.
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 email@example.com to help me create a good tutorial for you!
Photo by Krsto Jevtic on Unsplash
“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.
Back in the summer of 1991 when my family went to Disney World, I first heard the song, "It's a Small World After All" - over and over again as we rode the ride which, for some reason, scared my then 6 year old brother (the characters are kind of creepy!) At the age of 10, that ride didn't make sense to me. The world didn't seem small, it seemed big and scary. It still seems big and scary to me most of the time. I've always had a sense of how small I am in the scheme of things. Whenever I travel, I marvel at the complex system of roads, bridges, and buildings. I am amazed at scientific research, manufacturing on a massive scale, and when I see these things and hear of missionaries or aid workers helping people all over the world, I feel like what I know, what I do, and what I am just might not matter.
As we all do, I remember distinctly where I was on 9/11 and can conjure up the fear I felt about our big, bad world for months after. Later that school year, I let fear get the best of me when I skipped a college trip to New York City because I was scared of what might happen. Though I'm not scared all the time, I still often let my feelings of insignificance get in the way. I worry about taking a chance or failing or wonder why I should even try because I know there are others in this big world who can do things better than I can.
"Though I'm not scared all the time, I still often let my feelings of insignificance get in the way."
Recently, I had a string of coincidences with several random people. Whenever I meet someone who is from my hometown, or knows someone I know, or was at the same place at the same time as me, I wonder if it's really a coincidence or just God's way of showing us that we are interconnected, and as such, NOT insignificant. Whenever I have these experiences, I wonder how I acted in these situations that I have in common with this previous stranger - was I kind, thoughtful, respectful and did I display a good work ethic? Or was I rude, dismissive and condescending? I sure hope it was the former! There's been so much discussion recently about how our pasts affect our present and our future, I think the lesson that my kids have been learning at school from the book, Wonder, is key, "Choose kind." The world is becoming smaller and smaller with the increasing technology and the prevalence of social media, we have to realize that what we do today really does matter for tomorrow. We should think more than ever about how are actions now may define our future.
Even though I don't expect to change the world tomorrow, I don't know whose path I may cross or how what I say or do may impact someone. In one of these recent coincidences, someone told me that the were grateful for how they were treated by my family. Wow, that kind of gave me chills - you never what your next action may lead to - good or bad. I'm starting to see why those Disney characters just kept on singing about how small the world really is.
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.
Photo by Steven Wright on Unsplash
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.
I'm overweight - actually obese according US Department of Health. There I said it – funny how that was so hard since my weight is something that I really can’t hide. Growing up, I stayed at a pretty healthy weight (probably because of my mom's 2-vegetable-with-one-being-green-at-dinner rule!) The first time I remember really making an effort to lose weight was when I was getting ready for my wedding. But back then at 21, I just ate fewer chicken nuggets and jogged a little and - boom, I weighed 133 by wedding day. Well, since then I've accumulated a lot of things - a husband, a mortgage, two babies, a career, a couple of side hustles, some stress, and a lot of weight! I remember during my second pregnancy, my doctor logged my 9 months pregnant weight and said, "Have you ever weighed this much before?" I was a little shocked at the question, and said, "No and I hope I never do again!" Well, I weigh more now than I did when I gave birth over 7 years ago, and I’ve tried harder than ever during that time frame to lose weight. It’s frustrating and sometimes disheartening to try and fail over and over again. I’m tired of the ups and downs.
My internal dialogue would be maddening to anyone who could read my mind. I give myself a pep talk reminding myself I’ve lost weight before so I can do it again, and I make a plan. Then I try real hard – for a couple of weeks - and when I don’t see the results I want, I give into a little self-pity and feed that with actual food. I think I might as well just eat whatever I want since I’m already overweight. I say to myself, “It’s not the number on the scale that matters, it’s what the inside that counts.” I think I don’t look that bad, and I just need to learn to be happy with who I am and how I look. But then I see a picture of myself and do a double take because that can’t really be what other people see when they look at me, right? No, it’s just the camera angle – you’ve got to hold the camera higher. It IS just the camera angle, right? I don’t feel like that person in the photo – or in the mirror. And then I start feeling down and realize that I AM that person, and that person seems lazy and incapable if she can’t do something as simple as control the food that goes in her mouth and the number of steps she takes per day. The doctor even comments on my weight and tells me there's nothing physically wrong, I just need to eat better, exercise, get more sleep. I want to scream, “I’VE TRIED THAT!” They don’t understand my life and how stressed I am and how little time I have - and then insert excuse after excuse. I finally crumple into the question, “If I can’t lose weight, am I really capable of much else?”
