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How To Create a Weekly Schedule

Posted by denisefisher on May 29, 2009

Coffee & Planner

People of importance have schedules. They live their lives with purpose and have things to accomplish. They can’t afford to set aside their planned obligations to tend to the interruptive whims of others. They don’t wait to find out what’s going to happen before deciding what they should do; they have a vision of where they’re going and they plan ahead. Michael Phelps doesn’t swim laps only if he can find time to fit it into his daily agenda. Oprah Winfrey doesn’t go on the air without having scheduled her guests and program topics far in advance, or without having coordinated countless details in preparation for the show. Seth Godin doesn’t wait to write a blog post until he feels like it, nor does he casually think about writing a book without scheduling when he will work on it and establishing a deadline for completing it.

These people didn’t start scheduling their time once they became prominent figures. They reached their celebrity status largely because they’ve had the self-discipline to follow through on their directed planning. Sure, these people may have trainers, managers, producers, and support teams to help them with their itineraries and agendas now, but even with assistance, they still have the responsibility of making time to pursue their goals while managing day-to-day tasks and obligations. They learned to work with a schedule that would assure that they were doing the things they needed to be doing when they needed to be doing them.

How can you create a schedule that works for you?
You can create schedules for different timeframes (daily seems to be the most common), but I find it effective to start with a weekly schedule. By focusing on just one thing each day – one project or one type of task (using a specified theme of your own choosing) you can create a manageable and flexible weekly format. There will be tasks that you do daily at their appointed times, but if you don’t plan for other projects, the daily minutiae will consume your entire day, and subsequently, the entire week. And if you don’t schedule the time, you’ll never make any progress on those larger projects that need to have time designated for their attention.

Lets look at a low-tech way for creating a reusable weekly schedule that incorporates recurring tasks, and includes a designated day for working toward a long range project, one week at a time. By designing a template-like schedule, you don’t have to create an entirely new schedule every week. Similar tasks are grouped together to be done on a designated day of the week. When new tasks arise, they are incorporated into the weekly schedule on the day designated for those types of tasks. When your dry cleaning is ready to be picked up, you don’t have to adjust your existing schedule to accommodate that task, you simply add that task to the next day designated for errands.

If you have a good feel for how to structure your week, you can jump right in and label each day of the week with a preliminary theme. Alternatively, you can draft a concept schedule that describes your anticipated energy level or other factors that will affect how you plan your week. Shown here is a such a draft:

Weekly Schedule First Theme 
Make a list
If you want to make your schedule comprehensive, you need to identify recurring tasks as well as project-related tasks that you want to accomplish, and make sure that your themes cover those tasks. Start by listing the type of activities you engage in on a weekly basis – not necessarily the specific activities, but the type of activities you could describe as a category. Things like running errands, studying, home maintenance projects, writing, or socializing with family & friends. Add to that list projects or pursuits that you want to accomplish (write them all down, you can edit or prioritize or phase your goals as your schedule develops). Projects and pursuits might include reorganizing the garage, creating a business plan, writing a song, restoring a classic car, planning and saving for a two-week trip to Australia, reading 12 business books over the span of a year, or making a quilt. You can create a separate schedule for work and personal tasks, or you can combine your roles to focus on the system holistically – the latter is especially helpful for those who work from home or have unconventional work schedules.

List of Weekly Activities 
Group your weekly tasks
Categorize your list of tasks and activities by a descriptive label (such as “errands”, “correspondence”, etc.). Identify and mark similar tasks on your list by circling them, color coding, or using symbols in the margin. Think about where and when you will be doing these tasks as you create your categories. You will most likely end up with too many categories of lists on your first try. On your next revision you can look for categories that can be combined under a broader heading (for me, I eliminated the theme of “laundry/wardrobe” and reassigned the related tasks to my “catch-up day” or my “home projects day”). Some of your tasks will probably fit into more than one category – that means you either need to refine your theme description or identify the primary aspect of the task that helps you select the appropriate category.

Categories List - 2nd RevisionCategories List - 3rd Revision
Create a daily theme
Whittle down, combine, and refine your categories until you come up with a list of 7 theme names – one for each day of the week. You will probably need to play with this step and do some editing until you find suitable descriptions for your themes – you can also go back later and revise them after you’ve created a prototype or given the plan a test drive. The important thing is to make it work for your own personal style.

Categories List - 4th Revision 
The importance of a name
The words you use when naming your daily themes can have a profound psychological and motivational effect on you, so choose your labels carefully. If the theme name “yard work day” makes you think of drudgery to be avoided, change the name to something more inspiring, like “landscape architecture day.” The naming process can be broken into a series of smaller steps. For me, it worked best to write up a bunch of descriptive words or phrases to articulate the “feel” of a particular day’s theme. I wrote something like “people/calls/correspondence/follow-up/obligations” to start with, and eventually ended up with the label of “business day,” since it’s a day for which I want to approach my tasks in a business-like manner. The cool thing about this technique is that a well-chosen name really helps to create an image and set the tone for that day’s activities. It’s almost like taking on a role, dressing the part, assuming the characteristics, and behaving in a manner consistent with that image. After creating a patchwork of descriptive words and phrases, it was easier to select the theme name that summarized my intended focus. You can also change these names later if you come up with a better title, so don’t get too perfectionistic about it.

Assign each theme to a day of the week
To make your recurring schedule work, it’s important to identify which day of the week is best suited for your particular themes of tasks and activities. If you have competing days, you’ll have to play around with your options to get the best fit. I like Sundays for planning, in anticipation of the upcoming week. I like Mondays for assigning myself the hard stuff, doing important tasks, and working through meticulous details – the tasks that I can do best when I’m fresh and ambitious.

Categories List - 5th Revision

I’ve recently realized (after 50 years of life experiences) that I need to include some kind of catch-up day in my schedule to accommodate the unexpected things that come up and interfere with my plans. This also allows me to complete tasks that take longer to finish than what I’d scheduled, and it provides some forgiveness for good intentions gone awry. If you don’t have some kind of catch-up day included, every little obstacle and diversion will put your remaining schedule behind and might make you want to write off the rest of the week as a loss, and wait to start anew on Monday. However, if you designate a weekly catch-up day and you don’t actually need the day to catch up on your tasks, you can use that time to work ahead or to do something just for you.

If you don’t know where to start – start with “Trash Day” 
When a major construction project is planned and scheduled, it’s the industry standard to start with the demolition and excavation. You’ve got to clear the project area to provide room to start on the new construction or renovation. This standard also works well for planning a personal schedule. If you’re not sure which days should be assigned which themes, start with the day before your community’s scheduled trash pick-up. This will be your demolition and excavation phase. The trash pick-up will always come on that day, and will not fluctuate, even if something important comes up (except, perhaps, around certain holidays, in which case there is a planned shift in scheduled trash pick-up). So on the day before trash day, designate it for cleaning out your refrigerator, and from there, you will find that other tasks will naturally flow.

If you’re clearing out your refrigerator, it may also be a good day to schedule leftovers for dinner, a day to plan your grocery shopping list and upcoming menus; and while emptying the waste baskets in other rooms of the house, you might find another compatible task to include for that designated day. In mild weather, if you have a yard, the day before trash pick-up may also be the ideal day to bag up yard waste, assuming you don’t have yard work scheduled for some other day of the week. My “day before trash pick-up day” is Wednesday. Wednesday is also the day I chose to designate as my catch-up day. It’s a nice mid-week break that allows me to purge unwanted items, clear the decks, and regroup for a second phase of productivity for the week.

Weekly Schedule Themes 
Put your plans & schedule in writing
This step is really important. If you’ve taken the time to think through the details of an effective schedule, it’s worth the extra effort to write out your final draft in a presentable form. This reinforces the notion that your schedule is of some importance, not just a whimsical exercise done for fun. Writing your schedule on card stock or on an index card makes it easy to locate for quick reference; an index card can double as a bookmark for your planner or a book. Post your schedule where you can see it or just establish it as your policy.

