Friday, April 20, 2012

Prioritizing tasks when your plate is too full...

Frequently I find myself in a situation where I have numerous things on my plate and I just don't know where to start. Part of this comes from my tendency to over commit (and for  mass chaos) -- but let's be honest... I thrive on a bit too full plate. It's like the quote from Lucille Ball (who I love..),

  If you want something done, ask a busy person to do it. The more things you do, the more you can do.  

I feel like when I am at my busiest I am also at my best. When my boss hasn't quite given me enough work and I know I will have plenty of time to complete tasks, that is when I get distracted easily and carried into other things... for better or worse...

However, for me to manage those times when the plate is crammed a little too high and I start to feel stressed out,  I like to do a prioritizing exercise I will call the "Important/Urgent" Matrix. I use a white board and draw a grid that looks a little like the image to the left (minus the reminders within each box).

I usually take sticky notes and write out each and every task that is on my plate. Sometimes I do this exclusively for work, but often it is a bit of everything that is weighing on my mind and needs to be documented. Once all my stickies are in a stack, I start putting them on the matrix according to how urgent they are (due today or in 3 months?) and how Important they are (will this make/break my career or is very important to a client/boss etc, or just a "Nice to have" I will get to if I have time?)

For example, reporting my hours each week on Friday AM is not extremely important, however it is due on Friday and therefore urgent. Completing my ethics training is important and required for me to keep my job, but it is not due until the end of May (thus important and not urgent).

From this exercise, I walk away with a "plan of attack" and feel a lot more capable of achieving the tasks ahead of me. The ones I immediately take off the white board and start plowing through are the Urgent and Important (and I try to do them in the order of highest urgency/importance). I typically don't have the luxury of delegating the ones in quadrant 3 so I have to do those first and then quadrant 2 and 4. However -- even if I don't go through each of the exercises or complete each of the tasks in all quadrants, the practice of taking a step back, reviewing everything to do and prioritizing is really renewing and calming for me.

How do you manage everything when your plate is a little too full?

Monday, April 16, 2012

Menu Monday + My New Found Love

It is the revival of the Menu Monday! And this week I am excited to share with you my new and improved method for meal planning.

For me meal planning is a kind of necessary evil that I have to do each week to ensure I eat good, real food and not take out every day. When I don't meal plan effectively I go to the grocery store and shop pretty aimlessly, often resulting in large grocery bills and a really weird assortment of food (who put those honey dew ice pops in there? dang I was craving cheese curds again? What is this odd rice puff thingy? what do I cook with this again?)

My recent method to meal plan has been using a  website called Plan to Eat. It lets you drag and drop your recipes into a schedule, and then neatly generates your shopping list by grocery store section. It also makes adding your recipes super simple -- I added most of mine in a few hours. You can enter them in or "pin" them from websites sort of like pinterest.  It also syncs with my google calendar, lets me share recipes with friends, and lets me manage what is in my "pantry". I usually plan on my laptop then use it on my iphone when in the grocery store to check off items and while cooking to reference recipes.

Anyway, if you can't tell... I am in LOVE with this new tool and recommend anyone who is about "optimizing" house tasks to check it out. They let you do a free 30 day trial, so you should check it out!

 Here is a screen shot of my plans and you can see this week and next week.

We have pretty much already spent our grocery budget for the month (why does this always happen?) so we are mostly eating from our freezer supply and pantry for the next two weeks. We also have pretty busy schedules so most of our meals are "easy" meals (did I mention you can tag your recipes too in PTE? Way convenient!)

Anyway - Happy eating this week. Are you making anything good? Do you meal plan? If so, what is your "method"?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some thoughts on life (and death)

This past weekend we travelled down to Little Rock, Arkansas for the funeral of John's grandmother. It was a somber but also joyous occasion where we spent time with a lot of family and celebrated her life.

I didn't know his grandmother really well. However, a few things this weekend made a big impression on me. The biggest by far was seeing the impact this had on John's grandfather, who after 65 years of marriage, is now without his sweetheart.

I spent much of the weekend observing him at special moments, watching him as he interacted with family members. Listening to him say the family prayer before the funeral started. Listening attentively as he shared stories of their life together. I even was one of the few in the family who saw her as he kissed her and said a final mortal goodbye right before they closed the casket.

One of the things that struck me most deeply was the incredible love they have for one another.  Even after her death he referred to her as his bride. They courted their whole marriage. Every day they said they loved each other, even when she was losing her mental capacity she still told him often of her love. They never went to bed angry. They have 91 (and counting) descendants which are a testament to their true and honest love.

The other thing that struck me so deeply was the enormous faith of John's grandparents. As John's grandpa said the family prayer before the funeral, he thanked God for receiving his love and taking her into his arms. He said he would see her soon. He was so confident he would be with her again. He was sad and I am sure now is so lonely, but he knows that  they have an eternal family and that their love continues.

