I never intended to be away for quite so long but I essentially ended up taking a blogging summer vacation! Since I started writing this blog, I have never taken such an extended absence.
Sometimes when bloggers take a long break there is something terrible or dramatic or exciting going on behind the scenes. Sorry to disappoint but there is nothing like that going on in my case. It was, as predicted, a truly busy summer.
I took some time to be fully present with my children, to escort my daughter to her summer camps, to arrange and chauffeur the children to multiple back-to-school checkups, to continue the coordination of the master bath remodeling effort, to plan our homeschooling curriculum, to work on some projects for myself, our family and our home and to enjoy the summer. Most importantly, I was on high alert as my son took his momentous first steps this week.
Organizing is an evolving strategic process that changes as your life changes. Sometimes the best organization is no organization.
Getting outside of my regular routine gave me a new perspective on a lot of things. With all I have experienced and thought about in the last several weeks, I could probably sit down and type out 100 blog posts. I have a new appreciation for the art of reflection and I think that I probably should take off at least one month each year just to think.
Life doesn’t always afford us time for reflection and thought. There were days this summer I felt life coming at me as fast as the full blast of a fire hose and all I could do was react. Some days are like that. But I also realized that sometimes we make our lives like that. We are afraid to stop and slow down and just think for a bit.
I just finished watching Suze Orman’s latest show and she closed it with this word of wisdom about how taking care of yourself is sometimes the best gift you give to those around you. It is something we all need to remember.
I hope that my break has allowed me to be rested and recharged and ready to write better and have better insights to share with you as we enter one of the busiest seasons of the year.
Thanks very much for your patience and for sticking with me!
Now that we are past the big November holiday, Thanksgiving, the frenetic Christmas season has begun. Managing your time well when you have a lot to accomplish is essential. It should be simple and intuitive for us to realize that when we are adding a lot of extra duties on top of our already busy lives, the smart thing to do would be to cut out some other activities so that the number of added and deleted tasks balance each other out.
Yet, most of us fail miserably at this task. Sometimes there is nothing to cut. Sometimes we just can’t let something go. The typical result is that we add and add and add and overschedule and stress ourselves out. Below are some suggestions on managing your time this holiday season.
If you are looking for time in your holiday planning, look to your shopping time budget first.
This year, due to the present “truces” on both sides of our families, we only have to purchase for ourselves and three small boys. In general, I don’t mind Christmas shopping. It doesn’t stress me out. I enjoy picking things out and finding new discoveries in the shopping universe. Because of our limited shopping lists this year, we didn’t participate in Black Friday sales and just did a minor amount of online shopping. I am still in shock at how much time this saved me!
Over the long Thanksgiving weekend, we had time to go for a walk, put up the Christmas tree, chat with family and clean the house. The weekend seemed long and relaxing.
Shopping, particularly holiday shopping, becomes a black hole of time wasting. We are all looking for the “perfect” present at the “perfect” price. Even if you manage to find the perfect present, it often is too expensive, sold out, in the wrong size or color or can’t be delivered in time. You then start all over finding another “perfect” present. I realized this last night as I searched diligently for the best quality children’s art supplies for my daughter. I like what I ended up finding but I am embarrassed to tell you how many hours were spent in the process.
How can you save time on your shopping? You could get gift cards for everyone and spend your time writing a thoughtful message in the card. You could donate to charity (but be careful to choose one that the recipient likes). You could get everyone the same thing (there is a $10 box of Costco Belgian chocolate cookies that is wonderful and you can use the tin afterward to store letter-size paper or other objects—an organizer’s dream) or just send cash.
If you are hosting guests, cleaning your home is not a small consideration in your holiday budget planning. I truly wish there were some great shortcuts to share here. It is tough. Unfortunately, the main timesaving options you have with cleaning are: 1) hire/ask people to help you or 2) streamline your stuff so there is less to clean in general.
You could of course quickly box up excess “stuff” and rent a storage unit, or stow it in your garage or basement. Far better, however, would be to get rid of as much as possible by donating or selling. This will save you cleaning time in the future and will also free up space for all the incoming presents.
Traveling during the holidays is extremely stressful. In addition to the regular challenges of airport security and traveling with children, you often have to manage a ton of presents, extra luggage and navigate large, agitated crowds. One way to make your travel a little less stressful is to either ship your presents ahead or go the luggage-minimizing gift card route. That also saves you the stress of worrying about lost luggage or extra baggage fees.
While you can’t necessarily save time on holiday travel (because most of us are traveling in the same time window) you can make the travel more enjoyable by planning ahead. If you have the option to travel during an off-peak day or time, by all means take it!
