Posts Tagged ‘planning’

Knowing What's Really Important

We often focus too much on the daily grind (paying bills, keeping the house clean, writing reports, etc.) and too little on our real priorities. Those many details may seem urgent at the time — but if you look at the bigger picture, that they really aren't all that pressing. And it's sad when we end up missing out on the important things in life (experiences and relationships) because we're so caught up in the minutiae. Do you really need to be organizing the garage, or spending time with your kids at the park? Is it a higher priority that you decide how to arrange the chairs at the upcoming sales meeting, or that you develop a strong agenda and provide guidance during the group discussion? Will you benefit more from zoning out in front of the television, or taking a walk around the neighborhood with your spouse? Ask yourself where you will get the biggest bang for your buck. That should be where you focus your attention, and let someone else handle the rest. A not-to-do list helps identify those chores, errands, and daily responsibilities that can (and should) be delegated.

Keep a notepad handy, and record your activities for a week. You don't have to log every second of your day (“8:00 — got up / 8:05 — used bathroom / 8:15 — had breakfast” isn't going to help you be more effective and efficient!) But if you can start tracking your work responsibilities (a paid job, housework, or whatever fills your day), travel time to and from activities, and any other external responsibilities (committee meetings, carpools, volunteering), you will begin to see places where you can trim and tighten your schedule through delegation. Make a note of what you are doing — such as “checking e-mails” or “cleaning oven” or “buying groceries.” Then, estimate how much time you have spent on that particular chore (don't forget travel and prep time). Later we'll look at whether this action needs to be done at all (!!) and whether it needs to be done by you. But for now, that's the start of your “not-to-do” list.

Once you've made a list of items that you would love to delegate — who do you hand them off to? You have so many options! Just remember, you aren't in it alone. You simply have to decide whatyou want to delegate and then be willing to ask for help. At home, you can get your family involved in the act (see my dear hubby doing dishes?) Kids and spouses are just as capable of handling those daily chores as you are! At the office, don't be afraid to ask a co-worker for some assistance — and offer to help out the next time he or she needs a little bit of a break. Also make use of your support staff (administrative clerks, assistants, and other assorted minions) — that's what they are there for. If you don't have these sorts of support networks to call upon, hire an independent contractor or freelancer to help with household and business tasks that you don't have time for. You might also think about developing a local co-op for sharing those time-consuming domestic (trading off on cooking, cleaning, errand-running, or child care) — or set up an informal swap with a neighbor.

Your Living Spaces

If youcan manage a deep-clean before you start decorating, great — if not,don't stress yourself out. Just do a quick sweep through each room, carrying a basket or tote withyou, collecting up items that belong somewhere else. While you're at it, putanything that is obvious clutter, that serves no purpose in your life,or that you could easily let go of in a separate container to bedonated this holiday season.  Then simply give each room a quick 15-minute clean each week — a light dusting (or swipe with some disinfectant in bathrooms and kitchens), a speedy sweeping or vacuum (with some pine-scented carpet freshener), and afast tidying up (putting magazines in a basket, hanging up coats, putaway items that belong in a drawer or cabinet).

Decking The Halls

Once the house is tidy, it's time to decorate. You probably have a standard spot for each item (the reindeer goes on the table by the front door, the angel candle holders sit on the mantel, the tree lives in the foyer, etc.) — so separate your holiday paraphernalia according to the room in which those items will be placed. Then tackle one space at a time, either in succession or over a period of days. Either way, it will go a lot faster than pulling one item out of a box, toting it across the house, then going back for another item that lives in an entirely different location. Repack your decorations by room and you'll skip a whole step when you do it again next year!

Cooking And Entertaining

It's your choice how much cooking you do during this festive season — but whatever the plan, taking a minute to think things through in advance is guaranteed to make everything go smoother. Plot out dates for each event so they don't conflict with other obligations. Decide on your guest lists — especially if you are hosting separate activities for different groups of people (colleagues, family, the kids' friends, neighbors, etc.) Write out your menu and grocery lists, then do as much shopping as you can in one trip (at least the dry goods). And if you can batch any of the food prep (chopping vegetables, cooking sauces, or making desserts) for several different events at once, then freezing each portion separately — you will save a lot of time and effort in the long run.


The first rule of stress-free holiday gift-giving is to create a budget and stick to it! There is no reason to spend the new year paying off holiday debt if you are realistic about what you can afford and what you can't. Once you've decided on an amount, develop a your gift list recognizing that it truly is the thought (not the number of presents or cost) that matters. Online and catalog shopping is often a faster and more affordable option these days (plus, no crowds!) Don't forget to include people like the postman, school teachers, etc. — but consider homemade or edible gifts for everyone except your closest friends and family (it will be easier and a lot less expensive!) Set up a “gift station” with all of your paper and supplies, and wrap/tag each item as you bring it home. It's also not a bad idea to pick up a few extra generic gifts (candles, bath products) for drop-in guests.

