Using Technology for Personal Goals

I have almost always turned to technology for assistance with my goals.  Way back in 2004, I wanted to use blogging as a way to keep track of my thoughts and comments on online news and web sites.  And I used blogging to help me stay accountable for writing my dissertation.  I’ve been using various to-do apps for years (current is Any.do, but I’m trying out TickTick right now as well).  My RSS reader (currently feedly) has been a great tool for keeping up with my field, the news, and even friends.  And Mint has helped with setting financial goals. No tool is ever perfect, and as my needs shift, I’ve had to turn to new tools.  Periodically, I evaluate what I’m using to see if it’s still working for me.  My favorite tools tend to work across platforms–web and phone, maybe even a tablet–so that no matter what device I have on me, I have a way to access the tools I need.

As I’ve been thinking about what I want my goals for 2015 to be, I’ve been keeping an eye out for useful tools.  I started by evaluating a new to-do app.  Jury is still out, but I’m still with it.  As luck would have it, I ran into this MakeUseOf article* on apps to help with various goals you might have.  The very first app on the list immediately appealed to me.  There are two things I know about myself: 1) I do not like to do housework (but I like a clean house; go figure) and 2) I love playing video games.  The main thing I like about the video games I play is the element of randomness and change in them.  Housework has none of that.  It’s all about doing the same thing over and over, which annoys me.  Why is there not an automated loop for it yet!  Unfuck your Habitat is the perfect answer for me.  I’ve tried other methods of gamifying housework: Chore Wars, FlyLady.  But they don’t last because either I have to make my own list or the lists they have just don’t match what I need.
The very first item in the app is a random challenge.  You can choose a 5, 10 or 20 minute challenge.  If you don’t like the one they’ve given you, just click new challenge, and voilà, a new one appears.  A 5 minute challenge might be to wipe down the shower walls and throw out empty shampoo bottles.  A 20 minute challenge might be to do the ironing or do the dishes.  They also have random challenges by room, so if you’re determined to deal just with the living room, you can do that.  You can make your own list, and there’s a built-in timer.  You can also earn achievements and get (un)motivational messages.  There’s a companion web site with so much more.  How sad is it that I’m now excited to start cleaning the house?  I guess that’s the point.
So one possible goal facilitated by technology.  Maybe I’ll find some more.
*Though the site is overwhelming, I find enough useful stuff there that I keep it in my feed.

Please send housecleaning robots, k thx bai

I hate housework. But I like a (mostly) clean house. Also housework takes away from more important and fun activities like programming and hanging with your family or friends. For most of my unpleasant tasks, I try to find technology that will help or motivate me. I have electronic to do lists and exercise trackers. I’m writing two programs, one as a friendly weight loss competition between me and my husband and one to store recipes and on hand ingredients to make cooking easier.

But for the most basic chores, technology has still not come up with better solutions. Washing dishes is about as good as it’s going to get, unless they come up with a way to put the dishes away automatically. There are robotic vacuums and mops. I have a vacuum, which works reasonably well for a quick clean, but for deeper cleaning, I have to use old school methods. And laundry is still a major chore. Why wash and dry in separate bins? Where’s my laundry folding robot? I know. It’s a really hard problem and expensive to solve. I could use something to poke the rest of my family, too. I’d love to send a robot into the kids rooms, wake them up, and assign them some chores, prodding them until they’re completed. Could be done with enough effort, I’m sure. Maybe one to poke Mr. Geeky, too, at least until the other robots are invented.

An organizing robot would be nice, too. Couldn’t there be a special sorting algorithm to determine the ideal placement for everything in your house? That would be awesome. If anyone wants to invent these things, go right ahead. I won’t even ask for a cut, as long as I am saved from housework.

The big declutter

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Mr. Geeky putting in new floor

So the last few days, I didn’t get to my daily decluttering.  At first, it was because I was recovering from the robotics tournament, but on Sunday, Mr. Geeky started a process we’d been talking about for months: moving the office to the attic.  This was a multi-step process, involving first cleaning out the remainder of the kids’ stuff from their old rooms (which were in the finished attic) and then changing out the carpeting.  So Mr. Geeky bought and put down some laminate flooring.  Once that was done, he moved the office furniture in, and then we cleaned out the old office to make way for a small guest room and down the road, a bigger bathroom for our bedroom (which shares a wall with the old office).

