Work habits and routines: monthly, weekly and daily

I shared some stories on my Instagram highlights many years ago (certainly, pre-pandemic) that still get comments and questions regularly. I’m not sure what to make of that – is it strange? is it helpful? – either way, I want to write it all down here too.

I have a few things I do as part of my work – some of these will not apply to everyone, but if it strikes a chord, do try them out and let me know how it goes with you.

Our performance discussions happen at the end of each financial year. I like having this set time to reflect and think about what’s working, what’s not, and where I need to change things. It is also fun/ scary because the budget resets to R0 so we have to start putting money on that income statement all over again.

At this time I also think about some broad goals I want to set for myself and my team for the year ahead. I hold these goals loosely because things sometimes change quickly.

However, from these goals and projects, I set monthly goals. I also do a review of the month that’s passed. Yes, exactly like I do in my personal life.

My work goals are much more out of my control than my personal goals are, because I’m largely dependent on my team. Still, they are there – I like to at least know which direction we’re steering in and where I need to put more effort.

Now for the parts that most of you will actually find more interesting 😉

Weekly rhythms

I firmly believe that a good week starts before the week actually begins.

That means I plan my week on a Friday afternoon.

  1. I look at the week that’s been and wind up any matters that need attention. This is not always possible as some things may need to move to the following week.
  2. I write a ta-da list. It is rare but it does sometimes happen that all that is on that list is “I survived”. Mostly I can think of a few things that went well.
  3. I add in focus time if I haven’t already done so.
  4. I check for upcoming meetings – do I have everything I need to run them? I might have to prompt people, put in prep time or complete a piece of work.
  5. I write my “goals for the week” list – these are things that must move along. The things I work on are not one to two step projects so are hardly things I can complete in a week, but I at least want to move things forward every week. Sometimes there’s a work event like a client lunch or workshop. I think about what I want to get out of these events and write a loose plan.
  6. Lastly, I write my to-do list for Monday (or Tuesday, if Monday is a public holiday or I’m on leave)

Daily

  1. I love the idea of using your actual calendar and rewriting it so that you feel with your body if there is actually space for all the things you want to get done. For example, if I have 7 hours of meetings, probably nothing else is going to get done, so I don’t even add anything.
  2. Some days, usually on my work-from-home days, I block out focus time in the morning and take meetings from 11 onwards. For these days, I write my “frogs” right at the top of my list. These are the top 3 tasks for that day.
  3. The bottom line is: I rewrite all my meetings in my notebook and if time allows, I write 3 things that need to get done.
  4. I almost never (I started saying never, and then I realised that on Friday, I had a splitting headache so didn’t do my full routine for Monday) end one day without having a to-do list written for the next day.

Do you do monthly, weekly and daily planning as part of your work habits? Share all your tips 🙂

(Next time we’ll talk about other habits which I am worse at than planning! For some reason, 4 years after lockdown, I still haven’t developed good in-office work habits)

Goals update – 24 in 2024 goals, and the secret list :)

I’m writing this goals update 3 months and 1 week into the year.

Summer – beautiful, but I have had more than enough of it.

A few disclaimers before I start the update:

  1. I have two lists this year, the main one and a few more fun, once-off items on a second list, simply because when I looked at the main list, it looked like a LOT of hard work and I didn’t want to feel burdened by a list.
  2. Therefore, when I talk about numbers done, I’ll refer to both of these.

Done

  1. Buy a new car
  2. Try a new stretch class
  3. Read Atomic Habits as a work book club (I have read it, we have met 4 out of the 6 allocated sessions and I got what I wanted from it).
  4. Listen to more music. I have listened to more music in one month than I did the entire year of 2023, so I’m calling it done.
  5. Watch more TV. Same. May I recommend Dance Life on Prime Video? I loved it! I love seeing people in their passion and hard work that goes into making that passion true excellence.

