Getting into the Christmas spirits

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You read that right.

If you are someone who loves the holidays, you’re probably enjoying these last few days in the run up to Christmas. If you are someone who just worked 30 hours over a weekend you’re thinking they are incredibly poorly timed.

The Christmas theme at my house this year is: The Who’s house after the Grinch ransacked it, only the Grinch never came back. There is no tree. No wreath. No wrapped gifts. A few sad holiday cards, sent by dear souls who haven’t fallen into the black hole of capitalist chaos, sit on a table in my empty living room. (That’s right. The Grinch even took the furniture.)

The reminders are everywhere that I am behind. My email is full of messages screaming “last chance” and “ends today.” Too which I respond, “Delete you.”

As I walk through the beautifully adorned downtown skyways on my way to work, the Muzak reminds me that Santa’s on his way. “You say that like it’s a good thing,” I mutter.

And when I enter the post office and see the “We appreciate your business” sign on the door, I think, “No. No, you do not. If you did there wouldn’t be 20 people holding large boxes in this line, and you would not be chatting up the person you’re serving with news of your grandkids.”

Today I’m taking a day off to see if I can actually make this holiday thing work out this year. (Which explains why I’m spending time blogging, right?) I have a list as long as my arm and will burn a tank of gas driving from here to there. As of 8:00 a.m., I had already hit the “who are you kidding” stage of my day, and mentally removed a few items.

It’s beginning to feel a lot like another memorable year where I served spaghetti and meatballs for Christmas dinner. (Tip to readers: if you have to decide at the last minute between going to the liquor store before it closes and going to the grocery store before it closes, choose the liquor store. I guarantee your guests will not notice what you serve them for dinner.)

But I must away. The malls await me. I go armed with 60% off coupons for this and that. (It seems the only people more desperate than me this time of year are the retailers.)

Wish me luck.

J is for Just in Time

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I have to credit the blogger at Momsanity for this one – I had “just” about run out of ideas for blogging on J when she suggested Just, as in Just a Mom…but I’m amending it to Just in Time – which is what I am since it is 11:00 p.m. and I’m barely going to stay on schedule for Blogging A to Z.

It has made me realize just how often I am Just in Time – for the dentist, for the start of the movie, for the carpool pick-up. I’m not early. I’m not late. I’m Just in Time.

I imagine some might call me disorganized. I say no. No one told the Japanese automakers they were disorganized when they followed JIT inventory principles. They were called EFFICIENT. They were called COST EFFECTIVE. We were told they produced QUALITY output.

So why should I show up even a minute early? In that minute, I can throw in another load of laundry.

On Monday…K is for Kale

 Read the series at A is for About

12 days of Christmas – a redux

I confess – to me, the run-up to the holidays feels like one long to-do list. With my apologies to the original, I’ve adapted a favorite carol that you can sing, too. If you want to prolong the agony, repeat the refrain until you are so desperate to finish you’ve quadrupled the tempo.

(Not based on actual events. Ahem.)

On the first day of Christmas, I desperately backordered one hot holiday toy.

On the second day of Christmas I guiltily regifted two cute but useless knick-knacks.

(2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the third day of Christmas I  waited in the post office behind three really slow people.

(3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the fourth day of Christmas I went to a party, and consumed four unusually strong eggnogs.

(4 strong eggnogs, 3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the fifth day of Christmas I absently bought FIVE TEACHER GIFTS!

(4 strong eggnogs, 3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the sixth day of Christmas as time was running out, I bought six last-minute Kringles.

(6 last-minute Kringles, 5 TEACHER GIFTS! 4 eggnogs, 3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the seventh day of Christmas I cleaned up my house and stuffed things in seven different closets.

(7 stuffed closets, 6 last-minute Kringles, 5 TEACHER GIFTS! 4 eggnogs, 3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the eighth day of Christmas I made myself some tea, and wrapped eight oddly-shaped  packages.

(8 odd packages, 7 stuffed closets, 6 last-minute Kringles, 5 TEACHER GIFTS! 4 eggnogs, 3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the ninth day of Christmas I wrote a Christmas letter, and rejected nine unflattering family photos.