I've told myself so many things about my weight - some are lies and some are truths, but I've lost track of which are which. I’m speaking as a 37 year-old woman with no medical or psychological training – just my own experience and observations. I’ve found that my weight is intertwined with so many aspects of my life which is why losing it is not as easy as simply eating less and moving more.
"I've told myself so many things about my weight - some are lies and some are truths, but I've lost track of which are which."
Weight and Relationships
I am blessed to have children who tell me I’m beautiful even when I don’t feel that way and a husband who has never made me feel ugly because of my weight. My closest friends and family love me unconditionally, so I know that changes in my appearance won't make the people who matter to me love me more or less. This makes ME the only person I need to impress, and it’s hard for me to do things for myself. I find it easier to help someone else meet their goals than to take the steps that I need to take to get where I want to go. I feel selfish when I try to eat differently than my family or take the time to exercise because in my mind, that takes something away from them. My relationship with myself needs to rise up and take precedence so I can be my best self.
Though I have confidence in my close relationships, it is very easy to compare myself to others. When I start comparing, I feel bad about myself, but I often turn to excuses. “If I was a stay at home mom like her, I’d have time to exercise and would be just as fit.” “If I had as much money as her, I could afford to buy healthier foods, too.” "If my job were as easy as hers, my stress level would be less, and it would be easier to lose weight.” Instead of all of these, “If I had…then I would be” statements, I should be looking at the women I’m comparing myself to and learning from them. I know not all skinny girls have it all together. I should learn how they manage to get and stay healthy in spite of the struggles of their lives.
Weight and Health
I know, intellectually, that my weight does impact my health and that losing even just a little weight will improve my overall health and well-being. According to the CDC, being obese can increase chances of all sorts of health problems including high cholesterol, type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, stroke, mental illness, and body pain. With all of these risks, you’d think that I’d really focus on decreasing my weight. Instead, I continue to rationalize why MY weight problem isn’t all that bad.
I’ve always had good blood pressure – like, it’s my pride and joy. No matter how much I’ve weighed my blood pressure has always been normal and usually below normal. It was like my barometer of health, and I’d rationalize that even though I was overweight, since my blood pressure was good, it wasn’t really impacting my health. Earlier this year at a routine doctor appointment, my blood pressure was high. I freaked out because this threw my healthy-though-fat theory out the window. I've since worked to get it back in the normal range, but it will take constant attention to keep it that way.
As I age, I think more about my own mortality. I’ve heard people say they want to get healthy for their family, and that’s great – I want more quality time with my family too, but in all honesty – I want to live long and enjoy my own life for me! I am guilty of the putting off healthy habits - “I’ll start good eating Monday” and “after I get through this, I’ll start exercising” and “I’ll start going to bed earlier after summer is over.” Why do I keep putting it off? As those of us who are over about 25 know, time seems to accelerate as we age. I don’t want to miss out on NOW because I don’t have enough energy to enjoy life, and I don’t want to miss out on the future because of the bad habits I have now.
Weight and Age
Between kids, I lost 25 pounds and kept it off for two years (until I got pregnant again.) I read and followed the South Beach Diet to the letter. I thrived with a strict program with rules and quick results. I’ve tried to follow the same program several times since and failed. Has my body chemistry changed now that I’m getting older and it’s just no use? A New York Times article says, “Although it is possible to lose weight at any age, several factors make it harder to lose weight with age.” That’s kind of depressing…The one good thing about the passage of time, though, is the improvements in technology. A FitBit will surely do the trick or an app to track my calories, right? Though these are great tools, they don’t do the work for us. I’m living proof - I’m at the same weight I was before I tried those things.
