So about all this baby stuff… send help.

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Last week I called my insurance to tell them I was pregnant and try to figure out how much birthing a baby costs. It went like this:

Me: Hi- I’m pregnant.

Insurance lady: Congratulations!

AWKWARD SILENCE, during which I start reverting to the linguistic skills of a middle school girl.

Me: Um, I wasn’t sure if I should like, call and tell an adult or something.

Insurance lady: Ma’am, do you need help? Are you an adult?

Me: No- I mean, yes, technically, but like, I’ve never done this, so I thought maybe I should report in or something so that you all, like, KNOW, that I’m having a baby or whatever.

Insurance lady: Well, we can see that you have been making regular visits to an OBGYN and having ultrasounds, so I think we figured it out.

And so on it went, until I kind of just declared, “Do I need to like DO anything?”

Because that is my question, always my question, at every doctor’s appointment or official anything – should I be doing something? And lately it occurred to me that maybe we should think about starting to get some baby stuff and register, as we have showers coming up before too long, and even though 18 weeks left feels like forever, it isn’t, and I hear that it isn’t socially acceptable to just stick my baby in a cardboard box-Finnish style. But the thing is, I keep on waiting around for someone to walk up and hand me a list of what we actually need, what babies need, what we should be registering and shopping for. Left to my own devices, I just keep stockpiling woodland creature-themed outerwear, but baby cannot live by fleece bear suits alone. And so, dear Opinionated Masses of the Internet —

CAN SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT WE ARE SUPPOSED TO REGISTER FOR? And where? And what do we NOT need?

Here are our limiting factors:

We live in a small city apartment. This means we can’t have multiples of things (ie, kid gets a crib or a bassinet- not both, a regular stroller or a jogger – not both, etc.). We also can’t really indulge in anything that is hyper age specific, like just for those newborn weeks/months, unless it is genuinely a NECESSITY. Luckily, some people have stepped up to loan us those things and they are my favorite people. Anything that goes in our “nursery” (“Wasteland of Boxes”), has to be pretty gender neutral and multi-use too, as future babies will also share that space and those belongings. And finally, we are city parents, which means lotttttsssss of walking and hauling on the worst cobblestone sidewalks ever, thus we plan to invest more in baby-carting-mechanisms than any sort of baby-containment-structures that will clog up the precious space around our apartment. On Sunday James and I plan to go strolling into a baby store… and I am seriously hoping to outsource my research to you fine people beforehand, as a quick Google search of things like “what do I need for a baby” had me curled in the fetal position, overwhelmed and preemptively broke.

Best stroller for walking long distances over sidewalks and still light enough for me to carry it easily up a flight of stairs?

Ergo? Bjorn? Wrap?

Convertible high chair that is still compact? Car seats?

Noise machines? Monitors? (Are these gadgets even necessary?)

The magic powder that makes your baby sleep through the night from day one and stop blowouts before they happen?

PLEASE TELL ME ALL THE THINGS.

 

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The home that taught us.

Processed with VSCOcam with a5 presetWe only ever thought we would be there for a year– two at the most.

It was the spring of 2012 and it had been a stressful couple months of apartment hunting, moaning over the utter expense of everything in DC, and rushing to look at anything in our price range only to have it be snatched up for someone else before we could even fill out an application. It seemed impossible, finding a place to be our newlywed home, and I was discouraged. When we walked into that little place in Eastern Market, I hadn’t even made it out of the entryway before declaring to James that this was it, this was home, this was the place that we had to have. We applied on the spot, appealing to the owner’s sense of compassion for the chipper engaged couple with no credit score and lots of dreams.

James lived there with a couple guys up until the wedding, the three of them urban camping on a hodge-podge of mattresses, with almost no other furniture. When we came home after our honeymoon, James went to work and I stood in the middle of the messy apartment, piled high with boxes and bearing witness to a summer of three male inhabitants, and I cried. Big, salty, overwhelmed tears about how this place was supposed to become my first home. Then I brushed off my tears, pushed up my sleeves, and got to work — cleaning and unpacking until that mess looked like something presentable.