Weekly Schedule Themes Extended 
Expand the theme
Once you have a theme, you can use it to create schedules for other roles, projects, and pursuits in your life. I created a schedule for blogging, exercising, meal planning, wardrobe planning, and TV watching. Each of the subsequent schedules kept with the original scheduling theme to keep the activities compatible.

Act like a “schedule person”
For your schedule to be effective, you have to honor your commitments and expect that others will do the same – especially the activities that are scheduled for yourself. Don’t allow others to trivialize your planning by asking you to set aside your plans “just this once” to go do something fun or to help them meet their deadlines, with the rationalization that you can catch up on your things tomorrow.

Refer to your scheduling policy when coordinating tasks with others. Your daughter needs some new shoes for soccer or it’s mentioned that the car is due for an oil change? Say, “I’ll put that on the agenda for next Tuesday, when I do errands.” If you are working on a personal project which needs 2 hours of uninterrupted focus each week, go to the library or someplace where you won’t be disturbed. Tell your family and social contacts who might randomly call you that you’re not available on Thursdays – that’s your research & writing day. 

Colorful visualization
I even created a themed schedule of colors for the week (this was actually an integration of a color-coded system I had previously created to help organize my “to do” lists). This may seem to take the concept of a theme to extremes, but hear me out. The colors I selected visually reinforce the emotional setting for that day’s activities and helps to create the image and enhance the story behind the theme. I also use descriptive words that remind me of my color choices and provide an association between the colors and the themes.

Now, here’s the cool part: Selecting colors allows you to color code tasks on your master list – just put an appropriately colored dot next to the associated task on your list. You’ll be able to add tasks to your list as they occur to you, in any order, then categorize them with colored dots than you can easily identify when you scan your list. Take the color coding even further by integrating color-matched folders, post-it notes, and page tabs. If you are a visual person, and you like themes, categorizing, and colors, this could be a motivating factor in getting you to create and use such a system. If not, skip the color-related mentions. As always, the best plan for you is the one that you’ll use.

Colored folders, notepads, markers, tabs 
Weekly scheduling time
Once you’ve developed your weekly schedule template, you will have to take time (usually once a week) to decide which specific tasks will be scheduled for the upcoming week. You only have so much time each day, and your master to do list (color-coded or not) has more items on it than you can fit into your schedule. So you have to be selective and be careful not to overbook. 

Productivity studies suggest that only 40-60% of your available work hours be designated for structured activities. The rest of your day will be consumed with daily tasks and unstructured activities. As you start to do the math, you’ll quickly realize why you never seem to have enough time for everything that you want to do. But don’t let that deter you. Focus on finishing the tasks you start. You won’t be able to complete everything, but at least you’ll have the satisfaction of finishing your selected tasks. That’s better than working on twice as many projects but completing none of them. The beauty of planning a weekly schedule is that your plan will be in place before your day begins, and you won’t need to feel overwhelmed by the number of things you have to do or waste your time deciding which task should have priority at any given moment. You’ll already have that plan.

The weekly schedule and reality
Focusing on one theme per day allows you to postpone to-do tasks to their designated days without getting distracted or worrying that things will fall through the cracks. Your weekly schedule is the Plan A. It has flexibility to it, but be careful about how frequently you resort to a Plan B. If the exception becomes more of the rule, you’ll lose the benefits of having a weekly schedule. However, if unavoidably urgent issues come up, or an unexpected opportunity arises, you can often swap days, and avoid pushing your entire schedule back a day. That’s when those scheduled catch-up days come in handy.

Expect that you will have to refine your themes and revise them from time to time, due to such things as changes in seasons, life situations, or personal preferences. But don’t think of your schedule as an assignment that is imposed on you. Instead, think of your schedule as your script – a directed plan that’s standard issue for people of importance, like you.

P.S. For time planning purposes, it took me about 3 hours to set up a weekly schedule template, following the steps I’ve described. I do things slowly and very thoroughly, so adjust your own time estimate accordingly. Once your schedule is initially set up, you can do your weekly planning without so much intensity and detail. Please comment with suggestions and scheduling tips that have worked for you. I’d like to include your successful techniques in a future edition on this topic.

Posted in Organization, Personal Style, Productivity, Routines, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments »

Productivity & Wardrobe Maintenance – OR – Why Doesn’t Stephen Covey or David Allen Ever Mention Laundry?

Posted by denisefisher on May 6, 2009

Ironing Man Have you ever noticed that all the productivity experts and best-selling authors on the subject of efficiency rarely, if ever, mention such basic topics as doing laundry or preparing meals? These are tasks that everyone needs to do frequently, on a regular basis (or they at least need to have someone else do these tasks for them, which I’m guessing is the case for the aforementioned authors). But for everyone who doesn’t have a secretary, personal assistant, and housekeeper, and still wants to be productive and efficient, you need to have an effective system for wardrobe maintenance. I’m assuming that anyone who’s reading this already has some sort of system for laundering their clothes. How’s that system working for you? It might be time to make some adjustments to your routine or tweak the details to streamline the process. Things may have changed in your life or in your living situation. You may have slipped into some less-than-optimal habits by continuing a “just for now” routine that you started long ago. You may have been doing your routine long enough that you now know what you’d like to change (if only someone would assign you a maintenance redesign project). Well, consider this a call to begin a mindful reassessment of your wardrobe maintenance system. In most cases, this will be a fairly easy task that you can undertake to make your system into something that’s not filled with drudgery or chaos. Who wouldn’t want that? I have four points to consider to help improve your wardrobe maintenance system:

+  Location

+  Supplies & Equipment

+  Space

+  Routine

You need to have a designated location where things are kept and processed during the maintenance routine. Remember the saying “a place for everything and everything in its place”? Well, the first part of that phrase is probably the more difficult of the two. And if you’re going to streamline your system, you might need to rethink the default locations you’re currently using. Don’t stick with a centralized laundry hamper in the hallway that the entire family has to use if it doesn’t work for you. Don’t force yourself to cram all of your dirty clothes into one basket, if you need more space or if you need additional containers for sorting. Think of yourself as the system designer for this process and make each element of it work in a way that naturally flows for you. If there are designated spaces for what you need to do, at the location you need to do it, and the supplies and equipment you need to use, it will be easier for you to develop a streamlined routine, and you’re more likely to sail through the process without moments of indecision or settling for what you’ve got to work with.

Consider these criteria for the aforementioned points.

+ Location

for clothes awaiting cleaning or repair – this might be a place where clothes are hung, or more likely, a hamper or clothes basket; preferably, near the source of that decision
where clothes are cleaned and repaired – this refers to where the do-it-yourself tasks are done as well as the take-it-somewhere tasks – where do you polish your shoes or sew on a button? have you located a designated shoe repair place or a place where you would go for alterations?
where clothes wait to be put away – not where stacks of clothes sit for weeks after laundering, but where they wait during the cleaning, drying, pressing, hanging/folding process (the top of the dryer is only so big)
where clothes go once they’re cleaned or repaired – again, not the top of the dresser or hanging on the closet door; this location should be determined by the space allocation of your wardrobe and how you rotate your garments (most recently worn go in the back) or how you organize your clothing (such as by color or sleeve length) – the main point is to have a functional storage system and to avoid stuffing things into drawers or into the closet just to get everything put away
– where supplies for the process are kept – preferably, at the location where they are to be used, and in a location where they are easily viewed and accessed