The older I get, the easier it is to tell myself that there’s no one left to impress. I’ve got a family who loves me, a career, and many great friends. I’m nearing 40 and maybe my body has just found its happy place, and I need to accept it. It’s easy to tell myself my body is different now and it’s not my fault that the weight is clinging to me (in all the wrong places, I might add.) But then I think – I’m not even FORTY, I’ve got many, many years ahead of me – hopefully, I’m not even half done. Do I want to live the last half of my life not meeting my potential? I’m older, but I’m wiser and I have more resources and experience than ever. I certainly know what doesn’t work, so why not use that to my advantage? I want to make the rest my best!
Weight and Stress
Here’s a hot topic and one that we all like to argue about – stress. What causes it, can we will our way around it, what does it do to our minds and bodies, how should we deal with it? Stress is defined as “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.” We’ve all been there, but we can all think of someone in our lives who’s been there more or longer or in a more extreme way than we have. I know others who cope in a much healthier way than I do even when they have much more stress. Who am I to blame stress on every negative thing in my life? I am blessed in so many ways, and I let the few negatives in my life outweigh all of those positive things. I’m stressing about what stress is doing to me. I am in no way denying stress can cause all sorts of physical and mental problems. I’m coming to realize that focusing on the problem instead of the solution is only exacerbating the problem. Case in point, when my blood pressure went up, I became my son’s science fair project, “Can Yoga Decrease Blood Pressure?” I did yoga for 15 minutes a day and my blood pressure did decrease. Was it the yoga in and of itself, or was it that I slowed down, took time for myself, had some physical activity, focused on what I didn’t want for my body, and probably ate a little better? Not sure exactly why it worked, but it did. You’d think I’d have kept it up after the project ended, wouldn’t you? But, no, I saw even just 15 minutes a day as disruptive to my schedule. So I stayed in the same stressful state – it gave me something to blame.
"I'm stressing about what stress is doing to me."
Weight and Sleep
Research says that dieters who cut back on sleep over a 14-day period, lost 55% less weight from fat, even though their calories stayed equal. A sleepy morning increases your chances of taking in more calories, losing impulse control to avoid junk food, and skipping exercise. The answer to this seems so simple - sleep more. Why is this so hard for me? Under the guise of productivity, I stay up too late. Sleep was one of my areas of focus for this year, but I’ve failed miserably! I’m constantly tired, hitting the snooze button multiple times a morning, but yet I stay up late to get things done or just watch TV. I rationalize the need for late night TV as down time after a stressful day. I know that many experts suggest early morning exercise to jump start a healthy day. I will never be able to accommodate that if I continue to go to bed so late! I need to take my own advice and set (and stick to) a bedtime for myself like I set for my kids.
Weight and Priorities
My kids and family are my top priority, and I often use this as an excuse not to take care of myself. My go-to quip when making light the fact I’m overweight is, “Well I love to eat, and I hate to exercise.” I realized recently that at least half of that statement is a lie. It turns out I don’t hate being physically active, but what I do hate is exercising when I feel like I’m neglecting another responsibility. Spending time with my kids, cleaning my house, working, staying caught up with the paperwork of life always take precedence over exercise for me. I need to make exercise a priority, and by re-framing what my responsibilities really are – setting a good example for my kids and helping them be healthy - I can give myself permission to take care of myself.
"...by re-framing what my responsibilities really are - setting a good example for my kids and helping them be healthy - I can give myself permission to take care of myself."
Weight and Organization
I truly believe that being organized can help me get to and maintain a healthy weight. The times I’ve been successful with a healthy lifestyle are the times I had a realistic plan, I monitored my progress toward that plan, and had systems in place to help me be successful. I’ve tried many different diets over the years, and have found it difficult to stick to them. I need something that is realistic in the long term, can be measured so I can see progress, and can have “shortcuts” set up to help me stick to it. As I said before, I love food, so depriving myself long term is just not going to work. I need to measure things – weight, calories, miles, minutes, steps – so I can see forward progress. I need it to be easy to maintain. Standard meals or snacks, specific days or times that I do activities, a chart or an app to keep track of it all. This sounds like the building blocks of success to me!