Sending Cards

You can save a lot of money (and cut down on landfill waste) by sticking to e-cards — companies like BlueMountain and Care2 allow you to send a variety of fun internet cards for no cost whatsoever. If you do plan to mail your greetings, take a minute to input your holiday address list in the computer so you can print directly on the envelope or a mailing label. This may seem like a lot of work when you could just hand-write, but it will be faster in the long run and easier to keep track of changes from year to year when your list is automated. If you like to send a family photo, either schedule your portrait or get your snapshot done early in the month — so you have plenty of time for printing and mailing. Then set aside an afternoon (preferably with some relaxing music and a cup of hot chocolate) for writing out your greetings — the less it feels like a chore, the more you will enjoy keeping in touch.

Special Events

At the start of each holiday season, you should set up a master family schedule — a big wall-calendar hung in a high-traffic area where no one will miss seeing it! Assign each family member a different colored pen (red for Dad, blue for Mom, green for Jimmy, etc.) — and another color for events that you expect the whole group to attend. Then make a note of EVERY single commitment, performance, party, and holiday activity as you find out about it. In this way, you will be able to deal with scheduling conflicts, prepare adequately for each event, make time for your holiday priorities — and recognize when your family is simply overbooked and needs to cut a few items from the calendar. And don't forget to transfer important items to your PDA or planner!

Holiday Travel

If you're intending to hit the road (or fly the friendly skies) this season, it will behoove you to get your trip planning done as early in the month as possible — so you aren't rushing around at the last minute, trying to rent a car or find your mittens. Set aside a single folder for all of your holiday travel paperwork — tickets, itinerary, brochures, confirmations, and info about any seasonal activities you would like to investigate while you're out of town. Make as many reservations as possible — this is not the time of year for last-minute decisions! Create an in-depth packing list for everything you will need (don't forget your winter clothes and those gifts you plan to bring along). Go ahead and pack as many items as you can NOW (travel-size toiletries, travel accessories, wrapped presents, etc.) — checking each item off as it goes into the suitcase. Then sit back and enjoy a stress-free trip!

Learning How To Quantify

When you were a kid, you probably didn't think much about what it took to earn money — you just asked for what you wanted and somehow, mommy and daddy made it happen. You didn't worry about what stuff cost, and you didn't understand when someone told you it was too “expensive.” Then you got an after-school job or started working for your allowance — and I'll bet you became a lot more discriminating about what you did with hard-earned cash!

It's the same with time.  Very few people really know what their time is worth, in concrete financial terms. They just go through their day on autopilot, wondering where the hours go. Until you recognize that your time is intrinsically valuable, you will never be able to make informed decisions about where your effort is best spent.  Here's a general guide illustrating how much an hour of your time is worth, and how just one hour a day (spent poorly or wisely) adds up over a year's time:

$25,000 $12.61 $3,125
$40,000 $20.49 $5,000
$50,000 $25.61 $6,205
$75,000 $38.42 $9,375
$100,000 $51.23 $12,500
$125,000 $65.10 $15,884
$150,000 $76.84 $18.750
$175,000 $89.65 $21,875
$200,000 $102.46 $25,000
$250,000 $128.07 $31,250
$300,000 $153.69 $37,500

** Based on 244 working days per year

You can always look at delegating in terms of the biggest financial payoff. When I hire someone to take care of an item on my not-to-do list — and I pay them $25 an hour while my hour is worth $60 — I'm coming out ahead. The same is true when I can hire someone to do a task in a half hour that would take me 3 hours to complete. I can be focusing on higher priorities — things that feed my soul or grow my business or let me know I'm alive — without worrying that the work isn't being done.

Travel Plans

The easiest way to keep track of your reservations is to schedule your hotel, flight, entertainment tickets, etc. on the web in advance — then print a copy  of each confirmation and store those documents in a file. I personally know the value of having all your ducks in a row — at the last conference I attended, my registration wasn't in the system, and that printout of my confirmation saved me a lot of hassle! Be sure you have the following packed when you head out the door:

  • itinerary
  • airplane tickets or confirmation number for e-ticket
  • car rental reservation number
  • tickets for attractions, events, performances you purchased in advance
  • any discount coupons
  • directions to hotel, airport, train station, major attractions, etc.
  • guidebooks and maps (including maps for public transportation)
  • travel insurance documents (if applicable)
  • travel membership and discount cards

Currency And Important Documents

The”paperwork” side of travel can be a real pain in the neck — you neverknow what you might need, so it's the one place where less is not more.I say that in terms of documentation (especially for internationaltravel), you can never be too careful. This includes the papers thatallow you to access your funds — you really don't want to be 6,000miles from home, discover that you've left your traveler's checks athome, and realize that you have no cash for the duration of your trip(this happened to a friend while we were in India!) Here's a handy listof vital documents to take with you:

