Tag Archives: lessons learned

Simple ways to save time and reduce stress

As I try to stay sane for the next couple months despite my mile-long to-do list, I’m looking for quick and easy ways to reduce stress.

Here are a few things I’ve tried in the past few weeks that have helped immensely.

Plan ahead.

At the beginning of each day (or each week), take a few minutes to make a rough outline of what needs to be completed and when. It may feel like you don’t have time to stop and regroup before you tackle the day, but making a game plan will help you prioritize tasks, manage your time more efficiently, and keep you on task.

Delegate and ask for help.

It may seem like you’re on your own, but chances are your support network is more willing to help than you think. Enlist your spouse, children, or co-workers to handle appropriate tasks on your to-do list. Once you’ve mapped out your game plan for the day or week, figure out which tasks would make the most sense to outsource.

Deal with it now.

I have a tendency to let a million little things pile up in my life. I leave a ton of emails in my inbox. I let the junk mail pile up on the kitchen table. I wait until the last possible minute to do everything.

If you want to cut your stress instantly, try taking care of those little bothersome things right away. Archive or delete every email as soon as you’ve read it. Throw junk mail into the recycling bin as soon as you’ve read it. Wash your dishes as soon as you finish eating. By taking a little time to take care of this stuff as it happens, you’ll reduce the total number of items looming over you on your to-do list.

Make your health a priority.

You may be tempted to give up relaxation, exercise, or sleep in favor of work or chores. When you sacrifice your health, you’re not at the top of your game, which will lead to less productivity. Take the time to take care of yourself, and you’ll get more done in less time, leaving you with more hours in the day when your work is done.

Photo by charliedees

Setting boundaries to maintain my sanity

With everything that’s happening right now, I’ve been more than a little overwhelmed. I’ve been thinking of ways to cut down on stress and make time for the things that relax me.

The line between work, home, and work-at-home has become too blurry. Chores around the house are being neglected, and I feel like I’m constantly “on the lock.” I’ve decided to set some boundaries for the next couple months to keep me focused and give me time to chill out.

No laptop in bed.

One of the things I miss most when life gets hectic is reading fiction. When I’m stressed, nothing is more relaxing than forgetting about my to-do and immersing myself in a book. Stress also leads to insomnia for me, especially when I’m working right up until I try to sleep. Reading before bed calms me and takes my mind off the stress in the moments before I sleep.

Solution: I’ve banned myself from bringing my laptop to bed with me. For the past week, I’ve been forcing myself to read instead of work or plan, and it’s definitely helping me sleep better and relax a little in the evening. It also gives me an opportunity to spend time with my husband without our laptops between us.

Set time limits.

Since I work full time throughout the week, I do the bulk of my personal planning and projects on the weekends. Since the weekends are my only chance to relax, working too much on Saturday and Sunday cuts back on my “me” time. I feel like I spend all morning working and the afternoons are eaten up by errands and household chores.

Solution: Weekend days are now “work days” with the same limits. I work 8:30 to 5:30 on the weekdays, so why should I be on the clock non-stop on Saturday and Sunday? I’ll spend weekend mornings planning, writing and working until 2 p.m. From 2 to 5:30 p.m., I’ll get household chores done, but the weekend evenings are mine to relax, exercise, and spend time with Tony.

I’m making myself and my family a priority.

I think we all have a tendency to put what we can on the back burner when time is limited. That means that the things and people we love most often get the shaft. I’m definitely guilty of this. If I’m busy, my work out is the first thing I cut. After that, I’m likely to sacrifice time with my husband if I’ve got a lot going on. But why should the things that are most important to me take a backseat?

Solution: The things that are most important to me are non-negotiable. I’m limiting “overtime” when it comes to personal projects. During the times that I’ve allotted to myself and my family, taking me time and being with my husband are the only things on my to-do list.

Have you set boundaries for your sanity? What would your rules be?

Photo by redvers

How to stay relevant after turning in your resignation

Most people suggest a minimum of two-weeks’ notice when you decide to leave a job, and offering a little more notice if you want to leave your job on good terms. Due to extenuating circumstances, I ended up giving my current employer almost five months’ notice before leaving.

