Reach Your Dreams Part 3 – The Day to Day

When I started this Reach Your Dreams series a couple weeks ago, I thought I’d just go through my steps of monthly, weekly, and daily planning. Then as I planned each day over the past week I realized that one of my biggest truths as a mom and business owner is that every day is so different. And that really, I don’t have a magic method for planning each day. What I do have is a slew of tips that help me be more productive and make consistent progress toward reaching my dreams. And I am thrilled to share those tips with you!

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Tip 1 – Write a “Top Three” for the day: This is the one change I’ve made this year that has exponentially improved my productivity, focus, and clarity. It seems so simple, but it is so powerful. There are days that are going to have a million small tasks to complete and others that will be consumed by one big project. But every day I ask myself “If I only do three things today, what do they need to be?” Then periodically throughout the day I check in on my progress toward those top three. When there’s a lull and I know I should be doing something–it should be a top three thing. When I’m overwhelmed and doing too much, I pause and look at my top three and do one of those first.

It’s not always work-related. In fact, I really try to make sure only one or two of the top three are work-related! I need to constantly remind myself that being a mother is also a job–and really my top priority. So often one of my top three is an adventure with Olivia or a reminder to take a time out and just be with her.

Remember your top three for the month? The goals you’ve been working on? How do your top three for the day match up? They don’t have to be perfectly aligned every day, but if you’re noticing that day after day your top three is consumed by tasks that don’t have anything to do with those goals, I highly recommend reserving at least one spot per day for a goal-related task.

Here are a few of my “Top Threes” over the last couple months. (Yes, sometimes taking a shower is in the top three! If you are the parent of a toddler, I know you feel my pain on that one.)

top three from day designer

Note: I owe all of this brilliance to Whitney English and her Day Designer. The concept of the top three is all over the place, but having a space for it right there in my planner has made it so much easier to actually implement. On that note…

Tip 2 – Invest in a planner you love: I know, I gush about the Day Designer pretty much every week. The truth is, you can make any planner work if you use it. And no planner will do the work for you. Over the last twenty years I’ve tried every planner I can get my hands on. Paper planners, Palm Pilots (remember those?), little monthly planners that fit in my purse and huge daily planners that take up my entire desk. My phone has so many productivity apps on it, I don’t even have room for Candy Crush Saga. But it wasn’t until I bought the Day Designer that I actually started using my planner. So what’s the difference? Well for one, the layout is pretty close to exactly what I need. But I think a huge part is that it was a bit of an investment for me. Not the most expensive planner I’ve ever seen, but certainly not a $10 planner from a big box store either. I made a conscious choice (after about a year of hemming and hawing actually) to invest in it and now I don’t want it to go to waste. The fact that I paid good money for it motivates me to actually use it.

I could go on forever with the things I love about the Day Designer (I actually just deleted four paragraphs of gushing), but the point is not that you need this planner. The point is to find a planner that will work for you. Find something that makes you want to write in it. Whether it’s a beautiful cover, a funny comic on each page, or even just a special pen–find something that gets you excited to write in your planner and you’ll be way more likely to use it.

Tip 3 – Everything takes twice as long as it should. This is just a (depressing) fact. It’s magnified when you have kids. So instead of fighting it, just embrace it. If you think it will take you an hour to go grocery shopping, block off two. Want to spend 30 minutes exercising? Plan on an hour. If you have the luxury of an uninterrupted 8 hour work day, only put 4 hours worth of tasks on your list.

I know what you’re thinking, “I just need to be more productive. I need to get more done in less time.” Well that’s an awesome goal and I wish you the best of luck. But when I find myself racing from appointment to appointment, trying to do three errands before nap time and finish four big orders during nap, I get half way through my day and crash. It’s almost impossible for me to be productive for the rest of the day and I end up frantic and stressed out and tired. When I’m overly generous about how much time something will take and plan lots of time to complete tasks, I find myself moving more gracefully through my day with lots of energy in the afternoon to continue being productive. And if you do get your tasks done early, awesome! Then you’ve built in time for relaxing or you can look at your list and squeeze in one more goal-related task.

