A side effect of this setting is that I could no longer manually order my tasks to reflect the order I planned to do them during the day. As I shared in that earlier post, when first made the switch, I thought I’d be fine with this tradeoff because my areas and their respective projects are ordered by priority. This meant my highest priority tasks were always at the top for me to do first thing in the morning.
In theory, this change was great for my workflow. In practice, it was less so.
Sometimes those highest priority tasks weren’t things I could do in the morning. Making a handful of phone calls while the other half is still sound asleep in the next room probably wouldn’t go over well. Similarly, if my morning was full of appointments, I probably wouldn’t have time to handle putting together a report. I also tend to work better on reports in the afternoon anyway.
At the time of making that change, I even noted that I was already finding myself jumping around in the list. Little did I know just how much jumping I would end up doing. Over time, I found myself spending a LOT of mental bandwidth simply scanning through my list multiple times a day to figure out what I could work on next.
Ordering my list manually allowed me to build out a plan for my day every morning, and I no longer had that plan.
My solution ended up being a fairly straightforward method that I adopted from my Erin Condren paper planner days. While there’s now a few different layouts, the original Erin Condren planners I used broke each day down into three blocks, Morning, Afternoon, and Evening.
Things 3 already has a This Evening section, but I’ve manually created tags for This Morning and This Afternoon. (Cultured Code, if you’re listening, an option to have a This Morning or This Afternoon section could be nice.)
On mornings where I’m feeling a little more overwhelmed, I can go through and find all the tasks in my Today view that I need and can do first thing in the morning and tag them with my morning tag and (optionally) do the same with the afternoon tag.
Once I’m done, I can filter my Today list by the This Morning tag which reduces my Today list to only tasks I can do that morning and nothing more.
I’ve been using this method for a few weeks and I’m actually really liking it.
It’s also a bit reminiscent of my days using Omnifocus’s start times which prevented things from showing up until I could truly do them. As an Omnifocus user, I loved start times. Why see a task before you can work on it?
I’ll tell you why.
I’d start my day with no clue of how many tasks were scheduled. I’d check everything off for the day and revel in the feeling that my tasks were done, not knowing another task (or tasks) had a start time later in the day.
In the worst case scenario, I wouldn’t see those tasks until the next day missing them entirely. The more common scenario was that my task list started to seem neverending – “Congratulations! You’ve done all your tasks for the day! Just kidding! Here’s another one at 9PM!”
The lack of start times in Things 3 was actually a good thing for my life, but I still did miss that ability to filter things.
Now by using tags in Things 3, I still see every task I have on my Today list at the start of the day so I know what I’m in for, but I also have the option of breaking it down further if necessary.
This last month marked my one year anniversary of using the app, You Need a Budget, or YNAB, and to say I’ve been dying to share my progress is an understatement.
I figured YNAB would be one of those things to pass the time while stuck at home during the pandemic. At the very least it’d be something to do during the couple weeks I’d be stuck at home. Little did I know, I’d still be here a year later, and little did I know much YNAB would change my finances during that time.
I want to start out by saying I’ve been incredibly lucky to not only keep my job during this past year, but also by being able to work from home this whole time. I truly feel for those who didn’t share my situation.
Regardless of what my situation had been, finding YNAB at the start of the pandemic couldn’t have been better timing. The world was facing the uncertainty of a pandemic, and I was almost $9000 in debt with basically nothing in the bank.
Creating a Plan
My first month of using YNAB was all about creating a plan. It turns out despite using Mint for all these years, I really had no clue what to do with my money. If there was more than $1000 in the bank, I figured it was safe to spend, so I did. Instead, I had a great idea of where my money went in the form of nagging “overspending” alerts, which weren’t all that helpful after I’d spent my money. YNAB flipped Mint’s budgeting model on its head and forced me to create a plan for every dollar (rule 1) before I spent it.
Paying Off Credit Cards
My second month of using YNAB ended up being one of those rare months full of unexpected money (why can’t they all be like that!) – a 3 paycheck month, tax refunds, and a stimulus check. In the past, I would have squandered this extra money on random things from Amazon, but armed with my plan, I put the extra money to work for me towards the goals I had set out.
My first goal was to pay off my credit cards, which I’d been unsuccessful at doing pretty much ever since I got the cards. Thankfully, I never wracked up tons of credit debt, but I always seemed to have some combination of around $2000-4000.
Thanks to the extra income in April, I was able to pay off all three of my credit cards. My initial goal was to pay off 1 card by the end of 2020. I’m also happy to say that thanks to the way YNAB forces you to treat credit cards as if they’re debit cards, I’ve continued to completely pay off my cards each month ever since. Getting paid to use a credit card is a lot better than paying interest.
