Stop, Thief!

Somewhere in your life there is a thief. It’s probably a friend, a relative, or one of your online friends. The goal is to take something so valuable, you can’t buy it: time.

clockThe time thieves in your life are subtle. Sly. And you fall for them in big and small increments. It’s time you’ll never get back.

The friend who asks you to go shopping with her. You don’t need anything, and you went to lunch with her earlier in the week. You know this friend wants to bend your ear with gossip, problems, and long whines. Substitute a phone call and you will have 90 minutes you get to spend more wisely.

You just want to check in on your friends on Facebook, and after a few minutes, you look at the clock and notice two hours have vanished. You’ll never get them back. Set a timer to limit screen time.

You also give away your time as if you had endless amounts. You volunteer for projects at work that no one else wants. You want to be a team player. Laudable goal, but take on extra, unrelated-to-your-goals  projects only if you can easily complete it and it teaches you something.

You spend hours “keeping in touch” with friends by texting. You text at meals, while you are talking to other friends. You aren’t giving of yourself, you are simply filling time that could be better spent having real conversations.

Time seems limitless until it is not. It’s smart to budget your time, use it to make meaning and not let others steal it. Give it freely, spend it happily, but don’t let anyone take it without your permission.

—Quinn McDonald wishes she could save up time and use it on days that speed by too quickly.

To-Do Lists that Help You Work

To-do lists can work for you or make you crazy. There are many ways to create them, and the only one that works is the one that works for you.

First, I have to admit that I use a paper to-do list. Even with all the electronics, the fastest, most efficient list-making for me is done with a pencil and index. card.  I don’t have to boot it up, recharge it, or open it. It’s available to me at all times, and a pencil doesn’t need to be connected, opened, or tested. It’s always ready to go. I’ll admit I have a pencil thing.

Here are two ways to use a to-do list. Both involve 3 x 5 index cards, or 4 x 6 cards if you write big.  (I turn the cards and work on them portrait-orientation.) I work on several projects at a time, so I use one card per project. Each project’s name is written on the top of the card, and the to-do list underneath. That way, I can put all the project to-do lists next to each other and see how much work I have and which project needs to take priority. When I have a lot of projects going at the same time, it’s wonderful.

color coded index cardsWhen I get really into projects, I assign one color to each project, and color code the cards to match the project. (You can also use different color cards.) Color coding gives me overviews and helps me draw conclusions faster. (“A lot of blue cards, do I need to farm some of this out?” “The yellow project is due in a week. Why so few yellow cards? Am I done early, or is there something missing?”)

Then there is the worry list to-do list. When I wake up at night, unable to sleep and busy worrying, I make a list of things I’m worrying about. Having written down the worries, I go back to sleep. The next morning, I tackle the things that need to be done.

The last to-do list is called the tag-cloud to-do list. Because I use the same method as tag clouds–the more important a task, the bigger I write it. Because I have small handwriting, I draw a box around each item on the list. The bigger the box, the more important (or worrisome, or pressing) the item. That gives me two facts at once: the item and the importance, all in one glance.

You can use a mix of these methods. Color-coding works with tag-clouding very well.  Tag-clouding works with worry-list well, too. And no matter what method I choose, writing down all the things that need to get done helps me free up more memory cells.


–Quinn McDonald is a certified creativity coach and a trainer specializing in communicating. That includes Writing for the Web and Giving Powerful Presentations. See all the topics at © 2007 -9 All rights reserved.

Steel Cut Oats: Worth the Time?

Oatmeal has always been a favorite breakfast food in my house. Not the instant, which always tastes as if it had been made in the Play-Doh factory, the old-fashioned. Yes, they took a little longer to cook, but it could be done in five minutes. I cook oatmeal in milk, it gives a much richer taste. But milk means you have to stir, so 5 minutes is about all I could handle.

steel-cut oatsMy niece introduced me to steel-cut oats. I was astonished to find that they were not flat or flaked. These oats are still grain-shaped.  (You can see both flakes and steel-cut in the photo.)

The taste was completely different–sort of nutty, like wheat berries, and an incredible taste treat. They also filled me up completely for three hours, making it easy to pass up the donuts, eclairs and other breakfast goodies in my clients’ kitchens.

Steel-cut oats take forever to cook. The package I have said “about 10 minutes.” Only if you need to break out a few annoying molars. It takes a full 20 minutes to cook steel-cut oats. If you are cooking more than one serving, you can count on 30. I just don’t have 30 extra minutes in the morning, so I began to experiment with shortcuts.

