Category Archives: Organization

Christmas shopping tips

We might still be approximately three months away, but it’s not too early to start thinking about Christmas gifts! My husband and I actually started this conversation this past weekend as we try to get on top of things before the mad rush from black Friday onwards. Here are some things that you can do to save time and money this holiday period:

(1) Set a budget – Many people suggest spending 1.5% of your gross annual income on dollar-660223_960_720.pngChristmas gifts, travel, and food. In 2014, the average gross family income was $65,751 according to Motley Fool, 1.5% of which is $986.27.  This seems like a lot of money to spend on the holiday, but when you think about the costs outside of gifts, such as food, entertainment, and travel, it makes sense.

(2) Start early enough so that you have a list of gifts for each person. You might be able to track prices on apps like Cartwheel so that you can purchase these items when they are at their lowest price, or at the very least do your research before Black Friday so you can check for big sales on the items you are looking for.

(3) Remember that it’s the thought that counts. Some of the best gifts that I have ever received have been those that were homemade or were tied to an experience that I shared with my loved ones.

(4) Enjoy your time with your family!  Don’t spend so much time focused on gifts and shopping that you lose sight of what is really important, which is time with those whom you love.  christmas-family-time

(5) Are there things that you could make for your family that would save you money and would also mean more to them? Last year I made a range of cosmetic products for my family including an aftershave balm, foot cream, moisturizing cream, and lip balm made from natural ingredients and essential oils.  These were a big hit, and fun to make as well!

(7) Take advantage of layaway so that you pay ahead of time, rather than opening up crippling lines of credit that will continue to grow with interest charges.

(8) Make intelligent decisions about using Christmas bonuses. Don’t plan on spending a huge Christmas bonus which fails to materialize.

(9) Don’t buy gifts just for the sake of buying gifts.  This tends to happen when you wait until the last minute and are walking aimlessly around the store looking for something, anything that you could get for the last person on your list.  You end up buying them something that they don’t want or need, and holds no meaning.  This is disappointing for both of you!

(10) Don’t worry about keeping up with the Jones – it might seem like you can handle the 2fb766eb1dc54a762648ee369217e318--fathers-day-ideas-fathers-day-craftshigh spending habits of your friends, but no one gets an award for spending the most money during the holiday season. Is it really worth it to blow through your budget only to spend the next several months trying to get your head above water and out of debt?  Remember what the holiday is truly about, and don’t get carried away by the hype.

Hopefully these tips are helpful, and as I stated above, it’s never too early to get started!  The sooner you are finished with your shopping, the sooner you get to spend quality time with family during the holiday season.



Tips for maintaining a clean home

Our third child is due in mid-November, and I have officially entered “nesting mode.” Image result for pregnant nesting With the other two, I was going strong up until right before they were born; I shampooed the carpets in the week before my second was born, and even attended a concert on the day of!  However, this one feels a little different and I am losing steam much more quickly.  Therefore, I felt it was important to start the cleaning early so I don’t have to worry about being unable to do it later on.  The problem with this is the chance of the house being destroyed between now and my due date, so I have to focus on maintenance, which is not my strong suit so I have come up with a few rules to follow to help me out.  If it isn’t yours either, maybe you will be able to use these tips as you are working to maintain a tidy home!