Paying Off the Car
My second goal was paying off my car. Pre-YNAB this seemed like a goal I’d be able to tackle by December 2021 at the earliest, but I ended up doing it in August of 2020. This was actually an even bigger deal to me because I actually accomplished another goal, of becoming debt-free other than the mortgage by the time I celebrated my 30th birthday which I hadn’t even imagined being possible 2 months prior.
Feeling YNAB Broke
One of the reasons I was consistently over budget using Mint was that I wasn’t planning for what YNAB considers True Expenses (rule 2) – things like that yearly Amazon Prime subscription, a new set of tires, or the appliance that inevitably gives out at the worst time. Every month one or more of these true expenses would pop up, and because I hadn’t planned for them, I’d pull out the credit card to pay for them.
With YNAB, I started setting aside money for those true expenses. As each one came up, I added it to my budget and started saving a little for it each month. Eventually I was able to convert a number of my monthly bills to annual plans saving even more money.
As a result, my bank balances started to climb, which is also around the time I started feeling “YNAB Broke” as YNABers like to say. My bank account had more money in it than I’d ever had, but suddenly all those dollars already had jobs. I didn’t have $10,000 in the bank to spend on whatever I wanted. It was already earmarked for car insurance or Christmas gifts.
As time went on, I stopped noticing my bank balances altogether. Category balances are what I check, and since they rarely have more than a few hundred dollars in them, you feel broke even though you have more money.
Getting a Month Ahead
One of YNAB’s other tenants is to try and break the paycheck to paycheck cycle by getting a month ahead (or in other words, using last month’s income to pay this month’s bills). It’s rule 4 and they call it aging your money.
This was one of those things that seemed a bit overblown to me but turned out to be unexpectedly rewarding. Each month as my debts went down and more of my true expenses were accounted for, paychecks seemed to get me funded a little further down the budget until one day I realized the whole month was funded and I was still expecting another paycheck for the month. It seems simple, but starting the month knowing everything is accounted for has added so much peace of mind to my life.
Building My Emergency Fund
After getting a month ahead, I refocused my sights on my emergency fund. I had saved up $1000 (Dave Ramsey’s Baby Step 1), but my eventual goal is to have 6 months worth of expenses. I currently have around 2 months of expenses saved for this. Paired with being a month ahead and saving for true expenses, I consider this really a 3 month emergency fund, which brings us to today.
My Goals for 2021
Finally feeling secure in my finances for the first time in my life, I pushed pause on increasing my 3 month emergency fund to 6, and set my sights on the future.
I recently opened a Roth IRA with M1 Finance, and pressed paused on the emergency fund because I wanted to max out my Roth IRA for 2020 and knew I only had until April to do this. (The IRS has since extended the deadline to May.) As of this past March, I’ve reached my goal. Going forward, I’ve built monthly contributions of $500 into my budget so that so I won’t need to play catch up to max out my contributions for years going forward.
My other goals for the rest of the year, all of which I’m on track to complete, are as follows:
Finish saving for our wedding
Refinance our condo to a 15 year mortgage
Complete saving a full 6 months worth of expenses in case of an emergency
Prior to finding YNAB, I assumed I just didn’t make enough money and my financial situation doomed unless I got another job. I felt stuck with no way up. It turns out my income wasn’t the problem. It was my behavior.
In just one year, I went from living paycheck to paycheck and $9000 in debt to being debt free. The net worth graph from the past year says it all.
My friends and family think I’m a bit YNAB-obsessed, and truthfully I am constantly singing its praises. I’ve definitely drank the Kool-aid, but honestly, if you’d shown me this graph a year ago and told me it would be mine today, I wouldn’t have believed you. Trying YNAB has truly been one of the best decisions I’ve made and if this is the progress I made in one year, I can’t wait to see what’s in store for the future.
And if you want to try YNAB for yourself, the links to it included on this page will get us both an extra free month if you choose to sign up after the 34 day free trial. Did I mention there’s no credit card required to sign up, so it’s totally risk free. They aren’t some sketchy company that will immediately sign you up at the end of the trial.
The reason for my dabbling was due to a feeling of uneasiness when using Evernote. For years, I’ve been increasingly less and less confident in the Evernote’s future or the company’s values, but in the absence of no better alternative, I stuck around hoping the tides would turn.
