Obsessively Productive

In this season of my life, I often feel like I’m in constant GO! mode. I’m helping to manage a business, a household, a jam-packed family calendar, and a 3-year old… all while growing another human. (Surprise! Baby girl is due in February and I’m in full-on nesting mode.)

I’ve always been a fan of organizing and having solid systems for productivity, but now it’s an absolute necessity for maintaining my sanity. These are some products and systems that keep my days running (mostly) smoothly.

obsessively productive


BASECAMP: I sing the praises of this project management software to anyone who will listen. If you are a business owner and you’re not using Basecamp… why not?? Basecamp helps my partners and I communicate with each other without having a million emails to sort through, it helps us to stay organized with work tasks for various projects and clients, allows us to loop our clients in to organized discussion threads, and makes it so easy to refer back to an old conversation or project with such ease.

DROPBOX: another useful tool for running a business with partners who are in different locations, Dropbox is a great cloud storage service. One of my favorite features is that it allows you to restore old versions of files for 30 days — in case you accidentally saved over something you didn’t mean to or are faced with a corrupt file — or forever if you pay extra for the Packrat add-on (which I think is 100% worth it and has saved me on multiple occasions). It’s still imperative to have backups of important files elsewhere, but Dropbox has helped us to keep our business running productively day in and day out.

ONGOING EMAIL ORGANIZATION: keeping a low number of emails in my inbox is something that has become imperative to my workday productivity. I use Mac Mail and go through my inbox probably a few times a day to file away emails that have been responded to/addressed, and delete Basecamp notifications that have been read/addressed/responded to. Doing this constantly ensures that I’m not accidentally missing an important email or task, and it keeps me super productive. If I miss a day or two of organizing/deleting, I’m buried under emails that don’t need my attention, and I feel generally overwhelmed.

SIMPLIFIED PLANNER: Having a pretty planner certainly makes it more appealing to keep my workday organized. I have the weekly edition of Emily Ley’s Happy Stripe Simplified Planner (currently sold out, but there is also a daily edition), and it’s perfect for me. Each day has space  for 7 tasks to check off, which prevents me from unrealistically piling too many to-dos on my plate. The cover is durable and holding up really well four months in… and of course, it’s happy and colorful, so it makes me want to use it!

LEUCHTTURM NOTEBOOK: I’ve always used Moleskine notebooks for taking notes and sketching, but I’m now a Leuchtturm convert. I have the Leuchtturm 1917 Notebook A5 hardcover with dotted grid, which is great for sketching and note-taking alike. I also love that the pages are numbered (in case you need to be able to easily refer back to something), it lies flat without having a spiral binding that gets in the way, and has a ribbon book mark for keeping track of your last marked up page.

PASSWORD REMINDER BOOK: I keep my Bob’s Your Uncle Open Sesame Password Reminder Book  nearby at all times when I’m working, and it helps me avoid the inevitable frustration when I can’t remember a password. I prefer a hard copy since I feel like keeping a log of passwords on my computer is not secure; I’ve had this for years, and it is such a useful tool and time-saver. (As long as I remembered to write all of my passwords down in it!)



MEAL PLANNING: Nick used to be the primary chef in our family; his job recently changed, though, meaning he no longer works from home and he gets home just when we’d like to be sitting down and eating, so meal planning and cooking now falls pretty exclusively on my shoulders. A few years ago this thought would have terrified me, but this year I’ve embraced it and, dare I say, I really enjoy meal planning and cooking now. Every Saturday morning, I plan out our dinners for the week, make a grocery list, and Nick & Graham head to the grocery store for everything we need. It has become a regular routine and having it all mapped out before a busy week begins means I’m not stressing about what to cook every night at 5:30. We also seem to waste a lot less food, and are definitely less tempted to eat out (with the exception of our standing pizza night on Wednesdays, which is the perfect mid-week cooking break for me).

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Parenthood, So far: Thoughts on the First Two Years

The old cliché really is true: the days are long, but the years are short. Here we are, approaching Graham’s second birthday, even though it seems like just yesterday we were celebrating his first birthday and waiting with bated breath to see when he’d take his first steps. Now he’s a running, climbing, jumping, chatterbox, jokester toddler who surprises us with something new each day. Naturally, I’ve been doing a lot of sappy reflecting, grasping all that I’ve learned in this whirlwind new role. Here are just a few thoughts/pointers regarding the millions of things I’ve learned.

