Easy Meal Planning

Do you sometimes feel as if you spend an inordinate amount of time on food?

Stop and think about all the tasks involved in simply keeping your family fed: planning meals, grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning up.  As soon as you’ve finished with one meal, it’s time to start thinking about the next one!

Well, recently I came across a website that can help streamline the planning and shopping processes.  It’s called Say Mmm. On this site you can organize your recipes and add new ones from the website suggestions.  You can plan your meals by adding them to the onsite calendar.  Then you create your grocery list by clicking on the ingredients lists for your recipes, plus you can add common items such as bread, milk, and eggs.

Using this website is completely FREE! Give Say Mmm a try and let us know what you think.  In the meantime I’ll be on the lookout for a site that can clean up the kitchen!

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Filing Tip To Improve Productivity

Efficient filing is a cornerstone of productivity.

Entire books have been written about how using the correct filing system can improve your productivity.  Today I’m just going to focus on one small but useful tip.

The main reason to use a filing system at all is to be able to quickly find exactly what you need to get your hands on.  If you have to wade through lots of old, out of date stuff you are wasting time.  But how do you make sure that your file drawer contains only the most current, relevant files?

The answer is:  Date It.

Every time you access a file, take a moment to write the current year right on the front of the folder.  For example, on each file I pulled today I wrote “2011.”  Obviously, you only do this the first time you use the file during the year.  Be sure to label any new files you create.

When the next year rolls around, set aside time to look at every one of your file folders.  If the current year hasn’t been printed on it, that indicates you didn’t need that file all year.  Pull it out of your current file system and put it in your archived files.   Now you’re ready to start the new year with all current files in your system!

Do you have a special filing tip to improve productivity?  Please share in the comments!

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Kindle Review

The Amazon Kindle is the best decluttering and organizing tool you could possibly buy if you are an avid reader.

I love books.  I love reading them and sharing them.  I even love hanging out at bookstores!

But a few weeks ago I received a Kindle as a gift and it has truly shifted my perception.  I really enjoy the convenience and portability of the “wireless reading device” as Amazon calls it.  Here is my Kindle review.

  • You can buy books 24/7. I don’t usually have trouble falling asleep but I do often wake up in the middle of the night.  Reading a couple of chapters of something usually helps me drift off to sleep but what if there are no unread books in the house?  You simply turn on your Kindle, search the Kindle Store, and download a book immediately.  Presto – a new book to read!
  • You can carry it easily. Have you ever tried to bring a 400 page book on a plane with you?   Or tried to fit it in your purse to read while waiting for your dental appointment?  You can carry your entire book collection  in the Kindle which is smaller than a sheet of printer paper.
  • You pay less for books. The brand new bestsellers that I’ve compared have been at least $10 cheaper.  And if you are patient and can wait a bit, many of the prices go even lower.
  • You can subscribe to magazines and newspapers. I subscribe to Time Magazine and it is automatically downloaded to my device without me having to think about it.  The cost is so low it’s almost free and, best of all, the magazines don’t pile up on my coffee table creating more clutter!
  • There are many, many free books available for download. Lots of them are classics but there is a surprising number of free new books as well.  This provides a wonderful venue for new authors who are trying to build a following.
  • You have less to organize and dust. I used to have hundreds of books on shelves all over my house.  But one year I was going through a rough financial patch and ended up selling over half of them in order to buy groceries.  It was a painful experience because I felt as if my book collection was an expression of me.  But I learned that I could get along without showing off the fact that I read books (who doesn’t?) to validate me.
  • You are kinder to the environment. This is one easy thing I can do to ease the strain on the earth’s resources.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I still have physical books that are special to me stored on various bookshelves.   I may not have as many as I once did but the ones I do keep are what I consider to be worth saving.  If I do read something on my Kindle that is above and beyond the ordinary, I still have the option to buy it and put it on my shelf.  But, realistically, the majority of what we read is common, mediocre, or just plain crap!  There is absolutely no reason to clutter up your home with it.

Do you have a Kindle or other eReader?  Please share your own Kindle review in the comments.

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Enjoying Wine With Food

I love pairing wine with food.

It makes even the most ho hum meal into something a little more special.  But I am definitely not a wine expert!  Often, when I receive a bottle as a gift, I feel as if I might not be getting as much enjoyment from it as I could because I’m not sure what food would be the most perfect match.

That’s why I was excited when I came across the “Nat’s Decants” widget you see in the sidebar on this page.  You simply choose a wine or a food and you’re given its ideal match!  It’s that fast and easy!