  • cash (carry only what you will need immediately)
  • ATM/credit cards (if traveling overseas, make sure these work at your destination)
  • traveler's checks (if you use these, record the numbers and store separate from checks)
  • picture ID (passport, driver's license, government ID, etc.)
  • proof of health insurance and copy of medical history
  • driver's license (international, if required) and proof of auto insurance (if you plan to drive)
  • proof of immunization for foreign travel (check to see what is required by your country)
  • address/phone book and emergency numbers (including your embassy if traveling overseas)
  • business cards (you never know where you might meet a good networking contact!)
  • if traveling overseas, copy of marriage license and birth certificate
  • calling card or long distance phone access number and code (if no cell service)
  • photocopies of all documents and cards (one with you, one at home, in case lost or stolen)

Toiletries And Personal Items

Of course, you can generally always buy toothpaste and soap at your destination if you forget them — but will they be the brands you like? If you're traveling outside the country, understand that some very basic items (like cosmetics or hair gel or even deodorant) simply might not be available where you're going (had that experience in India!) And don't count on being able to find specialty grooming products on the road (things that you can only buy from certain stores or on the internet). If you're going to want it on your trip, do yourself a favor and put a travel-size (3 ounces or less for airport security) in your suitcase:

  • toothpaste, toothbrush, dental floss, and mouthwash
  • shampoo, conditioner, and hair gel
  • soap or cleanser
  • lotion and sunscreen
  • shaving gear
  • deodorant
  • feminine hygiene products (if needed)
  • contraceptive devices (if needed)
  • vitamins and supplements
  • lip balm
  • q-tips and cotton balls
  • comb or brush
  • contact lenses cleaning supplies (if needed)
  • cosmetics
  • nail clippers and tweezers (can be important for first aid, too)
  • glasses and sunglasses (if needed)
  • ear plugs and eye mask (for sleeping in noisy or lighted areas)

First Aid

Of course, no one wants to get hurt on a trip — but the chances of it happening are pretty good (even if all you manage is a paper cut or a headache). And the last thing you want is to go hunting for a bandage or some aspirin in a strange place, and come up empty. I'm not suggesting that you pack a whole huge first-aid kit — just a few essentials that nearly everyone needs at some time while on the road:

  • bandages (just a couple, pick one semi-universal size)
  • anti-histamine or other allergy medication
  • painkiller (aspirin, ibuprofen, Tylenol, whatever you prefer)
  • anti-diarrheal pills (if traveling overseas)
  • sleep aids (if needed)
  • seasickness pills (if needed)
  • any prescription medications (pack in your carry-on bag)
  • water filter or purifying tablets (if traveling to an area with questionable water)


What to wear? What to wear? This is where most people really get in trouble packing — it's hard to know what you might need, so you just start throwing everything into a suitcase. Then, when you return home, you find that you never wore half the stuff you lugged with you on vacation! Just remember that you don't need a different outfit for every day of your trip. You can do laundry, you can re-wear a pair of pants more than once, and you can mix and match. Try packing your suitcase, then going back and removing 1/4 to 1/2 of what you've packed — you'll still probably have too much:

  • underwear (bras, slips, panties/briefs, whatever you use)
  • shirts and tees
  • pants/shorts/skirts
  • socks and hose
  • warm weather clothes if needed (swimsuit, sun hat, lightweight clothes)
  • cold weather clothes if needed (sweater, gloves, hat, scarf, jacket)
  • shoes (if you can't just get by with the one pair you're wearing)
  • belt and ties
  • raincoat or umbrella
  • pajamas
  • watch, jewelry, and accessories (try to bring a few items that can go with anything)
  • workout clothes (it's important to stay fit while traveling!)

Those Little Extras

In this day and age, there are lots of little miscellaneous items that need to travel with you for a successful trip — most of them electrical! I can't wait until the day they come up with a TRULY universal adapter, one that will fit every gadget you own — so you don't have to take a dozen different cords with you to power your cell phone, computer, PDA, camera, iPod, and whatever else you can't live without as you travel. But I digress — here's a list of items you might easily forget:

  • cell phone and charger
  • alarm clock (if you don't use your cell phone)
  • language dictionary or translator (if traveling overseas)
  • MP3 player, portable game system, travel DVD player, and charger
  • digital camera or video camera, extra memory cards, batteries, and any cords or chargers
  • computer, cords, and peripherals
  • GPS (pre-programmed with your destinations)
  • zippy bags (to keep items dry when it's raining or when doing “wet” activities)
  • extra batteries (usually AA and AAA)
  • magazines or a one book (you'll probably have less time to read than expected)
  • travel blanket and pillow
  • notebook and pen
  • currency converter (if traveling overseas and bad at math!)
  • travel lint roller
  • luggage locks approved by TSA
  • sports gear (tennis rackets, golf clubs, skis, etc.)
  • travel packets of detergent and spot remover