Parenthood, So Far: Thoughts on the First Two Years

Motherhood doesn’t come naturally to everyone, and that’s okay.
I loved my son with every ounce of my being the moment I laid eyes on him, but for a long while I had no clue what I was doing. The books I read and preparations I made taught me nothing about how to truly handle the emotions and changes-every-second craziness of parenting an infant, well through the entire first twelve months. (If I’m being honest, it didn’t really feel like it “clicked” until he was 16 months.) The first year of his life was truly about survival for me; I felt much more like a rattled student in some absurd, completely overwhelming Parenting Academy where you are tested on your capacity to catch spit-up mid-air without getting any on your clothes, and your ability to rush to the changing pad just before the blowout becomes a real problem. I attended a weekly mom’s group that my lactation consultant started for moms of newborns, and for so many months, I felt like I just observed what the other moms did and took their lead without truly feeling like I knew what I was doing; I was waiting for it all to feel like second nature, but it took a very long time for that to happen. I felt like an impostor amidst other moms who took to their new role like pros from the start. Looking back, I recognize that year one was just a complete whirlwind of emotions and newness, every single day, but year two has been when I truly felt like I became a mother. A wipe-my-spit-on-your-face-to-clean-it-off, know-you’re-about-to-scale-the-furniture-even-before-you-do-it, can-get-you-dressed-without-you-even-noticing-because-I-rock-at-distracting-you mother.

You begin to really appreciate all the tough decisions your parents made on your behalf, and realize how scary it is to make decisions for your own tiny human being.
I can now fully appreciate how bad-ass it was of my mom to pull me out of my first dance recital, at age three, because she didn’t want me being objectified while shaking my butt on stage in an Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weenie Yellow Polka Dot Bikini. Other parents probably thought it was a cute and harmless routine, but my mom, she of the female art school education during the Gloria Steinem era, knew that it was setting me up for a future of valuing my own self-worth based on my appearance, and she took a stand. It was a statement I didn’t understand at that young age, and I probably didn’t even realize it was happening, but that decision she made for me is something that stays with me still today. There are a lot of tough choices that go into parenting, and I hope Nick and I will do Graham proud when he someday looks back at the decisions we made for him.

Never plan anything important during naptime.
The day you plan that important conference call during naptime “because he always sleeps at least 2 hours” is the day your child will revolt against naptime, complete with ear piercing, heartbreaking screams and flailing arms smacking the crib. Kids have an uncanny ability to know exactly when you’re realllllly counting on them to behave a certain way, and that is the moment they will ensure that it all goes to hell. In other words: naptime is never, ever a given. Anything you are able to accomplish during that peaceful time is simply a bonus, but the moment something depends on it happening, it won’t.

You will buy crap you said you’d never buy, including experiences that your kid will not remember.
I never understood why parents pay for things like DisneyWorld or, on a much smaller scale, Day Out With Thomas, for small kids who will have no recollection of that experience as they grow up. Now I totally get it (and I have the Day Out With Thomas tickets to prove it). Yes, it’s all part of the larger mastermind created by Very Intelligent Business People who exploit the emotional pull that parents feel to make their kids happy. But damn if seeing that huge grin that appears the first time your kid lays eyes on Mickey/Thomas/whoever live and in person (er, in engine?) doesn’t make it all worth it. Embrace the crap and the experiences, and just enjoy those grins and gazes of wonder.

One day your kid WILL stop hating the car seat.
I promise — it really will happen. One day, magically, out of nowhere, your child will actually giggle and be pleasant for an entire car ride, and it will drastically improve your life.

Date nights happen very rarely.
…And when they do happen, they usually entail talking about your child (who is asleep at home while you are paying someone to watch your tv), and getting home no later than 10pm. Your human alarm clock will wake you up when the sun rises the next day, anyway, so staying out late is much less tempting than it used to be. Soak up those date nights when you can, or create mini date nights at home when you can’t fathom paying a sitter.

You’ll get a lot more sleep in the second year… but may be just as (if not more) tired.
The energy level of toddlers is NO JOKE. Graham typically sleeps 11 straight hours at night and another 2-3 hours at naptime, and it’s no wonder — when he’s awake, he never. stops. moving. Ever. No, really: ever. While we put him to bed at 7pm, have a few hours to ourselves to do work, catch up on housework, or maybe watch tv before we go to sleep ourselves, we’re still completely pooped at the end of the day after running with/after him for hours on end. It’s a different kind of exhaustion from the sleepless newborn days, and it does feel more gratifying because you’re getting a lot more laughter, kisses, and snuggles in return, but it is still pure exhaustion.

Parents’ intuition is real.
When Graham was 9 days old, he was not acting like himself. I felt like something wasn’t right, so we took his temperature, found that it was just a little high, and called the pediatrician on call (it was a Sunday, of course). I remember telling the doctor over the phone that I felt like he was disoriented and out of sorts; he was looking through me instead of at me, like he usually did. Looking back, I kind of marvel at the fact that I could read so much from a tiny human I’d only known for 9 days, but my gut knew that something wasn’t right. We took him to the ER and it turned out he was indeed a sick little guy. He ended up being admitted for three days until his fever dropped and they could determine whether it was a viral (good) or bacterial (bad) infection. That is standard protocol for any baby that young, but it was still such a scary experience for us not knowing what was wrong with him. I’m so glad we trusted our instincts, and it was a good lesson to learn early on to always listen to your gut.

