Productivity

Motivation Monday: Creating A Monthly Routine

Happy November everyone! I thought I’d get this month started off right by continuing our discussion on routine. We’ve talked about daily routines and weekly routines so it’s only logical to start this new month discussing monthly routines.

Where daily routines are vital to avoiding decision fatigue and weekly routines keep your weekly productivity maximized, monthly routines hold all the loose ends together.

You know all that other stuff? The stuff that needs to be done every now and then but you can never remember the last time you did it? The things that aren’t not too important but your world would slowly fall apart if you ignored them altogether?

When did you last change the blade in your razor? Wash the car? Give the dog a bath?

If you had a monthly routine you’d know the answer to all those questions.

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I complete my daily and weekly routines enough to have them memorized but my monthly routine, not so much. I rely on a list which I have taped in the front of my planner where I check off each monthly task. If I’d like to note the date an item was completed I write the date down instead of a check mark.

My goal is to have each of these tasks completed during the first week of each month. Sometimes I’m successful at hitting that window, sometimes I’m not. It doesn’t matter when each task gets done as long as it gets completed once during the month and I make a note that it was finished.

Items on my monthly routine:

  • back up my computer
  • scan and file mail
  • clean Alvy’s hearing aids
  • give pets flea/heart worm medicine
  • replace contact lenses
  • replace razor cartridges
  • wash my car
  • file MOMS club membership forms
  • clean out email inbox
  • check/note blog stats

The tasks on my monthly routine aren’t vital to the operation of our household but their monthly maintenance is key to keeping things under control.

Organization is all about control.

Creating a monthly routine is a great way to keep infrequent tasks from falling through the cracks. Items which only need to be done monthly are easy to procrastinate and even easier to forget but a monthly routine will help you stay on track.

What items are in your monthly routine? How consistent are you about completing monthly tasks?

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Motivation Monday: Keeping A Weekly Routine

A couple of weeks ago when we discussed decision fatigue I talked about how decision making abilities wane as your brain becomes fatigued. Personal experience says that it’s true for our motivation levels throughout the week as well, at least for me.

On Monday morning I wake up refreshed from the weekend and ready to tackle the week. I spend most of Monday getting my things in order to ensure the week is successful. Something about Monday brings to mind the iconic training scenes from Rocky. I can just hear the soundtrack in my head now. I am motivated to get things done and have no problem tackling the hard stuff; hard work now brings rewards later on!

Tuesday is when things get tough. I put my head down, determined to survive the week. Wednesday isn’t any better.

On Thursday I’m just barely holding things together and by the time Friday rolls around I really don’t care about much of anything. At all.

Somebody pour me a beer.

I suspect this is true for everyone else too, based on a totally non-scientific observation I’ve made at the gym over the past several months. I work out Monday through Thursday at our local YMCA, at the same time each day. On Monday, the gym is packed full of people. On Tuesday there are fewer, Wednesday even fewer still. By Thursday it’s practically a waste land and everyone who is there looks like they’ve been attacked by a pack of angry dogs.

I have no idea what it’s like on Friday because even I don’t go to the gym on Friday.

What can we learn from this? Everyone starts the week with good intentions but as stress and exhaustion from the week build, our desire to do any nonessential tasks disappears (as my husband so eloquently puts it “our give-a-shitter is broken”). Can we do anything about this? Not really but we can use this knowledge to our advantage and schedule our recurring weekly tasks to maximize productivity.

When we discussed creating a daily routine last month we talked about building habits and creating a schedule to keep those small household tasks from taking over your day. This easily translates to routine weekly tasks as well.

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We all have recurring weekly tasks that need to be completed. Laundry, grocery shopping and cleaning the house are all things that, around here anyway, need to be done every week. Those tasks can easily be broken up and assigned to specific days of the week and specific people if you so desire.

There’s several advantages to creating a weekly routine.

First and foremost, when you have tasks assigned to a particular day you know exactly what you need to do that day immediately upon waking up. Chores, especially ones that are easy to put off are less likely to fall through the cracks and by completing chores on the same day each week you always know the last time something was done. Lastly, you can schedule your tasks to take advantage of higher motivation levels earlier in the week making them less likely to get procrastinated.

My weekly routine looks like this:

Monday: laundry, change the pet water
Tuesday: laundry, take out trash
Wednesday: change sheets, pick up house
Thursday: laundry, sort & file mail
Friday: take out trash
Saturday: NOTHING
Sunday: clean out fridge, grocery shopping, laundry prep

I keep a copy of my weekly tasks taped to the inside of my calendar just in case I need a gentle reminder of what needs to be done.

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Creating a weekly routine is easy. Write down a list of everything you’d like to get done on a weekly basis. Consider your schedule, the amount of time you have available and start filling in tasks to get done each day. Pick the stuff you hate the most and get it done early in the week. The week should get easier the further into it you get. Try to evenly spread out your chores so that no one day is overloaded with things to do.

Make sure to give yourself a couple of days off. You need a break from housework to keep yourself from getting burned out. On Friday I only have one simple chore and Saturday I do nothing outside my daily routine.

If you feel overwhelmed at the thought of creating an entire weekly routine at once or you just don’t have the time, try picking one task you’re likely to put off and doing it on the same day each week, as you conquer one you can add another.