Suffice to say, the tides haven’t turned, and their recent app updates removed several of my most used features. Sure, Evernote keeps saying that they’ll bring these features back in the future, but this is also the same Evernote who said the new versions would be better than ever. Spoiler alert: They’re not.
One thing that has changed, however, is the world of Evernote competitors. It’s hard to say there are no better alternatives anymore, especially now that my needs have simplified, which is why I started thinking about what I truly needed out of a personal knowledge management system.
Topping the list of must-need features:
I need to be able to save important emails easily for reference.
I need to be able to add multiple file types.
I need to be able to link to notes both within and outside of the system.
My obvious first choice would have been Apple Notes, which I’m already using for sharing notes with my other half. Unfortunately, while it does meet most of my needs, it doesn’t have any sort of integration with my email app. Note links are also quite clunky. You pretty much have to pretend to share the note with someone to get a note link.
The highly-praised Notion was next on my list, but quite honestly I don’t have the patience to set up a database from scratch.
I also tried OneNote, but, my gosh, the interface is “oh-so-Microsoft Office” and seemed way too fiddly for my needs. No thank you.
At this point, I’ve settled with Bear. I’m still getting used to the tag-based structure, but overall, I’ve been liking it a lot more than I expected. This is in part to the simplification of my organizational needs from when I last tried it. There are a few things I do miss, like tables, but those seem to be on the road map so hopefully, the wait won’t be too terribly long. It’s also worth mentioning that Bear’s Pro subscription is around 20% of what a year of Evernote Premium would cost me.
With that said, I really do hope the best for Evernote. As a note-taking service, it’s still a pretty great option for most users, I’m just not sure I’m most users anymore. If they can prove me wrong, I’m still keeping my options open, but for now Bear seems to be my best bet.
I’ve been using Things for years at this point, and while my workflow has changed here and there, there is one thing that has remained the same.
I’ve always kept the option to organize my Today list by project turned off, opting, instead, to order my tasks manually.
At least, that was the case until about 2 weeks ago.
With the defined boundaries of my day now gone due to working from home, I started noticing that I was resenting my Today list. Despite being relentless about what I put in my Today list, the list just felt overwhelming, and who needs to be more overwhelmed right now?
So in an effort to bring some control back to my day, I’ve done two things.
The first, of course, was setting my Today list to be grouped by project (Preferences > General > Group to-dos in the Today List by project or area). This meant giving up my ability to reorder my list manually, but with my areas and projects already ordered by priority, my Today list more or less ends up ordered close to how I’d have ordered the tasks on my own. I do have to jump around the list a little bit depending on how late the other half sleeps, but it’s not been terribly difficult to adjust to.
The second change I’ve made is to create a lone project called Daily Tasks above all of my areas. This is where my non-negotiable tasks go – things like exercise and taking a mindfulness break at some point during the day. It also includes the chores I include as part of my daily home reset.
For reasons I can’t explain, separating these daily tasks from my other tasks has removed a great deal of overwhelm. Instead of a sea of endless tasks, my brain has no trouble looking at the list, seeing them front and center, and thinking, “Okay, these are the things I do every day regardless, and these are the other tasks I hope to accomplish.”
I’m not sure whether this change will stick once things get back to a new normal, but for now, it’s a welcome and simple change to my workflow that has helped keep me on track.
A number of my budget categories in YNAB reflect variable spending. These are things like groceries, gas, household items, personal care, and dining out. These categories also reflect areas where, if not careful, my spending can run amok pretty easily.
To combat this (and to make budgeting easier), I’ve set “Needed for Spending” goals on each of my variable spending categories. YNAB categories are essentially virtual cash envelopes, so the beginning of the month, I start with a capped amount available to be spent. Unlike cash envelopes, however, once the money runs out of a category, I’m not out of money entirely. YNAB still encourages me to “roll with the punches” by moving money from other categories.
Most months, I’m pretty good at staying under the amounts I’ve set. However, some months, I find myself more inclined to fall into a shopping binge and do need to pull from other categories.
In general, I try to limit myself to only pulling from other variable spending categories. I’m okay with pulling some money from my personal care category to cover an impulse bottle of wine on a Friday night. I’m less okay with pulling money from car maintenance to cover one.
How YNAB’s need for spending goals work tends to raise a number of questions and concerns for users because they don’t always work like other goal types. In my opinion, YNAB’s thought process is right though.
In short, when you budget into future months, unlike other goal types, YNAB expects you to budget the full goal amount regardless of how much you have available in the current month. The amount you need to budget doesn’t get reduced. This is because YNAB can’t know whether or not you’ll spend what’s currently available before the month ends. For instance if you have $75 to spend on dining out towards the end of the month, there’s still a possibility you may still spend that money before the month ends. Budgeting $75 less could leave you shorthanded in the next month if you spend that $75 between now and the beginning of the next month.
