Productivity for nurturers: my [so far, so good] system for overcoming procrastination

I wasn’t always such a procrastinator.

Sure, I’d put off school projects from time to time, but I got enough pleasure out of doing a really good job that I’d usually get to work on them right away.  I liked having time to revise things.  I liked working hard.  It seemed worth it.

I dealt with the usual senior-itis, in both high school and college.  And then I worked a couple of assistant-level jobs where I, for the first time in my life, didn’t feel like the hard work was worth it.  Part of the problem was that I didn’t mesh well with some of my supervisors.  My go-get-’em approach, combined with a few errors of the “you don’t know what you don’t know” variety, made me gun shy.  I didn’t want to try and be wrong and get yelled at, again.  So I started putting things off.  It was extremely stressful.  Not only did I have to deal with the stress of being undertrained or having a boss with unrealistic expectations, I had to deal with the stress of procrastinating.  But, like most issues that involve feeling hurt, it wasn’t a rational decision.

I brought that baggage with me to law school.  I was very much “once bitten, twice shy.”   The instant I felt like I wasn’t understanding a topic as quickly as my peers, I resigned myself to being a second-rate student.  If I didn’t try my hardest, the [relative] failure felt easier to bear.  Don’t get me wrong, I graduated with honors.  I was in Law Review, and the Editor-in-Chief of a specialty journal.  I competed in moot courts.  I did well.  But I think I could have done better, if I had more confidence.

I graduated from Law School nearly two years ago.  Sheesh, that’s a long time ago.  Due to a variety of circumstances, I’m still not working.  I finished the second part of my dual degree (a Master’s in Urban Planning), I studied for and passed the New York Bar.  I waited for Alan to finish his Ph.D., and then moved with him to Connecticut, where I would need to take another bar exam.  That exam is in 10 days, and if/when I pass, I will finally be able to work as a lawyer!

And just this week, I seem to have found a work-around for my now-chronic procrastination.  The only way I can reliably get my house clean is to go on vacation.  I will work and work and work to have the house clean when I return.  I want to come home to a clean kitchen, an empty sink, a freshly made bed with clean sheets, swept floors–the works.  Inviting people over will motivate me somewhat, but going away will make the house sparkle.

Earlier this week Alan came down with a cold.  He almost certainly caught it when he was flying back from spending a week in San Francisco for a conference.  I felt the beginning of the sickness, and decided to take care of future me.  I did all the laundry and put it away, cleaned the kitchen, cleaned out the fridge, made sure I had some prepared food ready to go, gathered the appropriate over-the-counter medications, and filled the electric tea kettle.  I did this for the first time last year, when a similar pattern befell our home: Alan got sick, gave me the cold, but that time he had to leave for the long weekend to go on a job interview.  I knew I’d be home alone, and I wanted to make sure I was taken care of the only way I could: the just-coming-down-with-a-cold me took care of the full-blown-sick-me, through some ordinary time travel.

As I marveled on my ability to get the house so clean, even as I was feeling ill, I saw the connection between my pre-vacation and pre-illness behaviors.  Taking care of myself in the future prevents procrastination!

I also observed this, to a smaller extent, in a few habits I’ve recently developed.  I’ve been setting out outfits the night before, making it a no-brainer to get dressed for the gym, or for the day.  I’ve also become a devoted fan of mise en place, the practice of preparing and measuring out all the ingredients for a recipe before starting any cooking.  Both of these habits make it nicer for future-Eliza to do something easily.

So here I am, 10 days before the bar exam.  And I’ve decided to think of poor Eliza, on Tuesday, one week before the bar exam.  She’ll be stressed and tired.  What can I do for her?  I can review all the outlines in my bar preparation materials, take notes, and transfer them to one 4″x6″ card per subject.  She can carry them around for quick review.  I can read and review all the exam procedures, print off maps to the venue, and get that all set, so she doesn’t have to worry about last minute stressors.  I can also write out a flexible review schedule for the last week of studying.  In addition, I can look over some meal plans, and sign up for some classes at the gym.

I have been more productive today than I’ve been in years with this realization.  I’m definitely in the beginning stages of figuring this all out.  Perhaps I’ll take some time every week to ask myself: what can I do this week to make things easier/better for me, one week from now?  It’s not that different than deciding what I’d like to get done in the following week, in theory.  But in practice, personalizing it, empathizing with who I will be ____________ [when I get back from vacation, when I am in the throes of this cold, when I am a week out from the bar exam, when I’m looking back on this week] makes all the difference.