+ Supplies & Equipment

– containers, kits, or stations where supplies are grouped and always kept – having your supplies grouped into kits will make them easier to find and use; having them stored in a container makes it easier to transport them to the precise task area where they’ll be used or to move them off a shelf when the need arises, such as for cleaning, taking inventory, or a dreaded plumbing leak
– stain treatment supplies – if you use a stain stick that can be applied days before being laundered, it may be useful to have multiple sticks and keep them at each location where dirty laundry is collected; these can also be good to have for travel
– laundry products – preferably, you can keep these to a minimum and avoid multiple opened products and almost-empty containers; if you have to take your laundry to another location to do your wash, having your products in a carrying container will make it that much easier to transport, and make you less likely to forget something
– sewing kit, buttons, etc. – everyone should be able to sew on a missing button, but you need to be able to find all the supplies you need to do this; keep buttons, needles, safety pins, several colors of thread, and a small pair of scissors in a small sealable container that you can easily find and take to a work space
– shoe polishing kit – a nice shoe polishing kit will greatly increase the likelihood that you will polish your shoes and get more life from them; this is an item that may be worth a little splurge – compared to the price of new shoes, the cost of a shoeshine kit could be a great value; make sure that you have polish colors that correspond to the shoes you own, and don’t forget to add white liquid polish to your kit if you need it for touching up your tennis shoes or summer sandals
– laundry processing equipment – this might include hampers, laundry baskets, laundry bags, drying racks, clothes hanging racks, clothes pins, ironing board & iron, hangers, or storage organizers; having the right tools for the job makes the task more pleasant

+ Space

– space for wardrobe maintenance items – not only do you need to have a designated location for collecting dirty laundry, you also need to have space for it; besides that, you may need baskets or containers for hand-washing & special treatment items, dry cleaning & repairs to be outsourced, items to donate or otherwise purge, and items needing do-it-yourself repairs (one more tip regarding laundry baskets & containers: rectangular-shaped containers are almost always better than round, or even elliptical-shaped)
– storage space for supplies & processing equipment – if you don’t have space and easy access to your cleaning & maintenance products and supplies, it’s not going to be fun; keep in mind the portability factor too, when thinking about your space and storage containers; and make it easy to put things away
– uncluttered flat surfaces – this is a tough one, because cleared flat surfaces tend to attract stuff galore, but you need such spaces for sorting, preparing, processing, pressing, folding, regrouping and reorganizing; so do your best to find some, even if it comes from a folding table
– a container for collecting pocket contents, lost buttons, etc. – you’ll probably want a container that has a sealable lid, so that you don’t end up with coins, buttons, and tokens spilled behind the washer and dryer; if you’re good, you’ll empty this collection container after each laundry event, but even if you’re not up to that level of efficiency, having a collection container can be an acceptable option and better than the alternative (setting coins and buttons on top of the washer or dryer where they inevitably will be knocked off into some place where they shouldn’t go)
– laundry sink or tub for pre-treating, soaking, hand-washing – granted, if you don’t have one of these, it’s hard to just create space for one, but you can put it on your wish list; and if you do have one, keep it clear of clutter and stocked with a scrub brush and other supplies you need to have on hand; an alternative to a sink or tub might be a plastic wash bin designated for that purpose
– space for air drying – this can be a clothesline (outside or inside), a drying rack, or a hanging device that’s used over your tub; just make sure that its accessible when you want to use it, and that it’s easily returned to its non-drying function when you’re finished (think retractable clotheslines and fold-up racks)
– space for processing cleaned clothes – this combines several previously mentioned elements, but I’m repeating it here because you need to have space (and maybe special racks) for hanging clean clothes, folding clothes, towels, & linens, sorting & stacking clean items, room to press garments that need ironing, and space to regroup and organize items that will be returned to different rooms (if you have to take your laundry out to be washed, you may need provisions for covering the clean items during transport)

+ Routine

– designate day(s) for laundry and wardrobe maintenance – laundry may be done weekly, but you can also integrate clothing repairs, shoe polishing, and other clothing maintenance tasks on this designated day; handling dry cleaning and other outsourced types of tasks can be relegated to days when you run errands
– frequency of laundering/cleaning – reassess how frequently you launder or dry clean your clothes – not how many times a week you do laundry, but how many hours you actually wear a garment before laundering it; if you put on an outfit at the end of the day to go out for the evening (and aren’t working up a sweat by dancing), perhaps you can wear it another time before washing it; be aware that over-washing and excessive dry cleaning can significantly shorten the wearability of a garment, not to mention the extra labor and resources it takes to do that extra cleaning
– share the labor – this point is especially directed at women, who typically take on the job of family launderer by default (and probably includes the wives of Stephen Covey and David Allen); don’t be a martyr and don’t encourage helplessness and dependency by taking on the entire household’s wardrobe maintenance; teach self-reliance by instructing children to maintain their own clothing. Release your care-giver instincts, lower your standards, and let them do it themselves! Household members should have individual responsibility for their own wardrobe items and bed clothes, and should share or rotate tasks for “community” laundry tasks (such as towels and linens).
– consider all-hands activities – engage the entire household for such things as hanger-gathering, quick & easy closet purges, donation gathering, shoe polishing night, curtain laundering, bed linen washing, and seasonal clothing transfers
– plan for complete follow-through of the process on laundry days – avoid musty or mildewy clothes forgotten in the washer, wrinkled clothes left in the dryer, and missing or disorganized clothing items that can’t be found because they were not put away; don’t start the process unless you know you’ll be able to follow it through to completion
– integrate a compatible activity with your laundry processing – make your laundry day more productive by integrating individual or family activities that can be done between the steps in the process; listed here are some examples of such activities:

  • exercise, walk, ride a bike, do yoga or a workout routine between loads
  • make it a cooking/baking day or prepare salad/vegetables for the week
  • read a book, magazine, or browse through a cookbook
  • listen to podcasts or audio books (or my favorite, This American Life)
  • dust bedroom furniture, baseboards, light fixtures, and clean mirrors, floors, door frames, and light switches
  • straighten up the closet, dresser drawers, night stands, and linen closet in preparation for clean laundry
  • write up plans for the week, update your calendar or address book, write e-mail messages or replies, write a few pages for your book/screenplay/business plan/blog
  • plan your menu for the week and write up a grocery list

– schedule an after-laundry activity – create a sense of urgency to get the task done, and provide something to look forward to (preferably, something that doesn’t involve everyone needing to shower first [you know, the hot water issue after laundering]; and maybe you should pass up an activity that involves spending or an eating-out activity – it would be good to get out of the habit of using these activities as a reward, for obvious reasons); listed below are some suggested alternatives:

  • go visit some friends or family (hello grandma!)
  • go to the park, pool, or playground; play tennis, kickball, ping-pong, or volleyball
  • set up a backyard game of croquet or badminton and have a cookout
  • go for a drive – just exploring or revisiting old neighborhoods or new sites
  • have dinner at home (maybe with food from the cooking/baking you did), then play a board game or do a family project or activity together

Bonus: Money-saving Aspect of Maintenance

Taking care of your wardrobe items is inherently a money-saving venture, but if you can make some adjustments in your maintenance system, you can save even more.

Save money by extending the life of your clothing. Extend the life of your clothing by
– making repairs & alterations needed to keep the garment functional
– reducing the frequency of laundering or dry cleaning
– reducing the wash and rinse temperatures
– eliminating or reducing the frequency of using heated drying
– reducing the amount of laundry detergent and fabric softeners used
– using a front-loading washer rather than a top-loading model, if you have the choice

Save money by eliminating or reducing the use of laundry products:
– fabric softeners, dryer sheets, anti-static products, and spray starch are products that are best used sparingly, if at all
– beside the cost of these products, fabric treatments affect the surfaces by making them slightly resistant to water, slightly glossy, and more difficult to clean (because of being impervious to water) if used routinely over an extended period of time
– be aware of the quantity of detergent you use, and adjust it for the amount of soil on the clothing and to minimize the soapiness that needs to be rinsed; many laundry detergents are now more concentrated, and suggested usage amounts tend to err on the side of using too much (which, from a marketing standpoint, will require you to buy more product more frequently); and don’t forget, the detergent and laundry products you use ultimately end up in the water supply system for treatment and redistribution, so be mindful and frugal with your usage – try reducing the amount you use until you find the minimal amount needed to do the job

Save big money by being selective about your home laundering methods:
– Remember that any kind of heat-generating equipment or appliances (stoves, ovens, toasters, water heaters, irons, clothes dryers, space heaters, furnaces, electric blankets, hair appliances, etc.) use more energy than almost any other type of energy usage in your house (way more than lighting or electronic devices), so any reduction you can make in your use of heat-generating appliances will result in significant savings
– Save $85-$150 per year in energy by air drying your clothes instead of using a gas or electric dryer
– Save $11-$226* per year in energy by reducing the use of heated water for washing and rinsing

And if you have the option, or are close to replacement of your appliances, keep these potential savings in mind:
– Save $28-$137* per year in water, detergent, and energy by using a front loading washer instead a top loading washer
– Save $12-$30* per year in energy with gas dryer instead of electric

*The figures I’ve cited are ranges derived from outstanding detailed information provided at Michael Bluejay’s site, Saving Electricity, which compares various factors of water and energy usage in the laundry process; it also compares other appliances and energy usage issues. If you appreciate excellent research and want to know specific information about appliances, energy usage costs, and efficiency, I would highly recommend his site. Take that, Stephen Covey and David Allen!)

