Minimalist in DC

The Quest for Less "Stuff" & More Time

Tag: time

Have a Blank Day (Quick Tip)

blank dayOpower, the energy-savings and utility software company where I work has only been around for a few years, but one of the reasons I love working here is that they aren’t afraid to try new, potentially game-changing things.

Once a month, if you walk around on the 7th floor of our building, you’ll see a bright, open space with people, headphones on, concentrating on something they’ve been meaning to get done for ages. Some people work from home. Some come in just before lunch to take advantage of the free food Opower provides to mark this special day. This is Blank Day.

What Is Blank Day?

Blank Day is a full day without meetings. The concept has been around for a long time. In fact, I’ve seen a lot of articles on the merits of “No Meeting Wednesdays“, but in reality, it doesn’t matter what day of the week you choose. On Blank Day, everyone is encouraged to remove all meetings from their calendars and concentrate on something important that they just haven’t gotten time to work on. Our entire R&D and Client Delivery organizations have embraced Blank Day. Even those who were skeptical at first (“what the hell am I supposed to do all day?!”) have since gotten on board.

Why I Love Blank Day

For me, Blank Day is a day of bliss. I use it to knock out all kinds of tasks, especially the ones that require more than an hour of my attention. I’ve used Blank Day to work on slides for a conference or an executive, I’ve blogged, I’ve laid out my ideas for new processes, and I’ve also come into Blank Day with a backlog of seven major things I wanted to get done and left with five of them completely finished (I knew seven was unattainable, but it was nice to have stretch goals). The advantages of Blank Day include:

  1. No excuse not to start: With an entire day ahead of you, there’s no excuse to procrastinate. I once put off a project that I suspected would take me half a day and I finished it in 45 minutes on Blank Day. I should have just started it days before, but I couldn’t bring myself to do that until I knew I had a chunk of time set aside.
  2. No meetings: Need I say more?
  3. Productivity: On Blank Days, it seems like I get the equivalent of a regular week’s worth of work done in a single day. What if we held them more often?
  4. Uninterrupted time: Some projects can’t be done in 30-minute or hour-long chunks. Software Engineers in particular need time to concentrate on their code. Blank Days give you that uninterrupted time.
  5. Flow: According to Positive Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, flow, or that state of being totally absorbed in something that’s both challenging and satisfying, is important for your mental health and happiness. To get there, you need to be doing something you love and the space to lose yourself in it.

Disadvantages of Blank Day

Each Blank Day I hear a couple of complaints:

  1. Meeting displacement: Your other days tend to fill up with meetings.
  2. Client calls: Not everyone can participate. If a client needs to meet on Blank Day, customers take precedence.

How to Carve Out Your Own Blank Day

Setting up a Blank Day for yourself is always easier if you have company, but you can make huge strides on your own.

Here are some steps to take to carve out your own Blank Day. If one of these doesn’t work, try another one.

  1. Block off your calendar: You don’t need to say anything to anyone, just do it. Block an entire day (each month or week) on your calendar and proactively avoid adding meetings to those days. Talk to people who schedule meetings over your work block and see if you can get them moved. It’s amazing how many people will start to naturally avoid inviting you to meetings on your Blank Day.
  2. Find friends: See if you can get your co-workers to agree on a day where no one will have meetings. Typically, it’s the managers who have an issue with this. Remind them that they have tasks they need to concentrate on too.
  3. Announce it: If #2 doesn’t work, announce that you’ve instituted Blank Day and explain why. People will respect your decision and I guarantee you’ll get more people who want to do it too, than who want you to stop doing it.
  4. Start small: If you can’t block off an entire day, why not start with two hours? Two hours of time to get something done is better than nothing!

What would you do if you had a Blank Day?

New Year, New Goal: Happy Anniversary to my Minimalist Project!

One year ago this week, I set out to achieve a goal:

By September 22, 2015, I will “earn” $25K by reducing spending, getting rid of things we don’t need, or earning a little extra doing something I love.

That date was last Tuesday, so how did I do against that goal?!

I earned $10,330.51!!