Another way that being organized helps with weight loss is meal planning. Going to the store with a plan and a list helps prevent buying on impulse. Having a list of meals posted on the fridge helps me not to just run to McDonald’s. Keeping a detailed calendar is going to be critical for making time for exercise. Either a shared digital calendar or a family calendar on a white board in a central location can allow the entire family to know what to expect. If you know what is coming up for the next day, you can plan ahead and set out the supplies you will need for exercising or cooking a meal or packing a lunch the night before.
"Neither self-loathing or burying my head in the sand will work - only acceptance and continual improvement will really make me healthier and happier."
My conclusions from exploring my weight loss struggle are this: I need to go to bed earlier on a regular basis, plan for healthy foods in my house and lunchbox, set a plan about what I’m going to eat and how I’m going to keep moving and monitor my progress, find someone to be accountable to other than myself, schedule exercise even if that means cutting out another activity in my day, consider my quest to become healthier as a service to my kids through my good example. I also need to love who I am right now, but not in a “you are what you are and that can’t change" way, but in a “you are what you are right now and have the potential to be what you aspire to be" way. Neither self-loathing or burying my head in the sand will work – only acceptance and continual improvement will really make me healthier and happier.
“Calculate Your Body Mass Index.” National Heart Lung, and Blood Institute, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/educational/lose_wt/BMI/bmicalc.htm.
“Healthy Weight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 5 June 2015, www.cdc.gov/healthyweight/effects/index.html.
Weintraub, Karen. “Is It Harder to Lose Weight When You're Older?” The New York Times, The New York Times, 31 Mar. 2017, www.nytimes.com/2017/03/31/well/live/is-it-harder-to-lose-weight-when-youre-older.html.
“Stress.” Dictionary.com, Dictionary.com, www.dictionary.com/browse/stress?s=t.
“Sleep More, Weigh Less.” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/sleep-and-weight-loss#1.
Photo by Gesina Kunkel on Unsplash
Photo by Benjamin Voros on Unsplash
Soccer season is upon us, and that means cleats, soccer socks, shin guards and soccer balls EVERYWHERE! I have two kids who play plus my husband coaches, so he has a huge bag of practice gear to add to the collection of soccer equipment. In past seasons, we've tried to contain all of these supplies in our mudroom, but it seemed like we were constantly tripping over equipment but yet the kids could never find a clean pair of socks or a matching set of shin guards!
Over the past few years, I've tried to figure out how to keep sports equipment organized and accessible while not overwhelming my entire mudroom., but it just wasn't working. I had shoes in one spot, socks and shin guards in another and soccer balls in yet another. Because I had created 'homes' for items all over the place, no one ever put them away. I realized last season that I needed a system not individual solutions for my sports equipment problems! I think I finally got it figured out with the sports zone that I created just outside the door to my attached garage. Here's how I created it:
Identify the Problem(s)
I needed to determine everything I wanted to accomplish so I could create ONE solution to solve all the problems at once. The problems were:
Visualize the Ideal Scenario and Find the Right Space
Think about what the ideal solution to the problems you identified would be. Look at magazines, browse Pinterest and look at how friends and family have organized similar items. Don't be afraid to "steal" ideas from others.
Now that you know what you need to fix and the best way to fix it, start finding the right space. I had been looking in the same room trying to reconfigure the space I was having problems with, and it wasn't until I realized that I need to think outside that room, did I find the best space for my sports zone. I knew that I wanted drawers and shelves and bins. I didn't have space for those things in the room I'd been using, so I went to the garage and starting looking around. I found a small space that had been used for smashing and storing aluminum cans before turning them in for a few bucks. Since we got our Soda Stream machine, we barely drink canned soda anymore, so this area was basically useless. We moved a trashcan, a small recycle bin and removed the can smasher from the wall and had a blank canvas for sports storage.
Measure and Install the "Bones"
Measure, measure, measure - the most important aspect of your sports zone is making sure the items you need to store fit! Purchase or re-purpose items that are specific to what you want to store. It was important to me to have drawers because I'd be storing clothing (uniforms and socks) in the garage, and I wanted them free from dirt or dust. I reused some plastic drawers I already had, and we purchased three shelf boards and six brackets from the hardware store. Consider the height and the space between shelves so that the items you store there are easily accessible. The shelves we installed are sometimes accessed from the garage, but other times from the steps, which means that we were able to put shelves up higher and maximize that vertical space.