Posted in Finances, Mindful Spending, Productivity, Routines, Spaces & Things, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

The 3-Year Wardrobe Plan

Posted by denisefisher on April 2, 2009

Coats This concept is partially inspired by what frugal finance author, Amy Dacyczyn termed “the 3-year sneaker plan.” In her plan, she would purchase a new pair of sneakers every year. These  new sneakers would be worn when she was going someplace where she wanted to look casual but nicely presentable. Her last year’s “new” sneakers, upon the purchase of this year’s new pair, would be relegated to the status of her everyday shoes – ones she would wear around the house most days of the week. The oldest of her 3-pair sneaker collection (the ones that had been last year’s everyday shoes) were assigned the status of work shoes. Those would be the ones she wore when doing gardening, yard work, painting, and such. And her last year’s work shoes, having fully served their life expectancy as functional footwear, were summarily tossed into the trash.

By using a 3-year plan, one’s wardrobe (or sneaker collection) could be systematically recycled and replaced in its entirety every three years – one third at a time.

Imagine your own responsible wardrobe plan that includes the purchase of 7 new outfits every 4 months. Not 7 clothing items, 7 complete outfits (except probably not including 7 new pairs of shoes). The catch? There are two:

1) There needs to be a true plan.
This concept is not meant to condone a free-for-all impulsive shopping trip to buy whatever miscellaneous clothing items you find on sale, to indulge in purchases of items that are “cute,” nor to buy clearance garments that you happened to find in your size and were unable to resist. There needs to be a responsible, thought-out plan. But don’t let the requirement of a plan take the fun out of it. The planning should be part of the excitement and anticipation of the process, in the same way that planning a trip can be almost as much fun as the actual adventure.

2)You need to purge 7 outfits from your wardrobe.
You knew this was coming. But ask yourself this question: could you find 7 outfits in your seasonal collection (whichever season it happens to be) that you’d be willing to part with if it meant replacing them with new clothing items? You might not even have to get rid of your comfortable pullover shirt that fits so perfectly and the distressed denim jeans that you always wear with it, even if they’re both starting to look faded or worn at the seams. Perhaps you can move that outfit into your “work clothes” category, and instead, purge your collection of that well-worn outfit that you wear for hiking muddy trails in the woods.

Wardrobe Replacement by the Numbers
Using my previous example of the 28-outfit seasonal wardrobe, let’s see how the 3-year wardrobe plan might incorporate a 7-outfit purchase plan. Keep in mind that the basic idea is to replace one third of your wardrobe every 3 years, so that no item in your collection is more than about 2 years old.

To break out the 7-outfit allotment of one season’s collection, by category, it might look something like this:

Outfits To Purchase

Category

Total Outfits On Hand

Number To Purge/Repurpose

1

Presentation Outfit

4

1

1

Dress-up Outfit

3

1

5

Everyday Outfits

14

5

0

Work Outfits

7

5

7 total

28 total

7 – to purge
5 – to repurpose

The term “repurpose” is used here to refer to garments which are kept and reclassified within your own wardrobe (e.g., moving an everyday outfit into the category of work outfits). The word “purge” refers to garments to be removed from your wardrobe. Such purged items would generally be sold, donated, or given to someone you know.

Advice to Those Likely to Shop Too Much

  • You don’t have to purchase 7 new outfits. By purchasing fewer clothes, you can save money, keep classic favorites, reduce and simplify your wardrobe space. Perhaps you can select fewer items, and focus more on high-quality goods and classic styles.
  • You don’t have to buy new outfits. You can obtain clothing items (or entire outfits) from thrift stores, consignment shops, through clothing swaps or hand-me-downs, or by having used clothing items altered.
  • You don’t have to buy mass produced outfits from outlets or discount stores; neither should you restrict your shopping to the sales racks of boutiques or department stores. Clothing can be designed and/or sewn by a) yourself, b) an aspiring designer, or c) a tailor/seamstress. The point is to avoid buying clothes that you don’t absolutely love, and to refrain from buying garments that don’t fit quite right, just because they’re bargain priced. Mass quantities of merchandise often induces mass quantities of purchasing (just ask shoppers of warehouse clubs).

Advice to Those Likely to Shop Too Seldom

  • If you are the type who rarely replaces the contents of your wardrobe, maybe you do need to buy 7 new outfits. At the very least, you probably need to purge your closet of clothing that is no longer fresh looking (too worn, too faded, too fraught with stains, beyond maintenance or repair, or too out-of-date).
  • If you tend to be unaware of personal aesthetics and what styles look good on you, your wardrobe assessment might be more effective if done with the assistance of a fashion consultant. Your consultant doesn’t have to be Tim Gunn, but you might want to solicit the services of a fashion-savvy partner, friend, or family member. You know the type (they’re the ones who always comment on what you’re wearing and how you look – good, bad, or some combination thereof).
  • Watch out for tendencies to get stuck in a fashion era or to become complacent or apathetic of your clothing selections and appearance. You don’t need to abandon your own personal sense of style in the way you dress. And you don’t need to stay on the cutting edge of the latest fashion trends of the day. Instead, you need to select styles mindfully and be aware of current and classic clothing styles that enhance your appearance.
  • You may be able to find fashion assistance at the stores in which you shop for clothing, or you might seek out the services of a professional wardrobe- or image-consultant. Such advice is very subjective, so don’t pursue this option lightly. Look for ways to balance your own sense of personal identity with an openness for contemporary design and style. The point is for your wardrobe selection to be intentional, rather than mindlessly assembled without thought.

Looking at the Financial Numbers

It might seem like I’m making a major production out of this wardrobe assessment and creating a purchase plan. But let’s consider this project in terms of price, to show how the costs add up. Assuming an outfit might include 3 clothing items, let’s examine three pricing scenarios and total the cost of 7 replacement outfits for each of 3 seasonal collections, over the course of a year:

$20/item x 3 = $60 per outfit $60/outfit x 7 outfits = $420 per season $420/season x 3 seasonal collections = $1260 per year
$50/item x 3 = $150 per outfit $150/outfit x 7 outfits = $1050 per season $1050/season x 3 seasonal collections = $3150 per year
$100/item x 3 = $300 per outfit $300/outfit x 7 outfits = $2100 per season $2100/season x 3 seasonal collections = $6300 per year

It would be wise to have a target spending amount available for acquiring new wardrobe items. Defining the numbers that determine your spending objectives lends credibility to your calculations and makes your projections more realistic. From there, you can make financial adjustments accordingly, and choose how to affect those adjustments.

More Reasons for Creating a Thoughtful Wardrobe Plan

Planning your wardrobe and future clothing purchases has more than a financial benefit. You select clothes to wear every day, sometimes making outfit changes multiple times throughout the day. There is importance in this planning – it’s not some kind of foofy, girly indulgence – your wardrobe is a reflection of you, a part of your self-image, and a factor in how you are perceived by others. Here are some of the other benefits of effective wardrobe planning:

  • Efficiency in organization and use of storage space. Wardrobe planning reduces physical clutter and reduces the mental stress of chaos and disorganization. Good feng shui.
  • Planning your wardrobe incorporates multiple tasks into a big picture project. Thinking about the many aspects of a well-planned wardrobe causes you to make good choices up front, in a coordinated effort. It reduces future occasions of indecision, over-thinking, excessive trying on of outfits, and piecemeal efforts at clothing organization.
  • Conscientious selections reduce maintenance, including the costs and efforts associated with dry-cleaning, pressing, storage, and the arrangements needed to procure professional services.
  • Mindful and intentional choices in purchasing avoid impulsive, short-sighted, rushed, or ill-advised spending decisions.
  • Well-chosen clothing items improve your appearance. It affects how you feel about yourself, contributes to your self-confidence, and affects how others treat you.
  • The very act of taking control of the possessions in your wardrobe gives you a sense of self-direction in your life, which spills over into other areas of your life. This makes the project worth the conscious effort and reflects the inherent importance of these tasks and their intentional purposes.