I don’t recommend offering this much notice, but an impending maternity leave in my department made me feel that giving my employer a lot of extra time to cover his bases was only fair — especially since I made the decision to move early. I felt it would have been dishonest to train to cover my colleague’s maternity absence when I knew I was leaving a month before her due date.

It can be very difficult to stay relevant in your position when your employer and colleagues know you’re on your way out. The last thing I want to do is coast, though. Not only would it make my last few months boring and unchallenging, it would jeopardize my positive reference by leaving a bad final impression with my office.

Here’s how I’m staying on top of my game.

Let your employer know that you’re not finished yet.

If you turn in your resignation letter early like I did, be sure to let your employer know that you’re committed to the job 100% until your last day. Not only did I write it in my resignation letter, but I told my employer face-to-face that it was important to me to finish what I’d started there, and that I still had a lot of work to do before my last day.

Set up your replacement for a smooth transition.

We all develop a personal organization system that works for us in our jobs, but sometimes your personal system can be difficult for anyone else to decipher. If you’re one of these people, spend some time reorganizing your files and creating process documents to make it easy for your replacement to hit the ground running.

Tie up loose ends tight.

Now is the time to not only finish all of the projects you’ve started, but take extra time to make sure everything is done perfectly. Don’t be tempted to “phone it in” as you approach your final day. Your laziness will be apparent once you leave, and it could lead to a negative reference even if you were a perfect employee until your resignation.

Take initiative on new projects.

You may not be the first person your employer considers when it’s time to start new projects, but take the initiative and remind him or her that you’re still a dedicated employee right up until your last day. If you have time to tackle something new, do it.

What are your suggestions for staying relevant in the final months or weeks before leaving a job?

Photo by saraab

On accepting my own limitations

Lately, I’d give anything for an extra 12 hours in the day. Between full-time work, daily blogging, my book project, exercise, household chores, and spending time with my husband, there aren’t enough hours in the day to get everything done. Add to that our travel plans and moving preparations, and I’m completely overwhelmed.

Then there are the projects that I want to do that I just can’t fit into my schedule — the books on my to-read list, the unfinished quilts that have collected dust for 3 years, the piles and piles of clutter that need to be cleared before we pick up and move again, the movies I’ve yet to see, and my poor dog who isn’t walked nearly enough.

I wish I had a solution, but honestly, I don’t. I love that I have such a varied list of interests, and I love that my busy schedule keeps me from ever feeling bored. But I hate the way it feels to see the book on my nightstand, and the bookmark that serves as a painful reminder that I’ve yet to make a dent in it. I hate the feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach when I look at my guest room, crammed full of stuff that I haven’t even touched months. I miss having the time to do my favorite relaxing projects that I love — quilting and reading and photography.

It seems that the only solution is to give some of it up, but I can’t choose. So I end up back at the same place — struggling to balance the things that I must do with the things that I love.

As kids, we’re told that we can do it all. As adults, we face the tough reality that it’s just not possible.

How do you find a balance?

Two bank accounts = too much confusion

When I first switched to my ING checking account, I absolutely loved it. I still love my checking account with them. But we are finally experiencing some of the confusion I feared when we made the switch.

Because ING Direct is an electronic bank, our account must be linked to a brick and mortar bank. This allows us to cash and write paper checks. Aside from the occasional birthday check from my grandma, we rarely cash paper checks. Unfortunately, though, because of the timing of my husband’s paycheck and the way that ING’s paper check mailing process works, we still use our brick and mortar bank to write our rent check.

It’s been relatively easy for the past several months. Tony’s monthly paycheck is split up — the rent money is automatically deposited into our brick and mortar bank on the last day of the month, and the rest of his paycheck goes into our ING account. We write the rent check, give it to the landlord, and everything is fine.

This month I made a mistake, though. A few of our online bill pay accounts still have the account information from our brick and mortar bank. I must have selected that account accidentally when I paid a bill at the end of the month, because $100 of our rent money was deducted from the bank before the rent check cleared.

When I logged in to see if the rent check had cleared on the 2nd, I realized there wasn’t enough money to cover the rent. If the check cleared without enough money, we’d have to pay a $25 returned check fee.

It takes two business days to transfer money from ING to the brick and mortar bank, so there wasn’t enough time to transfer money in order to avoid a bounced check.