Does each task on my weekly routine get completed every week? No. Most of the time the mail only gets sorted every two weeks and occasionally I get busy on Wednesday and I forget to change the sheets. Sometimes we’re busy on Sunday and I don’t make it to the grocery store and will do it Monday instead. Much like the monthly meal rotation I use this as a guideline to keep things on track and I rearrange tasks as needed.

Your schedule will look different from mine. We all have unique needs so no one routine will be like another but by sharing what works for me I’m hoping to give you ideas and motivate you to organize your mundane chores so you’ve got less to think about. That’s right, we’re talking about decision fatigue prevention – again.

By creating a weekly routine you can free up your brain to think about other things – like running your business, managing your job or educating your children – and you’re less likely to feel fried at the end of the day. It’s a win for everyone!

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Organized Grocery Shopping

I love grocery shopping. I love heading into the store with an empty basket and walking through the produce section to see all the delicious fruits and vegetables. I love wandering the aisles and imagining all the things I could make with the ingredients there. I fill my reusable bags full of healthy food and vibrant colors with my head held high.

Unless of course my kids are with me – in which case I’m buying everything on my list and getting the hell out of there as quickly as possible.

Since I only get to go grocery shopping alone about once every three months, you can bet I’m getting in, getting the things on my list and getting out as quickly as I can. Blissful browsing and hunting for that package of tamarind paste is just gonna have to wait.

Thankfully, there are ways organize your trip to save time and reduce stress – because organized grocery shopping is efficient grocery shopping. I feel like I’ve developed a pretty solid strategy and since it works so well for me I figured I’d share it with you.

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So here, without further ado, are my organized grocery shopping tips:

Know your store. I always shop at the same store and I know it well. I know the fastest and most efficient way to make my way through the store so that I can get the things I need quickly. Produce first, then the bakery, meats & cheese, dry goods, dairy, frozen foods and cleaning supplies.

Here’s a little drawing of how my favorite grocery store is laid out.

Grocery Store Layout

Have an organized list. I use two separate lists for keeping track of what I need. I have a list on a chalkboard in my kitchen (it’s not a real chalkboard – it’s a frame from Target with black paper inside that I write on with chalkboard markers) that I use on a daily basis.

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As I notice something that I need to purchase I write it on the chalkboard.

When I’m planning our meals for the week I use a list I created in Remember the Milk. First I sit down and add everything I need for our meals for that week, then I add anything I wrote on the chalkboard. At that point I erase chalkboard and have it ready for the next week.

Remember the Milk is my FAVORITE list making service. It’s cloud based and multi-platform so I can add stuff to my grocery list no matter where I am.

In Remember the Milk each item has four different priority options and I use those to keep my grocery list organized. I divided my grocery store into four sections and assigned each section a priority level. Every time I enter an item on my grocery list I assign it a priority setting depending on where it’s located in the store.

Priority 1 = Produce
Priority 2 = Seafood, Bakery, Deli, Meat & Cheese
Priority 3 = Dry Goods
No Priority = Dairy, Frozen Food, Cleaning Supplies & Pharmacy

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My grocery list is set to sort items based on priority so all the items in my list are grouped by where they are located in the store.

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As I walk through the store I make sure every item in that location is checked off before I move onto the next section. This eliminates a lot of walking back and forth which saves time. My goal is to hit each section once and not go back.

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Keep your basket organized. I use a smaller hand held basket inside the larger shopping cart to neatly stack produce. The smaller basket keeps the easily bruised produce from getting squished in the cart and it leaves the real estate in the buggy open for larger, heavier items like flour or laundry detergent so I’m not constantly rearranging stuff.

The carts at my grocery store have a smaller space in the top of the front and I use that for cold items.

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By organizing your cart by food type you can unload it by type at checkout. When you unload by type you make it easier for the person bagging the groceries to keep like items together making the checkout process faster. That’s a win for you and the grocery store!

Though grocery shopping is still a chore at least by being organized I’ve made it as painless as it can be. Yes, most of the time the kids fight and scream and sometimes cry but at least I have a plan and that’s a good place to start!

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Decision Fatigue

Last Tuesday was a tough day. Nothing bad happened but nothing came easy either.

For the first time in over a month Alvy slept until almost 7 AM, I slept through my alarm and didn’t wake up until Alvy woke up – at 7 AM.

Instead of having my usual morning full of habit and routine, I found myself running around the house like a crazed lunatic trying to get the kids dressed and fed before I had to take Evelyn to school.

Nothing went well after that. I ran late to Alvy’s hearing test (I’m never late), I did three loads of laundry that never made it out of the laundry room (totally uncharacteristic). By the time dinner rolled around, I realized I had never made the bed or unloaded the dishwasher (the cornerstones of my morning routine).

Coincidentally, around that same time, Jason called me to tell me he was on his way home from work and asked what was for dinner. I was honest and told him that everything I needed to make dinner was in the fridge but I was emotionally drained. The thought of spending another hour and a half cooking and cleaning was the absolute last thing I wanted to do.

What’d we end up eating for dinner? Chinese take out.

It wasn’t until about 8 PM that I realized I’d never fed the the dog – something I normally do immediately after breakfast – sorry Baxter.

So what happened? What led to such a spectacular derailment?

Decision fatigue.

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What is decision fatigue? I read a great analogy written by James Clear that describes decision fatigue to the T.

“…your willpower is like a muscle. And similar to the muscles in your body, willpower can get fatigued when you use it over and over again. Every time you make a decision, it’s like doing another rep in the gym. And similar to how your muscles get tired at the end of a workout, the strength of your willpower fades as you make more decisions.”

