Why Making Your Bed Every Day Can Be a Waste of Time

Don’t make that face or it will freeze that way. If you touch yourself, you’ll grow hair on your palms. That old tin can on the counter labeled “pineapple juice” actually contains the grease from the roast. (Sadly for me, it turns out the last one was true.)

When we’re kids, we’re told all sorts of things to keep us in line. When we become adults, we hang onto some of these mental artifacts and feel guilty or slightly “off” when we don’t do things our mother’s way. There are times when our mother’s way feels right, and there are times when we need to forge our own path, sans guilt.

How You Spend the Moments Is How You Spend Your Life

Let’s say it takes you one minute to make your bed every morning. That translates to more than 6 hours per year used on bed making. If you live until you’re 80 years old, that’s two or three weeks of your life spent on straightening and fluffing sheets and pillows.

I don’t know about you, but if I were on my deathbed and somebody handed me the gift of a sprightly three additional weeks to live (preferably in Hawaii), then I’d take it.

Sometimes Mom Is Right

When you live in a bedroom with all the size and charm of a meat locker in New York City, your bed equals your living space. An unmade bed is essentially your home, and that can feel yucky and chaotic. I was beyond thrilled to have a made bed when I lived that way, so my motivation was high to keep up the habit. There are times in your life that having a made bed enhances the quality of your experience, so that single minute each day is time well spent.

Some people just looooove themselves the sight of a neat and straightened bed. There have been times that I’ve gotten all googly-eyed over my pristine bedroom and I just want to sit and stare at the sexy serenity. This is all about swell easy living after all, and if a made bed feel so good – while a messy bed appears so dreadful – then do it! Make the bed! Drink in the view and feel superior to all the non-bed-makers out there. You deserve it.

Sometimes Mom Only Thinks She’s Right

If you find yourself, day after day, admonishing yourself for the unmade bed but you aren’t motivated to change it, then I absolve you. You have my permission to throw off the yoke of your guilt and skip happily through the tulips. Rest easy knowing that you’ll simply unmake your bed at the end of the day anyway, so you don’t need to bother. Feel superior to all those suckers out there wasting their lives feeling smug over their made beds. You deserve it.

Now that I don’t lay eyes on my bed until I’m tearing off the covers to climb in at night, I’ll save myself that one minute per day, thank-you-very-much. These days, with a one-year-old underfoot and career strides in sight, each minute is priceless and my priorities are a little different. And so I’ve chosen to bump bed-making off my list.

Listen to Your Mother (Sometimes)

I promise you won’t grow hair on your palms. Your face might actually freeze that way, in which case I hear Botox is an option. There is one thing I know for sure: you shouldn’t snatch that tin can off the kitchen counter because you want pineapple juice when your mother warned you not to drink the fat.

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How Ditching Technology Helped Me Get Things Done

I’m now blogging for TLC’s Parentables! I will blog the post introductions here at swell easy living so you can keep updated on new content as it becomes available. Just click through to read the full post on parentables.

When I had my baby and went on maternity leave, my new existence initially felt off-kilter, like I was missing a limb. For my whole adult life, I’d sat at a desk with a keyboard and a monitor for a minimum of five days a week in the fluorescent-lit offices of large, brand name global corporations. I struck big deals with slick negotiations, I managed global technical and editorial teams and I orchestrated some fairly complicated operations in my day. I was like, kind of a big deal, I thought.

I felt lucky to be employed in such a comfortable way, and I didn’t understand how anyone could be satisfied differently. Oddly, the one thing of my old life I’d missed while on maternity leave was the familiar stance of sitting in front of a computer all day.

I anticipated my return to work as if it would solve everything and life would return to normal. The house would be neat and I would be well-rested and everything and everyone would be back on schedule, tucked neatly within the realm of calendars and obligations.

It would just have to work out that way for me, because women work and they have babies, and they have to function in an orderly manner, right? Isn’t that the way working moms exist, comfortably on schedule, well-organized, methodical and tidy and relaxed and happy?

Ha ha ha. I know. That whole charade. I’d like to know who started that rumor. It’s something, isn’t it?

And then, less than a month after I returned to work from maternity leave, I was laid off.

Life Is Messy :: keep reading …

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Create a Relaxing Evening Routine


Having a relaxing nighttime routine not only helps you feel calm and ready for sleep, it helps make your mornings run smoother too.

