What’s this all about?

I love order.   I love systems. I love lists.  Even more, I love crossing things off of lists.  

I despise clutter.  I despise chaos.  I despise wasted opportunities.  

For as long as I can remember, I have been making lists and categorizing and sorting.  It’s an innate trait. When I was young, I would put all of my mom’s refrigerator magnets is a straight line across the front, with the bottoms of the differently sized magnets all sitting on the same baseline that, apparently, only I could see or appreciate.  I couldn’t understand why my mom didn’t like that and would immediately spread them out in a random fashion.  Who wants that?! 

This propensity toward organization became more of a blessing than a curse as I got older.  I quickly learned that there was a direct correlation between establishing systems of order and getting the most out of whatever I was doing.  When I wrote down homework assignments that were due, I didn’t forget to do them.  When I made a packing list for an annual beach vacation, the visor that I wished I had the year before was packed in this year’s carry on.  When I planned a weekly menu, I didn’t waste 30 minutes of precious evening time with my family standing in front of the pantry trying to decide what to cook (only to resort to frozen pizza – again).  

Ideally, I’d like each day to end knowing that I got everything out of it that I could.    I hate regrets.  I know that they are a part of life, and it is not possible to live without them, but I still hate them.  When I was young and would make a mistake or break a rule, my Grandpa would say, “Well, you can’t go back and un-do it.  All you can do is learn from it and, from this point on, try to make it better.”  Wise words.  Dwelling on past mistakes is a waste.  Learning from them is necessary.  So, with each regret, of which there are many, that thought crosses my mind.  Instead of just wishing things were different, make them different.  This lesson has many applications, many of them to bigger lifestyle and character decisions.  For the purpose of this blog, the application will be sharing tricks, methods, tips, and lots of lists to alleviate those occurrences and habits that cause us to miss out on the really good stuff in this life.  

I love the movie Goodwill Hunting.  There’s a scene where Will’s girlfriend, Skylar, is trying to understand Will’s genius.  He explains it to her by asking if she plays the piano.  He says that the great composers could look at a piano “and just play”.  Trying to understand the analogy, Skylar asks if Will plays the piano.  He says, “No, not at all.  But when I look at organic chemistry, I’ve always been able to…….. just play.”I don’t have a musical bone in my body.  And I’ve never understood what organic chemistry is – let alone studied it.  But when it came to creating order out of chaos, I’ve always been able to just play.  I’ve been told many times in my life that I should become a professional organizer.  And, to be honest, if I thought I could make a living out of doing it, I would have started that a long time ago, but the reality is that there are few people who are willing to pay for such a service.  So, I resorted to doing what I do and sharing ideas and tips with people whenever they ask.  But I’ve always wondered if there is a way to have a more public forum in which to share these ideas.  The idea of a blog has been running around in my head for some time now.  Another cliché my grandpa always used to say was ‘There’s no time like the present.’  Carpe diem.  So here it is; my attempt to share my little insights with anyone else who may be interested.  My hope is that life would be made more simple and gratifying through the implementation of these little ideas.  

Card Sending

Card Sending 2I grew up in a card-giving family. For birthdays, you always gave and received two cards; a humorous one and a sentimental one. And we were those people who sent “just because” cards on a frequent basis. Most college students spent more money than they should have at bars and at the mall. I did so at Hallmark. (Okay, I spent more than I should at the mall too).
After I graduated from college, I moved to Washington, DC and I still sent birthday and anniversary cards, but I wasn’t as on top of it as I used to be. By the time I moved to Minnesota a few years later, I was doing well if my grandma got her birthday card a week after her birthday. And the ‘Thinking of You’ cards? Forget about it.

Now, I know many people will say that sending cards is outdated, and they may be right. But I’m old school – at least when it comes to this. Even in our instant gratification culture, I still get excited when I receive (real) mail. I like getting texts; my phone dings with a message, I read it, and it ends there. But when I open my mailbox and there’s a pretty envelope with my name and address hand-written on there, it means a little more. See, old school.

