Archive | January 2014

January’s Progress Report for my New Year’s Resolutions

At the beginning of January I set several goals for the year, promising that I would report on my progress each month.  So here goes:

Goal — Manage my time better.  

  • I took the time to think about my past efforts for setting up time management systems.  I recorded on my blog what systems I’ve tried and considered in my own mind why they didn’t work well for me.
  • I thought of a new system that I could try which would help me be better organized about how I was spending my time.  However, I found that the system did not fit well with the reality of my life.
  • I re-read part of the book, “Getting Things Done” and have begun to implement the system described in it.

Goal — Declutter my home and get organized.

  • As part of the “Getting Things Done” system, I went through my file box and threw away all unnecessary papers, making room for future ones.

Goal — “Be of good cheer” more.

  • I looked up the word “cheer” in the Topical Guide of the scriptures.
  • I made a list of all the reasons that were given to “be of good cheer.”  (Surprise, surprise, they all centered on the Savior!)
  • Occasionally (but not as often as I would like) I even made a conscious effort to smile!  (At home – where I tend to smile the least).

The other two goals are to take better care of my health and listen to my family better.  I did not do anything extra to work towards either of these goals this month.

Thankful Thursday (baby, it’s cold outside!)

Well, here it is at the end of January 2014 already!  It has been a cold month for most of us.  Admittedly some people have been colder than others, but I think it’s pretty safe to say that at least here in the USA, many people have been colder than we are used to.  So, what do we have to be grateful for when it’s so cold?  Today I am thankful for . . .


. . . this snowman that my girls built!  It was obviously getting a little warmer when I took the picture, as you can see all the snow around it has melted.  But that’s ok, because only a week or so later the temperature dropped again, and more snow replaced what had melted!  My girls had a great time together building this snowman.  Next, the youngest one says she wants to build an igloo!

blueberry muffins

. . . warm blueberry muffins!  My oldest daughter (10) made these for us one day (I put them in and took them out of the oven).  She did a great job, and our family loved them!  It is a fabulous muffin recipe, so if you are in the mood, give them a try!  They might be just the thing you need to warm you up!

cardinal in the snow

. . .snow cardinal

snow cardinal 2

. . . our snow cardinal friend!  This little guy (or gal) hung around our house for several days in a row along with some other small birds.  Isn’t he pretty?  We all enjoyed watching him, at least until he noticed us and hid.  But then he always came out again.

What are you thankful for today?

An Explanation of “Getting Things Done”

In this post I wrote that I am currently trying the “Getting Things Done” system again, so I figured it might help if I explain a little bit of what it is.  Basically it is a system of a calendar, several well-defined lists, and a good reference (i.e. filing) system.

The first step is to COLLECT everything that represents an “incomplete” in your life.  David Allen says that as soon as you attach the words “I should”, “I ought to,” etc. that it becomes an “incomplete.”  Collect it all and put it in your in-box.

Now, I have to add at this point that the first time around (several years ago), I took literally the challenge in the book to collecting every incomplete, and consequently filled my living room with all kinds of stuff that I felt was out of place!  I don’t recommend doing that :).

This time I still have all kinds of stuff that is out of place, but I’m handling it by including on my “projects list” or my “someday/maybe” list (soon to be explained) a reminder to go through each area.

This is what I did collect.

  • All papers that were in my kitchen, in my church bag and purse, and otherwise laying around loosely.
  • Previous “To Do” lists
  • Information from e-mails sent by others
  • All of my thoughts (by taking the suggestion to “empty my head!”)

The second step is to PROCESS everything that was collected.  This part was a little overwhelming to me, and according to the book it is also overwhelming to others too.  Because I was sitting there going through every little thing that I need to be doing all at once, and creating a giant list!  But in my opinion, it was worth the temporary stress it caused, because once it was done, I felt very clear about what I was committed to doing currently and what I was not.

Here is how you process the stuff you collected:

Ask if what you are looking at (the piece of paper, object, etc) needs any action?  If the answer is no, you have 3 choices.

  1. Throw it away
  2. File it in your reference system
  3. Review it later by either writing it on a someday/maybe list OR  write a reminder about it on a calendar

If the answer is yes, ask yourself “what is the next action?”  Once you have your answer, you then have 3 choices.

