Archive | productivity

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Clear Out Your Inbox

inbox

inboxOn occasional Wednesdays I offer tips for adulthood:

I’m not one of those die-hard Inbox Zero types. I’ve come to accept that there will always be a certain base level of flotsam cluttering up my inbox. Otherwise, I’d do nothing but eliminate emails all day long.

But there comes a time — and everyone has a different threshold — when you just can’t bear to look at your inbox splitting at the seams anymore. For me, it was when my inbox went over 1000 messages. (I won’t tell you how much over or you might gasp.) And I knew that it was time to get our my virtual hacksaw and start chopping.

If you’re like me, you probably dread the idea of sitting down and going through your inbox. Maybe there’s stuff in there that you’re trying to avoid. Or you fear that by managing your inbox, you will necessarily *not* be doing something else with your time. Or maybe the whole task is just too daunting.

But today’s post is meant to help you see that by setting aside time to clear out your inbox, you’ll actually feel calmer *and* more productive. Here’s why:

Read the rest of this post over on Thrive Global:

Image courtesy of Recrea HQ via Flickr

 

Vacations, Paid Leave and the Madness of American Workaholism

summer vacation

summer vacation LONDON – The hint of an autumn breeze sweeps through my window on an early Sunday morning in August as I work through the annual back-to-school inventory of uniforms and school supplies. My eye graces the “To Do” List I crafted back in late May – still sitting in a corner of my desk, as if beckoning me to “action” it – with the myriad festivals, theater productions and “Top 10 European Budget Holidays” we’d meant to get to with my family before September. And I’m hit – not for the first time in the past three months – with a terrible realization: I never took a summer vacation.

I’m not alone. According to a survey conducted by Skift, a travel intelligence company, last year just 15% of Americans planned to take an actual summer vacation. Those numbers improved slightly in 2015, with figures from the Allianz Travel Insurance Vacation Confidence Index forecasting Americans travelling more this year, but spending less.

Which brings us to economics. Let’s start with the fact that vacations are expensive – the average American vacation cost $8,272, according to Skift – and many people simply can’t afford them. Of the 1,005 Americans polled for that survey, one third of them said that they wouldn’t take a summer vacation because they can’t afford it. Indeed, Americans who earned less than $25,000 per year were the least likely to take vacation days, with almost half of that income bracket taking no days off last year. As an article on CBS Money Watch put it: “Low-wage professions or part-time jobs…are increasingly pricing workers out of taking time off.”

Read the rest of this post over at The Broad Side

Image via Pixabay.com

Dear Americans: Don’t Work At Home; Work Less

I have no doubt that as I write this column, someone, somewhere in America, is busily stitching together her very own Marissa Mayer voodoo doll. But despite all the furor that has raged since the Yahoo CEO ordered her employees to cease working from hometo improve productivity, that debate has barely caused a ripple on this side of the Atlantic.

Don’t worry. I’m not going to get all sanctimonious on you and remind you of how far the United States lags behind most of the rest of the world in providing workers and their families with supports or protections. Nor am I going to point to the growing body of work suggesting that telecommuting may actually be more efficient for many work-related tasks and help keep employees around.

I’ve got nothing against offices. At heart, I’m actually that annoyingly over-zealous co-worker who rushes to Bagel Fridays and can’t wait to perform at the annual office karaoke night.

But I do think that this entire debate has largely missed the point. To my mind, the problem facing American workers isn’t where they work, it’s how.

Read the rest of this post at The Washington Post’s She The People blog

 

Image: How to Work From Home by pwenzel via Flickr under a Creative Commons license

Tips For Adulthood: Five Things To Do Before You Start A New Job

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

On Monday I start a new job.

Alongside the relief that comes with accepting a job offer, there are inevitably a whole new set of concerns that crop up as well. In particular – at least if you’re like me – you fear that once you embark upon this new phase of life, you’ll never have time to shower any more, let alone make it to the post office to buy stamps.

That’s not true. But it is true that the priorities on your To-Do list will become all the more clearer, as things like “sort out religion” invariably take second fiddle to “buy new bras.”