I’d been resisting setting up an evening routine because that’s the one time of my day that I get to be unstructured and spontaneous. However, I realized that if I create a relaxing evening routine that I enjoy, then I’ll want to stick to it because it reduces stress and helps me sleep better at night. Then I can wake up refreshed and benefit from a calming morning routine.

There are five components to a relaxing evening routine.

1. Dinner: Recharge and unwind over a healthy meal. [Eating the right amount of food is helpful when you want to truly relax, since eating too little or too much is going to leave you uncomfortable. ]

2. Clean up: Spend just 10 or 15 minutes putting everything away. It’s hard to relax completely when you’re in a messy room. In only a few minutes a day, your home stays neat and decluttered with minimal effort. No more marathon weekend pick-ups or panicking at the thought of guests coming over.

3. Bathe and Put on Jammies: Your level of “bathing” might vary over the next guy’s, but this is some variation of brushing your teeth, washing your face, or full on getting into the shower or tub and having an all-out scrub fest before changing into your PJs.

4. Relaxation Time: This is the fun part where you get to focus on yourself. Here are some options. Pick your poison:

Reading. Personally, I love to read before I go to sleep. It controls my thoughts and keeps my mind from racing while I unwind.

TV. I sometimes find TV too mentally stimulating when I’m getting ready for bed, but I know it helps a lot of people tune out.

Internet. Plenty of people like to surf the web and listen to music.

Write. If you don’t want to escape in some form of media, then maybe you want to create your own. Reflect on your day, what you’re grateful for, or create a to do list for the next day to clear your mind. I will often take notes on what I’m reading to save ideas for things I want to do or think about.

Meditate or Do Nothing.  Maybe you don’t want to do anything but sit, close your eyes and breathe.

Happy Place. If you’re really wound up and need some immediate relief, close your eyes and imagine your Happy Place. My happy place is on a tropical beach with the sun beating down on my perfectly tanned and taut bod (not the pregnant bod I currently have, a different one that probably never actually existed) with the ocean lapping the shore gently about 20 feet away. There may or may not be a daiquiri in the picture depending on how much I need to relax.

I strongly encourage you to create your own Happy Place. It’s been a wonderful tool for me over the years when I seriously need to untwist my knickers or I’m just having an impossible time readying myself for sleep.

5. Time for Sleep: Choose a bedtime that will afford you somewhere between 7 and 9 hours of sleep, since that’s what the average person requires. I enjoy the 9-hour range myself, but I know some people proclaim (usually proudly for some reason) that they only need 5 or 6 hours of sleep. Good for them. Don’t try to compete; let them have their glory.

How do you put all of this together? I figured out my ideal bedtime first, and then figured out what time I get home from work to know how many hours I have to play with. Since my office tends to work late, I get about 3 hours between arriving home and getting to sleep. I wrote down approximately what times I should be doing what so that I make sure there’s time for each step. If you plan out your evening, you can maximize whatever amount of time you have so that you’ve had a nice dinner, your home is neat and you feel calm and ready for sleep at the end of the evening.

Nighty night!

Take Control of Your Life: Choose How to Spend Your Time

relaxing
Your life is only as good as what you spend your time on. So many of us feel vaguely dissatisfied with how we’re living, but we’re not quite sure what it is we need to change.

Usually this dissatisfaction occurs when we’re spending very little time concentrating on issues that relate to our innate values. We’re stuck in that rat wheel and getting no where fun.

Here’s a 5-step exercise you can do to figure out what your values are, your resulting goals and how you want to spend your time to get to where you want to go. I did the exercise in each section so you can see an example.

1. What are your values? Ask yourself: What brings you the most happiness and satisfaction. Your values might relate to a creative passion, friendships, spirituality, family, athleticism, simplicity, or a particular lifestyle that you’d like to live. Conversely, ask what is it you want to change about yourself and your life? What do you keep trying to change or keep thinking about changing?

My values:

  • Health: I have nothing if I don’t have my health. It’s important to me to stay capable, strong and energetic so that I can achieve my goals and do whatever I want to do with my time.
  • Family: I value feeling that love and connection, knowing that I am part of a tribe. I feel lucky every day that I have an amazing husband to spend my life with. There is no other joy like lying on the couch and trying to slap each other in the face with our feet.
  • Connecting With Others: I love connecting with people via writing, hence this here blog. It makes me feel good, simple as that.