  1. Do it now (if it will take less than 2 minutes)
  2. Delegate it (to someone else)
  3. Defer it (by writing it on a calendar or a next actions list)

The third step is to ORGANIZE.  This is where you set up the folders and lists.  A good reference system requires some kind of filing cabinet and folders, set up in a way that is easy to access and easy to add to.  David Allen says (and I tend to agree!) that if it’s not easy to file and create new files that most people won’t do it.

Various lists need to be created.  The “next actions” lists are ideally organized by context.  I have several: daily household tasks, other household tasks, at the computer, desk work, phone calls, errands, and even stuff to pray about.  I kept coming across stuff that I didn’t know what to do about except pray for guidance, so that’s how this final category originated.

Also decisions need to be made about how these lists will stored?  Electronic or paper?  Mine is currently paper – and it’s all on the front of my refrigerator where I can see it.  But lots of people prefer electronic calendars, and these lists fit nicely with most of those.

One additional list that needs to be created besides the ones I mentioned above is a “project list.”  A project is anything that  requires more than one action to complete it.  Only the individual actions go on the “next actions” list, and this is the list that you work from on a day-to-day basis.  But the project list exists as a reminder of all the projects that you are currently committed to moving towards completion.  (This part is tricky to explain; I may attempt it in another blog post soon, but you can also read the book for more info!)

The fourth step is to REVIEW.  This means to review the actions you wrote down in order to decide what to do when.  He explains in great detail how to go about making that decision, but it’s pretty intuitive too.

There is also the “Weekly Review” which I must admit that I don’t like.  But I do think it is necessary.  This means that once a week you do what I described above all over again.  The only difference is that it’s not so much because only one week has gone by since you last did it.   The reason it is necessary is because in the process of doing all the actions, it can be tricky to constantly make sure you are writing down the next “next action” after completing the first, in order to keep the project moving forward.  Things can get a little messy in the process of doing everything and so it’s good to take a time-out and get the system completely current again.

The fifth (and final) step is to DO. This is obvious, of course.  Take those next actions lists and start working on them!  A lot of the resistance is gone by this point because the lists are simple and do-able.  Since they are organized by context it is easy to just run all of the errands at once, or sit down at the computer and do several things right there.

So there you have it — an explanation of the “Getting Things Done” system.  I have to say that this week I’m appreciative of it.  I spent last week doing the initial collecting, processing, and organizing.  Then, this week my kids have been unexpectedly out of school due to snowy weather.  I have a meeting to prepare for this coming Sunday and I was counting on the time with everyone gone to work on it.  But with this system, I was able to become clear about what I need to do, and I can work on a little piece of it here and there as the opportunities arise — even with the unexpected family at home!

My Time Management Challenges

One of the advantages of being a stay-at-home mom is that I have a solid block of time while my older children are at school to accomplish a lot of what I need to do.  On the other hand, one of the disadvantages of being a stay-at-home mom is that exact same block of time!  I have learned that when I have a concrete schedule of some sort, I do pretty well.

But if there isn’t, I flounder.  I feel like I’ve got all day, so I work slower, get distracted, or change my mind as to what I will do.  It isn’t that I don’t have much to do; I actually have a lot that I need to do.  What I keep feeling I need is some kind of structure.  But I have had a very difficult time finding the right structure for me.

Here are some ideas that I’ve tried (and I think they are good ideas) but so far have not worked for me.

Plan the day by individual task:

  • The night before or the morning of, look at what needs to be done, estimate the time needed for each task, and plan out when I will do what.
  • Instead of detailed planning, write down between 3 and 5 tasks that are the most important to do that day.  Then make sure to get those done even if nothing else.
  • Make a list of everything I need to do and prioritize it.  Start with the most important one and work my way through it.
  • Make a list of must do,” “should do,” and “nice to do.  Start with the “must do” stuff, then move to “should do” and if any time is left work on the “nice to do.”

