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After a day in the office most of us would like nothing more than to sit and relax–especially during these beautiful summer months. However, before we can kick back, we need to answer that daily question, “What’s for dinner?”  Don’t fret, there are tools out there to help us be both efficient and healthy in our dinner habits.  

We will share two of our favorite online meal planning tools, Emeals and Mesa de Vita.

Emeals, is affodable, diverse dinner planning:

  • Simple, easy to follow, tasty recipes that are rarely repeated (5 – 6 months)   

  • Offers 30 different menu types considering dietary needs: gluten free, low carb, low fat, vegetarian, natural & organic, and portion control

  • Customized to meet the number of people you are cooking for (1-2, 3-6, 7+)

  • Provides a weekly shopping lists for several grocery stores; pick one store for your plan and find ingredients grouped by store section  

  • Easy to exclude a specific meal and the related ingredients when shopping, if desired 

  • Easy-to-read layout with ingredients and recipes available for download weekly   

  • Planned meals and shopping list saves money and time (without needing to clip coupons)

  • Ability to change your meal plan one time each month if needed

  • Affordable (prices range from under $5 – $7/month and there are often coupons available by searching online)  

Mesa de Vita is tasty, health-conscious dinner planning:

  • Mostly simple recipes with a few sprinkled in that will teach new culinary skills and preparation of ethnic foods

  • Focused on healthy, balanced, mainly low-glycemic recipes

  • Choose healthy family or gluten-free meal plans

  • Provides 5 simple dinner recipes and a dessert weekly 

  • Each week includes a slow-cooker meal, a meatless meal, a simple meal (soup/salad or sandwich), and a meal that will stretch into a second meal as leftovers; a seafood meal is offered every other week

  • Dinners are designed for 4, but are easy to adjust for more or less people  

  • Easy-to-read layout with ingredients and recipes available for download weekly 

  • Offer weight loss plans and tools if interested

  • Includes weekly grocery list that ultimately leads to cost savings from meal planning

  • Chef encourages dialogue through blog responses and emails

  • Plans range from under $9 – $10/month

Wouldn’t it be nice to come home knowing exactly what to make for dinner, having a simple recipe ready to follow, knowing you already have all the ingredients, and certain your meal will be delicious and within your dietary preference? After a quick, stress-free dinner you will be able to get out and enjoy some sunshine!  

Good eating habits provide energy and encourage ongoing productivity in all we do. What practices have you implemented to eat well and decrease time, money, and stress in meal planning and preparation?


2 people on couch with PCs

There are many free and easy-to-use tools available to make collaboration more productive. This post touches on a few of the ones we often use. Some we have mentioned in previous blogs, and some are being shared for the first time. We hope these tools help boost your personal productivity.

  1. Google Docs – share ‘in process’ documents. Have multiple people all contributing to one document with ease.   

  2. Google Calendar – share calendars. Overlay multiple calendars to have both shared and private calendars in your single view; and, these calendars can be sent/updated instantaneously to your smart phone as well.   

  3. Wokflowy – share (unlimited!) task lists; add notes and mark items complete.   

  4. SugarSync – share attachments without taking up space in other’s email. Recipients simply follow the link and are able to download a shared attachment.   

  5. – share websites, podcasts and other internet favorites along with your annotations. Create your own stacks (groupings) and tags for items too.   

  6. – share availability with others to determine the best time to meet.

  7. = share mind maps. Have multiple people contributing at once, or on their own timing.

We know there are numerous nifty tools to make it easier to work with others in the electronic world. We hope you enjoy these tools and will share some of your favorites with us!

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Last week we suggested habits to START to reduce email processing time. This week we have listed 10 habits to STOP to reduce the amount of time email sneaks away from your workday.  


  1. Subscribing to newsletters and blog posts you don’t value. (Including ours!)

  2. Sending so many emails. Perhaps focus first on reducing CCs/BCs, then on replacing some emails with phone calls.

  3. Constantly awaiting new messages. If you’ve ever heard a phantom new message ding, then you know this tip is for you.  

  4. Checking/fussing with emails without adding value. There’s no need to scan emails when you don’t have time to follow through on anything.    