2. What are your goals and dreams? Ask yourself: Based on your values, what would you like to achieve in your life? For your life to feel aligned with your values, what do you want to see happen?

Your goals don’t need to be glamorous; they just need to be focused on your values. Write a reason next to each goal so that you know what you get when you achieve that goal. If you know why you want to achieve a goal, you’re more likely to go after it.

My goals and reasons:

  • Health Goals: Maintain a healthy weight and level of muscle mass. I’ll have more strength and energy to do what I want and I’ll feel great.
  • Family Goals: Keep a stable, neat environment for our family to live in. Protect our welfare via financial order and responsibility. This means less worrying and chaos and more time for fun and relaxation.
  • Connecting With Others: Post on my blog five days per week about relatable topics. Be entertaining and informative in every post. When people come to the site, I’ll feel helpful and valued.

3. What’s stopping you? What habits and mindsets are currently in your way? How are you spending your time, and what can you clear off your schedule to make time for better habits?

Here are two examples of time wasters and attitudes that have stopped me in the past from forging ahead:

  • Screen Addiction: If you spend all day at work in front of your computer screen and then come home at night only to be glued to the boob tube or surfing the web every waking hour that you’re in your house, that’s where your time and energy is going.
  • Self Doubt: If you tell yourself you can’t, then you’re right. Change your self talk. Tell yourself that you can and you will. You deserve to live the life you want. If you don’t try, the worst case is that you stay stuck. If you do try, then the worst case is you might have to adjust tactics if the first try doesn’t work. No big whoop.
  • “I Don’t Have Time” – This is just another way of saying, “I don’t want to,” or “I’m not ready yet.” Find the time. You don’t need much. You would be shocked by what can be accomplished in just 15 minutes a day.

4. What habits do you need to develop to move towards your goals? In other words, what is it that you actually need to do with your time in order to align your life with your values?

Here are the habits I need to nurture:

  • Health Habits: Eat the right foods at the right times and in the right portions. Exercise most days of the week.
  • Family Habits: Neaten and declutter for 15 minutes a day. Keep the kitchen clean. Create and stick to a budget (a topic coming soon to swell easy living.)
  • Connecting With Others: Spending my leisure time writing for the blog.

5. Get Started! Look at one of your habits to nurture, the one that you think would make the most difference or help your mindset the most. Start small, spend 15 minutes a day and just do one thing.

When I was faced with the daunting task of starting this blog, looking at the whole project at once made me want to hide under the covers. I had to decide what was the first step. Choose a domain host. Then the next day I did the second step, which was to sign up. Then third: transfer my domain. I had to take babysteps for those first daunting and confusing tasks in order to build any momentum

When you take those first steps and tackle one item a day for 15 minutes, you build momentum toward your new way of living. Next thing you know, you’ll be flying along and living the life you want.

Tame Your Email and Get to the Fun Stuff

pleasure

When I was a kid, there was a rule at dinnertime that I had to eat all of my vegetables. I used to look at veggies as an obstacle to getting to the good stuff. Of course, the rule itself didn’t dictate that I ate my vegetables first, but where’s the pleasure in polishing off a delicious pile of buttered noodles and beef stroganoff, only to be faced with healthy greens at the end. I know, a bleak way of looking at vegetables, but I was like five years old and my happy ending did not lie in a pile of creamed spinach. So I ate my veggies first, fast and usually without chewing.

My email inbox is sometimes like the vegetables of my life. However, instead of digging in and getting it over with, sometimes I will endlessly push the food around my plate until everything gets cold. I don’t get to the fun stuff because I can’t bring myself to “eat my veggies” — process my inbox.

Prisoner to my Inbox
Knowing that I’m behind in my email can prevent me from going outside on my lunch break or leaving work on time at night. I wouldn’t feel justified leaving my desk with all those communications sitting there unanswered. If I go off to do the fun stuff when I know there’s something important that still needs to be taken care of, then I can’t fully enjoy myself and relax.

Yet that doesn’t necessarily mean that I’m going to delve into my inbox and handle it right away. If there are emails in there that require a more complicated response or a decision, I might feel paralyzed about what to do. I feel a little uneasy when I don’t immediately know what to course to take, which can result in procrastinating by distraction to take the edge off. So I take more time to think in the corners of my brain, but I’m not all Action Jackson about those tough emails just yet.