It was the best of times and worse of times in that apartment — all of the time. We loved it, because it had big windows on every side that let in the light and left patches of sun on the golden wood floors. It had a back deck where we sat in summer evenings and quirky architectural details that stole my heart. It had  walls soon covered in pictures of our adventures and the mightiest washing machine that an apartment ever did have. It was perfectly situated, letting us walk to date nights, work, parks, and monuments. It was a perfect home of which we were fiercely proud. Processed with VSCOcam with a5 preset

And we hated it, too. Those big windows never could get clean, and their creaky and ancient selves let in wind with the sun, forcing us into big sweaters in winter and sending violent drafts through the rooms. The floors were scratched and stained and the back deck let in squirrels too, and dirt — the endless dust and dirt that accumulates while you watch in old houses. The smoke detector would go off every time we so much as turned the oven past 350 and the gas stove left a film on every surface of that tiny space. There was no central air, and the feeble units only worked if you hit the side every so often. There was never enough room, never consistent hot water, and it was only in the end of our tenure that the toilet started correctly flushing. For the first three years, it was a gamble every time — would it refill or not? I will never forget the Thanksgiving where the sink rebelled too, shooting black sludge into the air as we sat down to eat. The mail only arrived half of the time and if you cooked something pungent, all the clothes in all the closets would smell for days. It was a crumbling and ancient building that had us exasperated so much of the time.

Which is why we decided to move before the baby came, and then bumped that up when we learned they were selling the building. Two weeks. Two weeks of frantically searching, finding, packing and moving. We are a different couple than we were when we first searched for a home four years ago. We have credit reports, yes, but also standards. We wanted a dishwasher, central air, nice tile-work, and all those things that you can overlook when you are on the brink of marriage and adulthood, thinking that love is enough to renovate any space. And we found it all, in a new apartment that is objectively nicer and [at least a little] bigger than the old. As we raced against the blizzard to move, we didn’t have time for sentimentality about the old place we were leaving. At least, not until yesterday, when we went back to clean it before turning over the keys.

3 years and 7 months — about double the time we planned on living there, and I’m not even sure how it happened. We kept on meaning to move earlier, kept griping about the lack of space, the shabbiness, the inconsistencies. But then I would look at other places for a day or two and give up, retreating back to the only home we knew together, the only home we built together, the home that gave us a space to build and “us.”

It’s the home where we learned how to extend hospitality when conditions aren’t optimal. We learned that is always room and money enough to squeeze one more person in at a tiny table on a small budget, and that you will never regret letting that friend come and pass a night, no matter how stressed you are before. We learned that it is our hearts that people want shared when they visit, and that doesn’t need guest towels or breakfast nooks.

It’s the home where we learned to fight. In a tiny apartment, you can’t storm off and clear you head and you have to hang on, finding the words when you have none, and figuring out a way to work through things because fleeing the scene is not an option. It’s the home where we learned to communicate without fighting, to say what needed to be said, and to ask forgiveness quickly, and often.

It’s the home where we learned how to work through disappointments, how to be crushed by life and go one getting up in the morning and moving forward. It’s the home where I cried a lot, sometimes for good reason, and sometimes because the bad reasons will still make you cry. It’s the home where we both worked long nights and early mornings on our careers, pushing the other when we each stopped believing. It’s the home that gave me a safe haven when James moved across the country for six months and life was on hold. It’s the home he came back to and we relearned the things we forgot why he was gone.

It’s the home where we learned how to keep a home. Where James discovered that yes, he has opinions about decor and I learned that, yes, I should listen to them. It was our home, not just mine, and we were proud of that.

It’s the home where we learned patience and sacrifice and courage and all the other things that you need to make it. It’s the only home we have known as a couple.

Which might explain why I cried when we left it yesterday, cried tears that forgot the toilet and the dirt and the drafty windows. I was crying the tears of someone who knows that they are leaving somewhere safe, somewhere loved, somewhere where we knew how to be us and moving forward. Yes, forward is better, but it means relearning and welcoming the changes to “us” that this year, this new home, an certainly this baby, will bring. Processed with VSCOcam with a5 preset

One of the very last things we did before leaving was to look back at these pictures, back at the prayers that two starry-eyed engaged kids painted across the walls before moving in. Bless this house and teach us to love.  And oh, did He. Because above all, that home was where we learned to love — each other, our community, our very selves — more than before. Of course this time, we didn’t have time for sappy wall painting before moving. We had fast moving to accomplish, and far more possessions than before. Everything about the move was stressful, and things like painting blessings into our walls just didn’t make the cut. But though they aren’t written on these new walls, they are still written into my heart and whispered from my lips as I move through our new home. Let this home be a new place of learning to be us in this world. Let this be a home that keeps on building us to be stronger than before.

