Good For You

How To Get Things Done Fast

I was talking to my friend Randy yesterday and he mentioned this book he was reading about being super productive. "What's it called?" I asked. "How To Get Things Done Fast." I would have never picked out a book like this in a million years; I'd rather get things done well then fast plus the whole thing sounds really gimicky, at least at first glance.

The basic idea is that initially (usually in a few seperate sessions) you write down everything that is preoccupying you and eventually empty your brain. After having things down on paper, you divide things logically into tasks and projects. Things that take less then two minutes, you do right away and you organize everything else in order of importance.

Randy realized that all the ideas he had been thinking of over and over that seemed really kind of random and unrelated were actually all working towards the larger goal of making money back to pay his student loans.

The idea of emptying your mind and working everyday with a clean slate allows you to (apparently) be superproductive. And organizing ideas as they happen takes discipline but keeps you from mentally spinning your wheels about the same old stuff.

I have a sticky note on my Google homepage for those exact thoughts during the day (library books due January 27, pay cell phone bill) but I think a great cleaning out of my brain and an organizing of these thoughts would be pretty fantastic. Despite seeming organized and carefree, I actually spend a lot of time spinning my wheels mentally about money and other matters as I keep revisiting thoughts.

So the book is "How To Get Things Done Fast" by David Allen if you are interested but if you want to dip your toe into the pond of this organizational system before diving in:

Visit David Allen's website…
Do some David Allen brain cleaning out exercises…

Eight Necessary Objects To Be Ready For Winter

You may have heard or even experienced yourself the record cold in the northeast United States. Bar Harbor set a record on Friday and I've experienced my own personal cold  as well.

The furnace in my apartment is randomly shutting off. It happened three different times this week. My landlord has been trying to fix the problem, including last night when I called him around 10:30 after getting home from a friend's house. At 3 am, I finally woke up and felt the heat on again.

If it's one thing I've learned this week, it's that having a few things on hand is really helpful.

For Snow

Shovel

A plastic shovel with a flat blade is most useful in removing snow in that it's light, easy to stow, and picks up more snow faster then its garden-y cousin. On snowy days, I bring it with me in my car in case I happen to get snowed into my parking spot. Also handy for when the plow has left a big pile of snow at the bottom of the driveway that you can't quite drive through. Cost: $5-$10

Salt
Rock salt, which is just really big crystals of sodium chloride is cheap enough by the bag to keep on hand. You can share a big bag with a friend or two. If you're in a pinch, you can also use table salt which does the same job of lowering the melting point of water as the fancier rock salt, it's just a little more expensive. One town actually recently used expired garlic salt to deice their roads! Cost: $5 for a big bag

Car brush
A plastic brush with a scraper and a brush is necessary for both the ice and snow aspects of winter. You want a long enough handle to be able to reach half way across your windshield. Tip: Access the brush on the passenger side of the car, that way when you open the car door the snow falls on the passenger seat, not where you need to sit to drive. Cost: $1

For Warmth

Mittens
Putting your hands on cold steering wheels or door handles is not the way to stay warm in the winter. I keep one pair of mittens in the car at all times just for this reason. Get them from your favorite thrift store or knitter! Cost: $5

Candles
I have a working fireplace but since I'm scared of setting fire to things, for the moment I only have a pile of candles in there. Sometimes I light them for ambiance but have to blow them out soon after because of the amount of heat they throw off. Friends joked around that I should start burning furniture but hopefully it won't get to that! Cost: $10-20 for a bunch of candles

Wool Blanket
Last night, the wool blanket over my head kept things toasty until the heat came back on. I've had this blanket for years and say what you want about wool being a little scratchy but that blanket is warm and durable! Try an army-navy supply store for a cheaper version. Cost: $80 retail, but you'll have it forever

Wool Socks
I have one pair of SmartWool socks and last night, they were on. If your hands, head, and feet are warm, I think it is possible to sleep when it's cold. You can go the homemade route if you are talented or know someone who talented in the knitting department. Cost: $8-10 (for SmartWool)

Heat Pack
Back in the day, people used to go to bed with a warm brick. Now we have more comfortable options. My grandmother made us all heating packs for Christmas and I threw mine in the microwave for a few minutes and brought it to bed with me. Alternatively, you can drag your dog into bed with you. Another warm body does help things out…

Hopefully my heat stays on but if not, I have a few tricks to stay warm!