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One desk in the new office

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Another desk in the new office
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Still to be cleaned and decluttered

It was a big lesson in decluttering regularly. Years of stuff had accumulated. We found labels for 3 1/4″ floppies and for videotapes. There was fancy resume paper, old magazines, computer and gadget manuals. We’d just piled them up. So we threw out a lot. What we didn’t have time to make decisions about we put into bins and we’re determined to get them out this summer and go through them.  It’s amazing how much crap we keep–because we think we might need it.  But honestly, we couldn’t have found it if we needed it anyway.  I had no idea we had disk labels!  It’s still a work in progress, but we’re getting somewhere.  I think I got all my decluttering in for at least a month.

 

Refining the resolutions

Over the last 24 hours or so, I’ve been thinking about what I really want to accomplish this year, and more importantly, why?  Here’s my list so far:

1. Keeping the house cleaner, more organized.  I find it stressful to come home to a messy kitchen with no food to prepare and piles of laundry to do.  I find the complete Flylady method a little overwhelming and too much to achieve if you work out of the home.  She does recommend a load of laundry per day, which I think I can manage.  I’d also like to get better at meal planning, recruiting the kids to do a little more in this regard.  Geeky Boy got a cookbook for Christmas, so I’ve suggested that he do the cooking on the night I have yoga.  Last year, and even the beginning of this year, I did pretty well on the meal front and had 3-4 meals scheduled each week, hoping for leftovers on at least one or two days.  Mr. Geeky does the grocery shopping, giving me some time to really think through the planning. So I think I can manage this.  I also want to really focus on decluttering.  Our house is a reasonable size, but we don’t have that much storage.  I feel that we have way too much stuff.  There are boxes of things we never use.  We have old cell phones sitting around that could be donated.  There are board games and toys that we’ve held onto for some reason. So, here’s my house cleaning resolutions in a nutshell:

  • Do a load of laundry every day. Wash, dry *and* fold.
  • Plan meals for each week and stick to the plan.  Also have easy backup meals on deck (pasta and sauce, sandwiches) for days when the plan falls apart or when the hoped-for leftovers do not appear.
  • Declutter 15 minutes/day.  At the end of the declutter session, make sure unwanted items are headed where they need to go–trash or donation pile.  I will start at the front of the house and work my way back, then move upstairs from front to back.  I think this will take the whole year.  I also think this will be the hardest plan to stick with.

2. Getting fit, developing an exercise habit.  For now, I’m not going to worry too much about eating.  Over the holidays, I’ve indulged in chips and snack food, chocolate, too much wine and beer, but during “normal” times, I’m much better and my eating habits are not that bad.  We eat mostly vegetarian and fish, not a lot of red meat and I try to incorporate vegetables as much as possible.  Though I think I should add more fruits and veggies, especially as snacks, until I’m set in my fitness routine.  Here’s my plan for that:

  • Yoga once a week, with a plan to increase to twice a week after 3 months.
  • Go for a walk every day.  I feel like I need to do something every day, and I like walking.  I don’t even need to put special clothes on.  I’m going to start with a mile, but work up to 3.  Time-wise, I’m not sure I can go further than that.

3. Sticking to the budget.  I must admit that I often hate dealing with money.  Always have.  In times when we had no money, we checked our accounts all the time, making sure we didn’t overdraw (not that we didn’t on occasion).  Now, we’re less careful, and though we don’t often overdraw, we do end up charging things or not buying things that we wanted to because we overspent.  So here’s the plan for that:

  • Reduce spending by $100/month in each of these categories: groceries, eating out (including fast food), and shopping.  The plan is to increase the reduction if possible.
  • Put the amount saved in these categories (up to $300/month) into savings.

Well, I think that’s enough to start with.  I have at least one more that I’m contemplating.  It’s kind of work-related.  Back in September, I promised myself I’d practice programming every day.  Though I’ve come close to that, it’s not perfect.  I need to make time at work to do this.  So I’m still thinking about how this would work.

Back to (house)work

Once the school year got into full swing, I found it really hard to keep up with maintaining any kind of semblance of order in the house.  I found it especially difficult to keep up with cooking and laundry, two things I really care about getting done.  Far too often, I found myself digging through laundry baskets and ordering pizza.  Jeeves, my new little robot vacuum, will help (well, at least with the floors):

I’m returning to some sort of Flylady method. I don’t think the whole system works for me, but I can adapt pieces of it.  There will be more goals for the year, but this is one I will be starting before the new year.  I need to destress my house.

Back on track?

