Category: efficiency

Silverware Days and Dishes Days

Denisa made a comparison the other day that stuck with me. “This was a silverware day,” she said.

I had no idea what she was talking about, so I asked what she meant. (Always a good call.)

“Some days it ends up looking like you got a ton done,” she said, “even though you did the same amount of work as other days. Some days it’s the other way. It’s like when you’re emptying the dishwasher. When you’re putting away the plates and dishes, you get a whole ton of the dishwasher emptied, really fast. And then you get to the silverware, and it takes much longer to do just a bit of dishwasher space.”

And that’s really true. I’ve heard it expressed as the 80/20 rule (80% of the work can be done with 20% of the effort, and then the remaining 20% of the work takes the other 80% of the effort), but there’s something about the repetitive task of emptying the dishwasher that makes this much easier to understand.

So when you have a good day, but it looks like at the end of the day you didn’t get a whole lot done, just remember it was a Silverware Day and give yourself a break. And the next day, if you want to feel better about things, why not try getting some of the Dishes done that day instead?

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The Value of a Deadline

Well, I’m back from Utah and Boston, but I’m on my way to a library meeting in Bangor today. No rest for the wicked (though I plan on taking some days next week to catch my breath and get my bearings.)

Anyway. Not much time to write, but that made me think about how great deadlines can be. I’m a tinkerer. I like to dabble in this and that, and I can easily get distracted by everything from the news to books to Wikipedia articles. Yesterday at the airport in Boston, I had about an hour and a half. I checked my work email and decided that I’d see how much work I could crank out in that 90 minutes.

The answer? Quite a bit.

Deadlines help me get things done. Not just big deadlines, but little ones too. When I know I have a half hour to do my writing in a day (no more, no less), I’m usually able to get my fingers flying and meet my 1,000 word goal within that time period. When I know I have no real limit? It can take three times as long to get it done.

Just like this blog post. Not a lot of time to write, but if I give myself a set limit to get it done, it’s much likelier that it gets finished. (Even if my brain is mush when I’m typing it.)

Anyway. That’s all I’ve got for you today. Not up to too much abstract thought. Glad to be home and only dealing with driving, not flying today. Thanks for all of your kind words of support, and I’ll catch you next week!

Are You Easily Satisfied?

The family carved pumpkins the other night. TRC and DC were on their own for the most part. Denisa helped them get the guts out, and then they picked patterns to carve.

(I had suggested they just wing it and do faces, since I often end up getting stressed by silly things like pumpkin carving (It’ll be done faster if we just do faces, and then I can go back to my OUR LADY revision . . .)). They reminded me that the kid version of me would have been aghast at such a suggestion, and they stuck to patterns.)

So DC was working on a cat face, TRC was doing the grim reaper, and MC . . . MC was happily sticking monster parts into a small pumpkin. (Think of it like Mr. Potato Head, but with pumpkins.) She had more fun taking them out of the pumpkin than putting them into it, since the pumpkin had tough skin, and she had a hard time getting the parts to pierce it.

As I was watching all of this unfold (and helping both the older kids with their pumpkins, because if there’s any innate urge I have stronger than the one to get out of doing work, it’s the one to make sure work is being done well when I’m around. Seriously. What’s up with that? I need help.) Where was I in that sentence? Oh right. As I was watching all of this unfold, I was just impressed with the contrast of the kids. The older ones were really striving hard to do difficult things. The youngest was just having a blast doing the simplest of things.

I’m not saying we should all be happy just doing the easy things all the time, but I do think there are occasions when it’s the definite better option. Too often, I think I tend to default to a “if it’s harder to do, then it’s more worthwhile” mentality. To use a really basic example, I’ll spend a bunch of time putting movies into a Netflix queue, and then I’ll decide I don’t want to watch any of those, because it would be more interesting to find a new one.

Or maybe I’ll be working on a video project. Something that doesn’t really need to be perfect or anything. Just good enough. But instead I’ll dive in and make that video as good as I can possibly make it. There are advantages to both approaches, really. I like that I’m driven to do my best, and many times it’s brought me a lot of success.

But there needs to be an off button on that somewhere, or at least a pause button. I need to do a better job of looking at a situation and deciding just how much effort I really need to put into it. If I can have a fun time just sticking potato head parts into a pumpkin, why not run with that instead of coming up with something much more elaborate?

Anyway. Yet another introspective, thoughtful post. Don’t worry. I’ll try to review something really inane in the not too distant future. Happy Halloween!

Ditching Digital for Print

I’ve been pretty darn busy these first few weeks of the semester. There’s a slew of things related to a new school year going on at work (at the university), and then a bunch of beginning of the school year activities with the kids, plus a writing deadline approaching, a work construction project about to begin, and general daily life activities all going on at once. It’s felt like I’ve been going from one task to another, with little in the way of pauses or breaks.

My typical approach to staying organized is to use a Google Task List to keep track of everything. That’s mirrored on my iPhone and iPad, and I can always know what things still need to be done. Once I complete something, I delete it from the list. Ideally, the list gets shorter, and life is good.

The problem the last week or two has been that the list hasn’t been getting any shorter. I’ve been adding new things to it faster than I’ve been subtracting old things. And nothing quite replicates the feeling of working your tail off each day, only to find out that it looks like you have more to do, not less.

With digital, it’s even worse, because there’s no real record of all the things I actually accomplished.

That’s why, for the past few days, I’ve ditched the Google Task List and gone with the good old fashioned pen and paper, instead. At the end of the day, I might still have a ton of work to do, but at the very least I can look at all the scribbled out things on the list and know that I worked hard. That I did get some things accomplished. I thrive on getting things done. It’s what motivates me to keep going. When that feeling is lost, I can start to flounder and feel adrift.