To that end, here are five things you might want to take care of before you start a new job:

1. Childcare. Obviously, this applies only to those of us with kids, but within that subset of working parents, this is probably the single biggest stress-or. I am lucky in that I am going to start this new job part-time for the first couple of months before ramping up to full time. And because my husband is going to cover pick-ups during camp season in August (I find myself once again grateful for the much shorter summer vacation we endure here in England), we have some time to sort out the sitter situation. Hiring someone to look after your kids is no day at the beach, as I’ve documented before. So the sooner you get this ball rolling – use your networks!! – the better.

2. Buy Work Clothes. One of the joys of working freelance lo’ these past six years has been going to work (and school runs!) in some version of my pajamas. But that’s all come to an end, as I must now project some measure of gravitas and respectability in my new position. I’m happy about this, although knowing what to wear is not one of my fortés. Fortunately, my husband has an almost uncanny knack for knowing what looks good on women. Several years ago, he bought me a book entitled Does This Make Me Look Fat?, which is all about what clothes work for different body shapes and sizes. I spent 45 minutes yesterday perusing it, got some great tips for my body type (short-waisted, in case you’re interested) and then went over to ASOS, an Online, affordable but chic fashion company here in the UK to select a few staples for my new work wardrobe. I also plan on scanning Amid Privilege to get some more ideas, as Lisa has a way of making shopping seem fun and easy. Done and dusted, as they say round’ here.

3. Buy new makeup. I’m told that it’s wise to change your mascara every three months, partly to avoid eye infections. This is one of those rules of thumb – like replacing your running shoes every six months – that I’ve blithely chosen to ignore, partly because it seems expensive and mostly because I don’t wear eye make-up on a regular basis. But I will be now, at least to start off, and who wants to have pink-eye during their first week of work? I’ve also noticed that the eyeliner I bought recently – to replace the one I bought…oh, you don’t want to know how long ago – is actually an eyebrow pencil. Hmmm. Vidal Sassoon, where are you when I need you?

4. Go to the dentist. Let’s face it. Most of us hate going to the dentist. This is true, even for those of us who aren’t in a perpetual state of denial that it’s probably a good idea to do this every six months. (Hello, England! I’m looking at you!) And once you start working, this is one of those things that can move down your priority list very rapidly. Which is why I’ll be seeing my dentist tomorrow, even though it hasn’t been exactly six months. Among other things, I think she needs to pull one of my teeth and while I don’t look forward to the pain, I’d rather do it now than let it fester for another six months.

5. Break up with your therapist. Like going to the dentist (but hopefully more enjoyable?), therapy can also be a difficult thing to work into your schedule when you’re working full time. I’ve been with my life coach for five years now, and as much as I’m a huge fan of therapy, we both agreed during our last visit that I had “graduated” and that it was time for me to move on. We didn’t hug and I didn’t “accidentally” leave my coat behind. But I did get some closure, which actually felt good.

What am I leaving out?

Image: mascara wand by herbrm via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Ways To Feel Productive This Summer

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Well, it’s summer again. Here in the U.K., the concept of “summer” is decidedly shorter than it is in the States. (Because school holidays are distributed somewhat differently, most schools break from anywhere between 6 and 9 weeks rather than a whopping 3 months.) Still, we are most definitely in the era of flip flops, sun tan lotion and beach reads over here.

While summer is a great time to relax, much like the New Year, it’s also a great time to set resolutions for yourself.

To that end, here are five ways to feel productive this summer:

1. Try something new. When I posted about my staycation in London last year, I talked about the value of learning a new skill. Last summer we taught my son to ride a bike and I myself became the proud owner of a Brompton.  This summer my “new thing” is Pilates. I’ll be honest. Until recently, I had no idea what Pilates was. (I also noticed that even people who did it regularly had a hard time explaining it.) I’m still learning (enough to know that it’s all about obtaining core stability in my abdomen which – as my Pilates instructor quickly observed – currently exhibits the fortitude of a wet noodle.) But let me be the first to tell you that if you’re having back trouble, get thee to a Pilates class tout de suite. Wow. I feel 300 years younger. Next up? Zumba. All the cool kids are doin’ it, I’m told.