Plan the day (or week) by type of tasks:

  • Flylady recommends creating daily and weekly routines, setting aside each day of the week for specific types of tasks.
  • David Allen recommends creating several task lists that are grouped together by type (at computer, phone calls, errands, etc.), then work on one list in one setting and move to another when in another setting.
  • Julie Morgenstern recommends creating a time map where you decide on blocks of time that you assign to certain types of tasks.  Then you use this “map” in making appointments and other types of planning.

All of these are great ideas, and seem to work well for lots of productive people, but as for me personally, I have felt like none of them have really helped me quite the way I need.

My intent when I first began writing this post (2 or 3 weeks ago) was to share a system that I had thought of on my own.  I was really excited about it too!  But it was only two days into “trying out the system” that I realized it was worse than anything I had ever tried so far!  However, it did give me some valuable information about what I need, and suddenly I found myself being drawn right back to David Allen’s book “Getting Things Done. 

So, I’ve been spending all week collecting everything that is what he calls an “open loop” or an “incomplete.”  And then I’ve been processing it all according to his directions on how to do so, putting everything on the appropriate list.  It has been somewhat exhausting, but freeing and motivating at the same time!  What I like about the system is that it doesn’t tie me down to any task at any particular time (other than appointments).  This is what I feel the other systems do (including the one I created for myself), and I get frustrated about it.  I get rebellious too – procrastinating and wasting time just because I don’t want to do what I had planned.

But as I said, I did try this system once before.  I can’t guarantee that once the “honeymoon” is over that I won’t dislike it again.  But right now it seems like just what I need!

Some Thoughts on Stress and Burnout

During the recent Christmas season I found myself feeling a bit depressed.  Supposedly that is not a rare thing to happen to people, as we all tend to feel a lot of pressure and stress at this time of year.  But still, I was surprised and bothered by the way I was feeling.  I had made efforts to simplify the season for our family, and my husband had been extra helpful this year, so I really did not have reason to feel a lot of extra stress.  And there wasn’t anything going particularly wrong that would warrant feeling depressed.  But, I had been feeling down off and on for a while for a few months, so I decided to talk to my husband about it.  My husband, who majored in Psychology in college and is now a Special Education teacher (specializing in emotional disturbance) pulled out his Psychology* textbook and asked if he could read some of it to me.  He started reading under the heading “Stress.”  This is what the book said:

Richard Lazarus and his colleagues argued that rather than major life change events, much stress is produced from the daily hassles that routinely annoy us.  Lazarus defined hassles as petty routine annoyances, aggravations, or frustrations such as driving in traffic, preparing meals, the pressure of time, financial problems, communications problems, and making decisions.

According to Lazarus, the major life events themselves do not directly cause stress as much as they create numerous minor hassles that contribute to the overall stress level. . . .

Hmm . . . daily hassles that routinely annoy us equals stress.  Ok, I realize that this is almost “like, duh!” but when I heard it I felt validated.  For a very long time I’ve identified as a major source of stress, both meal preparation and the pressure of time.  I mean, I complain over and over again to anyone who will be nice enough to listen, and to the point of sounding like a broken record.  So to have these listed in a Psychology Textbook was validating to me.  I wanted to say to everyone, “See?  These are real stressors!  I’m not just being a crazy complainer!”

Next my husband started reading in the section titled “Burnout” and read this:

We live in a society that constantly places demands on us.  While most of us feel that we are able to deal with stress adequately, many people are not aware that they are burning energy too fast.   Burnout is the depletion of our physical and mental resources.  It occurs when we have more energy going out than we do coming in.

The book went on to list several symptoms of burnout:

  • Exhaustion
  • Detachment
  • Boredom
  • Impatience (with others who can’t keep up)
  • Sense of omnipotence
  • Feeling unappreciated
  • Psychophysiological problems (such as ulcers, asthma, or heart problems)

So I started thinking, “maybe I am experiencing a mild case of burnout,” which could explain some of the depression I had been feeling.  I could definitely identify with some of the symptoms.  This was a new thought to me because I always had felt like burnout was a result of doing too much.  Once when I was in college, I felt like I experienced burnout, and everyone told me that I was “doing too much.”  So in my married life I’ve tried to be careful not to “overdo” (as much as feasibly possible), but I haven’t been so careful not to “over-stress.”  And this book says that “burnout” is a depletion of both physical and mental resources.  In other words, stress uses energy just like work does.   If more goes out than comes in, there is going to be a problem.