New Years Resolutions For The Easily Overwhelmed

One Resolution A Month Works For Me!

One thing that's always bugged me about how January 1st falls on the calendar is how it doesn't feel like the new year. Really one winter snowy day blends into the next. It makes much more sense to me to have the year change at some point that actually feels transitional, like the first day of spring or the start of a school year.

Calendar That said, of course I'm not impervious to marketing. I'm thinking about what I want to do differently in 2009.

Like most Americans, I'm also a total slacker in that I start out strong and forget by March what it was I wanted to do anyway.

I came up with a concept on my drive home today: what if I only had to think about one resolution a month? Wouldn't I feel so much more focused and happy when I accomplish something? I'm just putting this out there as something I'm doing that may work for you. Here's my year:

January: Make a one page list with everyone's birthday on it so I stop forgetting.
Februrary: Make a one page document with all my financial information.
March: Launch my new website.
April: Learn to hip hop dance.
May: Fix everything in my sewing pile.
June: Host a great outdoor party.
July: Spend a long weekend somewhere I've never been. 
August: Submit three pieces of writing for publication.
September: Write a thank you note a day and actually send them.
October: Learn enough Spanish to have a basic conversation.
November: Try 25 new recipes.
December: Relax.

A mixture of having fun, tackling piles that need tackling, and trying new things. Most importantly, only one thing to think about at a time (I have the right to rearrange these at a later date).

So am I jumping the gun on this New Year's resolution thing? Do you have a resolution (or two or eight) you think could inspire people? Comment here as a way to increase your accountability to yourself. And yes, I will check up if you like!

Image from www.nationalcalendars.com

The Christmas Shop Local Challenge

It's Cheaper and Easier Then I Thought

Early this Christmas season, I decided that I was going to buy all my gifts locally for several reasons.

1) My family owns a small business. (I do too!) It would seem at least a little hypocritical to not support others in my same situation.
2) My Best Buy fiasco clearly illustrates what it can be like to do with the corporation.
3) Living in the community that is heavily dependent on summer tourism, the least I can do is help support the businesses that serve year-round residents like myself. I appreciate not have to drive half an hour to buy milk, or a cashmere sweater for that matter. (Milk happens a little more often in my world.)

I was a little worried about how shopping local this was going to go. Should I buy my brother-in-law that gadget I saw an online gift guide? Will I be able to find the perfect gift for my mother in some small specialty shops?

I realize that two things have happen for me to have success at buying local: I had to be flexible (what! no, insert-specific-item here in purple?!?) and also actually visit storessee what they had. (And as a personal finance blogger who almost never goes shopping, some of these people would never have seen me otherwise.)

I was pleasantly surprised at the selection of items, the reasonable prices, and the friendliness of salespeople who were genuinely appreciative of my business.

Here are a few moments I relished as I finished up my Christmas shopping today:

  • reading through funny children's books to find the funniest on
  • laughing with some fellow drug store shoppers at the now available Clapper Plus
  • running into a potential friend I met last week wearing a really fun hat
  • finding a really great book/gift store that has all kinds of things that I'd go back for (I know, I am not buying books at the moment but I can dream, right?)

All in all, there is no long mall drudgery or battling crowds to buy my Christmas gifts, which made spending money oddly relaxing for me. As a bonus, I actually got to know my community a little bit better and still stayed within budget.

So whether you are completely finished with your Christmas shopping or have yet to start, I urge you to consider a local purchase as your next purchase.