Some people combat this rollover problem by putting all of next month’s funds into a “next month” category and waiting until the first of the month to budget. I, on the other hand, still prefer to budget as a get paid because, quite frankly, I find “YNABing” fun. The more budgeting I get to do, the better.
In my case, when the first of the month rolls around and my available amounts from the previous month roll over, my categories are usually overfunded, which is actually a pretty good problem to have. I treat the money from any overfunded categories as a sort of mini-payday that I can then rebudget into the future. With my spending being lower due to the pandemic, that mini-payday typically amounts to around $200-$400, which is a pretty sizeable chunk of change.
I find getting my mini payday at the start of the month good enough on its own, but as an added incentive to curtail my impulse spending throughout the month, I go one step further. I set aside 10% of that mini-payday for items in my wish farm. Because of this, throughout the month, I’m constantly thinking, the less I spend on eating out or impulse buys, the sooner I get to buy something on my wishlist.
Overall, it’s only a couple hundred dollars a month, and in reality, it’s not new money. Mentally, though, my mini-payday at the start of each month has really helped reframe whether Chick-Fil-A breakfast for the third day in a row is actually worth more than buying myself a new Mac. (I decided it wasn’t.)
In my last post, I shared how YNAB has helped me get a better handle on my finances. Today, I want to share how I’ve organized it.
When you start using YNAB, they pre-populate your budget with a selection of recommended categories. I’ll be honest, I didn’t find them all that helpful. Having not read the book yet, I actually found them confusing because the category group names, like true expenses or quality of life goals, are terms people generally don’t use outside of the YNAB community. Additionally, not all the categories were relevant to me. For these reasons, I deleted them all and started over.
I structure my budget categories and groups in a few ways:
Category groups are listed from highest priority to lowest.
Category groups are also arranged based on where the money lives (i.e. checking vs. savings).
Within each category group, categories are named with and listed in order of their due date.
Each category has a goal.
Structuring my budget this way allows for two things:
I can fund my goals from top to bottom as money comes in, always knowing my money is going to the next most important area.
I can verify how much money needs to be in my checking account or should be in my savings account at all times.*
I can use the quick budget feature to not only quickly budget my money when it arrives, but also quickly estimate how much money I need to set aside each month.
*Technically YNAB will tell you that your budget is only a plan for your money and where you keep your money is irrelevant in terms of the budget, but given I don’t want to overdraft my account or miss out on interest I could be earning, I don’t buy into that.
So what are my category groups?
Current Baby Step – This is where I put my top priority savings goal according to Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. Currently, I’m on Baby Step 2, paying off my car, so this is where car payment lives. Once I’m done paying off my car (hopefully by the end of the year), this group will include building up my 3-6 month emergency fund. I separated this out to call extra attention to my main financial goal. Whenever I’m done funding the upcoming month’s goals, I dump any extra money I may have leftover towards this goal.
Credit Card Payments – YNAB automatically creates this category. Because my cards are paid in full, I don’t actually need to budget any money for these categories. Anytime I make a purchase on a card with the money I’ve already budgeted for, YNAB automatically moves that money to these categories so that I’m able to pay off the credit card when the bill is due.
Monthly Bills – This is where my fixed monthly expenses live (e.g. my mortgage payment, my Spotify subscription, etc). Anything in this category group is something that costs exactly the same amount and is due on the same day of each month.
Variable Expenses – I think of these as my cash envelopes. These are categories like groceries, gas, or eating out where I may spend more or less each month, but I aim to spend less than a certain amount.
Upcoming Expenses – These are fixed, recurring expenses that occur less than monthly, but will be due in the next 30 days.
I want to take a break here to point out that the category groups up to this point represent my checking account. Moving forward, the following categories switch to my savings account. As mentioned previously, I use this separation of category groups to quickly see how much should be in my accounts at any time and help me to know exactly how much to transfer between accounts.
Subscriptions/Recurring Expenses – The previously mentioned Upcoming Expenses and this category work together. Again, these are expenses that do have a fixed amount but occur less regularly (like my yearly Amazon Prime subscription). For GTD fans, these two categories essentially work as a tickler file. Once I’ve paid a recurring expense in the Upcoming category, I move it back to the bottom of my Subscriptions/Recurring Expenses category and reset its goal for its next due date. In this way, everything is ordered by date, so I always know which subscriptions are coming up next, how much to pull out of savings to pay them, and I can begin saving for them again right away.