So, what to do?  Well, for me, in my New Year’s Resolutions, I have identified some important things.

  • Taking better care of my health is a good place to start, because that’s how we put energy into our bodies.  Proper sleep, diet, and exercise all perform that function.  Just like a bank account, if I deposit more energy, then I have more energy available to “spend!”
  • Reducing stress is another good plan, but the texbook also reminds people that stress is a fact of life and we cannot get rid of all of it.  I know there are some things I can do to manage my time and meal preparation a little better.  Procrastination and clutter are both common sources of stress for people, and if I succeed at improving in both of these areas this year, that should help.
  • Including activities that make me happy in my days can help too.  The book says, “It should be pointed out that Lazarus also found people had daily “uplifts” or satisfactions such as relating well with others, visiting, having enough money for something desired, listening to music, [etc].  Some research suggests that these uplifts might be able to counteract some of the effects of stress.”
  • Also focusing on my blessings can help.  This is similar to “including activities that make me happy,” but instead of seeking for happy things, I’m just taking the time to appreciate the good that I’m already experiencing.  So often good things happen to us, but in the day to day stress we don’t take the time to acknowledge or appreciate them.  Taking the time to focus on these positives can be another way to provide the daily uplifts that counteract stress.

These are a few ideas that I have.  What about you?  What do you do to handle stress and keep yourself from burning out?

*Please note that the text book I am quoting from is Psychology:  A Concise Introduction, 2nd edition by Terry F. Pettijohn.

2014 New Years Resolutions

When I started this blog, I did not intend it to be for the purpose of goal setting.  I simply wanted a place to write about random stuff that is on my mind.  But it seems that wanting to improve myself is a major part of that “random stuff.”  After two months (November and December) of recording my goals and results, I decided that I like using my blog for this.  Many people say that a key to successful goal-setting is having someone to report to, and this blog serves that purpose pretty well for me.  It also gives me a place to write about things that I have learned or am learning about these particular subjects, which also could be good motivation for completing them.

This year I’m going to do what I haven’t done in a long time  — set New Year’s Resolutions.  I remember doing it as a teenager, but after several years of not keeping my resolutions, I gave up on the idea.  I remember “keep my room” was on the list every year!  The funny thing is that this “goal” (even if it is only in my head!) hasn’t changed much over the years – only now it has expanded to “keeping the whole house clean (Ha! Ha!)!  But I decided that I’m ready to set some formal resolutions again.  So here they all are:

The Year 2014

(Note:  As the year has gone by I have found it needful to reduce my goals from 5 to 3.  See this post for the update!)

1.  Take better care of my health.  I read on another blog that the three pillars of health are sleep, exercise, and proper diet.  Also, good emotional health is important to me.  I was just talking to my husband about ways to manage my personal stress, and he had some good insights that I could use to set goals with.

2.  Manage my time better by procrastinating less and being a little more organized in my approach to my work.

3.  Declutter my home and get organized!!  This is always an informal goal of mine.  But recently I haven’t been making the progress that I would like.  I would like in the year 2014 to reduce the visible clutter in my home by means of throwing away, putting away, or in some cases creating homes for things where one is currently non-existent.

4.  “Be of good cheer” more!  Lately my older daughter has been asking me to smile more.  (It’s funny the things children notice, isn’t it?).  She says that she feels so much better when I’m smiling.  I guess the “frown” on my face comes from concentrating on what I’m doing.  But I can see that it would be good for my family (and me!) to smile more and be more cheerful.

5.  Listen to my family better.  Again, I’m so concentrated on what I need/want to get done, that I am not always listening to what people want to say to me as well as I would like to.

Now, I know what you are thinking.  The first three goals are the same ones that everyone sets in January.   Well, my response is that I don’t have anything against going with the crowd as long as the crowd is going in the direction that I want to go!

Well, that’s it!  I really hope I can see this through this year!  If nothing else, it will give me lots of topics to write on my blog about! 🙂

Do you have any New Year’s Resolutions?