You Have More Time Than You Think: How a Time Study Brought Balance Into My Life

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2016 was the year when it seemed that my productivity goals all seemed to fall into place. I’m an odd mix of a productivity junkie (anything with the keywords “be more productive” or “get things done” is like click-bait to me) and a dreamer. Sometimes I dream about big things, sometimes I’m a fiend about getting little things done, but rarely have those big dreams and little things intersected into anything that resembles a balance of accomplishment.

Something clicked when I read Laura Vanderkam’s 168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think. For years I told myself that when X, Y, or Z happened, I’d finally have time to do the big (and little) things I wanted to do. When Eli goes to school full-time, I’ll be able to really launch my blog. When I stop spending so much time blogging, I’ll get my photos organized. When I finish this project, I’ll get my writing career off the ground. I know we’ve all said similar things, only to find that we’re no further along. Those extra magical hours never materialized.

Vanderkam encourages readers to conduct a time study on themselves. For a minimum of one week (which contains 168 hours), you are to write down everything you do and how long it takes you to do it. Sleeping, eating, watching TV, commuting, housework, scrolling through Facebook … it all gets accounted for. I did this for a week last summer and it was so incredibly informative. Some things were good. I get an average of 8 hours of sleep a night. I exercise roughly 4 hours a week. I don’t spend excessive time in the car or watching television. On the flip side, I spent more hours than necessary on housework, email, social media and, oddly enough, socializing.

After you conduct a time study and know where you can cut back to create pockets of time, Vanderkam suggests making a list of 100 dreams. These are things you’ve always wanted to do, from the very big (Go to Paris!) to the very small. (Put our Disney photos in an album.) Creating extra time in your week is wonderful, but what purpose does it serve if you don’t spend it intentionally? And how can you be intentional about the way you spend your time if you don’t identify what’s important to you?

Once you have your list in hand and a general idea of how you spend your time vs. what can be minimized, Vanderkam recommends planning your week using the strategy of block scheduling. Listing out the hours in the day, you give a name to how you’ll spend those hours. For someone who lived by a never-ending to-do list, this was revolutionary. I’d make lists with items like fold laundry, meal plan, write, email Lisa, call Amy. Then the laundry would never end, or the email would turn into 10 emails, which would bleed into a few minutes on Pinterest … you get the idea. Things that had to get done got done, of course. We always had meals on the table, clean underwear, and phone calls returned. But those nebulous, dreamy plans or those someday maybe projects never got started. I mean, who has the time, right? It’s one of Gretchen Rubin’s Secrets of Adulthood: “Something that can be done at any time is often done at no time.”

How block scheduling helped me organize my days and reach my dreams.

I’ll go deeper into block scheduling in a future post, but for now here’s the gist. I plan out the week with goals in mind for my 4 necessary life categories: work, home, self, and relationships. I have 3-4 goals for each, and as I plan out each day, I schedule blocks of time to work on those things – and only those things.

Making my list of 100 dreams was both a fun and useful way to get a bigger picture of what really mattered to me. What stood out was that my big dreams involve travel, creating a cozy home in which we are surrounded by meaningful things, getting the most out of my time with the kids while they’re still around, and finding creative work that satisfied me while helping us reach our financial and travel goals.

When those things are laid out there, you have a more clear picture of how you want to spend your time. I keep coming back to housework, because apparently I have a strange issue with doing too much housework. (I spent a whopping 24.75 hours in a week cleaning, cooking and doing laundry. AN ENTIRE DAY OF MY LIFE EVERY WEEK. Even I recognize that’s not normal.) Would I like to spend 6 of those 24 hours folding every last sock and polishing the toaster? Or would my 6 hours be better spent on a baby step that will get me closer to my big goals and dreams?

I started block scheduling on a (mostly) regular basis in mid-October, and a few months in I see a dramatic difference in my quality of life. I feel more balanced. I feel a satisfaction in my work and personal life I haven’t felt in, well, ever. I have a sense of peace about my days – I’m doing what I’m meant to be doing at exactly the time I’m doing it. It’s far from perfect. I still have weeks where it feels like I’ve been derailed and nothing gets done. I still have to fight urges to engage in time wasters. But I feel progress and hope, which feels pretty darn good.