Abandoned

Do Happiness Project Revisited. Towards the end of February, I cancelled – nothing to do with the content but I was bone tired of chasing up on my playbook, nearly 3 months after ordering. The chasing up was worse than work and it was causing unhappiness instead of happiness. (nothing to do with Gretchen’s team; I am not sure why DHL decided to send it to our liquidated Post Office in South Africa – seriously, we have no post offices).

I was trying to take a photo of my favourite new summer pants; clearly I am bad at taking these pics but I still liked how I looked, so there you go

In progress

  1. Exercise going well but I have abandoned the stretch because I wasn’t getting enough cardio and that is very important to me for heart health.
  2. Reading – 30 books in
  3. 10 non-fiction physical books – I have finished 4 of the 10; 2 currently in progress.
  4. Play with photography again and post things that delight me – yes, going well! Also really looking forward to full autumn foliage, the most beautiful season.
  5. Write 24 in 2024
  6. Use up 24 beauty/ body/ bath products – this is going very well. Just this week I had a little relapse (I bought a set of body wash/ body lotions, realised only once I’d got home and opened it up so I kept one of each, and gave some to the kids and Precious). Bonus points for me for returning the other two boxes I’d also bought.
  7. Do many declutter challenges – I have now done 6 batches of 24 (you can see all of these on my Instagram highlights; I post the week’s stuff every weekend.

on my other list, I have to try a recipe every month. this is so easy because of Instagram. Also, StephCooksStuff 🙂

The other list

  1. Finish listening to last few CDs before decluttering them – done (the new car sped things up because I have no CD player so had to listen on Spotify)
  2. Make eye appointment – yay, I don’t need new specs. R10 000 saved!

And that’s it – very happy with my Q1 progress. On my main list, I am tracking at 33,3% for the year, which is ahead of  my budget. Good thing, because it looks slow hereon out unless I actually get around to planning my 50th, booking a weekend away or doing that no-spend month. Hmmmm.

How are you doing on your 24 in 2024 goals?

Whole – how it’s going, one quarter in

I’m really going to do my best with continuing to recap my word of the year throughout the year, hopefully every quarter.

Here’s where I wrote about whole and why I chose it.

On the whole I’d rate myself a 6 out of 10, making progress but not doing particularly great in all of the areas.

Body and health

  • This has been an unbearable summer. Even for people who enjoy summer in Johannesburg, this one has been “challenging”. For me, it has been absolutely horrible. Imagine spending your weekends in the coldest rooms of your house and in bed due to headaches. Yes, that is me. I only felt whole at the office and on cooler days at home.
  • I have lost about 1 kg and I am disappointed that it’s not moving faster.
  • I made and had my eye appointment and… the difference is so slight that there’s no point in getting new glasses made (yay, R10 000 saved!). Apparently I need to make behaviour adjustments like not staring at a laptop for hours on end, make the font bigger on screens (I did my iphone that very day) so that there isn’t such a strain.
  • I had my cholesterol and iron checked and I was honestly despondent until my doctor called me back. Yes, my cholesterol was higher but she is not concerned yet. Apparently the double iron supplement is doing what it needs doing so keep on keeping on. I feel like it’s swings and roundabouts – eat more red meat for iron, but red meat leads to higher cholesterol. Ugh. Perhaps this next quarter will settle things down?

Mental and emotional

  1. I have started the year with great work boundaries. I have a number of hours I’m prepared to work every week to both 1) keep on top of things but still 2) have a life and I’ve been tracking and keeping to it.
  2. I’m still behind on a lot of self-imposed things but I’ve just had to tell myself to focus on the things on my actual scorecard.
  3. I don’t know if the teens have just settled better into school but they are a tad more communicative. I still struggle with “this is not how I envisioned parenthood”.

