Monday, October 31, 2016

4 Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable for Your Goals

I have always had a really difficult time sticking to my goals and creating new habits. It's frustrating to me, but I recently discovered the reason for that. I have been reading Gretchen Rubin's stuff on book on habit forming (See the book here: Better Than Before), and she is a goldmine of information for people who are looking to finally form some good habits that will actually stick. On her website I found a quiz that tells you what tendency you have regarding habit-forming.

You can take the quiz for yourself here: Gretchen Rubin's 4 Tendencies Quiz

As it turns out, I am an obliger. An obliger is somebody who easily meets the expectations of others, but struggles to meet expectations they impose on themselves.

This came as absolutely no surprise to me. I am a chronic people pleaser who struggles to say no to others and constantly puts my own goals and to-do lists very last. The thing is, I get so frustrated when I spend my day meeting the needs of others and doing absolutely nothing that I really wanted to do to attain my own goals. I am definitely an obliger.

Sometimes it's difficult to establish new habits and attain healthy goals because you aren't accountable to yourself. Try one of these ideas to help you be more accountable and actually start achieving your goals!

Gretchen says that obligers need external accountability and that they do much better when they have it. So I have been working on finding ways to be more accountable to myself.

4 Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable

1. Use a chart

If you're not sure that you can handle actual external accountability yet because that means letting someone else in on the goals, habits, and resolutions you are working on, try to at least use a chart. You can make a simple chart to keep in your planner or to put on your fridge—somewhere where you know you will see it often and remind yourself that you are working on these goals.

I also like checking things off on charts. Just like little kids love using chore charts and checking off the chores they completed, it gives me a little thrill to check things off my goal charts.

Be more accountable for the habits you are working to form by using this free daily habit tracker printable. Download it now!

I've made a habit tracking chart you are welcome to download and use for this purpose. The idea is to write down the habits you're working on and then color in a star for each day that you were able to keep that habit. There are 31 stars in each row, enough to track your progress for one month at a time. It's easy and motivating!

To download:

Enter your email into the form below and the chart will be delivered straight to your email inbox. If you are on a mobile device, click here to see the form.

2. Tell somebody

Just telling someone that you intend to do something is often enough motivation to complete a goal. It's embarrassing to see that person and have them ask you about it only to say, "Oh—I haven't gotten to that yet!" Telling people my intentions really works well for me—that is actually one of the great benefits I have found of being a blogger. When I write my intentions for the entire internet to see, I automatically feel much more accountable.

I'm not saying you need to start a blog so you can keep your goals (though it isn't a horrible idea), but I am saying that public declarations of goals keep you accountable. Perhaps a Facebook status or a deliberate mention to your best friend will be just what you need to start getting up earlier.

3. Have an accountability partner

My friend Annette wrote a book about accountability partnership and it is genius! (See the book here: Done and Done only 99 cents on Kindle!) I have another friend who also tested as an obliger and we have been FaceTiming each other once each week in order to keep ourselves accountable to our goals. We also text sometimes, and when I'm back home in Michigan, I'm sure I will talk to her about things in person much more often, too.

This really works. When I know I have a FaceTime date with my friend and that I will have to tell her that I didn't keep a certain goal or do what I said I would do, it motivates me to do better next time.

4. Join an accountability group

You could also join an accountability group. Maybe form one yourself on Facebook or find a public group of people that are working on a similar goal. I actually heard a news story the other day about Instagram dieters. They are much more successful with weight loss because they are both accountable and anonymous. These types of groups where you don't know people personally can really help those of us who are too private to share our goals with those we know in real life.

I found that this method was least effective for me—I think anonymous accountability doesn't work for me because I don't care what those people think. I joined a health challenge last year where you got points for doing specific things and even though I paid money into it, I just wasn't super motivated and it didn't bother me much to tell my group that I had completely failed!

The point is to find a method of accountability that really helps you and then go for it. Make those goals and habits realities!

This post is the final installment in my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

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Sunday, October 30, 2016

How to Make a Green Smoothie That Actually Tastes Good

So you want to eat more healthy, but you don't particularly love eating vegetables. Or maybe you don't like making salads or aren't sure how to cook a lot of great tasting veggies. I get it—it isn't always easy to completely overhaul your diet! In fact, it's probably never easy.

Several years ago, I read a weight loss book called The Gabriel Method: The Revolutionary, Diet-Free Way to Totally Transform Your Body. It was very interesting, and though I have not totally transformed my body since reading it, I did get one big takeaway from the book. The author pointed out that the reason diets fail so often is because we think we have to change the way we eat drastically. I know I have that issue. I want to lose weight, but I'm not usually willing to give up eating sweets and start eating perfectly clean and counting all the calories. It's really hard—especially when your life is kind of crazy.