2. Return to something old.  Of course, there’s no better way to feel productive than by completing a project that you’ve left half-finished. We all know the joy that attends tackling your dreaded To Do list. Me? I’m going to confront a biggie this summer: revising my novel one last time. With the help of my fiction writing group, I now have a much better sense of what doesn’t work about the opening (and we all know that if the opening of a book is weak, it isn’t going to be read.) But I also know that in order to do this properly, I need to have a block of time so that I can get back into the story and inhabit it for awhile. So I’ve decided to devote the month of August to fixing that sucker.

3. Fix something around the house. And speaking of fixing, summer is also a great time to fix things around the house, whether it’s cleaning out a spare drawer, tightening up the screws on a loose door knob, or adding a touch of paint to the wall that your kid drew on with crayons. In my own case, I keep a little box of broken jewelry on my bureau. It contains all the jewelry that’s gotten damaged over the years, but which I like too much to toss. There is, for example, a blue earring in that box which I bought in Paris when I spent a semester there in college (cough) 25 years ago. All that earring is missing is a back, and yet in all that time, I’ve never quite gotten around to gluing one on. No more, I say. I plan to wear those earrings this Fall! Need motivation for tasks like this? Find a fix-it club.

4. Read something that you wouldn’t normally read. Summer is also a great time to get out of your comfort zone in terms of reading. After all, most book groups go on holiday during the summer, and even if you aren’t in a book club, you generally have more flexibility – and time – to mix things up a bit. I don’t read a lot of non-fiction.  But I’d like to try and read more of it. So I decided that rather than plunge into War and Peace straight away, I’d first read a book that’s been on my shelf for quite some time: Michael Lewis’ The Blind Side.

5. Make something by hand. Over on The Happiness Project, Gretchen Rubin recently posted on the value of making something by hand. I’m not very crafty, but my daughter is. She frequently embroils me in her hand-made projects, whether it’s sewing a piece of clothing, designing a marionette or weaving a friendship bracelet. And it really is deeply satisfying to create something with your hands. Try it!

How about you? What are your productive plans for the summer?

 

Image: Pilates Video Class Exercise by myyogaonline via Flicker under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Five Reasons To Declutter Your Inbox (Part 2)

A few weeks back, I took a break from RealDelia to declutter my inbox. Things had gotten to the point where every time I opened up my laptop and saw 2,896 messages, I started getting heart palpitations.

(Mind you, I’m someone who’s been known to start cleaning up dinner dishes *before* the meal is over – (I know, it’s awful) – so it really was torture for me to keep revisiting this primal injury every time I sat down to work.)

Needless to say, about four fifths of the messages either concerned an event which was already long completed or constituted a reminder to – guess what? – clean out my inbox.

But the other 1/5 were actually useful in a variety of ways. The last time I attempted a virtual declutter, I wrote a post about why clearing out my inbox made me feel both more relaxed and more productive.

This time, the process also proved worthwhile, although for slightly different reasons. So I thought I’d share some of the pearls of wisdom garnered from Clearing Out My Inbox (2.0).

Here are five (more) reasons to clear out your inbox:

1. You discover new technologies. If you’re like me, your partner (or a friend…or a fellow blogger) sends you the link to a really cool new technology and you immediately file it under “To be read/looked at/digested…” You know it’s something really neat that you really *should* take a serious look at but, hey, you’re busy. So you figure that it can wait until that miraculous day a few weeks from now when  the clouds part and it stops raining and you’re slowly sipping that cup of tea and calmly revisiting your bookmarks and…what’s wrong with this picture? That day never happens, that’s what. Which is precisely why it’s a good idea to clear out your inbox. In doing so, I stumbled across a little gem called Evernote – a free application that allows you to keep your to do lists online and access them from any computer, anywhere. Which – bonus feature! – means that you don’t need to keep them in your email, thereby increasing your inbox tally – or on small scraps of paper lying around your desk. So get thee to Evernote. You’ll thank me later.

