Getting back on track

getting back on track with good habits by setting priorities

Old habits die hard. New habits fade quickly.

Have you ever noticed that? You put a lot of energy toward building up a new good habit, and as soon as you turn your head, that new habit is gone – poof!

Well, I’ve been noticing that all the new habits I’m trying to build all at once are stretching my will power beyond its limits (did you know that we have a limited supply of will power? It’s true!). I’ve been trying to exercise more, eat better, take better care of my home, be more productive at work, tend this blog, be nicer to myself… And, in the past, I would have trundled along, just feeling like a failure; saying to myself, “why can’t I just DO these things? What’s the matter with me!?”

However, after going through the savoring experiment and learning how to look inward, I have been able to actually see what I’m doing to myself. I’m simply expecting too much. It’s no wonder I’ve been feeling like a tornado in the middle of a hurricane – I’ve been spreading myself far too thin.

Here’s how I’m getting back on track

I need to prioritize the areas that I want to focus on, so that I can apply the appropriate amount of effort and determination (i.e. will power) toward each one. So here is the order in which I have decided to give a shit about things.

  1. Prepare for the Spartan This damn race is happening on June 1 whether I’m ready for it or not, and I’ve already booked my flights, my hotel room and my place in the race, so I’m IN THE RACE. And pardon me when I say I’m fucking terrified, since I’m so far behind schedule on training. I am going to need all my will power to keep myself on track with a six-day-a-week training schedule.
  2. Eat healthier This goes hand-in-hand with my #1 priority, but it doesn’t come naturally to me, so it takes will power to choose broccoli over french fries as a side, or fruit over Goldfish crackers for a snack. I will never choose anything over bacon, so don’t even go there. In any case, I’m not going to beat myself up over my food choices.
  3. Do my daily chores I started my new routine last week, and my reminders have been working pretty well. But, when I haven’t been able to empty the dishwasher because I didn’t start it the night before, I’ve been chastising myself. That stops today. I’m doing the best I can with the energy I have to put towards this. I’m not going to stop the reminders, but I AM going to cut myself some slack when I choose not to do something because it’s a lower priority than #1 and #2.
  4. Be more productive at work Screw this and the horse it rode in on. Kidding. Sort of. I’m actually doing much better at this lately, after spending some time reviewing my priorities and partnering with my boss to determine what she believes is really important. As for doing better, well, we’ll worry about that if I live through the Spartan. For now, I’m just going to make sure that I’m getting my job done well.

So there you have it folks. The top four things I’m going to put all my energy into. If it ain’t on this list, I ain’t got time for it.

making time for top priorities

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My new housekeeping routine

A clean kitchen will be maintained through a new housekeeping routineNothing like expecting house guests to kickstart a whole-house cleaning! This past weekend, we had family and friends in from out of town to celebrate our daughter’s 4th birthday (which happens to be today – happy birthday, Emma!), and the house looked pretty darn good by the time they all arrived!

My husband spearheaded the effort, and did spectacular work. I followed behind, polishing mirrors, organizing toys, matching socks, making beds, and vacuuming what he’d already vacuumed when my daughter made a mess with an animal cracker snack explosion in the living room.

Every time we get the house looking good, I vow to keep it up. I mean, it’s easier to maintain a clean house than it is to clean a dirty one, right? Well, I haven’t managed to make it happen yet. But, this time is different!

A while back, I talked about how I thought my housekeeping routine might be holding me back from actually doing any housework. Basically, I believe that the sheer number of things to do was so daunting that I couldn’t face doing even one of them.

Even after writing that post I didn’t do much to change, until today. At lunch today, I took a few minutes and deleted all of the many, many housekeeping tasks that I had plugged into Remember the Milk (RTM) so long ago. It was surprisingly liberating to see the list completely empty.

It didn’t stay empty for long, though! I added in several daily tasks that I want to be reminded of, at least in the first few weeks of developing better habits. Those daily tasks are:

  • Make the bed
  • Empty the dishwasher
  • Quick clutter check
  • Check the mail
  • Feed the dogs
  • Do the laundry
  • Make dinner
  • Load the dishwasher
  • Plan for tomorrow

Each of these tasks has a timed reminder set for it. For example, making the bed and emptying the dishwasher are morning tasks, and I’ll be reminded by RTM to take care of them each weekday morning at 6:15 and 6:18am (and on weekends at 8 and 8:30am), respectively.  Everything else is an evening task, and I’ll be reminded appropriately for each of those tasks, too.

I’m already doing some of these things automatically (making dinner and feeding the dogs, for example), but not necessarily at the same time every day. Some days, I don’t remember to feed the dogs until it’s almost bedtime, and that hardly seems fair to them.