I decided that I needed to make this a priority. I needed to find a way to make sure that the people I cared about knew that I cared about them. An action plan was put in place and it looks like this:

  1. I did what I always do when I need to come up with a system for something: I created a spreadsheet. Use this one page printable  or this three page printable and put it in your card-sending station. Use old calendars, your memory and whatever else you used to use to keep track of these things to find all of the “card-sending” events for your loved ones. It’s a quick, at-a-glance way to see how many cards need to be sent in a month and to whom.
  2. Get the cards.  You can buy them individually, in box sets or make them.  I’ve done all three at different times.  Don’t get hung up on this.  Whatever works best for you.Card Sending 1
  3. Create a card-sending station. Having everything you need for a task all in one place is the difference maker when it comes to these kinds of tasks. Have your cards, envelopes, pens, return address labels, address book and stamps all in the same location so that you have everything and you don’t constantly get interrupted to go get something to finish the task.
    Card Sending 2
  4. Write the cards. Once a month find a time to sit down and write all of your cards for the next month. Pull out your list, choose a card for each occasion and write all of the cards for the next month. I have found that the middle of the month is the best time to do this because then I don’t miss those beginning of the month events. In addition to the event cards, I also pick two people each month and send them a ‘Thinking of You’ card. I wish I could do this more, but I have learned that if I don’t do it during this time, it doesn’t get done. Writing the messages in the cards is the most time-taking part of the process. But it is also the best part. When I make myself sit down and put in writing how much I love and appreciate people, it makes me love and appreciate them even more. And it reminds me how fortunate I am to have such wonderful people in my life.
  5. Address and stamp the envelopes. I have a spreadsheet that is saved on Dropbox, so I can look up everyone’s address on my phone. If you’re more old-fashioned and prefer an address book, use that and keep it in your card-sending station.
  6. Put a post-it on the envelope with the date it needs to be mailed. To be on the safe side, I pick a date that is six days before the event. Card Sending 3
  7. Put them in a high-traffic area where you will see them and be reminded to stick them in the mail. I put mine in our outgoing mail holder in our ‘Command Center’ which we walk by each day.

Card Sending 4

Card Sending 5

That’s it. You will be amazed at how little time this actually takes. I love the feeling I get when I grab an addressed envelope and drop it in the mailbox; knowing that in a few days one of my favorite people will know how much they mean to me. The only downside is that they may call you to tell you how much they appreciated what you wrote, but because you wrote it over a month ago, you can’t remember. Not that that has ever happened……


Staying on Top of Laundry

I have tried all kinds of methods to stay on top of laundry.  I do about six loads of laundry a week and what works best for us is to do it all at once, usually on Saturday mornings.  Occasionally, I’ll get a head start and do a couple loads on Friday night.  With doing it in one big chunk, the biggest factor in getting it done in one day – or, ideally, in one morning – is to change out loads as soon as they’re finished.  

So, when I start a load, I pull my cell phone out of my pocket and set a timer.  If I wait to walk into the kitchen to set a timer there, I forget almost every time, and three hours later, the clothes in the washer are starting to smell musty and the clothes in the dryer are beyond wrinkled.  Ugh.  (learn from my mistakes…..).  The other nice thing about using my phone is that I almost always have it with me, so no matter where I am when the timer goes off, I hear it.  

Doing this is the difference between getting all six loads of laundry done in less than five hours and spreading the process out over the course of the next two days.  And the nerd in me can’t get enough of that sense of satisfaction that it’s 1PM on Saturday and all our clothes are clean (and sometimes even folded and put away!)

If you’re feeling really ambitious, you can make your timer sing a great song to you when the load is finished.  If we’re going to do laundry and have things beeping at us, you might as well make it fun, right?

Laundry Load How To’s

I am one of those people that follow clothes label instructions.  Not to the letter for each, individual garment, but generally speaking, I group my loads of laundry by washing instructions.  For instance, we have a number of items that shouldn’t be washed with fabric softener, including our performance wear, my husband’s socks and my Norwex cleaning clothes.  I call it the “Under Armour” load, because the majority of it is our Under Armour apparel.  Truthfully, it’s the “No Fabric Softener” load.  But who wants to yell down the stairs, “I’m putting the ‘No Fabric Softener’ load in the wash.  Do you have anything else that needs to be added to it?” Me either.  So ‘Under Armour’ it is. And there are about six more loads with similar stories.  (Side note:  This post is NOT sponsored by Under Armour, but you’d never guess that by the number of times their name appears.  Free marketing for them, I guess.)  