Financial

  1. I bought a car. Love it, happy with it.  The disciplined savings is worth it every day I get to drive in its deliciousness.
  2. I did some good money thinking while listening to The Broke Generation podcast (I want to write a post about one of the episodes) and had a realisation: I think I’m spending money recklessly in a few places because I don’t have a clearly-defined financial goal. So, am pondering…
  3. Therefore, I haven’t done the no-spend month yet but my plan is still to do one this year.
  4. Until then, I’m spending lots of money on good things like people’s birthdays, gifts and fun things.

Fun

  1. I’m finding fun in music, writing, reading and photography, all of which make me feel whole.
  2. I can’t wait to do more photography in autumn, the prettiest time of the year.
  3. I still need to decide on a celebration for my birthday in August that will be fun and will feel like me. Who are these people who like big parties to celebrate milestone birthdays? (As an aside, I read a book called Are we having fun yet? by Lucy Mangan where Liz, the protagonist, said to her husband something like, “what were we thinking organising a big wedding? We’re both introverts, hate crowds and being the centre of attention. No wonder I was unhappy the whole day)

In summary, I’m thinking about whole enough that it’s top of mind, and I am filtering a lot of my decisions through the lens of “is this going to make me feel more whole? does this look like whole?” which is the whole point.

And that’s how my word of the year is going. How about you?

Do you still remember your word?

Is it guiding your decisions and choices?

PS these photos are all from years past as it is still a few months too early for proper cold weather 🙁

Declutter 24 in 2024 – how it’s going, 3 months in

At the end of last year, I felt like I had too much stuff – stuff that needed to go out, stuff that needed to be used up and stuff that should be gifted to others.

Why?

I am generally an underbuyer but during the pandemic, I got into the habit of “treating myself” for staying home and even when things returned to normal, I was still in the bad habit of buying myself treats for no good reason. We did this with takeaways and fun food at the grocery store too, but have reigned a lot of that back, due to pure necessity (the exhorbitant price of food).

I am not the type of person who says “I work hard; I deserve it” because I believe that 95% of the population works hard and that is just not a good justification.

The point is I had lots of things I wasn’t using and they all need to go.

Disclaimer – since I first Konmari’d my house in 2014 (ten years ago!), most of the time my house just needs a quick analysis of one in, one out before it feels right again. Except for the water bottles. I give them away as fast as they land and it always still feels like there are too many.

My three categories

Beauty/ body/ bath – both personal items and household items like soaps and toilet sprays #useup24in2024

Stationery – books, pens and pencils

General decluttering – anything else goes here. The idea was as many batches of 24 as I could do in 2024. #declutter24in2024

What I’m learning

That I had no idea what I have in my house in the way of toiletries. I mean, I had 5 speedsticks. This is the beauty of the Konmari method and bringing everything together into the same space.

It’s making me chomp at the bit to buy things that truly spark joy. When I had the urge for a new nail polish colour, I went looking in a box of spares and lo, I found some bottles to scratch the itch.

It honestly helps to ask, “who can use this today?” if I’m not wild about something (hand creams, t-shirts, bags).

So how are things going?

Beauty/ body/ bath – I’ve used up 13 items from speedstick to conditioner and two (!) lipsticks.

Stationery – I’ve used up or donated 8 items – used up 3 pens and donated 5 new pencil bags.

General decluttering – I’m on batch 5 of the year. I will push to finish that batch so that the quarter ends nicely with 5 complete batches or 120 items.

Tell me, how are your decluttering/ organising efforts going?

Decide what’s right for you – whether it’s one drawer every week or one room a month. At the very least, try one in, one out or, as I heard Lisa Whittle say on a podcast years ago, one in, three out. It makes you more aware of what you bring into your space.

A life in rhythm vs a balanced life

One of my goals for this year is to (finally) finish reading the 10 physical books on my actual bookshelf – this one.

rainbow bookshelf

Therefore I need to be reading about two books a month to be done by the end of June. I had the goal set for the end of April but I realised that end of June is more realistic as I only have 2 – 3 slowish mornings a week to read, not the 7 I had in 2020 and 2021 when I read, in bed, every morning, without fail.