Sinking Funds – This is where I save for expenses that will happen eventually. I just don’t know when they’ll happen or how much they’ll cost (e.g. home maintenance, health, vet bills).
Long Term Savings Goals – This category is where I keep future savings goals like my 3-6 month emergency fund, our house downpayment fund, and my future Tesla fund. (A girl can dream…) Right now, I’m focusing on other priorities, but I look forward to the day when I can actually fund these. (For now, this category group is hidden from my budget since I’m not actively contributing to them.)
Wish List – This is exactly what it sounds like. Anytime I want something I put it here, and eventually, it may make its way to my Wish Farm to be funded. (I also keep this group hidden to keep my focus on my current goals).
Gift Cards – This category keeps track of the money I have on my Starbucks and Dunkin cards that I use for rewards points. I also keep track of my Amazon gift card balance, as well as Apple Cash. Whenever I make a purchase using these categories, I move the money to one of the appropriate categories above to accurately categorize the spending.
One of the rules of YNAB is to “roll with the punches,” so YNABers (people who use YNAB) are actually encouraged to adjust their budget as needed, and I adjusted my categories quite frequently during the first month or so. I’ve since settled into a groove with this category structure, so that’s how I structure my budget in YNAB (at least for now).
I hope everyone’s doing well during this time. Well at least as best as well all can. Stay safe everyone. Until next time.
In most areas of my life, I’d say I’ve always been fairly organized – maybe a little too organized if you ask some people. My budget, however, is one area that has lurked like a terrifying junk drawer in the back of my mind for as long as I can remember.
I want to start by saying that I realize I’ve been luckier than most to have gotten where I am without student loans. If it weren’t for that, I know I would be in a completely different situation financially, and I probably would have been forced to confront my financial situation sooner. I realize this is not the norm for a number of people, and I truly can’t imagine how difficult it must be to get by on a daily basis while also dealing with the amounts of debt I’ve seen some of my friends and family talk about.
With that out of the way, I will wholeheartedly admit, I’ve made a number of mistakes financially over the years by acting as if the money in my bank account was Schrodinger’s cat, and despite having a well-paying job, I still fell victim to credit debt, a car loan, a mortgage payment I could just barely afford, and impulse buys galore which ultimately resulted in me living paycheck to paycheck.
I’ve always had plans to pay off debt. I understood how debt payoff worked, but no matter what I tried (ahem… Mint…), I never became one of those success stories of paying off thousands of dollars worth of debt in 6 months.
This year, one of my goals was to really get serious about a budget. I decided to retry You Need A Budget, or YNAB as its users like to call it. I’m happy to say, this time finally clicked. Happy may actually be an understatement. If it weren’t for being in quarantine, I’d be singing its praises to everyone I meet. Until then, this post will have to do.
As a former Mint user, my #1 piece of advice for anyone trying YNAB has to be forget everything you know about managing your money with Mint or anything else.
If you’re looking for a place to start, I can’t recommend their videos and Nick True’s videos on YouTube enough. I have to credit them for retraining my brain for the YNAB way. (The book is also a good resource.)
I think of YNAB as a sort of “reverse” Mint. Instead of looking at your transactions to see how you’ve spent your money and trying to budget from there, YNAB asks you to look at the money you have right now and plan out exactly how you need to spend it down to the very last dollar – Give every money a job, as YNAB likes to call it.
The key to this is you’re not budgeting the money you expect to earn for the month, only the money you have available right now, which took quite some time to wrap my head around. Budgeting for all my expenses as I typically would have with Mint resulted in quickly being told I was over budget. I had to stop thinking in terms of hopeful money, and more in terms of what my actual money needed to do first and foremost until I got paid again.
By giving every dollar a job, suddenly things didn’t seem so grim. In fact, they looked surprisingly manageable. In fact, I could clearly see just how much money I had leftover after bills rather than mentally calculating whether I had enough for every purchase. I began to set that “extra” money aside for actual jobs (my car’s next oil change, my fiancé’s birthday, our wedding…). Suddenly opening my budget was less like opening a junk drawer and more like finding $100 in the couch cushions every time.