How to Plan Your Future Wardrobe Purchases and Purges

Start with a wardrobe portfolio. A binder or colored folder with pockets works well to start collecting your wardrobe plans. Use your portfolio to establish a wish list. Add pages from catalogs or magazines that show outfits and styles that you like (make sure that you keep the source information with the pics so that you’ll know where the info came from). Cut and paste pictures and ordering info from websites to create wardrobe collages that you can print out and put in your portfolio.

Include sketches of your ideas, and notes from personal observations. When you’re ready to go shopping or go online to place clothing orders, you’ll have your collected visions all in one place.

Keep a bag, laundry basket, or similar container handy to act as a recycling box for clothes you definitely or possibly may want to ditch. Use it when you put on a garment and notice it doesn’t fit, doesn’t look so good anymore, has a flaw not worth dealing with, or decide that you just don’t like it anymore. When you get a call for clothing donations or when you’re ready to do a wardrobe purge, you’ll already have a good start. Because this is an ongoing process, it’s worth making space in your closet for that recycling container.

Making the Purchases or Acquisitions

Keeping track of random clothing purchases, made over the course of 3 or 4 months, can be tricky, even if you have a general plan in mind. Create a chart or checklist of your intended purchases and keep it in your wardrobe portfolio. You might want to include an envelope (or use the portfolio pockets) to keep your purchase receipts, which will not only provide a reminder of your acquisitions, but will help you track your clothing-related spending.

I suggest making your wardrobe purchases a special event. Depending on your time availably and shopping preferences, this could be from 1 to 4 separate events. Each event might consist of an hour or two, or it might continue over a span of several days. Once you define the objective of the event, continue to pursue it until your mission has been accomplished.

  • 1 event – buy all 7 outfits in one day, or over the span of several sequential days – one continuous mission
  • 2 events – buy 2 outfits (1 presentation outfit, 1 dress-up outfit);
    then buy the remaining 5 (everyday outfits) on a separate occasion
  • 3 events – buy 2 outfits (1 presentation outfit, 1 dress-up outfit);
    buy 2 nice everyday outfits;
    buy 3 casual everyday outfits
  • 4 events – buy 1 presentation outfit;
    buy 1 dress-up outfit;
    buy 2 nice everyday outfits;
    buy 3 casual everyday outfits

Plan in advance – at least the day before – when you’re going to go out shopping for your purchases, and decide which specific stores you will visit. Then dress up in something that looks good on you and includes footwear that will look appropriate with your targeted outfits. Wear clothes that are easy to change out of (bonus if you can wear items that will mix and match with the type of garments you will be shopping for).

If you are open to multiple sources for your acquisitions, I would suggest following the order listed below (from least expensive to most expensive; from take-it-or-leave-it to custom-made selections). If you can find a free or inexpensive clothing item (but only if you really love it and it fits your plan), it can be worth it to splurge on alterations or to buy more expensive items to complete the look. Just be careful not to buy things because they’re a good deal and you can’t pass them up. Acquiring too much stuff that you don’t need (even if the cost isn’t prohibitive) is not a good deal, and it can sabotage your entire plan, if you’re not vigilant. Dress for self-control. Plan your methods and approach.

1 ) clothing swaps or hand-me-down acquisitions
2 ) thrift stores
3 ) consignment shops
4 ) discount or department store sales
5 ) online purchases from clothing retailers
6 ) high-end departments or specialty shops
7 ) tailor/seamstress/alterations services
8 ) designer/custom clothing or shoe maker

This whole purchasing technique will take some self-discipline and some trial and error for you to obtain the best approach. And you’ll probably need to mix it up from time to time, depending on what you’re looking for and opportunities you might discover. Keep in mind that creating new habits and following through on your plans are more difficult than slacking off into unproductive and undermining habits that contribute to piecemeal fixes and a less-than-optimally organized, cohesive wardrobe.

Start with your own observations and imaginings, and get a portfolio for collecting what you see and conceive. Take your time with the planning and make it an enjoyable project (plus, there are no expensive purchases involved in planning).

One final tip for in-charge, self-disciplined shopping. Walk tall and confident, like a person who knows what they want. Because that’s who you are. You’ve got a plan.

Posted in Mindful Spending, Organization, Personal Style, Routines, Spaces & Things, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments »

7 Salads for 7 Days

Posted by denisefisher on March 4, 2009

When you’re hungry, you seek out whatever’s ready to eat. If you want eat more salads, do some advance preparations, so that healthy foods are what’s ready to eat. What follows is a plan that I used for a week of salads. It’s based on my personal preferences, and is meant as an inspiration for you. Make your plan to match your own preferences, using whatever amount of variety or repetition that you want. The important part is having a plan.

Preparation for 7 Salads

The first day of the 7 Salads for 7 Days plan is the most labor intensive. But if you’re like most people who are enthusiastic about a project in the beginning, when the idea is new, then this is perfect. Advance preparation sets the stage for the subsequent salad days and gives you the foundation you need – the lettuce.

Romaine - 3 heads

The Lettuce

For most of my salads, I prefer romaine. It’s more hearty and flavorful than the popular, but virtually tasteless, head lettuce. Romaine has the crispness to hold up for a week, and the moderate flavor that lets the taste of other salad ingredients and dressings come through. Of course, you can use other greens or hearty staples to your salad mix (shredded red cabbage or carrots are popular), but for purposes of simplicity, in this demonstration, I’m going to focus on using romaine.
6 Salads in Containters

I separate the leaves from the head as I wash them, and then split each leaf in half lengthwise. Then I cut the stacked halves crosswise into bite-sized pieces. Jeremy, at Generation X Finance, shows his technique in great detail on his blog post, How to Prepare a Salad to Last All Week. He uses a salad spinner to drain the excess water after cutting, and adds a paper towel to the storage bowl. I keep the leaves wet and seal the cut lettuce in plastic containers. Try your own techniques to see what works best for you, considering your storage containers, your refrigerator temperature, and the shelf life of the lettuce or other greens you’re using.

7 Salads for 7 Days
On the first salad day of the week, I store six containers of salad lettuce for the week, and prepare one salad to eat now. For this week, my first salad is a Caesar salad.

Caesar Salad Ingredients Caesar Salad Prepared

Salad #1 – Caesar Salad

This is my “default” salad. When I don’t have a good selection of other salad vegetables to add (or when I just don’t feel like going to a lot of trouble), the Caesar salad is the easiest, least work-involved salad I can make. I use bottled dressing, packaged croutons, and pre-grated Parmesan cheese to keep it convenient. If I have some fresh mushrooms available, and the inclination, I’ll slice some mushrooms to add. I have a bottle that I use to shake up the dressing with a little water so that I can add enough dressing to coat everything without making the salad too heavy, and it keeps the calorie count down as well.

Mandarin Orange Salad Ingredients Mandarin Orange Salad Prepared

Salad #2 – Mandarin Orange Salad

This salad includes the benefit of a serving of fruit with your healthy greens. Canned oranges make this a choice that’s convenient and uses fruit that can be stored longer than fresh items. My salad ingredients also include glazed almond slices, chopped celery, and a blended dressing of oil, vinegar, sugar, and juice from the oranges.

Chix Thai Salad Ingredients Chix Thai Salad Prepared

Salad #3 – Thai Chix Salad

For this salad, I toasted a frozen chicken-patty substitute. Then I added chopped tomato, cucumber, sliced almonds, to the salad mix, and topped it with a spicy Thai peanut sauce.

