Tag: productivity

Time bank

0098OPThis morning’s Daily Post writing prompt asks what we would do if we had an extra hour. Well, I’ve got this one down. I’d do what I do every year when we “fall back” from Daylight Savings Time.

One October, we forgot to turn the clocks back. When I realized it, about halfway through the morning, I decided to wait. I figured I didn’t need the hour as I perused the Sunday paper and drank my coffee, but I was pretty sure I’d need it later in the day when the full impact of the week ahead, and my massive list of unfinished chores, started to hit me.

As is typical, I began to fall behind in the early afternoon. Laundry was piling up. There were dishes in the sink. None of the kids had their homework done. I hadn’t planned anything for dinner. I could feel my weekly Sunday panic starting to take hold.

So I set all the clocks back. Voilà! I was once again on schedule. Or at least closer to on schedule. And a new habit blossomed into being.

Even though I don’t accomplish a whole lot more in my extra hour, it gives me a great deal of satisfaction. I’m cheating, somehow, and that’s pretty thrilling for a “rules girl”. If I could, I’d do this about once a week. The bad news? I’d be years in the past by now. The good news? Some of those dated items in my wardrobe would look a whole lot less offensive.

We’re “falling back” in a few weeks. I’d strongly recommend you give it a try…

A day of housework and productivity: a non-sequitur

IMG_0240At least for me. In my world, housework is like traveling to a destination I never reach.

With the nice, fall weather we’ve been having, I threw my energy into some large outdoor chores. A huge sense of accomplishment was achieved. (Yes, I realize that is passive voice. I did it for effect.)

But when I ventured back indoors, I was shocked to discover that the house did not stay neat and tidy without me. The laundry room alone looked like it could qualify for superfund status. So I took a day “off” to get my house back in shape.

Which was a mistake. I can’t clean up my house in a day. Or even a week. Although in my work life I can focus on a puzzling problem, or stay on task for hours to meet a deadline, I cannot do this in my house. I am constantly distracted and wholly ineffective.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

  1. I start to tidy up the bedrooms and realize that it’s time to change the bedding.
  2. I strip the beds, and reason that since cold weather is on the way, I should take the opportunity to put on the heated mattress covers.
  3. While I’m swapping the mattress covers, I decide to vacuum the mattresses, which requires me to haul a vacuum up a flight of stairs.
  4. And, of course, I have to wash the mattress covers I removed which requires hauling them all down a flight of stairs.
  5. I figure as long as I am washing the mattress covers, I should wash the comforters.

And so on. I end up with room after room of bedding in varying degrees of cleanliness on every surface. And then it’s 3:00 and my children start to arrive from school. If my house isn’t picked up by the time those others get home, I can forget it.

Here’s another example:

  1. Halfway through cleaning the kitchen, I realize I don’t have anything planned for dinner.
  2. I glance in the refrigerator and notice there are several items that are, ahem, a little past the due date.
  3. I clear the refrigerator of less-desirable items which makes it evident I need to wipe the shelves.
  4. I wipe the shelves, restow everything, and realize there is nothing in the refrigerator suitable for dinner.
  5. I check the freezer and notice there are several items that I can no longer identify.
  6. I clear the freezer, which makes it evident there is nothing in there for dinner either.
  7. I go to the store.

And really, I never get my kitchen tidied up. Ever. There is too much stuff that goes on in there, like homework and eating, also sometimes cooking.

Clearly, this is not where my skill lies. My ability to see beyond the problem at hand, to follow a thread and see where it takes me, helps me in my professional life. But it’s not worth a moldy kidney bean the rest of the time.

Who knew work could be such a refuge.

#8: I wish I’ve never worked too hard


Today’s Search Term of the Sad and Desperate is “I wish I’ve never worked too hard,” and its companion term, “I wish I’ve paid more attention to those grammar lessons on past tense.”

OK, I made up that second one. I crack myself up.

Dear person who has worked too hard,

Buck up! This is America! We are all about working too hard. If you’re not working too hard you are probably dead.

(An aside: I realize this could be someone from a country other than the U.S., but I’ve chosen to believe this is a person who is instead contributing to the gradual erosion of the English language. Besides, most of my international visitors these days are looking for porn videos.)