Just for fun, I’ll share my list of 100 dreams in the next post. Then I’ll do a deep dive into my block scheduling process so you can give it a try as well. For now I’d love to know: what would you do with a few extra hours every week?

 

 

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8 Habits To Keep Your Home Organized

Organized home habits

It probably comes as no surprise to any of you that I’m fairly organized. I work for the The Container Store (The Original Storage and Organization Store), after all. A clean home with some empty spaces is what feeds my soul and keeps me sane.

You may think that I spend hours each day cleaning and organizing, but the truth is I’ve got it down to a pretty efficient system. I do a few small tasks each day. Alone they don’t seem like much or take a lot of effort. However when you add them all up over a course of the week, you end up with a home that runs smoothly and is always open to visitors. I thought I would share with you the things I do that keep my home tidy and organized. Whether you make one or all of them a part of your routine, I guarantee you’ll see a difference in your home.

Organized book shelf

1. If it takes less than 2 minutes, go ahead and do it.

No matter where I am in the house, if I see a task that will take less than 2 minutes to complete, I do it then and there. Hanging up a towel, putting clothes in the hamper, setting a bowl in the dishwasher, signing the permission slip … you get the idea. Say I did 10 things throughout the day as I noticed them. It wouldn’t feel as if I were doing anything out of the ordinary. We probably glance at our phones for more than 2 minutes at least that many times and don’t think twice about it! But if you ignore these tiny tasks and save them until you can’t ignore them anymore, you’re suddenly faced with 20 minutes or more of work. Looking at a chunk of time like that makes it easy to throw up your hands and say you’ll do it later, which you’ll just dread even more.

Confession: I’m the only one in the house that practices this particular habit. I’m trying really hard to instill this philosophy in the kids, as it truly makes life easier.

Organized desk

2. Have a daily and weekly routine.

I have housekeeping tasks that I do both daily and weekly. Yours will probably be different, but the key is finding a rhythm that works with your lifestyle and schedule. Mine looks like this:

  • Daily: Put away clothes. Wash dishes. Empty backpacks and lunches. Tidy up at end of the day.
  • Monday: Laundry.
  • Tuesday: Laundry. Make a meal plan for the week and organize grocery list and coupons.
  • Wednesday: Laundry. Grocery store and other errands.
  • Thursday: Laundry. Vacuum and sweep. Clean one bathroom.
  • Friday: Laundry. Thoroughly clean one “zone” of the house.
  • Saturday: Finish up any tasks that didn’t get completed during the week.
  • Sunday: Go through inbox and check calendar for upcoming week.

Does it seem like a lot? Because it really isn’t. Other than the zone cleaning and errands, I would estimate that none of the other tasks take more than 30 minutes out of my day. It helps me stay focused and not get overwhelmed by the responsibilities that come along with keeping a home.

Confession: Oftentimes life gets in the way and I’m not able to thoroughly clean as I would like. But because I’m always keeping up with the laundry, tidying up at the end of each day, and sweeping once a week, my house almost always looks picked up. Could it use a good dusting? Are there fingerprints on the doors and windows? Do my floors need mopped? Yes, but I don’t notice those things at other people’s houses and you won’t notice them at mine, either.

Organized mud room

3. Make a pretty basket your friend.

I keep a pretty basket upstairs and another one downstairs. Other than looking pretty, its only purpose is to corral things that belong somewhere else. When I have a few minutes or the basket is getting full, I simply walk through the house and put the items where they belong. It keeps things from getting piled up throughout the house and it can easily be moved out of sight if company comes. I also keep cute plastic bins in the laundry room/mud room to corral shoes, as well as another basket by the garage door to hold things that need to go in the car or out of the house, such as library books or store returns.

Confession: Acquiring pretty baskets becomes addictive when you work at The Container Store. Can’t. Stop. Buying. Baskets.

