Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Month: February 2015

Time Investment Mistakes

time investmentHow often do you sit in a meeting, finish a movie, or finally get to the front of a shopping line and think, “Well, that was a waste of time”?

I just read a good article from the Harvard Business Review on common time investment mistakes by Time Management Coach and Trainer, Elizabeth Saunders. Saunders has a unique job: she works with people to completely change how they spend (or rather, invest) their time. She has some good ideas on how to avoid wasting your time and has a new book out called How to Invest Your Time Like Money, which I’m looking forward to reading.

Her article contains the following list of time investment mistakes. You’ve heard them before, but they are a good reminder of what we shouldn’t be doing.

 Time Investment Mistakes

  1. Not paying attention: Know where you spend your time.
  2. Letting others steal your time: You don’t have to go to that meeting or see that acquaintance.
  3. Deprioritizing family and friends: It’s worth the effort to see those you really care about.
  4. Skipping vacations: More about this later.
  5. Neglecting your health: A no-brainer, yet this is tough for us in the United States because we don’t have a good health culture.
  6. Wasting time to save money: Sometimes it pays to pay for something.
  7. Never knowing yourself: Pay attention to what you want to do.

I’m sharing this because these reminders came at a really good time for me. I’ve been trying to plan a 10th Anniversary vacation for my husband and I this year; the first vacation without kids in nearly five years. What would have been a simple trip pre-kids, has quickly become a logistical nightmare to get the kids to Grandma’s with enough money and time left over to enjoy the trip. I was about to give up when I read this article and realized that we really do need to make this time investment in our marriage. It may cost us up front, but it will pay dividends later in memories and our health too.

How to Start Investing

My favorite time management trick is to pay yourself first. Block time first thing in the morning – before you even check emails – to do your most important thing. If you’re useless in the morning, then block time during your favorite time of day to do something you care about. Maybe that’s spending time with your kids or working on a conference submission. Maybe it’s exercising or meditating or writing. Whatever it is that day, make the time to do it. The investment will be well worth your time.

Bonus Article & Tip: As I was researching Saunders work, I came across another article on Inc.com about what extraordinary time managers do, including lose the perfectionism and ruthlessly prioritize. Love it!

How I Saved $975 in Five Months

savingI’ve been putting off blogging about how much we’ve saved because I am woefully, horribly behind my $25K goal and I’m a little embarrassed about it. If I were saving $25K in a linear fashion, at just under five months, we should have $10,417 saved. In reality, I have saved just $975.11. Now, that’s not counting what’s going into retirement accounts, but it was never my intention to count that money since saving it is non-negotiable. I’m really trying to create a $25K buffer in the money left for spending.

I’m behind, but I’m optimistic and so I’ll choose to concentrate on the fact that I HAVE saved $975 so far! That’s nearly $1000 that I wouldn’t have if I hadn’t set myself an amazingly high goal at the start.

Here’s How I’ve Saved $975 in Five Months

Below are the various ways I’ve saved or made money so far. Perhaps a couple of these ideas would work for you too!

  1. $65.39: I saved all interest earned in our checking and savings accounts through Ally Bank and dividends from a small amount of stock.
  2. $60: I won money in Vegas on a business trip! I could have easily spent it, but I saved it instead and it probably contributed to a tiny bit of that interest. To be fair, I won this before I started my minimalist journey, but I decided to use it to give me a jump-start on my goal.
  3. $100: I received two Amazon Gift Cards and I shifted the money from our “Household Items” budget category, the category that Amazon purchases most likely would come out of, into my $25K savings account.
  4. $38.42: I saved the extra money from eating out less. We didn’t try hard to change these habits because having one meal a week out is one of the highlights of our week, but instead of just rolling the unspent money over to the next month like usual, I saved it.
  5. $35.72: Funds left over from paying the mortgage used to be spent immediately on buying stuff for our house. Now I save them.
  6. $21.25: I sold 5 books using Bookscouter.com.
  7. $54.53: Our savings category has been notoriously used to pay for things we probably don’t need. I was able to save a bit from it each month instead of just spending it right away.
  8. $390: We moved some retirement funds into a pre-tax 401(k), so we would have more cash on hand for emergencies. Luckily, there have been no such emergencies yet and so all of this goes into savings.
  9. $60: Gas prices have fallen over a dollar since I started this challenge and my budget is reaping the rewards.
  10. $63.40: Miscellaneous cash gifts. Our families are very generous and I’ve been able to save a bit from the cash gifts they’ve given us (after doing whatever they suggested with a bit of it – you have you enjoy your gifts too)!
  11. $86.40: Nathan got a bonus at work. This is what was left after I paid off some traveling debt.

I really should have examined this sooner because writing this post has completely inspired me to try harder. I think I’ll take up more regular accounting from now on.

Do you have other ideas for saving money? Share them!

Get More Done: Add Timing to Your To Do List (Quick Tip)

ToDoListWithTiming

I’ve been getting my entire daily to do list done almost every day for the past few weeks and it’s not because I’m putting less on it. Each day I have at least 5-10 tasks that I’m trying to get done in addition to meetings and other distractions. It’s a good-sized list.

Instead, I’m adding one key element to the margins that helps me focus.

In the margins of my to do list, I add what time I’ll be working on each task.