But Jon Gabriel says that you don't have to totally change the way you eat. Instead of giving everything up—which is never sustainable and only leads to failed diets—you should just start eating more of the good. The more good stuff you add to your diet, the more your body will naturally stop wanting the bad stuff. It's a slower process, but it really makes sense to me.

Green smoothies are a great way to eat more vegetables. Try this green smoothie recipe and get a green smoothie that tastes really good.

After reading that book I became something of a green smoothie fanatic because it's such an easy way to get a lot of fruits and vegetables into your daily diet. I can attest to the fact that when I am drinking green smoothies regularly that I don't want to eat the bad stuff as much.

I can also attest to the fact that green smoothies don't always taste very good. It's been a trial and error process at our home, but The Maestro and I have now perfected the art of making a green smoothie that actually tastes good.

How to Make a Great Tasting Smoothie

First, I highly recommend a really good blender. When I first got into making green smoothies I quickly realized what a necessity it is! So I asked for a BlendTec for my birthday and I love it. They can be a little spendy, but you can always find good deals for them on Amazon. Here is the BlendTec page on Amazon—click around and see what kind of deals you find. There are other great blenders on the market, such as Vitamix, but I am perfectly happy with the one I have.

Green Smoothie Recipe

Approx. 1 cup spinach
Approx. 1 cup kale
1 celery stalk
1 large carrot
1 pear or 1 apple
2-3 cups frozen fruit (mango, peach, strawberry, mixed fruit, etc.)
24 ounces water
Approx. 1 cup ice

If you are not accustomed to drinking green smoothies, adding 1/3 cup of honey is helpful. The Maestro prefers his smoothies with honey, but I can go either way.

We usually just put all the ingredients into the blender in the order the instruction manual recommends. The blender is certainly powerful enough to handle this and blends it well. If you don't have a BlendTec or other industrial blender, add the water and the greens/veggies first and blend until the greens are completely blended, then add the rest of the ingredients and blend well.

Drink up and enjoy!

Small Habit: Eat more greens.
Big Difference: Better health, more energy, and fewer cravings for the bad stuff.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

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Saturday, October 29, 2016

How Batch Processing Will Make You More Productive

Let's face it. If you're a mom, you can probably be described as busy, overwhelmed, and distracted. If that doesn't describe you, then you probably don't need to be reading this blog which is all about how I am working to overcome being too busy, too overwhelmed, and way too distracted. But if that does describe you, you'll want to keep reading because I'm about to share with you the biggest productivity tip I know.

Since I've been focusing on reading books that bring me closer to my goals this year, one of the books I picked up was The Four Hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss. As I read, I was particularly interested to learn about what he calls batch processing. I was pleased to realize that I had already learned the principle and had implemented it in several areas of my life—but I also realized that I should be using batch processing (also know as batching) in many more areas of my life.

What is batch processing?

Batch processing is the opposite of multitasking. 

As busy moms, we tend to be pretty expert at the whole multitasking thing. But did you know that multitasking is probably making you even more overwhelmed? Research shows that multitasking is both inefficient and stressful. Yes, you read that correctly. Multitasking is inefficient! When we multitask, we are actually not multitasking at all—we are instead moving rapidly from one task to the next, which makes us less focused and less able to complete each task efficiently.

Talk about changing our perception of motherhood—an occupation that is built upon multitasking! Sure, multitasking is going to have to happen sometimes. You'll inevitably have to help with homework while simultaneously making dinner, changing a diaper, and cleaning 12 messes. But the point of batch processing is to avoid the trap of multitasking as much as possible, not to eliminate it altogether.

Batch processing is the best way to save time and be more productive.

The idea behind batch processing is to group similar tasks together and do them all at once. For instance, I pay my bills on the first day of each month—no exceptions. I sit down at my desk with my bills and my computer and schedule them all out via my bank's bill pay option or the company's website. I have always felt that this was far more efficient than paying bills weekly or even more often—in fact, when I did it that way I was more likely to miss paying a bill than I am when I do them all at once.

Why does batch processing work?

Batch processing reduces mental delay and improves focus

If multitasking is moving rapidly back and forth between tasks, batch processing is staying focused on only one task at a time.

Did you know that every time you switch to a new task it can take your brain up to 15 minutes to regain focus? Batch processing reduces the mental delay that occurs each time you begin a new task because you are staying with the same task for longer. Because you are not starting something totally new every 5 minutes your brain is finally able to focus on the specific task at hand and you will find a rhythm—you'll be in the zone for that particular task.

I've found that whatever I'm doing in batches becomes much easier after I've been working on it for a while. Whether it's being in cleaning mode, or paying bills mode, or writing mode I am simply more effective when I batch similar tasks together.

Which types of tasks can be batch processed?

Batch processing can be used for any type of task

Besides paying bills, I am working on using batch processing in all areas of my life. I have begun to use my to-do journal to group similar tasks together so it is easier for me to do them all together (you can also use your planner for this process, too—to see my favorite paper planner, click here: Mom on the Go Planner).