Do I feel bad about missing the larger $25K goal? Absolutely not. This has been one of the best, most enlightening projects I’ve ever done! I also realized halfway through that tying this journey to a dollar amount was a pretty terrible idea.

#1 Lesson Learned

Why? Because it’s not the money that matters, the real reason to embrace having less “stuff” is that it leads directly to having more time.

Time to spend with the people you love

Time to travel

Time to learn a new hobby

Time to try a new recipe

Time to relax

Time to read

Time to learn

Time to be you.

Time is the only thing that matters and this year I’ve given myself a lot more time.

How I Saved $10,000

I also ended up saving a substantial amount of money that I otherwise wouldn’t have. Who wouldn’t want an extra $10,000? That’s huge! Where did that come from?

  • $1288.67: We refinanced into a lower cost mortgage in March and since then have saved over $1000.
  • $4219.77: This is the amount we’ve saved simply by not buying extra stuff we don’t need for the house (furniture, knick knacks, etc). It’s amazing to see this amount consolidated into one number. That’s a lot of money that I’m happy I still have.
  • $1410: We paid off our car with our tax return and have been saving the extra funds.
  • $3412.07: This is miscellaneous savings. Extra funds from coming in under budget on groceries, bills, and other budget categories. We saved most of the money from raises we were lucky enough to get this year, I sold a few things, and saved all of the interest earned on various accounts.

If I’d had more motivation to make money, I also would have tried harder to sell some of the items we de-owned. I have a huge pile downstairs of the things I’ve earmarked through the KonMari Method. The only reason this stuff is still around is – quite frankly – because I’m being a bit lazy. However, I like to think of my laziness simply as prioritizing time spent with the kids in the evening over making progress on this goal. It will be donated or sold by the end of the year.

Stuff We're Getting Rid Of

Stuff We’re Getting Rid Of This Year

New Goal

I loved this project so much that, for the next year, I’ve decided to continue it, but with a slightly different goal:

Over the next year (by Sept 30, 2016), I will finish organizing using the KonMari Method and then concentrate on finding at least two hours a day to work toward long-term goals such as starting my own business and writing a book.

Thank you to everyone who has supported me and joined me in the past year! Especially my husband, Nathan, our two daughters and my friend, Jossie, who have all gone above and beyond in their support this year.

Here’s to another great year!

The Gift of Time

Nathan and I are celebrating our 10th Anniversary today! No presents, just quality time spent together (and a few days without the kids for the first time since they were born)! There’s a reason that time seems to move more slowly when you’re younger and you can get that feeling back. Give yourself the gift of time!

gift of time

One of the highlights of our marriage so far: Uhuru Peak, Mt. Kilimanjaro

Gift of Time

It seems cliché, but wouldn’t all anniversaries be better if, instead of buying presents, we did something special with our favorite people to commemorate the day? A picture or memory is worth a thousand gifts. For Mother’s Day this year, my mom flew to DC and we all went to Busch Gardens Williamsburg. While she also got a present personalized by my kids, I’m guessing the part she appreciated the most was the trip. I know I did.

gift of time

Memories in the Making

I recently read a fascinating book by Joshua Foer called Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art & Science of Remembering Everything. He, somewhat accidentally, discovered the world of competitive memorization, trained for a year, and won the American Championship. During the year he trained, he wrote about all of the memorization techniques that help us remember things on a daily basis. For people like me that have a hard time remembering names, this book is filled with great tips. One of his mentors also discussed an interesting theory on how to elongate your life and slow down time. Our brains are very visual and, the stranger and more unique an image is in our brains, the better we remember them. The same is true for experiences. That’s why we have a hard time remembering what we had for breakfast (routine memory), but an easier time remembering our vacations (something different and interesting). That’s also why it seems like time is moving more slowly when you’re younger: every day brings something new and your brain holds onto it. Therefore, by doing something interesting and distinct with your life more often, you’ll remember it better and make time feel slower.

So, instead of automatically buying a gift for your next holiday, try the gift of time. Find something unique and exciting to do and enjoy a less materialistic life.

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