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?

I’m very disorganized, and I know exactly why

disorganized paper

…what my paper problem feels like

I love all things Organize. Anything at all relating to organizing. Books, blogs, articles, products… I love ’em. I have so many books, bookmarked blogs, Pocketed articles, and yes, products, that they’ve become clutter, and now contribute to my chronic disorganization.

Just last night, I was trying to find the invitations I’d purchased for my daughter’s birthday party, and I knew right where I’d put them (to keep them safe, of course), but they weren’t there. I knew I’d placed them in the spot where I was looking, but when they didn’t turn up there, I didn’t trust myself enough to believe that I would have left them there. That trust would have prompted me to check in the immediate vicinity, and without it, I began a whole house search for the invites. My clever husband checked behind a nearby play kitchen, and found them wedged between the cabinet and the back of the play kitchen. Whew!

I believe that part of my problem with being disorganized at home (because I’m incredibly organized at work) is that I have never paid much attention to how I or my family actually function in our home. I’ve read enough organizing advice to know that every organizing system will fail if it doesn’t match up well with how a family actually lives.

Monitoring how we live and discerning why the clutter piles up has always seemed like so much work that I have never devoted any time to it at all. I just make assumptions about stuff, and institute a new organizing solution. When that solution fails, I get frustrated, but move right along to the next one. And the next one. And the one after that. I can’t tell you how many mail sorting solutions I’ve instituted, and abandoned. The one we have now isn’t working, either. But it was expensive, and it looks nice, so I’m keeping it for a while longer. Not sure why, but I am. So there.

Knowing that the real solution to our clutter and organization problems lies in studying US, not our STUFF, I need to bite the bullet and just start really paying attention to how we actually handle ourselves and our stuff when we walk in the door. Oh, and I should probably place a moratorium on buying any new organizing products during this time frame, too.

Are you satisfied with your level of organization? Have you always been organized, or did you teach yourself how to be organized?

My revised laundry plan

Source: moderncountry.blogspot.comI have already established that I will not be winning any awards for having the tidiest house, despite having the most incredibly detailed weekly cleaning schedule on the planet. I also mentioned that I am trying to reframe my view on doing the dishes, so that I’m more apt to actually do them.

I made some good progress this past week on keeping up with the dishes. I wasn’t perfect about it, but I did get the dishes cleaned up more often than I didn’t, so I’m doing better than I had been. The past two days, I’ve even emptied the clean dishes from the dishwasher before leaving for work, so that my sweet husband can load the dishwasher throughout the day. And, if he doesn’t get around to doing that, I can load the dishwasher with their dirty dishes when I get home tonight.

So, now that I’ve made my peace with dishes and feeling good about that, I want to try to use that momentum to try to get back on track with laundry. For the past few months, my husband has been doing most of the laundry. However, his version of laundry and my version of laundry (when I bother to do it), are different. I like to take things out of the dryer immediately, and hang or fold them, so that I don’t have to iron anything. He doesn’t mind ironing, so he tends to leave laundry in the dryer for a couple days, and pulls that stuff out when it’s time to do the next load.

I can hardly complain since he’s doing my laundry for me, but I still get frustrated at having wrinkly, clean clothes. But, hey – rather than be grumpy about having to iron, I could take 10 minutes out of every couple days to do a load of laundry, right?

Let me explain how I get off track with laundry in the first place.

I have been working from a schedule where I do a load of laundry every day. Whites on Monday, lights on Tuesday, darks Wednesday, kid clothes Thursday, bath towels Friday, a rotating batch on Saturday (kitchen towels, dog mats, or bath mats), and bed linens on Sunday. The problem with this schedule is that once I do one week’s worth, the following week, I don’t have enough for a full load for the first four days, and then I’m immediately thrown off my routine.

I know I should simply be grateful that I don’t have to do a load of laundry every day for eternity, but if I don’t do the exact same thing when I get home every day, then I start getting into a different routine (sit on couch, play with kid, make dinner, go to bed).

So, I started to think – what if doing the laundry didn’t mean doing a load every single day, and I still followed my basic routine, but I did a load every other day, and the routine just took a bit longer to work through? I could still have a laundry chore every day – on day one I run the wash and dry cycles, and fold and hang the clothes, and on day two, I put the clothes away. Then I start the following day with the next load, and two days later with the next load… I’m still making my way into the laundry room every single day, which is the habit that I need to develop, but I’m not running out of clothes to wash, because my routine takes two weeks instead of one week.

Here’s my new two-week-long routine:

  • Monday/Tuesday – Whites
  • Wednesday/Thursday – Lights
  • Friday/Saturday – Darks
  • Sunday/Monday – Kid Clothes
  • Tuesday/Wednesday – Bath Towels
  • Thursday/Friday – Bed Linens
  • Saturday/Sunday – One of the following: Kitchen Towels, Dog Mats, or Bath Mats*

*I thought about doing two loads of my rotating batch items each cycle, but the reality is that for the past few months, I haven’t been washing these items at all, so washing one of them every 2 weeks seems like a huge improvement.

I’ve created a little printout of this routine and will post it above the washer/dryer, so that my husband and I both know what day is what, in case he has time on his hands and wants to help out with the laundry now and then.

