Grand Central Counter

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At night, it’s a mild-mannered kitchen peninsula.

But, when day breaks, it transforms into a hub of activity, a hive of productivity—it becomes Grand Central Counter!

With a complete lack of planning or foresight, this one spot in our home has become the go-to spot for many of our daily activities. The traffic of our daily lives all goes through Grand Central.

It measures 27 inches wide—easy to reach across but wide enough that a husband and wife can stand on opposite sides and work on a salad together.

It’s a long and lovely 72 inches long, plenty long enough for bolts of fabric to be unfurled or many pans of candy to be lined up, for dipping in chocolate.

For reasons known only to the guys who did the renovations for us, the counter is about two inches taller than the average counter height of 36 inches. That seems perfect to me, when my back never gets sore from bending over it.

At Grand Central counter:

  • 11-pound blocks of chocolate are chopped to usable size
  • Fabric has been cut for oh-so-many yoyos, as well as for curtains and quilts.
  • Thousands of candies have been dipped into chocolate—caramels, fondant cherries, mint, peanut butter . . . yum
  • Over 1200 Etsy orders, for candy and linens, have been packaged and taped and readied for the mail
  • Weaving has taken place on the counter, on a table loom; I needed to stand on a step stool for that!
  • Fringe has been twisted
  • Limoncello has been made here
  • Pomanders have been started
  • Family members gather for holiday baking
  • Hundreds of caramels have been wrapped in waxed paper
  • And all the food prep of a busy kitchen crosses this counter, too—dough is kneaded, veggies are chopped, chicken is pounded for cutlets
  • Cocktails are mixed here at the end of busy days—wine and scotch and bourbon and Drambuie and vodka and beer have been sloshed here

The counter is spritzed and wiped and cleaned many times a day—get the chocolate off to make room for the weaving; move the weaving so dinner can be started.

Grand Central becomes congested at certain times of day. If a project is ongoing when the load of groceries comes in from the car or it’s time to sort paper for recycling. Negotiations are sometimes necessary, to determine who gets to use the counter next and for how long.

Grand Central Counter is a godsend for busy, loving hands at home. Each night, it gets cleared off, and left quiet and empty, having earned its rest just like we have.

It awaits me now, in early morning light, ready for the traffic of the day . . .

Does your home have an equivalent?

Don’t Stint—Do Your Stint!

When can a little mean a lot? When can doing a tiny bit add up to a ton?

When the tiny bit you do is done regularly, every day.

When you do your stint.

Stint is a funny word. As a verb, “stint” means to be sparing or frugal, to use or give something in limited amounts.

As a noun, it means an allotted time spent at a task. This is the stint I’m talking about!

In my world what it means is that a little time devoted to a task each day—a daily stint—adds up to a satisfying sense of accomplishment.

I’m a big believer in stints. I have to be because, left to my own devices, my life would prove the principle that a body at rest stays at rest.

Inertia would rule.

And because my days are unstructured by outside work, I often don’t feel any pressure to begin a project—I always feel like I’ll get to something soon. But . . . I don’t.

I love to be productive but I often find it difficult. I find myself sitting and reading mindless novels; they’re engaging but the literary equivalent of junk food. I find myself sitting and playing endless games of Words with Friends. And sitting and adding ideas of cool projects to Pinterest, ogling other people’s creations instead of making my own.

Time just evaporates when I’m doing these things . . . and then I am disgusted with myself at the end of the day.

So, I’ve identified my stints, my allotted time I say I will spend on a task each day, the time I will commit to spending on the things I know I want to do!

For me, a list-maker, driven by this need to feel productive but often victim to inertia as well as overwhelmed by wanting to do so many different things, having a list of daily stints works wonders:

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See those little black sideway arrows, next to the words “today”? Those are stints–when I check them off for today, they get scheduled automatically for tomorrow

My little list app on my phone is always ready, to guide me and remind me. The daily stints sit there, along with any other errands or appointments, and I can check off each item as I go. When I check off one of the stints, it automatically pops up again, for the next day.

For my stints, I set myself a minimum—and there’s no law against doing more! For example, I often do more than 10 fabric yoyos a day or spend longer than the allotted time on weaving. It’s just a matter of getting started—a body in motion stays in motion.