  1. Laundry – start a load every morning.  If you go to work and don’t want to leave wet clothes sitting in the wash all day, look for a delay start function on your washer and set it for about an hour before you get home.  Also, try to have a basket for each person, as well as towels so you can separate straight out of the dryer instead of creating an additional task for yourself.
  2. Batch toilets – I hate toilet brushes, and have gotten rid of all of ours.  Clorox wands have disposable brush heads with cleaner built inside.  This is a convenient and sanitary way to keep your toilets clean; however, it’s not as cost-effective as a reusable brush.  So to cut down on use, I try to clean all toilets at the same time and reuse the brush head a few times to get more out of each one.  Even if you use brushes, cleaning all toilets at the same time is a great way to stay on track and ensure that toilets are all clean.
  3. Have a drawer for all paperwork and bills so that things don’t get lost – having one specific drawer for these items keeps things organized and minimizes the chance that something will get lost or misplaced.
  4. Straighten up before bed – when I come down in the morning to a tidy house, I am much more likely to keep it that way throughout the day.  On the other hand, if I come down to a mess, it is likely to get worse before better.  This is certainly a mental thing on my part, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who experiences it!
  5. Break up tasks – instead of lying in bed thinking “tomorrow, I’m cleaning the whole house!” and then feeling like a failure the next night when you haven’t done much Broom, Ragpicker, Mop, Picker, Toilet, Cleaningat all, try breaking up your tasks each day.  For my “baby cleaning,” I set a seven day schedule for myself that covered all parts of my house, but was broken up enough that I didn’t feel overwhelmed.  I found a few templates online, but in the end decided to come up with my own schedule, specific to my home and my preferences.  This was for a deep clean, but for maintenance purposes you can use the same list; you will just have less to do after the first time!
  6. Go digital with as many things as you possibly can – this is less about cleaning and more about being prepared, but setting things up online is a great way to stay on top of things and make sure you don’t get behind.  This includes utilizing auto-payments whenever you can, as well as automatic shipping on household items, such as toilet paper, diapers, laundry detergent, etc. to make sure you don’t run out.
  7. Remotes for lights – this saves both time and money and is something that we have found extremely useful.  I prefer lamps to overhead lighting, so I have a lot aroundLight, Lamp, Bedside Lamp, Illumination, Lampshade the house in various places.  We had some remotes for our Christmas lights and this year instead of packing them away, we have continued using them for the lights in our house.  When the sun goes down, I simply have to press a few buttons to turn the lights on, and at the end of the night do the same to turn them off.  Rather than walking around flipping a ton of switches multiple times a day, this simple tool saves so much time and also prevents leaving lamps on, leading to a spike in the electric bill.

Hopefully these tips help you as much as they have helped me!  Do you have anything else you like to do that I have forgotten?  Please put it in the comments below, and as usual, Expect the Exceptional in everything you do!

Tricks when traveling with children

After our recent overseas trip to visit family in England, I once again realized how incredibly difficult it is to travel with children.  What is already an exhausting journey is multiplied 10-fold when you are joined by young travel-mates.  I thought I was prepared for this adventure, but there were some things I didn’t think of that I wanted to pass along in the hopes that it will help someone else!  Here are a few tips that I have either tried, or wish I would have tried!

(1) Take snacks with you – this is obvious, but I would recommend finding some snacks that you are allowed to take on board that actually provide some sustenance to your kids.  I packed a ton of suckers, but thankfully my mom packed a travel bag for the boys with yogurt raisins and a surprising favorite, beef jerky.  Snacks were at times the only thing that would calm them down and I felt terrible constantly feeding them pointless sugars.

(2) Give them their own suitcase or bag to be responsible for – we tried to limit our carry-Resized_20170305_084239on luggage this time around, but we did have my son’s small suitcase on wheels that held our extra clothes.  He was in charge of pulling this through the airport, and not only was it adorable but it gave him something to do that distracted him from wanting to be held.

(3) Pack a car seat – If you need a car seat at your destination, take yours with you!  The first year we traveled with our oldest, we requested that the taxis taking us to and from the airport have a car seat.  The ones they provided were very outdated and the cab drivers had no idea how to install them.  Needless to say, I was very nervous while in the car and we decided never to do that again!

(4) Pack extra clothes – there has been more than one occasion where our luggage was delayed or “misplaced” and we were left scrambling for a few days, washing the same clothes over and over, as well as purchasing new clothes to hold us over.  I now make sure one of our carry-on bags includes extra outfits for everyone, just in case.  Also, when you have children, there is always the chance the clothes they are wearing will be destroyed and it’s nice to have extras if you need them!

(5) Remember sanitizing wipes – I recently read that your tray is the dirtiest part of the airplane.  Which is gross, as this is where your food goes!  I brought along wipes and made sure to clean off the trays as soon as we sat down.

(6) Pack refillable cups – after our apple juice was sent flying, I decided it was time to pull out the water bottles I had packed and use those for the remainder of the flight.  I asked the flight attendants to fill those during drink service and no longer had to stress about spilling.

(7) Try to stay calm – the first time I flew with a young child, I was so worried about what everyone else was thinking.  If he made the slightest noise, I would try to quiet him downbaby-215303_960_720 and it just made me so much more stressed than I needed to be.  This time, I just focused on my boys and their well-being and it made for a much happier flight.  When my 21-month old was crying, I focused on comforting him and remembered that he was exhausted, instead of worrying about what the people around me were thinking.  That being said, you shouldn’t let your child run wild and do things that are purposely disturbing others, like kicking seats or throwing food.