Luckily, I caught the mistake in time to make a cash deposit at the brick and mortar bank. Because the check hadn’t cleared yet, I was able to deposit cash into the account and avoid a returned check fee. The check cleared at midnight on Feb. 2 without a problem.

I learned a few lessons from this headache. First of all, I removed our brick and mortar account information from all of our online bill pay accounts to avoid selecting it accidentally again. From now on, I’ll also be checking our brick and mortar account to make sure I haven’t made any mistakes before I turn in the rent check.

This is the second big mistake I’ve made in as many months. Last month, I actually forgot to pay a bill (a first for me), and we ended up paying a late fee. I don’t know what’s up with me lately, but the biggest lesson I learned from this? I need to get on the ball. I don’t know if it’s stress from all the planning and changes ahead or what, but my lack of focus could end up costing us if I’m not more careful.

Photo by potteryandeverythingelse

Where we’re going & how far we’ve come

Last week after I  mapped out financial goals for the next 3 years, I felt overwhelmed. Whenever I set a new goal, especially one as lofty as saving $20,000 for a house within three years, I go through a period where it feels impossible.

I have to remind myself of how far we’ve come. I remind myself where we were just three years ago — living paycheck-to-paycheck with an empty savings account.

I remember how I felt when I started this blog a year and a half ago. Simple goals like building an emergency fund, starting a retirement account, and saving for our move in three years on our meager income felt so far away. It might as well have been a million dollars.

I think back to last January when Tony and I started talking about our crazy plan to go to Europe. I wanted to make it happen, but I doubted whether we could save that much money in addition to our emergency fund and moving fund.

But step by step, dollar by dollar, we met our goals. We learned to spend less and save more without compromising our comfort. We learned that determination and good planning can make even the most difficult goals a reality.

When we finally completed our emergency fund and saved enough for Europe, I felt like I’d just finished my last final exam. I was relieved and proud. We’d come so far. That’s partly why I waited so long to set new goals. I wanted to revel a little — to feel like we’d finally made it — before starting over again.

It’s time to move on, though. There’s no finish line for frugality. There are always new challenges to overcome and new goals to accomplish. That’s part of the fun of it.

This is only the beginning, and we have a long way to go. With such a long road ahead of us, it helps to look back on how far we’ve come, and remind ourselves that each step is taking us closer to the next goal. Each time we hit a new landmark, we’ll be a little more stable, a little more settled, and a little more confident in our ability to get to the next one.

Photo by cdm

How I saved $5 by reading a label

This week I came down with a cold. The same week I’m getting my wisdom teeth out, of course. I’ve already contacted my oral surgeon, and he says the mild congestion I’m suffering won’t affect my surgery tomorrow. Whew. I didn’t want to put it off another week.

But that’s not the point of the this post. I want to quickly tell you about my trip to CVS last night.

When I’m sick, the most effective medication for me is a blend of ibuprofen and decongestant. I don’t know why, but ibuprofen seems to work better for me than acetaminophen.

I stopped at CVS on my way home from work to pick some up. I’m used to paying high prices for even generic versions of this cold medicine. The cost was $10 for 24 pills.

I started checking alternatives to see if I could find something similar for less money. I looked at a box of generic Sudafed, which cost only $5 for 24 pills. When I compared the ingredients, I realized that the only difference between the generic Sudafed and the generic Advil Cold and Sinus was that the Advil included a dose of ibuprofen. The generic Sudafed had the same exact decongestant in the same amount (30mg of pseudoephedrine).

All this time I’ve been paying double for the generic Advil Cold and Sinus when I could have just picked up generic Sudafed and supplemented it with a dose of ibuprofen, which I always have on hand at home. This morning I took a dose of the decongestant along with a dose of ibuprofen, and it’s just as effective.

The lesson? Next time you’re browsing medications, be sure to compare ingredients and think about what you have on hand at home. Otherwise you could end up paying twice as much to buy something that’s already in your medicine cabinet.

Photo by zingersb

Learning to jump right back on the wagon

This post originally ran on January 22, 2009. A year later, I’m still struggling to stay motivated, especially after temporary setbacks. Besides, I think we can all use a little encouragement as the novelty of New Year’s resolutions fades.