There’s also no law that everything gets done every day. I rarely exercise every single day but I usually do more than 30 minutes when I do, so having the stint in my mind keeps me on track.

And during candy season or on days when I need to shop and run errands, all bets are off. I might just pick one or two of the items and be content with those. My app lets me “put off” items for a day or more, with no scolding or penalty.

I find that, for me, spelling out a specific amount of time I will spend on a task, or a desired outcome I want to achieve each day, makes it seem manageable to me.

For instance, when I wrote about my making of fabric yoyos recently, I told you that I figure I need over 1300 of them to make a coverlet. If I sit around and think about 1300 yoyos, it is all too easy to pick up my phone and lose myself in Words with Friends.

But, if I say I will make 10 yoyos? Easy!

And guess what? It works! I started doing the yoyo stint a couple of weeks before I did the recent post asking you to guess how many yoyos I had done. At the time of that accounting, December 7, I had made 400 yoyos, and it had taken me about 2 years of plodding along.

Since then, I’ve done over 200 more, in about 3 weeks! And it’s been utterly painless. I’ve learned that it takes me about an hour to make 10-12 yoyos and it’s an hour, late in the afternoon, when I can justify sitting in front of the fire, with a drink, to relax and sew.

Thirty minutes of exercise? I can handle 30 minutes of anything! No big deal! Thirty minutes of weaving? That means 5 or 6 more inches on my current project and, as long as I’m sitting there, I think I’ll do more . . .

This works for me.

How do you handle finding motivation to get started and make progress, when there’s no outside pressure? Are you a self-starter, who jumps out of bed, excited to pick up your current projects? Or do you need to find strategies to help you get going?

Do you do any stints?

Early Bird or Night Owl?

early birdIt’s 4:30 as I start to write.

That’s 4:30 a.m.

I’m not up early, at least by my standards.

This is my time of day. I’m an early bird.

Some of you will read this and smile and understand. Others will shudder, shake your heads in disbelief, turn over, and go back to sleep.

I am the poster child for “morning person.” I think this is the most excellent time of day.

There are no distractions. It’s quiet. Everything seems possible.

I’m one of those people who loves to feel productive and to check things off a list. It’s amazing how productive I can be first thing in the morning. Feed the cats, drink the coffee, and go!

Early, early is the perfect time to do many of the things I need to do. When I was working in college administration, it was the time of day I could analyze numbers and deal with logistical issues without interruption. The phones didn’t ring, my secretary didn’t tap on my door, no students showed up with problems.

Now, early morning is when I start more complicated candy making projects so I can think through the steps and get the timing right. I do bookkeeping for my online shop. And I commune with you; I read what you have to say and ponder whether I can add anything to your day by writing.

It’s also really, REALLY quiet in the morning. It’s always pretty quiet where I live, out in the country, with my fairly taciturn husband. But when my husband is awake, there is always music on, every single second. I love music but I also love pure quiet so I get my fix of quiet in mornings.

It’s not just quiet in the sense of noise, though. My pets are quiet at this time of day. The weather is quiet; the wind is usually calm in the early morning and the lake is like glass (at least in will be when the ice moves out!) There’s no traffic outside. Quiet like it can’t be when the rest of the world wakes up.

The early morning is so quiet that it allows my brain to be noisy and to consider all the possibilities of the day ahead. When it’s 5 o’clock in the morning and I’m up and alert, everything seems possible, and manageable, and doable.

At this time of day, my mind burbles with options—I’ll temper chocolate and dip those caramels, and then I’ll blog, and then I’ll iron those napkins I bought yesterday and take pictures of them so I can list them on Etsy. I’ll embroider. I’ll bake bread. I’ll find a cure for a dread disease. I’ll climb Everest. Then I’ll eat breakfast!

There are downsides to be a morning person. It can get a little lonely. I am constantly wanting to call someone to make an appointment or text someone to chat and realizing that the time simply is not right for that.

And, in early afternoon, it hits me and, right about the time the rest of the world is at the peak of productivity, I’m thinking, “nap time.” And, of course, I miss out on a lot of late-night fun because I go to bed pretty early, too!