Bless this house and teach us to love.

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Life Hacks: That exercise thing.

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I do not like working out.

But I hate not working out.

On days when I don’t go running, don’t do a lot of walking, don’t get moving, I feel antsy, irritated, and generally unpleasant. I hate going to the gym, don’t really know what to do with weights or machines, and can’t get motivated to do video workouts. Every time I try that last one, it just ends up with me lying on the floor and watching the video play, which I’m pretty sure doesn’t count as doing the workout.

But I have to move around for my days to feel productive. I recognize that exercise, like eating well, good sleep, and doing my hair, makes me feel better about the whole day. I have been a [devoted but unskilled] runner since high school, but really bumped up my running this past year, doing a 10 mile race in the spring and a half marathon in the fall (sidenote: half marathons at 12 weeks pregnant are NOT FUN. And when you cross the finish line and they offer beer and oysters instead of the standard bagels and bananas, it was EVEN LESS FUN.). Yet I also started listening to my body, and I know that in spite of what any training schedule says, I can only run 3 times a week before my knees start protesting. I run better when I do fewer but longer runs, so I carved out three big chunks of time for long runs of 5-10 miles a couple times a week. This left 4 days a week that needed some sort of unofficial exercise, especially since ye old academic life is deeply stationary, with home research days never demanding that I walk more than the distance from the couch to the kitchen. Here are my tips for making exercise a seamless part of your day in the midst of general busyness.

  • Get a Fitbit. Or get whatever equivalent you want, but do it. It will give you the “exercise mindset” of making your entire day one where you move more, rather than just looking for big chunks of dedicated workout time — chunks that can be really hard to find. I noticed that as soon as I started rocking my Fitbit, I also started parking in the back of the lot at work, taking the stairs, and being more eager to do chores like taking out the trash or going to the post-office because GOTTA GET THOSE STEPS. Yes, it also meant that one night I paced laps around our living room for an entire episode of Downton Abbey.  It meant that my days were healthier even if I didn’t have time to go for a run. Having a goal oriented target like a Fitbit count or similar app makes it a joyful and productive task to get in enough activity.
  • Rock those audiobooks. On the days where just the busyness of life doesn’t get my steps in, I hit the sidewalks to walk it out. Formerly, I felt like walking wasn’t working out and thus, wasn’t worth it. But it is, and made such a difference in my 2015 journey to health. It also gave me lots of time to chat on the phone and listen to piles of audiobooks. I use Audible and have burned through so much entertaining reading in the course of walking and running. Having these books to listen to also makes me eager to get outside and moving, eager to pick up my YA fiction where I left off. Pick a fun book that really is an indulgent treat that you look forward to.
  • Get it in early. You are more likely to do it if you get it done early. Plus, then you feel productive early and that in turn makes you more productive in the rest of your daily tasks.
  • Any workout is better than no workout. 2 minutes of jumping jacks and squats might not be as good as an hour of hard hiking or a class at the gym, but if that is the time that your microwave is running and you are standing in the kitchen and the whole day looks busy and this might be the only 2 minutes you have – then it’s better than using those two minutes to stand there and stare out the window while you eat Nutella from the jar. Because everyone knows that the absolute best vehicle for Nutella consumption is nothing other than a spoon.
  • Try something new. You know that I am kind of a junkie for trendy new workout classes. Remember Hip, Hop and Shake? Soul Cycle? Even if I don’t have some swank gym membership, I am a strong believer in seeking out deals for trials of fun group fitness classes. I knew that I needed to jumpstart healthy decisions this January, after my hardcore first trimester mac n’ cheese binge, so I jumped when a friend convinced me to do a month long Barre3 membership. A new studio just opened on the Hill and they had a great discount for a monthly unlimited subscription so I signed up. January is rough on running, as icy roads don’t make my preggo self feel so great, so I have loved turning up 3-4 times a week for a different sort of workout. Yes, I am terrible and look the worst and cannot hold some of those postures to save my life. But I am feeling strangely more toned, just as I am also feeling bigger by the day. It is a different way to mix up my fitness routine and sometimes that’s all we need. Shaking it up a little is a good idea. I know that city life offers many more of these sorts of deals than some of you might have, but even seeking out some new sort of workout video online, or from the library, or walking a different route can reinvigorate you to exercise.