In case you’re wondering, I don’t make any money or get any free stuff from this.  I just thought it would be fun!  Try it out and let me know what you think!

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Declutter Your Brain To Relieve Insomnia

declutter your brainDid you know that if you declutter your brain you can get a better night’s sleep?

How many times have you crawled into bed so tired you can hardly pull up the covers, only to toss and turn for hours?  Chances are there are too many thoughts, worries, ideas, etc. swirling around in your brain for you to be able to switch off your thinking.  Basically, you’re afraid you’ll forget one of these items which will result in all sorts of negative consequences.

There is a simple cure for this problem:  keep a note pad and a pen right next to your bed.  As you get into bed, write down anything you’re thinking about that you don’t want to forget.  If you think of something else during the night, don’t stew over it, just write it down.  Now you can relax and go back to sleep because you don’t have to keep mulling over the idea, trying to keep it in the part of your brain that will remember it when you wake up.

Make sure you keep your note pad right next to you.  If you have to get out of bed to retrieve it, you’ll be less likely to use it.  And don’t turn on the overhead lights.  Too much light will cause you to feel even less sleepy!  Turn on a bedside light if you must or try writing in the dark. I’ve written some crazy looking notes that way but they’ve always been legible!

In the classic book, Getting Things Done, productivity expert, David Allen, talks about writing things down as a way of “collecting” your thoughts and freeing up your brain for more thinking and less storage.  There are so many valuable ideas in that book that I’ve read it twice and each time I’ve pulled out more tidbits that I can use.  I recommend that you read Getting Things Done if you’re looking for productivity ideas.

As for this idea to declutter your brain to relieve insomnia, give it a try!  You’ll be surprised at how easily you can relax once you’ve dumped your thoughts out of your brain and on to paper!

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Time Management: What’s Your System?

The best time management book I’ve read in a long time is called Do It Tomorrow by Mark Forster.

As the title indicates, Mr. Forster’s basic premise is, if it’s not an emergency, it can wait until tomorrow.  Don’t let every little thing that comes up during the day interrupt what you had already planned to do.  Allowing more and more items to be added to your to-do list is the reason so many to-do lists never get done!  He goes into detail about which things really are urgent and which things are not.  Do It Tomorrow also offers tips for dealing with emails and phone calls so they don’t take up all of your time.

But, as with most systems I learn about, I pick and choose parts of it that I know I will be able to consistently use.  Here is my version of the Do It Tomorrow time management system:

  • I like using paper and pen so I keep a little steno pad beside my computer. (I like steno pads because I’m left handed and notebooks with the spiral on the left make me crazy!)  On this pad I write down any tasks that need to be on my to do list as they occur to me.
  • In a Word document I’ve made a list for every day of the week listing all the tasks I do every week on that day, such as check email, write articles, etc.  You can click here to read the post where I describe this in more detail.
  • When I’ve finished today’s to-do list, I look at the items I’ve written on the steno pad and transfer them to my to-do list for tomorrow.
  • That’s it! Today’s list is completed and tomorrow’s is ready to begin.  Once I’m finished with today’s list I’m free to spend the rest of my day doing whatever I want.
  • If I’ve accomplished today’s work but sill have some momentum going, I might start on tomorrow’s list.  Actually I rarely do this because all work and no play…….  But if I do, any other tasks I think of are put on the steno pad for the following day.  I don’t add them to tomorrow’s list because that list is already set.
  • Some people like to schedule their tasks at particular times but I don’t.  I don’t even prioritize them. My goal is to finish everything on the list by the end of the day so I decide as I go which job to do next.  I think this is related to some residual angst I have left over from when I used to teach school.  As a teacher, even something as basic as going to the bathroom was done on a schedule and too bad for you if you’d had a second cup of coffee and nature called before your scheduled time!

I recommend that you read Do It Tomorrow so that you can learn about Mark Forster’s original time management system, not just my version!  It is an enjoyable, easy to read book and contains lots more information that I didn’t mention here.

What systems or routines do you use to have your most productive days?  Please share in the comments below.

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4 Steps To Declutter Your Home Quickly

Do you need to declutter your home in a hurry?

Has clutter stealthily taken over your home?  Would you like to have friends stop by after work but are embarrassed by your home’s appearance? Are you overwhelmed by what a huge job it will be to get all the clutter under control?

Well worry no more!  Here are four steps that will help you declutter your home in practically no time!