It got to the point where I could barely remember the variables for each load.  In our house, laundry is mostly my responsibility, but my husband will often graciously pitch in and check a few loads off of my to-do list.  He told me once that there have been many times when he would think to start a load of laundry, but couldn’t remember washing and drying instructions.  

I went straight from that conversation to our computer and created a spreadsheet with washing and drying instructions for each load.  As many times as I’ve done our laundry, I am amazed at how often I reference this sheet – hanging above our washer – for instructions.  

Laundry How To - maximizingdaysblog.com

Laundry How To - maximizingdaysblog.com

*These are not Pinterest-approved photos.  Those who are more creative and decoratively-inclined than I am would put it in a cute frame and hang other cuteness on the wall.  I recognize that there’s nothing cute about this.  It’s all about purpose.

Remembering each load’s specifications is one less thing I have to commit to memory.  And, my amazing husband uses it frequently as well! Get the printable here  and let me know how it’s helpful to you.

Capturing ‘Lost Time’

In working to maximize each day, I’ve found that the biggest factor in achieving that goal is capturing what I call lost time.  By lost, I mean those blocks of time between things where you’re either standing around waiting for something or where you’ve allotted more time for something than you need, so end up just finding something to fill that time.  When these times are and their length is different for each person, but we all have them.  Capturing those times and making the most of them can be the difference between a super productive day and a day when you go to bed feeling insurmountably behind. 
For me, my biggest chunk of “Lost Time” is my lunch hour.  I have one hour for lunch each day, and because I only work five minutes from my house, I am able to go home each day for lunch.  Thankfully, it doesn’t take me fifty minutes to each my lunch, so I capture that time and try to get as much piddly stuff done as I can.  Here is a sample of what my lunch hour looks like:
1-1:05 PM Drive home
1:05-1:10 PM Wipe down bathroom sink, tidy up bedroom, make bed (if not done earlier that morning), put away clean clothes, etc.
1:10-1:15 Pick out daughter’s clothes and pack day care bag for next day
1:15-1:35 Put away clean dishes, put dirty breakfast dishes in dishwasher, wash bottles, wipe down kitchen counters, fill water bottles, take out recycling
1:35-1:40 Pick up and sort mail
1:40-1:55 EAT LUNCH! (Sometimes I multi-task and respond to emails while I’m eating)
1:55-2 PM Drive back to work
There are a number of tricks that really help to maximize lost time.
1. Identify it!  This may be the hardest step for some people.  We all feel like we’re going full speed every minute of every day.  Finding this time requires being objective and critically examining how we spend our time each day.  It may be helpful to keep track each day of what you do.  Once you start tracking these things, you may see little gaps emerge.
2. Make a conscious decision to seize it.  Almost every day when I come home for lunch, I can hear my couch saying ‘Come lay down on me. I’m sooo cozy.’.  But I know that if I take the next 35 minutes to get a bunch of small tasks crossed off my list, my evening will go so much smoother, and if I’m really lucky, I’ll have even more time to relax on that couch later – and my husband and daughter will probably join me!  That being said, there are days when I listen to that voice and just relax.  We all need that once in a while too.
3. Focus on the little tasks.  Notice that I don’t do anything that takes a long time.  Putting away clean dishes is the biggest job I’ll do over my lunch hour.  The point is to get as much of the “clutter-y” type tasks (those little to-do’s that just seem to clutter up your to-do lists) out of the way.  
4. Be efficient.  There’s a reason that I do those things in the order that I do.  Our bedroom and bathroom are on one end of the house.  I start on that end and make my way to the other end.  This minimizes extra trips.
5. Match the frequency of the chunks of lost time with the occurrence of the task.  You’ll notice that most of the things that I do over my lunch hour are daily chores.  That’s because I have that chunk of time each day. If you have one hour every Tuesday between two kids’ events, fill that time with something that you need to do each week such as grocery shopping or running errands.
It is amazing to me how much difference it makes if I am able to get things done over my lunch hour.  When I walk through the door each night, I don’t see dishes piled up in the sink or have to walk around the basket of folded clothes on the floor to get to where my two favorite people are playing.  I walk over to them and get big squeezes, and I am able to enjoy it and not be distracted by all the little things that need to get done before I can cook them supper.  I get all that stuff done earlier in the day so that I can spend my time doing what I love most – enjoying my family and soaking up the time I have with them.