Make sure you pack some entertainment in your carry-on or car. If traveling by plane, streamline your outfit to be something stylish and comfortable with shoes that are easy to remove and with few metal accessories. Treat yourself to a compelling book to read while waiting for your flight or a book on CD for your car. Find great videos or quiet toys to entertain your children (a treat for you and other passengers). We always pack ear plugs and an eye mask on long airline flights for a touch of first class even in coach. Small blankets and soft pillows also help you (and children) to relax in flight or in the car. A few snacks also help to keep everyone in good spirits when you are tired or mealtime is delayed
If you are an excellent cook and you will settle for nothing less than the best on your table, then you need to budget time for cooking and spend less time on something else (decorating, shopping, cleaning, etc.). There are so many options to save time (and sometimes money) on food, however. Potluck is a great way to spread the cooking time and cost out across several people. Your grocery store can help you here too. There are so many great prepared meals you can purchase fresh or frozen that only require a little heating. I have been served many of these foods at elegant lunches and dinners where the hostess managed her time by serving some homemade dishes and some purchased. Going out to eat at a restaurant can be fun too and sometimes can save money over making it yourself.
If you already have a house full of things, it often comes as an unpleasant surprise each December to add a large tree to your décor. While you are moving or storing furniture, pause to take a moment to determine whether that item of furniture is really needed. Recently we removed several items of furniture from our family room and the extra space is addictive! We now have room to exercise, put up our tree and imagine new possibilities for the room.
Your decorations don’t have to be time consuming to have a big impact. Buy an inexpensive wreath of fresh greens for your front door, put out some candles and a small tabletop tree and you can be done with decorations in under an hour and have something that is easy to store.
You wouldn’t know it by the response to Black Friday sales, but many people this year are struggling just to get by. Many people on tight budgets get all caught up in the holiday advertising and the chance to “buy” a reprieve from everyday worries. Yes, sometime we need to treat ourselves but holiday giving purchased on credit comes at a very high cost. Remember that you will be paying on all of these purchases for months to come–long after the joy of receiving this new item has worn off.
If you are struggling financially this year, consider asking for a present truce, set budgets for holiday items (like a dollar store gift exchange) and explain to your children why they can’t have everything they want right now. Kids are more resilient than most adults give them credit for. Yes, they might be disappointed at first but often they will bounce back and surprise you.
Few of us have the option to shrug off work responsibilities during the holidays. If you are also slammed at work, you have to be extra careful with your time management. Do your best to not take on any more projects at work during the holidays and just focus on finishing existing projects. If necessary, create a list of “future projects” and tell people that you will get back to them in January. If emergencies pop up, try hard to offload an existing project or delay it as you take on the emergency project. You want to do a good job but you are only one person! If you expect you will be overly stressed at work, reset your expectations at home that you are likely to do only the bare minimum of holiday preparations. It’s ok! You have to put your energy where it is most needed.
Where are you spending the most time this holiday season? What are you willing to cut out to decrease your stress? Have a timesaving tip? Please share in the comments.
First, who is Stever Robbins? He is a self-described “reformed nerd.” He is very well-educated, earning his Bachelor’s at M.I.T. and M.B.A. from Harvard Business School. He founded numerous start-ups and created the Get-It-Done Guy brand and its popular podcast. But there is a lot more to Robbins. What really grabs me about Stever Robbins is that he adopts such a human approach to his coaching and he is really funny and endearing.
So, like the title says, Robbins has condensed his strategy into 9 Steps, which include things like “Stop Procrastinating,” “Stay Organized” and “Build Stronger Relationships.” Step one, however, is in Robbins’s view (and my view) the most important:
Live on purpose.
As I was reading along, I was really sucked into this book on page 10. Everyone can relate to the scenario below (whether from the parent or child perspective).
Michael was mortified. His teenager Skyler’s room was, to put it mildly, like an antechamber from the inner circle of heck . . . Michael’s solution was simple; Ask Skyler to clean up. When that didn’t work, he resorted to yelling. Soon, Michael was nearing a nervous breakdown. Skyler, however, just turned up the stereo one notch and went back to whatever it is that teenagers do inside their lairs.
As Michael told this story, I tried to imagine his life. My time is spent dancing through life, smelling daffodils and singing songs. Michael’s time is spent obsessing about his teenager’s room. . . .
Michael doesn’t wake up thinking, ‘My life purpose is having a kid with a clean bedroom.’ At some point, he decided a clean bedroom was important. He thought it was the path to some other goal. Sadly, he’s forgotten the other goal and is fixated on the whole room thing. . . .