Here is a list of possible mom tasks that can be batch processed:

  • Bill paying
  • Phone calls 
  • Scheduling appointments
  • Email (try to process your email inbox only once or twice per day)
  • Cleaning (do all the bathrooms at once, vacuum the entire house at once, or choose a specific time during the day when you will finish all of your cleaning)
  • Laundry (see how my friend Katelyn batch processes her laundry—it's pretty brilliant: How to Stop Drowning in Laundry)
  • Paperwork
  • Homework help
  • Errands
  • Grocery shopping
  • Meal planning (plan a month's worth of meals at a time)
  • Social media consumption (yes—batch process your Facebook—Twitter—Snapchat—Texting—Internet Surfing time)
  • Goal setting (also goal attaining!)
  • Reading
  • Planning
  • Household repairs
  • Homework help
  • Decluttering

How can I be more successful at batch processing?

In order to batch process efficiently, you must remove distractions

I know that some distractions cannot be removed. Your kids will need you, the dog will have to go out, and the phone will probably ring (but you don't have to answer it). But there are also many distractions that you can remove completely.

The biggest distraction to remove while you are focusing on one task is your phone notifications. Something about that ding that signifies that you have just received an email or a text pulls your mind right out of the task at hand and right back into multitasking. Either turn your phone to silent (I personally like the "do not disturb" function on my iPhone), turn off all notifications, or turn your phone off completely.

If you don't need your computer for the batch you are currently processing, don't have it near you. The temptation to open it and check Facebook is simply too great. Basically, you know what is going to be distracting to you, so do your best to remove those things while you are working.

When I am really on the ball and batch processing as much as I can, I amaze myself by how much I can get done. There really is something to getting in the zone and getting all the same things finished at once.

Give it a try—and keep track of how long things take you versus how long they take you when you don't batch process. I am pretty sure you'll amaze yourself, too.

Small Habit: Batch process as much as possible.
Big Difference: Be more productive, save time, and be more efficient.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

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Friday, October 28, 2016

Why You Need to Say No More Often

Have you ever said yes to something and then felt totally sick about it? Maybe you knew that by agreeing to do that thing you would be overextended and more stressed. Maybe you knew it meant that you would have to then say no to something you were really looking forward to. Or, maybe you knew that you weren't the right person for the job.

Most frustrating of all, maybe you knew that by saying yes to this thing, you would not be able to focus on your goals.

As a recovering yes-sayer, I still have a hard time saying no. Saying no makes me feel guilty. It makes me feel like I'm being selfish. It makes me feel like I have to explain myself when I really shouldn't be worrying what the asker thinks of me. I do want to serve others—after all, I'm working on making service a habit! But sometimes the things that are asked of me are simply beyond my capacity and too much for me to handle at this particular time in my life.

Perhaps when my children are grown and out of the house—and that is coming sooner than I'd like to think—I will be able to do more community service. But right now, my children, my husband, and my home are my number one priorities, so I'm working on saying no to the things that do not align with my goals at this stage in my life. I am also facing significant health issues right now, and I need to be more particular about the things I am taking on so that I can save my health for the things that are most important—my home and family.

When you are saying no to something, you are actually saying yes to other things and vice versa. Learn to say yes to the things that really matter and no to everything else.

That does not make me selfish or unwilling to serve. If people want to think that about me, I need to learn to be like Elsa and just let it go. In fact, my worrying about what others think of me has contributed to my problem of taking on too much in the past. Somebody else's reaction to my inability to take on a project is not my responsibility.

My mantra for the past several years has been the following quote by Stephen R. Covey, author of the 7 Habits Series:

"You have to decide what your highest priorities are and have the courage—pleasantly, smilingly, non-apologetically—to say "no" to other things. And the way to do that is by having a bigger "yes" burning inside."

Isn't that a wonderful quote? To me, it tells me all I need to know about why I should be saying no. In fact, it turns saying no on its head and reminds me that by saying no, I am actually saying yes! I am saying yes to my personal goals, to my health, to my family, to my home.

I am not advocating that you should never help anyone or that you should never say yes to anything again. Just be aware of how that yes aligns with your highest priorities. Know what your burning yeses are—write them down in your planner and look at them daily.

Knowing that you need to say no is the first step. The second is knowing how to do it graciously. Read my tips on that here: How to Say No Graciously

Small Habit: Say no more often.
Big Difference: Have more time and energy to devote to your highest priorities.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

Join the challenge! Small habits that will make a big difference

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Thursday, October 27, 2016

How to Eat Gluten-free at Disneyland

This Christmas, we will be gifting our children with their first trip to Disneyland. I've been a little bit worried about how to manage the gluten-free eating while we are there, so I asked my Disney expert friend Kim at Get Away Today to help me learn all about the gluten-free options at Disney. I am so relieved at how gluten-free friendly Disney is! Not only are there a ton of food options that are safe, there are multiple ways to help you keep your peace of mind about the food so you can concentrate on what you came for—having a great time!