What’s been the most surprising thing you’ve learned as a parent?

everybody gets a trophy

Every parent wants the world for their children. Becoming a mom has opened my eyes to the sacrifices I’m willing to make for my little guy without batting an eye, and it has made me understand how easy it can be to get passionately carried away when you want something for your child. I want Graham to have amazing opportunities and experience feelings of pride and success when he accomplishes something great. I want him to reach for the stars and discover his talents and work hard to move mountains.

But I also want him to experience failure.

I mean — I don’t want him to fail — but I want him to learn important lessons about life through failure, because at some point, everyone fails at something. If he plays sports some day, I don’t actually wish for his team to lose the game or the race, but if that happens (and it will) I want him to learn to accept defeat with grace and the understanding that not everyone can win all the time.

We’re not there yet so maybe my tune will change in a few years, but I have heard from acquaintances who have older children that many kids sports leagues don’t keep score these days. Soccer games and t-ball games are for learning and fun, and everyone wins.

Well. Of course I want my son to learn and have fun. I don’t want him to think, at age three, that winning is all that matters. But shouldn’t he learn that winning is at least an option? And so is losing? Shouldn’t he learn early on that when you win you have accomplished something, but you don’t need to gloat? Shouldn’t he learn that when you lose you can handle it with grace, take it as a learning experience on how to improve next time, and congratulate the winner on a job well done?

If he plays sports for a few years and no score is kept, what is going to happen when they do start keeping score?

As my husband says of our self-centered society, “Everybody gets a trophy.”

But that’s not real life. Everyone doesn’t get a trophy all the time. Call me crazy, but shouldn’t our kids be learning that from the very beginning? Are we just setting them up for even more disappointment if we shield them from reality for their early formative years?

So many questions, and I have no answers :) For anyone reading who has children old enough to play sports, do their teams keep score? How do you feel about the trend of not keeping score when kids are young?

Minted custom stationery giveaway!

UPDATE: And the winner is Heidi M.! Heidi, please email me and I will put you in touch with my contact at Minted. Thanks to everyone for your entries… I hope to host more giveaways for you soon!

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I mentioned Minted.com in this post last week, and today I’m partnering with them to offer one lucky reader a free customized stationery set of his or her choosing!

Minted is such a great option for personalized stationery and invitations that won’t break the bank. While part of my job includes stationery design and we love creating beautiful and unique custom designs for our clients, sometimes time or budget constraints means that we aren’t the best fit for a client. When that is the case, we recommend Minted for their fast turnaround, huge selection of designs, and quality product at a reasonable price. (It was only natural that we become part of their design community so our work can reach a broader range of clients!)

With Father’s Day coming up, the folks at Minted offered me the opportunity to customize some stationery for a special father in my life. Most of the stationery in our home is a bit feminine, so I decided to take the opportunity to get Nick his very own stationery. Their paper airplane Airmail design perfectly suits his sense of humor and affinity for old-school silliness, so I had it customized for him on their signature 17pt cream stock with a light blue backer and blank envelopes.

I’m a sucker for a pretty package so I was excited when my order arrived and inside the cardboard box I found this heavy duty embossed box:

When I opened it, I found my order wrapped tightly and adorably, all ready for me to gift to my hubby.

When I removed the plastic wrapping, I was really impressed with the quality of the cards — the subtle texture of the paper gives it a really high-end look.

As if I weren’t already pleased as can be with my order, they had to go and make me love them even more when I saw the bottom of the box with a cheeky little message.

Well played, Minted. Well played.

Check out the featured Father’s Day stationery, journals, custom art, and greeting cards for the special guy in your life, as well as all of the other awesome products Minted has to offer!

To enter to win a customized stationery set of your choosing, enter via Rafflecopter below. There are six ways to enter and you have until 11:59 PM (EST) on 5/27 to do so. Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

I was generously provided with the stationery shown above and a giveaway for my readers from Minted.com, but all opinions (and photographs) are my own. I am a Minted.com affiliate and I may receive a commission from orders resulting from this post. Thanks for allowing me the opportunity to bring this giveaway to you!

The Descendants

Yesterday was unseasonably warm here (60 degrees!), so my mom and I did what anyone else would do when it’s gorgeous out: we sat inside a movie theatre.

What can I say: we like to be unpredictable.