Right about now, it’s 7:30 a.m. I’ve knocked a lot of stuff off today’s to-do list. I’ve worked on this, walked away, come back to it. I’m ready to package up the Irish cream meltaways I just finished dipping in chocolate. I’m ready to go out and tackle the errands, if the bank and the shops would just open!

And what about you? Other bloggers, when I read your posts, sometimes I try to figure out when you’re writing. Is it early morning where you are and you’re watching the sun rise as you hit “publish”? Or are you a late-night person and this is the way you wind down, at the end of the day?

Early bird or night owl? What’s special about your time of day?

More on “I’ve Been Meaning To . . .”

planningDo you have trouble getting around to doing things you really want to do? Do you find yourself saying, “Oh, I’ve been meaning to do that!” when you hear what others are accomplishing (or when you look at your Pinterest boards)?

Since I went public last week, you know I have this problem. As I’ve thought about the things “I’ve been meaning to do” (IBMTD), I’ve remembered a framework for productivity that is helping me think things through. If you’ll bear with me, through this somewhat wordy post, maybe it can help you, too.

Something clicked in my head when another blogger, Sheryl, who writes “A Hundred Years Ago,” commented on my IBMTD challenge for myself, saying, “I think that I do the things that absolutely must be done and the things that I like to do–but I never seem to get around to the things that I ‘want’ to do, but are more difficult for me to do for one reason or another.”

Yes! Exactly! This sparked my memory of a book by Steven Covey and A. Roger and Rebecca R. Merrill, called First Things First. They present a means by which to consider the tasks, goals, and dreams you have before you, and to set priorities.

They use this quadrant to visualize four categories of activities that we spend our time on, in terms of their importance and urgency. Their topics in each quadrant are examples only–we each need to think what we would put in each section:

quadrantsIt’s obvious that we focus a lot of our time in the top-left quadrant, and rightly so. Those things which are urgent AND important need our time and energy.

We can also easily recognize and understand the lower-right quadrant—not important/not urgent. In other words, mindless, though pleasurable, time wasting. Mine is the game Words with Friends.

When we move past these two categories into the other two, things get a little more complicated. Most of us would say we want to move to the things we have deemed most important, even if they aren’t not urgent or pressing. But, really, most of us tend to get caught up in things that feel urgent—things that are making noise or that others are pushing us to do—even when we could see, if we thought about it, that those things are not really very important to us.

This tendency is compounded by the fact that doing those things that seem urgent (even if unimportant) allows us feel productive. We can say, “But I needed shampoo!” and tick it off the list. The things that are truly important may be more difficult to achieve, they may involve hard work or come with baggage of some kind (for example, fear of failure), and those barriers slow us down and focus us back to something that makes us feel productive—the urgent/not important.

Covey and the Merrills say that only by articulating for ourselves just exactly what is really important and committing to it can we make steps toward making time to do those things, whether it’s spending more time with family, finishing a big project, or taking the first steps to begin a new adventure.

I found all of this pretty useful when I was working professionally and balancing that work with a personal life. But when I retired, I just figured I’d have so much time available I could do all the stuff in all the quadrants.

But, it doesn’t work that way! It’s still so easy to find things to do that fill up a lot of time and, only later, do I see that I’ve skipped many of the things that I say are important to me.

So, I’ve gone back to thinking about my goals in terms of the quadrant. It’s more fluid and flexible now that I’m retired—less of the truly urgent—but the approach is still useful.

I’m not telling you all this in preparation for divulging my deepest thoughts about what’s important in my life. Presumably that will come out, to some extent, as I continue you my “IBMTD” challenge. I’m telling you this because it might provide you with a new way of thinking about your goals and how to fit everything in.

What are the most important things in your life that aren’t getting done? What do you always say you want to do, but never get to? Should those things be in that top-right corner?

How do you spend your time when you’ve done everything that’s truly urgent and important, and you still have time left in your day? Are they tasks that, under inspection, belong in those bottom two quadrants? Can you consciously shift the focus to those things you’ve said are really important?

What’s one thing you’ve really been meaning to do?

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The perceptive among you will notice that I still haven’t reported on doing anything I’ve been meaning to do! This is one of my issues . . . I get hung up talking about things, rather than doing them. But I’m working on it!