Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Done Now, Done Right

 President Kimball once said, “One of the most serious human defects in all ages is procrastination” (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, ed. Edward L. Kimball [1982], 48). Procrastination robs us of effective and meaningful time as well as of peace of mind and confidence. Sometimes we spend all our energy putting off tasks—large or small—that we grow to loathe them and sink into a spiral of guilt and cowardice. Elder Marvin J. Ashton has called procrastination “unproductive delay” and encouraged us to instead do things “straightway . . . immediately, without delay or hesitation” (Marvin J. Ashton, “Straightway,” Ensign, May 1983, 30).

Over the past year I have made a significant career change from a full-time office professional to an overtime wife, mother, and homemaker. As all mothers know, this challenging shift in my daily work was pretty daunting at first. Instead of having a focused routine driven by deadlines in the workplace, I became the one-woman manager and entire team of our home life in charge of all the decisions. Okay, my husband helps a lot at home, but during the day, when he’s gone, it’s up to me. This change from relying on and performing for other people to needing to rely solely on myself for motivation has been significant.

Over time, I have discovered that many of the skills that helped keep me motivated in the workplace can help me not procrastinate my responsibilities at home, especially these five: (1) Prioritize, (2) Be early, (3) Amplify your strengths, (4) Set honest goals and give honest praise, and (5) Reward yourself. While at this time in my life I’m focused on improving my homemaking and mothering skills and not procrastinating those duties, these five principles should help you in whatever responsibilities you need help with in your life—work, school, family, church service, etc.

1. Prioritize

I am a list person. I have lists on my refrigerator, my shopping list, my planner, and all over the house. During busy times at work, my desk sometimes turned into a forest of Post-It notes as I tried to keep things from slipping through the cracks.

Lists are helpful, but they can also be daunting unless you know how to prioritize. If you have a lot of “To-Dos” on your mind, it might be time for what one of my co-workers called “a meeting with yourself” to get things in order. What things should you do today, this week, this month, or when you have more time?
Now that I’m at home, it is easy to make the wrong prioritizing choices by thinking that things like scripture study and prayer can be pushed aside for pressing appointments and chores; I have to constantly remind myself what is most important, especially at times when there are so many things that need my time and attention. Properly prioritizing can help you avoid procrastination because giving the most important things your first attention makes subsequent tasks run more smoothly.

2. Be Early

Being early isn’t just about getting to a meeting on time. At work it meant getting a report finished a few days before a deadline or answering an email before it became urgent. Now being early means mixing up the cornbread dry ingredients in the early afternoon so there is less to do right before dinner or balancing the budget frequently so that it never piles very high. Choosing to put time into something that you know you will have to do eventually before it is a stress is one of my key defenses against procrastination. Try it and see: What can you do today so you don’t have to worry about it tomorrow?

3. Amplify Your Strengths

Although it is important to do the most important tasks first, sometimes a group of tasks are equally important. At these times, it is okay to do what you like best first: Search for a strength to help you overcome your weakness. For example, maybe you have a list of people to get in touch with. Would you rather phone, email, text, or something else? As long as the methods are equally effective, choose the one you are good at and like. This will help you deter procrastination. At home, I love having a clean house but there are some chores I don’t really like doing. To play up my strengths, I remind myself how much I love the clean in order to motivate myself to do the work to make my home that way.

4. Set Honest Goals, Give Honest Praise

No one wins when you overwork yourself or set expectations that are honestly beyond your abilities. When I first became a full-time homemaker, I thought the best thing would be to have a one-day housecleaning wonder once a week—one day when I would make the house spotless so I would only have to deep clean once a week. Honestly, I don’t have time to commit to only housecleaning for a whole day on the same day every week. Instead, I try to make sure I clean everything at least once a week, which I can honestly do, but it’s okay that it means vacuuming one day, cleaning sinks another, and sweeping on another, all on different days each week. Assessing your work honestly means telling yourself you are doing a good job even if you are not reaching what you think is “ideal.” If I can clean half the house all on one day, I rant about it to my husband the whole evening because I know that I did an amazing job.

5. Reward Yourself

Rewards are a step beyond praise. Be sure to treat yourself with something special when you do something great. Rewards can be a great motivator. Now, keep it moderate (not too much chocolate!), but I have heard of an English teacher who stuck M&Ms randomly in the stack of papers she had to grade to keep herself fresh and motivated while working. Sometimes it’s helpful to motivate yourself with “fun jobs.” For example, as soon as you complete the report at work that you’re not excited about, you can check your email. At home, we all have chores that we like okay and that we hate; maybe do the one you hate first and then reward yourself with doing something productive that you like.