 

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How I Got Good at Cleaning My House

Part 2 of my Sal Suds story

sal suds

I have this theory that there are “tidy people” and “clean people.”  Tidy people want their spaces to be picked-up and organized, but don’t really care about a little dust on the bookshelves or dishes in the sink.  Conversely, clean people can ignore piles and clutter, as long as the space is vacuumed and clean.  Alan is a clean person.  I am a tidy person.

Cleaning–washing windows and doors, dusting, sweeping and mopping–has always seemed both kinda-unimportant and so, so overwhelming to me.  Isn’t it hard to clean?  I don’t want to tear up my nails using green scratch pads to scrub out stains and messes.  I don’t want to spend all that time on my knees scrubbing the floor.  It’s just so. much. work.

Then Sal Suds and this article came into my life.  Now I can clean my whole house–hard surfaces–in about a half hour.  I no longer dread cleaning, and I’m much more likely to actually do it.  Here’s how!

Supplies:

a 2 gallon bucket full of hot water

2 microfiber cloths, these from Home Depot, specifically

an old toothbrush

a spray bottle of diluted Sal Suds, using the recipe in my other post

Method:

Spray all hard surfaces liberally with the diluted Sal Suds.  Go through the whole house spraying the kitchen and bathroom sink and counters, light switches, painted railings, painted coffee and end tables, door knobs, etc.

Drop the microfiber cloths and toothbrush in the bucket of hot water.  Starting at the first area you sprayed, take one of the cloths, wring it out, and wipe up the spray.  It should wipe right up.  You might have to scrub a little, but not much.  Use the old toothbrush to get into any tiny crevices.  I use two cloths so that one can soak in the hot water while I’m using the other one.  Change out the water if it gets too dirty.

That’s it!

Important note: do not use this on wooden surfaces; it will take the finish off of them.

By working through the whole house you give the spray time to loosen dirt and crud.  And I think the Sal Suds are really key to this working so well.  After reading the BHG article linked above, I mixed up some water, vinegar, and cleaner (it was either Method or Simple Green–I can’t remember!), and it worked pretty well, but I still had to do a lot of scrubbing, which is the part of cleaning I hate.

Here are some quick before-and-afters I snapped while cleaning my apartment today:

coffee table

coffee table

top of heater

top of heater

half-wall where cats sit

half-wall where cats sit

stove

stove

kitchen sink

kitchen sink

shower

shower

bathroom sink

bathroom sink

I washed these things, as well as all doorknobs and light switches, the toilet, and any walls that seemed smudged.  And it all took me less than 25 minutes, which includes the time I took taking the pictures.

Saving the best for last: cleaning my house regularly using this technique is nice and all, but where it really shines is on old or sticky messes: dirt that hasn’t been touched for years, sticky dust, oily residue above the stove, etc.  In order to demonstrate this, I sprayed down part of the railing in my apartment building. [Side note: this was hilarious, because I was terrified someone would walk up the stairs and ask me what I was doing.  So I sprayed a bit, and then sat down on the stairs next to the wet railing and edited photos on my camera to look busy.  Fortunately no one came by!]

railing--old dirt

railing–old dirt

There is a cleaning woman for the building, and I see her diligently vacuuming and cleaning the halls and stairways, so I know that it’s not neglect that caused the build-up of brown on the railings.  It’s really hard to get old dirt clean!  Sure, you could scrub it with a green scratch pad, but that would take forever, and maybe wouldn’t do a very good job.  I literally spritzed the railing generously, sat for 2 or 3 minutes, and then wiped it with a microfiber cloth.  I maybe rubbed it back and forth two or three times, but I certainly didn’t scrub.  And the years of dirt just came right off.

I was inspired to clean the rest of the railing, so I sprayed it down, waited, and wiped away.  Here’s an in-between shot:

railing

 

I’m telling you: this is good stuff!

 

All right, so that’s my method for cleaning.  Tomorrow  Later this week I’ll wrap-up this mini-series with a brief description of my minimalist cleaning kit.

 

Let’s chat!