Once these few things have become rote, I will remove the reminders, and will plug some weekly chores into RTM. Tasks like filing paperwork, dusting, vacuuming, watering plants… As of now, these are things that tend to happen only when it becomes painfully obvious that they’re needed (or when company’s coming). Eventually, I hope to keep up with them more regularly.

Bottom line – if I can train myself to take care of the basics, the house will be in much better shape, and moving on to the weekly things will be a natural progression. Plus, the weekly chores won’t take long to do, since the house will basically be tidy. At least, that’s the plan…

Do you need to reboot your housekeeping routine? What can you do to make a positive change?

Recipe: chicken tortilla soup

This is another incredibly flavorful soup. If you’ve shied away from tortilla soup for fear of it being too spicy, I can tell you that this soup isn’t spicy, just very well spiced. Every sip is like fireworks for your mouth. It is sweet, tart, tangy, sour, meaty and savory, with a hint of heat that warms the belly, without overpowering the tongue.

IngredientsChicken Tortilla Soup

  • 1 pound shredded cooked chicken
  • 8 cups chicken stock
  • juice from 5 limes
  • 2 teaspoons Worcestershire sauce
  • 1 chopped, seeded jalapeño
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
  • 1/2 cup diced fresh tomato
  • 1/2 cup chopped red bell pepper
  • 3 finely chopped green onions
  • 1/4 cup rice
  • 1/2 cup sweet corn
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt

Toppings:

  • 1 cup shredded cheddar/jack cheese
  • crispy tortilla strips

Directions

  1. Simmer chicken stock, Worcestershire and lime juices with jalapeño and cilantro for 45 minutes.
  2. Strain soup and return to stovetop.
  3. Add chicken, green onion, tomato, bell pepper, rice, corn and garlic, and simmer for 20 additional minutes.
  4. Serve immediately with toppings (cheese and crispy tortilla strips).

Makes 6 servings.

Nutritional Information

  • calories: 382
  • total fat: 15
  • carbohydrates: 37
  • protein: 26

Increase productivity with ambient noise

Increase productivity with ambient coffee shop noise from coffitivity.com

Turns out it’s harder to be creative in a completely quiet space. Moderate ambient noise, like the sound in a coffeehouse, helps. So, the folks behind coffitivity.com recorded several minutes of coffee shop activity, and now you can recreate the coffeehouse vibe in the comfort of your own office, bedroom, backyard…  wherever!

I have been listening to it while creating this post, and it is great! The recording is good quality, and includes conversation, chairs moving, laughter, utensils clinking, doors opening, and other generic thumps and thuds. The noise ebbs and flows, and I found myself nudged back to my writing by the sounds after having drifted off in my head. The recording is a little over nine minutes long, and it loops automatically (you have to start it manually, though, which I like, since it gives you an opportunity to plug in headphones, if you desire). It’s wonderful stuff, and I highly recommend it!

I’ve bookmarked the website for use at work and here at home. Great stuff!

If you use it, come back and tell us what you thought! I’m really curious to know whether it helps you.

Photo credit: QuesterMark

Today is the day

Don't procrastinate - today is the day to do all the things you've always wanted to doWhy wait another day? What do you gain by waiting? A better question: what do you lose by waiting?

Today is the day that I’m going to the gym to replace my lost membership card. I’ve waited months to do this, hoping that I would find it. In the meantime, I’ve lost out on many opportunities to improve my health, my fitness, my strength… I’ve lost so many chances to prepare myself for the Spartan.

Today, I’m done waiting. Today, I choose to do something about it. Today, I will do just one thing to move toward being the strong, slender, healthy, fit woman who looks better at 40 than she did at 30.

What one thing can you do today that will move you towards something you’ve always wanted to do?

Image source: Mattie

Finding Zen Experiment: Savoring

Recap (Week 4)

During Week 3, I realized that I was savoring multiple things each day, without making a concerted effort to do so. In fact, it became harder to pick just one thing as the week went on. In Week 4, I savored a number of things each day: tasks, chores, activities, quiet time, meals… I found myself slipping almost automatically into a focused state quite frequently, which was really neat.

When I chose this experiment, I had hoped it would give me some tools for dealing with my tendency to rely heavily on escapism. At the beginning, in Week 1, I needed to specifically pick something each day to savor, and then walk myself through the steps of savoring the activity. As the days went on during Week 2, while I was still choosing a specific thing to savor each day, I found I was no longer consciously following the steps. It became much easier to flow into the savoring mentality. By Week 3, I was mid-savor before I realized what I was doing, so I was pretty much deciding upon my daily choice post-savor!