Email Begets Email, Asparagus Begets Asparagus
That doesn’t mean that I’m avoiding my inbox. On the contrary, I can be in there all day every day, but never getting my inbox down to zero. To keep going with a vegetable analogy, I can liken the experience to The Asparagus Story.

When my parents were courting and my dad first met my mom’s parents, Grammy made asparagus the side dish with dinner. Being the gracious guest he was, my dad ate all the spears on his plate even though he absolutely despises asparagus. Grammy shoed away Uncle Buster’s request for seconds, and in the spirit of being a gracious host, she shoveled the whole bowl of asparagus onto my dad’s plate declaring that he “LOVES asparagus!”

You might think you’re getting your asparagus (email) over with, but as a result you wind up with even more asparagus (email.)

I’ll explain. There was a time when people asked me what I did for a living and it was tempting to answer, “I email,” because that’s what my working life felt like: an endless loop of a full inbox, fielding emails and trying to curtail the flood that came in every second of every day. The faster I replied, the more emails were lobbed back to me in response. I was queen of the fast return, volleying emails back and forth from multiple senders at the speed of lightening. Then when I would take a break from emailing and come back to my inbox, I would feel overwhelmed; it would again be chock full of emails requiring replies.

My “Aha” Moment
Then I discovered a secret. If I managed my inbox more effectively, I could control the flow of emails to a manageable rate. I selected a couple key times during the day to reply to my emails. I stopped working out of my inbox. And now I’m more productive than ever.

Follow these steps to process your email, eliminate inbox clutter and maintain a sane pace. The worst part of having a cluttered inbox is wondering what’s lurking in there. Mining through all that junk will give you a feeling of freedom when you’re through and then you can go out and play.

Step One: Clear out your Inbox. We’re starting with a mess, and so the first time is the hardest. Let’s get it down to zero, and then we can talk about maintaining the placid state of your email account. Start at the top with the most recent email and plow through one by one. Make quick decisions on each. Email comes in the following four delicious flavors and can be handled depending on what action is required.

  • Delete: Make it a point to be liberal with your delete button. Stop hoarding email. It’s mental clutter. When in doubt, throw it out. Delete, delete, delete. Hopefully you’ll be able to delete about half of the emails you encounter, if not more.
  • File: If you really and truly need the information contained in the email and you’ll reference it later, then file it. Set up folders as you go, but use as few categories as possible, including “Other” or Miscellaneous” where you can drop most of your email without an obvious home. Don’t think too hard; you’re eating vegetables here so just do it fast and get it over with. There are more fun, useful and productive things to do with your time than obsess over your email storage system.

  • DO IT – the Two Minute Rule: This is for a reply that can be typed up in two minutes and two sentences or less. Or if there’s an action required that’s a quick action, do it and then move on. Then either delete or file the email. Remember, you are in the act of processing your inbox, not working out of it.
  • TO DO: This scenario is for when you can’t just hit reply and know what needs to be said or you can’t do the task involved quickly. It requires a little bit of thought or time to process. Then the email becomes a TO DO list item. What’s that? You don’t have a task list? Well you do now. Trust me, a task list is easier to tackle and much less intimidating to look at than a jumble of hundreds of emails.

So that you can clear out that inbox, set up a folder called TO DO and move any TO DO email in there. Work from your task list (see next paragraph) then delete each TO DO email as the task is handled. This isn’t a working folder, so don’t peek in there more often than necessary. Maybe review it once a week and clear out actions that have been completed off your task list

Step Three: The Task List. Since the task list is born of emails that require a little more time or thought, these emails will be handled by asking yourself, “What’s the next step?” Do you need more information? Do you have to work out a more detailed answer? Decide on the next action required, and then you’ve got your TO DO that goes with that email. Add the resulting task to your task list.

To manage your task list, go with a system that makes you happy that day. Some days when I’m going low tech I use a piece of paper. For items that are verbose and are better handled electronically, I use a combination of a Word document for notes, my calendar for items that are date constrained, and an electronic task list I can use to check off items. A to-do list is a to-do list, so handle it in a manner appropriate to your situation, whether it’s a grocery list or project management software. Most email programs come with a task list. Gmail has a left-hand menu item called “Tasks” while in Outlook you can actually drag the email onto your task list or calendar to create a new task or appointment.

