Now that my daughter has turned one, I’ve had some time to reflect on the tools that took my work life as a new mom to the next level. After the three months of maternity leave, I was excited to get back to work. In my business, I either work from home on my business or doing virtual work for clients, or I’m at my client’s homes or offices either organizing, consulting, or speaking. I also did quite a bit of traveling without my daughter in her first year and continued to breastfeed successfully. If you have (or are expecting) a baby and wondering how you can get some tasks done while home alone with the baby, read on.
Freemie cups & battery pack for your breast pump
If you plan to pump at work or while traveling, not just any breast pump will do. I highly recommend a double electric pump that is mobile or compatible with some kind of battery pack and works with Freemie cups. Health insurance will often pay for a variety of breast pumps, so be sure to look into what they’ll pay for and how that works before spending any money.
Here is my complete work/travel set up. I stored the milk in the top part with a couple of freezer blocks and the pump with its accessories in the bottom. I usually kept a little rag (which has come in handy numerous times for various reasons) and an extra set of batteries in there too. When I brought a lot of milk back after traveling, I stored it in the bottom with more freezer blocks that I packed in my suitcase. In that case, I’d put the pump and its accessories in large handbag or tote that I also kept my wallet, keys, and phone in so I could pack my purse in my suitcase.
Freemie cups fit inside your bra and collect the milk there. You look a bit like Dolly Parton with them in, but your shirt and maybe a scarf can give you all the modesty you need while putting them in, wearing them, and taking them out. I recommend sticking breast pads towards the bottom of your bra cups in advance to absorb any leakage from the cups, which can happen from time to time.
With Freemie cups and a battery pack for your pump, all you need to pump is a place to sit. No privacy or outlet required. A flat surface to set things on while prepping is nice, too. The Freemie cups also made typing on the computer while pumping much more comfortable. I’ve now pumped on so many flights I’ve lost count, in airports, in cars (not while driving!), on the beach, at client’s houses while eating lunch… the world is my oyster for pumping. I recently discovered Freemie makes a quiet pump with a timer that can clip onto your pants, so you can even pump while walking or sleeping!
Baby carrier for babywearing
Babywearing has incredible productivity benefits, as well as benefits for your baby. I do not know how a mom can do so much as put away a single load of laundry or go to Target with a baby (who’s not ready to sit in the cart yet) without one of these. The Baby Bjorn was instrumental to my sanity (and my husband’s!).
I mostly wore her in the Bjorn when I needed to do household chores and run errands, which must be why this seems to be the only photo I can find of her in the carrier. Usually she would fuss if I sat down for more than a minute while wearing her, so we were pretty much always on the go. On the rare occasion Ella would fall asleep and stay asleep in the carrier, I was able to get some work done on the computer. Getting things done post-baby is all about observing, planning, and maximizing opportunities.
This may be a bit abstract but I assure you it is as essential as everything else on this list. I heard, “you will get NOTHING done after the baby comes” countless times. This is not exactly true and obviously ends at some point, but hearing it again and again lowered my expectations all the way under the ground. From there, I was able to make little micro-goals and slowly learn from scratch what I could realistically get done in a day when I have my baby with me. I also learned how other factors like naps, being mom-tired, and someone else watching her (in vs. out of my house) for a few hours affected this. Set your expectations based on your experiences as a mom rather than your old life or what you’d like to get done. Paying attention will pay off. Repeat what works and give up what doesn’t. The sooner you accept the reality of this season of life, the more you will be able to enjoy it for what it is.
You have a high chair, a playpen, a baby swing, a baby carrier, a bassinet, a crib, and a jumper… why do you need a Bumbo? The beauty of the Bumbo is how easily you can move it and how little space it takes up.
I put Ella in it when I play fetch with my dog outside and get ready in the bathroom. I use it in places where I can’t get the jumper or playpen through the door. I can also throw it in the car if I’m taking her somewhere like a picnic in the park. If your baby has thunderous little thighs, they may not fit in the Bumbo for long, so get one as soon as your baby can sit with support. I wish I’d gotten one way sooner. It’s also possible to use a high chair in these instances, but it’s not as convenient. And in my case, Ella gets tired of being in the same place or seat for very long. You can also buy a Bumbo that doubles as a high chair.