The YNAB website says that “On average, new budgeters save $600 by month two and more than $6,000 their first year.” I’ll be honest, I didn’t learn this until after I started seeing it mentioned on the YNAB subreddit. Had I seen it before I started, I probably would have dismissed it as a typical marketing ploy. I still want to, and yet in the first two months of using YNAB, I was able to find money to pay off not one, not two, but all THREE of my credit card balances in full (almost $4000). Of course, a big portion of that is due to a couple of windfalls (including tax refunds and a stimulus check) and not going out due to the current state of the world, but without YNAB, I’d have without a doubt blown that money on something stupid. Instead, I was able to use it to further my goals. (Oh, by the way, speaking of goals… Mint’s goal function had me thinking it’d be a struggle to pay off ONE card by next January…)
The other crazy thing is I paid off those card balances while still using those cards for bills and other expenses. This is IMO the real genius of YNAB. YNAB treats credit cards like debit cards, meaning you’re expected to budget for any spending (even credit card spending) with money you actually have. Once you spend in a budgeted category, YNAB automatically applies any that money to the card’s payment to cover your balance. This is what lets you account for paying off the existing balance AND any continued spending. As an example, say I planned to pay $400 towards my existing balance, and also charge $60 in groceries. As long as I’ve already budgeted $60 for groceries, YNAB will move that $60 of real money I had set aside for groceries to cover the additional charges on the card, increasing my total available for payment to $460. This was huge for me.
Debt repayment aside, YNAB has shown me the importance of setting up sinking funds for all my long term expenses, and yearly subscriptions, and other recurring expenses that I hadn’t included in my budgets before. Anytime I come across a subscription renewal or big-ticket item I will need down the road, I add it to the budget now. Not only has this forced me to come to terms with my subscriptions and recurring expenses, but I can also now budget for them little by little over the course of a year rather than having to come up with the money all at once.
I realize money’s a touchy subject, and budgeting is a little different in terms of topics I’d normally cover here. That being said, I’m curious if this is something you’d like to hear more about on the blog. Right now, I’m thinking it might be interesting to see how my categories stack up in YNAB, and how I typically budget a paycheck. Let me know if this is something you’re interested in or not in the comments below.
Also, if you’re interested in trying YNAB, you can score an extra month for free using this link.
As I’m sure many of you also are, I’ve been working from home due to the current COVID-19 pandemic for a little over 2 weeks now. Previously, I’d been teleworking one day a week, but working from home full-time is an entirely different experience. While I adapted quickly to teleworking, I quickly realized working from home was going to take some extra considerations on my part, so I figured I’d share some of those tactics I’ve been using with you all.
Get Dressed Every Day
While it’s tempting to wear comfy clothes all day, I’ve made it a point to still get up and get dressed as though I’m going to work each morning. I get to sleep in a little extra because I’m not actually commuting, but I’m still at my computer every morning at 7:45AM ready to work and also ready for any surprise Webex meetings.
Fake a Commute
Two issues with working from home are the tendency to sit all day and also the lack of a concrete beginning and end to the workday. To solve both of these, I’ve started hopping on my spin bike for 15 minutes at the beginning and end of each day. It not only closes my Apple Watch’s exercise ring for the day, but it also creates a beginning and end to my workday that has been sorely missing now that I’m not driving to and from work each day.
I also rigged up a makeshift laptop stand for my spin bike with some random things lying around the house, so if I’m feeling restless during the day, I can get a bit of additional activity in.
Engage All the “House Bots”
I think I got this idea from CGPGrey, but it’s simple and oddly effective. If needed, I try to start my dishwasher, washing machine, dryer, and/or robotic vacuum before I start working. It seems sad to say but I almost feel a sense of guilt for not working if they are. I also employ this on particularly lazy weekends or sick days, with the understanding that even if I feel like I’ve not done much, the “house bots” have at least done something to keep things moving.
Create a Dedicated Workspace
This one seems obvious, but I honestly put off having a dedicated workspace for much longer than I should have. When teleworking just once a week, I didn’t really see much of a point. I just grabbed my laptop and rotated through several locations (couch, patio, dining room table, etc) depending on the time of day and lighting in the house.
It took about a week of working from home full time to realize I missed some of the things I had at work like my extra monitor. I also realized how darn uncomfortable my dining room chairs are for sitting any longer than about an hour. Buying a chair cushion and pulling my old Apple Thunderbolt Display out from the depths of my closet were a must.
Do a Daily House Reset
This is a habit I got into before having to work from home, but I’m glad I did. Each day, I make sure to do a few basic things to keep the house in order. I don’t do them all at once. I generally spread them throughout the day whenever it makes sense so it doesn’t feel like a lot but doing them makes spending all day every day at home a little more tolerable.
At a minimum, these are some of the things I do as part of my daily house reset:
Make the bed when we wake up (This is actually possible right now since the other half is waking up with me.)