Step Four: Maintenance. This is where we learn to stay on top of it … but not TOO on top of it. I recommend that you process your inbox to zero twice per day. Set a timer for 15 minutes and plow through it. You want to strike that balance of furthering work projects (you don’t want to be a bottleneck) without giving up the time required to strike items off your task list. If your task list gets neglected because you forget the plot and start working out of your inbox, you’re back where you started. The tough emails still aren’t getting answered, and then you’re fulfilling that bottleneck role whether you mean to or not.

I work in a fast paced and virtual environment where email doubles as “conversation” and so that scenario requires me to at least check in and scan email frequently. So I still do that. But I make it a goal that twice a day, I close other distractions and I process that inbox completely down to zilch and make sure there are no open loops.

Step Five: Do whatever your little heart desires! It may come as a surprise, but you might actually find that you have free time on your hands. Once you have no question as to what your workload is and your tasks are rightly scheduled, you can better achieve some balance in your day. If you want to get up and get outside on your lunch break, then go nuts and take pleasure in it.

Create a Simple and Relaxing Morning Routine

soothing cup of tea

I used to be chronically late. I say “used to be” because I am now learning to break that habit. This is one of those habits that’s always been a problem for me and I’ve tried many tricks over the years to overcome it. Setting my clocks fast has been a long-time favorite, but that only works until I do the math to figure out what time it actually is.

I’ve tried setting up a morning routine with start and end times for each activity, but my mistake was making the routine way too detailed. Since the schedule was too complicated for morning brain, I never learned to follow it.

Steve made a comment recently that made me laugh, but it was entirely true. I will paraphrase, but it went something like this,  “I’ll be in charge of teaching our child how to be on time because obviously you can’t.”

Born to Be Late
Steve’s comment brought to mind some childhood memories of mornings in my parents’ household: the frenzied pace we all kept from waking up to fighting each other for shower time, to scarfing down a home-cooked breakfast. Then at the sound of the school bus rounding the corner, we would run wildly out the door. The bus had to stop in front of our yard as we ran screaming from the house because we were never waiting patiently at the bus stop with the rest of the prompt neighborhood kids. I have wonderful parents, but punctual is not a word that comes to mind when I describe them.

Mike over at Refocuser says, “…some of us just weren’t born with an ability to gauge elapsed or remaining time.  We consistently think we have more time than we actually do…” He calls it “time denial,” a state when one is caught up in the moment rather than moving on to the next thing.

Although he says time denial happens to everyone sometimes, holy crap, that is me most of the time. Mike has some great tips so I won’t duplicate his list, but I have a couple to add. If you don’t struggle with punctuality, but you are looking for a way to make your mornings simple and stress-free, then this is also a good exercise for you.

1. Create a morning routine on paper. Look at it with a critical eye and see what you can move to the night before or the weekend. Can you prep your lunches on Sunday? Load the coffee pot the night before and set a timer? Pack your bag and set it by the door? Edit your list accordingly once you have these other activities moved off your morning agenda.

2. Add realistic times next to each item. Once you have your routine pared down to the bare essentials it should be a pretty short list, certainly fewer than 10 items. [People who already have children: feel free to laugh at me and offer guidance.] Add what time you need to start each activity to keep your morning on schedule.

My morning routine looks like this:

7:10  Empty the dishwasher while you cook breakfast.

7:20  Eat.

7:30  Clean up and load the dishwasher.

7:35  Shower.

7:45  Dress, make-up, hair.

8:15  To the automobile!

3. Adjust your routine so that it works for you, not so that you are working for it. I had to experiment with my routine to pare it down. After a few practice runs, I adjusted the timings so that they are reasonable and easier to achieve. I had to remind myself that this ritual isn’t called “The Morning How Fast Can You Get Ready Challenge.” Try to include an activity in your routine that makes you happy. For example, I like to enjoy a cup of coffee while I cook and eat breakfast. You might have to change your routine a few times until you’re comfortable and feel good about it.

4. Try using a timer. I used a timer and kept the list in front of me and crossed off items as I went while I learned what time I should be doing which item. Aside from the geeky satisfaction I get while checking items off a list, the beep of the timer would keep me moving towards the next task so I didn’t get trapped in time denial. Sometimes when I’m in the mood for a more involved breakfast or a longer shower I bust out the timer so that I can be flexible, but I don’t completely lose the plot and fall back into old habits.

Voila! After taking these steps, you should have a predictable and relaxing flow to your morning.

Now if I can just master my evening routine… I’m working on it.