Tip 4 – Think of your day in shifts. I love the idea of scheduling tasks for specific times throughout the day. And I think that works great for some people. But my schedule is not always predictable enough to really make that work. So instead of assigning tasks to really specific times, I break my day into “shifts.” This was awesome when Olivia was younger and took two naps a day. I played with her, ate breakfast, and answered emails in the morning, printed invitations during her first nap, ran errands or went on play dates mid-day, printed more invites during afternoon nap, then made dinner and enjoyed some family time, and answered more emails and sent proofs to customers after she went to bed. It’s been over a year and a half since I had that schedule and I still miss it! But even with one nap (or even if you don’t have kids or have kids who don’t nap) I can break my day into shifts. It’s just easier to think about “what can I get done in this two hour block of time” than trying to organize the entire day all at once. My shifts these days are early morning, mid-late morning, lunch time, Olivia’s nap (when I cram a ton of work into two hours), evening, and after bed. What I fill these shifts with varies from day to day. I schedule a lot of work tasks during the two mornings she’s in school and I schedule play dates and errands for non-school mornings. A lot of emailing and design work is still done at night–but that’s something I’d like to change. Your tasks and goals may vary day to day too or you might have a pretty solid routine, but either way, thinking of your day in shifts can really help you schedule when you’re going to get things done.

Tip 5 – Remove temptation. You know how hard it is to stick to your health goals when you keep a bowl of m&ms on your desk? Well it’s just as hard to reach your life goals when facebook, instagram, and pinterest are constantly promising us delicious distraction and social connection. I feel like social media is even more tempting for those of us who work from home. Working alone is so isolating and being online gives us a sense of belonging that we crave. And that’s great–I’m a big fan of social media and using it to make real connections with people. But when I find myself clicking on that little camera icon in between every invitation I cut… well I’m not making connections, I’m just wasting time.

I do not believe that learning to resist temptation is the key to productivity. We have enough on our plates that are challenging–let’s try to make things a little easier on ourselves! Take the damn m&ms off your desk!!! There’s a brilliant app for mac called Self Control and it will block any urls you want for an amount of time you determine. Block facebook, block pinterest, hey you might even need to block your email for a while! Since there’s nothing similar for iphone that I’ve found you have to get a little more creative there. I start by not allowing push notifications from tempting apps. I’ve silenced all notifications except the phone actually ringing so that I’m not hearing dings and buzzes every time I get an email. And then I try to put my phone somewhere other than my desk when I’m working. It would be great if I could turn it off, lock it in a safe, and hide the safe at the bottom of the ocean. But being a parent often means you need to be accessible if there’s an emergency. And I would just die if something happened to Olivia at school and no one could get ahold of me. So keeping the ringer on with the phone across the room works pretty well for me.

Tip 6 – Celebrate along the way. I think we all find ourselves with plenty of un-checked items on our to do list at the end of the day, and it can feel defeating. But I find when I shift my focus just a little bit to the things I have accomplished, it propels me to accomplish more. So pause a few times in your day to acknowledge what you’ve done. Even if it feels like nothing, it’s something. Did you play with your daughter and enjoy her laugh? What a great mom! Did you make a bride’s day when you sent her the perfect invitation design? Hooray! Did you invest ten minutes in yourself to do a little yoga? Way to take care of yourself! Give yourself a little pat on the back, have a little five minute dance party, and then use that momentum to keep doing great things!

Tip 7 – Review and plan for tomorrow. Now, I would love to be a person who thoughtfully plans her day the night before. I’d also love to be a person who sets out her clothes ahead of time and packs her kid’s lunch more than 5 minutes before school. And maybe someday I will be! But while I work on that goal, I try to just do what I can handle before I go to bed at night. Even just 5 minutes reviewing what I accomplished and what I didn’t is really helpful. I can put a few tasks on the next day’s list and feel like I’m waking up with a place to start. I also take a sec to write down something I’m grateful for (again–a piece of Day Designer brilliance!) which helps me kind of put everything in perspective.

And that’s it! I hope these tips, along with my steps for monthly and weekly planning help you reach all of those big dreams and goals! You’re capable of amazing things and I can’t wait to hear about everything you accomplish!

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Protect Your Investment! How to make sure your invitations survive the mail and arrive looking beautiful

stamped addressed wedding invitation

You’ve spent hours flipping through magazines, poring over albums, surfing the web, and repinning pinny pins on pinterest to find your perfect wedding invitations. You’ve approved proofs, signed contracts, paid invoices, and waited for the mail carrier to knock on your door. You’ve invested time and money to ensure your invites are uniquely you and perfectly capture the spirit of your wedding.

And now they’re here! A beautiful box of invitations that practically sings when you open it is sitting on your dining room table, just waiting to be stuffed, stamped, addressed, and sent. You know that the invitations are your one chance of making impression and get guests pumped to attend your big day–and you’re prepared to make it a great one!

Now would be a really bad time to eff it all up. (No pressure or anything.)

So how do you protect your investment? How do you ensure your guests receive your invite in pristine condition so that you can make the impression you want to make? Here are a few tips to get those beauties from your hands into the hands of your guests looking as fab as the day they were printed.