The second you admit that willpower is nothing more than a decision to resist temptation, it all makes sense.

By sleeping in, I threw off an entire day full of habits, routines and schedules I worked for months to build. All of a sudden I found myself having to make decisions that I don’t normally have to make, starting with deciding how to get the kids fed and dressed without Evie being late to school.

It all went downhill from there. Instead of writing in the 5-6 AM hours I had to decide another time to get that done and without a schedule I found myself constantly distracted and having to use my willpower to keep myself on task.

To add fuel to the fire, on Monday Evelyn and I made Halloween themed sugar cookies which were sitting on the island, in the middle of the kitchen, in a glass cake platter. Every time I walked though the kitchen I looked at them and had to make the conscious decision to use my willpower to deny myself.

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By the time dinner rolled around I wasn’t physically tired but my brain was exhausted. All I wanted to do was stare blankly at the wall in silence.

As it turns out, dinner was doomed at 5 AM when I slept through my alarm.

So what happens in our brain that causes decision fatigue? Why does our brain get so tired when forced to make multiple decisions and use our willpower to avoid temptation?

Nutrition. Our brains run primarily on glucose and unlike other parts of our body they lack the ability to store their fuel. Each decision you make requires your brain to do just a little work, slowly consuming the fuel your body has available. As you eat throughout the day, it gets a boost of energy, allowing it to continue to run. So after a day of powering through hundreds of minor decisions it’s pretty shot – especially if you’ve been feeding it crap.

I know what you’re thinking. Isn’t sugar bad?

Stand by for some biochemistry.

Not all sugars are created equal – of all the different types of sugar (sucrose, glucose, lactose, everything ending in -ose) the only one you need is glucose.

The sugar we all know is table sugar (sucrose), which is broken down by your body into equal parts glucose and fructose. So of all the sugar in something like a cookie, only half will be used to power your brain (and the rest of your body) the other half gets processed by your liver and then put into storage as fat.

Therefore, eating a cookie or drinking a Coke isn’t going to help restore your alertness and ability to handle tough decisions. Instead you need glucose which is found in naturally occurring sugars, like fruit and whole grains.

No wonder I feel foggy headed when I eat poorly.

So what can we do to combat decision fatigue?

  1. Make big decisions first thing in the morning when your brain is fresh.
  2. Create routines and schedules that minimize minor daily decisions.
  3. Build habits around your most important daily tasks.
  4. Complete the most important tasks of the day first thing in the morning.
  5. Eat a healthy snack in the middle of the day when you’re starting to feel run down

What was the first thing I did after doing all this research on decision fatigue? I covered up the sugar cookies with a dishtowel.

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At least one decision fatigue problem solved!

For more information about decision fatigue read this awesome article in the New York Times.

For a great biochemistry lesson about why sugar, specifically fructose, is so epicly bad for you watch this great lecture by Dr. Robert Lustig from the University of California – it’s long (1:31) but he does a great job dumbing down some very technical information and it will forever change how you think about sugar!

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Creating a Daily Schedule

We’ve been doing a lot of adjusting around here lately. Evelyn started pre-school earlier this month and though I’ve really enjoyed the little bit of break that only having to care for one child has brought it has really thrown a wrench into my daily schedule. Surprise! I keep a schedule! Okay, not a surprise.

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Being a stay-at-home-mom and a hater of waste, a daily schedule is very natural for me. The kids are already on a schedule – they wake up at the same time, eat at the same time, nap at the same time and go to bed at the same time – everyday. It only makes sense that I integrate my own schedule into theirs.

Even if you’re not doing it intentionally you’re running on a schedule too. You wake up, go to work, eat meals and go to bed at the same time – everyday. All you have to do is expand on it a little. Is there a goal you’re working toward? A project you’d like to complete? A closet you’d like to clean out? Can’t seem to find them time? Schedule it into your day.

For me, I know that if I don’t do something to structure my day by the time I go to bed I’ll have nothing to show for an entire day of life. That’s not cool.

I’ve been keeping the same general schedule for the past year. It worked well for me. Unfortunately, taking Evie to school, having her gone most of the day and picking her up has upended my routine and now I’m not exactly sure how to most efficiently use the time she’s gone. I’m ashamed to say that instead of spending it productively, I’ve spent it at Target. Bad for productivity – worse for my wallet.

Since I found myself thinking a lot about my use of time, I thought it’d take this opportunity to walk you through the process of creating a daily schedule.

The easiest way to plan is to see everything laid out on paper. I always block my hours off using a worksheet that looks like this (for a printable PDF version click here).
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Step 1: Non-Negotiables – Start filling in the things that must get done at very specific times. For example, Alvy’s nap is a non-negotiable so it’s the first thing that gets put on the schedule. Evelyn’s pre-school drop off and pick up are next to go on the schedule. Alvy’s weekly visit with his teacher of the deaf goes on there. Meals are next, then my workouts. These things are priorities. Yes, my workouts are non-negotiable (yours should be too).

Step 2: Flexible Deliverables – Figure out the things that must get done but aren’t on a strict timetable. Chores, for example must be completed but can be done at any time. Blogging, MOMS Club and work for the cemetery all fall in this category for me.  Decide how much time you need to dedicate to these activities during any given week and start blocking them off on your schedule.