2. You are reminded of old projects. Another benefit that comes from a good, healthy virtual decluttering is that buried underneath the 16 reminders to have lunch with Aunt Sue last December before the holidays (and be sure to call her first!) are a bunch of emails having to do with projects that you’ve let wither on the vine. That might have been intentional or it might have been an accident. But, either way, they have gone neglected. When you clear out your inbox, you stumble upon them and remember “Oh yeah, right! I meant to do that!” In my own case, this process enabled me to create a new list (guess where? Hint: See #1!) of U.S. agents that I’d like to send my book manuscript to. I hadn’t exactly forgotten that I wanted to do that, but cleaning out my inbox forced me to start dealing with it.

3. You are reminded of old contacts. In a similar fashion, you also stumble upon old contacts you need to get in touch with but have forgotten about, lost their emails, or otherwise dropped the ball. But once you start whittling down your inbox, voila, there they are. It pains me too much to talk about this right now, but we may need to move again sometime relatively soon. And we all know how I feel about moving. In going through my email, I came across the name and contact details for an estate agent here in London who was really helpful the last time we moved and whom I’d completely and utterly forgotten about. Yay!

4. You come across great book/movie recommendations. Whenever someone recommends a book or movie to me, I tryto write it down somewhere right away (in the case of a book) or add it to our queue in Love Film if it’s a movie.  But – as per #1 – I frequently fail to take this step and so, there it sits, languishing in my inbox. But one of the great joys of last week’s purge was coming across some great recommendations from friends and fellow bloggers that had fallen off the radar screen. Like this pick from my fave book blogger, Book Snob. Or the movie, The White Ribbon, which I’d heard so much about but somehow went MIA. I cannot *wait* to tackle these over the summer. And guess where I’m saving this new list of recommendations? (Hint: See #1. OK, I’ll shut up now.)

5. You realize how far you’ve come. This is the best part of all. Because so much of what’s cluttering up your inbox is old “stuff” you’ve already dispensed with, decluttering allows you to realize how very much you’ve accomplished. That might be in the personal realm – a new friend you invited to coffee – or the professional realm – the draft of an article that’s now published. For me, the biggest payoff was to see how much I’ve learned in the past two years about blogging. I’m still learning (thank goodness!) but a lot of the stuff lying deep in the recesses of my inbox were links to other bloggers offering tutorials on the basics of blogging. It was so great to be able to now delete those messages to myself, and to do so with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment.

So what are you waiting for? Try it!

Image: inbox zero by eweibust via flickr under a creative commons license

Spring Cleaning

Well hello there. I’m back from my travels. So I thought I’d pop in to say hello. (Cue: “Just popping in to say cuckoo. Cuck-oo!”) (Sorry. Couldn’t resist. And If you didn’t get that musical theatre reference,* I’m not quite sure what to say to you.)

It’s been a crazy couple of weeks in our household, what with all the continent-jumping we’ve been doing. And I’ve responded to the jet-lag induced craziness by…cleaning.

Yes, that’s right. Cleaning. It is Spring after all. (75 and sunny when we touched down at Heathrow Friday night, thank you very much.)

Since we arrived home, I’ve been a veritable machine, clearing out books…toys…clothing…videos. Heck, even the decade-old double stroller that once attached to our bicycles is finally getting tossed! (Why, you may ask, do *still* have a double stroller when our children are ten and seven?)  And well you might ask. Rest assured that the responsibility does not lie with yours truly. But thank goodness we hung onto that sucker for as long as we did, as it makes an incredibly useful device for transporting said goodies to the upcoming Nearly New Sale, where said stroller will remain…

There’s nothing quite like a good, old-fashioned de-clutter to relax the mind and bring peace to the soul. But I’m not going to stop there. Having tackled the dining room, living room and both bedrooms, the next target is…drum roll please…my inbox.

As I write, I have some 2,896 messages in my inbox. (Half of which probably say something like “Clean out your inbox!”) And while I was going to push off the horrid task of sitting down, rolling up my sleeves and ploughing through that bad boy until next week – after getting a few blog posts under my belt – I then thought, why wait?