1. Store them somewhere safe and dry. This may go without saying, but I’ll say it anyway. Moisture is the enemy of paper. If you’re not going to address and send your invitations the day they arrive, put them somewhere safe. Do not keep them in the truck of your car for a month. Do not leave them spread out on the kitchen counter where your fiancé will spill coffee on them. Do not store them in a curious toddler’s room. Do not bathe with them or take them for a walk in the rain. Instead, keep them in the box and tuck them in a closet (not the closet where you keep your bowling balls and ice skates. And not high up on a shelf that you can’t reach.) If you’re a super planner and you bought your invites really early, keep everything closed up tight so it doesn’t get dusty.

2. Address them accurately and legibly. In the olden days, invitations were always addressed by professional calligraphers. And while I still love this tradition (and can recommend some phenomenal calligraphers for you), it is completely acceptable to address your own invitations (or even print addresses right on the envelopes!) I totally love the look of super creatively addressed envelopes. Big swooshy letters in gold ink on navy envelopes? Yes please! The post office, however, doesn’t love it so much. Make sure that even if you get artsy, your guest’s address is legible. If you have the handwriting of a third grader, consider hiring a calligrapher, printing the addresses, or bribing your maid of honor with wine to address them for you. (But make sure she waits to start drinking it after she’s done addressing.) The easier it is to read, the faster it will go through the mail system.

Please also triple check those addresses! Especially zip codes! And please please please put your return address on there. Of course you’re going to do everything right so that no mail gets returned, but if for some reason there is a problem with an invite–you want it to come back to you so that you can resend it (and not risk someone thinking they weren’t invited!) Otherwise it goes into a vast sea of undeliverable mail. I imagine this is also where all the socks go.

3. Affix proper postage. Your invitation is your wedding’s handshake. Its show-stopping outfit. Its winning smile. What kind of first impression are you making about your wedding when your invitation arrives (gasp!) postage due? If this has happened to you–I’m not judging! It happens! But let’s spend an extra few minutes and an extra few cents to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

If your invitation (with accompanying parts) weighs more that 1 ounce, it needs extra postage. If it is square, it needs extra postage. If you’re sending a fancy envelope with a tie string and a button, it needs extra postage. If it is going across the world (or even just to Canada) it needs a bunch of extra postage. So how do you figure out how many stamps you need if you aren’t a mail ninja with your very own postal scale? Take them in to the post office. If you follow the tips 4 and 5,  you’re going to have to go anyway, so while you’re there, make sure they weigh your invites and confirm that your postage is correct!

It is also customary (aka totally mandatory) to pre-stamp the response envelope for your guests. If you want anyone to actually mail their response card back, make sure you put a stamp on there so they can do so! And unless your response card is made out of rocks (and hey! maybe it is, that would be creatively awesome), a regular stamp should be fine. You can even save a little bit by skipping the envelopes and going with response post cards.

4. Take them in to the post office. (See, told you.) I know, I know, I hate going in to the post office more than anyone. I have a toddler and the packages I send are heavy and awkward. Bad combo. And they don’t even have slightly uncomfortable seats and a take a number system like the DMV! You have to actually stand in line. So while I rarely recommend putting yourself through this type of ancient torture, this is the one time I’m going to insist. I know how tempting those big blue boxes on the corner are. I use them all the time to drop off packages! And that’s exactly why I don’t want you to put your invitations in them–people drop packages in there! Once you drop something down into that mysterious blue box, you have no idea what’s going to happen to it. People will drop their large, heavy, pointy package right on top of your invites. The mail carrier will toss everything in a large bin as s/he’s emptying it and things get stuck and bent and manhandled. What if someone mistakes it for a trash bin and throws their coffee in there? (Ok I’ve never seen that happen, but what if?) So do yourself a favor and walk those babies in to the post office and hand them to a human being. If you live in a big city and the post office is always torturous, you may be able to find a small, privately-owned post office near you! Those are great and tend to be way less crowded.

5. Consider asking for hand canceling. The machines that process mail are a little harsh. They roll and squeeze and squish and sometimes mail gets damaged. Hand canceling just means a human being stamps each invite instead of running it through the machine to get those wavy lines printed on it. So not only will you save your invites from being poked and prodded, but they’ll also look prettier with the hand-cancelled stamp. Hand canceling is especially important if there’s anything unusual about your invite that might gum up the machines. Strings tied around things, rhinestones, wax seals, anything that you wouldn’t typically see in the mail. If you’re using a dark envelope or have a dark invitation, hand canceling will help keep the color from rubbing off on other pieces. Even if your invite is pretty straightforward, I still love the look of hand canceling and everything arrives nicer.