(8) Look for free seats – when flying with a lap child, an extra seat is like gold.  The first time we flew with our oldest, the man checking us into the flight let us know that he switched our row so we could have an extra seat for the baby.  Laying him down in the seat next to me while he slept almost brought tears to my eyes, as it was so difficult for him to sleep in my lap.  This time, we kept our eyes peeled and before the flight had even taken off, my husband had checked with the flight attendant and found a free row of seats for half of the family to sit in.  The flight was so much more enjoyable for everyone with a little extra breathing room.

Hopefully these tips will help make your life more convenient as you travel to your next destination.  If you have any more ideas, please include them in the comments below!

Do you manage time or does time manage you?

Time management is one of those ideas that is frequently discussed due to it’s importance in everything that everyone does. Despite the available literature, numerous training seminars, and ever increasing number of apps to help with this part of life, it always seems to be something that causes stress to the majority of the population. Here we take a quick look at 11 ideas that will help you to be more efficient in your daily activities.

1. Delegate Tasks: It is common to take on more tasks than we can, or should, handle. This can often result in stress, burnout, missed deadlines and a reduction in the quality of products. Delegation is not running away from your responsibilities but is an important function of management. Learn the art of delegating work to your colleagues based on their skills and abilities.

2. Prioritize Your Work Tasks: Before the start of the day, make a list of tasks that need your immediate attention as unimportant tasks can consume much of your precious time. Some tasks need to be completed on that day only, while other tasks could be carried forward to next day.  In short, prioritize your tasks to focus on those that are more important. Try listing just three tasks that MUST be completed that day. Once you have completed those tasks, anything else is a bonus!

 3. Avoid Procrastination: Procrastination is one of the things that negatively affects productivity. It can result in wasting essential time and energy and should be avoided at all costs. It could be a major problem in both your career and your personal life if not handled correctly. Instead of putting things off, letting tasks build up, and becoming overwhelmed, try breaking them down into bite-sized pieces.

4. Schedule Tasks: Carry a planner or notebook with you and list all the tasks that come to your mind. Make a simple ‘To Do’ list before the start of the day, prioritize the tasks, google-keepand make sure that they are attainable. To better manage your time management skills, you may think of making 3 lists: work, home, and personal. There are also numerous organization apps available that can help with this process. Two that I frequently use are Asana and Google Keep. Have a favorite organization app? Please share it in the comment box below.

5. Avoid Stress: Stress often occurs when we accept more work than our ability will allow us to complete. The result is that your body starts feeling tired which can then negatively affect your productivity. Instead, delegate tasks to your colleagues and make sure to leave some time for relaxation.

6. Set up Deadlines: When you have a task at hand, set a realistic deadline and stick to it. Try to set a deadline a few days before the task is due so that you can complete all those tasks that may get in the way. Challenge yourself and meet the deadline. Reward yourself for meeting a difficult challenge with some well deserved relaxation and time away from work.

7. Avoid Multitasking: Most of us feel that multitasking is an efficient way of getting things done but the truth is that we do better when we focus and concentrate on one thing. Multitasking often hampers productivity and should be avoided to improve time management skills.

 8. Start Early: Most successful people have one thing in common. They start their day early as it gives them time to sit, think, and plan their day. When you get up early, you pexels-photo-207247are more calm, creative, and clear-headed. As the day progresses, your energy levels start going down which affects your productivity and you don’t perform as well. The other great thing about starting the day early is that there are less distractions that can get in your way and prevent you from achieving your goals. Believe me, as a mother of two (soon to be three 🙂 ) I know how important it is to get the ball rolling before my two ‘assistants’ wake up!

9. Take Some Breaks: Whenever you find yourself a spare 10-15 minutes, be sure to take a break. Too much stress can take toll on your body and affect your productivity. Take a walk, listen to some music or do some quick stretches. The best idea is to take off from work and spend time with your friends and family. Relax, freshen up, recharge your batteries and then get back to it!

10. Learn to say No: Politely refuse to accept additional tasks if you think that you’re already overloaded with work. Take a look at your ‘To Do’ list before agreeing to take on extra work.

11. Does it really need to be done?: According to Planet of Success, the idea of using four quadrants to determine the priority of a task was introduced by American keynote time-management-matrix-stephen-covey-royal-servicesspeaker Stephen Covey, author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. Covey’s system makes use of four different quadrants that allow you to prioritize tasks in relation to their importance and urgency, helping you to decide whether you need to address a task immediately or if you can postpone it, or if you can just completely ignore it. Don’t waste your time working on things that aren’t urgent, or important.

Please take a moment to check out this great Time Management video from Randy Pausch, the legendary Carnegie Mellon University professor, and organization guru.