After all, I’m already on a spring cleaning roll. So I want to capitalize on that momentum before it disappears.

Plus, I’m not sure if I’ve shared this little tidbit with you, but the country in which I currently reside (that would be the U.K.) has basically shut down for the month of April. Between the gi-normous Easter break they take every year, coupled with assorted Bank holidays (European Labor Day is next Monday), not to mention that whole Royal Wedding lollapalooza they’ve got going on later this week (and we all know how excited I am about *that*), this place has basically been a ghost town for the entire month. Every other day, it seems, is a public holiday.

A case in point: My son will have attended school for three whole days this month; my daughter, a whopping eight. Which means that I’ve been a bit short of free time of late.

So – channelling my old friend Naomi Williams – I’ve decided to go with the spring cleaning mania that would appear to be coursing through my veins, rather than resisting it. I’ve cleared out my inbox before with terrific results. But this time I’m going to go medieval. I’m giving myself five days to reduce my inbox – if not to zero – than to as close to zero as I deem reasonable.

So wish me luck. I can’t wait to come back to our conversation. So much has happened over the holidays that I’m dying to share with you.

But for now – as we say in The Sound of Music* – so long, farewell…

 

Image: Spring Cleaning – #3 by lastonein via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: How To Manage Without Your Spouse

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

My husband is away on a business trip this week. I’m very lucky that he travels so infrequently. And usually when he is gone, it’s only for a few days at a time.

But this time he’s gone for an entire eight days. And because we don’t have a car or regular childcare, it can be a bit of a challenge to manage when he’s not around – both logistically and emotionally.

I tried really hard to gear up for his absence before he left, and so far (Happy Hump Day!) things are working out pretty well. Here are five tips for managing your life when your spouse or partner goes out of town:

1. Be relaxed but organized. That – courtesy of my fabulous life coach – is my mantra this week. As regular readers of this blog  know, the “organized” part comes easily. I am, after all, a walking calendar. But relaxed? Not so much. Especially when the carefully carved out division of labor between myself and my husband goes awry. (There’s a reason I’m not in charge of the kids’ music practice…) So every time I find myself tensing up, I just repeat that phrase out loud. I also keep a stress ball located in various corners of the house – my desk, the piano, next to the stove – so that I can just squeeeeeeze the anxiety out when it arises.

2. Do less. If, like me, you’re someone who tries to cram all of the 65,000 things you normally do in any given week into a week where – for whatever reason…school holidays…ill children…AWOL spouse – you simply have less time, here’s a radical proposal: do less. If necessary, pretend that you’re sick. You’ll be amazed how much better you feel.

3. Bribe your kids. I suppose the politically correct term here would be “incentivize,” but whatever. The point is – if you have children – you need to motivate them to get through the week despite all the changes to the normal schedule. In our case, because my kids attend different schools, the main hurdle is vaulting ourselves through the morning school run which is normally split between my husband and myself. This means getting up half an hour earlier, moving through breakfast at a brisk pace, and adding two additional 25 minute walks to my seven-year-old’s day. The incentive? Because I have one of those daughters who really cares how she looks, I have secretly saved a skirt and “half-jumper” (sweater) that we bought last week and she thought we were returning. I will bestow it upon her this evening just in time for…Come Dressed As Your Favorite Book Character Day at school tomorrow. (Isn’t it fortunate that Jane, the elder sister in Pride and Prejudice, wears long skirts?)

4. Treat yourself. Be sure to carve out time for yourself when your spouse/partner is away, where you can relax doing the kinds of things that you enjoy doing (particularly the ones he or she doesn’t like). In my case,  as a huge and often unrequited fan of the Oscars, I cordoned off all of Monday night to watch a special Oscar Highlights program (time change made it impossible to watch live), followed by Glee. Imagine my delight.