Where was I? Oh, yes…Dear person, this is the home of the free and the land of the over-scheduled. Maintaining a ridiculous level of activity is how we validate our existence. Haven’t you ever heard of productivity? Let me run it down for you. When you perform work you are an input. What you produce is output. The goal is for output to exceed input at a steadily increasing rate throughout all time. Otherwise, productivity goes down and we all suffer the consequences of a dismal economy.

I am a firm believer in productivity. That is why my to-do list always gets longer, not shorter. Oh, wait a minute…technically it should get shorter as my productivity goes up. Or the list should get longer first and then shorter. Or…

OK, let me try this another way. If you don’t have enough to do, it will eventually impact your self-esteem. You will see others rushing by you, too busy to pause and it will dawn on you that you are unnecessary to…to…

Huh. Thing is, I don’t want to rush around. Maybe ever-increasing productivity is not my goal! I want time to contemplate nature, think great thoughts and take a shower.

I think I’ve talked myself out of this. Go ahead and take the day off.

Read the series:

Anxiety dreams involving my kids 

How do I talk to my surly teen? 

I have only one child but laundry and housework never end

Life is not a competition

How to relax and enjoy your children

Gym class was never like this

Your husband’s fashion sense


A disclaimer: While it perhaps shouldn’t need saying, let me remind you that I have no credentials, training or certifications of any kind that would qualify me to mete out advice to anyone. This is a humor blog. If you don’t find it funny, well, that’s another issue.

10 signs your day is off to a rough start

UnknownI know, carpe diem and all that stuff, but some days just don’t warrant a lot of enthusiasm. Ever wish you could go back to bed for an hour and wake up to a second start? Here’s some signs that might send you back to that still-warm pair of pajamas.

 10 signs your day is off to a rough start:

  1. The cat has thrown up in your shoe.
  2. You forgot to put the pot on the coffeemaker before you started it and are now cleaning up Lake Dark Roast.
  3. You have a voicemail from the school principal.
  4. You’re late and you’re out of gas OR it’s -8 and you’re out of gas OR all of the above.
  5. The day’s school lunch offering is something your kids call “that stuff that bounces when you drop it.”
  6.  Three members of your household have asked you a question that started with the phrase, “Have you seen my…”
  7.  You have to iron.
  8.  The only thing you can find for your breakfast is a granola bar that came free in the Sunday newspaper delivery.
  9. Your child leaves a musical instrument that cost more than your first car at the bus stop.
  10. Your black sweater is in the wash.

For any of you who are counting, this list includes five unplanned errands or chores and two rolls of paper towels. Not that I’m counting.

Some days are better than others, and some improve as the day goes on. I hope for you this is one of them.

What unbelievable obstacles will you overcome today?

Productivity is in the eye of the beholder

On the days we clean, we follow an operational process – sort of. I have a list of all the tasks we need to complete and because I believe a little competition is healthy, my children sign up for them on a first-come, first-serve basis.

Feel like sleeping in today? Be prepared to scrub toilets. Didn’t hear me the first time I asked? Cat boxes for you. You snooze, you lose.

It’s a pretty long list but not as long as my pre-children days when I was apt to spend a Saturday morning cleaning out the inside of the fireplace or dusting the furnace (I know, I know). No time for those tasks anymore. My standards are considerably lower than they used to be.

Lest I leave you with the impression I am actually organized, I must confess that we do deviate from the list – for example, on the Saturday our mercurial dishwasher decided it wasn’t going to cooperate. The door kept popping open in mid-cycle and then guess what? It doesn’t run. After I’d closed and restarted it about twenty times, I assigned my youngest to sit on a stool in front of the dishwasher until the cycle ended. A productive use of time? It was that day.

We’re not cleaning today. Instead I’m enjoying the blissful silence of an empty house. But later, just for fun, I might dust the furnace.

Any great suggestions for accomplishing those mundane weekly tasks?


There ain’t no cure for the January blues

Wow, is it dark this morning. Where is that extra two minutes of daylight we’ve been promised each day? And why is it so cold?

Oh…my January blues must be setting in.

winterJanuary is often a slow work month for me, and once the kids go back to school I’m at loose ends. I wish I was the kind of person who could just pick up a good book and go back to bed until February, but I’m not. Instead I respond with a frenzy of well-intended but poorly executed projects.

Decorations must be stowed. Closets must be cleaned. Walls must be painted. There’s so much disruption around here it looks like we’re moving.