What is your cleaning secret?

 

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Sal Suds

I want to share my new favorite cleaning product: Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds.

sal suds

It claims it can be used for many, many applications (see also: Dr. Bronner’s castile soap “18-in-1 uses”).  I mainly use it to hand-wash dishes and clothes, and diluted as an all-purpose cleaner.

hand-washing dishes: I use a small squirt of soap in a basin of water, and find that it cleans quite well.  It probably cleans as well as Dawn blue liquid (what I consider the “gold standard” of dishwashing liquid), but it doesn’t dry out my hands the same way.  I’ve read concerns that you should add the soap after filling the basin with water, or else it will produce too many suds, but I’ve never had that problem.  Then again, I don’t put much in.

I like that it works so well and doesn’t dry out my hands, but it does feel like I’m using it up more quickly than I’d like.  It’s a very concentrated formula, and should last seemingly forever.  But I’m down to just more than 1/4 of a bottle left, and I’ve only been using it for three or four months.  I’ll probably buy another dedicated dish soap after this, but I may return to Sal Suds.

hand-washing clothes: This works just fine for hand-washing clothes.  I appreciate that it’s practically fragrance free–there is a very slight pine scent, but it’s not noticeable after the clothes are rinsed and dried.

I’ll probably continue to use Sal Suds for hand-washing, because it means I don’t have to buy separate laundry detergent.  I use the All small-&-mighty fragrance free soap packs in the washing machine, so I don’t have a bottle of detergent around.

all-purpose cleaner: THIS is why I love Sal Suds.  I will buy it forever and ever, just so I can make all-purpose cleaner.  The formula is pretty simple: water, white vinegar, Sal Suds in a spray bottle.  But I’ve never had a soap that works so well in my life!

Here’s how I make it:

In a 25 oz bottle, add 15 oz. of water (I use filtered water), 10 oz. distilled white vinegar, and one medium squirt of Sal Suds, probably about 2 Tbsp.

recipe

Shake gently (again, it might suds up too much, but I’ve never had that problem).

It is hands down the best all-purpose cleaner I’ve ever, ever used.

 

Tomorrow I’ll share more about how I use the all-purpose cleaner, and how I became significantly more productive in cleaning my house.

 

Let’s chat!

Do you make your own cleaning products?  Do you have any recommendations for dish soap?

yard sale & farewell party

So things are happening fast around here.  We spent the summer noses-to-the-grindstone, anticipating Alan’s dissertation defense.  That was the big deadline, the big finish line.  Then, all of a sudden, it was over.  We went to Utah, we came back, I was sick.  And now it’s one week before Alan starts work!  When did that happen?!

We had been planning on hosting a yard sale Saturday the 17th.  I was going to spend last week preparing: sorting through stuff in the storage areas of the house (porch, garage, loft, basement), pricing items, setting up.  Instead, I rested and tried to recover from being sick.  It seemed like the yard sale was going to have to wait.

Thursday morning I woke up feeling better.  I hadn’t felt good in nearly two weeks, and the energy was stimulating.  I decided, in bed before I even got up, to do the yard sale.  I’d have two days to sort and prepare, but I could do it!  My mom came over Thursday to help, and Alan didn’t go in to work on Friday.  (He finished the changes necessary to his dissertation Thursday, so he’s kind of done.  He will clean out his office, and he wants to spend some time training group-mates on some laser stuff before he leaves.)

Saturday we woke up early (5ish), and set up the yard sale.  It was quite a success!  Let me tell you what we did, what worked, and what didn’t.

 

1. I read The Joy of Less a while ago, and had a great mentality when sorting our possessions.  Instead of asking myself “am I willing to part with this?”, I asked “is this ‘treasure’?”  I didn’t decide what to sell, I decided to sell everything, and then had to choose what to keep.

2. I priced things low.  I advertised the sale as a “nothing over $10” sale.  Some people got really good deals on the items with the highest value.  I ran out of $0.25 and $0.50 stickers first, because I priced things so low.  I wanted things to be gone, I didn’t want to get the most money for each item.  I didn’t want anyone to want something, pick it up, and think it was too expensive.