I wrote my home front post because I was feeling motivated to get back on track and get the house back in order and still be able to do everything else on my list.  Well, that didn’t quite happen.  The rest of the week saw some late nights working, utter exhaustion, etc.  So today, I started picking up the pieces.  I got the laundry back on track, did some straightening, and even got the fall/winter clothes out.  Mr. Geeky is out grocery shopping for the whole week even as I write this.  Even with a plan of action, it can be very difficult to keep up with housework.  Almost every week so far, I’ve had additional things to do in the late afternoon/evening, and this coming week is no exception.  So, once again, I’m going to try to stick to the plan, but I’m fully expecting to slip a little.  At least there is a plan.

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On the home front

So, you may be wondering how the FlyLady stuff is going, and the housework more generally?  No? Well, I’m gonna tell you anyway.  It’s okay, but not great.  Last week, with two nights away, I really didn’t manage any of the missions, though I did manage a load of laundry every day and mostly kept the kitchen clean, thanks to a lot of help from Mr. Geeky and the kids.  Today, I’m exhausted, and I still have a little bit of work to do for tomorrow, and I haven’t done my load of laundry.  My desk needs some work.

But, it’s not bad overall.  Mr. Geeky and I are swapping off doing the grocery shopping, which is a huge relief to know that every other week, I’m not obligated to go to the grocery store.  The house stays fairly neat, I think, because we’ve all gotten used to it being that way.

But there are some organizational issues.  Breakfast, for instance.  New Kid had actually written about ideas for breakfast, and I had suggested an egg with toast or bagel, which was my plan for breakfast, but I have not managed to make breakfast at all in two weeks.  I find myself with only a few minutes for breakfast.  I’ve managed a bagel and cream cheese and that’s still not cutting it for me.  I really need protein.  I don’t even have time for frying an egg.  It’s not like I’m rushing around in the morning, but it is true that breakfast ends up having the lowest priority.

We’re adjusting to just generally being busier.  There are after-school and evening activities, lots of homework (for all of us) on top of daily chores and duties.  So far, it doesn’t feel crazy, and if it ever were going to feel crazy, last week was the time that would happen and it didn’t.  Ask me again when I’m filling out report cards.

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Weekend Work

For the last two years, despite having work off and on, I still had plenty of time to do things around the house, and so, during the week, when kids and Mr. Geeky weren’t around, I’d tackle some big project.  I’d clean out a closet or, as I did a couple of months ago, re-paint the living room.  Sometimes we’d all tackle something as a family on the weekend, but mostly, we reserved the weekends for fun.  I realized on Saturday morning that house projects were not going to happen during the week anymore, so I looked around the house and thought, “What needs to get done before school starts?”  Two things stood out.  One, the garden, which I’d mostly neglected all summer.  And two, that living room painting project, which turned into a living room and hallway painting project.  And, I’m happy to say, I finished both.  Geeky Girl and Mr. Geeky helped me tackle the garden, and I’ve now promised myself to spend a little time there every weekend.  And I finished the hallway, which was what was left of the painting project.  I still have some touching up to do, which I plan to tackle next weekend.  But, boy, does it feel good to not have those things hanging over my head.  Every time I walked up to the front door, I’d see the garden and bemoan its sorry state.  And then I’d enter the house, look up the stairs and think, “I should finish that.”  And now, I’ll feel a sense of accomplishment instead.

Organizing

I have a post brewing about some techno philosophy, but before I get to that, I thought I’d throw up some of the things I’ve put into place to keep the house organized as I return to work.  One of my biggest concerns in returning to work is having the home front be in utter chaos and not getting any support from the rest of the family, especially *cough* Mr. Geeky *cough*.  I’ve mentioned this issue a few times before.  The reason I care about this is that I don’t like stress.  Stress, as long time readers probably know, has a physical effect on me that is not pretty.  And I get stressed when I come home from work and find clutter everywhere and don’t know what I’m making for dinner and/or don’t have ingredients for dinner.  So, FlyLady really has helped me get this place in order, 15 minutes at a time.  Here are some things I’ve done:

First, the routine.

Morning:

  • Get up, throw on some clothes, walk the dog. (20-30 minutes).  Bring coffee with me (totally helps!)
  • Shower, get fully dressed, including makeup even if all I’m doing is staying home.
  • Clean the toilet (what FlyLady calls Swish and Swipe).
  • Throw in a load of laundry, bring up laundry from the dryer.
  • Unload dishwasher if needed.
  • Take Geeky Boy to soccer practice.  In the future, Geeky Boy will be walking to school about the time I get out of the shower.
  • Read some blogs, maybe write a post. Drink coffee. Have breakfast
  • Make the bed (I do this after the shower if no one’s in the bed, but lately, it’s been occupied).
  • Class prep.
  • Lunch.
  • Do FlyLady Mission (usually this takes about 15 minutes).
  • More class prep or fun things with the kids or house stuff.