(9 family photos, 8 odd packages, 7 stuffed closets, 6 last-minute Kringles, 5 TEACHER GIFTS! 4 eggnogs, 3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the tenth day of Christmas I did my Christmas baking, and ate ten slightly singed cookies. 

(10 singed cookies, 9 family photos, 8 odd packages, 7 stuffed closets, 6 last-minute Kringles, 5 TEACHER GIFTS! 4 eggnogs, 3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the eleventh day of Christmas I spent on groceries what felt like eleven hundred dollars.

(11 hundred dollars, 10 singed cookies, 9 family photos, 8 odd packages, 7 stuffed closets, 6 last-minute Kringles, 5 TEACHER GIFTS! 4 eggnogs, 3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

On the twelfth day of Christmas I awkwardly arranged twelve ugly, scraggly spruce tops.

(12 scraggly spruce tops, 11 hundred dollars, 10 singed cookies, 9 family photos, 8 odd packages, 7 stuffed closets, 6 last-minute Kringles, 5 TEACHER GIFTS! 4 eggnogs, 3 slow people, 2 useless knick-knacks, and 1 hot holiday toy.)

Oooh…my apologies to the original. Probably sounds better after a few eggnogs.

In order to brighten my holiday, I’ve elected to participate in the Blogfestivus challenge sponsored by the blogging goddess at Blogdramedy. Watch for my uninspiring entries starting next week.

How to procrastinate in 10 easy missteps

We had friends to dinner this weekend and while I love to entertain, it means I have to do  detestable things like vacuum and go to the grocery store on a Saturday. So I did what any experienced procrastinator would do – everything but what was on my list.

In case you are not a natural procrastinator, here are some things you can do to suck time out of your day:

  1. Pick up the newspaper. Read the whole thing, even the Saturday business page.
  2. Pick up the phone when it rings and talk for a very long time.
  3. Make tapioca pudding for breakfast. Bonus for this one – because it has to cool you get to procrastinate twice, once when you assemble it and once, later, to eat it.
  4. Wash your hair even though you are headed to the gym in the afternoon.
  5. Check email frequently because, as you know, you receive many meaningful work-related emails on Saturday.
  6. Browse a few million websites on how to assemble a perfect antipasto.
  7. Engage in spontaneous discussion with daughter about what color you might paint her room. Actually pull out paint swatches and tape them to the wall. (Daughter is Junior Champion procrastinator in her own right.)
  8. Spend an unwarranted amount of time deciding which dinner napkins to use.
  9. Clean out the refrigerator.
  10. Blog about procrastinating.

And thus went my day so that even though I had ample time to prepare, I was still pressed for time as dinner approached. Perhaps the saddest thing of all – I didn’t publish this post until Sunday. In other words, I even managed to put off my procrastinating.

(By the way, in case you’re wondering, I would say my antipasto platter was merely average.)

Professional procrastinator or rank amateur? What’s your best procrastinating technique?

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!

Time to get serious, I guess

The other day I dropped everything and took a swim. I was multi-tasking, working at the lake with my kids. It was blistering hot. I was sweating onto my papers. So I dropped my work in the beach bag and hit the water. It was a perfect day. I cruised around with my eyes half closed, enjoying the warmth of the sun, the cool of the water, and the shouts and splashes of kids as they jumped off the dock. A classic summer afternoon.

I’ve never been one to enforce a rigorous summer schedule. My kids have it pretty easy. I no longer even fake the intention to have them complete the summer math workbooks their school suggests. Since I have three kids, I’m probably responsible for a huge percentage of the drop in academic achievement the district sees in the fall. But I’m loathe to push schoolwork in the summer. Maybe it’s because I long for the carefree feeling of my own childhood summers, where the months stretched ahead full of endless opportunities and outdoor activities, not math facts and science camp. Or maybe it’s because I prefer they do something physical – golf, hiking, baseball, lacrosse, dance, swimming. Plenty of time to sit behind a desk the rest of the year.

Or maybe it’s because when you live in Minnesota you never quite lose the melancholy sense that we have so few of these perfect summer days, really.