3. We sold home improvement supplies.  This was Alan’s idea, and it worked great.  We sold the faucet we bought and never used, and the left-over chain link from installing the gate across our driveway (40 feet for $10).  We sold PVC pipe ($0.25 to $1.00 per piece) and green-board ($0.50 for partial boards) and cement-board ($0.25 for partial boards).  We sold partial cans of spray paint ($0.25) and wood stain ($0.25).  It was a good portion of the sale, and it attracted more buyers, including people just driving by the house who stopped.

4. We advertised on craigslist and gsalr.com.  In fact, I put up the gsalr.com ad first, and it had an option to cross-post on craigslist.  I still had to make the craigslist listing, but I could cut-and-paste some nifty html from gsalr.  It made the craigslist ad look nice: it had a map and a nice font.  It was easy and free.

5. I advertised for no early birds.  I don’t know if this made a huge difference, but it helped me not get stressed out when setting up.  In the ad I mentioned that prices were tripled before 8am.  That kept people away!

6. I made really legible signs.  I read some advice to simply make signs that say “yard sale” with an arrow.  I used some foam-board we had, and a huge magic marker.  I made the letters six inches high, and the arrow was seven inches high and 15 inches across.  We put out five signs.  Two were double-sided, so they could be read by traffic going either direction.  They went on the main roads leading to our house.  There was a single sign that pointed to our house if you came via a side street.  And there were two signs right in our front yard: one on the left and one on the right, for traffic going both directions.

7. We had a cooler of bottled water and ice.  We sold the bottles for $0.25.  It wasn’t a huge draw, but we did sell some bottles of water to people who didn’t buy anything else!

8. We had lots of change (probably too much).  We withdrew $150 from the bank: 5x $10, 10x $5, 30x $1, and two rolls of quarters.  In retrospect we probably needed 5x $10, 5x $5, 15x $1, and one roll of quarters.  I had priced so many things at $0.25 and $0.50, that I felt the need for nearly a hundred quarters.  But I didn’t think about the fact that most people would buy more than one thing.  Plus, I’d often round down, to make people feel they were getting a really good deal.

9. I kept the change in a carpenter’s apron.  It kept the money on my person, and it was easy to pull out change.  It was also easy to switch the apron between me and Alan during the sale.  I handled most transactions, but I also left the sale several times to pick up more stickers (see #2), and to pick up some lunch.

10. We set out everything for free after the sale was over.  I put a curb alert on craigslist, and we told the neighborhood kids everything left was free.  They were so excited.  Their parents probably weren’t thrilled that they brought home so much junk, but it was fun to watch.  I did pick out a few high priced items that didn’t sell: a clarisonic mia face washer, a pair of unworn dansko shoes, and a nice coat Alan’s never worn.  We’ll bring those to Goodwill, along with anything that was left.  I think we’ll have just one box worth of stuff for Goodwill.

 

We made over $300 at the sale, which sort of surprised me.  (I say “sort of”, because I kept an inventory list as I priced the items, and I entered it into Excel.  I knew that the sum of what I had priced was over $300, and that surprised me.)  I said to Alan several times before the sale that I was most excited to get rid of so much stuff.  Making money was secondary.  Yard sales are such a win-win!

 

We held the sale from 8am to 4pm.  At 6pm we had some friends over for a farewell/congratulations Alan party.  I knew I’d be tired, so I planned a super low-key party.  I cut up a watermelon and a pineapple into wedges (finger food!), and set out the leftover bottles of water (#7 above).  I asked people to bring soda, beer, or chips/dip.  We ordered six pizzas, and an hour-and-a-half into the party I went out to buy a box of ice cream sandwiches.  We ate in the back yard, sitting on wooden arm chairs Alan brought from the house (we sold almost all our outdoor chairs that morning!).  It was the best party I’ve thrown in a while.

Our friends from church came (as well as my parents), and it was really great to sit and chat.  Most of the people had been in the first Small Group I joined, five years ago when I returned from China.  That’s where I met Alan.  That group has since dissolved: people got married, and had babies, and moved on from just being “young adults.”  It was so, so nice to be together again.  We talked and laughed until it got too dark to see anymore.

The reality that we’re moving has only just sunk in.  Alan’s first day of work is a week from tomorrow.  A week later the cats and I will join him.  There’s still lots to do, but it’s all very exciting!

 

 

P.S. Today is our anniversary–four years!