How do you all fit exercise into your days? (And I promise – almost done with these life hacks- send any my way if you haven’t already!)

Photo via here.

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21 weeks.

21 weeks-1Oh you know, just popping in with some bump photos in the snow that I took in the 4 minutes that I wasn’t wearing leggings and a shapeless sweater all weekend. Because as I told James:

“I need you to take a bump shot of me. I can’t master that whole mirror selfie thing without looking really dumb — plus we don’t even have mirrors unpacked yet!”

“You know that our kid will have zero interest in looking at these photos, right?”

Ah husband, someday you will learn that logic bears little sway over the compulsive first pregnancy bump shots- shots that I will probably stop sharing with the public once I hit the whale stage of that final month. But for now- shivering in the cold it is.

Last week was one of the landmark ones in pregnancy (My brother in law: “So…. being in pregnant is like a big deal, right?” YES. YES IT IS.). It marked 20 weeks, halfway through, and that big fancy ultrasound where gender is revealed and we make sure that we are having a baby and not a puppy, as I recently dreamed. But since last week was also the craziness of moving and preparing for snowzilla, this special milestone didn’t get its own fancy bump documentation, so I am tossing up 21 weeks as close enough.

Seeing our baby on that screen was amazing. I mean, yes, I didn’t know what I was seeing half the time, but as soon as the tech told us that we were looking at kidneys or a liver or the brain or whatever, I instantly recognized our baby as having the cutest organs there ever were. And I hate to brag or anything, but the doctor couldn’t stop praising the textbook perfection of our kid’s umbilical cord insertion, and you better believe that I will be including that on college apps. When we got a look at the face, I realized that I had seen it somewhere before. Here, in fact, you can see an uncanny ressemblance at what the face looked like, thoroughly annoyed at the entire process. The ultrasound also confirmed what my long-limbed husband and I already knew: we will be birthing a spider baby with appendages that go on for days.

We opted to have the tech write the gender down for us to open together later. I’m not into the gender reveal party thing, as I wanted it to just be James, me, and all my preggo hormone-driven emotions. Thus, after a lengthy Trader Joe’s run, we sat on the couch and opened the envelope to find that we are having…

…a boy! Which, I might add, was exactly as I had predicted, given my strict Old Wives tales research and gut instinct, aided by a couple dreams (including the puppy one- it was twins, one human boy, one cute puppy).

I have all sorts of emotions about being a boy mom. I am thrilled, because that ultrasound showed a healthy boy who will come into our lives and give all later children the older brother that I always loved having. I always felt secretly superior growing up that had an older brother, and I cannot wait for any other kids to enjoy that. I am excited to watch James and this little guy be best friends, and I am pumped about the energetic fun that playing with little boys entails. My own love of dinosaurs, competitive games, building forts, and Star Wars is about to come in very handy.

And yet, there is something so daunting about being a boy mom, about having the responsibility to teach this boy how to stand up for those less fortunate, to respect women, to be strong and yet humble, and love the Lord. To teach him a correct view of manliness in a world so often wrong about what it means to be a man. Girls seem easier, because I am one. They are familiar. And in my opinion and observation, the mom culture objectively prefers girls. The mom and baby world seems inherently more inclined to hair-bows and girl dates than to baseballs and wild games. When you tell other moms that you are having a boy, they usually respond with some variation of “James must be so excited” or “you might have a girl next time!” On one hand, this is a triumph of feminism, as it means that we live in a culture and country that wants daughters and views them as equal citizens. But on the other hand, it leaves us expectant boy moms feeling a little let down, not by the babies we carry, but by something we can’t even put our finger on, by feeling excluded from the feminized world of prenatal exuberance.

But I can put my hand on my stomach, and think about the baby growing there, the son who will make me a boy mom and show me how awesome it’s going to be.

Baby boy, we have zero names for you and the theme for your nursery is currently “cardboard boxes of things that we still don’t know what to do with.” The only things we have purchased for you are an entire winter wardrobe for next year of bear suits and beanies with antlers, as one of your parents got a little carried away with some end of season sales — I’ll let you guess which.