In January I finished Ikigai and Your Life in Rhythm.

Let’s talk about your life in rhythm by Bruce Miller

The part I loved the most talks about seasonal rhythms. These are both strict seasons like autumn and winter and also “the season of being an empty nester or new parent” or “the season of going into year-end or budgeting season. Accountants feel the end of tax season to a greater effect than those who are not in a finance field.

I was then inspired to use my own Let’s Do This workbook to note down what happens in my life seasonally.

Quarterly rhythms

birthday season – all four of us celebrate our birthdays in less than a month, my mother’s one is in that same month and my mother-in-law is less than a month earlier. Not exactly sure why but I also seem to have a lot of friends who also celebrate their birthdays in July and early August. This is probably why I do “birthday month” – it takes some of the pressure off me to “celebrate” and also it’s nicer to have friend dates to look forward to the whole of August.

actual winter – as long-time readers know, I love winter and my own rhythms also change then. I leave work earlier as I don’t like driving during loadshedding when it’s dark outside. I sleep more, easily a solid 7h30 on average daily (just checked my Fitbit stats and from June to Aug last year, I averaged 7h38 last year and 7h46 in 2022). We also usually take a beach holiday in winter which I love.

happy Marcia on a beach holiday in winter

other quarterly cycles – swopping my clothes around (this happens twice a year, once in April and then in around October), spring cleaning (September and December/ January are the big ones), beginning of the school year (the big fitting on and replacing of school shoes, clothes and takkies, and of course, buying all the school books).

Weekly rhythms

I’ve always found it helpful to think of my life in a weekly rather than a daily rhythm. Thinking daily makes me feel like I’m always behind but in a week, I feel like I generally get to what I want to do.

What are some of your weekly rhythms?

Well, there are things you do during the week (like work and your kids go to school) and then there are weekend things.

It’s helpful to think about what you like to get done and see where in the week that might fit.

Exercise

I like to have three sessions a week, at least two of them cardio. I realised when I did my January review that in trying to incorporate more stretch classes, I was robbing myself of cardio because I still only have those 3 sessions available every week. (More on this in my next newsletter) At least I realised this quickly.

Big chunks of reading

I read “bits” every day – 20 – 30 mins in the morning and about the same at night, and on the days I drive into the office, I have another 90 minutes of a fiction audiobook.

I also like what I call a big chunk of reading on the weekend, 3 – 4 glorious hours to immerse myself in a book. That is not going to just happen, so my preferred rhythm is a Saturday or Sunday afternoon.

Household maintenance

I also menu plan after looking through the freezer (e.g. we are going to have a lot of chicken this week because there is too much in the freezer), update the shopping list and cook something in batch, most weeks.

I also like to tidy my bedroom and bathroom on the weekend to reset for the week ahead. No, the world will not fall apart if this is not done, but my brain is calmer if it is. #outerorderinnercalm

winter is the prettiest… especially framed by red cars

What I need to work on

Personal monthly rhythms

I am great with doing a goals review every month, updating my spreadsheets and setting goals for the new month. Here’s a post where I put it all together for you.

However, I never take into account my female cycles (and I should, because it does affect my energy levels and what I can do that week). I also want to start setting up regular maintenance days for colouring my hair. I’ve been winging it and do when it looks really bad but it would be nice to be a grown-up and actually schedule a regular weekend for “upkeep”.

If you want to rethink your goals and rhythms to take the seasons into account, use page 8 in my workbook:  Let’s Do This 2023 workbook (it’s free).

Which rhythms are easier for you, and which are more difficult? Annual, quarterly, monthly, weekly or daily?

4 insights on stockpiling toiletries from The Year of Less

 

 

I read a book called The Year of Less by Cait Flanders in August 2018. I’ve just gone to read all my highlights on Goodreads (19 of them!) and now I think I need to re-read the book 😉

But that’s not what I came here to tell you about today.