 

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Gardening


 

Last year, I built a square-foot garden and had a great time watching it grow.  The weather last year was bonkers.  I think I built the garden in April, and planted it shortly after that.  This year we still had snow into May, which changed things a little.

My 2012 garden was so much fun, but I learned that some plants didn’t do very well in our back yard.  We have a bunch of squirrels and birds, and I didn’t get one ripe tomato out of my garden.  I’d watch the tomatoes develop and slowly turn from green to red.  As soon as it would be ready to pick, I’d go out to find the tomato full of beak-shaped holes, or on the ground and half-eaten.  Similarly, the peppers didn’t fare well.  The onions were fun, but they produced really tiny onions.  What really worked were snap peas, carrots, potatoes, and spinach.

Before it frosted, I planted two squares of garlic to over-winter.  We thought we might be moving as soon as January 2013, so it was a little bit of a gamble.  Even though the onions were small, I thought that over-wintered garlic might be good.

Then I planted eight more squares on Memorial Day weekend: four squares of peas, two squares of carrots, two squares of kale.  Then I mostly left it alone.  We’ve had a really rainy spring/early summer, and the plants have done well, despite my neglect.

My plan, on Memorial Day, was to plant the third row with potatoes, and the front right two squares with lettuces, and to let the garlic grow all summer.

I went to weed the garden on Saturday morning, while Alan worked on finishing up the siding.  The garlic shoots had turned brown and dry, so I decided to see if they were ready to harvest. [I never got the garlic scape–I wonder if I missed something…]

The heads are on the small side, but I’m going to try to make this recipe with fresh garlic.  Yum!

I tried to buy seed potatoes from Home Depot this year, but they were really squishy and gross, so I didn’t.  I meant to get to a garden store to buy them, but I never got around to it.

In order to fill out the garden (both because I love vegetables, and to look good when we show the house), I planted the rest of the squares with seeds I had knocking around.  I planted two more squares of kale, and two more squares of carrots.  They’re growing well, and it’ll be a nice second harvest.  I planted four squares of spinach in the entire front row.  It should be mature in 48 days, which means we may or may not get it before we move.


I highly recommend the square foot gardening method.  Vegetable gardens have always intimidated me, but this one works so well.  There’s a bit of technique to it: building the raised bed, installing the dividers (they sit above the garden; they’re not dug into the dirt), preparing the correct blend of planting mixture, knowing how many of each type of vegetable can be planted in a square (one, two, four, nine, or sixteen).  It all seems worth it.  The dirt blend is designed to be good at draining, and also fairly loose, which makes weeding really easy.

Like I said, I planted potatoes and carrots last year, which need a bit of depth, and it worked fine.  The typical square foot garden only requires six inches of dirt, I believe.  This garden is ten inches deep, which gives that extra depth for root vegetables.

I plan on setting up at least one square foot garden in our new house in Hartford.  Ideally, I’d like a whole garden dedicated to asparagus (it’s perennial, but it takes a couple of years to get started), a whole garden for cabbages and broccoli, since you can only plant one per square, a whole garden for root vegetables, and then at least one garden for the rest: climbing fruits and vegetables and other leafy greens (and peppers!  if I can get them to grow).  One of my life list goals is to grow all the vegetables we eat one summer (and if I can get really good at canning, for one whole year!).

Happy gardening, all!

 

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Tiling!

So, we got the plaster and lathe down for all of the bathroom except the shower surround (so we can keep showering while working on the main part of the bathroom).  I installed cement board on the bottom half of the wall around the main part of the bathroom.

Working with cement board is interesting.  First of all, it’s heavy.  The sheets are 3’x5′ and weigh something like 60 pounds.  Second, you can’t cut it the same way you cut drywall.  Instead of simply scoring with a utility knife, you have to use a carbide cutter, and you have to score it a bunch of times on each side.  The accounts I read online suggested scoring it six times on each side, but I figured they were burly handymen  so I score it between 10 and 12 times on each side.  And that means you have to measure carefully, so the scoring will line up.  And then you lean on it with all your weight and hope that it breaks at the score line, and not somewhere else.

But, I did it.  I did it myself.

Then I started tiling.  We are using white subway tile, which is fairly inexpensive from most hardware stores.  Plus most subway tile is “self-spacing,” that is, it has tiny little ridges on all four sides that act as spacers.  So instead of putting in plastic spacers, you can just snug each tile up to the one next to it and go!