When I worked in a “real” office I barely noticed summer. I spent my days in air conditioned isolation, so I’m grateful for the flexibility I have now to move my “office” to the beach or the porch. But there are days I have to fight the urge to set my work aside. I know I’m not the only one. Anyone who’s lived through a Minnesota summer knows there are days it seems no one is working.

Now fall is approaching and for me, it’s time to get serious. Get a schedule. Get to some networking events. Get dressed every once in a while in something other than a swimsuit or yoga pants. Put some structure behind all this work I somehow manage to finish despite our lax summer routine.

But I’m going to try to keep that summer urge to every once in a while, even in the midst of a stressful project, anxious day, or an endless to-do list, take a few moments to enjoy my surroundings. And soak up a little sun if there is some.

Do you take leisurely approach to summer or are you all business? Post your comments or send them to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – and have a great Labor Day if you celebrate it.

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.

Why I hate Mondays (it’s not why you think)

Like most families, we spend our weekends in a dead run. This last weekend included: two football parties, one monster vacuuming session, one trip to exchange a pair of kids’ shoes, three trips for groceries, three birthday celebrations (one with a gaggle of teenaged girls), several workouts, one backyard rugby game, one association meeting, and a two-day debate tournament. Oh, and about eight loads of laundry.

I don’t mind the busy-ness. What I do mind is the Monday morning mess left in the wake of my family as they head off to school and work. The dirty clothes (is laundry ever done?), the dishes, the general clutter. I feel like I start every week behind and by the time I catch up, it’s the weekend again!

I used to get the same sinking feeling when I worked my last corporate job. My boss was in California, several thousand miles and two time zones west, and no matter how buttoned up I had everything on Friday and no matter how late I stayed there was always activity after I left. It was impossible to start the next week anything but behind.

So tell me, how do you prevent that Monday morning pothole in the road? Clearly, I don’t have this one down. Post your comments or send your insights to sarah@dayonebusinessservices – if I use them, I’ll feature your business.

How I spent my extra hour

This morning when my husband and I woke up we realized we’d forgotten to turn the clocks back to reflect the end of Daylight Savings Time. But rather than reset them then, we decided to wait.

As I said to him, “I don’t need the hour right now, but I’m sure I’ll need it later in the day.”

So we waited until around noon. When I started to ask myself where the day was going I set the clocks back and suddenly, I was back on schedule.

Tells me a lot about how I spend my days. I start out with lots of energy and good intentions but as time wears on and the to-do list gets longer I start to lag behind. And I hate getting to the end of the day and feeling like I didn’t accomplish what I set out to do.

So this worked for me – so well, in fact, that I think I’ll do it every year. Wish I could find a way to do it more often than that.

Why you have to do your homework

My least favorite time of day is the late afternoon, the hours in which we always seem to be locked in a brutal battle over homework. There is a lot of it, and despite our extensive experimentation we’ve learned that it does not get done on its own.

Here is the other thing I know about homework: The urgency to complete it is directly correlated to its due date. The longer the period of time given for its completion, the less urgent it will seem until that fateful deadline approaches.

Sound familiar to anyone? I have burned the midnight oil plenty of times trying to complete something that is urgently due. It’s not just procrastination, it’s also driven by the fact that we are all BUSY. Why do today what we can put off until the night before it’s due? And I know I’m not alone. Here are a few of the most commonly delayed tasks I see when I work with businesses:

  • Invoicing
  • Routine bookkeeping tasks
  • Gathering information for tax filings
  • Conducting employee performance reviews
  • Filing trademark or other legal documents
  • Following up with referrals
  • Updating out-of-date websites and marketing material

All are important tasks but all face deadlines that can push for a while – even if a delay is detrimental to the business. And some of these tasks actually get harder to complete as time goes on, not easier.

Of course with kids, you’re not battling other work tasks but music practice, sports, and other activities, all of which help to develop a well-rounded kid (as well as the not-so-productive activities like video games and TV). But I don’t want to get that call from school so I will make sure the homework gets done – even on the days when even I would rather sit and watch Scooby-Doo.

Where do you tend to procrastinate? Send your stories to sarah@dayonebusinessservices.com – if I use them I’ll feature your business.