When I originally read the book, I remember one piece very vividly, the section on stockpiling toiletries.

It completely changed how I think about things now.

Many people (I daresay, 98% of you reading this post) buy extra toiletries when they’re on sale. The sales captivate us all – 3 for the price of 2, the summer/ winter sale, and so on.

In the book, she asks us to consider how long specific items take to use up and how long you really need to keep spares.

Stockpiling is not great for at least 4 reasons:

1. it wastes money

if your money is held up in “stock”, it is not available as cash (remember Accounting in high school?). I prefer to have the cash rather than bottles of shampoo, conditioner or similar. Yes, I’m aware that the prices of things have increased (especially in South Africa due to loadshedding) but I would still rather have cash in the bank than two extra speedsticks in my bathroom vanity.

2. it is clutter 

This one is fairly obvious. Stuff you have and that you need to store because you’re not using is called clutter.

3. waste of product 

if you buy 3 products, they might go old before you can actually use them (this has happened to me once with speedstick deodorants)

4. most of the world lives about 5 minutes from a store

and now… there’s online delivery too. If you run out, I promise you it will be a 5-minute detour to get what you need and for most of us, you will know beforehand that you’re going to run out in a few days.

A personal example

I use Olay day moisturising liquid (with SPF!). One bottle lasts 6 months. Given that there are often sales, it used to be tempting to buy extra but I am no longer tempted. Why? I can tell that I’ll run out within a week or two both because of the weight of the bottle and the fact that I write the date on the bottle with a permanent marker when I start using a new bottle.

But also, it just makes no sense to buy 18 months’ worth of product on a buy 3 for the price of 2 sale. What if they change the formula or make a pretty new bottle or (I don’t think this will happen but…) I want to try something new but I’m stuck using the old stuff for 18 long months.

Upholders love self-imposed rules

  • I will  keep one spare speedstick deodorant in summer because the consequences are immediate if I run out (!)
  • I do buy the 3 for 2 shampoos because 1 bottle of the brand I use lasts me just under 2 months
  • Keeping a travel toiletry bag stocked is not stockpiling because it actually saves me so much time when I travel for work or pleasure. I’m on holiday now and I will have to replenish some items (on my list!) once I get back home.

In the 17 years of writing this blog, I have still not managed to convince people to stop stockpiling toilet paper. I personally don’t get this obsession as in my house, I “budget” on about 5 days per toilet roll per bathroom, so I know how long we can go before stocking up.

My goal is not to change your mind but I do want you to consciously know that:

  • that is actual money in your cupboards
  • money you can never recoup
  • and you’re probably going to take years to go through your backstock 🙂
  • also, you don’t need to take hotel toiletries with you (I only take bottles that I deem perfect in function or form, or if the fragrances are particularly compelling)

Tell me, where are you on the stockpiling spectrum? 

I didn’t want to go there but I will say that a certain very popular Netflix show and Instagram account has made it very appealing to have lots of backstock in clear perspex containers. Why?

15-minute Easter weekend organising challenge – spruce up your workspace

I love seasons which is why I love a good quarterly rhythm.

I did a spruce up of my at-home workspace last weekend but you can do it this weekend seeing as there is a lot of extra time.

                                 DREAM method of organising any space

Here is my DREAM method of organising your workspace:

D – decide on your vision for the space. Are you back at office more? Do you need to take more things back to work? (I took my work calculator back this week; it might come back home as I find I do deep work at home)

R – remove everything from your desk and clean. I use Zoflora and a microfibre cloth so that it cleans and smells nice. This is the best part.

E – eliminate the clutter. Toss papers, throw away dry pens, remove things you no longer need, etc. This is the second best part. I keep my old work notebook on my desk for about a week or two of overflow, but then it goes in my cupboard.