A slow cooker with a timer
The most cost-effective way to simplify meals is to use a slow cooker with a timer. The timer is key because once it goes off, it changes the temperature of the food at the right moment so you don’t have to.
There is a lot of flexibility and room for meal-planning customization with this one-time purchase. You can do some dinner prep the night before when baby is asleep and the rest (or all prep) in the morning when baby is in the high chair having breakfast or just hanging out with a toy.
Depending on the recipe, you may need do a few specific steps around the time the timer goes off before dinner is ready. After that, you have a ton of leftovers for future dinners or lunches. You can even freeze half of what you made and eat that in the future for more variety now and less work later. You can also assemble freezer meals in advance for putting in the slow cooker later. So many options! Slow cooking does require some planning, but as long as you keep a record of your favorites, you don’t have to keep reinventing the meal-planning wheel.
Paper plates and plastic or biodegradable cutlery are a great shortcut for times when you want to minimize clean up too. Having some on hand before our baby arrived made those first few weeks much easier.
Wireless Bluetooth headset or earpiece
Before baby, I had no problem plugging little earbuds in when I wanted to type while I was on the phone. This was also the only instance I ever needed my hands free while on the phone. Earbuds do not work with a baby who has started to grab at things. Setting my phone down elsewhere and speaking on a wireless device works much better. I can hold her and walk around, breastfeed, or wear her in the carrier if I want to do something else with my hands during the call. I opted for a headset because the reviews for sound quality were much better. However, she eventually started grabbing at the mic part, so an earpiece might have been better after all.
Motherhood is a fantastic opportunity to practice your delegation skills. Just like at work, the more people you have on your team, the more you’ll get done. It’s great to be able to lean on a partner or family members to help watch your baby so you can have a break. It is my sincere hope that every new mother can find some support in that area. However, help is also available in the form of various service providers such as housekeepers, dog walkers, CPAs, errand runners, Task Rabbit, restaurants who have delivery (or even take-out), and of course, professional organizers like myself. I recommend outsourcing the tasks you're tired of doing personally as much as you can.
Family and friends can also help with various tasks. Don’t dismiss offers for help or food because you think they’re not serious, you’re too embarrassed, or you think you need to do it all. One of the moms in my moms’ group wouldn’t let visiting guests hold her baby until they did a chore! Pretty brilliant.
The year you have a baby might be the most fun, stressful, fulfilling, or exhausting one you’ve had yet, but it probably won’t be the most productive. And that’s okay. But at some point, “sleep when the baby sleeps” ends and you will return to getting things done – even if what that means for you is trying to stay on top of housework rather than going back to work. What tools helped you get things done after baby? Let us know in the comments!
Do you ever find yourself daydreaming about making some money off of the stuff you have laying around that you don't use? It's an appealing idea. If you used the flow chart in my latest newsletter and discovered that a garage sale isn't going to work for you, you may be wondering about some alternatives. (If you missed the newsletter, make sure you subscribe at the bottom of this page!) Below are three other options.
Sell Top Items Online
Neighborhood groups, Facebook groups, eBay, Craigslist… there are many places online to list the highest value items. If they’re large items, you’ll need to sell locally using a site like Craigslist to avoid shipping. Be sure to follow safety precautions when selling locally. You can get the most for designer items on places like eBay, the Real Real, and Facebook groups that specify they’re for nicer things. However, just like garage sale customers, a lot of the folks shopping online for used things in nicer places are mainly looking for a deal. When possible, list your items in multiple locations to reach the biggest market.
Plato’s Closet, Culture Clothing, Style Encore, and the bi-annual Just Between Friends Sale are examples of places in Lubbock that you can drop off your items and possibly make some money quickly. Different places take different kinds of items. With all consignment options, there are clear limitations about what you can sell. Read up on those before you pack up and drive. This route is best for popular items (especially clothing) in great condition.
If you can fit everything you want to get rid of in your car, you can drive it over to Goodwill or some other thrift store or charity. If you have some large items, (especially ones that are in okay but not fantastic condition) you can call a charity to pick up your things for free. In Lubbock, the Disabled Vets will pick up. Before you donate, ask your tax preparer what info you need in order for it to count as a tax deduction.
Trying to sell items, no matter how you do it, is a higher risk/return of time and money than simply donating everything. That’s why I usually end up recommending donation to my clients who are decluttering. (Plus, each of my hands-on organizing sessions comes with a carload of donations hauled away to Goodwill.) Donating to charity may give you back the least amount of money, but you do get to "cash in" on the most warm & fuzzies from helping out a good cause.