Step 3: Flexible Time – See what time is left. Having every minute planned isn’t going to set you up for success. If you have a non-structured day, like me, try to schedule 30 minute breaks if possible to give yourself some time to relax, read a book, etc. These little breaks will help renew your energy for the assigned block of time.

When I’m done laying everything out, it ends up looking like this.

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{Please note: This isn’t my actual schedule. It’s an illustration of how I prioritize my time and lay out my day. However, this is a very good representation of what my real schedule looks like. In the interest of privacy I’m going to keep my real schedule to myself.}

I color coded it because my calendar is color coded and it only makes sense to make the daily schedule match up with my calendar.

Pink – Personal/House Stuff
Red – School Stuff (either child)
Dark Blue – Blog Stuff
Light Blue – Alvy’s Nap
Yellow – Workouts
Purple – MOMS Club Stuff
Green – Cemetery Stuff

If I need to schedule something like doctor’s appointment, play date, etc I will schedule it in the time when allotted for laundry or chores.

The most important take away here is not to stick to your schedule religiously. Much like the meal rotation, use it as a guideline. For example in the few months leading up to the cemetery annual meeting and fundraiser I will do almost nothing but work for the cemetery and only the most important things for my other responsibilities will get done but as soon as that is over I will revert back to my normal routine.

If you find yourself with a lot of unstructured time and your to do list never seems to get any shorter try creating a daily schedule. It can help structure your day and make it more productive. It’s something easy you can do in just a few minutes to start adding some organization to your life – all you have to do is stick to it.

What does your day look like? How do you structure your day?

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Why You Should Wear a Watch

I’ve always been a time person and I’ve worn a watch for as long as I can remember. When I got my first smart phone though I ditched my watch. Actually, I think a lot of us did. What was the point? Why bother wearing a watch when you’ve got a clock on your cell phone?

Sometime after Evelyn was born I realized that my attitude toward watches was entirely flawed. One morning after a trip to the mall with my bouncing baby girl she became fussy. Entirely normal, I wasn’t worried. After almost an hour of crying and general angst I FINALLY pulled my cell phone out of my pocket to check the time. Hello! It had been four hours since I’d fed her! I was so distracted by my outing I completely forgot about needing to feed her. I immediately was bombarded by extreme mommy guilt for overlooking  something so glaringly obvious and decided I needed a better way to keep track of the time.

I went home and dug out an old digital watch I had back in college and started using the timer to track the time between feedings.

Though I had chosen to dig out my watch for that one specific reason I found I was looking at it all the time. That was four years ago. I still wear a watch, everyday.

A watch is good for so much more than just checking the time. I use the timer to administer time outs and make sure I don’t burn dinner. I use the chronograph/lap timer to keep track of laps in the pool and on the treadmill. I use it to check the date when I’m labeling stuff to go in the refrigerator. Yes, I use it to check the time and keep the kids on schedule.

In researching this post I read a nice quote, “It’s not about checking the time, it’s about your relationship with time.” Unfortunately, I’ve tried to find the source but it got lost in internet-land. (If it’s you, tell me!)

Even though I can’t find the source I had to use the quote because it is spot on. Wearing a watch makes you more time conscious. All of a sudden you’re more aware of the passing seconds and the fleeting nature of time. Something about appreciating a limited resource makes you less likely to waste it.

Like it or not, time management is a key tenant of productivity.  It’s hard to know what you can get done in an hour if you have no idea of how long an hour actually is. By wearing a watch you will become much more aware of the concept of time and how long it will take for you to get tasks completed.

Because I wear a watch I know that it takes me 15 minutes to complete my morning routine, 15 minutes to fold a load of laundry, 10 minutes to get to my daughter’s school and an hour and a half to complete my daily workout. By knowing this I can better plan these activities into my larger blocks of time throughout the day, allowing me to get more done.

If you’re still not convinced here’s five reasons you should wear a watch.

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It’s subtle. Checking the time in the presence of others isn’t always appreciated. It’s a lot more subtle (and polite) to glance at your wrist than it is to dig your cell phone out of your pocket. We are all guilty of being on cell phones too much anyway, one less excuse to stare at your screen isn’t a bad thing.

It’s convenient. When you’ve got your hands full it’s much easier to turn your wrist to glance at the time than it is to dig your phone out of your pocket.

It’s less distracting. Pulling your phone out of your pocket often leads to distraction. How many times have you pulled out your phone to check the time only to find yourself responding to a text message instead? You then put it back in your pocket and still have no idea what time it is.

It’s a fashion accessory. They’re some mighty fine watches out there if you’re willing to dish out the dough but there’s also some really good looking ones that won’t cost you the arm you’d need to wear it on. Find something versatile that you can wear often. If you’re an athlete like me, make sure you get one you can use when you work out!

It makes a good impression. When people see you wearing a watch they know you are respectful of your own time and therefore respectful of theirs. You also appear more responsible and more put together. A person who wears a watch is a productive person.

I have two watches that I use on a regular basis. I have a beautiful stainless steel and gold Seiko which I wear when I want to be dressy but most of the time I wear a Timex Ironman. I like it so much I’m on my fourth one. They’re sturdy, they’re resilient, they’re practical and they’re almost entirely indestructible – note I said almost, since I’m on my 4th one they’re obviously not completely indestructible. My current one has a white silicone band (which surprisingly doesn’t stain) and a pretty chrome bevel.

This watch is water resistant so I wear it all. the. time. In the shower. In the pool. At the beach. When I run (if I’m not wearing my Garmin). I even sleep in it. I literally never take it off.