Evening:

  • Make dinner.
  • Relax
  • Before bed, fold laundry and lay out clothes for tomorrow.

Some of this will change, of course, once school begins.  I plan to do the mission and 15 more minutes of decluttering after I get home and before dinner.  The classes I teach have no homework so I should be bringing too much work home, though there will always be a little bit of prep to do (which I’ll try to do at school, of course).

Here’s some other things I’ve done:

  • Decluttered areas that were driving me nuts–the station by the front door where Mr. Geeky dropped receipts and change; the shelf on the entertainment system that had a giant collection of wires, most of which were no longer useful; the cabinet under the sink in the kitchen.  None of these took more than 15-20 minutes.
  • Cleaned up my desk.
  • Devised a plan to cull some of our clothes.  I have the hangers in the closet turned in the opposite direction.  Anything that doesn’t get worn will still have its hanger the “wrong” way, so it will be easy to tell what doesn’t get worn.  I also do this in my drawers.  I have all my shirts stacked like books with their “binders” out.  I put clean shirts at one end.  Clothes that languish at the opposite end will get given away at the end of the year.
  • Continuing to get rid of books.
  • Posted the grocery list and meal list on the fridge.
  • Put all the important school dates on my Google calendar.
  • As I’m waiting for stuff–like a meal to cook or for a kid to get ready to go somewhere, I look around and pick stuff up.

I’m sure many of you already do this kind of stuff, but I just didn’t.  I thought I didn’t have time.  Or I’d do one more thing on the computer instead of picking up socks from the living room.  I’m planning a family meeting to dole out some duties.  As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m hoping to delegate some of the cooking and shopping.  Right now, I make two trips to get food during the week.  Usually I go on Monday and then to the farmer’s market on Wednesday.  I’ll have to shift that to the weekend and for a while, will still be able to hit the farmer’s market, but I don’t want to be the only one who has to cut into the weekend for housework.  I’m also hoping to institute an hour to do sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, etc., some of which gets done during the week now, but not enough.

It might seem silly, but I’m telling you, it makes a huge difference.  And Mr. Geeky follows suit.  I’ve noticed he makes the bed about 75% of the time if he gets up after me.  He also picks stuff up spontaneously (something he’s always done, but it’s increased).  There’s still too much *stuff* in this house, but we’re making progress.  And I feel like things won’t be insane as school ramps up.

Weekly Update 3: Housework edition

There have been many, many discussions around the interwebs about housework and being, specifically, a scientist.  Mostly, the discussion has centered around the idea that women more than men worry about balancing work and life, about an equal distribution of labor in the house, and therefore they write about it a lot and articles about work-life balance are often directed at them rather than men.  Janet, aka Dr. Free-Ride, has a nice collection of links as well as a write-up of her own.

I think about work-life balance a lot.  I think about housework way more than I should.  When I think about them, I recognize the cultural norms I’ve internalized that make me care about that stuff more than Mr. Geeky does. And while I’ve become more comfortable about bucking those norms, they’re still there nonetheless.  The shift to my being mostly in charge of the house, whether I actually do all the actual work or not, has been somewhat gradual, but is also an effect of two main things: 1) upbringing (both mine and Mr. Geeky’s) and 2) the job market.

In the area of upbringing, both of us have similar experiences.  Our mothers were responsible for keeping house and taking care of children.  In my upbringing, a couple of things happened that shifted my experience away from the typical gender labor distribution.  First, when I was born, my father was in law school and it was my mother who went off to work to support the family.  My father stayed home with me when I wasn’t being cared for by paid help or friends and relatives, which during the summers, was almost all day.  Though I couldn’t bring any of the details of that time to life now, almost 40 years later, it certainly had an impact on me.  Second, my mother hated housework so that, even once she quit her job (when I was about 7), she outsourced the housework immediately.  I have very few memories of her cleaning.  She did do all the cooking and grocery shopping, but she mostly enjoyed those jobs.  And my dad, in addition to the standard yard work and taking the garbage out, would often roam around the house cleaning up clutter.  In Mr. Geeky’s house, his dad didn’t do anything (as far as I know from what Mr. Geeky has told me) outside of the standard male chores: garbage, yard work, home repair.  He did spend plenty of time with the kids as did my dad, though my dad changed quite a few diapers while Mr. Geeky’s dad never did.

So Mr. Geeky, while being a feminist, had as his learned experience within a household, the idea that the woman does the housework and the man goes to work and takes out the garbage.  Intellectually, he knew this was not always a fair arrangement, but from a practical standpoint, his muscle memory doesn’t automatically move him to do the dishes or laundry.  That said, when we were a young couple without kids, we did almost everything together–cooked, cleaned up afterwards, laundry, cleaning when friends came over.  It was only when kids got added to the equation that the work load got redistributed, and that’s where the job market comes in.