These days, I’m thinking as much about fitness as I am about finance. I’m still working on losing weight and living healthier, and I’m constantly fighting my vices — with overeating and overspending.

With the novelty and motivation of New Year’s resolutions wearing off, you may find yourself slipping up, too.

One thing I’ve learned is that it doesn’t matter how often you fall off the wagon. Everyone lapses. The real test for success is how quickly you rebound.

It seems that too often one little mistake can snowball into a catastrophe. In a moment of weakness you eat a donut or splurge on an expensive pair of shoes. Suddenly you’re thinking, “Well, my diet/budget is blown for today. I might as well make it count.”

That kind of logic led me to gain more weight and rack up more credit card debt in college than I care to admit.

This time I’m trying something new — forgiving myself and starting over. Not tomorrow or next week or after the weekend, but right now, right after I realize I’ve made a mistake.

After overeating or overspending, I used to bargain with myself. If I ate too many pieces of pizza on Friday night, then the weekend was shot, so I might as well wait until Monday to start over. In college, I used the same bargaining process when it came to my finances. “Starting next month I’m not going to use my credit card anymore,” or “After this weekend, no more eating out.”

The truth is, one mistake never really derails anyone. The real catastrophe comes from the self defeat that follows that one mistake. If you decide to give up for the rest of the day, week, or month, then you only make a bad situation worse. Your one mistake becomes a major derailment.

When you give up, even temporarily, after every little mistake, you find yourself feeling defeated a lot of the time.

Next time you find yourself straying from any goal, don’t put your efforts on hold. Don’t wait to start over. Do it right away.

Once you’ve eaten the donut or spent too much money, there’s nothing you can do to take it back. Don’t dwell on it and let one mistake derail you. Instead, wipe the slate clean, and move on.

Time to order contacts again — or why I think “contact lens fittings” are a rip-off

Last year after I painfully paid $175 for a year’s worth of contact lenses and the accompanying “contact lens fitting” that wasn’t covered by my insurance, I considered setting aside money every month for this yearly expense. I don’t know why I didn’t, but now I really regret it.

It’s time for me to order contacts again, which means I need to make an appointment with the optometrist for my yearly eye exam. The exam is covered by my insurance with no co-pay because it’s considered preventative care. Anything associated with contact lenses, however, isn’t covered. That includes the “contact lens fitting,” which I consider the biggest rip-off I’ve ever had to pay for health care.

My prescription hasn’t changed since I was a kid. I won’t be changing my brand of contacts either. But I’ll still have to pay an extra $75 for my doctor to write me a prescription for contacts. I need that prescription to order my contacts anywhere, even if I choose cheaper vendors online.

What does the contact lens fitting involve? Well, not a whole lot. After my regular exam, the doctor will give me a trial pair of lenses — the same lenses I’ve been wearing for a year without any problems. Then I’ll schedule an appointment to come back two weeks later. At the second appointment, the doctor will come in and ask me if I’ve had any problems with the contacts that have worked absolutely fine all year. I’ll tell him they’re fine, and he’ll write me my contacts prescription so I can order another year’s supply.


Pardon this rant, but it really bugs me. I called around to several optometrists, but of course they all require this “fitting” appointment. I understand why a doctor I’ve never seen would require something like this (somewhat), but why would the doctor I saw last year who prescribed these contacts that have been absolutely fine for 12 months require me to do this again if I haven’t had any problems?

I suppose the most frugal thing for me to do would be to stop wearing contacts all together and wear glasses instead. But I hate my glasses. My prescription magnifies my vision. So my glasses make my eyes look comically big. Tony doesn’t think so, but I’m just uncomfortable wearing them. Not only that, but it wouldn’t be comfortable to wear glasses at the gym when I’m working out.

I’m usually not one to complain about medical expenses. I do what I have to do to stay healthy, and I understand that things like prescriptions and exams cost money. I value my health, and I consider most health care related costs to be absolutely worth the money. But this just seems so ridiculous and unnecessary. Don’t you just hate when our health care system requires us to pay for unnecessary things just so doctors can profit?

I’ve learned my lesson. This year I’ll be putting aside $15 a month for contacts so I won’t have to pay a lump sum all at once and throw off my budget next year. /rant

Photo by chrismar