It has the time, the day and the date right there on the face. It also has a timer, a chronograph, three alarms and a 50 lap counter (which I’ve actually used). Everything I need to effectively manage my day.

Aside from my cell phone, I use it more than anything else I own.

So, if you’d like to be more productive, be more organized, be more time aware, be a better parent and not burn your french fries then wear a watch! It’s the secret to life! Okay, not really but it will help you get more done!

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Motivation Monday: How Lighting Affects Productivity

I’m starting a series here called Motivation Monday – posts to help you find motivation to be productive for the coming week. To kick things off I want to talk about something that often goes overlooked. Lighting.

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Do you ever feel like you’re in a slump? You’ve got a to do list as long as your arm but nothing is getting done because your couch (or worse, Facebook) has the gravitational pull of the Sun.

Is it dark outside? Raining? Overcast? For whatever reason you can’t seem to concentrate and it’s draining your energy.

Every couple of weeks I get in this funk (for lack of a better word) that I can’t seem to get myself out of. I go through the motions of my day but get nothing done because I can’t concentrate. I jump from task to task, starting each one but never finishing. When that happens I have a trick that almost always works to help restore my concentration and motivation.

What is it?

I turn on the lights.

Not just the big lights or the important lights, all the lights. I turn on every light in the house. Lamps, closet lights, overhead lights all. the. lights. The brightness wakes me up and makes it much easier to see the things that need to get done.

Case in point. The photos below are of my house. It was about 8 o’clock in the morning and pouring down rain on a random Wednesday.

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Kitchen – lights off.

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Kitchen – lights on!

The visual difference that the flip of a few light switches makes is surprising. Even though it was rainy when I took these pictures the house still transforms from dark and sad to happy and alive.

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Living room – lights off.

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Living room – lights on!

I’m not the first person to figure this out. The National Renewable Energy Laboratory did a study in 2002 about how lighting affects productivity in offices, schools and retail locations (yikes!) and the results aren’t that surprising. Office workers with access to natural light, or full-spectrum artificial lights had lower absentee rates; students performed better on tests and had fewer cavities.

Yes, fewer cavities. Go figure.

So the next time you’re at home and you’ve got three loads of laundry staring you in the face make it a little easier by turning on your lights, pulling back the curtains and opening the blinds.

But what do you do if you’re at work? If you’re lucky enough to have an office to yourself, go buy some lamps so you can get rid of that nasty fluorescent light – and don’t put CFLs in your new lamps, silly! Splurge on some daylight simulating bulbs. If you’re doubly lucky and have a window in your office make sure you open the blinds!

Are you in one of those soul sucking open concept offices that offer no privacy and no control over your environment? the next time you’re feeling mopy take five minutes and go outside to get some sunlight and fresh air. After a short walk  you will come back feeling refreshed and hopefully a little more motivated.

To be clear, I’m not advocating that you leave all your lights on all the time. That would be wasteful and I hate waste. But a careful, intentional use of lighting to help you get more stuff done – that to me is worth the 20 cents it will add to your electricity bill.

P.S. You want to know something funny? In an odd verification of the lighting theory, the behavior of my children completely changed when I was taking the photos for this post. The day I took these pictures the kids had been up for two hours and had done nothing but whine and complain the entire morning. As soon as I turned on the lights to take pictures the whining stopped. I mean, it stopped. Completely. They went from whining and complaining to playing happily in no less than five minutes. Not kidding.

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Best Productivity Apps

PinterestSmart phones are awesome. They’re the modern equivalent of Swiss Army Knives, except they’re not Swiss or knives…but you know what I mean. My phone makes my world go round and I mean that in an almost literal sense. Without the organizational tools in my phone my world would literally grind to a hault.

Let’s talk about the best productivity apps that can take your cell phone and turn it into your own little personal assistant.

For the purposes of this post I will be referencing Android apps and Google based cloud services because that’s what we use around here. But for everything Android there’s an Apple equivalent so iOS fans please let me dissuade you from running away, screaming – hopefully this will be useful to you too.

 

Google Now

At first I thought Google Now was a little creepy but once I embraced my phone’s inner spy I began to love how convenient it made my life. All it takes is a long press of my home button or to swipe right from my home screen and my phone becomes my personal assistant.

Google Now will show me the weather forecast, my agenda for the day, tracking information for any online purchases and updates to websites I visit frequently, if I’ve got an appointment it will look at traffic and tell me when to leave. My husband works outside the home and his phone tells him if there’s traffic on his most used commute route and exactly how long it will take him to get to work. Very cool.

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iOS fans, there’s not an equivalent of Google Now but take a look at this LifeHacker article for apps that can simulate the Google Now service.

Calendar Management

Gone are the days of everybody who was anybody having a personal secretary to remind them of their upcoming appointments – but that’s okay! We have smart phones!

If a friend asks you, “Hey, what are you doing Friday night,” you can easily whip out your phone and tell her. You can easily set appointments months in advance and then set reminders so you don’t forget about them. Technology is cool.

I wasn’t a big fan of the calendar app that came with my phone so I don’t use it. My favorite calendar app is DigiCal. It syncs with my Google Calendar, it’s easy to use and extremely reliable.

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I’m still a fan of the analog calendar but when it comes to long term planning Google Calendars is my planning medium of choice and DigiCal is the thing that makes it all work.