If you or a family member are gluten intolerant or have Celiac Disease, these tips on how to eat gluten-free at Disneyland will help you plan a worry free vacation where you can focus on having fun instead of worrying too much about what is gluten-free.

As you know by now, a gluten-free life doesn’t mean you and your family can’t eat delicious food. Still,  I’ve noticed that people seem to think you can only enjoy homemade food and not eat out, even when on vacation. If you love to visit Disneyland (make sure to check with my friends at Get Away Today for the best deals), then you have most likely found the park to be one of the friendliest to those who lead a gluten-free life. The park has actually won a FARE (Food Allergy Research and Education) award as well for their dedication to knowing about food allergens and providing options for guests. It does take a few minutes of planning, but it is more than worth it so your family can enjoy the Disney magic for meals too. Here are some of my best tips on making your gluten-free trip to Disneyland easier.

1. Make reservations ahead of time.

Disneyland offers a plethora of table service meals (both with characters and without) that can be booked 60 days in advance. When you make the reservations, you can input any food allergies your family has. It gives me peace of mind to know that each restaurant is aware of our need for gluten-free food ahead of time and not rushing in trying to find available options. It’s always likely that more mistakes are going to be made when someone is rushing and gluten-contaminated foods aren’t a mistake I want to face while on vacation with my family!

2. Get a gluten-free list from City Hall.

This is a must-do for any family wanting to eat gluten-free in Disneyland. The list, which resembles a packet more than anything, lists all gluten-free options within Disneyland and Disney California Adventure Park. 

Disneyland is incredibly gluten-free friendly. Make sure to inform yourself and pick up the gluten-free list at City Hall!

The wonderful thing is that it provides information on foods available outside of the sit-down dining. I love character dining, but I do appreciate being able to grab a snack or quick meal at the counter when we have parades to see and rides to ride. The gluten-free list is one to keep on hand each Disney vacation – just make sure to get a new one each time you go since the menu items can change.

3. Ask for ingredient labels.

All food carts and restaurants in the park have lists of ingredients used in their menu items available for guests. Any cast member is more than happy to provide that for you and can inquire either the chefs or managers if you still have questions about different foods. Even with the gluten-free list, I do like to check the ingredients on some items to be completely safe!

4. Don’t be afraid to ask to speak with the chef or manager.

The chefs at Disneyland are some of the most accommodating I know of! Not only do they usually visit your table when you have a dining reservation that includes an allergy, but you can always ask for them. This means that no matter what dining location you visit, either table-service or quick-service, you can ask to talk with the chef. If the chef isn’t available, they can bring out a manager who is just as trained in the spectrum of food allergies and intolerances. All of the Disney chefs are able to examine the menu with you and point out any dishes that are safe as is, and other dishes that can be safe with a modification or two. The chefs are also happy to make different items specifically for anyone who follows a gluten-free diet.

5. Plan ahead.

Of course you know by now that eating gluten-free requires planning and research. The same applies when planning a gluten-free trip to Disneyland. It may take a bit of time, but deciding on what restaurants you will be eating at ahead of time will make things easier while on the trip. You don’t want to miss out on all the family fun because you aren’t sure what would be good for dinner. And you certainly don’t have to eat every meal from the park. Disneyland already has a very lenient policy on bringing in food (basically no glass or alcohol), but they are especially accommodating when a member of your family has a food allergy. Many families like to “go with the flow” when visiting the parks, but I prefer a planned out itinerary to save mine and my family’s sanity with a combination of planned restaurants and foods that we bring in.

Looking to eat gluten-free in Disneyland? Try Ariel's Grotto, Redd Rocket's Pizza, or Blue Bayou.

If you are looking for some restaurants with the best gluten-free reviews, check out the Plaza Inn on Main Street, Redd Rocket’s Pizza Port in Tomorrowland, Blue Bayou in New Orleans Square, Ariel’s Grotto in Paradise Pier, and Cocina Cucamonga in the Pacific Wharf. They’re all great! I would love to hear about your gluten-free trip to Disneyland and how much you liked these restaurants or any others.

If you’re planning a Disneyland vacation, be sure to use my exclusive promo code with Get Away Today. Use code: STUFFED10 to save an extra $10 on any 2-night or longer package on or when you call 855-GET-AWAY. Happy travels!

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The Most Important Thing a Mother Can Do for Her Children

I feel confident in saying that the craziest time of day for moms is right after school. You might think it's because of homework or having to chauffeur to extracurricular activities, but it isn't. It's because I have three children who all want my attention right now this minute.