Scoop the cat box while I’m in the bathroom getting ready.
Empty the dishwasher while making my morning coffee.
Pick up anything that’s out of place as I’m walking around the house. I try to drop it off as close to the room it does belong in on my way to wherever I’m going. Our condo is essentially one long hallway so things are generally going one way or another down it.
Before bed, pick up any dishes and start the dishwasher.
Let me start by saying I hate the phrase self-care. At the same time, I feel like we all really need it right now. For most of us, our lives have been upended by what’s going on. We’re having to deal with the reality of an awful pandemic that’s affecting just about everyone we know and love. We’re having to find creative ways to socialize with friends remotely. We’re learning to cohabitate (read: not fight) with housemates in closer quarters than usual, and if you’re like me, you’re also probably having to rebuild your entire work-life remotely in a time when work doesn’t always seem quite as important as everything else going on. None of this is normal, and it can be pretty overwhelming if you don’t take time for yourself.
I realized it’s way too easy to get caught in a cycle of scrolling through news, and if that’s the only thing you do, things start to look pretty grim. I’ve made it a point to carve time out of each day to practice mindfulness and think about what I’m grateful for, while also intentionally limiting my news consumption. I’ve also lowered some of the expectations for myself during this time. There are more important things to worry right now about than depriving myself of a piece of cake after dinner.
I hope everyone is doing well. If there’s any way I can be of help during this time, don’t hesitate to reach out.
We’ve been using the Cook Once Eat All Week cookbook for 8 weeks now. I feel like I can count the number of things I’ve stuck with for 8 weeks over my entire life on one hand, so to say that we’ve stuck to this for so long says something about how well it’s working for us.
As I mentioned in the prior post, each week we pick a week that’s in season from the book. I actually wrote the seasons directly in the book so it’s easily accessible but she offers a Seasonal Guide chart as a downloadable PDF when you buy the book. Admittedly, now that we’re several weeks in, it’s becoming more challenging to pick a week that’s in-season that we’d both like that doesn’t seem like something we just had, but with a little compromise, we’ve been able to make it work.
One of the things I also mentioned was that I’ve been keeping a log of sorts in Evernote to capture our thoughts on each of the weeks we’ve tried. In the log, I include a link to a separate note containing photos of the recipes and meal prep instructions (more on why below), the main ingredients, when the week’s in season, how easy or hard the prep was and how we liked each of the meals. At the end of the week, these give us a pretty good idea as to whether we would make the week again, so I color code the week accordingly.
One of the unexpected benefits of keeping this log is that it’s allowed us to see that many of our favorite recipes, despite being from different weeks, still share similar ingredients. With our confidence in meal prepping increasing with each week, we’ve started toying with the idea of our own custom “weeks”. (Side note: I realize the concepts of meal planning and prepping aren’t new, but they are fairly new to us, so the concepts in this book have helped teach us the basics without seeming overwhelming.)
I was already saving our favorite recipes from each week into my recipe manager, Paprika, for safekeeping, and Paprika’s built-in menu feature makes creating custom weeks almost as easy as having them in the book. To make a custom week, I pick 3 of our recipes with similar ingredients to add to the menu. In the description section of the menu, I note any meal prep instructions specific to those meals. Since many of the ingredients are similar, we can still take advantage of prepping in bulk ahead of time. As far as the grocery list, Paprika does all the heavy lifting to combine like ingredients and generate a grocery list that can be sent directly to our shared shopping list in Reminders.
Speaking of our shared shopping list, for weeks we pull directly from the book, I’ve been saving time by copying them from the ebook (If considering the ebook, be sure to see my note below). Each week, I copy the week’s grocery list and paste it into Drafts. Unfortunately, this removes all the line breaks, so do I have to go back and add them back in, but from there, I just use a Send to Shopping List action to send everything directly to our shopping list. As an added bonus, the sections Cassey breaks the items into tend to map quite closely to our local Aldi’s layout, so I keep them and indent the ingredients as sub-tasks to organize the list.
A note on the Kindle version: As someone who prefers cooking from my iPad, I bought a copy of the Kindle version of the book thinking I’d be able to use it while cooking. However, the Kindle version strips out all of the formatting that makes the physical copy of the book so easy to follow. (This is the reason I’ve been snapping pictures of each week’s recipes to Evernote.) If you’re an e-book person like myself, I strongly recommend NOT getting the ebook version of this book.