  5. Living in your inbox. Responding to everyone within nanoseconds of receiving their message is not as rewarding as you might think.

  6. Trying to be so darned organized that filing your reference emails equates to a strand of folders and subfolders so elaborate & long that you have to scroll and scroll and scroll to put things away…so you often don’t put anything away.

  7. Doing the same work twice. Automate repeat commands and recurring messages.

  8. Letting problems continue. Wishing your repeat offenders would send you fewer messages without adressing this concern is not going to change things. Say something!

  9. Allowing urgent and less so messages to drop into the same inbox. Why not use rules to treat them differently from the moment they reach you?

  10. Making your recipients work hard. Writing careless subject lines or leaving them blank is not going to score you points…or attract well written emails in response.

Which of these habits dropped will have the greatest impact for you?

If you like thes suggestions, please also check out out blog on 10 Good Habits to Adopt to Reduce Email Processing Time.

If you’d like to dig deeper on the topic, consider joining us at our Chicago workshop: Email Exhale Tuesday, July 17 6:30-8pm at Catalyst Ranch. Please register online through Dabble.

We would love to see you there!


relax by beach

Summer officially starts this week, do you have a summer vacation planned? When will you take time to injest the outdoors and relax?

Will you truly step away and go off the grid, or will your technology join you? For many people, vacations include laptops, ballgames involve watching children intermittently while responding to emails, and grilling out is done while placing an Amazon order on an iPad.

Although the advancement of mobile technology is very convenient, it has also led to the expectation of constant availability and immediate responses. The impulse to grab our iPhone before stepping onto the patio and our culture of multitasking at all times can be draining.

Just as books have white space around the text on each page to give our eyes some rest, likewise our bodies and mind frame need this same harmony of work and rest. This margin allows for balance and rejuvenation, enabling us to continue on with greater potential. Thus, being purposeful in our leisure time and releasing ourselves from technology will enable greater renewal and better output when returning to tasks.

This step of letting go can be very difficult. For suggestions on how to de-velocitize your life, check out this article. Are you up for the challenge? What are you doing this summer to put white space in your life?

The following message is encapsulated in the 3.5-minute video above.

If you’re not willing to champion your own work, then others may never know about it. If they don’t know about, they cannot recognize it in a formal or in a public way. Though you may not be seeking public accolades, here’s a way to selflessly gain recognition with your boss.  

If you don’t already have regular 1:1s scheduled with your boss, then establishing them is job number one. If you’re already conducting these meetings, then perhaps a light shift in how the meetings are structured will give you the microphone you need.  

These are the cornerstones of the structure: 

1. Frequency. Weekly is the most common rhythm for this type of meeting, though daily or monthly meetings might be a better fit for your work volume and/or seniority. 

2. Duration. :30 is the most common set for a weekly meeting. :15 is a better match for daily meetings…and :45-:60 for monthly ones. 

3. Leadership. I recommend you drive the meeting and, importantly, where the meeting is conducted. When you’re talking more, it gives you greater ownership, it allows you to demonstrate your knowledge, and it ensures you know where you’re headed. And when you’re conducting the meeting for a place of your choosing, you can extract your manager from her office so she won’t be distracted by email, phone calls, and visitors. (BTW, if you’re conducting these meeting with your direct reports, you should request that they drive the meeting.) 

4. Content. I suggest constructing the agenda like so:

  • Accomplishments. This is where we get into the recognition piece. The first thing to cover is the prior week’s accomplishments. (Though you may be drawn to avoid this, remember there’s something in it for your manager. She can experience closure for all the things you completed. Once you get comfortable with recognizing your achievements, you’ll blush less when you hear others recognizing your work.)

  • Schedules. This is where you’ll cover pending deadlines, meetings, vacations, and the like. Coming week top priorities. Listing these will ensure the two of you are aligned. 

  • Issues/opportunities. This allows for reactive & proactive planning. 

  • New business/firm news. Allocate a little time for asking about the bigger picture or new items.