Sometimes my brain wants to explode because it is so difficult to give my attention to any of them when they are all screaming for my attention—sometimes literally screaming. If I am listening to one of them, I am inevitably interrupted by the others several times.

But that after school "download" as I like to call it, is tremendously important. Kids need their mom (and dad, too!) to listen to them. They need to be heard. They need a mom who is not distracted and able to focus 100% on them—even if the things they're telling you seem unimportant.

The thing is, whatever it is they're telling you is the most important thing to them at that moment. It may seem like the playground drama du jour or the funny thing their friend posted on Instagram isn't worth your time to listen—but it is.

Your children need you to be present, undistracted, and listening.

I have to admit, I have enjoyed the school schedule here on sabbatical because my children all come home at different times. Bria gets home around 2:30 and I have time to talk with just her before Chloe arrives around 3:00. I can turn my attention to Chloe for a half hour and then Sophia gets home at 3:30. The staggered schedule has done wonders for my ability to give my undivided attention to each child individually.

When it comes to being a mother, there are plenty of good and important things to do each day. But don't let the day pass without spending individual time with each child.

We will be going back to Michigan in January, and they will again be arriving home simultaneously. This means I'm going to have to figure out how to still give them each the attention she needs without getting frustrated that they are all trying to talk to me at once. Because that never ends well.

Make the most of the after school "download"

1. Use a timer

If you have multiple children, explain that you would like them to take turns talking to you. Set a 20 minute timer (I use this awesome timer) and let each one talk to you for 20 minutes and then switch kids. If fairness becomes an issue, you can change who goes first each day.

2.  Remove distractions

Put down your phone, your computer, the dishes, the laundry, whatever it is you feel you need to get done and give your children your undivided attention. I would even go so far as to turn off your notifications or turn your phone off so that you will not be tempted to check an incoming text or email.

3. Talk in the car

If you will be in the car alone with one child to take her to dance class. Keep the radio off and use the drive to really listen to her.

4. Tuck them in

On particularly crazy afternoons, I sometimes barely see one or two of my children. On those days, I make it a point to go up to their room and tuck them into bed so we can have that download time. It's always interesting to me that on days where they had plenty of time to talk to me they don't have much to say at bedtime, but on the days where we didn't have that time they have plenty to say.

I am so thankful that I have worked hard to develop this habit with my children—talking to my Chloe every day was what helped me to figure out her bullying situation. If I hadn't taken that time, I don't know that I would have been quite so aware of the signs and she might not have ever opened up about it.

I don't think it really matters when you do it, but don't let the day pass without giving at least 20 minutes of total focus and attention to each of your children. Perhaps this seems really obvious, but I know that even the most simple things can sometimes be difficult to execute. In this day and age, there are a million distractions and it really isn't easy to remain present with our children. Don't fall into those traps and make it a habit to give them each those 20 minutes. You'll be so glad you did!

Small Habit: Give 20 minutes of individual attention to each child every day.
Big Difference: Know what's going on in their lives, improve your relationship with them, help them to be more successful and work through problems, and much more.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016

The Laundry Hack That Will Save You Time and Sanity

I'm going to make an admission that I'm not very proud of right now. The laundry situation at our house is usually completely out of control. I actually stay on top of cleaning and drying the laundry, and my laundry room even stays pretty darn clean most of the time. So what's the problem?

Folding the laundry and putting it away.

What usually happens is that either The Maestro or I bring up the newly dried clothes in a basket, and set the basket in our back room with the intention of folding them soon. But we don't get to it, and it's hidden away there in the back room, and soon enough two or three more baskets of clean laundry join the first. After several days of this, The Maestro and I finally get sick of the girls throwing the clean laundry all over the place in search of clean underwear and lug it all up to the TV room where we fold it all while catching up on our favorite show.

It usually takes us at least two episodes to get all of the laundry folded and put away. Every time we go through this exercise I swear that I am not going to do it again—that I'm going to get each load folded and put away immediately.

And then I don't.

Finally get your laundry completely under control with this super simple laundry hack. Not only will it save you lots of time, it will save your sanity as well!

But the thing is I know a trick. It's a super simple, obvious tip as most of the best ones are. It's one of those small habits that is so easy to do but packs a huge punch. But it's also easy NOT to do, just as all small habits are. It's easy not to do because it's easy to just say, "It's not that big of a deal—I'll get to it eventually."

But we all know that eventually never actually arrives, and the baskets of clean laundry start piling up. Pretty soon you have to summit Mount McLaundry just so your kids can wear clean clothes to school and it's all just so overwhelming.

This does not have to happen, and I'm embarrassed that it continues to happen in our household.

The Simple Laundry Hack That Saves Time and Sanity

Ready for it?

Fold the laundry as you take it out of the dryer and put it away immediately.

I told you it was simple.