Edit, Edit, Edit!
My space is a sports station, but I focus on the current sports season and don't try to keep all equipment for all sports in this area all the time. Right now I have one tote in the basement for off-season sports stuff - all sizes of baseball pants are in a vacuum bag to save space, and cleats that are too big (we get our cleats at garage sales and save them for little brother!) are in a trash bag. I put socks and hats each in gallon size zippered bags. I don't separate by size or kid because they grow so much from season to season, everything has to be tried on anyway! We keep bats, mits, balls in the garage year round because there's a chance those will get played with in the backyard during the off-season.
Load and Label
Now you have a blank slate, fill it up! Be sure to add labels so that it's easy for your family to put things back where they belong! I have a set of three drawers and labelled the top two with each kid's name where we keep their socks, favorite shin guards, and uniforms. The bottom drawer is for things like a blanket that we may use to sit on at a soccer game. I keep two plastic shoe boxes (no lids) on top of the drawers labelled with a kid's name for their cleats. I have LOVED this because no more clumps of dirt from cleats all over my floor - they go in from the garage, deposit their cleats in the shoe box before they come inside. There is a bin for soccer balls, and a shelf for my husband's coach gear. I have a shelf helper hanging underneath the bottom shelf where I have a plastic shoe box filled with extra shin guards (just in case we lose the favorites!) Because there's actually EXTRA space now, I have a shelf where I'm keeping my Cargo Carry All bag that I can throw everything I need for a day at the field! Because it has a lid, I'm storing a small soft-sided cooler inside that I may take to save on concessions! A bin of baseballs and mits fit nicely on that shelf as well. The very top shelf houses baseball bags filled with bats and helmets. We even have room on the floor for the chairs we take to sit on as we cheer on our kiddos.
To make this work and and assure that your kids aren't running around in a panic before their games looking for their uniform and cleats, you have to train them to maintain this system. When they get home from practice or a game, send them straight to the sports zone to unload. When laundry is done, have your kids take their sports accessories straight to their labelled bin or drawer.
I hope that creating a sports zone will help you feel a little more 'in order' during the busy sports seasons ahead! I'd love to see pictures of how you organize your kids (or your own) sports equipment!
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!
Weekends are usually jam packed with family events, regular housework, yard work, sporting events, going out with friends, and maybe even a date night, but every once in a while you get that unicorn of a weekend with no plans - what do you do then? How about a Weekend Warrior Organization project? Here are 2 projects in areas of the home that, in my opinion, are the best areas to start with when getting organized. These can each be realistically completed in one weekend (of course, only 1 per weekend - let's not get crazy!)
I've written about paper organization before, and though it is an intense one, it's one that will leave you feeling the best when it's complete. You could easily spend weeks on paper organizing if you spent only small chunks of time on it, but if you really commit your weekend to paper organizing, you'll see some amazing results!
After a good night's rest, roll your sleeves up and get started!
You should wake up to a few piles of paper in categories. Now is time for the fun part!
Back in February of this year, I wrote a post about organizing the heart of your home - the Kitchen! This included a week-long plan to get your kitchen in order. You could easily condense this 7 day plan down into a weekend if you were focused and didn't have other plans! I highly suggest signing up for the free video series, 7 Days to an Orderly Kitchen, at least a week ahead of time, so you can watch the videos and print the checklists to be ready for your kitchen organizing sprint!
Today should be spent arranging your kitchen by zones. Consider how you actually use your kitchen and group things for specific tasks together. Example, create a baking area, a lunch making area, etc. (If you signed up for the free video tutorial, this is the last video. Make sure to sign up a week in advance, because you get one video emailed to you each day!)
What other areas of your home would you like to see plans for an Weekend Warrior Organization Project? Email me, fill out the contact page, or comment on this post and I'll be happy to do a future post on some other areas!
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?