5. Appreciate the absent spouse. This is also key, for both partners and children. When someone’s away, try to set aside some time to think about and talk about why it’s sad that they’re not there, beyond just the inconvenience of it all. What do they bring to the family? What do you miss when they’re gone? (Be prepared that this may backfire. When I asked my kids the other day at breakfast “Imagine if Daddy was always traveling. Wouldn’t that be awful?” my son responded: “Well, we’d definitely have a car.”) Not exactly what I was looking for, but it’s a start…

*****

For those who are interested, here’s a post I did over at Politics Daily on new medical guidelines in the U.K. telling women that abortion is safer than childbirth.

Image: Glee by statelyenglishmanor via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

Tips For Adulthood: Managing Re-Entry After A Vacation

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

Re-entry following a vacation is trying at the best of times. You come back to “normal life” with looming deadlines, piles of unwashed laundry and all those things you really did mean to finish – but didn’t quite get to – right before you left. (Not to mention that fresh take on life you developed while travelling that you’re darn well going to start implementing…now.)

Toss in some jet lag and – if you’re me, about 10 gazillion bags worth of purchases you made at Target – and it’s a recipe for disaster.

Which is why – having just returned from a two and a half week vacation to the U.S. yesterday – I decided that this time, I’d really work consciously not to make re-entry the agonizing, adrenaline-fuelled stress-fest that it usually is in my life.

Well, I’m pleased to report that on day five of the Good Lord’s Year 2011…something I resolved to do differently in the new year actually worked.

Here are five ways to manage re-entry after a vacation:

1. Shower First. Pay no attention to that whole soap-dodging trend. It’s amazing what a shower can do to wake up the senses. Make sure you do it as soon as you get home, even if you’ve already taken a shower that day. A shower – plus a good, strong hot cup of coffee – are, I am convinced, the foundation for a successful re-entry launch.

2. Make Piles. I’m a big believer in lowering your expectations. Once you’re clean and caffeinated, the single best thing you can do for yourself upon re-entry is not to take on too much that very first day. You’ll exhaust yourself. Instead, what I’d recommend is making piles:  bills to pay…holiday cards to answer…dry-cleaning that’s accrued during your trip.You don’t have to actually *do* any of these things. But just putting them in the right piles will contribute enormously to your piece of mind knowing that they will, eventually, get done.

3. Fill In Your Calendar. Another small but not over-whelming task you can assign to yourself on that very first day back from a trip is to fill in the dates on your calendar (or “diary” as we say over here in the ‘hood.) Much like making piles, inputting your daughter’s swim class schedule, noting the next few book club meetings and (hopefully) setting aside a few date nights out with your partner can go along way towards making you feel in control of your life, before you actually step in to control it. And the beauty of this task is that it can be executed in a near-somnolent state.

4. Set In Motion One Big Thing. This may sound contradictory with points (2) and (3) but it doesn’t have to be. You know how we all have those giant, endless to-do lists that contain a small array of intractable items that never, ever make it off ground zero? While you’re wandering around your house in a bleary-eyed state after a vacation, take action on one of those babies – the really hard ones. You don’t need to resolve it that very first day. But even if it’s just about taking one small step to activate action on said item, you’ll feel so much better. In my own case, I decided yesterday that even though I’d been avoiding it for…um, like four months…I was going to defrost my refrigerator. Yes it was a pain in the neck. Yes, I had to sacrifice my favorite brand of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream to the cause (Imagine Whirled Peace, in case you’re wondering.) But the prospect of opening the refrigerator in 2011 and *not* seeing an iceberg befitting March Of The Penguins? Priceless.

5. Open Your Mail Last. While it can be awfully tempting when you’ve been away from home for a while to open up all of your mail right away, it’s a terrible idea. Mail – whether it’s personal, business or just a doctor’s appointment – is deeply distracting. You get caught up in the photo of someone else’s cute kids. You learn that you didn’t get that job you applied for. You start reading all about the latest changes to your retirement plan. Do yourself a favor and get the small stuff done first. And then reward yourself by reading your mail last when you can really concentrate. Ditto Email. Trust me.

Happy re-entry.

And Happy 2011.

Image: – Mail Day!! – by Warm n’ Fuzzy via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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Tips For Adulthood: Five Things To Do On A Staycation

Every Wednesday I offer tips for adulthood.

