May 202011

A review of Time Management from the Inside Out by Julie Morgenstern

In Time Management from the Inside Out, Julie Morgenstern to writes that she has found that “the single most common obstacle people face in managing their time lies in the way that they view time.” It seems that there are quite a few of us who have no idea how long a task will take or how many things we can fit into a day. Morgenstern’s solution is to find ways to make time tangible.

How much time does it take?

Morgenstern suggests that we begin to learn how to estimate time better by choosing three tasks and writing down how long we think they will take. Then time them on three different occasions. Another method she suggests is to put a time estimate next to the items on our to-do list. After completing the job, write down how long it actually took. Morgenstern says that after two weeks, we should be much better at estimating the time we need for our projects.

How much time do we have?

Next we need to figure out how much we can do each week. Morgenstern suggests creating a “time map”, a chart that looks like a high school schedule. Instead of class periods, there are hours marked off for the different projects. English and Calculus are replaced by blocks of time marked “Client Meetings” and “Family Time”.

For people who want or need something less structured, Morgenstern suggests dividing tasks by the time needed to complete them. Then create three lists: one for chores that take 5 minutes or less, another for those that take 30 minutes or less and a third for tasks that take 1 hour or less. When some time opens up, choose a job from the appropriate list.

Another approach is Morgenstern’s Balance Tracker. Write down how much time you want to spend on the different areas of your life each week. As you complete a task, mark the time in the right column. As the week progresses, you can look at your tracker and see which areas need your attention.

From organizing to time management

Unlike many time management gurus, Julie Morgenstern originally made her mark as a home organizer. It shows. For example, she compares an overstuffed schedule to a cluttered closet. Morgenstern’s fresh approach makes a nice complement to the usual time management techniques.

Jul 212010

Turn your pantry into a tool to help you save money on your groceries. The pantry is the unsung hero of rock-bottom grocery bills. It will help you save money in several ways:

  • When you have enough storage space, you can stock up at sales and buy in bulk. The goal is to buy enough of each non-perishable item at a low price to last until the next time you find a great deal. This saves time as well as money since you’re not running to the store as frequently.
  • Avoid expensive convenience foods and the drive-through window at fast food restaurants.  Keep ingredients on hand to cook from scratch. Also store home cooked meals and your homemade convenience foods for those too-busy-to-cook times
  • The pantry isn’t just for “store-bought” food. It’s a place to keep homemade mixes, jams, jellies and home-canned or dehydrated foods.
  • A well-stocked pantry provides a reserve of food in case illness, financial difficulties or an emergency situation makes it difficult or impossible to shop.

But what if you don’t have a pantry?

But what if you don’t have a pantry? Or your pantry is too small to store much food? No problem. Look around your home to find some space that you could use to create a pantry or several mini-pantries. For example:

  • Kitchen cupboards. Are there infrequently used items in your cupboard that could be stored elsewhere or discarded to make way for food? Can you use shelf dividers, organizers, turntables, sliding shelves or risers to create more usable space in each cupboard? Is there space in your cupboards to add a shelf? Can you put bulky item on top of the refrigerator? Can you free up cupboard space by hanging your pots, adding a spice rank or putting up a pegboard a la Julia Child to hold your kitchen gadgets?
  • Refrigerator and freezer. I think of my refrigerator and freezer space as part of my pantry. Along with the usual items, I keep homemade mixes, gluten–free flours, homemade yogurt, stock, vegetable trimmings to turn into my next batch of soup or stock, home-frozen dinners, pasta sauces, pizza crusts, breads and home-baked desserts.
  • Closets. My everyday pantry used to be coat closet. The addition of shelves turned it into a convenient pantry. The Flylady’s associate Leanne Ely turned her linen closet into a pantry. If you can’t spare a whole closet, is there a part of a closet that you can use? And don’t forget that frequently-wasted piece of real estate—the inside of the closet door.
  • Basement or utility room. As long as your basement doesn’t flood or have moisture problems, this can be a great place to make a pantry. You can use second-hand bookcases, plastic bookcases or metal shelving to store food and supplies. Remember to keep your food away from the furnace. Heat shortens the shelf life of food. Also, food containers should not be stored directly on a concrete floor. Moisture can seep up and spoil the food. Use a piece of wood to raise the containers off the floor. If you don’t have a basement, but you have a utility area for your washer and dryer, is there space to put shelves over the machines or to one side of them?
  • The divided room. Author Barbara Salsbury tells about turning part of her child’s nursery into a pantry. Do you have corner in a guest room to create a pantry? You can use a screen, curtains or bookcases to separate the space.
  • The hidden pantry. An old armoire can be fitted with shelves to make a pantry. Or do you have a spot under a staircase that could be used for storing food? In Smart Closets Makeovers, there is a photo of a pantry created by putting shelves between wall studs. The narrow pantry has a door that matches the paneling in the room. Very impressive, but utterly beyond my do-it-yourself skills. Those who are very space-challenged can use extra-large lasagna pans or boxes on rollers for storage under a bed or couch. Make sure your hidden pantry is easily accessible so that you can use it every day.