Here are two that work really well:

1. Stir and run method. Put the milk (or water) into a deep saucepan, add the oats (follow directions on the can) and bring to a boil, stirring constantly. Once they have boiled for 30 seconds, you can turn the burner to warm (if you have an annoying electric stove) or the lowest gas setting. Then go take a shower or get dressed. Do not desert the oats. Check in once in a while to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot. You probably will have to add more. I add water, even when cooking with milk, give it a quick stir, and go put on my makeup. By the time I’m ready for breakfast, the oats are done perfectly.

2. Cook two servings at once, following the instructions above. Eat one serving, and put the other one in a covered container. If you are covering the container with plastic wrap, make sure the wrap touches the top of the oatmeal to prevent milk skin from forming. The next morning, you simply pour a little milk or water into a pan and warm up the oatmeal. You cannot tell the difference in taste or texture.

Update: There are more than 95 comments so far with excellent suggestions, please browse them to learn so much more!

From the comment sent in by Jan: Before you got to bed, put a half cup of steel cut oats and cover with water. The next morning, drain the water, add milk (or cook in water) and bring to a gentle boil. Takes about 5 minutes to cook. Best suggestion yet!

Don’t reheat in the microwave, you will be eating dense, chewy little rubber bullets. Mix in dried cherries, fresh raspberries, or cut up crystalized ginger. Add sugar, honey, or syrup. Or just eat it plain.

You might also enjoy: Bulgur Wheat: Side dish, Main dish, Salad

–Image: Quinn McDonald.

Quinn is a writer and certified creativity coach.
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Freelance Tip: The Value of “No”

When the phone call came from a friend, asking me to help chair a massive meeting, I told her I was too busy to do a good job. “The busiest people do the most work,” she cajoled. Within 15 minutes, I had agreed to take on a job on a committee. No one was hired as the committee head, and people kept acting as if I were running the committee. I hated to back out, so I plugged ahead, doing a bad job.

It gets worse. I had just joined the organization, and many of my colleagues were doing great jobs as committee heads. My agreeing to do the work resulted in my looking disorganized, lazy, and incompetent.

Taking on Too Much Is a Recipe for Failure
During the same time, I was planning a move, doing art shows, planning and developing new training classes, working with coaching clients, running training seminars. It was not unusual to log 125 working hours a week.

I love working hard. But I took on a task I could not possibly do well. Because I didn’t want to say “no” to a friend who needed help, I did a bad job, let people down, and damaged my own reputation.

A few days later, I saw a book called The Power of Positive Choices, by Gail McMeekin. It was the subtitle that interested me: “Adding and Subtracting Your Way to a Great Life.” I picked up the small book and began to page through it.

Find the Idea That Solves A Business Problem
As with most self-help books, I’m happy if I can find one helpful idea. And I did. It was the idea of subtraction. Normally, when my business needs a boost, I add a product or develop another training course or speaking idea. Adding something always results in a lot more work. But more work doesn’t always result in more money.

McMeekin’s book brings up the power of subtraction. “The Power of Subtraction” works. McMeekin says, “When we forcefully say ‘No’ to dysfunctional people, toxic workplaces, limiting beliefs, or unhealthy habits, we open up the space to fill our lives with what we long for.”

Here’s what I dropped immediately:

— Products that demanded a lot of administrative work for a mimimum profit

–Training jobs that paid next to nothing but promised “a great marketing opportunity.” Often the opportunity was not clear or unlikely.

Subtract Time- and Money Drainers
The day I created my “subtraction” list, I got a phone call from a church group who wanted me to run my creativity seminar for less than half of my usual fee. “Our group is really worthy,” the events director said. “And if this one works well, we may be able to afford your full fee in the fall.” I was about to agree–after all, how can I turn down a spiritual group whose only fault is a cash pinch.

Wrong line of thinking. Better line: Could I afford to run the seminar at a loss? And once I taught this course at a loss, could I realistically teach it again at my normal price, which would be more than twice the original church rate? And would the group really come back in the fall and say, “We loved your seminar so much, we will gladly encourage you to charge more than twice as much for this session.” Probably not.

The Power of Subtraction
I turned the seminar down. I kept my business priorities in place, and instead of trying to make her understand, I just kept politely refusing.

Subtracting is a wonderful exercise. Look at what isn’t making money. Instead of pumping money into it, think about the pros and cons of subtracting it. Use the time for marketing your products that are already successful. Often, it’s a quick was to saving time and money.

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