So pen and paper it is. And I’m going to bring this blog post to a close, because that’s one more thing on my list that I can scribble off for the day. Huzzah!

What do you do to keep track of your crazy?

How Do I Afford It?

After my post about my European vacation plans yesterday, I’ve had some people ask how in the world I can afford to go. It’s been a while since I did a post on budgeting, so I thought it might be time to do another one. As always, my own experiences don’t necessarily translate to everyone. Take or leave what works for me, however it works for you.

To start with, Denisa and I are both good with money. That’s a huge plus right there. If half of a couple is good with money and the other half isn’t, then I’ve found it doesn’t really matter how good the one half is–the other half more than makes up for it. We don’t have that problem, and I’ve never dealt with it, so I have no idea what I would do if Denisa weren’t good with money. (Sorry. No advice there. I guess this one’s easier if you’re not married. Then it’s just you you have to deal with.)

What do I mean by “good with money”? I mean that we both know how to live within a budget, and we’re both not afraid to cut out big purchases in the name of saving money. I don’t mean to say we’re the best at it–I have a few friends who are much, much better. We still have a home loan, and we haven’t been paying it off early, while some friends have already paid theirs off years ago, or are getting close to having it done already.

But we’ve cut out other expenses. Satellite television or cable, for one thing. Yes, that’s just $600/year or so, but it’s indicative of the spirit we have when entering budgeting: we’re not afraid to give up some things we enjoy for the sake of saving money. Our kids don’t do sports or dance. We try to stick to a pretty slim budget when it comes to birthdays and Christmas. (Well, birthdays at least.) We just aim to live simply for the most part. We’ve refinanced the house twice, getting the interest rate down to 3.75%, and the house payment is much lower than it would have to be in many areas of the country. All of that helps, and it all adds up.

It also helps that we both managed to get through school with no student loans. Three masters degrees, zero debt. We had scholarships, we stayed with family, and we worked to keep costs down. We also went to BYU for 2 of those degrees, and it’s dirt cheap to go there. ($5000/year for undergraduate, just a bit more for graduate. Dirt. Cheap.) No student loans meant that the money we made after we graduated could go to us, and not to the loans.

We also have eliminated almost all our other debts. We’ve never had credit card debt. We’ve got two cars, but we’ve paid both off. Other than our mortgage, we have no outstanding debts. That helps a ton.

But the biggest trick I’ve found that helps is that we set up our budget (using mint) on the assumption that I only work 1 job, and Denisa doesn’t work at all. All of our monthly expenses are constrained by what I make at the library. Not just that, but when I’ve gotten raises the last few years, we haven’t let those budgets get any bigger. (Well, where we could. Insurance and property taxes have gone up. We have no choice over those.) Even within that library budget, we’ve set things up so that if that’s all we were making, we’d still be able to come out ahead each month. This includes a car payment. Since we paid the cars off, I’ve still been putting aside car payment money each month, saving it up for inevitable day when we’ll have to buy another car.

Next, we’ve spent the last while getting an emergency fund set up. Enough for us to live for about a year with no income, if we have to. I treat that money as if it doesn’t exist. It’s socked away into CDs, and I don’t touch them. But if something bad were to happen, then we’d have the money to fall back on. That safety net makes me much more comfortable spending money on other things, like European vacations.

So we treat our lives as if we only have one income. But then we work to have as many different incomes as possible. In addition to my library job, I teach classes at the university, and I write books. Occasionally I even sell books. All of that money is extra money. Denisa bakes bread, she rates essays for ETS online, and she teaches classes at the university too. (Those advanced degrees pay off. Go figure.) Again, all of that money is gravy. If we had debts other than our mortgage, we would pay them off ASAP. If we didn’t have debts but had no emergency fund, we would create one. All of that has to come first.

We keep track of all the extra money month to month, adding any surplus we took in and subtracting any extra expenses that popped up. Extra expenses include doctor visits, purchases for the house, gardening supplies–you name it. Anything non-essential that isn’t in the monthly budget. (It also helps that I have very, very good insurance and benefits through my library job.) This all means that at any given time, I know exactly how much money we have kicking around to do other things with. I make sure to always keep a nice buffer of money in place–again, for emergencies.

In other words, 13+ years of living frugally as a married couple have really made it so we can afford to do these sort of things now. Our furnace is on its last legs, and I just bought a new one for $4000, but I’d been planning on this happening, and we have enough socked away to pay for it. That cuts down on stress so much.

That said, I realize there are definitely people who live frugally and aren’t able to make ends meet. I wish I knew advice to solve that. I don’t. All I know is how I’ve budgeted, always making decisions that would hopefully save me money in the long run. Will we be able to keep this up? I don’t know. I don’t know how much our expenses will change once the kids get bigger and start eating more or needing clothes faster. We haven’t been saving too much money for their college funds–my expectation is that they’ll work to help with that when they’re old enough and while they’re in college. Then again, I’m hoping they go to BYU, which would really help with how expensive college is.

We’re not perfect. We’ve made mistakes with budgets in the past, and that leads me to believe we’re making mistakes now. But we try to learn from those mistakes, and we spend money where we think we need it. If Denisa wasn’t from Slovakia, I don’t think there’s any way we’d be taking trips over there every three years. It wouldn’t be in our nature to do that. But she is, and we both think it’s important to keep those ties alive. We want our kids to know their Slovak heritage well.

Anyway. It feels like this post came off as a “look at me! I’m so great!” sort of post. That wasn’t what it was intended as. Maybe it wasn’t such a hot idea to write about this in the first place. But I have now, and I don’t have time for a different post today, so you’re all stuck with it. If anyone has any specific budgeting questions, I’m happy to answer them as best I can, with the disclaimer that I’m just a librarian, not a financial genius.

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