When called by the Savior to follow him, the disciples “straightway left their nets” and “immediately left the ship” in order to answer his call. They recognized that following the Savior was their highest priority. We can seek His help in learning how to be most effective in fulfilling our responsibilities in our families, homes, wards, careers, and other worthy life pursuits. Elder Ashton has said, “One of our greatest resources for success and happiness is doing the right thing now.” By prioritizing, being early, using our strengths, setting goals, and giving ourselves rewards, we can overcome procrastination and enjoy that happiness of “doing the right thing now.”

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A Circle of Christmas Service

As the Christmas season began in 2008, I was struck by the instruction President Monson gave in that year’s Christmas devotional. He spoke of Christmas memories of the past and making new memories that year, but the stories he shared and the experiences he highlighted focused on service rather than giving or receiving gifts.

As I thought back on my Christmases past, only gifts that came during my childhood came to mind—like the Christmas my parents gave us our family dog, the Christmas when we received a new TV, and the Christmas when the giant present in a large garbage bag, neatly tied with a giant bow, turned out to be what I thought was an uneventful new set of family bath towels. Although these memories were pleasant and humorous, I couldn’t think of any meaningful Christmas memory that focused on service, as President Monson had talked about, instead of gifts.

President Monson’s talk about Christmas service was still on my mind when I went visiting teaching that month, so I decided to incorporate what the prophet had taught in the Christmas devotional as part of my visiting teaching message. I told the other sisters about my problem—that my Christmas memories were focused on gifts instead of service—and asked what we could do to strive to focus on service more than gifts in future Christmas seasons.

My visiting teaching sisters all had wonderful ideas and shared memories that matched what President Monson had taught. Their stories, however, were more familiar to me than I had anticipated. As they shared special Christmas service experiences, I realized that my problem was not that I had never done Christmas service but that the gift memories came to mind before the service memories. When my visiting teaching sisters shared their Christmas service experiences, I was finally reminded of my own.

One sister’s memory was especially significant to me. She told of a Christmas when her family was struggling financially because her father was unemployed at the time. She tenderly told of loving neighbors, friends, and community members who came to her family’s aid that year by providing food, decorations, and gifts for Christmas.

This sister’s story reminded me of a service project we did as a ward mutual group when I was a youth. We used part of the ward auxiliary budget funds and donations from ward members to provide Christmas for families in need. On a mutual night, each class or quorum was assigned a member of a family in need to purchase gifts for or a special Christmas item, like the tree, decorations, or Christmas dinner. After an hour or so of shopping, we all met back together to deliver Christmas to the needy families. I can still remember our Young Men’s leaders carrying a Christmas tree into a home. Even though I didn’t know the families we were serving, this service project was a very special experience.

It was not my visiting teaching sister’s family that our ward had served, as she lived in a different area at the time, but connecting my nearly forgotten service experience with the Christmas that she remembered best made that Christmas service project much more meaningful to me.

My visiting teacher’s story brought that service experience from a mutual activity years ago back in a full circle. Learning that my visiting teaching sister had been served in the same way that our ward had served someone else made that service experience much more personal to me, even years later. One small and simple, and nearly forgettable, act of service to me was a great and memorable thing to someone else.

This sister’s story was only the beginning. Once I got started, the memories of Christmas service from my childhood came flooding back. There was the family that came caroling to our house with a plate of cookies every Christmas Eve. I remember my mother baking loaves of nut bread and sending us off with our red wagon to deliver them to the neighbors. I thought of doorbell ditching the Twelve Days of Christmas to families in our ward that my parents thought could need a little extra love. All these memories were there in my past all the time, gifts of experience to propel me into making service a part of my Christmases now.

So how do we live and teach that giving Christmas service is more important than the gifts we receive? We keep remembering by doing, each year, over and over again, at this time when we celebrate His birth, what the Savior would do and “Love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34). Each experience of service that we embrace affects the people we serve and the people that we serve with altogether to make this special season a gift of service.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

Things I Learned From Making My First Thanksgiving Meal

1. Brining a fresh turkey is the way to go. There was not a dry slice on our bird!

2. I cannot get enough of homemade whole berry cranberry sauce.

3. Light egg nog is not worth the lack of calories.

4. Fat free whipped topping that you add melted chocolate to for a chocolate cream pie is.

5. College kids sleep a lot! I guess it's been a while since I was one and I forgot!

6. I'd rather eat stuffing and gravy than mashed potatoes and gravy--especially stuffing cooking in our amazing brined bird and gravy made from those delicious drippings.

7. Cranberry cheesecake is my new love.

8. Making the rolls early and reheating them would be better than stressing about them being the last thing out of the oven when the guests have already arrived.