BeforeYourNext Birthday-DeniseFisher’s Blog

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Posts Tagged ‘Productivity’

The 2-Week August Project – Focus On Finishing Like Your Hair Is On Fire

Posted by denisefisher on August 8, 2009

 

Hair on FireLast August, Seth Godin wrote a blog post about why you should take on a project to finish during the last two weeks of August. In the US, he claims, those are the slowest two weeks of the year (though I’d guess that the end of December would claim that distinction). He suggests that while everyone else is getting in their last days of vacation and basically coasting, you should focus on finishing a 2-week project and pursue it to completion like your hair is on fire.

Coincidently, mid-August is six months before my next birthday. I have lots of things I’d like to accomplish before my next birthday. Perhaps too many. Having too many options and not much of a plan is a formula that pretty much assures that nothing will get done. Creating a plan and completing a significant task builds momentum.

September always has that back-to-school, time-to-get-serious-again feeling to it. I’m imagining how great it would feel to be ahead of the curve and have a plan of action that would allow me to hit the ground running the day after Labor Day. I can dig it.

Before I determine my August project, I’m going to write up a list of potential prospects from which to choose. Then I’m going to pick one and finish it. I’ll need to keep in mind that it has to be something that can be completed in two weeks, and not be unrealistically optimistic about what I can accomplish.

Do you want to play along? Here’s the goal for next week: Choose your own 2-week project for the end of August, make a plan, and focus on finishing it like your hair is on fire.

You’ve got a week to start deciding on a plan. Go.

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Posted in Personal Style, Productivity, Time Management | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

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!)

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No Wire Hangers

Posted by denisefisher on April 29, 2009

Hanger Hangers are ok to use for displaying clothes, but they’re among my least favorite options for storing clothing. It’s not just wire hangers; it’s any kind of hangers. I don’t have anything against them, it’s just that when I’m changing clothes, I don’t feel like hanging something up. I’m more of a “chair draper” than a “clothing hanger,” though I don’t mind hanging a sweater on a doorknob or even on a coat tree.
Coat tree
The point of all this is not to tell you that I’m too lazy to hang up my clothes. It’s to remind you that your wardrobe storage system needs to be functional for you – not just to look good for a magazine photo. If it’s not convenient for you to use, you just won’t use it. The problem isn’t that you’re not complying with the design of a particular storage system, it’s that the storage system needs to reflect your personal style for putting things away.

Astute parents know that if they want their children to put things away, there needs to be a designated place for things to go, and it needs to be easy to put them there (and to get them back out). What’s good for children, turns out to be a good design for adults too.

Before the invention of the hanger (various versions were patented between 1869 and 1920), there were no closets for hanging clothes. Closet Hooks-Rod-ShelfIf you’ve ever been through an original house built before 1920, you won’t find any clothes racks, and possibly not even a designated storage space for storing garments (that’s what wooden wardrobes were designed to do). Obviously, people owned fewer garments in those times, but for the few garments that weren’t folded (including coats) there were pegs or hooks for storing them. Before there were hangers, there was no need for hanger rods.

Pegs or hooks are still the coat-hanging devices of choice for kids’ coats at school. Backs of chairs also seem to attract jackets and sweaters at my house. While they may not be ideal for storing fine clothing that is infrequently worn, hooks are terrific for outer garments and clothing items that  go on and off several times throughout the week. Coat trees, rows of hooks near a doorway, and single hooks on the backs of door provide situational options of the hook theme. I amValet also a big fan of using a valet (the more elegant alternative to the back-of-a-chair option), especially for laying out the next day’s outfit to wear. Using a valet has the added benefit of creating a sense of dignity and importance to one’s clothing selection and their appearance, in general. It evokes that same sense of confidence that comes from donning a special interview outfit, and extends it to your daily dressing routine.

Folding clothes to store in drawers or on shelves is another alternative to hanging clothes from a rack, but it only works well for putting clothes away. If clothes are folded and stacked in a drawer, you can only see the items on top. Folded stacks on a shelf improves the view, but still results in difficulties if you try to pull out something from further down the stack (and don’t even think about trying to replace an item back in the stack where you found it).

Fanned Stack of Folded Clothes The folded clothes solution that I find most effective is to reduce the height of the stacks. On a shelf, three is an acceptable stacking height, but if you can have a separate divider shelf between each garment, that would be the best. In a drawer, I use a fanned stacking method. It allows for full visibility, and a fair means of accessibility and replacement, even if you can’t store as many items per drawer.