I’ll leave it as a teaser as to what exactly Robbins advises Michael to do to handle his son’s bedroom cleaning problem but the discussion evolves into contemplating the entire purpose of your life.
Wow! The purpose of your entire life? Scary, eh? Some people never ask themselves that question. Some people find it too overwhelming, too final, too big. Robbins doesn’t. He wants us to keep asking the question, “Why” about our lives until we uncover what our “big” goals are. What truly motivates us? Our biggest goal is ultimately the same across our business and personal lives.
“Remember, without knowing what you want out of life, you can’t construct a Life Map to help you get there. And without knowing your purpose, you won’t know what to work less and do more of.”
Robbins shares tips on how to discover your life goals as well as his own Life Map charts. He maps from his biggest goal down to the more mundane day-to-day items. As an example, his Home Life Map starts with the top level goal, “Help the world be sustainably happy.” and maps down in the “Friend” category from Present: “Socialize in person at least 1 night/week.” to Dream: “Find or create my ‘tribe.’”
These goal/purpose maps should be absolutely required for top-level managers at big corporations. A corporation could create a giant wall-sized version relating each department/function into the big goal and post it in the work area so that every employee knows how each job relates to the big goals. It sounds so simple but it really involves quite a bit of thought.
I started this exercise for myself. I came up with several higher level goals for my life but had trouble finding one over-arching purpose. Perhaps that will come in time. At a minimum getting “out of the weeds” of the day-to-day activities and thinking longer-term and higher level is helpful.
This is not just a business activity either. If you find yourself taking on too much in your personal life—too many volunteer activities, too many social events, etc. etc. sitting down to ask yourself “why” using Robbins’s Life Map strategies, may be exactly what you need to cut back without guilt.
In “Step 4: Beat Distractions to Cultivate Focus,” Robbins discusses this same point in a different way:
“Sure, saying no has real consequences. It’s just that saying yes does too. We’re often way too scared of the consequences of no and not nearly scared enough of the consequences of yes.”
The organizing chapter (Step 5) was of clear interest. Robbins gives many helpful tips and strategies to dig yourself out of a mess both physically and mentally. Like Eric Abrahamson and David H. Freedman of “A Perfect Mess,” Robbins believes that mess and organization are not polar opposites.
Many people confuse ‘organized’ and ‘neat.’ I’m not a neat person . . . It takes me a mere nineteen weeks to put everything away and three hours later, my office looks like a cyclone blew through it. My brain doesn’t do neat.
But I see things a little differently from Robbins’ operational strategy.
“Physical organizing is easy . . . There’s only one simple principle . . . Make a place for everything. . . . When you stumble over something that doesn’t have a place, either throw it away or make a place for it . . . Don’t you dare rent a storage unit! They’re a waste of time and money, and it seems like people are always discovering dead bodies the previous owners left in them, which causes all kinds of annoying legal complications and media attention.”
While at a core level, this is a sound strategy, I disagree that physical organizing is “easy.” If it really was easy, no one would need to read a book (or blog!) about it. It takes a lot of time, effort and thought. “Make a place for everything” sounds simple but sometimes it takes research, construction, money, or materials to create the “place.”
Robbins has many clever ideas about organizing though. Robbins’ strategies to “organize on paper” are interesting and are something I will be testing out for myself. His “rescue” strategy is another tip I will be experimenting with:
“Don’t save everything and toss what you want to get rid of; get rid of everything and rescue what you want to save!”
Robbins suggests a chart technique to work through perfectionistic tendencies to find more time-efficient alternatives.
In Step 8: Build Stronger Relationships, he makes several points about how having a strong network of friends will really help you save time in the long run. It made me reconsider whether people who spend a lot of time on Facebook or Twitter are “wasting time” or making an investment in their future.
The one thing I want to emphasize about this book is that it is funny. I laughed out loud several times while reading. It is not just a boring discourse on efficiency. It’s personal, it’s real and it will help you. I would strongly suggest that you read it and consider creating your own version of the following Robbins charts as a life-enrichment exercise.
Life Map (pp. 26-27)
80/20 Rule Chart (p. 138)
The following Robbins charts are an ongoing work that you can start and keep adding to over time:
Wealth Inventory (p. 40-42)
Absolute Lists (p. 143-144)
Learning Log (p. 166)
Resource Book (for specific projects) (p. 171)
There are even more tips and exercises that I didn’t mention. The book is really a great resource for a variety of goal-setting, project management and organizational topics.