A – arrange in a way that pleases you. Do you like a photo frame or plant on your desk? Do you always find yourself looking for something (highlighter, scrap paper, etc.)? Add it.

M – maintain. This is part of maintaining. I do a light version weekly, and a more decent version monthly when I do my goals review.

For my quarterly spruce-up, I changed my laptop bag to another one (I have several). This happened to coincide with a new work notebook so it all felt very fresh for me this week.

I then also changed my pencil bag to a smaller one – let’s see if that works for the whole quarter. I already feel, one week in, that I need to change the notebook at the end of this short month (the paper is just not doing it for me).

Did you take up the challenge? Gold star to you!

15-minute Fridays: organise your receipts

Ooh, hot topic alert here.

I don’t know why but whenever I talk about tossing your receipts, I get a lot of pushback.

Let’s think about why we keep receipts.

  1. I keep receipts until I can enter the expense on my spreadsheet. Yes, I can check my bank account and see I spent R354 at Clicks but I also want to know that R222 of that was my prescription and the rest was nail polish and chocolate (two different line items on my budget).
  2. I also keep receipts until I (or my family member) has fitted on the item of clothing. Once it fits and I/ they have worn it, I toss the receipt (if it’s been recorded on the spreadsheet). If not, I place the receipt together with the item in my errand bag to return.

In the picture above, I have worn the shoes but the bag strap is the wrong shade of green for the bag I wanted it for, so it will be returned. The bag strap plus the receipt is in my errand bag; hopefully I will return tomorrow.

For now, let’s clear receipts. You can toss these immediately:

  • anything older than a year (some retailers also only accept returns within three months – by the way, I have returned items outside of the date; politely smile and ask for a gift card instead of a refund)
  • any food retailer receipts
  • shoes and clothes you have worn

If there is something you need to return, grab a tote and add the item and your receipt, and put it next to your handbag or in your command centre.

How did you do? Is your wallet nice and clear? Are all the piles of receipts around your home in the bin?

15-minute Fridays: clean out your car

I really like a nice, clean car. I don’t care that it isn’t fancy but I do like things in their place.

I have some rules for myself which have stood me in good stead all these years, like:

  1. no eating in the car, except for non-messy fruits like apples and water
  2. when I do eat an apple, the core must leave the car when I do so that there are no lingering fruit smells

Now and again, though, I need to just sort out things that have landed and not left, so here is my version of the cleaning out the car.

All these pics are before pics but my car mostly does look like this. The boot is more cluttered than it usually is due to gym wear I leave in there because of the in-between season and some extra two-minute noodles I bought for the kids.


For all of us though, here are some guidelines:

  • throw away all trash – food, fruit cores/ peels, empty bottles, tissues, etc.
  • return kids’ items (caps, lunch boxes, bottles, socks, etc.) to the house
  • return things to where they need to go – if you have a water bottle from when you left it in the car, take it into your house, fill it with water so it’s ready for gym
  • pack your recycling bags back in the boot (trunk) of your car
  • you might need to do some vacuuming/ shake out the mats in the car

If you need the extra time, make this into two 15-minute tidying sessions.

What did you find in your car that surprised you?

15-minute Fridays: clean out your handbag

This is meant to be a quick but satisfying organising task.

I open my handbag and tip it all out on the bed.

  • I then go through each of my “mini” bags – make-up bag, wallet and “odds and ends” bag.
  • I replenish anything (e.g. Panado, tissues, hand cream, lip balm, etc.) and return items like my extra ponytail holder to their place (the “odds and ends” bag).
  • I toss receipts (I toss the credit card slip unless I need to keep it for an expense claim, and keep the actual receipt of what I spent).
  • I remove nail polish if I’ve changed colours. I return a lipstick to my bathroom if I only needed it with me for an evening update.

I do switch out my handbag often (weekly or even more frequently) so I’ll probably then repack the few things into a new colour bag for the week.

Tell me about all the fun things you found in your handbag.

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