Here’s how I tile:

Continue reading

Creating a Weekly Menu

How do you make delicious meals every day without them seeming repetitive, or without having to cook something brand new every night?  You create a meal category plan!

Mustard Roasted Potatoes

Here’s how to do it:

Step 1. Decide how many nights a week you want to plan.  Do you go out to eat once a week?  Do you have a regular get-together?  Our Small Group used to share dinner every Sunday.  Once every six weeks or so we would host, but the rest of the weeks we just showed up and ate!  I generally plan Monday – Friday, and have more flexibility on the weekends.

Liz Cares About  |  bang bang shrimp

Step 2. Brainstorm meals you and your family likes.  Alan likes fish.  I like chicken and roasts.  We both like ethnic food, especially if it’s spicy.

Example

Categories 1

Continue reading

useful web tools

Every so often I come across a tool that makes my life significantly easier.  Here are a few tools I use when browsing the web that I love.

{click on any picture in the post for a larger view}

downforeveryoneorjustme.com {http://www.downforeveryoneorjustme.com}

You’re trying to check gmail.  It doesn’t seem to be loading.  Is it just you?  Or is Gmail down?  Go to this website, type in the URL, and let it check for you.  It’s better than asking a friend on Facebook or Twitter whether they can access their Gmail.

 

 

wheresmycellphone.com {http://www.wheresmycellphone.com}

Can’t find your cell phone and don’t have a landline?  Type your phone number into this website, and it will call your phone for you.  I use this one more than I should–any time I use my cell phone on the couch, I invariably drop it down in the cushions.

 

 

control+shift+T {PC} | command+shift+T {Mac}

Did you just close a tab that you wish you hadn’t?  You could go to your history and open it back up, or you can click command+shift+T.  It opens up the most recently closed tab.  You can open the last ten closed tabs. It’s just like opening a new tab, but you also hold shift down at the same time.

If you close a whole window of tabs Chrome (but not Firefox), you can control+shift+T and get the whole window back.  If you have to force quit your computer, and had a bunch of tabs open in Chrome, you can get them back when your computer starts up again.  Just open Chrome, and click command+shift+T.  It’s magic.  I love it.

 

Google Reader is going away in July 2013.  I’m still working on finding a replacement I like as well.  I’ll update this when I do!

Google Reader {google.com/reader}

I read a lot of blogs: at least a hundred.  I used to bookmark blogs in categories (home, recipes, crafts, organizing, etc.), and open them all every couple of days.  It was less than efficient.

Now, I use Google Reader to organize my blogs.  If you have a Google account (Gmail, etc.), you can easily set up a Google Reader account.

Just go to google.com/reader, and click “SUBSCRIBE.”

Type in the name of the blog you want to follow, for example: elizaeveryday.com, apartmenttherapy.com, or chezlarsson.com, then click “ADD.”

 

You should get a yellow bar at the top that tells you you have been subscribed to the blog.

If it didn’t work, you’ll have to go through the website itself.

If you get this message

 go to the blog you’re trying to follow.  Look for an RSS link or button, or maybe a +Google button.

If they have a +Google button, click on it, and then choose “Add to Google Reader”

If they have an RSS, click on that button

 

Then choose “Subscribe with Google.”  You may have to click on the +Google button first.

Now.  Now! Here’s the best part.  Go to your Google Reader Settings

And click on “Goodies.”  Click on the yellow “Next” button and drag it to your bookmarks bar.

Now!  Open a new tab, and click the new “Next” bookmark.  It will bring you to the newest (or oldest–change it in the settings) blog post from any of the blogs you read.  With one click, you can read your blogs, without tons of bookmarks, or typing in URLs.

I set Google Reader as my home page, though I almost never go to it.  When I open a new tab in Chrome, it gives me the new tab form, not my home page.  But, when I come across a blog I think might be interesting, I copy the URL, click the home button, and subscribe to the blog right away in Google Reader.  I do accumulate quite a few blogs this way, but I’m equally unsentimental about unsubscribing from a blog.  If I click the “Next” button and come to a blog post that is boring or irrelevant to me, I do a quick mental scan to see if this blog has been boring or irrelevant for a while.  If so, I click on the home button, find the blog in my Google Reader, and unsubscribe.