Traveling With Children

Going on vacation with kids can be challenging — getting them through airport security, keeping them still on the plane, being asked “Are we there yet?” 27 times in the first 10 miles of a road trip, trying to find a restaurant that will please your little picky eater (can you tell I'm child-free?) Wink Seriously, though — whether or not the actual process of traveling as a family is stressful for you, packing to go on vacation with children is a breeze. In addition to little-sized versions of all the same clothes and toiletries you bring along, you want to make sure you take these items on your trip:

  • diaper bag or backpack for storing all kid items
  • zippy bags filled with non-messy snacks (cheerios, raisins, etc.)
  • a water or juice bottle or spill-proof cup
  • wet wipes for cleaning hands and faces
  • baby food, formula, and bottles (if traveling with an infant)
  • bowl with a lid, spoon, bib
  • diapers, wipes, and ointment (if needed)
  • pacifiers
  • baby blanket
  • convertible travel stroller/car seat/carrier
  • convertible travel play pen/bed
  • a few travel toys, crayons, and books
  • plastic bags for wet clothes, etc.

Heading To The Beach

The beach means fun — but only if you have all the right equipment with you. It's much easier to enjoy the sand and sun when you're protected from burning, have playthings to keep you occupied, and have a comfortable place to sit. While you may not need all of these items every time you hit the beach, this is a pretty comprehensive list of potential seaside paraphernalia — whether you enjoy diving or fishing, splashing in the water or just laying out soaking up the rays:

  • beach bag    
  • swimsuit
  • flip flops, sandals, or beach shoes
  • sunscreen, insect repellent, and aloe vera
  • pool toys (beach ball, noodles, rafts, etc.)
  • water wings and flotation devices
  • beach chairs and mats
  • plastic bags for wet clothes, etc.
  • towels
  • dive mask, fins, and snorkel
  • sun umbrella
  • fishing equipment (poles, lures, line, etc.)
  • coolers and ice chests

Going Camping

So you're headed out into the wilderness for a few days of hiking,  open-air cooking, sleeping under the stars, and nature-watching — you're going to need some specialized equipment that you don't normally carry on a vacation where you stay in a hotel. And it is vitally important that you take everything you need with you — that you not forget any of your supplies or equipment — because it's unlikely that you'll be able buy a replacement out in the woods:

  • flashlight and extra batteries
  • insect repellent and sunscreen
  • backpack
  • binoculars
  • water filtration system
  • tent, stakes, poles, mallet, etc.
  • tarp or groundsheet and rain fly
  • sleeping bag, pillow, and mat
  • walking stick or trek poles (if you use them)
  • stuff sacks
  • trash bags
  • lightweight moisture-wicking clothes (appropriate for the weather)
  • compass
  • whistle and emergency signal mirror
  • twine or rope and duct tape
  • food (obviously!)
  • cookware, dishes, camp stove
  • water bottles or hydration system
  • camp chair (if needed)
  • waterproofs
  • matches and fire starter
  • camp tool and shovel
  • toilet paper
  • emergency blanket
  • trail guide and maps
  • backcountry first aid kit (including needle and thread, moleskin, antibiotic ointment, and larger gauze pads)

A Better Use Of Down Time

Most people's days are so filled to overflowing with responsibilities, that there's is almost no way to get it all done in the hours available. Some things (like work and school) eat up big chunks of your day, and you have no control over when or how they happen. Others can be squeezed in whenever you've got a few free minutes here or there. And where do you tend to have a lot of available time? While you're waiting! You could be sitting in a medical office, stuck in traffic, caught in a long line at the post office or bank, hoping to have your flight start boarding soon, trapped on a train during an hour-long commute, or early for a scheduled meeting. Instead of bitching about wasted time, use those precious minutes to get something done!

  • clean out your purse, briefcase, or backpack
  • listen to a book on tape or a recording of a seminar you've been wanting to hear
  • make a wish list of books to read, movies to see, restaurants to try, etc.
  • make a to-do list of things you want and need to get done in the next week
  • plan your menu and grocery shopping lists for the week
  • read that magazine article or book you haven't had time for
  • review and update your calendar
  • schedule an appointment you've been putting off
  • sort through your incoming mail, separating to-do's from trash
  • write a letter to a friend
  • make a phone call that you've been procrastinating on
  • pay your bills, either online or writing a check to go in the mail
  • balance your checkbook
  • work on your Christmas gift list
  • write and address holiday greeting cards
  • work on any sort of report / homework / project with an upcoming deadline
  • write in your journal or diary
  • meditate
  • file your nails (although I probably would discourage a pedicure in public!)
  • just relax and enjoy a moment of silence in the middle of a hectic day

See how easy that was? Wink