Everyone knows the humanities job market sucks and that was the market I found myself entering about a year or so before we decided to have kids.  Almost before I could plan a career, my career died.  There were no jobs for me.   And while, as I’ve said many times before and it’s the story of many an academic woman, I could have gone off to another place to pursue a different career, I opted to maintain my relationship with Mr. Geeky, take “just a job” and play it by ear from there.  Partly, too, because my career fizzled out, I was sort of adrift trying to figure out what to do.  I didn’t have enough information about my future to make any good judgements.  Many of the conversations I see that say, well, you (woman) should have put your career first or on equal footing with your spouse’s.  Well, if you don’t have any idea what career you want to pursue, that’s kind of hard.  Like economics, many of the judgements people make about careers and relationships and work-life balance assume completely rational behavior.  I’m only now becoming slightly more rational.

Individual couples make all kinds of different arrangements to make dual income situations work.  It’s true that sometimes those arrangements place more burden on the women than the men.  In our house, I stress way more about the housework than Mr. Geeky does.  I’m certain that some of that is internalized norms about judging a woman by the state of her house.  It is what it is and we just have to figure out a way to manage that.  Currently, this whole FlyLady thing is really working.  It requires no more than an hour of my day.  Because things are more organized, it’s very easy for me to delegate work when I need to.  It seems corny, but it’s true.  When I started doing this, I told my family, but didn’t expect them to do much of anything to contribute unless I asked them.  Here’s what’s really helping:

  • I keep the sink shiny, which means no dishes in it.  And when your sink is shiny, you feel like the counters need to be, too.  It just happens.  Mr. Geeky and the kids do kitchen cleanup after I cook and I’ve noticed a real difference in the quality.  When it starts out nice, no one wants to mess it up.
  • Unload the dishwasher every morning.  I do this while waiting for my coffee to brew.  It takes five minutes.  It means that I can stick dishes that accumulate throughout the day in (so they’re not on the counters).  If I’m not around, it means the dishwasher is empty and awaiting dishes from dinner, cutting down the work the kids and Mr. Geeky have to do.
  • Put in a load of laundry every day.  I do this after I’ve showered, which I now do shortly after Geeky Boy does or when he leaves at 7.  I put the clothes in while my second cup of coffee brews.  So far, there’s only been one day out of 14 where I haven’t had a full load of laundry to put in.  That should tell you something about the amount of laundry we generate.  I’m also able to easily ask someone else to throw a load in.  It’s great not to be doing six loads on the weekend and feeling like a martyr.
  • Fold and put away a load of laundry every day.  I do this as I’m getting ready for bed or have one of the kids do it.  Again, not having to fold and put away 6 loads or more over the span of a day or two makes it seem much less burdensome.

While I’m doing most of these things myself right now, it’s not burdensome, and it’s easy to delegate.  Things I’d like to delegate in the future include grocery shopping and cooking.  From my past experience working full time, I know that there are some nights that I just don’t feel like cooking and though I don’t mind grocery shopping, it would be nice to alternate.  So my hope is that we can come up with a plan so that at least a couple of nights a week, someone else is cooking and that Mr. Geeky makes every other grocery trip.  Aside from that, I really feel like the housework is manageable.  I took this on because it’s me that suffers most when things are not in order.  It was something I wanted to do for myself and it’s spread to the rest of the family and I will keep spreading it until I feel like things are equitable.  Philosophically, everyone is way on board with all of this.  Do I wish that Mr. Geeky was as passionate about making sure the house runs smoothly as I am? Sometimes, but I’m happy that he doesn’t work ridiculous hours, spends a lot of time with me and the kids, and does a reasonable amount of work around the house.  Nothing is perfect.  We do the best we can and when things feel out of whack, we renegotiate–and I am usually the one who has to initiate that since it affects me more.

As several people mentioned in the posts around the blog world, attitudes surrounding parental leave and household chores really need to change before there will be real equity.  Society still looks at housework and childcare as women’s work and that makes men reluctant to take it up wholeheartedly, even men who are in many respects, feminists.  Those societal pressures are bigger than all of us.  Equal pay for women would go a long way to make it possible for people to outsource housework and childcare.  Flexible work schedules, too, without repercussions, would be helpful as well.  And those are things that can be done politically, both at the national and local level.  And if men don’t want to blog about these issues, they can certainly vote and serve on committees and generally advocate for change.

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