I hope that in my life I can leave even a portion of the legacy of love and faith by John's grandparents. I know that they will be together again. As I saw her frail body, she looked beautiful. And she looked ready to meet God. I know that one day I will be with them too, and I can get to know this fine lady a bit better. And above all, I know that it is through the atonement of Jesus Christ that we can one day live in the presence of God and be united with our families for eternity.

I am grateful for this knowledge and the peace and comfort it gives me.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Eye infections, cuddle kits and other thoughts

Currently I have a stye in my eye. Thanks to google I know that this is an infection similar to pink eye - but is not quite so contagious (I was hoping it was so I could work from home for a few days... yep I said that in public)

Anyway, thinking about this stye made me think of a funny memory I want to document from the last time I had an eye infection.

It was right after John and I has started dating. We were in what I will call the "blissful butterflies and hearts stage" where just hearing his name made my heart skip a beat (as opposed to now when I am this jaded married lady who shudders when I hear his name....kidding).

I had pink eye and didn't want him to get it, so we weren't going to see each other for a few days. As young lovers do... we both didn't anticipate the separation. So the second day apart I get a call from John. He is down stairs. He came to see me.  He misses me so much. He has a plan to avoid getting pink eye!

Skeptical, but desperate to see John I let him upstairs. As soon as he came in, he pulled something out of his bag... and proceeded to put these two things on...

Yes friends, those are lab glasses and rubber gloves.

 He told me they were his "cuddle kit" and his plan to be with me and not get pink eye. I almost died laughing. I told him I wouldn't come near him with a ten foot pole in that attire, though I did care for his health!

I don't remember using the cuddle kit for long, but I will forever have the image of him in those goggle and gloves seared in my mind with his adorable smile. It makes me laugh and smile to this day.

And that my friends... is what made me fall in love with this stud.

His quirky, silly, scientific, albeit romantic sense of humor.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

some thoughts on expectations and emotional investment

I had a really interesting experience around expectations this morning.

Today I was slated to present in meeting that was anticipated to not go so well (sensitive/stressful topic). I knew going in... this might get interesting... this meeting might crash and burn... how is this not going to blow up on me? And for me and my perfectionist nature this was more than a little disconcerting... how am I going to manage the conversation so that it doesn't get sticky?

This morning as I was getting ready and thinking about the meeting, I decided that whatever the outcome of the meeting was... it was not going to define me or my day. So I consciously chose to NOT allow myself to get worked up and throw the towel in emotionally if things went bad.

So this morning I walked through my material. And you know what? It went REALLY well. Walking away from the meeting my jaw almost dropped. What on earth just happened?

As I have thought on this a little more... I realize that sometimes I put all of my "emotional" eggs in one basket.  If x doesn't go well it can completely define me for that day, crush my spirit, crash my momentum of excitement and energy. It can be anything, something at work, something for a Church calling, something in my personal life, something I am passionate about that others aren't as excited about.

It's not that I don't think we should aim to achieve goals and shoot for the stars, I just think it may be healthy to not "expect" too much, but rather be delighted when things go well (as opposed to depressed when expectations are not met.)

I read this really interesting article yesterday on tithing your time.  Here is one of my favorite quotes that really resonated with me:

"A simple example is when Callie was first born, she didn’t sleep a MINUTE the first two nights. I felt riddled with anxiety as soon as the sun would go down, thinking, “I wonder if I’ll get any sleep at all tonight.” I was hoarding my time. I was used to eight hours of sleep. I expected eight hours of sleep. I deserved eight hours of sleep. Callie was taking hours from me that were mine.
On the third night I tried something different. I thought, “Tonight I expect zero hours of sleep. I am going to have an up-all-night sleepover with my precious baby girl. We’re going to rock and dance and sing and watch some tv. And we will not sleep. If she wants to sleep I will take it as an added bonus. A gift. But I expect zero. ” And then……she did! I probably got about 4 hours. Which in new-mom-hood is HUGE. It felt like a gift. Not an expectation."
I think because I didn't "expect" for things to go flawless in the meeting this morning, and because I told myself beforehand that my abilities, talents and confidences would not be changed by the outcome of the meeting, it was a GIFT that it went so well.

I  think the verdict is still not entirely clear.  I have written before about how I always assume people/things/intentions are good, I think this generally means that through my positive nature I expect goodness. But I feel like I get burned a fair amount doing that. As I mature and grow a little, my experience has been lately to maybe hope for the good, but be cautious with your heart in setting your expectations too high. Sometimes you have to manage your emotional investment to help maintain your sanity.
Anyway. Maybe this is me losing my naivety or become a bit more jaded... but regardless it feels like an aha! moment.
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