How do you do it? You just ask. You walk up to the counter at the post office and say, “Can you please hand cancel these?” They should not charge extra for this service! If they want to charge extra, just politely say, “Oh no thank you, I’ll go somewhere else.” And take them to another post office. I suggest going during a quiet time (middle of the week, middle of the day) or to a small, quiet post office to increase your chances of this request being accepted with a smile. (I should note that your invites may still go through sorting machines on their way to their destination, but they aren’t quite as harsh as the canceling machines. If you’re concerned, speak with the post office to see if you can pay a little extra to have them entirely hand processed.)

Want to go the extra mile? Here are a few other things you can do to ensure your invitations arrive perfectly perfect!

  1. Allow plenty of time for the process. Addressing, stuffing, sealing, going to the post office–it all takes longer than you think it will. Order your invitations so that they arrive with plenty of time to complete these steps without rushing.
  2. Address the envelopes without the invitations in them. You’ll avoid getting indentations on the invite itself.
  3. Get an envelope moistener. Save your tongue from all that licking! Envelope moisteners are less than $2 and easy to use. (You can also use a small damp sponge.)
  4. Order extra invitations. If something does happen to an invite or two–either while in your care or during the mailing process, make sure you have some replacements on hand.
  5. If you have time, mail yourself an invitation to see how it arrives after going through the mail system. You’ll see if there are any potential trouble spots and can adjust accordingly!

And if this all seems a little overwhelming–don’t worry! Your guests love you and are excited for you no matter what. So kick back and have a glass of wine–just make sure you’re not anywhere near your invites when you drink it!

Free Wedding Guest Spreadsheet

Wedding planning season is in full swing! I thought I could help make planning a little easier with this spreadsheet to keep track of who you’re inviting, invitations you’ve sent, RSVPs, meal choices, table assignments, gifts, and more! Download for free from my new Download Page!

Keep checking back for more downloads and organizers. And if there’s something you’d love to see as a download on my page, let me know in the comments below!

How to Survive Holiday Shipping

Santa-shipping

I know I’m not the only one who feels like the holidays snuck right up! Hanukkah was so early it even collided with Thanksgiving! And with only 27 days between turkey day and Christmas, it can be challenging to feel like we have enough time to make this holiday season everything we want it to be.

One task that doesn’t need to take up all of your precious shopping/decorating/cookie eating time? Standing in line at the post office! Here are a few ways to avoid the holiday madness and still ship your packages in time to delight your loved ones on Christmas morning. (I’ll try to save you some money too!)

  1. Use flat rate priority boxes – If you’re shipping something heavy, flat rate priority boxes and envelopes are often the least expensive way to ship gifts to anywhere in the U.S. (Flat rate boxes also work internationally! But they’re not always the least expensive option.) Even if you’re shipping something light, it can sometimes be more cost-effective to use the flat rate boxes so you don’t have to go out and buy a shipping box. Flat rate boxes and envelopes are FREE and available at your local post office. They’re also available for free from usps.com, but don’t count on getting them in time for this Christmas (go ahead and start planning for next year though!) The awesome thing about flat rate boxes is that you don’t have to weigh your package and it only takes 2-3 days for your package to travel to anywhere in the country! Ship by Saturday, December 21st to ensure your package arrives by Christmas.
  2. Print your own postage – This saves time AND money! Did you know that the price you pay to ship a package at the post office is actually a little more than what you pay if you print your own postage? Save a few bucks (and more than a few  minutes) by using USPS Click-and-ship. If you’re using a flat rate box, you don’t have to weigh anything. If you’re using your own packaging and don’t have a postal scale, a food scale will work just fine! Or stand on a digital scale holding your package, then stand on it without the package and do a little subtraction. (I avoid this method during my holiday cookie binge. But in a pinch, it works.) You don’t need a fancy printer or even sticky label paper. Just print on regular paper and tape it to your package! Then skip the mile-long post office line and drop your package in a blue box if it’s small enough or in the large package bins in the post office lobby. Or even better…
  3. Request Carrier Pickup – This service is FREE if you’re shipping Priority or Priority Express packages. Go here, fill out the short form, and leave your packages by the door! Couldn’t be easier. Carrier pickup is also available from UPS and FedEx, so check out your options!
  4. Find an alternative post office – The line at the main post offices  may make you run for the hills (or you might have to literally run to the hills just to get to the back of the line), but they’re not your only option. If you do have to go to the post office this season, see if there’s a small lesser-known post office in your area. These small post offices are privately owned, have the same rates and standards as the large post offices, and are often tucked away in little shopping areas or even inside grocery stores. Because they’re not as well-known they often have shorter lines (or no lines at all!) and don’t run out of supplies (like those flat rate boxes) as quickly. Find an approved postal provider here.

The holidays should be about family, fun, and festive ugly sweaters. Reduce your holiday shipping stress and get back to what matters!