Greek Salad Ingredients Greek Salad Prepared

Salad #4 – Greek Salad

This salad combines cucumber, tomato, red onion, black olives and feta cheese over the lettuce foundation. The dressing is a simple blend of oil, vinegar, and seasonings – shaken, not stirred.

Strawberry Spinach Salad Ingredients Strawberry Spinach Salad Prepared

Salad #5 – Strawberry Spinach Salad

Even though the original salad recipe calls for spinach only, I use my romaine lettuce base, and add leftover spinach from earlier in the week. Cucumbers, red onions, and almonds were also ingredients that I had on hand for use in other salads (are you noticing that several of my food items are used in varying combinations in other salads, so that everything gets used up and nothing goes to waste?). The dressing was a sweet and tangy poppy seed mixture. And, like the mandarin orange salad, this one features the bonus of a adding a serving of fruit to your daily diet – strawberries!

Taco Salad Ingredients Taco Salad Prepared

Salad #6 – Taco Salad

This salad is hearty enough that it can be the main entrée. Add a side serving of warm tortilla chips with salsa, and you’re all set. This salad can include a combination of whatever appropriate ingredients you have available. For mine, I started with a ground beef substitute, heated, and mixed with taco seasoning. Then I added avocado, tomato, black olives, and shredded cheese. When it comes to a dressing, there are a few compatible choices that can be used – sour cream, salsa, or a bottled dressing with essences of tomato, like Catalina French or Thousand Island. Taco salad is also a good way to make use of the broken tortilla chips that settle to the bottom of the bag, instead of throwing them away. Toasting them briefly in the oven will rejuvenate any chips that have a hint of staleness.

Whatever Salad Ingredients Whatever Salad Prepared

Salad #7 – Whatever Salad

This is the name that I chose to describe what is basically a tossed salad – romaine lettuce, mixed with whatever combination of ingredients or leftover vegetables remain to be used. For my Whatever Salad, I used a hard-boiled egg, avocado, carrots, green pepper, mushrooms, and croutons. The salad dressing I chose was a honey-mustard variety.

Caesar Salad PreparedMandarin Orange Salad PreparedChix Thai Salad PreparedGreek Salad PreparedStrawberry Spinach Salad PreparedTaco Salad PreparedWhatever Salad Prepared

7 Salads for 7 Days

So there you have it – a plan to incorporate salads into your daily menu choices every day of the week, starting with the convenience of prepared lettuce (or other mixed greens), and adding other healthy ingredients for variety. If you make a salad for dinner, you might even want to make an extra serving that you can have the following day for lunch. Keep certain ingredients and dressings separate (depending on the types of ingredients involved and your own tolerance for sogginess), if you want to assemble your salad just before eating it. To get additional ideas and inspiration, search through cookbooks, magazines, or online recipe sites. The ones with photos are best. Now doesn’t this make you want to put together your own 7-day salad plan?

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The Best Grocery List Format

Posted by denisefisher on February 24, 2009

I have decades of experience in writing up grocery lists. As an obsessive list maker, I’ve tried many formats. Two of the most labor-intensive models had great potential, but weren’t practical to maintain. One was a pre-printed list of  “grocery staples”, which listed everything I might possibly purchase (by designated categories), and a check mark would be used to indicate each item I needed to buy. It was terrific as a comprehensive reminder of items I might have overlooked, but the list was two pages long and had to be printed out each time I needed to start a new list. The other was an electronic grocery list that I “typed out” on the keyboard of my Palm PDA. That ensured I always had the list with me if I was out and happened by a store where I could pick up a few items. After buying the products on my electronic list, I would move each purchased item below the “line” to indicate that I had bought it, and to make it easy to move each item back up to “active status” the next time I needed it, instead of retyping it. Close, but no cigar.

I’ve tried arranging my lists by the layout of the store (which assumes that I go to the same store every time), but the list that I’ve found that works best is low-tech and elegant in its simplicity. Here it is:

grocery-list

I use a 4”x 6” lined post-it note, onto which I draw a 4-quadrant grid to sub-divide the list into categories as labeled on the photo above. I stick the note onto the door of my refrigerator, where it stays until I’m ready to take it with me. As I notice food items that are consumed or running low, I add them to the list. Also, if I think of a dish that I’d like to make in the upcoming week (usually one that requires fresh ingredients that I don’t regularly have on hand), I add those needed items as well. Four general categories cover everything in the store by location, no matter which store I go to. And the limited size of the list serves as a visual reminder that if I start running out of room on the list, I may be purchasing too much.

To non-obsessive list makers, this post may seem kind of lame. That just means that this one is not for you. But for those of us who appreciate efficiency and organization, a productivity tool that is used so frequently is worth the thought and effort of a good design.

For the record, I keep what few coupons I use in a designated section of my wallet/purse so I have them with me when I need them. I don’t have very many because they tend to encourage purchases I would not usually make. Most of my food purchases are not “coupon foods”. Rarely are there coupons for produce, milk, eggs, or bread. But the good thing about it is that it keeps my shopping trips simple, it reduces coupon clutter, and it keeps me from overspending. Saving money by spending less on products you don’t need isn’t really a good deal, is it?

Posted in Diet, Finances, Organization, Personal Style, Routines | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Watch TV as a Productivity Tool

Posted by denisefisher on February 20, 2009

I know the title of this entry sounds counterintuitive, but hear me out  before you discard this as a valid suggestion. Also, I’m aware that there are purists out there who rebuke the whole notion of TV-watching and label it as a productivity killer, and I can appreciate their sentiments,Me on exercise ball watching TV - left side but I’m not one of them. Like many other luxuries and things that can be bad for you in excess, I prefer, instead, to consume TV programming mindfully, on purpose, in moderation, and to savor the experience. Now, on to the techniques.

Watch TV when it’s broadcast
VCRs, DVRs, TiVo, and on-demand programming make it convenient to watch TV on your schedule, at your leisure. And that’s ok when you want to be leisurely. But to get the productivity benefit, you need to get your chores done, or your errands run, or whatever project you’re working on completed, before your show comes on. Don’t underestimate the power of a deadline (even a TV show deadline). If I see that I have less than an hour before a show comes on that I want to watch, I can go to the store, get just what I need, and make it back home in time for the opening theme song. It’s amazing. It also causes me to be more efficient in my shopping and to just get what I came for. I don’t have time to browse or stroll the aisles, checking out new products or enticing bakery selections – I have to get the rest of my shopping done so I can get out of there and get home to watch my program!

Plan your TV viewing schedule for the week
If you review the TV listings in advance, you’ll be able to select the shows you want to watch, catch the PBS special about the Lincoln Assassination, know if the upcoming episode of The Office is a new show or one you’ve seen before, and know what time your favorite college team is playing this weekend. Some shows are rebroadcast multiple times, which gives you some flexibility and allows you to determine if the show time is a “must be on time” event, or a “preferred, but not mandatory” deadline. Real-time programming is especially subject to this planning. Sure, you can watch the rebroadcast or the highlights of the Super Bowl or the Academy Awards, but it’s not the same as seeing it live. If you have a TV viewing schedule for the week, you can coordinate it with your other activities. You can catch the one-time programs or premieres that you want to watch. And you can use the anticipation of an upcoming show to motivate you during the day and give you something to look forward to.

Make intentional TV-watching a special event
Before cable, before VCRs, back when there were only three major networks broadcasting shows and primetime viewing was each evening at 8 pm, people used to look forward to watching their favorite shows when they aired. The whole family would gather around the one TV in the house, get settled into their designated viewing seat (or floor space), and quiet the ambient noise to focus on the show. There was no tolerance for side conversations, game play, or walking around during the show. You sat and watched the program attentively, with full engagement as a shared experience, and with consideration for others. TV watching wasn’t part of a continuous bombardment of audio-visual stimulation. It was special.