During the final week – Week 4 – I found myself simply savoring things frequently throughout the day, without consciously deciding to savor anything in particular. That’s why I stopped posting daily updates on Facebook and Twitter, and why I am not including a daily recap of items savored in this final recap of the experiment. I was simply savoring too many things to choose just one, every single day.

That was a glorious discovery – realizing that I could savor without deciding to savor. It meant that I had reached a comfort level with myself, since savoring requires that you accept that you’re doing the exact right thing at any given moment.

This experiment has given me more than I’d hoped to get out of it, and I intend to continue to be mindful of opportunities to savor each day. However, my hope is that I am able to simply flow into the savoring mindset frequently throughout the day, without having to consciously choose. I feel as though that would be a step back, but I’ll certainly keep tabs on it, and will do my best to keep practicing these new skills, so that I don’t end up where I started. I like where I’m at now too much to let myself backslide.

Thanks for coming on this journey of discovery with me!

This is the last post in this series – what did you think? Would you like me to try another experiment? What would you be interested in seeing me do?

Just… can’t… focus…

When dealing with overwhelm at work, I often struggle with analysis paralysis.  Heard of it?  It’s the inability to choose one option, when presented with a boatload of options.  That’s a scientific term right there – boatload.

analysis paralysis do mindless tasks instead

So many Pop Tarts! Which one to choose?

Now, where was I again?  Oh, yes – trying to pick which task to start on first at work.  So damn many choices!  How do I pick just one!?  What if I don’t pick the right one?  What if…Squirrel!

Well, on the days when everything is important, but nothing is urgent, and you just. can’t. focus…  The option might be to choose “none of the above”.

“Blasphemy!” you say?  I say, “No!”  In a University of California, Davis study cited by Erin Doland in a couple of posts on Unclutterer, it was found that over-worked employees who introduced mindless tasks into their daily routine enjoyed enhanced efficiency and creativity.  In a November 2011 article, Erin provides a great list of mindless, but absolutely useful, tasks that often go undone.

Recently, I employed this tactic on a day when I just wasn’t feelin’ it, and I went down the list, item by item, and completed each one.  Here’s Erin’s list, and what I did with it.

  • File.  I keep my work files up to date, so I reorganized my files a bit, to eliminate a stand-alone file cart that I was able to move out of my workspace.
  • Review your bulletin board. I don’t use a bulletin board, so I reviewed the papers in my reference files.
  • Clean your work surface.  I disinfected my work surface, keyboard, mouse and phones – desk and mobile.  I even disinfected my lotion bottle, since I use that several times a day.
  • Enter info off business cards.  I plugged in a couple of business cards I found while moving my file folders around.
  • Back up your computer.  This is taken care of by our IT department, so I decided to clean up my computer desktop, and moved/deleted files as necessary.
  • Unclutter your bookshelves.  I used to use a lot of binders in my daily life (before moving almost to exclusively digital files), and I had held onto several from two years ago.  I cleaned them out, and placed the empty binders into a community supply area for my still-analog coworkers to use.
  • Equipment check.  Erin recommends taking stock of all your electronics – are you using all of it?  Do you know how to use all of it?  I don’t have any equipment I’m not using, so I took this time to review the apps on my iPhone, and ended up deleting a few.
  • Restock.  I went “supply shopping” when I dropped off my old binders, and picked up some paper clips and some more correction tape I’d been a bit low on.

The mindless work took the better part of the morning, and by lunchtime, my desk was the envy of the neighborhood. I felt better in the space, too.  The desktop was clean and well organized.  I had put away many of the papers that had been nagging at me, causing a surprising amount of mental drain, and I felt lighter and freer of mind.

Coolest part?  I was able to crank out two major deliverables that afternoon.  I was surprised by the boon I experienced.  I had more energy that afternoon, and was really able to focus on my work.

The benefits have lasted a few weeks now, since my workspace is still clutter-free and organized.  I have come in each morning to a clean desktop, empty in-box, and a calmer workspace.  I still have more to do than I can get to, so the overwhelm still exists, but my workspace certainly promotes a calmer environment in which to feel overwhelmed.

What I haven’t done yet is to add mindless tasks to my daily schedule at work.  The study found that the effects were greatest when the mindless work was intermingled with the mindful work – the employees had to switch from mindful work to mindless work and then back again, in order to experience the increased efficiency and creativity.  Therefore, taking a morning to be mindless was great, but if I want to reap ongoing benefits, I should schedule the upkeep of my desk into my day on a regular basis.

Will you try this?  Have you tried this?  How did it affect you?  What mindless tasks do you have on your schedule?