My family is doing a staycation this year. We’re taking a few local trips here and there. But mostly – due to assorted work deadlines and exhaustion from our recent move – we’ll be at home in London.

Apparently, we’re not alone. Here in the U.K., a combination of airline strikes and the Eurozone debt crisis have prompted many more British people to holiday at home this year. In the United States, the whole concept of staycation (a word now enshrined in the Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary) has shifted from being a temporary outgrowth of the financial crisis to a social phenomenon that’s here to stay.

I love London, so I don’t really mind being here in the summer. Still, the longer days, warmer weather, and changes to the kids’ schedules do inspire me to do things a bit differently, if for no other reason than to shake up my own routine.

So if, like me, this is a summer when you’re going to give traveling a pass, here are some ways to mark the occasion:

1. Discover a new place. One way to make a staycation feel special is to travel somewhere new near your home. This might be a new museum, a restaurant you’ve been meaning to try or that park that’s just a bit too far to visit during the school year. At the top of my list is to take a backstage tour of the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, London’s oldest theatre. On their tours, a group of actors perform key events from this theatre’s rich history while you look around. I may even (gasp) do this on my own, since I don’t think any of my friends or family members quite shares my thespian enthusiasm. (Adulthood fantasy #6 is where I manage a community theatre troupe in which I also make the occasional cameo. Hey, we all need to dream…)

2. Get a new toy. Usually, we associate the novelty of a new toy with children. But it’s equally valid for adults, who also need to play. This year, my summer treat to myself is a bicycle. Because our new house is located considerably further from the kids’ schools and assorted other activities, I find that I’m often in motion between the hours of three and five on any given afternoon. And so we finally broke down and bought a bike for me on Ebay. It’s one of those funky collapsible things – (a Brompton, for those in the know) – because I’ll need to take it on the Tube and the bus with the kids. Bonus? I feel terribly hip and urban. Bonus-by-association? Guess who’s got a handy new gadget to play with?

3. Learn a new skill. “It’s like riding a bike.” The only problem with that old chestnut is that it only means something if you actually *know* how to ride a bike. In light of our staycation, my husband and I took the command decision that this was an opportune time to teach my nine year-old how to ride a bike. (I know, I know. Ridiculously late to be teaching him this life skill, especially since his six year-old sis has been bike riding for more than a year. What can I say? We’re bad parents.) But we’re on it now, and – in light of #2 – it also means that we can now go for family bike rides.

4. Tackle something on your “dreaded” to-do list. I once wrote a post entitled “Five Ways To Get On Top Of Your To Do List.” One of the strategies I recommended was to divide your to-do list in half into long-term and short-term items. The idea was to tick something off of the short list every day, and to take a step towards removing something on the long list every week. I think this strategy works very well. But it does pre-suppose that every so often, you really do take that crucial step on the dreaded (long) to-do list. In my case, I’ve had “clean rugs” on there for – oh, you really don’t want to know how long. But darn it if I didn’t pluck up my courage yesterday and call around for some estimates. (Needless to say – and like most of the “dreaded” tasks – contemplation was much worse than execution.) And now I feel so much better as a result. Up next? Wash duvet cover…

5. Read some really long books. Let’s face it. We all have a list of books on our bedside table which – tempting as they might seem – we never get around to reading because they’re just too long. And I don’t mean the medicinal ones that you feel you *ought* to read so that you’re up to speed on such and such a topic. (Eternal Message of Muhammed anyone? Oh, is that just me?) No, I mean the really good ones that entail a level of commitment that’s just beyond your comfort level during a busy week. I just finished the third volume in the highly addictive Dragon Tattoo series – The Girl Who Kicked The Hornets Nest. Now I’m on to Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning Wolf Hall. Up next? Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell. If time, there’s always Tolstoy’s War and Peace. No, seriously. Don’t laugh.

What are you doing this summer around home?

*****

For those who are interested, I’m over on Politics Daily today talking about a lawsuit against the British government on the grounds of gender discrimination in its new austerity budget.

Image: Very early Brompton (number 333) by marcus_jb1973 via Flickr under a Creative Commons license.

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