Today marks the 50th post of My Life In Order! Even though there have been ups and downs, triumphs and defeats along the way, this blog has been a constant in my life this year. I'm proud to have posted faithfully every week and to have done so in a transparent and authentic way. As I sit here with the beautiful morning sun pouring in, listening to the quiet of my family still asleep, I'm so grateful to be right where I'm at. That's kind of profound. Do I wish there were some aspects of my life that were different or better? - sure, but I'm learning that being content with now while expecting growth is the only way that positive and lasting change will happen.
"....being content with now while expecting growth is the only way that positive and lasting change will happen."
I just did a quick scan of my house from the vantage point of my couch, and what I see is certainly not perfection! I look down to my pink and white striped shirt and leopard print pajama pants - I don't match, but I'm comfortable. I see clean, folded laundry on the stairs waiting for my kids to take it to their rooms - it's not out of sight, but it's clean and my family has plenty. I gaze upon my kitchen counter filled with shopping bags from a back-to-school shopping trip my mother-in-law took with my son and grocery bags with food I'm taking to a family reunion - it's cluttered, but it speaks of the abundance of family in my life. I see dust on my furniture, and I'm reminded of the glorious day I spent relaxing and recharging yesterday instead of doing housework. Some would look at me and my house right now and think I'm unorganized or not put together, but I feel very much in order. Items in my life have a place and a purpose, and I have the ability to enjoy my home, my things, my family, and myself. In honor of my 50th post, I want to share highlights from my blog, so please enjoy 50 Tips for a Life in Order:
1. Do things in order, and don't get ahead of yourself. Take the time to do it right the first time.
Read Order Part 1: A Lego Lesson
2. Set boundaries and honor them.
Read Order Part 2: Honoring Boundaries
3. Remember you are in charge of you.
Read Order Part 3: Who's in Charge?
4. Ask for and accept help.
Read Order Part 4: Help Me!
5. Embrace your creativity (even if you're not an artist!)
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
6. Make a plan to process the paper in your life and manage it regularly.
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper and The Binder System
7. Don't be afraid to throw things away.
Read The Paper Purge
8. Laugh at yourself!
Listen to My Life in Laughter: Cozy Shirt, My Life in Laughter: Gold Saturn, My Life in Laughter: Drive Through Judgement
9. Use a timer to learn how long it takes you to do tasks, and use an alarm to help you manage time.
Read Getting Better at Time
10. Look on the bright side, find positive aspects of even the most frustrating circumstances - reframe to stay sane!
Read 10 Reasons I Love My Unfinished Bathroom
11. Cut yourself some slack! Don't expect more of yourself than you do of others.
Read Lower Your Expectations
12. Remember parties and vacations are supposed to be fun - plan ahead so you can enjoy them!
Read 10 Steps to an Organized Party and Organized Travel Made Fun
13. Get your family involved in housework and accept that how they complete a task may not be how you would do it.
Read Fun Things and Jobs
14. Be patient and prepared for opportunities. Don't rush because you feel bad that others are waiting on you.
Read Left Turns in Life
15. Take time alone at least once a year to think about what you want to focus on in the future.
Read Plan Your Focus for the New Year
16. Set goals that are realistic and align with your focus.
Read Be S.M.A.R.T. About Goal Setting
17. Don't wish away time.
Read Freezing Time
18. Take action!
Read Actually Means Action
19. Use technology to help you save time, not waste it!
Read How Use Your Phone For Good
20. Use the Pomodoro Technique to break up your work into sections and give yourself breaks so you don't get burnt out.
Read Cheating at Productivity
21. Use a task management software (NOT your email inbox) to keep track of your to do list
Read Productivity the Nozbe Way with Expert, Michael Sliwinski
22. Organize your kitchen - you spend a lot of time there!
Read Organizing the Heart of Your Home - The Kitchen
23. Use what you envy about others to help you change yourself.
Read Turn Envy Upside Down
24. Seek wise counsel - talk to a coach, join a mastermind group, get a mentor!
Read It Was Time to Do Something About It
25. Be kind and helpful to others - they will likely return the favor.
Read Why Can't Things Be Easier?
26. Make a list of your most important tasks the night before so you can sleep better and hit the ground running the next morning.
Read Confessions of a List Maker
27. Make a list of what you want to be known for and use it to guide your decisions.
Read What Do You Want to Be Known For?
28. Check in with yourself regularly. Make sure your actions are in line with your focus, moving you toward your goals, and true to what you want to be known for.