Have you had luck with any of these alternatives? How about with garage sales? Share your stories in the comments.
I’m a big fan of mantras and sayings. They’re really helpful for me. This year, I’ve decided to not only lose my baby weight, but also get back down to where I was before I moved to Texas. I’m using two tools: a calorie counting app and a mantra.
My mantra is a twist on something I heard a minor character say in an episode of Monk. “No food tastes as good as fitting in my regular clothes feels.” I say this to myself every time I want to eat something that will probably foil my calorie goal for the day. It’s been working amazingly well.
I find myself repeating certain organizing phrases over and over to different clients. I realized these phrases are essentially organizing mantras that express some of the most key concepts.
Sort before you pare down.
Sorting before deciding what to get rid of makes decluttering easier because it provides the context you need in order to make informed keep/toss decisions. You can see how many of that item you have, which ones are your favorite, how unique or similar they all are, and which ones are in the best condition. Picking up a pair of yoga pants from a pile of all the yoga pants you own is a very different experience than picking up a random pair off of the floor and trying to decide how you feel about them.
You can keep the sentiment and get rid of the gift.
This is what I say when clients tell me, “I don’t really want to keep this, but it was a gift from so-and-so…” If the person who gave you the gift knew that it was causing you clutter induced stress, they’d be alright with you getting rid of it. The purpose of a gift is enjoyment. If the gift is no longer bringing you joy, it can go.
All paper is A.R.T.
I made this saying up and use it frequently. (I did not make up what A.R.T. stands for, though I’ve never heard anyone else put the acronym in this order.) All paper falls into one of three categories: action, reference, or toss. Action paper is paper you need to take action on, such as a bill you need to pay. Reference paper is what’s inside filing cabinets – the paper you’ll probably want later. Paper in the toss category ideally goes into the recycling bin ASAP. Thinking about paper in this way makes organizing it much easier. Why? Check out my blog post on paper organizing.
Touch it once (also known as O.H.I.O. - Only Handle It Once).
Every item you set down in a temporary place, like on a random surface, you’ll inevitably want to move later. The more often you immediately put things in their places, the less “picking up” you’ll have to do. Now when it’s time to clean up, you can focus on removing dust and grime instead of clutter.
One in, one out.
The idea here is that if you have a full space, like a sock drawer, you get rid of your least favorite pair of socks when you buy a new pair. The concept applies more broadly as well. Before you bring something new into your space, consider where you will put it. Will you need to get rid of something so it will fit in your space? If so, what can you let go of that will make enough room? It doesn’t necessarily have to be the same type of item.
Getting organized may be a one-time project, but staying organized is a lifestyle choice. I hope these mantras help you with both. Do you have any mantras you love, about organizing or something else? Leave them in the comments!
Last year, while very pregnant, I delivered my signature workshop, "Making and Breaking Habits" at Texas Tech University. I recently uploaded this clip to my YouTube channel. I'll be posting more videos in the future.
Did you learn something from this video? Let me know in the comments!
How many years have you made New Year’s resolutions? How many years have you accomplished your New Year’s resolutions? Over the years, I’ve identified three common mistakes people make when they resolve to change in the next year.
1. Failure to make a plan with clear steps
“Lose weight.” “Get organized.” “Travel more.” These are some of the most common resolutions people make. They’re also “amorphous blobs of undoability,” as David Allen would say. Every goal starts out with the desire to achieve something. But a goal without a plan is just a wish.
2. Failure to prioritize getting it done
To paraphrase Barbara Sher, “You can have it all, but you can’t have it all at once.” The year you write your first novel will not also be the year you’re planning your wedding, moving across the country to start a new job, and training for a triathlon. Yet all of those things and more can easily happen in one lifetime. The key is to focus on one thing at a time and follow through with your plan by making your goal your priority. Personally, I find it helpful to envision what my year is going to look like in terms of things like upcoming life events, what will be going on with my family, current finances, trips that have been booked, etc. before deciding what goal makes the most sense to prioritize.
3. Failure to check in periodically
New Year’s resolutions are notorious for being abandoned by February. Making a goal you don’t think about again is unlikely to be achieved. When was the last time you were assigned a huge project at work that no one ever asked you about again? In addition to making a plan with steps, and prioritizing doing those steps, evaluating your success periodically is essential.