Inbox

For all the Gmail users of the world who haven’t discovered Inbox. Go look at it. I was part of the invitation only group who got to use Inbox during the beta test. I tried it and I HATED it. When it first came out, it confused me. What? Check marks? Pins?

I. Just. Don’t. Get. It.

But one day after feeling extremely overwhelmed with the state of my email I decided a zero inbox policy was what I needed. Read it, tag it, archive it. Never see it again. No clutter in my email allowed. After spending several hours sifting through my email, once again I stumbled onto Inbox and the second time around, it make perfect sense. I am in love.

If you strive to keep your email inbox at zero or close to it (and you should!), Inbox is for you. It takes your email and turns it into a giant task list. Each incoming message becomes a task to be completed. When you read an email and complete any necessary action you mark it as done (which archives it). If it would be more appropriate for you to respond to an email later, you can set a reminder and the email will disappear and reappear when you need to see it. Bundles allow you to see purchases, flights, hotel reservations all in one place and one of the coolest features is the ability to set reminders for stuff you need to do and pin them directly in your Inbox where you’re sure to see them.

If you’d like to see screenshots of Inbox visit this link (I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my email with the world).

Google Keep

Google Keep is a visual note taking app, similar in style to Pinterest but without the web links. You can make checklists, notes, voice notes (which it will transcribe) and photos to post-it style cards that show up on your screen. Notes from Google Keep also show up in your Inbox if you set a reminder – which for me is incredibly useful because I am the queen of taking notes and then forgetting they exist. Making a Christmas list? Set a reminder when it’s time for you to start shopping and it will pop up in your Inbox. Pretty sweet.

google keep

I use Google Keep for any personal notes I’d like to make. A friend recommended a book for Alvy about hearing aids – I made the note in Keep. I also use it as a place to store stuff I reference often, like my workout plans and the password to our wifi.

Remember the Milk

Remember the Milk is a fully functional to do list, complete with repeating tasks, reminders, tags and priority settings. It could be used for any number of things but shopping lists are my favorite RTM use. Gone are the days of random scraps of paper and post-its sitting on the kitchen counter with various items scribbled on them as long as I have my phone, I have my grocery list. Easy.

rtm screenshot

It’s a cross platform service that allows you to update your list from your phone, tablet or computer. So no matter where you are when you remember that you’re out of hot sauce you can add it to your list before it slips your mind.

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The service and the app are both free but if you want to sync your phone with their cloud more than once per 24 hours you have to pay an annual membership fee of $25. To me it’s well worth it.

I will have an entire post dedicated to Remember the Milk because it is that cool and I use it every day.

Feedly

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I was a user of the Google Reader service for a long, long time and when Google decided to kill it I was left desperately searching for an alternative. Enter Feedly. Feedly is everything Google Reader wished it could be. It’s clean, yet still colorful and easy to use. All the latest news and the newest posts from all the blogs I follow in one place. All I have to do is find time to sit down and read and it’s all there waiting on me.

Evernote

Evernote is a powerful note taking app which allows you to not only take text notes but to then attach things like photos and audio files. Like Google Keep it allows you to set reminders for things that are time sensitive. Evernote includes stuff like cloud storage and cross platform use so no matter where you are you can get whatever is in your brain out and into your phone.

Trying to remember the details of the client meeting you were in yesterday? Make a “Client Meeting” notebook in Evernote and next time whip out your phone after the meeting, take a voice note in Evernote immediately afterwards. Record all those important details that will be important to remember. It’ll make writing up those reports you dread so much easier! You can sit down and type everything up when you have more time and your mind is fresh.

I like to reserve Evernote use for anything “business” related, which for me means notes about blogging, the cemetery and MOMS Club. I also use it to archive all our household records – that will be a whole other blog post.

Kindle

I started reading books on my phone when Evelyn was a baby, namely because I spent so much time rocking her in the glider and I needed something to do instead of letting my brain rot on Facebook. I bought my first e-book while sitting in that glider out of desperation. It was the Baby Sleep Book, by Dr. Sears, and I started reading it while holding her in one arm and my phone with the other.

Once I figured out I could read in the dark without a light on (on the Kindle app change the background to black and turn the brightness to low) an avalanche of e-books followed. I have no idea how many e-books I’ve purchased but they’ve kept me entertained on countless road trips, plane flights and thanks to the reading in the dark discovery even during middle of the night wake ups when I just can’t go back to sleep.

E-books have other advantages too. There’s no clutter. You can take as many books with you as you want and decide later what you want to read. Once the book is downloaded to your device you don’t even need an internet connection to read it. There’s no need to remember where you left off either. Anytime you open a book the app will return to the place where you left off even if you use multiple devices (internet connection needed to sync devices). The icing on the cake? Typically e-books are cheaper than their printed counterparts.

Did that first book help me get Evie to start sleeping? No. About 10 books later Dr. Ferber to the rescue!

 

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organizing the laundry

Organizing the Laundry

organizing the laundryLaundry. No one likes doing laundry.  It’s a pain. It takes forever. It’s never finished. Folding laundry might be the most universally hated household chore in existence.

Fortunately, doing laundry doesn’t have to be the monster we make it out to be. By organizing the laundry and doing it with purpose we can keep keep the laundry monster out of the hamper.

Do laundry often.

As odd as it sounds I’m telling you to do this chore that you hate – more often.

Why? Because laundry that is done often really isn’t that bad. Washing often means smaller loads and smaller loads dry faster, are less daunting and quicker to fold. By washing frequently you give stains less time to set and you don’t need as many clothes.