But we are so thrilled that you are ours, our boy.

21 weeks-6

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Life Hacks: Getting dressed.

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Getting dressed is a process these days. My clothes are in about six different locations around our apartment, and after finding a box of clothes, I then begin the Russian roulette of “what fits today,” a game that has more loaded bullets by the day. But the process of packing up my clothes and sorting through them has reminded me that getting dressed can be one of the most stressful parts of the day, and yet is really important. I am not a fashionista, not overly bold with my clothes, and not someone who invests a lot of time in following fashion. But I do love clothes, do pay attention to what I like, and do believe that the clothes we wear affect how we feel about the day. When I feel confident with how I look, I act confident, and feel stronger for whatever the day holds.

I am not qualified to give out fashion advice, and I am happy to leave that to the legions of fashion bloggers out there. But here are my tiny life hacks for feeling content with my clothes — not some mythical wardrobe that I don’t and will never have — and feeling equipped to make getting dressed something that prepares me to face the day instead of an afterthought.

  • Purge your closet. You know how I feel about a good closet purge! Ever since my giant purge last spring, I have kept up a policy of only keeping things in my closet that I love and it is so freeing. Yes, I have some items that might only get worn once or twice a year – cocktail attire, Easter dress, etc. A minimalist might ditch those. But I love them, so they stay.
  • Stop buying clothes. Towards the end of last summer, I decided to stop buying any sort of clothing until Christmas. And it was wonderful. It gave me time to really push my wardrobe to its limits and more importantly, it helped me realize that the average American woman does not need as many new things as she compulsively buys. For pregnancy, I have purchased two items, received three as gifts, and then got a couple bags of hand-me-downs from a friend, and I am hoping to not spend any more money on this temporary time.
  • Imagine what you want when you “have nothing to wear.” Sometimes, you really do have nothing to wear and you need to buy clothes. But instead of just buying, make it intentional. When I am staring at my clothes and finding nothing, I imagine what I wish I were finding in the recesses of my closet. My shopping thus becomes intentional and actually fills a void. When I first moved to DC, I kept on feeling poorly dressed every time I had to go to something marked “business casual.” I kept hoping to reach in my closet and some sleek black dress that could pass for business, if people showed up in suits, or cocktail, if everyone else turned out in sequins. Instead, I kept coming up with cute Target sundresses and short Parisian miniskirts, accented by the occasional polyester blend printed dress that was holding on from early college. I spent the next year buying a couple dresses to fit this bill, and letting go of the others, and I now feel 100% confident when I have to show up to one of these ambiguously labeled events.
  • Organize your closet. You might have wonderful clothes, but can’t find them – can’t wear them.
  • If you know it’s going to be a rough day, take extra care with your hair. It’s like having a super power. And once you’ve done your hair once- dry shampoo that head as long as possible! I curl mine using this flat iron (pricey, but I’ve had mine for 5 years and it’s still going strong!), and I can make it last 2-3 days (unless I go running) with some generous dry shampoo application. I am by no means monogamous with my dry shampoo and have tried many, but I am currently crushing hard on this one.
  • Wear bold lipstick and simple stud earrings. They coves a multitude of sins. For me, I like to think that they cover the one where I actually have no clue how to wear makeup and always forget to put on jewelry. My favorites for lipstick are ever and always, this line and this line.

But now, I’m asking you people who are snazzy dressers and always looking enviably. What are your hacks to looking awesome every day? Give me all the secrets.

Image via here.

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Scenes from the snowstorm.

blizzard2016On Friday, we moved, racing against the blizzard. DC freaks out about snow on a regular basis, and usually it ends up being a major letdown. An inch or two that, while less than impressive, manages to cripple this city that never got the message about pre-treating roads for ice. Thus, when they predicted snow, I originally ignored it and continued to plan our move for Saturday. But when the movers called and announced that it was Friday morning or nothing, I started tossing things in boxes and throwing out belongings with zeal that would make Marie Kondo explode with happiness. On Friday, we worked alongside our team of movers, doing the last two loads in our car as the snow started swirling. We had to abandon our box spring when it wouldn’t fit up the stairs, which means that it is now a small snow mountain and I am dreading having to dig it out to dispose of it.

And then the snow came, and it didn’t stop, and by Saturday afternoon we had over three feet of fluffy white, with drifts that easily came to mid thigh and higher.