  1. First, make a list of all your rooms. Then rank them according to which one is most important to declutter first. For example, if my immediate goal is to have dinner guests, I will probably rank my living room, kitchen, dining room, and guest bathroom at the top of my list. My bedrooms, etc. would rank at the bottom of the list. By prioritizing your list, you will be more likely to get the “most important” rooms finished in case you are interrupted or run out of time.
  2. Second, with a trash bag in hand, walk through all your rooms in order of priority and throw away every scrap of trash you find. If you’re not sure whether to toss or keep an item, don’t spend time deciding now – leave it where it is.
  3. Now repeat the process of walking through your list of rooms but this time, rather than a trash bag, bring a box. Into this box put everything you find that belongs in another room. I like to use a rolling crate for this job. This is a box with wheels and a handle available at office supply or teacher supply stores. When you’ve finished with room one, move on to room two and remove from the box anything that belongs in that room before adding things that belong in other rooms. Don’t zig zag from room to room returning items and don’t worry about a specific place for each thing. Right now you’re just getting all items into the rooms where they belong. At this point, stop and take a look around. Notice how much progress you’ve made! Things already look less cluttered and more attractive, right? OK, get back to work!
  4. Finally, go back through each room once more, this time with a box that you can stack or store, not your rolling box. Put away everything that has an assigned “home” such as shoes in the closet, used glasses in the dishwasher, etc. Any items that don’t already have a designated storage place go into the box. The box might include subscription offers you haven’t decided on yet, kids’ artwork, etc. Put the box away to be dealt with later. I usually hide mine on the far side of my bed!

The goal right now is simply to declutter quickly; you can organize the left over items later, little by little when you have time. After some time has passed you’ll probably end up throwing away most of the box contents!

If you’re not ready to tackle your entire house at once, you can use these four steps on a room-by-room basis. You could spend a few minutes using the process to declutter one room each day, or for an emergency situation such as unexpected overnight guests.

By regularly following these four decluttering steps, you home will always look attractive and inviting!

Here is a good resource for more advice on decluttering: Decluttering My Home.

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Dealing With A Bad Day

Isn’t it amazing (and horrible) how one event can change your day from good to bad in an instant?

I’m sure you can think of instances where this has happened in your own life.  Your work day (or weekend) is rolling smoothly along when – *BAM!* – you get a phone call, email, visitor, etc. that causes you to slam to a complete halt.

I know when it happens to me I lose all my momentum. I can’t concentrate on whatever I was doing but instead keep mulling the problem over and over in my head.  Sometimes I know that I have absolutely no control over the situation but I still can’t stop thinking about it!  This just causes my negative thoughts to escalate:  Now what am I going to do?  Why do I have to do everything??!!  I’m moving to Costa Rica!!

How do you handle these situations?

OK, my  “problem” today is actually taking place in another city. If it could be handled by phone I’d have already done it but today I simply cannot drop everything and go there.  I’ve called everyone I can who is there but I can’t find any help.  Realistically, I can’t do anything about it at this point.  But I’m too distracted to work so what methods have I tried to get myself back on track?

  • Unfortunately for her, a good friend called in the midst of this so she got an earful.  But, because she is a good friend, we made plans to get together for dinner this evening.  A change of scene will do me good.  Never forget that friends are worth their weight in gold!
  • I do much of my work from home, which is probably why no one hesitates to call me with this kind of stuff.  If I’m home I can’t be doing anything important, right?  Anyway, I tried to lay on the couch for a 20 minute nap. Sometimes tuning completely out makes things seem more manageable when you wake up.  My kitty even stretched out with me, which should have been nice and cozy.  But my neighbor spent the entire 20 minutes revving his motorcycle, so I got no peace.
  • Finally I decided to write this blog post.  You have no idea how much I’ve edited out so as not to sling blame to protect the unnamed.
  • Now I’m going to try taking a walk. If that doesn’t jump start me back into work mode I’ll probably read a chapter of the novel I’m in the middle of.

Well, at least I wrote a blog post so this afternoon wasn’t a total loss.   It does make me feel a little better to cross “write blog post” off my to do list!

But, seriously, how do you handle days like this? People say to just not think about it but I can’t find my brain’s off switch.  I’d really appreciate it if you could leave some suggestions in the comments.  Thanks!

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Staying Productive When You’re Sick

Trying to stay productive when you’re sick is like climbing up a slimy, muddy hill in the rain.

Your energy is gone, you can’t make any progress, you feel miserable, and you look like crap.  Back when I taught high school, I once had a student ask me why I had put eye shadow under my eyes.  I couldn’t even answer her because I was coughing too hard.