Here's the thing. Most of us are great at doing the first part of the laundry. We dutifully wash it and move it to the dryer. And many of us actually take it out of the dryer and put it into the basket. But that seems to be where it usually stops.

What if we just finished each load of laundry right away?

Folding it right out of the dryer will take a little more time than throwing it all into a basket, yes. I've timed it before, and in general it takes me about 8-10 minutes to fold one load, depending on the type of wash it was. Towels are super fast, socks not so much.

Putting it away should only take another 5-10 minutes, depending on how many rooms you have to visit for that load.

But that 20 minutes will save so much time in the long run. It will save you the 120 minute folding marathon. It will save you from having to rewash the laundry that your kids threw all over the place while looking for clean underwear and then walked all over. It will save you the worry that someone might walk past your Mount McLaundry while visiting your home.

Most of all, it just feels good.

We've been working on finishing things at our house lately—FINISH is our family theme for this school year. I went to an organizing class taught by Marie Ricks before school started and the most important take away for me was that word.


She taught us that most of us do not finish our tasks. We get about 85% percent finished and then we move on to something else. All of the unfinished things build up and create disorganization and frustration.

Laundry is not finished until it is folded and put away.

Dinner is not finished until the dishes are done and the kitchen is clean.

Showers are not finished until the towels are hung up and dirty clothes are put in the hamper.

You get the point.

The main thing I've learned from this family theme is that we are not very good finishers. It has taken my children two months to figure out what on earth I mean when I tell them they are not finished with their showers when they are in their pjs and brushing out their wet hair. They are still a little perplexed when I ask them to please finish making their lunches when their lunchboxes are full and in the fridge already but the counter is still filled with peanut butter jars and dirty utensils.

This principle works for laundry, but it works for everything else, too.

Do not move on to the next thing until you are finished with the task you are working on now.

And fold your laundry right out of the dryer.

It works.

Small Habit: Fold laundry straight out of the dryer, finish all tasks.
Big Difference: Save lots of time, frustration, and have a cleaner home.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

To Check or Not to Check? The Pros and Cons of Checking Your Child's Grades Online

I get online almost every day and quickly check my girls' grades. In Michigan, we use PowerSchool, and while we are here in Utah on our sabbatical, their grades are on a program called Skyward. I know there are many other similar programs out there, and it is pretty likely that your children's school is using one of them.

I didn't realize until recently that the very act of checking your child's grades on one of these programs is quite controversial! As I was reading several different articles detailing why you shouldn't check your child's grades, I was convinced that the reasons they laid out did have some merit—especially in this generation of helicopter parenting. But I also felt that they were missing the good reasons to check grades, so I wanted to make sure I presented both sides.

There are pros and cons to checking your children's grades online regularly. Learn what the cons are and how you can avoid them while helping your children to be successful in school.

The cons certainly haven't stopped me. Like I said before, I check nearly every day. Still, it's good for me to be aware of the cons because it helps me to stay balanced and not fall into the traps that sometimes happen with checking grades.

Cons of checking grades online

It contributes to helicopter and/or over-parenting

In this age of helicopter parenting, something as simple as being able to check your child's grades whenever you want can really contribute to the problem. Helicopter parenting is best defined as a parent who discourages a child's independence by hovering and being overly involved in the child's activities. Helicopter parents are famous for swooping in and removing any discomfort, difficult situation, or obstacle to the child's success. Clearly, it can be tempting for parents with helicopter tendencies to want to do something about bad grades in an inappropriate manner. Things like calling the teacher to demand a better grade or doing the child's homework for him would be classified as helicopter parenting.

Even if you don't resort to extreme things like doing homework for your child, it can definitely contribute to micromanaging their school work.

It takes the responsibility away from the student

In order to raise children who are successful in life, we must also raise them to be independent and responsible for their own work. A parent who goes online to check grades and assignments too often might unwittingly teach their child that they will always do it for them. The child then does not pay attention to what homework is due unless mom or dad tells them to.

It emphasizes performance over learning

The biggest complaint I read from students with parents who checked grades often was that the parent was more concerned with the actual grade than they were with what the child was learning and understanding. Grades should only be a way to gauge learning, and we should not over-emphasize getting straight As to our children.

Pros of checking grades online

It alerts parents to missing assignments

One of the main reasons I check my girls' grades often is so I can see whether or not they have missing assignments. Sometimes they forget to pick up an assignment when they were out sick and it helps me to remind them to grab it so they can get it in. I have one child who simply forgets to turn in her work on a regular basis. Seeing what is missing helps me to help her stay on track. It is always the responsibility of my children to turn in their missing work, and if they still don't do it, they have the consequence of a lowered grade. My role is simply to tell them that I noticed they are missing the assignment.

Occasionally, a missing assignment is noted in PowerSchool that was turned in and somehow the teacher missed it. Checking online helps to catch those mistakes—though I always make my child talk to the teacher about it themselves. It is not my responsibility and my kids know that if they want their grade fixed, they'll have to be brave enough to approach the teacher. (My kids can be really shy, so this is particularly difficult for them—other kids may have no issues with it.)