Make certain it is socially unacceptable to blow off your meeting. Reschedule…yes. Repeatedly cancel…no. 

What will you do the next time you feel your accomplishments are ignored? When was the last time you drove a meeting where you acknowledged your achievements? How are you regularly touting them so you & your boss are fittingly impressed?


A handful of folks for whom I’ve served as time management coach described themselves as chronically late in their initial productivity assessment. Another handful mentioned they were frequently late for things that started in the morning hours–as they were, shall we say, allergic to early.

If you can relate, shed the worry of waking up on time. Try one of these wake-up call services we identified in our research so you can ease out of slumber and into productivity.

For those who enjoy variety…

Wakeupland is a 10 year-old online interfacing application with many options: 

  • Packages include wake-up and reminder calls that can be scheduled months in advance with the ability to see a list of schedules calls 

  • Selection of prerecorded messages in a male or female voice (with various accents!) and one free snooze (up to 11 snoozes/wake-up call available for additional fee…but, as you might have guessed, I don’t recommend snoozing)

  • Spice up your wake-up calls by choosing a daily weather report, joke, Psalm, quote, or other fun snippet

  • Reminder calls offer customized text-converted-to-computerized-voice feature or choose from a selection of pre-recorded messages in a male or female voice

  • First week is free, then choose from monthly and annual plans, i.e., $4.99 to $6.49/month

For the heavy sleeper…

Snoozester is also a comprehensive online interfacing tool offering: 

  • Wake-up and reminder calls that can be scheduled months in advance with the ability to see a list of scheduled calls

  • Selection of pre-recorded messages with a variety of male or female voices (with various personas!)

  • SecureAwake feature which attempt to call you every few minutes until you answer the phone and acknowledge you are awake

  • Schedule recurring wake-up calls and reminder calls

  • Reminder calls offer customized text-converted-to-computerized-voice feature or choose from a selection of pre-recorded messages in a male or female voice; can also send a text message with the reminder

  • First 10 calls are free; then, choose from prepaid or monthly plans; i.e., $3.99 for 35 calls/month or $6.99 for for 130 calls/month 

For those who want a more gentle awakening…

Voice Alarm Clock is an iPhone and iPod Touch app offering:

  • Avoiding phone rings and alarms entirely

  • Wake up to a recording of someone’s voice/a special message (think Walt Disney World and waking up to Mickey Mouse ensuring you it’s going to be a magical day)

  • Wake up to your favorite song or playlist

  • Turn snooze functionality on and off

  • Seven traditional alarm sounds (but who wants that?!)

  • Download for $.99 with promises of new features on the way

Avoid oversleeping, running late or skipping morning essentials by using one of these or other wake-up services. Set reminders to ensure you do not forget medication, paying a bill, or an appointment. And, wake up to a friendly voice instead of the repeated, siren bursts of an alarm clock.

Please share your experiences with these or other methods for ensuring you’re on time.

This is Life Contained newcomer, Holly McDermott’s first post. As you take in her hierarchical process for staying organized, you’ll understand why we hired her.  

using abc to prioritize tasksI can envision the Hawaiian vacation I’d be off to if I had a nickel for every time someone said, “I just don’t know how you get it all done!”  Although I certainly never have ALL my desired tasks done, I have found a peaceful rhythm for completing my important action items using these steps–an adaptation of Steven Covey’s priorities teachings:

1. Select a home base and consolidate. Set aside at least an hour to complete this process. Whether you prefer a paper planner, a draft email, a word processing/spreadsheet document, or another variation, pick one. Within this single location, create a laundry list with all of your action items. (I currently keep a To Do list in the native Notes app on my phone.)

2. Sort by importance. Following your initial gut instinct, quickly label all tasks as follows:

A – Important and Urgent

B – Important, but Not Urgent

C – Less or Not Important

3. Conduct initial sort and add in the white space. Sort your list by the letter of importance (A, B, C). Leave several blank lines between the A and B and C tasks. This will allow for adding new items and to create the visual separation from the most crucial actions and all others.