The best thing to do would be to take to your bed, right?  But really, how many of us can just take off several days when we don’t feel well?  Just the thought of all the work that will be waiting when you return makes you sicker!

Of course, if you’re vomiting or have diarrhea, you probably can’t go to work and no one would want you there anyway!  But I’m talking about cold/flu symptoms such as clogged nose, coughing, sore throat, and accompanying headache. How do you stay productive through these miseries?

First, the best defense is a good offense.  If you have a healthy diet and get plenty of sleep and exercise, you are better able to fight off respiratory viruses.  So leading a healthy lifestyle can help you avoid some illnesses or lessen the effects if you catch one.

And don’t forget to wash your hands or use hand sanitizer several times throughout the day.

But what do you do when you feel the symptoms coming on?

  • Drink lots of water.   Keeping yourself hydrated improves your energy level and flushes out the bad stuff!
  • Don’t overheat your house. The heated air dries out your nose and sinuses, making you more uncomfortable.  Use a saline nasal spray to counteract the dryness.
  • If possible, put off more demanding projects until later.  You want to direct as much energy as possible to fighting the illness.
  • Delegate anything you can possibly delegate.
  • Depending on the type of job you have, ask if you can work from home for a few days.  When asking, be sure to mention that you don’t want to spread your germs around the office!
  • Try to get extra sleep. Go to bed earlier when you’re not feeling well.
  • If over-the-counter medications such as DayQuill or Advil  relieve your symptoms, by all means take them!  Don’t suffer any more than you have to!
  • Finally, if you are completely miserable, take a day off.  That’s what sick days are for! And sometimes just pampering yourself for one day is all you need to give you the energy to work through the rest of your illness.

One more thing to remember:  if you treat your cold symptoms, the cold will last about 7 days. If you don’t treat it, it will last for a week. Take care of yourself in order to stay productive when you’re sick!

Please share this article with your friends and followers!

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What Organization Tools Do You Use?

I’m always on the lookout for new and better organization tools.

Over the years, I have learned about lots of different tools.  Some have stuck with me and some have been discarded.  I’ve modified some to make them work for my particular needs and I’ve accidentally invented some methods out of necessity.

Here are some of the organization tools I use:

Finances

Thank God for online banking! I used to sit down on Sunday evenings and write checks for every bill that was due during the upcoming week.  The envelopes, the stamps, the checkbook balancing – it was sheer torture!   Now, once a week, I schedule any bills that have come in to be paid.  I receive most of those bills online.  I even deposit physical checks online!  I can check the account balance whenever I want without balancing a paper checkbook.

The one paper tool I use for my finances is a spiral notebook. In the left margin I write all my monthly bills – water, cable, power, etc.  I draw lines down the page to make monthly columns.  As I pay each bill I write in the amount.  This way I can keep track of which bills are still outstanding without turning on my computer.  It’s also easy to glance at the page to compare the amounts from month to month.

I’m sure you could use a spreadsheet to do the same thing; I just personally like my notebook!

Chores

There are chores that have to be done to keep a house running smoothly and keep it relatively clean.  I’m not big on doing certain chores on specific days just because my work routine changes unexpectedly from day to day.  It helps me to have a list of chores such as cleaning bathrooms, dusting the den, and washing sheets.  I make a Word document list of every chore I’d like to get done during a week, print it, and put it in a page protector. When I realize I have a free block of time, I figure out what chore I could do during that time block.  When finished, I cross the item off my list.  Because I’m marking on the page protector (using a vis-a-vis marker) rather than directly on the paper, when  the list is finished I can just wipe the marks off with a damp paper towel and use it again!

Work Tasks

I use a similar tool for my work tasks.  First I create a document for each day of the week and list the specific tasks that I do on that day every week.  Then I add some blank lines.  I put the daily lists in their page protectors into a 3-ring binder and use the blank lines to add tasks to be done on that specific day.

Since I’ve saved these documents, it’s easy to modify the chore and task lists as needed.  Just be sure to use vis-a-vis markers when checking off your items.  A sharpie won’t wash off the page protector!

Shopping List

I use the notepad function on my phone to list things I need to buy when I’m out and about.  Whether it’s groceries, office supplies, or whatever, I add it to the same list.  I always have my phone with me so wherever I am I also have my list.  Seeing “printer ink” next to “peanut butter” also reminds me that I need to go to the office supply store!

What organization tools do you use?  Please share your ideas in the comments below.  Thanks!

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