What are some ways in which you manage your time efficiently and effectively? What are some techniques that you have tried that haven’t worked so well? Please share your comments in the box below, and until next time, Expect the Exceptional in everything that you do.

Ah! Distractions!

I sat down to write this blog approximately 3 hours ago.  But then I remembered something I needed to research for my photography business.  Oh look!  Someone commented on the picture I posted on Facebook this morning.  Definitely need to check that out.  And while I’m at it, I’ll go ahead and peruse the news feed – oh geez, another political article.  There are so many out there, but it’s my civic duty, so I will read it to be well-informed.  And I’d better check out the related links under the article as well, because why not?  Ugh, taking forever to load.  Anything good on the DVR?  Yes, new How To Get Away With Murder!  PLAY! …15 minutes later… commercial.  Instead of fast-forwarding, I will use this time wisely to get back to work.  Oh look, video loaded.  I waited this long, may as well watch it.  Commercial’s over!  Time for more murder.  Oh, speaking of murder, I have so many true crime books I want to read.  Maybe I’ll just pop on my library’s website and see if they have any new ebooks available.  Uh-oh.  Boys are awake.  Has it really been that long since they fell asleep?  Did I really waste an entire naptime?  WHEN BOTH BOYS WERE NAPPING AT THE SAME TIME, I.E. THE HOLY GRAIL?????????


Most days are not this bad.  Typically I manage to finish my work whether the boys are awake or asleep, and at the very least I can wait until Boy #2 is sleeping and give Boy #1 my pho – I mean, a very educational puzzle to put together while I’m working.  But for some reason, today was bad.  Which made me wonder, what super awesome tips can I find online that will help me focus on days when it is hard?  So I put on my blinders, and hopped online with the goal of ONLY looking at focus techniques, and here are the best of the best that I found.  I hope this helps you as much as I hope it helps me!

  1.  Practice – this is actually a tip from my very own brain* & **, so I have no idea if it works.  I earned my master’s degree in elementary education a couple of years ago.  One thing that I learned about helping young children focus on a book for a longer period of time is that they need to practice, and build up to it.  For example, start by asking them to read for three minutes at a time.  Then increase to five, then seven, then ten over the course of several weeks.  If this is something we had to learn, then surely we could use a refresher course every now and then!  This is not a quick fix by any means, but maybe start by focusing on one thing for 20 minutes.  That means no email, no phone, no TV, no anything except for what you need to accomplish.  Increase this time gradually until you no longer have to think about it, you can just sit down for an hour and accomplish the task at hand.  Just like most of us are able to read a book or article without stopping every time we hear a noise, surely this practice will help us to finish a task without getting completely off-track every time our email pings.
  2. Creativity first – sometimes I really dread having to come up with ideas out of my own head, and would much prefer doing a simple, mind-numbing task that would still allow me to feel accomplished at the end of the day.  Typically, this feeling of dread happens at the end of the day, when I have already dealt with full plates of food being thrown across the room, nap-time tantrums and most importantly, coming up with creative ideas to entertain my gloriously energetic boys!  Therefore, I would be better suited to handle the creative works at the beginning of the day, when my mind is fresh and full of ideas, and leave the menial tasks to the afternoon when I will inevitably be in a sluggish daze.
  3.  Set goals – I found a great tip for drinking your required ounces of water per day, which is to use a dry-erase marker and section off your bottle by times.  This way, you will look down and know how much water you need to drink by 11am, 2pm, etc.  It makes it seem much more manageable, and the same can be done for the tasks you need to accomplish at work each day.  This article suggests making your goals concrete, and determining which ones you will finish by a certain time of the day.  Breaking your goals up is a great way to trick your mind into thinking they’re nbd.
  4. Designate a space – this is more for people like me, working from home. The main thing that pulls me from my tasks is – well everything.  Every single thing around me.  The boys.  The TV.  My phone. Crumbs.  Noises.  Colors.  Crumbs.  So it might suit me to create a space for work purposes.  I just so happen to have a kitchen desk, which is also fittingly called a “mother’s desk,” as I’m sure many of you have as well.  And what do you use yours for?  Mine is displaying our wine.  So while the follow-up tip to this is to add pictures and “make it pretty,” I will be leaving mine as-is, thank you.  Just plop the laptop down and I’ll be having a far better time than people without wine at their desk!  (the only problem with using the kitchen desk is that the kitchen is where most of the crumbs are…)
  5. Stay off the internet – no, that isn’t a joke.  In fact, I think it’s the single most important tip I have listed.  Yes, we rely on email to communicate about work things.  And yes, we often need to get on the internet for work related reasons.  So my personal suggestion is to open the pages you often use, like your email and your work website, and try as much as possible to avoid all others.  There are billions of distractions online if we open ourselves up to them.  So do what you can to avoid them at all costs!  If it means actually blocking facebook (or whichever social media is your kryptonite) from your own computer, do it.   Leave that as your reward once you’ve clocked out.