The joy of a city snowstorm versus a country snowstorm, is that you are just stranded enough for all obligations to be cancelled, but not so stranded that you can’t venture out for fun. We followed the numerous Capitol Hill residents who heeded the irresistible call of seeing the Capitol dome obscured by the blizzard and set out on foot. In the absence of anything but emergency vehicles, everyone trekked along in the streets, a merry procession of dogs wearing coats and shoes (because, EAST COAST Y’ALL), and parents hauling sleds of kids to the Capitol.

We stopped first for brunch at a friends’ house, before heading back out at the peak of whiteout conditions. After the unremarkable view of the Capitol (as in, non-view, because BLIZZARD), we went to a dive bar and got the best mozzarella sticks on the planet, squeezing in with the masses of people in wet boots who had the same idea.

But beyond the fun ventures out, James and I spent the [long and getting longer] weekend just snug in our new little home, sifting through boxes and re-wearing clothes because finding new ones was too much work. We focused on settling in, ignoring set schedules, and embracing the cozy laziness a blizzard demands.

Couldn’t ask for a better snowstorm.

 

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Life Hacks: The Notecard System

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After a crazy interlude of packing, purging, and more packing before we move on Friday, I’m back with more life hacks.

My first semester of college, I remember a very distinct breakdown. One of those I-have-so-much-to-do-and-no-one-understands-or-has-ever-been-as-stressed things, coupled with a dawning realization that I had to get a system FAST to manage the self-paced nature of college. No one would tell me what to do and when, and the  long deadlines and lengthy projects were daunting. Furthermore, I am a devoted supporter of only working 6 days a week, and I wasn’t sure how to make that happen, when everyone else is off studying on Sunday nights. I do not work on Sundays, be it college papers, Masters thesis, or PhD prep. Taking a day off should really be its own life hack, but I’ll just throw that one in for free. But in order for this blissful day of rest to happen, you have to plan ahead. Like, all-week ahead, so that Saturday night isn’t a breakdown of to-do lists and a frantic decision to once more work on Sundays.

Enter Life Hack #2: the notecard system.

Since college, I have used this organization system to structure my weeks, collect my thoughts, and get things done. I’ve mentioned it before, but there are many things I am not good at. Most natural skills in fact. However, I am a beast of time management and just getting things done, which compensates for most natural shortcomings in life. I am also a type-A list-checker-offer, which makes this system ideal, but I firmly believe it could make any person crazy productive. At its core is the idea that you cannot possibly tackle everything every day. Looking at what you have to do for the whole week– the whole month, will be so overwhelming that you won’t do it. But just looking at one day is doable. Here it is:

  1. Sunday night, lay out 3×5 index cards for however many days of the week you have to be productive. For me, this is usually 6, but if I know I will be out of town or something over the weekend, I will tweak it. Label the cards with the days of the week.
  2. Go through and write down all standing commitments, like “small group” or “mime class.” (Please tell me that last one is applicable for someone.)
  3. Add in all daily personal goals, like working out, reading something each day, or whatever. Feel free to put on things that you KNOW you will do, like making a bed, so that you can be triumphant and cross them off. Productivity is a mental game.
  4. Next, add errands and chores.
  5. Lastly, figure out all the other things you have to do that week and add them to the days in which you know you have time to do them. For me, Tuesdays and Thursdays are the days I work from home, thus they get more things assigned to them. One day a week I usually just write “catch up on emails” and do that all in one sitting. The key is to cut work down into manageable chunks. For instance, if I was to look at my work for this semester, it would be: “write 2 chapters of dissertation.” That is impossibly daunting. But for next week, I know that on Monday I need to get 2 books from the library, Tuesday read half of one, etc. This is doable, and thus it will get done.  It is also a very calming thing to sit down Sunday night and, instead of getting stressed, just break down the work into tiny bites.
  6. Staple the cards together and check off things as you do them. Hold yourself to actually completing your day, but even if you don’t- rip off that card and toss it at the end of the day. This step is vital, because it makes you feel like a winner. If things didn’t get done, add them to wherever you see space on a later day.

When you get to Sunday, or whatever your day off is… there is no notecard. And thus, you do no work.

Glory hallelujah.

What’s your weekly organization strategy?

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Both images are from here, with all sorts of beautiful desk setups.

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