If you want even more of a taste of Robbins’ personality, below is a clip of the author himself discussing time management.
Stever, if you are reading this, thank you so much for choosing me to share the good news of your book! It challenged me, taught me and made me smile! Best wishes for your future success and please count me as a member of the tribe.
Did you enjoy this gift from the Get-it-Done Guy? Please share in the comments.
It will be a difficult week transitioning back from holiday schedules to regular schedules. Perhaps you are also trying to start new routines as part of a New Year’s resolution as well. Do your best not to get overwhelmed by what you are facing and take a few moments to breathe every now and again!
Now that we are off to a fresh new year, one of the to do items is to refresh our calendars. As I was going month by month through some planning for the year, I thought it would be helpful to give a short preview of how 2010 lays out with regard to holidays and other matters.
Perception of time is a complex issue and in fact there is a whole science of the “philosophy of time.” No one knows exactly how time is represented in the brain.
“[T]he perception of [time] is crucially bound up with memory. It is some feature of our memory of the event (and perhaps specifically our memory of the beginning and end of the event) that allows us to form a belief about its duration.”
The above fascinating article (which I confess I don’t completely understand) addresses such complex questions as how our brains process events in time and why we don’t perceive the future.
It seems possible that perception of time could vary from person to person and that we all have strengths and weaknesses with regard to working with time. Take for example, the numerous formats of calendars and planners available. Some people like a monthly paper calendar, others a full year viewed simultaneously, others weekly or day-by-day checklists. Some need a combination of all of these. Others eschew all paper calendars and rely on electronic methods instead.
When I am working with time, I find it essential that I look first at the long view of what time there is to work with and then focus in progressively smaller, from years, to months to weeks to day-to-day tasks. Other people I know find looking at the long view overwhelming and just want to focus on day-to-day, week to week or month to month. Both approaches have their limitations. Long-range planning has to be adjusted frequently to adapt to the inevitable changes of life. Short-range planning, while flexible, can be limited in its effectiveness. Decisions we make in the moment today may be “wrong” when viewed on a longer time scale.
First things first, when is our next vacation? 2010 looks to be a near perfect year from a holiday scheduling perspective. All of the major U.S. holidays fall at or very close to a weekend so there are many 3 and 4-day holidays to look forward to and no awkward one-day-off-in-the-middle-of-the-week type of holidays. You can save your precious vacation time for a good long summer vacation or split it up throughout the year for numerous mini-vacations.
Martin Luther King Jr. holiday comes two weeks from today on Monday, January 18.
President’s Day Holiday comes on Monday, February 15, which happily coincides with Valentine’s weekend. There are sure to be a lot of romantic vacations that weekend. School celebrations of Valentine’s Day, however, will probably be pushed up to Friday, February 12. The Winter Olympics in Vancouver start that weekend as well.
Easter, although not a work holiday, comes Sunday, April 4. Spring Break for many schools comes the following week, April 5-9, although it varies quite a bit. If you have children in school, now would be a good time to find out when this break occurs and include it in your planning. If you are planning a spring vacation and have some flexibility in your scheduling, you might want to avoid traveling during spring break weeks to save some money.
Mother’s Day comes Sunday, May 9.
Memorial Day comes May 31. There are five Mondays in May this year so it will seem like quite a wait for it to come.
Father’s Day comes Sunday, June 20.
Independence Day comes on Sunday, July 4th with the federal holiday granted the following day on Monday, July 5th. We get a built-in 3-day weekend as a result!
Labor Day comes Monday, September 6th and Columbus Day, Monday, October 11.
Halloween falls on a weekend again, Sunday, October 31 (which usually means it is celebrated on Saturday night in many places).
Veterans Day is November 11 and falls on a Thursday this year so if you take just one vacation day on November 12, you get a 4-day weekend, followed by another 4-day weekend two weeks later for Thanksgiving on Thursday, November 25. If you celebrate Hanukkah, you might need both of these long weekends to get prepared as Hanukkah comes early this year, December 1-9. If you celebrate Christmas, you could get a jump start on your preparations as well.
Christmas Day falls on Saturday, December 25 with the holiday falling on Friday, December 24 and we kick of 2011 on a Saturday as well so 3-day weekends for Christmas and New Year’s as well!
Now that we know how much time we have off, when do we get paid? If you are an employee paid according to the most common biweekly time schedule, paychecks start on Friday, January 15 and end tidily on Friday, December 31.