Read It's Time To Check In With Yourself
29. Create new traditions.
Read The Power of Tradition
30. Keep your computer and phone 'clean'. These are tools you use many times each day - if they are cluttered, your overall productivity will suffer.
Read 9 Tips for Digital Spring Cleaning
31. Identify tasks that drive you crazy and experiment with ways to make them work better.
Read A Laundry Experiment: Part 1
32. Be aware that words have power, use them carefully.
Read If You Can Say Something Nice, Do!
33. Store out of season clothes or clothes that don't fit somewhere other than in your closet. This forces you to go through your wardrobe periodically.
Read The Seasonal Switch
34. Acknowledge that how you look impacts how you feel. If you want to feel put together, try to look put together. This is why getting up and taking a shower and putting on "real" clothes tends to make us more productive than if we stay in our PJs all day.
Read How We Look Impacts How We Feel
35. Analyze your best day ever and do what you can to recreate it!
Read Make the Rest Like Your Best
36. Get creative about storing items - have fun making your home function FOR you!
Read Lego Storage Under the Stairs
37. Expect the best until proven wrong.
Read Changing My Pet Peeve
38. It's ok to play catch up.
Read 6 Steps to Get Caught up With Paperwork
39. Learn from those around you - everyone has at least one idea you can borrow.
Read Top 10 Organizing Tips from My Dad
40. Make a list of travel dos and don'ts and add to it after each trip no matter how big or small. Review the list before you travel.
Read Organized Travel Made Fun
41. Don't try to do it all - find the right person for the job.
Read Find The Right Person for the Job
42. Plan for solitude.
Read 8 Ways to Stay Focused at Work
43. Brand new experiences make great memories.
Read Making Time Matter
44. Cultivate good habits.
Read Don't Let the Weeds Take Over
45. Color code! Assign each member of your family a color, or create a color system for various areas of your life and use with a folder or binder system.
Read The First Big Win: Wrangling the Paper
46. Use a physical journal to jot down ideas, make lists, doodle, etc. Writing helps us process our thoughts and ideas.
Read Confessions of a List Maker
47. Put down your phone and be present.
Read Can Creativity Be Orderly?
48. Take the time - if you can do something now, do it now. It's so much easier to do the little things as we go rather than let them build up and require a large block of time to accomplish all of the "undone" things in our lives.
Read Getting Better at Time
49. Spend time on what you love and with who you love - somehow things we are passionate about seem to stretch time and make it richer.
Read Making Time Matter
50. Be consistent in something, you'll likely become consistent in other things, too!
I'm proud that this is my 50th blog post, and I haven't missed a week since I started. This shows me that I have it in me to be consistent and helps me have confidence that there's much more that I can accomplish!
Thanks for reading and for your support in my journey to get (and keep) My Life In Order.
A couple years ago when I had more of a weed garden than a vegetable garden, I gave up and started just buying my zucchini and green beans. I still plant flowers in several areas around my house, but this year, the weeds are winning there, too! It's so frustrating to have the beauty of the flowers overshadowed by the weeds. A few days ago, as I was inspecting my flower beds and audibly complaining to myself about all the weeds, I realized something - weeds are a perfect metaphor for all the bad habits in my life.
Weeds and bad habits take over quickly and often surprise us when they do.
How many times have you pulled all the weeds in your flower bed and then the next time you look, the weeds have popped back up? Bad habits can do the same. You make a commitment not to look at a screen an hour before bed and hit the sack by 11 p.m. every night. This goes well, for about a week, and you feel marvelous. Soon you hear yourself complaining about feeling so tired all of the time, and you realize that you've been watching Netflix til past midnight every night this week - when did that start back up again?
Weeds and bad habits don't require fertilizer to thrive.
Weeds seem to most prefer poor conditions like no water and high temperatures. It always amazes me how weeds can survive when everything we actually want to live just shrivels up. Bad habits also seem to pop up in the droughts of life. When conditions are the worst, our bad habits seem to thrive. Flowers or vegetables need watering and the right amount of sunlight to grow and produce a crop just like good habits require a carefully planned strategy to maintain. It's so much easier to fall back into bad habits than it is to maintain new, good habits.