Habits of organized homes

4. Find a paper system that works.

This took me FOREVER, but once I stumbled upon a system that work it changed my life. I used to have papers strewn throughout the kitchen and home office, with school stuff mixed with bills and random stuff I saved to read later. Here’s what works for me:

  • Sort paper as soon as it comes in the house.
  • When sorting, it goes in one of 3 places: kitchen inbox, office inbox, or recycle bin.
  • If any paperwork needs action in the next few days, I either handle it then or place it on my desk so I don’t forget about it or lose it.
  • Once a week I sit down and go through my inboxes and deal with whatever is in there.

Confession: It’s impossible to describe my method for dealing with paperwork in one paragraph of one post, so I’ll be doing a separate post on that. LUCKY YOU. Seriously, though, getting this aspect of home life under control affected my organization and peace of mind in so many ways.

LEGO free play

5. Let things go.

It’s impossible to stay on top of it all, all the time. We’re usually juggling parenting, work, relationships, homekeeping, and self-care. Most of the time, by following a system that works for us, we can manage to keep all these things in check. But throw in a vacation, an illness, a holiday, a big deadline … something’s gotta give. It’s okay to drop a few balls. In fact, the number one reason I try to keep to an organized schedule is so that when the craziness rolls around (and it always does), I can let things go and not worry that I’ll be digging myself out from under the rubble in a few days or weeks.

Confession: The first thing I let go when things get out of whack is cleaning. You can go miles on a picked up, but not clean house, for weeks without anyone really noticing.

Organized meal planning

 6. Menu plan.

This is so integral both to keeping our budget in check and keeping our evenings running smoothly. I could devote a post to this, but honestly there are so many other bloggers before me that have covered it. You’re sure to find some guidance that works with your lifestyle. Making a menu plan doesn’t mean you have to turn yourself into a gourmet cook … you’re just planning for how your family eats and taking your realistic schedule into consideration.

Confession: We veer off the menu plan from time to time. Don’t think that because you’ve deemed Wednesday meatloaf day that you’re beholden to it. We swap days, we improvise, and some days you just want to go out. (See #5) But again, by having a plan in place, you’re setting yourself up for success most nights of the week.

Organized laundry room

7. Keep up with laundry.

I know I’ll have my dissenters out there. I hear ya, laundry haters. Why do something you hate nearly every day of the week, when you could just save it for one crappy day?  It goes back to #1. It might take me 3 minutes to start a load, 3 minutes to switch it over, and 15 minutes to fold it and put it all away. So for less than 30 minutes, interspersed throughout the day, I can get a tedious task done. I’d much rather do that than spending 2 or 3 hours on a weekend catching up on laundry. Other perks of keeping up with laundry every day? Everyone always has what they want to wear available. You also save money in the long run, as you lessen the chance something will get ruined from sitting soiled in the hamper for 5 or 6 days.

Confession: I sometimes use laundry as an excuse to procrastinate, especially when I have a deadline looming. I know, something’s wrong with me.

Organized countertops

8. Start small.

If only I had taken this nugget into consideration when I started this post! But seriously … it’s the same advice I give people when they shop at The Container Store. Trying to tackle your whole home or your entire household organizational system at once is a recipe for failure. If you’d never run a day in your life, you wouldn’t sign up for a marathon. You’d start small. Take a few days and keep notes of the things you encounter throughout the day that make you feel disorganized. Look over your list and pick the one thing that bothers you the most. Tackle that, and give it at least 3 weeks. Once you feel like you have that area of your life under control, move on to the next.

Confession: It’s taken me years to get into a groove that works for me, and as life circumstances change I find I have to readjust and change what keeps our home running smoothly. Please don’t spend an evening on Pinterest pinning 100 organizational tips and then beat yourself up a few days later when the floor is sticky, there’s nothing for dinner, and you can’t find any of the overdue library books. Be gentle and give yourself time to figure it out.

Now that I’ve bared all, I have to know – what are some of your favorite routines and rituals for keeping your home organized?