So here’s the good in this activity:

  • Walls really do look better with a new coat of paint. A lot better. Especially when your  kids swing baseball bats in the house and (literally) climb the walls and leave footprints behind. New paint can give you a new lease on life.
  • It is easier to work in an office that is not piled high with wrapping paper, bows, and assorted gift boxes. That stuff really looks awful after the holidays. Maybe even during.
  • Holidays are hard on a refrigerator. A lot of mystery food accumulates. Holding your nose and pitching it in the trash is cathartic. And think of all the empty calories you’re throwing out.
  • When you’re stuck in the house it’s the perfect time to wash, sort and store all the summer sports gear that’s been lying around since school started. Wow, it almost seems as if I’m planning ahead!
  • When you have a few moments, you can make a list of all the errands you need to run when the temperature soars above 10 degrees – library, grocery store, post office. Car wash is at the top of my list.

So I express my gratitude to the vacuum of time that is January. Thank you cold, dark, and wind chill for reinforcing my core belief that doing something is better than doing nothing.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a wall to paint.

How do you get through the longest month of the year?

Last ditch tips for entertaining

Just in time for the weekend, my shortcuts for entertaining. I love to entertain but I sometimes commit to more than I can reasonably pull off.  Here are my rules for those times when guests are on their way and you’re running out of time.

  • Dress blues. Get yourself ready first. People will stand about and chat with you while you prepare food or set out snacks. They will be less inclined to visit with you if you’re still in the shower when they arrive.
  • Quick pick-me-up: Get a large laundry basket. Load all loose items and detritus into it and stow it in a room your guests won’t be in. If necessary, get two baskets.
  • Clean sweep: From my friend, Liz Truesdale-Witek, clean your bathroom. If that’s clean, your guests will assume the rest of the house is clean.
  • No whining: If you’re low on wine (or you’re down to the $3 a bottle good-enough-for-us wine), make sangria. You can throw darn near any fruit or juice you have in the fridge in there and it will taste fine.
  • Food for thought: Serve food the guests can assemble themselves – sandwiches, tacos, build-your-own pizza, or a pasta bar. It saves a whole step in food preparation and everyone gets to choose something they’ll actually eat.
  • Just desserts: If you have some time, buy a gallon of good-quality vanilla ice cream and make Martha Stewart’s Cherry-Almond Brownies – they taste like you expended more effort than you did. If you have little time, skip the brownies and just buy the ice cream. If you have no time, serve a lot of wine and no one will notice there’s no dessert.

And one last note – If I’m still trying to pull together food and arrangements, I have the kids meet guests at the door, take their coats, and escort them in. The kids like to do this and it seems to give guests the impression (at least temporarily) that they are well-behaved.

Have any other tips we can share? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – I’d invite the “owner” of the best tip for dinner, but I’m guessing that by now that does not have much allure.

Next up: Shortcuts for household chores. Yippee!

Are you really in the weeds?

I’ve discovered a solution to one of the most nagging tasks on my list. I’m going to take a cue from a neighbor and park a sign that says “Native Planting” in my weedy perennial bed. I think I just might pull this off. Not to brag, but my “native plants” are taller and much more impressive than his.

Just like that, one of the biggest to-do’s on my list gone. Not really a miracle – just a change in perspective.

If you find yourself in the weeds:

  • Ask yourself what someone else would see if they looked at your “garden”. Would they be looking at the detail, or would they see the big picture? And how does that big picture look?
  • Pull the big weeds first. It will improve the picture considerably. If all you pull out is the small stuff, when you stand up you’ll still be knee-deep in greenery.
  • Start in one area and work on that area until you’re done. If you’re like me, you find yourself jumping from task to task and when you step back, the impact isn’t that great because nothing is actually “done”. It’s a lot more satisfying to clean up one area and then check it off your list.
  • If you can, enjoy the disorder. I decided to let a large group of milkweed stay because it looked gorgeous. How is anyone else going to know it’s not supposed to be there? (Until now, of course.)

I confess, I do get caught up in the weeds sometimes, and this isn’t the first time I’ve taken up native landscaping. One year as I cruised through the beautiful Minnesota Landscape Arboretum, I saw a rambling bed of greenery marked “Creeping Thyme”. It was the same stuff I’d been pulling up out of my garden path for days.

“If they can embrace it,” I thought, “Why can’t I?”

But in the end, I couldn’t stand it. A decade later I’m still pulling the darn stuff up.