There is a snowball effect with these three pitfalls. The first failure of not making a plan with clear steps leads to the other failures because it’s hard to take action when you don’t know exactly what that action looks like. The snowball effect works the other way around too – making a plan leads to following through and following up.
When it comes to goal-setting, I’m a big fan of S.M.A.R.T. goals. There are some variants for what S.M.A.R.T. stands for. My favorite is:
I recommend turning your New Year’s resolution into a S.M.A.R.T. goal by answering questions for each letter, but in a different order than the acronym.
1. What exactly do you want? (specific)
2. Is now the best time to work toward this? (relevant)
3. How will you know when you’ve attained it? (measurable)
4. What actions will you take achieve the goal? Is this plan something you can realistically do? (achievable)
5. When will you take the steps? What is a realistic deadline you can set to have accomplished the goal by? (time-bound)
What do you want to accomplish in 2018? Leave your New Year’s resolution challenges, successes, and questions in the comments. Happy New Year!
The further along in school you are, the more complicated your homework becomes. Juggling research papers, group projects, routine math homework, study time for tests and more is increasingly challenging as you make your way through school.
For a student that prefers electronic devices over paper calendars and notebooks, there are many ways to manage your homework projects on a smartphone. In this day and age, most people take a smartphone everywhere they go. This makes phones excellent planners because they are a convenient and reliable place to make a note of something when you first hear about it.
Keep a master homework list in your phone's Memo or Notes feature
A “master to do list” is a complete list of every thing someone needs to do. It’s a great way to remember everything going on so nothing slips through the cracks. Having a complete list of all your classes and the homework for each is an easy way to keep track of it all.
It’s important to have only one list like this, rather than writing bits here and there in various places. That way the master list becomes a reliable source of information, and you build a habit of always putting homework related information in one place.
Schedule your homework into your calendar
Estimate how long your homework will take and schedule it into your phone’s calendar app like you would a doctor’s appointment. Scheduling a specific time to do something is a classic time management technique.
Some calendar apps have the ability to let you schedule a reminder when you create the event. If you’re new to making appointments with yourself, it’s a good idea to add an alert to go off a few minutes before you need to start. Set the alarm early enough to give yourself time to quit what you’re doing beforehand and gather your materials.
Use the myHomework app
This is a fantastic free app for managing your schoolwork. It’s available through the iPhone App Store, Mac App Store, Chrome Web Store, Google Play, Kindle Fire, and the Windows Store, so you can get it on a wide variety of devices. You make an account inside the app, which means you can use it on your phone on the go and then use it at your desk on your computer if you wish.
You can input your tests, class schedule, and all outside class work in the app. It also allows you to rate assignments by priority, set up reminders, and see a calendar of all your classes and due dates. There is a premium version of the app you can buy for a few bucks that allows you to attach files, not see ads, access decorative themes, and more.
There’s also version of the app for teachers called Teachers.io, If your teacher uses it, you can find your class in the app and have resources, assignments, and announcements synced within your myHomework app.
I’d love to hear about your homework planning challenges and successes. Please share your stories in the comments. Your experiences and ideas can help other readers change their habits and learn something new.
It can be hard to be productive when your desk is covered in paper. Clutter has a way of making people feel stressed out, distracted and/or overwhelmed. When this happens, it’s a good idea to invest some time in organizing the paper around you so it doesn’t slow you down.
Paper can be one of the most time-consuming things to organize because every sheet is a decision. Am I going to attend the event on this flier? When will I file this claim? Should I call about this $5 charge I don’t recognize or is not worth my time? This is one of the big reasons why people accumulate paper so fast. However, there is a relatively quick way to organize the paper on your desk and set up an organizing system so your desk doesn’t get covered in paper again.
The trick is to sort into five broad categories first and then sort some of the piles into subcategories afterwards. This prevents you from having 20 piles of paper take over your office and finding yourself in the middle of an all day project you didn’t plan time for. This method gives you multiple opportunities for stopping points without a big mess.
To begin, move the bin you use to discard paper next to your desk before you start sorting. The most basic categories for sorting any kind of clutter are Keep and Get Rid Of, so that is the first thing to decide about each piece of paper.