If you watch TV as a planned event, rather than as a background distraction to fill the silence and vie for your attention while just hanging out, it can be something special and worth doing for you too. Plan to enjoy the activity as something you’ve intentionally chosen to do (assuming that turning on the TV just to see what’s on isn’t a default activity to occupy your time because you don’t have anything else planned). If you want to have a snack while you watch, consciously plan it as part of the special event. Don’t just grab a whole bag of chips and some dip or order a pizza to sit on the coffee table and be mindlessly devoured while your other senses are otherwise engaged. Plan the food and the serving size that you intend to consume. Slice up an apple into wedges, or prepare a fresh fruit mini-platter. make yourself a cup of tea or hot chocolate, or even scoop out a some almond fudge ice cream into a serving-size bowl. Allow yourself a splurge, if that’s what you had planned, but do it mindfully, and in moderation. Make the entire event a planned and special activity.

Be the star
This tip works best when you are the only one watching a show in the room, but it can also be done in the presence of others with whom you feel comfortable, and with whom you have a similar passion for the show. Some shows lend themselves to audience participation, at one level or another. And part of the savoring – and the productivity – of watching TV, comes from immersing yourself in the program. For example, when I used to watch “Dancing With The Stars”, I would literally twirl, kick, and dance around the living room with the dancers on TV. When I watch “The Biggest Loser,” I sit on my exercise ball and do various maneuvers, sometimes with hand weights, or I have a “big salad” that I prepared in advance, with the intention of enjoying it while I watch the contestants in some kind of temptation challenge.

When I watch some kind of moving documentary, I sit tall and start to emulate the confidence and courage of the admirable character being featured. And when it’s over, I make notes to schedule a time for sorting through my family photographs and other mementos. I use the burst of inspiration I experience to take steps toward a dream that’s important in my life. Watching Suze Orman makes me want to check my financial accounts and get my estate planning documents in order. This doesn’t apply to every show you might watch, but by being selective about your viewing habits, you can feed yourself with mostly healthy choices that nourish your soul and inspire your better nature. Who can seriously say that after watching a few day’s worth of the Olympics that they don’t feel inspired to become more physically active or join a gym? This is a great productivity tool for you; you just need to recognize it and use it to your advantage.

Posted in Exercise, Personal Style, Routines, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments »

60 Ways To Save A Day Gone Wrong

Posted by denisefisher on February 12, 2009

A Day Gone Wrong Some days are better than others. Despite our best intentions to be productive, to be organized, to be mindful, some days just don’t turn out that way. We lack the will, the focus, or the motivation to get things done. Some days, it’s hard to even get started. What if you just don’t feel like it? After spinning our wheels and seeming to get nowhere, the day can start to seem like a total loss.

But wait. There’s hope.

If you had a list of Things To Do When You Don’t Know What To Do, you’d have options. It’s hard to come up with ideas – even simple ones – when you’re feeling overwhelmed or uninspired. On a better day, you can put together a list of your own. In the meantime, I’ll lend you some of mine. They’re simple tasks you can choose to do as an alternative when your best laid plans have gone awry. It’s a menu of “Plan B” options to salvage a day gone wrong. Even if you don’t regain your full momentum, at least you’ll get something done.

  1. Make the bed
  2. Wash a load of clothes
  3. Run the sweeper
  4. Water the plants
  5. Put away folded clothes
  6. Put away dishes
  7. Wash the sheets to hang out on the line to dry
  8. Polish shoes
  9. Clear off the table and set it for the next meal
  10. Clean the bathroom sink
  11. Check the mail
  12. Walk around the block
  13. Wash dishes
  14. Clear out & reorganize briefcase/backpack
  15. Sweep off the porch and steps
  16. Get clothes and gym bag ready for workout
  17. Clean the kitchen sink
  18. Walk around and inspect the outside of the house
  19. Pick up leaves, pine cones, and sticks from the driveway or yard
  20. Empty out the refrigerator crispers and reline with paper towels
  21. Clean out and organize the rest of the refrigerator or freezer or just a part of it
  22. Dust TV screens and computer monitors
  23. Clear off a flat surface – pick any one or more: desk top, entry table, night stand, dresser top, dining room table, kitchen counters, work table, bookshelf
  24. Straighten up and clean up the cat station and organize cat supplies
  25. Wipe out the inside of the microwave oven
  26. Empty the smaller wastebaskets around the house into the larger trash bag
  27. Find some junk mail, papers, magazines, expired paperwork to recycle
  28. Take out the trash or recycling
  29. Check your financial accounts
  30. Enter financial data for accounting into software program
  31. Inspect the condition of the car’s exterior (maybe check the tire pressure, oil & other fluids)
  32. See if there’s anything that needs to be cleared out of the car or trunk
  33. Vacuum out the car and wipe down surfaces
  34. Look through some storage space to see what you have and what might need to be done
  35. Chop vegetables, prepare lettuce for salad, or other food preparations
  36. Cook or bake something that will last for several days’ meals
  37. Check inventory levels and restock or add to shopping list, as needed (napkins, paper towels, TP, baggies, foils, wraps, trash bags, vacuum cleaner bags & belt, tissues, liquid soap, dishwashing detergent, laundry soap, stain treatment, bleach, household cleaners, refill water bottles, water pitcher, personal products, coin compartment in purse or car, checkbook, printer paper & cartridges, travel size cosmetic containers [shampoo, lotion, Q-tips, toothpaste, sunscreen, etc.], contact lenses & saline solution, light bulbs, batteries, birdfeeder, first aid kit, medications, vitamins)
  38. Take a power nap
  39. Do some type of personal grooming (tend to your nails, ears, feet, facial or body hair, hair color/length/style)
  40. Call your mother (or other deserving call recipient)
  41. Run an errand
  42. Go to the library
  43. Review your goals/personal mission statement/mantra
  44. Review your to do list
  45. Write and e-mail reply or a letter you’ve been putting off
  46. Clean one or more ceiling fans
  47. Clean the windows on the front door (and the finger prints around the door frame)
  48. Plan the details of a call you’ll make tomorrow – get the name, phone number, key points, and supporting documents you’ll need to have on hand
  49. Gather things together that you’ll need for a project you’re going to do tomorrow – set it up so that you’re ready to start
  50. Listen to an educational, inspirational, or informative podcast
  51. Clear your inbox
  52. Sort through some computer files and delete what you no longer need
  53. Meditate in a quiet space (possibly with some suitable music)
  54. Read something uplifting
  55. Ask someone else about their day, listen with empathy, and ask how you can help them out
  56. Send someone a text message or e-mail – out of the blue – to tell them something you admire about them
  57. Go to the yoga today website and do a yoga video
  58. Sort/organize/group/categorize … anything (bills or receipts to file, medicine cabinet, CDs or DVD collection, utensil drawer, spice cabinet, tool box, drawers of your night stand, jewelry or other accessories, stack of firewood or kindling, art supplies, lap drawer of the desk)
  59. Hold your baby (your little baby, your big baby, your sweetie baby, or your pet animal baby)
  60. Regroup and plan to get back up to speed tomorrow

Posted in Diet, Exercise, Finances, Fitness, Health, Organization, Personal Style, Routines, Spaces & Things, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Visual Guide to Eating More Fruit

Posted by denisefisher on February 7, 2009

Fruit galore

This is my plan for eating fruit for a week, in words and photos.

Take inventory
Before you go out and purchase your fruit (and presumably, other groceries), check your pantry, freezer, refrigerator (don’t forget the crisper drawers), and anywhere else you store fruit. A pre-shopping refrigerator purge is always a good idea, since it will remind you of what you already have on hand, and those cleaned off shelves and compartments will be appreciated when you return from your grocery trip with bags of food that needs to be put away.

Eat enough – but don’t buy too much
Determine the appropriate number of servings of fruit to have per day. I choose 3. Then do the math to determine how much fruit you’ll need for the week for your household – I’m only one, unless I’m planning for guests, so, 3 fruit servings a day x 7 days a week = 21 pieces or servings of fruit to buy for the week. Viewing fruit purchases in terms of the number of servings allows me to buy enough variety without buying more than I need, and then feeling guilty about wasting money and not consuming healthful fruit before it goes bad.