Here’s how I set-up my daily list:

  1. Write out the to do list first thing in the morning (or if I’m really firing on all cylinders, I do this the night before).
  2. List all of my meetings for the day with times and locations at the bottom.
  3. Focus on the open periods of time and assign them to each item starting with the highest priority item that can be done in that amount of time. I also pay attention to the times when I have the most energy, which is morning for me. If I have an important task that requires a lot of focus, I try to assign it a time slot in the morning.
  4. When you run out of time slots for the day, everything left on the list gets removed.

The to do list above is my actual list today.

How to Adjust Throughout the Day

Sometimes you’ll finish ahead of schedule, and if you do, you can always add an item back to the list or take a well-deserved coffee break. More likely, you’ll start running behind the second someone unexpectedly comes to talk to you. When that happens, pick up where you left off. If you don’t have time left for the task slotted, get the task for the next same-sized slot done. During the next slot, find the next highest priority task that will fit in the slot and do that. Since you’ve already added timing to your tasks, it’s easy to find the next most important to work on that will fit into whatever time you have left.

Why Does This Work?

  1. Your expectations for the day are more reasonable to begin with.
  2. You spend time thinking about your priorities and that knowledge sticks with you all day.
  3. The timing serves to timebox your work, which helps you decide how much work on an item is enough and when to move on to another task.
  4. You understand exactly where your day went wrong and can learn to correct issues or anticipate them in the future.
  5. The first time you finish something early, you feel so good that you gain momentum for the rest of the day.

In practice, I end up finishing all of my tasks for the day about 80% of the time and 50% of the time I finish them EARLY. The timing really helps me focus on the task at hand and churn through a seemingly bloated list.

What other ways have you found to get your daily to do list done?

Transforming Furniture

What do people do when they want to live in a small space, but don’t have the ability or time to build their own multi-use furniture? They buy it! I have always been fascinated by tiny tables that expand to seat 8 and beds that turn into couches and bookshelves. Years ago when one of us was sick, Nathan and I invented the idea for a king-sized bed that would split and rotate to become a bunk bed. That way we could still share a bed most of the time, but could switch to bunk beds so we wouldn’t have the sick person breathing on us all night. Think about how great that would be for a guest room where you might have to accommodate adults or kids?

Well, my dreams have come true (sort of)! I recently discovered a company called Resource Furniture that has some really interesting designs in which ordinary furniture is transformed into something completely different. It’s very creative and fascinating to look through their site. Here are just a couple of interesting and useful items.

Desk or Table for Ten?

The goliath table goes from being a small display table to a full-size table capable of seating ten (there are leaves you have to store).

White-and-Tan Goliath

Photo Credit: resource furniture.com

Sofabed

We all know how utilitarian murphy beds are, but this brings new meaning to the term “sofa bed”.

Swing

Photo Credit: resource furniture.com

Swing

Photo Credit: resourcefurniture.com

Bedtime

Or for your kids, what a clever way to both save space and hide toys when it’s bedtime!

hiding twin bed

Photo Credit: resourcefurniture.com

hiding bed

Photo Credit: resourcefurniture.com

Seating for Five

Or what about this little ottoman? What a great way to expand for party seating.

Cubista-Ottoman

Photo Credit: resourcefurniture.com

Cubista-Ottoman-Stools

Photo Credit: resourcefurniture.com

Unfortunately, the prices are pretty steep. Everything is made to order and the goliath table will run you between $3500-$5000. I suspect, however, that more and more furniture will be made this way in the future. This completely changes how I’ll think about my next furniture purchase!

Has anyone found other companies that make transforming furniture?  Comment and share below!

Manage Clutter: Limit Toy Storage Space (Quick Tip)

Now that we’ve gotten toys down to a manageable number, we still struggle with the flow of new toys into the house, especially at birthdays and Christmas. However, there is a neat trick that helps us stop new toys from completely taking over ours lives:

Limit toy storage to a confined space.

This is a fantastic tip from Clutterfree with Kids by Joshua Becker. When that specific, confined toy area fills up, that’s it. No more toys. If a new one arrives, an old, underused one should go.

Good Toy Spaces

Good confined spaces are closets, a toy box, one set of shelves, under a bed, or a couple of tubs. Ideally, this is somewhere that you can close off so you don’t have to look at the toys all the time.

Limit Toy Storage Space

Toy Box Storage

Our Toy Spaces

We’re still trying to find the right amount of toy storage space in our house. We’ve started by confining the toys we have to the corner in the living room, the living room bookshelf, the toy box, the guest bedroom and both girls’ closets. We found the corner is not confined enough because it’s hard to define where a corner begins and ends or when a corner is “filled up”. My goal is to eventually confine the toys even more to simply the toy box, one or two bookshelves and a couple of tubs in the girls’ closets. The tubs are for rotating the toys and the toy box/shelf are for the toys we play with every day.

Limit Toy Storage Space

This tip offers a few other nice side-effects beyond simply having a manageable amount of toys. It:

  1. Keeps the house cleaner.
  2. Allows you to easily experiment with finding the optimal volume of toys. For instance, if you confine the toys to four tubs in a closet, but you find that the kids only play with the toy-equivalent of two tubs you can de-own the extras and reduce your confined space.
  3. Helps you and your kids know when it’s time to do another round of purging. When the confined space feels cluttered or full, it’s time to de-own again.

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