It helps parents keep their children on track

I think it is interesting that all three of my children are very different in regards to the way they approach their school work. I have one who always has her work done and needs very few reminders to do her homework. I have another one who mostly gets it done herself but is easily distracted and needs reminders to stay on track for long-term assignments or studying for upcoming tests. I have another who forgets to turn things in, dislikes school work, and puts up a pretty big fight when asked to do her homework. Obviously, I need to approach each child differently, and the information I have from PowerSchool helps me to do that more effectively.

If I see a missing assignment from the child who is usually on top of everything, I only have to ask her if she realizes the assignment is missing. She generally already knows and has a plan for fixing it, but every once in a while she honestly forgot and my reminder helps her to get it done quickly. If I see a missing assignment from the one who has all the missing assignments, I have to approach her differently. We need to really hold her hand sometimes to get her to stay on track in school, and while some would say that's over-parenting, to me it is just parenting. I do not do the work for her, I only give her multiple reminders. She is ultimately responsible for her work and sometimes the consequence for refusing to do it is a grade she is not happy about.

It helps parents see when their child is having trouble understanding a subject

Last year Bria was cruising along in geometry and doing really well. Then, all of a sudden, her high quiz and homework grades dropped quite low. After talking to her about it, I learned that she simply did not understand the latest unit. To make things worse, her regular teacher was out on maternity leave and the substitute did not have the skills to help her understand the material.

That may be a more drastic example, but being able to see grades in real time has helped me as a parent to know when I need to help my kids more. Sometimes this has meant hiring a tutor, sometimes it has meant contacting the teacher, sometimes this has meant my child talking to the teacher and asking for extra help, sometimes it has simply meant that I sit with them while doing homework and help them to understand.

My friend says that she appreciates being able to see her kids' grades online because she catches those problems in understanding before her kids are ready to admit they are struggling. She uses it as an opportunity to sit with them during homework time as moral support and to be there for them to ask questions—and sometimes that's really all they need.

It gives parents the information they need to communicate with teachers

I would rather go into a parent-teacher conference knowing exactly how my child is doing and ready to discuss a plan for them to be more successful than going in with no knowledge at all. Because I check grades and communicate with my children often, I can go in and talk to the teacher and give my perspective on how my child is doing in school, and why they may be struggling.

A few of my friends who are teachers mentioned that they appreciate when the parent is on top of the grades online for this very reason. One of them also said that the kids who keep track at home tend to perform better in school simply because they are more aware.

It gives the opportunity for parents to praise their children

Remember my child who struggles getting things turned in? Well, that same child is really motivated by praise. I am sure to praise her like crazy when I see she has done well on a test or turned in something that was previously missing. This does wonders for her performance on later tests and assignments.

I actually think that praise is a good motivator for all my kids. It makes them feel great to know that you see and appreciate the hard work they are doing.

It teaches the child personal responsibility

Yes. Even though one of the cons is that it can take away the child's responsibility, it can also do the opposite. I mentioned before that when I see problems arise, my only job is to let my kid know I see them and possibly help them work out a solution. They are 100% in charge of fixing those issues. They are accountable for doing their own work, getting help from their teachers, and turning in their assignments. The older they get, the more personal responsibility I require of them regarding their school work.

One friend of mine checks her son's grades every Monday. If he has fallen below the grade benchmark they have set as a family or has any missing assignments, he has until Friday to get those things taken care of however he needs to if he wants certain privileges for the following week. Maybe it's turning something in, retaking a test, or just talking to the teacher. My friend likes that the ball is completely in his court and he has sufficient time to think about whether or not it's worth it to him to earn the privileges by taking personal responsibility.

Another friend bases allowance off of grades, so she checks them weekly for that purpose. While I don't like paying for grades, it definitely works for some families and can be a great way to teach responsibility.

My job as a parent is to help my children be successful

While I do want my kids to be independent and totally responsible for their own success in school, it is ultimately my job to help them learn to do that. As my kids have gotten older, my stance on this has actually changed quite a bit. I have learned that teenagers are incredibly stressed and overextended, and I see no problem with helping them to be successful however I can. While that doesn't mean doing their work for them, it does mean helping them to stay on top of their work. Plus, each child is different and will need different things from you as a parent when it comes to their success in school.

Ideally, kids should check their grades on their own, see the issues themselves, and come up with a plan. Soon enough, they will be out of your home and off to college where they will have to do it. Part of checking up on your kids' work online is helping them to learn these essential skills and then learn to utilize those skills without your help.

My high school and middle school students both have the PowerSchool app on their phones (I haven't figured out Skyward enough to see how to do a phone app, but we're only here for a semester). They have learned to routinely check their grades and we continue to work on how to make plans to remediate things that aren't going so well. This will serve them well when they are in college—as will having practice speaking to their teachers and asking for help.