Need to sort out the big weeds from the small ones? See my previous post on how to prioritize tasks. And while I’m on the subject, I think I’ll dig up some other tips for productivity. Stay tuned.

Relaxing standards – how much is too much?

My mother is a sympathetic soul. When she sees me in the midst of my frenetic life, she often offers up this sage advice: “Maybe you should relax your standards a little.” Oh, if only she knew how far my standards have fallen!

For years I’ve told my kids, “You can be clean, clothed or fed – pick any two.”

As a high-achieving sort , I hit adulthood thinking I could accomplish anything I wanted. It was the 80’s after all – wasn’t that what we were told? I hit my first brick wall with a job that required 100% travel. Life on the road definitely limited my options. There were some weekends where I felt like all I did was unpack my suitcase, do my laundry, repack it again and leave for the airport.

It hasn’t improved over the years. I am now a self-employed mother of three with a husband who frequently travels for work. Talk about relaxing your standards! There are days I arrive at appointments and check to make sure I’m completely dressed before I go in. And days where I can’t even think about the evening activities in the morning – I operate with a view to about the next 20 minutes of my day.

Like many others, I’ve spent time exploring (the myth that is) life balance. And like many others, the challenge for me continues to be letting the little things go to focus on the big things. I’m somewhat coachable, so with the help of others, I’ve worked to identify my core values and in my personal life, I do adhere pretty well to those:

  • Exercise and take care of my health
  • Feed my family good, wholesome food 90% of the time (the other 10% of the time I look the other way while they eat a hot dog at the ballpark)
  • Experience things with my kids, even if it means a whole day at a museum in the midst of a project, or a two-week driving vacation neither my husband nor I really have time to take

Oh, and I’m big on sleep. I seldom burn the midnight oil.

It’s harder in my business. I complete client work, and get the little tasks out of the way but never seem to get to the big, important ones like  revising my website or upgrading my technology. It’s not that I’m avoiding the big tasks, it’s that the little tasks seem to be all I have time for. But I have gotten better about two things – saying no and asking for help, neither of which comes very naturally.

So here I am racing toward the end of another busy week. It’s a beautiful day, I have a ton of work to do, and my house is a mess. I need to cobble together something my family can eat for a dinner on the run, iron a shirt for a piano recital, reschedule a weekend appointment, perhaps tackle a few of the items on my endless to-do list. Which standards should I relax today?

Is life balance a myth? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

Of laundry, and other things I won’t finish

Last week I attended an online nonfiction writers conference which was fabulous, but consumed a lot of time. Because I’m too antsy to sit for several days (and because I am perpetually behind on the laundry) I decided to multi-task. It seemed reasonable to me that in the course of three days I could sort, wash, fold and put away whatever laundry life threw at me while listening to the conference speakers and taking notes.

Turns out it wasn’t reasonable at all.

I washed sheets, towels, uniforms for two sports, dark clothes, light clothes and assorted socks and underwear. But at the end of three days I had laundry everywhere and I wasn’t close to “done”. And, of course, the uniforms were dirty again.

This is yet another example of how I set myself up for failure, by taking on more than I can accomplish in the time allowed. Or maybe I should say I set myself up for feelings of failure because who am I really measuring myself against, anyway?

To counter this, I’m trying out a new technique for sorting my tasks. I’m calling it Now-Later-Never.

Now tasks are pretty self-explanatory because they require immediate action – cleaning up cat vomit, taking a phone call from a key client, digging a dirty baseball sock out of the utility room 20 minutes before the game.

Later tasks are things I can put off for some amount of time without negative impact – scheduling routine appointments, filling out summer camp forms, outlining a presentation I’m not giving for two months. Admittedly, over time, some of these will become Now tasks.

Never tasks are my favorites. I just don’t do them at all because:

  • I miss the events or deadlines (so how important could they have been?)
  • The level of activity in my life ratchets up, so some things don’t seem as important anymore
  • Someone else can do them – provide dinner, empty the dishwasher, submit my business tax forms

It’s true that by subscribing to this method there are times when I’m doing only what is required to get by. For those you in start-up business mode, think minimum viable product. Not very ambitious, perhaps, but it gets me by.

And granted, this doesn’t always work with the laundry – I’ve only opted to throw clothes out instead of washing them a couple of times. I’ll spare you the details.

What’s the Never task on your list? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.