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3 Keys to Managing Family Finances Without Fighting

Thank you to TurboTax for sponsoring my writing about household finances.  Learn more about how TurboTax can help you find every tax deduction you deserve. I was selected for this sponsorship by the Clever Girls Collective, which endorses Blog With Integrity, as I do.

The Key

Who wants to talk about money today?!  Anyone?  Anyone? (Cue crickets chirping).

Yeah, so talking about finances can be a huge downer.  It’s one of the reasons why, for a long time, my preferred method of talking about money with Mike was to essentially stick my head in the sand.  It’s such a common behavior that economists have a name for it: the ostrich effect.  While we were never dealing with any particularly risky financial situations, the day-to-day decisions of trying to agree on how to allocate a finite income into what seemed to be an infinite number of needs and wants was enough to make me crazy.  If we didn’t talk about it, things would just sort themselves out eventually, right?

Not so much.  Handling finances is one of those things that will continue to pester you until you and your spouse or partner come to some system that works for both of you.  It’s been said that couples tend to have variations of the same few arguments over and over throughout their marriage, and it comes as no surprise that arguments about money top the list.

I recently read a statistic on Dave Ramsey’s blog said 57% of divorced couples cited money fights as the primary reason they didn’t get along.  And yet most of us still prefer to spend our time hedging the money conversation – pretending it’s not an issue, putting out financial fires as they pop up, and arguing about it rather than finding a solution.  In the same article, the author asks how we would feel if we knew that 50% of our neighbors were being attacked by bears?  Would we do something about it?  Perhaps talk to our family about it, and come up with a plan of how to avoid a bear attack?  Last time I checked, there were no bears in my suburban neighborhood, but I bet each and every one of us gets a bill or two in our mailbox.  Maybe it’s time for a plan.

It took us over 10 years of marriage to finally get a system in place that takes into account each of personalities, but we finally have a solid method of handling our finances together.  Here’s what we’ve found works for us.

1. Budget

We start each month with a fresh budget.  We use a spreadsheet on the computer, but experiment with different systems until you find one that works for you (There are online resources like Pear Budget and Mint.com.  Dave Ramsey, of course, has online tools.  And there’s always the good, old-fashioned pen and paper).  We tally up our projected expenses in each category and estimate our income for the month.  The goal is a zero-based budget, where expenses – income = zero.  Every dollar has a name, whether it goes to eating out or saving up for a car.

2. Budget Meetings

We set aside time to talk about the budget twice a month – once at the beginning of the month to set up the budget and look over the previous month’s budget, and once mid-month to see if we need to make any adjustments.

Here’s where you might get frustrated, as in the beginning these meetings can be synonymous with arguing.  It takes time to figure out a good, working budget.  It’s hard to change spending habits and compromise.  By coming together over and over again and discussing finances, you get better at it.  Habits and perspectives will shift and you’ll find yourselves working together.  Set aside a block of time when you’re both able to focus fully on each other.  I find a glass of wine and agreeing to do something fun together when it’s over works miracles on your outlook.

3. Spending Policy

We have a specific dollar amount where, if we want to buy something over that number, we agree to check in with the other person first.  It helps keep spending in check and it avoids any number of arguments that begin with, “You spent how much on what?!”

By committing to following those three things, we’ve experienced tremendous rewards and growth in our marriage.

  • Relief:  Knowing that you are on the same page and that you have a plan eliminates stress and worry.
  • Trust:  We know the other person isn’t going to blow a significant chunk of money on a whim.
  • Confidence:  I’m not inclined to think about financial planning (see reference to my denial above).  Working on this stuff together has given me the confidence to feel secure that if anything ever happens to Mike, I know exactly what to do to keep myself financially sound.
  • Vision:  The ability to have calm, honest discussions about money has opened doors for us to talk about our plans for the future.

The time and energy we’ve invested into finding a way to manage our finances together has been so worth it.  Now we have more energy to devote to our other big arguments, like whose job it is to wash stinky things!  Just kidding (mostly).

Do you have a system that works for you?  Or are you struggling with your inner ostrich?

3 keys to budgeting and managing personal finance without fighting. Tips like these helped us as we were paying off debt and keep us debt free today!

 

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