When you wait until you’re out of clothes, you’re forcing yourself to tackle the laundry all at once because ALL MY UNDERWEAR AND SOCKS ARE DIRTY! You’ve backed yourself into a laundry corner that involves being stuck at home all weekend while you wash, dry and fold 10 loads of laundry all at once. Because if all YOUR socks are dirty, most likely so are everyone else’s.

Remember when I said that intentional living was going to be mentioned often on this blog? Intentional living means being proactive, not reactive. No more putting out fires. Let’s keep the fires from starting in the first place.

When you do laundry before it becomes urgent, you’re choosing to solve a problem before it even becomes one saving yourself the stress of a minor-crisis. If you’re going to be stressed save it for something important, don’t waste it on laundry.

Sort as you go.

Get a sorting hamper and sort as you wear your clothes. By sorting clothes as you go, you can do laundry through out the week, doing a little bit every day. We have a three bin laundry hamper so we sort into three piles: colors, whites and nice clothes. I labeled the bins so it’s clear to everyone in the house what goes in which bin.

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I bought this hamper about 12 years ago and it shows. It’s stained and fraying on the sides. I’ve had to repair it several times but I love it and it works great so I’m sticking with it. When the canvas finally gives out I will probably attempt to make a new one. I love it that much.

Create a laundry schedule.

Plan it according to how you wear your clothes. I have 4 categories of laundry. The three mentioned above and kitchen laundry.  I do one category of laundry each day Monday through Thursday. My number one goal is to have all the laundry done during the work week so I can do something fun on Friday and relax a bit on the weekend.

Sunday: I go upstairs and get the kid’s laundry hampers. I then sort all their clothes in with our clothes so I’ve got laundry prepped for the week. Hampers are then taken back upstairs.

Monday: I wash all the colors on Monday. Sometimes it’s one load, sometimes it’s two. It just depends on how busy we were over the weekend and how many sets of clothes we went through. By washing colors on Monday I make sure that the kids and I have plenty to wear throughout the week and the stinkies from the weekend don’t rot in the hamper.

Tuesday: I wash all the whites. Sometimes one load, sometimes two. It all depends.

Wednesday: Kitchen laundry/catchup from Monday & Tuesday if we were busy. Kitchen laundry is generally a very small load so I try to use this day to do any catch up from Monday and Tuesday if we were busy and I didn’t get a chance to finish my loads those days.

Thursday: Nice clothes, which get divided up into 3 separate loads: light, dark and denim By doing nice clothes on Thursday, my hubby has plenty of clothes to choose from on Monday morning. (He wears jeans on Friday).

Treat stains on the spot.

Find a good stain remover that allows you to pre-treat and leave on the garment (not all pre-treaters allowing letting the garment to set. My favorite is Shout Advance Gel. I keep a spray bottle of this stuff in the sock drawer of my dresser so Jason and I can easily treat our clothes before they even go in the hamper. I also keep a bottle in Alvy’s room (on a very high shelf) so I can do the same when I’m changing him.

Let it go. 

No matter how much laundry gets shoved in the hamper when that category is done for the week, it is DONE. Big fat check mark. Don’t touch it again until the next week. When your spouse comes home and throws a towel in the whites, which you just finished putting away don’t stare daggers his/her way, just take a deep breath. That towel will be there next week.

The same goes for the kid’s clothes. Anything that goes into the hampers after they’ve been emptied on Sunday will have to wait until the next week.

When you start a category, FINISH it.

When I say finish it I mean FINISH IT, including folding it and putting it away before you go to bed. When you wake up in the morning you don’t want to start you day with a pile of laundry staring you in the face. Once you’re behind, you’re BEHIND and catching up is tough. I generally try to start all my loads before noon because I know that if it goes in after noon then most likely it won’t get finished before I go to bed.

Have a folding routine. 

Since folding laundry is right next to having a root canal on my list of things I’d like to do on any given day, I do everything I can to make it as easy as possible.

I fold laundry on our bed. It’s a big flat space and is perfect for spreading everything out. It’s also easy to put away mine and Jason’s clothes if I’m already in the bedroom.

folding routine

I dump the basket full of laundry in the center of the bed. My husband and I have two kids, a boy and a girl which means we have two males and two females in our household so I break up our piles by gender. When I fold I always put the girl’s clothes on the left side of the bed and the boys clothes on the right.  Towels and linens go on my dresser behind me. Folding is much faster if you’re not constantly searching for random piles.

If you don’t have an even boy/girl split you can divide up your piles by age or order of bedrooms. It’s totally up to you. The takeaway here is that when you’re not constantly searching for stacks of clothes folding will go much faster.

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For clothes that need to be hung, I take them out of the dryer immediately and lay them out on our bed in stacks by type of item. I’ll stack up all the shirts, all the shorts and all the pants. Then I count how many hangers I need and come back to put them on hangers. After everything is on hangers I put them in the closet.

I know what you’re thinking, well you stay at home all day so you have a the time to get laundry done. Yes, that’s partially true but even if you work outside the home you can still get one load of laundry done every day. Put it in the washer before you leave for work, put it in the dryer as soon as you get home and fold/put it away after dinner.

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Intentional Living, Emotional Clutter and Self Esteem

500x750Organizing is all about control – we see something in our lives that is disorganized and by organizing it we’re actually controlling it in a way that reduces our stress level. That’s all organizing is.