Clearly, for me, the pros far outweigh the cons—I just have to make sure I am not micromanaging them!

Small Habit: Check your children's grades online.
Big Difference: Help them be more successful in school and teach them personal responsibility,.

This post is part of my Small Habits That Will Make a Big Difference 30 day challenge. To see all of the posts in this series, click here. Or, join the challenge and receive a daily email with a new small habit that can affect your life in a big way.

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Join Now:

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Monday, October 24, 2016

Save Christmas Stress and Start Planning Now

This post is sponsored by Minted, my very favorite place to design and print my holiday cards.

It's that time of year—not even Halloween yet and already time to start thinking about Christmas. I know! I know it feels ridiculous, but it isn't. Christmas is typically one of the most stressful times of year because there is so much that must be done, more activities and parties to attend, and, if you have kids, they are also much busier than they are the rest of the year.

But Christmas is not supposed to be stressful! It's supposed to be a time of cheer and happiness, comfort and joy—right? Of course, right! And by simply doing a handful of things right now in October, you will lessen the December insanity by quite a bit!

Don't wait to start preparing for Christmas. Lessen your December stress by doing these 3 things before Halloween.

So, even though you might not have your Halloween costumes figured out yet, spend a little time before October ends planning the following three things:

Do These 3 Things Now to Prepare Early for Christmas

1. Christmas Gifts

You don't necessarily have to start shopping now, but you should start making lists. Start listening to the things your kids and loved ones are talking about and jot down some ideas for gifts. It's certainly not too early for your kids to start writing their Christmas lists, either (mine start in July I think). Check out this Christmas list printable for helping your kids organize their lists into wants, needs, books, and clothing.

The internet is full of wonderful gift guides to help you find the perfect gift for each person in your life, too. Start looking through them (typing "gift guide" +  the type of person you are shopping for into Pinterest is a good place to start) and at least begin to save good gift ideas. I do recommend beginning to shop this early, too—just remember that the more you get done now, the less you have to do in December when you are worn out and there are crowds everywhere!

2. Christmas Food

Are you hosting Christmas dinner? Start looking through cookbooks or online recipes now and get your menu nailed down. Always give a goodie plate to your neighbors? Start planning exactly which treats you'll be giving this year, whether it's the same as it is every year or something new you're excited to try.

Once you have all of the food planned out, start buying the ingredients little by little during your weekly shopping trips. This way it doesn't kill your Christmas budget and you'll have it all on hand when you are ready to start baking.

3. Christmas Cards

I may have put this as #3 on the list, but I actually feel it's the most important thing to prepare now. If you send Christmas cards out, you need to have your photo taken ASAP, you need to have your addresses ready to go, and you need to design the card—all well before Thanksgiving, preferably.

For more detailed information on getting cards out with no stress, check out my Stress-free Guide to Sending Christmas Cards.

I use Minted for my Christmas cards every year, and that's because they are set up to help me do everything without stress. I mean, they are also amazing cards—they use high quality papers and their designs are always absolutely gorgeous—but their practicality trumps all.

Hands down, the best part of using Minted for your holiday cards is that they offer FREE envelope addressing. Yes, you read that right. Free envelope addressing. All you have to do is upload your address file to their website and choose the design for your envelopes. You can have them match the design of the card you chose, or you can do something entirely different.

You can also have them add your return address for an extra fee. Or you can buy their beautifully designed return address labels.

When it comes to actually designing your card, you can use their "find it fast" option which puts your chosen photo into all the designs. This always helps me to make the best choice because there are no surprises about how your photo fits with the colors and the greeting placements. (See this option in action here: Stress-free Guide to Sending Christmas Cards.)

If you aren't ready to purchase your cards and want to take advantage of a current promotion, you can buy now and personalize with photo and text later! Just be sure you know how many cards you will be sending and know that you do have to choose a design at the time of purchase.

See how convenient everything is? I honestly could kiss them for the addressed envelopes. It has saved me hours and hours of time and a lot of stress.

This year, I don't have my photo taken yet, but I do know that it will be horizontal this year since the last two years have been portrait oriented. I chose my favorite designs from Minted's new holiday collection this year and will be trying to get photos that work with these particular designs—and then I'll choose the best one.

All before Halloween, hopefully!

Don't forget to scroll to the end of the post for your chance to win $250 at Minted!

For your convenience, I've placed affiliate links directly to the card under each design.

See what I mean about the beautiful designs? Which one do you think I should pick? Because right now, I pick all of them, and it was difficult to narrow it down to just these few!

Go check out their cards and get started on your stress-free Christmas now!

Good luck!

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This post may contain affiliate links, for more information, please see my disclosure.

See the linky parties I link up to here.