We saw The Descendants, which I’ve been wanting to see for a while. We both loved it, though at times it was a little slow. (I don’t feel like that’s necessarily a bad thing, but Nick surely would have been a bit restless.) We especially loved the little girl who played Scotty, George Clooney’s youngest daughter. It was a sad movie, for sure, but it had some funny moments, mostly thanks to Scotty.

image source

Have you seen anything good lately?

Dishing for Dana

Readers, my friend Dana needs your help! She is FUNdraising to help ease the burden of the medical bills that have resulted from her battle with an autoimmune disease. You can read the complete details of her story here.

Dana is compiling beloved comfort food recipes (and the stories behind the tasty dishes) from anyone who is willing to contribute; the recipes can then be accessed by anyone who donates. Plus, the more you give, the more additional incentives you’ll receive!

Dana has undergone 11 surgeries and will soon be faced with surgery number 12 to prevent blindness, which is inevitable if her disease is left untreated. With Dishing for Dana, she has set a goal of raising $22,000 to go towards covering her current medical bills, insurance premiums for the remainder of 2011, and a generous donation to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association.

I donated, which means I have full access to all of the great recipes on the site — and it has been so fun to read through them all. I also contributed my own recipe, which will be added to the site soon. If you can, I hope you’ll find a way to contribute and help my friend out, as well!

oh, hi.

I didn’t mean to take a two week blogging hiatus, but it looks like that’s what happened! I guess my internet detox meant I needed a little blogging break, too. It was kinda nice…but I missed it at the same time.

To get back in the swing of things, how about a fun little meme?

Blogger ABCs

A. Age: 30

B. Bed size: Queen

C. Chore you hate: doing the dishes. We don’t have a dishwasher and I despise the dishes. Fortunately, Nick and I have a deal that if he does the dishes, I’ll do the laundry. I think I got the better end of that deal, thankyouverymuch.

D. Dogs: none, but I had two Shi-tzus growing up: Cheech and Chong. (Oh yes, we did.)

E. Essential start to your day: Nick giving me a kiss on my cheek and telling me he loves me as he leaves for work (on days that I’m still in bed).

F. Favorite color: teal teal teal, I love teal.

G. Gold or silver: silver

H. Height: 5′ 3″

I. Instruments: I played the clarinet in 3rd and 4th grade. Take that, Ferris Bueller.

J. Job title: co-owner & graphic designer

K. Kids: zilch

L. Live: suburb of Philadelphia, PA

M. Mom’s name: Fran

N. Nicknames: Brookster, Cupcake, Brookie

O. Overnight hospital stays: Never. Lucky!

P. Pet peeve: mean people

Q. Quote from a movie: Lighten up, FRANCIS.

R. Right or left handed: left

S. Siblings: 1 older brother (by 4.5 years)

T. Time you wake up: lately 7:45

U. Underwear: Body by Victoria

V. Vegetables you dislike: tomatoes are icky. I also dislike cooked carrots, but I enjoy them raw. Freako, right here.

W. What makes you run late: my nature. I just can’t help it.

X. X-Rays you’ve had: left foot after I fell down 1/2 a flight of stairs (I was rushing because I was late… see W. above), kidneys last month after my run-in with the stones.

Y. Yummy food you make: I make excellent chocolate chip cookies. I also make a mean tuna salad.

Z. Zoo- favorite animal: currently, the baby gorilla at the Philadelphia Zoo. Sooo cute!

more flea market treasures!

Nick and I visited his parents over the weekend and made a stop at our favorite flea market. We weren’t expecting to come away with any treasures since it was a bit cold out and there weren’t as many vendors as usual, but we actually scored some great loot — for a grand total of $6.

The first thing I spotted was this awesome oversized art instruction book. It is filled with amazing diagrams, instructions and promotional ads from the Bureau of Naval Personnel. I can’t find a year of publication, but it is most definitely old and I would love to frame some of the pages as prints someday.

Might I draw your attention to the female figure dressed in her demure swimsuit, and her male counterpart wearing a…thong??? Good times.

The same vendor also had these awesome “walkie talkies” that I couldn’t resist. (The quotation marks are part of the name, see?) I love the leather casing and the little accessories — I think they’ll be a great conversation-piece when we find the perfect place to display them.

For these two items, we paid the vendor $6, and I guess he liked us because he located another old art book in his collection and gave it to us for free. So nice!

I love my strange and obscure little treasures. Flea marketing is going to be a whole new ballgame when we have a house and more room for furniture, but for now I enjoy finding little things here and there.

inspired creations

My friends Cyd and Ami are hosting a fun contest/holiday gift exchange that you creative minds should consider entering! Check out the details on the Inspired Creations Contest and Holiday Gift Exchange here and be sure to get your entries in by next Monday, November 15. Happy DIY-ing!