 

That’s it for now.  Those are the tools I use most often and find to be the most helpful in my day-to-day online life.

What are your tips and tricks for navigating online?  I’m always looking for cool new tools!

 

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tomato time-management

Some time ago I learned about the Pomodoro Technique.  It’s a simple time-management tool.  You work for 25 minutes on a project, then take a five minute break.  Every four rounds, you take a longer break.

It’s simple, but it seems to work well for me.  A lot of times I can’t seem to get started.  But if I know I only have to work for 25 minutes, I don’t dread starting.  And once I’ve started, I’m good to go.

I recently upgraded my old netbook to a new MacBook Pro.  I was browsing the App Store (sidenote: it took me a while to realize that not all Mac apps are in the App store—a lot are still downloaded from websites), looking for a Pomodoro timer app.  I have a nice one on my iPod Touch, which keeps track of how many Pomodoros I complete each day.  I couldn’t find the equivalent for my Mac, which bummed me out at first.

But then I stumbled upon the Pomodoro app, by Udo Landini.  Things I like about this app:

1. It puts a timer in the toolbar

2. You can change the time for both the Pomodoros (working) and the break.  At first I thought that you could only choose 25, 30, or 35 minute Pomodoros.  But then I realized that you can use your mouse to select the time and type in whatever you want.  Sometimes when I’m working on law assignments, I switch it to 50 minutes.  25 minutes just isn’t enough time to get anything done.

3. **my favorite feature** You can sync the Pomodoro app with iCal.  After you complete a Pomodoro, it appears in iCal.  It’s titled the same as the Pomodoro.  I find it very motivating to look back on a work-day and see how much of the time I was working.

Of course, you can use the Pomodoro technique with a clock.  You don’t need an app.  But if your situation is close to mine, I recommend the Pomodoro app.

What about you?  How do you manage your time and keep yourself motivated?

 

 

 

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“unsubscribe”

I have two email addresses.  One is for school and friends (important things).  The other is the one I use when I buy stuff.  Any mail trying to sell me stuff ends up there.  Sometimes I use my important stuff email for a charitable donation, and then get sort of annoyed when they send me emails that seem like they’re trying to sell me stuff.  But for the most part it works.

The split email system allowed me to keep my important email inbox clean, but for a while it wasn’t saving me any money.  My purchases email account is a hotmail account, and I used to click through every message before filing it away in a folder.  I had a bunch of folders: bank, Groupon, etc.  I’d click on the message so it marked as read, and then move it to a folder.  And even though I was just clicking through to avoid having a billion unread emails in my folder, I’d still be swayed by the advertisements.  I spent way too much money at Lands End, since it seemed like they were always having a sale.  (If they were always having a sale, you’d think I would figure out that I didn’t need to buy something this week, because they’d have a sale next week.  Nope.)

Side note: I love a clean email inbox.  I stare, rudely, at people with a huge number of unread email messages.  How can you function with 1,189 unread messages?  How do you ever find what you need?  I only keep emails in my inbox that are still actionable—things I’m waiting on (i.e., confirmation numbers for deliveries), and things I still need to do.  Everything else is filed away, where I can find it with a simple search.

Back to my purchases email account: It was a good day for my bank account when I discovered the “mark as read” function in hotmail.  Now I simply select all of the messages, unclick the ones that I might want to read—that tell me an online bill is due, or have tracking numbers for a package—and click the “mark as read” button.  Boom, no unread messages.  Then I click “move to Archive,” the single folder that I created.  I replaced all of my particular folders with one big folder.  It’s easy enough to search for “Groupon.”  I was wasting a bunch of time filing messages in particular folders.  The unwanted messages are moved to my Archive folder, and I just read the two or three interesting emails.

But this morning, I decided to go one step further.  I’m just going to unsubscribe from most of the emails I get.  I get emails from Toys’R’Us because I bought something off a baby registry, from Hanes.com because I bought Alan underwear online once, and from all sorts of fancy websites that I would never buy anything from.  I’ll keep a few clothing stores for their occasional coupon codes.  Hopefully this will simplify things.  And in a few years, when I’m (hopefully!) gainfully employed, maybe I’ll re-sign up.  Or not.  I hate junk mail.

 

 

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