One budgeting tip that has been helpful to our family is to figure out when the “bonus” paychecks occur. Even if you don’t receive a bonus as part of your pay, there are two built-in “bonuses” to your regular 26 paychecks. Most of us effectively need to subsist on 2 paychecks per month since 10 months out of the year, we only receive 2 paychecks. If you can work your home finances so that you are always subsisting on 2 paychecks per month, the “extra” 2 paychecks can be your “bonus.” In 2010, the “bonus” months are July and December. This timing is also fortunate to help with holiday spending at the end of the year.
So, many positive things for 2010! What other scheduling or budgeting items are you looking into at the moment? What type of calendaring system do you prefer to use? Please share in the comments.
One week to go until Christmas and the stress is piling on. Today is the last day most places are offering online shopping for guaranteed Christmas delivery and effectively the last day to ship gifts (but see previous post on shipping deadlines). I sent some photos yesterday for one-hour printing and the photo store is so backed up “one hour photo” is now “24 hour photo.”
With all of the things that happen in our normal day-to-day lives, it is really quite amazing that we manage to fit in all the extra tasks of the holiday season on top of them. Cooking, decorating, sending cards, buying gifts, attending parties, etc. If you have a heavy workload at your job or a personal crisis erupts, trying to get through all of the holiday season tasks can be overwhelming to the point of paralyzing.
What can you do if you are overwhelmed by the holiday season?
The American Psychological Association has some great tips. Interestingly, their first recommendation is:
“Take stock of your expectations and make sure they’re realistic. Don’t expect more of this time of year than of any other.”
As I think about my own holiday stress and how it could possibly be prevented, I think the advice above about simplifying and setting reasonable expectations is more important than simply time management. If I were “perfect” and had to accomplish all of the items on my holiday to do list with less stress, my schedule would probably look something like this:
Immediately after this Christmas, take stock of how many presents we sent and received. Decide gifting and card lists for next year. Set holiday budget for next year. If following Hundred Dollar Holiday, start thinking about what will be given next year. If handmade gifts will be given, start making them or planning for them.
Throughout the year, budget and save a set amount per month for holiday shopping and make any handmade gifts.
Early November – review Christmas card list, update any addresses. Print address labels. Order any gifts requiring special processing (such as framing projects, photo books, etc.)
Thanksgiving weekend – take holiday card photo (or select an existing photo) , decorate the house and put up the tree. Do a minor amount of shopping for streamlined gift list.
First week in December – All gifts requiring special processing are complete
Approximately December 10 – All gifts to be shipped and holiday cards are in the mail. All shopping is complete. All gifts are wrapped.
Aim to host or attend all holiday parties after December 10 when there will be time left for cooking, crafting, decorating, etc.
I would effectively have to be thinking about Christmas a little bit every month until the next Christmas. On this schedule, I would worry about Christmas burnout. It seems like a choice between Christmas burnout and Christmas stress. Neither one is all that appealing. Also, if one little thing goes wrong in my burnout schedule, I am back to holiday stress.
It is hard to think about what to cut out as well. Slim down the holiday card list? Possibly, but for some of the names on our list, it is the one time per year we actually correspond. Slim down the gift list? Good possibilities there, actually if everyone in our exchange circle gets on board. Decorations? We are getting better at this one this year. When I put away the decorations, I think I will box and label them according to the location where they go (ex. mantel decorations, staircase garland, etc.) so next year, we just grab a box and take it to the right location. Our artificial tree is still a ton of work, though (and heavy too) but the girls love it.
Perhaps the best goal is to accept that each year something is not going to go as planned. For years, the first thing to slip for us was the holiday cards. We would get them out sometime around New Years. We decided though that the holiday cards were one of the great joys of the season for us. We love to see everyone’s photos and updates. We also learned that some people won’t send you a card if you don’t send a card first so we are trying to get them out earlier and earlier each year (although they have not gone out yet this year!). Lately, some gifts are slipping or online gift certificates are ordered. We also don’t put much energy into our decorations. I still have to get the tree up this weekend.
The biggest stress reducer, however, was deciding not to travel during the holidays once we had children. While we love to see our families and miss them dearly during the holidays, we don’t miss the airport crowds, the inevitable cold and flu germs and luggage packed to the gills with presents. There is enough gear involved traveling with small children and we would not be able to handle the extra load of presents. The expense of travel builds with more family members too and it is nice not to have that expense on top of all the other holiday expenses. The actual holiday celebrations are much quieter for us now but we are learning to start our own family traditions and enjoying the time together.
How is your holiday stress level? If you are stressed out, what would you cut out or relax about to get your stress level down? Wishing you good energy for the weekend to accomplish your goals!