We spend an hour cleaning out our junk drawer and we feel like we can conquer the world!

The truth is not all disorganization is physical, it’s emotional as well. Sadly, emotional disorganization can be just as devastating to our lives as physical disorganization and it’s important that we recognize the need to control both.

Instead of feeling like we’re being pulled through life by a series of uncontrollable events, we need to accept that life is full of decisions that effect the path down which we’re headed. Where we go is dependent on the decisions that are made TODAY, not yesterday. Each morning is a new day to change our path. Though specific events happen that are out of our control we can control our reactions and manage our lives in a way that increases preparedness. All this control reduces stress when stress levels are at their highest. This, friends, is intentional living.

I will talk a lot about intentional living on this blog, intentional living is your emotional life…organized. The first step to clearing out your emotional clutter and living intentionally is feeling better about yourself – self esteem.

Self esteem defines  your entire outlook on how you live, how you dress, how you feel and what you think you deserve. It also directly affects your mood and your ability to care for others. Thankfully, self esteem can be changed but it requires some work.

Today we’re going to clear out some emotional clutter and talk about some strategies to help you love yourself.

Stand Up Straight

Stop walking around like a hunch back! Pull your shoulders back and pick up your chin. You’ll be surprised how much better it makes you feel and it will completely change the way other’s perceive you. You go from being timid and weak to confident and strong…plus it’ll make you taller!

Banish Negative Self Talk

When you look at yourself in the mirror and think, I’m so fat. How does that make you feel? Does it make you feel AWESOME? No. It makes you feel like crap. Stop it!

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Every Saturday morning while I’m running, I pass a woman on the jogging trail who is starting her fitness journey. She struggles to maintain a run but every Saturday morning as I pass her she says, “By January I’ll be as fast as you!” I admire her determination and positive attitude! She has the opportunity to feel bad about herself but she doesn’t, instead she is embracing the person she is today and making a decision to be a better person tomorrow. She is rockin’ her Saturday morning runs and I don’t doubt that by January she might be right.

Graciously Accept Compliments

How many times has someone given you a genuine compliment and you shrugged it off?

“Wow, Suzy. You look really nice today.”
“Ugh, not really. This shirt shows my belly fat.”

Next time say, “Thank you,” instead. It’s more polite and (surprise!) by accepting the compliment you’ll actually begin to believe that you look nice.

Develop a Workout Routine

If you don’t have one, you need one. Positive body image will do wonders for how you feel about yourself. Exercise can be hard at first but find something you love and stick with it. It can be biking, swimming, rowing, running, walking, or even gardening. Immediately you’ll notice that you feel stronger and better about yourself.

If you get burned out try something different – variety is the spice of life! It doesn’t matter what you do but do it for 30 minutes a day.

The benefits of working out don’t end with body image. Stronger muscles and a fitter cardiovascular system will help make your whole life…easier. It will be easier to pick up your kids, to walk up the stairs and to be on your feet all day. You’ll have more energy. What’s more, exercise increases your body’s tolerance to stress allowing you to handle difficult situations. Plus, you’ll feel AWESOME.

Take Pride in Your Appearance

You might be able to get away with wearing yoga pants to the grocery store but what does it say about you? It says, I’m tired. I don’t care. I don’t value myself. I’m lazy.

Spend a few minutes on yourself every morning to make yourself presentable. No, I don’t mean wearing a suit to go pick up your kid from school, I mean intentionally dressing to increase your own feeling of worth. Since getting dressed is one of the first things we do in the morning, it sets the tone for the entire day. If you make the effort to look good, feeling good will follow.

It takes just as long to put on a pair of yoga pants and a t-shirt as it does nice jeans and a decent shirt. Choose to take some pride in the way you look.

Choose Healthy Foods

That gourmet cupcake you’ve got in your hand will do a lot more harm than the extra weight it will add to your hips. Before you eat it, think about what it will do to your body.

The old saying, you are what you eat is eerily true. For better or worse, food is fuel for your body. When you feed your body foods that satisfies it’s caloric needs but don’t satisfy it’s nutritional needs it begins to struggle and the effects are almost immediate. You have a hard time concentrating. You’re tired. You’re emotional. You’re lethargic. You’re bloated. You gain weight. 500 calories of cupcake later, you’re still hungry. THAT is scary.

Instead, eat with intention. You can choose to put that cupcake down and eat carrots instead. You can eat 20 (!) medium carrots for the same number of calories that are in that cupcake. 20!

In January, my husband and I completed Whole 30 – a 30 day whole food challenge and it changed my life. I thought I understood how food affect the way I felt but I quickly realized I was wrong. Very, very wrong.

When your nutritional needs are met you feel like a completely different person. When you eat well, you feel well. If you want to gain some control over your life and feel better about yourself, your food choices are the best place to start.

It’s important to note that though treats, like gourmet cupcakes, aren’t good for your body they are good for your soul.  So, If you’re going to eat them, enjoy them. Sit down and savor every bite delicious, fatty, sugary bite.  Yummmm. Cupcakes.

This post topic is probably a little heavy but it’s something I feel very passionate about. You might have every shelf in your house labeled but you will never be truly organized if you’re wading through emotional clutter.

I hope y’all have a wonderful week! Go love yourself! BE AWESOME TODAY!

{If you want to read more about intentional living, take a look at this post from Becoming Minimalist and this post from Huffington Post. Great reads!}

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