I hope this helped, I know I learned a lot and I will certainly write an update in a month or two to let you know how it worked!

And if you’re so distracted by other things at work that you can’t manage to, oh, fix that leaky toilet?  These are your guys.  Give them a call and find out how much you can delegate and what important things can be moved to the top of your list!

*After writing this tip, I found the entrepreneur article and saw that number three was all about brain-training!  So I guess it’s a legitimate idea, thanks Entrepreneur!   Note they suggest starting at 5 minutes, instead of 20, so just see what works best for you!

** I swear I really, really did write this tip before starting my online search.  I am so much smarter than I thought I was.  Again, notice the time margins are much smaller to begin with than I suggested.  I mean, I’m not a doctor, so probably trust this guy.

Get started on your financial goals

As the new year approaches, it is easy to say to ourselves, “Next year is going to be different.  I’m going to be thin, rich, and much, much happier.”  Inevitably, next year will be quite similar to this year unless you put your mind to making a big change.   But what if you committed yourself to a small change?  Something that is easy to attain?  What if you made a small change in your finances that would help you reap big rewards down the road?

In this segment, I have compiled a list of finance-related tips for 2017 from a number of websites (all of which are linked).  There are so many tips out there, so I have found the ones that I feel are doable and will actually make a difference for a wide range of people.  I hope this helps get you on track for your financial goals in the coming year!

  1. Make saving automatic – it’s easy to say that you will put aside a portion of each paycheck, but when the time comes around, there are bills to pay and things you want that always seem much more important than saving for later.  But many banks offer an automatic deposit into your savings account.  Speak with a banker to find out what options are available to you, and figure out how much you can actually afford to save.  At the end of the year, you may be surprised at how much you’ve accumulated!
  2. Track your spending – an effective dieting strategy is writing down every bite of food you put into your mouth, and assessing where you are going wrong at the end of the day.  This is the same idea – write down every single penny you spend, then take a look to see where you could save.  You may even opt out of purchasing something unnecessary because you don’t want to put it on paper!  This diary will come in very handy when you are setting your new and improved monthly budget.

    Expenses Costs Track Spending Sticky Notes 3d Illustration

  3. Focus on your debt – no matter which financial strategy you follow, you won’t find one that tells you to get into more debt (unless your financial planner also works for your credit card company).  Debt is bad . And it creates more debt.  And while you may see getting out of it as impossible, take whatever steps necessary to accomplish that goal.  As your debts lessen, so do your monthly expenses.  Which leaves you more money to pay your debts.  Seems simple enough, right?  It isn’t.  But it can be done, so set your mind to it and make a change this year!
  4. Review your insurance coverage –  when you set up your health insurance, you might have been in family planning mode.  Now that you’re out of that phase, you might not need as much coverage.  Check it out and see if you could be saving money each month.
  5. Shop around for deals and discounts – it is certainly easier to buy everything at one place, but if you do your homework you might be able to save quite a bit of money by shopping at multiple locations.  Take advantage of sites like Ebates that offer cash back on purchases, but don’t get married to those sites.  Do the math and figure out which deal is actually best, when you take into consideration shipping, tax and rebates.
  6. Grocery shop online when possible – everyone has the best of intentions when they make a list to take to the store.  If we’re really intent on sticking to it, we make sure to eat first and set a shopping time limit.  But unless you are the most disciplined person in the world, chances are you will run across something you just have to have, or you “forgot” to add to your list.  When you shop online, you can type the items you need into the search bar, find the best deal and add to your cart.  There is little chance of purchasing items you don’t need, as you won’t be passing them at every turn.  Many places offer this now, and will even deliver for free if you spend a certain amount.
  7. Reflect on 2016 – how did things go this year?  Were you able to save money, pay off debts, or overcome obstacles?  Did you spend too much, not save enough or make major financial mistakes?  Looking at what went on last year can help you to make improvements for the year to come.  Correct any mistakes you made, and look to improve upon your successes.

I hope these tips will help you to leap into 2017 on the right foot, confident in yourself and your ability to make changes where needed!  Even a small step in the right direction is an improvement, so don’t be disheartened if you aren’t a millionaire by 2018.  As long as you are doing your best, you’re doing something right!