In my first post about how we were meal planning, I shared a few of the benefits we saw right away (mainly focused around keeping our kitchen cleaner), so before I go, I wanted to wrap up by sharing some of the other benefits we’ve noticed now that we’ve been doing this for a couple of months :
Because we have a plan for the week, impulse buys have pretty much stopped. Don’t get me wrong, we still grab the occasional ice cream or candy, but our pantry, fridge, and freezer are no longer bursting at the seams with random ingredients we picked up thinking they might be useful for a meal one day.
We have a better understanding of what we actually have. Without all the random ingredients, it’s easier to notice the extra chicken in the freezer, which means we reduce the amount of chicken we buy for the week accordingly to use up what we already have.
We’ve started making better use of our freezer. Another benefit of having a freezer that’s not overflowing with freezer meals is that we actually have room to freeze leftover ingredients and meals, instead of letting them go to waste.
We’ve reorganized our kitchen. In most cases, this was as simple as relocating things we use regularly to be more easily within reach, but we did spend a few dollars on things like lazy susans or bins to make better use of our space as well. As a vertically challenged person, not having to get out a step stool to grab things is a huge time saver.
We’re learning which tools we use, which we don’t, and most importantly what’s worth upgrading. For example, I had been thinking about replacing my cheap set of kitchen utensils for a while, but it turns out, nine times out of ten, I reach for my favorite spatula when cooking. I ended up just buying another spatula instead of a full set.
One last thing of note, while you can buy a spiral-bound copy of the book, the copy we have is the regular paperback version which has a tendency to close while we’re cooking if we don’t weigh it down. Recently, however, I saw someone who had rebound their copy using discs and seeing as how I still had a disc binding punch leftover from my paper planning days, it seemed like a logical upgrade for our book as well, so wish us luck in performing a bit of surgery on our copy.
It’s crazy to think I’ve been practicing GTD for over a decade now. My system today looks nothing like what I started with (feel free to venture back to some of my older posts to see what I’m talking about), which comes as no surprise since my life today is drastically different from when I was in high school. Life changes aside, one of the reasons my system has changed so much in the past year or so is actually due to Things 3.
Now that sounds like a bad thing, but coming from the virtually unlimited possibilities of Omnifocus, switching to the much simpler Things 3 and working within its constraints has actually strengthened my understanding of GTD.
One of the concepts I’ve been rethinking in recent months is projects.
David Allen’s concept of a project is anything that requires more than one action, but I’d long resisted that idea. It seemed pointless to clutter my system with overly fussy projects for seemingly simple things like buying a new jacket.
Instead, I’d just toss “Buy New Jacket” onto a list where it’d inevitably languish because, just as David Allen warned would happen, the next action wasn’t to buy the jacket but to first figure out what size my previous jacket from the manufacturer that fit so perfectly was.
Once I loosened my grip on projects needing to be 10+ actions, it became quite clear that even after years of using GTD, I was still relying on my mind to track a LOT of things. I had a lot of open loops I wasn’t accounting for.
So as pointless as it seemed to introduce clutter into the Things 3’s sidebar, following the more than one action definition of a project actually has gotten me closer to a “mind-like-water” state, as David Allen would say. If a little added clutter means less stress overall, that’s a trade I’m willing to make.
It also turns out that a more fine-grained approach to projects lets me use the Anytime view in Things as a de-facto Next Actions list.
The key is to
Be intentional about keeping only things I can and also intend to do within the next 2 weeks in Anytime, and
Limit the view to only display 1 Next Action Step (View > Next Action Steps).
With that, Anytime becomes a list of only currently actionable projects with their next actionable step I can take to move each one forward.
If you’ve read Getting Things Done as many times as I have, you know David harps on how freeing of a feeling it can be to have a grasp on your “open loops” at this level, but reading it and experiencing it are two totally different things.
I now have the clarity of being able to see exactly what I can to do to move a project forward. Ambiguous, overwhelming tasks end up being pretty easy. Moreover, I’m more cognizant of making sure there’s always a next actionable item on my part (even if it’s following up with someone else in a few days) so that the onus is on me to make sure projects I’ve committed to continue to move forward.
Both of these together mean I’m finishing more projects, doing them more quickly, and feeling less stressed about them. It also makes providing weekly updates to my colleagues a breeze since everything’s right there.
And with that, this will be my last blog post of the year. I’ll be taking off the remainder of the year to decompress, plan for the upcoming year, and spend some much-needed relaxation time.
As always, I want to give a big thank you to my friends and family, and most of all, you wonderful readers for supporting me and encouraging me to continue blog over the past year.
I’ll be back in the new year with my annual yearly update and goal post and plenty more content.