While I’m on the topic of clothing storage, let me remind you to beware the allure of novelty storage units and organizing devices. They look very cool in the catalogs (though if you look observantly, you’ll notice that they are demonstrated with a minimal amount of items in them, and the sellers seem to select items that will fit the organizers, rather than designing the organizers around the items to be stored). If you really think a storage system will work for you, try out a prototype first. Instead of buying a set of plastic sock dividers, cut up cardboard tissue boxes (or whatever replicates the design of the manufactured item), and try out your makeshift prototype for a while to see if it really works as well as you imagined. If an organizing device is well designed and functional, and it actually helps you keep things organized, it could be worth the money. But if you buy it because you think it will motivate you to get things organized and maintain order, but it clashes with your personal style, you’re risking a waste of your money with the potential purchase of a white elephant.

Empty Drawer & Cat

If you are up to the ultimate challenge of wardrobe organization (or even if you just aspire to meet it someday), try designating part of your storage space for emptiness. That’s right. Could you even fathom the thought of having an empty drawer in your dresser? It may seem like some unattainable fantasy, but it could happen. Try it on for size. Empty out the contents of a dresser drawer, then close it up. Open it and just savor the expanse of emptiness before you. It’s not wasteful. It’s good feng shui. It’s making room for good things to come into your life. An empty hook on a coat tree and an empty drawer in your dresser … organizational bliss.

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Hurry Up And Live Before You Die

Posted by denisefisher on March 9, 2009

Cats - Tennessee, Midgie, Snowy, & Floppy Last night, my neighbor’s cat got hit by a car and was killed. My neighbor is out of town and I am watching his cats while he’s gone. An hour earlier, I was petting that cute little cat, and then suddenly, she was gone. I feel terrible that the cat was killed while I was taking care of her – I feel terrible about a cat dying under any circumstances – but I don’t feel I was irresponsible or that I contributed to her untimely death. It’s not meant to be a rationalization, but at one point or another, by injury or illness, that cat was going to die. We’re all going to die.

Urgency and Importance

I’m not telling this story to be morbid. I’m telling it as a reality check. It’s a reminder that life, as we’re living it, is limited. It’s time to stop putting off things that we need to do, and things that we want to do in our lives, until some unknown future “someday.”

To take this out of the realm of the abstract and to see this from a practical perspective, try this: Take a look at your list of lifetime goals or things that you want to do “someday.” (You DO have a list of things you want to do someday, don’t you?) Things like traveling the world, or starting your own business, or writing a screenplay. Add to that the list of things that you’ve been meaning to do or that you know you should do sometime, but haven’t done yet. Things like getting in shape, or preparing a will, or organizing your family photographs.

Goals and Bucket Lists

If you don’t have any such list, maybe you should create one. For purposes of this exercise, just write out or imagine a dozen things you haven’t finished, have barely started, or for which you have no idea where to begin. Walk through your home, open drawers and closets, and look for visual reminders of other tasks, projects, and good intentions yet to be fulfilled.

I don’t want you to feel depressed or regretful or discouraged by these reminders. I want you to become aware of all the experiences, accomplishments, and aspirations you have yet to pursue. And I want you to be aware of the unknown quantity of time.

Time Estimates

Never mind the little things or the trivial matters. Just focus on the things that are urgent or important. Estimate the amount of time you guess it would take to do these things. Even ten of them. How much time would be involved in doing the research required to finish your family genealogy project? How many years worth of photos (and videos) need to be sorted, edited, dated, and organized? How long would it take for you to save up the money and put together a plan for the business you always wanted to start, the dream home you always wanted to build, or the world travel tour you always wanted to pursue? What would it take for you to change your eating and exercise habits and get your body into its optimal condition? How much time would be required for you to inventory all of your assets and do the necessary estate planning that will insure that your property is distributed in the way you’d want (so that you could embark on those other dreams, knowing your affairs were in order)?

Time Remaining

Now, you’ve probably way underestimated the time it would take to accomplish these things, so you’ll need to at least double, and more likely triple, your initial estimate, to make it realistic. Now add up all that time, and see how long it will take for you to do all of these important and urgent things. Remember that you will still have day-to-day activities requiring your time, and there will be unexpected issues arising from time to time that will divert you from your important and urgent pursuits. Also, new things will come along that you will want to do, that you can’t even imagine right now. Do you have enough time left in your life to do these things? You might need to think about quickening the pace.

Busy Schedules

Exactly when are you going to schedule time for all of these important things in your life? You know that if you don’t schedule them they probably won’t happen, right?

Think About It

At this point in the subject, you’d expect to read advice about taking action now or find some upbeat, but vague, encouragement about how today is the first day of the rest of your life, and that you have to seize the day. But not here. Not today. Sometimes you need to take time to just think about things. Thinking is part of the process.

(For those who are curious, the cat mentioned at the beginning of this post is the tabby pictured in the top left of the above photo.)

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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?

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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 »