Category #1: Trash/Recycle
When you decide to throw something out, put it directly into the trash or recycle bin as you sort. Make a pile of the paper with sensitive information that you want to shred next to the bin.
Category #2: Shred
After you’re done sorting all the paper, put the Shred pile in a box labeled “To Shred” so you don’t mix it up with other paper later. Schedule a time in your calendar to shred the paper yourself or take it somewhere to be shredded. From now on, collect all paper you want to shred in that box and shred it when it’s full.
Category #3: Take Action
This is paper you’re keeping because it pertains to something you need to do.
Some common examples are:
Category #4: Refer To Later
This is paper you want to keep because you want to look at it later.
Some common examples are:
Category #5: Supplies
Supplies are blank paper products like legal pads, unused envelopes, craft paper, computer paper, sticky notes, etc. Only keep what you use frequently on your desk. Trash or recycle any that are crumpled, dirty, or otherwise not useable. For supplies in good condition, give away the ones you don’t think you’ll use and put the rest where you have other office supplies.
Your first stopping point for this project will depend on the volume of paper you’re dealing with and how much time you have left after sorting into the five categories. I recommend boxing up the shredding and putting away supplies right after you’ve sorted all the paper into the five categories.
The Take Action pile is where the urgent and important paper is, so I recommend sorting it next. My favorite thing to do with this kind of paper is to store it in a container that holds paper vertically on top of the desk, with categories like:
Everyone’s categories for action paper will be slightly different. The examples above are some common themes to inspire and guide you. Don’t forget make time to deal with action paper on a regular basis.
The Refer To Later pile will also need to be sorted and put away at some point. My favorite way to store this kind of paper is in a filing cabinet, with exceptions for certain kinds of memorabilia. Being organized is a lifestyle choice, so keeping things organized requires diligence.
I’d love to hear about your desk paper organizing challenges and successes. Please share your stories in the comments. Your experiences and ideas can help other readers change their habits and learn something new.
One of the hardest parts of time management can be figuring out how long something will take so you can plan accordingly. The good news is it’s a skill anyone can get better at with some awareness and practice.
The first thing to be aware of is people have a tendency to underestimate how long it will take to do something they’ve done many times, and overestimate how long it will take to do something they’ve never done. Things we do all the time blend into our lives, whereas unfamiliar tasks can be daunting.
One of the most common things people forget about when planning their time is transitions. Here are a few examples of frequently overlooked transitions:
All of these things usually take longer than one minute, but many people seldom plan much longer than that for transitions.
One last thing to be aware of is sometimes we make time guesses based on how long we want something to take, rather than how long it realistically takes. The road to unhappiness is paved with unrealistic expectations, so do your best to make time estimates based on experience rather than wishes.
Even if you think you have poor time management skills, there is probably at least one area in your life where you are already correctly estimating how long something takes. Getting to work is often one of these things.
It’s important to most people to be on time to work, so many people figure out how long it takes to get to work through a combination of planning and trial and error. The first day of work people usually guess how long it will take them based on some kind of similar experience, or look up their path online and maybe consider factors like how long they might have to wait for the bus and how bad traffic might be. After seeing how late or early they were on the first day, they plan accordingly for the next day. By the time they’ve had the job for a week or so, they know they must leave their home by a certain time to avoid being late.
Applying this same concept consciously and methodically will show you how long any task will take. Here’s how:
For a simple task that doesn’t vary much, such as taking a shower or unloading the dishwasher, timing it 1-3 times will be sufficient.
For something more complicated like getting a research paper done, first break it down into smaller tasks like deciding the specific topic, finding books at the library, assembling an outline, writing the first draft, and editing it into a final draft. Guess and time each of the parts separately. The details of what happens during a trip to the library or sitting down to write a paper can vary a lot, so these are the kinds of tasks that I recommend timing three or more times. The more variable a task is, the more times you need to time how long it took.
Like any skill, practice is the key to getting better. The data you collect by logging how long things take will help you plan for the tasks you’ve logged, and it will bring to light your unique patterns around guessing time and how long it actually takes you to do things. This awareness will help you more accurately estimate familiar and unfamiliar tasks in the future.
I’d love to hear about your time estimating challenges and successes. Please share your stories in the comments. Your experiences and ideas can help other readers improve their skills and overcome obstacles.
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Lubbock, TX 79490
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