Your pantry doesn’t have to be in one space. You can have several pantry areas. I put my a few most frequently used items in kitchen cupboards. Perishables go in the refrigerator and freezer.  But because my kitchen is small, most of my everyday food supplies are in a closet-turned-pantry near my kitchen. Shelves in my utility room provide longer-term storage.

What space can you find to create your money-saving pantry?

Jul 172010

A good kitchen is a place that makes it easy to cook. It doesn’t have to be large or expensive or filled with the latest gadgets. It does require a few basics.


The important thing about equipment is to avoid either extreme: too few tools to be able to cook properly and so many seldom-used gizmos that you waste money and space. The ideal is to have enough equipment—and the right equipment—to be able to prepare the meals that you want. The exact list depends on the type of cooking you do. If you are just beginning to stock your kitchen, look for simple, durable, multi-purpose tools.


When equipment and ingredients are easily accessible,  you will be able to cook more easily.  If your cupboards and drawers are jammed, it’s time to declutter them. Get rid the box of cereal that’s been sitting on the shelf for six months because everyone hated it. Move things that are seldom used to hard-to-reach shelves or to another storage area outside the kitchen. Use inexpensive storage containers and shelf dividers to make the most of your space. Try rearranging your cupboards, so that you can find things quickly. The best location for frequently-used items is near the place where you’ll use them.

Work Area:

Cooking and baking require room for cutting, mixing, grating and other activities. If you have no uncluttered work areas, consider how you can liberate some space. Moving most of the small appliances off my main counter freed up room for me to work. Flat surfaces like counters and tables seem to attract keys, mail, school books, purses and papers. Provide bags, baskets, hooks and boxes in other areas to store them. Yes, I know—just designating a place for the clutter doesn’t mean that it will actually end up there. But it’s a start.

Pleasant environment

Finally, are there things that would make your kitchen a more pleasant work area? Does it need a fresh coat of paint, better lighting or a chair for kibitzers—or for you? Would you like to listen to music while you cook? How about some flowers from your garden or herbs growing at the kitchen window? Cooking can be a rewarding and enjoyable activity. Create a space where it’s a pleasure to cook.

Jul 162010

mindmap by Graham Burnett

Sometimes the most useful tools are the simplest. One of my favorite tools for organizing is a mind map. The mind map, a diagram of ideas, was popularized by Tony Buzan.

A mind map begins in the center of a page. Start with a word, drawing or symbol that represents the main theme of the mind map. As you think of an idea relating to theme, draw a line radiating from the center. Print a keyword on the line to represent the idea. This line leads to the topics associated with that idea. Each topic can have lines branching off to subtopics related to it. Keep adding to the map until you finish exploring your main theme. The final results can be practical like the mind map above, done by Graham Burnett. Mind maps can also be playful and even artistic.

Many people use software to create a mind map. I simply use a pencil and paper. For multi-colored maps, use markers, crayons or colored pencils.

Mind maps are versatile tools. They are great for brainstorming. Because they are non-linear, you can add new ideas as they occur to you. You can use mind maps to plan anything from a birthday party to a home business project. Some people use mind maps to take notes as they read. I’ve used mind maps for years to outline my writing.

Lately I’ve put mind maps to a new use: my schedule. I can organize my work by day or type of task or project. It’s a simple tool to help me plan the week’s work and see what needs to be done each day.