Laundry routine

There are a bunch of clean clothes in the laundry room that need to be put away (thank you for doing laundry, my love!!!), so I’ll work on doing that tonight, before starting my routine mid-cycle with Darks tomorrow.

How do you keep up with laundry? Do you have a routine that you stick to? Or do you do laundry once a week only?

Why is doing the dishes so hard?

Doing the dishes. Simple, right? No big deal, you say? Wrong. Doing the dishes is a major stumbling block for me.

I honestly have no idea why it’s so hard. I am a responsible adult. Seems like doing the dishes should be something that comes naturally. But it doesn’t. I’m not in the habit of washing dishes after meals. Also contributing to the dilemma is that my husband isn’t either, and he works from home, so I could leave the kitchen all tidy in the morning, only to come home to a pile of dirty dishes after work on a daily basis. In fact, many days, that’s precisely what happens.

So, I get grumpy and leave the dirty dishes. For days. And then I get grumpier, because they’re still there. Sounds juvenile, right? So much for being a responsible adult.

It occurs to me that I need to adjust my perspective. My husband works from home, while simultaneously watching our daughter. That’s two full time jobs right there. He’s probably feeling just as overwhelmed as I do.

Maybe if I look at doing the dishes as a gift to him (because, who doesn’t love a clean kitchen?), I will be less grumpy about doing them. I don’t expect a miraculous new habit to form overnight, but if I can just change how I look at the chore, maybe it will seem less like a burden, and more like an opportunity to do something kind for someone I love and respect.

Are you good about keeping the dishes perpetually clean? Have you always been?

My detailed housekeeping schedule = Epic Fail

The kitchen today. Le sigh.

I’m not even kidding with this title. Several years ago, before kids and before two dogs, I created the most elaborate cleaning schedule you’ve ever seen. I created it in Excel, and then entered the whole massive thing, task by task into RememberTheMilk.

Tangent: Do you know about RememberTheMilk (RTM)? It’s a fantastic tool for task lists, birthday reminders, other stuff you don’t want to forget about… I’ve used it for many years. You should check it out if you’re looking for something like that.

I spent hours upon hours doing all of this. With the amount of time I spent creating this bizarrely complicated schedule, I could have cleaned the whole house top to bottom, inside and out. No lie.

I included weekly, monthly, quarterly and annual tasks, and set them all up to recur automatically on schedule. I even created a laundry schedule, so that I didn’t have to do all of the laundry on one day, which had always overwhelmed me.

And, it worked… sort of… for a while… I started doing one load of laundry a day, I had a few quick housekeeping chores to manage each day, and the housework ran smoothly for a couple months. But, when I started getting really busy at work again (each year, I get really busy June through October, and work a ton of overtime), my routine fell to shit, and the housework and laundry started to pile up around me again.

I think the problem is that my beautiful, elaborate, extensive, big, all-inclusive list of chores is incredibly overwhelming. I mean, the fact of the matter is that I don’t want to delete it all out of RTM because it took me so very long to put in there in the first place.

There are more than a hundred recurring tasks in there related to the management of our household. MORE THAN A HUNDRED. That’s not an exaggeration. AND, it’s only MY portion of the chores! It doesn’t include things that my husband is responsible for – things like home repairs, lawn mowing, garbage day, etc.

So, um, why do you suppose I’m feeling overwhelmed and avoiding doing any housework?

I swear, we wouldn't have clean laundry if it wasn't for my wonderful husband.

I haven’t worked up the courage to delete all of the RTM tasks yet, but I think that a different approach is probably in order. I have some ideas, but they are a fairly radical departure from what I currently not doing, so I haven’t taken the plunge yet. I’ll share some of my ideas next week. Until then…

What does your housekeeping routine look like? How far behind in your laundry are YOU (please say I’m not alone)?

Microfiber is awesome

Have you ever wiped down a mirror, only to leave behind a bazillion streaks?  I have.  Feels like I’ve done it a bazillion times.  Makes me crazy.  Cray-zay.  So crazy, in fact, that I stopped wiping down mirrors because I couldn’t do it without leaving streaks, no matter what I did.  Can you say eew!?  My mirrors were pretty disgusting.

One day, maybe two years ago, I stumbled upon some microfiber cleaning cloths that are labeled as specifically for glass and mirrors.  I bought two of them, and stored one in the kitchen, and the other in the master bath.  And then promptly forgot about them (you may have read about how I hate to clean).

Fast forward to a few months ago.  It’s unseasonably warm, all our windows are grimy, and the house needs to be aired out.  I don’t want to use a whole roll of paper towels on the windows, and I start to get a little irritating memory scratching at the back of my brain.  I have something for this.  I bought something that would do this job.  I should go look for that thing.

So, I start digging under the kitchen sink, and come up with my two-year-old-but-still-pristine microfiber cloth.  I read the instructions (get it wet with tap water, wring it out thoroughly, and start wiping), and it’s off to the races.  I cleaned the inside and outside of two sets of 7′ tall windows, plus two more sets of glass doors, and the powder room mirror in less than 10 minutes, and all without any streaks.  None.  Not a single streak!

I don’t know how this magical microfiber cloth really works, but I don’t have to, do I?  It just does, and that is good enough for me.  Since the first use, I’ve cleaned all the bathrooms’ mirrors more frequently.  No spots left on these babies, no sir!

What tool have you used that has improved or simplified a household chore for you?