4. Prioritize your A Tasks. Review the items on your A list and for any tasks that will take longer than can be completed in one sitting, pull out the first step and add this specific step to that task’s line.

For example, if I have a task to “write a new platform business case,” then I would change this to “write new platform business case – research option 1.”

Then, scan through your A list items and rank them in order of importance starting with number 1 as the most important. Your tasks are now further labeled, A1, A2, A3, etc. For example, a task list may read…

Next Actions:  

A1 Respond to customer emails received in last 24 hours 

A2 Set and communicate venue for April training classes 

A3 Order supplies for next week’s training class 

5. Work the list, top down! Your list is now organized by order of importance. Begin at the top and work your way down the list. After items are completed, delete (or strikethrough on paper). If new tasks are needed, add them in the section of the ABC letter that represents their importance. If inserting an A task, also add a rank (perhaps you now have tasks ranked A2i. and A2ii.).  For B and C tasks, simply drop onto the list in the corresponding section. If A task are completed, then begin the B tasks, and if B tasks are completed, move onto C.  

6. Maintain your list.  At the end of each week, review your calendar and add new tasks. Determine if any B tasks should be As, and review your rankings for all A tasks. Make adjustments as needed.  

As you gain experience working through your ABC list, customize into a fun process that best works for you. Here are some suggestions:  

  • Add target dates after each A task. Underline hard dates.  

  • Schedule time on your calendar: label a calendar meeting as A1 to ensure time is carved into your day for addressing your A1 task.

  • If using a spreadsheet application, utilize the columns and sorting.  

  • If using paper, try dividing the paper into 3 sections by drawing a ‘Y’ and work your way around the paper. (And don’t give up…only incomplete A tasks will be recopied weekly going forward.)

  • Create a single task for addressing your paper inbox and quick reminder tasks to avoid the time of listing each of these items. (The theory is that it is silly to take more time to record, label and delete a task than it does to complete the task. However, if you do not record these quick tasks somehow, then they can add up and steal valuable time for your day, thus the importance of scheduling time to take care of the “quick” important tasks in bulk.)

  • What other ways have you customized your to do list?

email organizationIn a recent time management seminar in Chicago one of the attendees said my suggestion to be less organized blew her mind.I had delivered the tip stating I personally dump all my reference emails into my delete bucket. Noting this not only affords me a filing shortcut (delete keys abound), but also saves me time…because I need to file more than I need to retrieve…and advances in search have made retrieval super fast.

Today I found affirming evidence from IBM Research my time-saving theory proves true.

“…people who manually organize information into folders…were no more successful at retrieval. Further, they were less efficient because folder-accesses took longer on average”

I’ve suggested you to stop organizing your email before. A Harvard Business Review blogger echoes my cry. So why are so many still compelled to do so? The research suggests this:

“…filing seems to be a reaction to receiving many messages…people file to clean their inboxes to facilitate task management”

If you’re seeking task management but want to be lazier about it, consider these hints on the logistics:

  • Practice using search to find things
    • If you’re using Gmail or a Mac OS, you’re probably already a pro
    • If you’re using Lotus Notes, you should index your email to open up advanced searching power
    • If you’re using Outlook or Lotus Notes, you can add X1 Desktop Search to enhance and expand the search capabilities
    • If you’re using Outlook, Outlook Express, Eudora or Thunderbird, you can add Copernic Desktop Search to improve and extend the search functionality
  • Once you’ve gained trust in your searching prowess, get rid of your folders, dumping everything into delete or a general reference bucket as you go
    • Understand there might be instances where you’ll want to maintain additional folders for ease of filing…but let that be the exception
    • If you have a lot of reference emails stored in your inbox, dump all the reference emails in there, too
  • Lastly, enjoy the extra breathing room you’ve created in your workday

What hints can you add to this list? What are the pitfalls to avoid?

I’ve written before about resolving to get organized. Today I’m going to reveal three of the tricks I use to change the contents of your brain to help manifest the change you want. Whether helping my work/life balance-seeking clients achieve new habits, or reaching toward my own declarations, I find these methods powerful.