Weeds and bad habits take away nourishment from the healthy things around them.
When your flowerbed has a lot of weeds, your flowers have to fight them for what they need to survive. Bad habits take away energy and focus that we need to be productive and healthy. We can keep up a facade of good habits while we maintain our bad habits in secret, but eventually we will become exhausted and the bad habits will win unless we completely prune them.
Weeds and bad habits make the pretty things around them almost unnoticeable.
You can have the most beautiful flowers, but if they are surrounded by weeds, you know what everyone will see? The weeds! If I never miss a bedtime song and prayer with my kids, but have a bad habit of yelling- what is the most noticeable?
"It's so much easier to fall back into bad habits than it is to maintain new, good habits."
Weeds and bad habits require regular attention to keep them at bay.
The longer you let the weeds grow, the harder it is to pull them and make your garden healthy again. Instead, if you pull them as they pop up, you can maintain a healthy crop. In much the same way, we can monitor our habits regularly to stay aware of when the bad ones are cropping up again.
There is one good thing about weeds, though - no matter how long you let them go, with some time and concentrated effort, you can pull them and regain control of your garden. If you decide that you're done with your bad habits, you can "weed your garden." Each day you have the ability to make choices about your own life. That doesn't mean it's easy to kick bad habits, but by regularly scanning for and pulling small weeds while watering and fertilizing the plants you actually want to grow, you can soon have a flourishing garden again!
Last week, I saw a picture on social media of a friend's son proudly holding a fish he caught on his kid-sized fishing pole. I was immediately sad and guilty. Strange reaction to an adorable picture, right? I felt that way because back in May, when I asked my youngest son what he wanted to do this summer, "going fishing" was on the top of his list, and he reminded me that it was also on the top of his summer list last year - and we still hadn't gone. I realized that summer was going so fast! I wanted to provide my kids the kind of summer memories I had as a child, and I was not measuring up to my own expectations. Then I started thinking about how quickly my kids' childhoods were flying by and then made the mistake of counting how many more summers both of my kids would be at home and estimating how many of those that they'd want to spend the majority of their time with their parents. I was literally welling up with tears at these thoughts!
"I wanted to provide my kids the kind of summer memories I had as a child, and I was not measuring up to my own expectations."
I gave myself a few hours to feel upset and sad, but then I decided this was something I could easily change! I decided we were going fishing this week, and I was going to plan some fun and engaging activities together. I have my kids make a "what I want to do this summer" list every year, and this year I'd been doing so much, I was tired every evening and was content to just watch TV together. Yes, we were together, but I was often working on something else at the same time, and we certainly weren't checking things off that list! I'd probably be less tired if I were more active, and I had no doubt that I'd be happier while making memories with my kids. This week was dramatically different!
Here was a snapshot of our evenings this week. It was a blast!
Scouts for oldest and Dad, 1.5 mile nature scavenger hunt for youngest and Mom. My son has been talking about the hawk we saw up close all week! I loved seeing him get excited about finding things on our list and especially enjoyed watching him chase a butterfly.
Video shoot of both boys making trick shots into a hamper (appropriately called the Slam Dunk Hamper,) This was a fun way to involve the kids in my Clever Container Organizing Products business,
The entire family walked/rode scooters to the park and played HORSE and played a game of 2 on 2. I'm just about as good as I was when I played eighth grade basketball - I'll leave it at that!
Dad had to work late, so Mom took both boys to the State Park for a picnic, a hike, and FISHING! Even though we didn't catch anything, both boys loved it, and I felt like Super Mom while baiting their hooks.
Mom and kids went to a concert (Toby Mac - it was awesome!)
Dad took kids to a movie during the afternoon, and then the whole family went back to the State Park for a picnic and more fishing in the evening. Still no fish for the kids, but they want to try again soon.
After church, Mom and youngest went to the beach while Dad and oldest got groceries (thank goodness - our cupboards were BARE!) and then we all watched TV in the evening. The beach makes me TIRED!
This week was so much fun, but a little tiring and the housework definitely got pushed to the back burner! I learned a few things:
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.
A woman with many roles in life who knows the necessity of keeping things in order!