Some good reasons (economic or otherwise) to buy local…
Something to inspire you to shop at a local bookstore…

Lessons Learned from Love Actually

We all have our favorite Christmas movies. My friend Laura loves "The Christmas Story", and so I think of her whenever I see a part of the movie or hear the phrase "You're gonna put your eye out with that thing!" (Not that I hear that phrase often, of course.) My college buddy  J's favorite was A Garfield Christmas. He's now a nuclear chemist or something for Intel but I bet he still curls up every year to watch it.

Loveactually My favorite holiday movie is "Love Actually". I know, I know…Why torture myself with "the ultimate romantic comedy" at this point in my life?

It's not torture exactly; there is so much going on in the movie that I glean some universal truth from it every time I see it. Jen and I watched it last night and here are just a few things I can think of about it:

1) Humans are capable of so much. What we can go through, how we love. It's amazing really that we can do everyday things like pick up dry cleaning or sit in a cubicle.

2) If you keep putting yourself out there, eventually it'll come back to you. Loving Jamie gets cheated on by his jerky girlfriend but then finds love in the south of France with someone far better for him. Who couldn't be happy about that? I'd rather fall on my face a hundred times for one shot at the Big L then play it safe and stay stuck.

3) Nothing replaces family. Everyone needs a place to go around the holidays whether it is with your born-into family or one you've created. People who will unconditionally love you, even when you blow them off to go find your Porteguese girlfriend, are required in this life.

4) American girls are "real friendly" and some Americans use their powers for the not-so-good. I sometimes forget about what being an American means to the kind of person I am. In a world of global relations, it's more and more important to understand our culture to have better interactions with people. Whether we get that perspective through international media or international friends, it's something we all should do regularly.

5) You have to be fair to yourself. Sure, you love your best friend's wife but as Mark says after he finally tells the woman he can't have how he feels: "Enough." Stop beating yourself up and just keep trying to be better.

Ok, your turn. So what's your favorite holiday movie?

Book Review: So Many Books, So Little Time

My lack of Internet has made me surprisingly productive these last few weeks. Among my accomplishments, I've 1) completely unpacked and settled into my new apartment, 2) reduced my wardrobe to one closet, 3) tried several new recipes, 4) hung shelves, 5) went to the gym four times a week and 6) did a ton of reading.

Somanybooks The last distraction has been the easiest to do. Sneaking in time while cooking and before bed, I've read four books in two weeks, pretty good for me. One book I just finished today (while waiting for the Internet hookup guy) is called "So Many Books, So Little Time".

I came across the accompanying blog a few months before stumbling upon the book at the library. This seemed rather serendipitous so I checked it out.

Basic synopsis: The author decides to read a book week for year and chronicle the whole experience to see how and if reading affects her life (and vice versa). You can use this book as a list of recommendations or a commentary on American life. Sara Nelson is clearly an intelligent woman with a lot of interesting things to say. It also helps that she reminds me of a combination of a couple of my good friends.

What I keep thinking about though is the fact that Sara owns most of the books she read, which are part of a collection of about 3000 books in her New York apartment. As someone who's organized the library with 10,000 books, I can understand how much space 3000 books takes up and how much money they cost.

I've grown up with the philosophy “never throw out a book” but increasingly I wonder about the importance of keeping every single book I've read or what to read. Last year, I started randomly sending books to people that I thought they'd enjoy and I also started swapping books at www.swaptree.com. And with resources like public libraries and audio books subscription services, I wonder if I need to own all my book possibilities.

I'm guilty of certain behaviors talked about in this book: displaying certain books that visitors would happen upon in my house (the intellectual, interesting discussion stuff) and hiding the self-help, I'm-secretly-crazy books. I've publicly read to give people an impression of me. Books are not only recreation in our culture but as a status symbol, like clothing.

This book has made me realize how many great books I have to look forward to and also that I don’t need to go to the bookstore and buy every single one of them. This isn't just because I don't have pretty cherry wood bookcases to put them on like Sara Nelson but also because, as she reminded me, I'm not going to fall love with most of the books I read. And I'm going to save my money and precious shelf space for the great loves.

If you’re looking for some new books to read or want to think about how books play a role in your life, check this one out…of your local library!

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