Movie Making


establishing new habits resized 600

Playing out the change we want to see like a movie is a simple tool for creating new habits. A few reasons why this works because making the movie:

  • Allows our vision to take full shape

    • I envision myself looking & feeling healthier because I’m eating healthier

    • I see convenient healthy choices in the fridge every time I open it

  • Puts a spotlight on unrealistic expectations

    • I want to change the way I eat for every meal, but that’s not realistic; I’m going to start with eating healthier snacks

  • Calls for specificity

    • I see my husband buying more vegetables at the grocery store

    • I see me cutting up bell peppers and carrots on Sunday mornings before church

If-Then Planning

creating goals you'll reach

This Heidi Grant Halvorson article in Psychology Today outlines If-Then Planning, a technique first articulated by NYU psychologist Peter Gollwitzer.

“If X happens, then I will do Y.

“X can be a time and place, like Monday at 9 a.m., or it can be an event, like the arrival of the dessert menu at a restaurant. Y is the specific action you will take whenever X occurs. …’Eat less,’ becomes something like ‘When the dessert menu comes, I will ignore it and order coffee.’

“Amazingly, you are two to three times more likely to succeed if you use an if-then plan than if you don’t.

“These plans work…because they speak the language of…contingencies. … Deciding exactly when and where you will act on your goal creates a link in your brain between the situation…and the behavior. … Below your awareness, your brain starts scanning the environment, searching for…the “if”. Once the “if” happens,…the “then” part…follows [almost] automatically.

Drawback Dwelling

Though it might seem pessimistic to dwell on the drawbacks of a new habit, I think it’s an important part of change. (I first say this concept articulated in Julie Morgenstern’s Shred book. Thanks, Julie!)

Let’s say, for instance, you want to exercise more. Follow a sequence similar to the following to allow for a little dwelling time on the drawbacks of such a change:

  1. Describe the specific change you want make: exercise for :30 three times weekly

  2. List the reasons you want to make the change: betting-looking body in a bathing suit; improved health; sharper reputation; enhanced self image

  3. List the drawbacks of making the change/the things you’ll lose to this new habit: couch time watching your favorite television show; sleeping in time with your spouse

  4. Rationally reconcile the pluses and minuses: I can record my favorite show and watch it at another time; I could even watch my show while walking on the treadmill if I set it up properly; I don’t really sleep in after 6:30…I just stall getting out of bed

  5. Draw a conclusion on whether or not you can rationally support the behavioral change: I will have to give up the luxury of laying in the bed doing nothing some mornings to exercise more, but having better health and a good-looking bikini body is totally worth it

What techniques do you find useful in following through on new habits?

meetings that start on time

Why is it so difficult to start a meeting on time? Following are three tools to make it easier.

Tardy Slips

Before I landed in the Chicago professional organizer world, I had an advertising agency career. My first boss, Dasher Lowe, enforced on-time meetings by invoking a “tardy slip” for latecomers. It was an all-meetings-start-late culture, so he decided to create anti-cultural social pressures. He would give out verbal and/or written tardy slips when someone showed up late for a meeting. This cut down on the overall meeting time, as we didn’t waste time waiting or repeating information. Having a “tardy token” (think gas station key ring) or tardy sound maker (think obnoxious clown horn) stationed in every conference room would make this practice official and fun.


A fellow corporate trainer, Michelle Waltmire, told me about this one. At the top of most meetings and/or if the meeting were derailed (be it people showing up late, the meeting running over, people looking at screens instead of each other, etc.), someone would write SOTX4 on the white board. This symbolized to everyone the ground rules they agreed to as a company:

•    Start On Time

•    Shut Off Technology

•    Stay On Topic

•    Stop On Time

:50 :10

Travel time is often considered when you have to get on a bus or in a car to get somewhere, but how often do you consider travel time when it comes to getting from one meeting to the next within your office? Instead of considering :60 the norm for meetings, why not make :50 the default–allowing for :10 of transition and travel?

What tactics have you found successful for more effective meetings?

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