Fruit for a Week - Bulk This selection of fruit shows what I purchased for a week’s worth of fruit eating, except for the oranges (which were left over from a bag I purchased the week before).

Savor the variety, but don’t go crazy
Purchase a variety of fruit based on personal preferences, availability, price, nutritional variety, and number of portions. I prefer to buy mostly fresh fruit, and supplement my choices with the occasional canned, dried, or frozen fruits – which are especially suited for use in recipes, such as canned mandarin oranges or raisins that I may use in a salad,  or canned pineapple chunks for a rare pineapple upside-down cake). I used to keep significant quantities of extra items on hand (you know, just in case), but recently, I’ve reformed my philosophy to keep my stock of extras to a bare minimum. I’ve realized that my money can be put to better use than sitting on my pantry shelves or in the refrigerator/freezer for weeks or months at a time, waiting for me to decide how I might use it. My revised strategy makes for roomier food storage spaces too.

Select your default serving times
Schedule routine fruit-eating times during the day. These seem to work best when they’re planned to coincide with those times when you’re a little bit hungry for something to munch on, but not past the point when you’re intensely craving something chocolate or salty-crunchy. I choose mid-morning, late afternoon, early evening – I don’t designate my times more specifically than that, although, when I used to work in an office, I used to hold out for a fruit break at 10 am. Eating fruit an hour or two before your next meal will help moderate your appetite and keep you from eating too much because you’re “starving to death”.

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Plan for the week to avoid waste
Plan daily menus or a sequence for eating the fresh fruit that you’ve purchased, based partly on how ripe or perishable each fruit is. Obviously, soft fruit and cut/prepared fruit have the shortest palatable life, though some fruit can be trimmed, blended, or cooked into other recipes, even if they’re past their apparent life expectancy in fresh form – think… banana bread, strawberry shakes, apple crisp… that kind of thing.

Fruit for a Week - Portions This display shows how I divided my fruit purchases (shown in the previous photo above) into 7 days of 3 fruit servings per day. The only items added to the assortment (from what I already had in the pantry) was a package of dried mixed fruit and a can of mandarin oranges that I will use in a salad. The only fruit left from my purchase was 8 apples – I could carry them over for next week, or I might want to use them for cooking or baking.

Prepare portions & packaging
Wash fruit and portion it out into serving sizes, as appropriate, especially for packing lunches or making fruit ready to eat. Cut grape stems to make serving-size clusters, put blueberries or cherries into sealable baggies or plastic containers that you can pack or take on the go. You can also cut melon into wedges, cubes, or balls, and cut stems from strawberries, etc., but only if you know those fruits will be eaten fairly quickly thereafter, or if you know they will sit and rot if they’re not in a ready-to-eat form.

Fruit - red grapes     Fruit - honeydew melon

Presentation is everything
Serve fruit with visual appeal and vary the way you cut or serve it, (along with how you use dips, accompanying flavors, side dishes, or recipe combinations) to make them appetizing and enticing – for example, oranges, which can be serve peeled and segmented, cut into wedges, cross-cut into slices, or served from a can, over a salad, and topped with almond chips and a ginger-sesame dressing.

Fruit - orange slices

You won’t eat it if you don’t see it
Make fruit viewable as a snack option – have a bowl of mixed melon cubes with strawberries on the top shelf in the refrigerator, instead of hidden, unprepared, in the crisper; set your bananas, and maybe a couple of apples, in a wicker bowl on the table; put a small dish of freshly cut apple wedges on the table next to you when you get ready to watch TV or play a board game.
                    Fruit - apple wedges      Me Everyday in 2009 057

Keep it simple
Most of the fruit I eat is raw and unadorned. There are several reasons for this. Of primary importance is the appreciation of its natural form, texture, and flavors. As a parent and aunt, I am aware of children’s innate attraction to fresh fruit and their delight in eating fresh fruit that is served to them. They don’t need caramel dip, chocolate sauce, or whipped cream to make it palatable, and neither should adults. In fresh form, it’s most nutritious and ready to eat. I seldom buy extra quantities of fruit with the intention of using it to make desserts – most recipes call for significant quantities of sugar and fats that add extra calories that I don’t need, so I try to treat fruit-based desserts a special splurge to supplement my fresh fruit servings, rather than replace them. The major exception to this standard is when local strawberries are in season, and I go out to pick them, or when friends or family share their abundance of ripe apples from trees in their yards. It can be tempting to purchase vast quantities of fruit with intentions of making gourmet dessert creations, but unlike boxes of purchased art supplies that sit around for years, unused, waiting to be turned into inspired creations, fruit will expire if not used promptly.
Fruit - Carrie with strawberriesThe dessert option
Eat fruit in sweetened desserts, if desired, but do so in moderation (berry-banana ice cream smoothie, cherry pie, strawberry shortcake, apple cobbler). If you want to, make it a routine or policy, and give it a name, so that you can look forward to it, without mindlessly eating more desserts than you realize. Try something like Sunday Fruit Smoothie Night and Fruit Bakery Treat Thursdays. This works especially well in a family with children. They will like referring to the named days and looking forward to them, and you won’t have to say “no” to numerous requests for treats before the designated days. You can just say, “Yeah, you’re right, we haven’t had banana splits in a while. That would be good to have on Ice Cream Sunday.”

Berry Smoothie ShakeMake tracking fun
If you need additional motivation and accountability, create a way to track your fruit-eating habits. Make a chart that you can color in, cross off, post stars, or place magnets. This can be even more effective when others in your family or workplace are tracking their fruit-eating goals. I’m sure there are online methods for doing this as well, but I’d opt for the tangible methods that give you that manipulative, three-dimensional gratification.

Fruit chart

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5 Ways “This American Life” Can Work For You – Act 3 – Motivation For Writing

Posted by denisefisher on February 2, 2009

clip_image002 It can be tough to shift gears, settle your mind, and sustain the focus needed for a writing project of any kind. This applies to more people than just journalists, authors, blog writers, and students. If you want to create a plan for your business, career, or personal goals, you’ll need to put something in writing. If you want to document family history or maintain a journal of your life story, you’ll need to quiet your mind and devote a chunk of uninterrupted time to this task. And you can’t just do it once. It takes repeated writing sessions to articulate ideas and bring a story to completion.

So many things around us stimulate the mind to race from one activity or attention-grabbing distraction to another. And the quiet, focused mindset that’s needed to write doesn’t come easily.

Enter the pre-writing exercise of listening to an episode of This American Life (TAL). This program is available through multiple media sources:

1. Your local public radio station (broadcast dates and time vary, so you’ll have to consult local programming guides)
2. Free downloaded podcasts (through iTunes or the TAL website)
3. Streaming audio you can listen to online while you’re connected to the internet
4. Purchased podcasts from the archives collection on the website
5. CDs of selected stories, available for purchase from the website’s store

While you listen to the show, through whatever means, you will find your mind calming and relaxing to the soothing voice of Ira Glass. Do not dilute this experience by trying to multi-task with other quick-paced activities. Something rhythmic, like knitting or shoe-polishing, would be ok, but stay away from large-muscle movements for these purposes.

You will find yourself engrossed in the stories you are listening to, yet, at the same time, your mind will start to engage in its own creative process. A similar thing happens when an amateur painter watches an admired artist at work on a canvas, or a casual musician sees a great performance with an instrument he plays himself. At some point, the observer experiences a compelling urge to become a creator, performer, or story teller.

You might not be able to restrain your urge to write until the end of the program, so have your writing tablet and implements, or your keyboard, within reach, even if it’s just to make notes. Then ride that wave of momentum and write for as long as you are able. You will feel such a sense of satisfaction with what you’ve done, and you’ll have a new option available to use when you’re struck with writer’s block or just a hectic lifestyle of distractions.

Here are some episodes that you may want to start with for this tip (I’ve included several suggestions, since you’ll need them for your many writing sessions):

#14 Accidental Documentaries

#314 It’s Never Over

#261 The Sanctity of Marriage

#167 Memo to the People of the Future

#174 Birthdays, Anniversaries, and Milestones

#114 Last Words

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