Plan Before You Pack

During a recent appointment, my client asked me, “Do you help with packing?” I knew that she had a vacation coming up — not a relocation — so I answered, “Yes!”

She was not the first client recently to ask me for help with packing. Packing for a trip of my own is one of my least favorite activities, although it’s certainly easier for me to help someone else pack than it is for myself.

I’ve written about packing before (see Lessons in PackingPacking Light, and Simplify Your Packing). Rereading those posts, I was surprised to see that I did not mention two key habits that always help me when I am getting ready to pack:

  1. Figuring out what you are going to wear each day.
  2. Making a list to remember all the other stuff.

Figuring out what you are going to wear each day.
We can’t bring our entire wardrobes with us when we pack, although sometimes it seems easier than having to make decisions! The things to ask yourself are:

  • How many days will I be there?
  • What will the weather be like?
  • What activities will I be doing?
  • Can I dress casually all the time or will there be dressy occasions?

Pick out one outfit for each day. If you can wear something more than once (such as wearing the same pair of pants or shorts again with a different shirt), that can really cut down on what you bring. Plan to top each outfit off with a sweater or jacket that can be worn with multiple outfits.

If you need to dress up sometimes, bring along a small number of dressier outfits along with just one pair of appropriate shoes. Speaking of shoes, wear your bulkiest (but comfortable) shoes when you are traveling, and add one more pair of comfortable shoes in your suitcase. It’s nice to be able to alternate shoes if you are going to be doing a lot of walking, or in case you get caught in the rain.

Making a list to remember all the other stuff
For me, figuring out the clothes and shoes is the easy part. It’s the toiletries, medications, chargers, rain gear, etc. that really bog me down.

The key for me is to start with a checklist. I made up this checklist many years ago and I use it over and over again. It changes over time, but 90% of it is the same from trip to trip. I keep it electronically so that I can reuse it and I can modify it when necessary.

If you don’t have a checklist, go through your morning and evening routine in your head and write down whatever products you use throughout your day. Keep amending this list as you are packing. Save it and reuse it next time!

I keep a small kit always packed with travel-size toiletries. Some things (like shampoo) may need to be refilled, while others (such as things with expiration dates) may need to be replaced. But the basic structure is still there.

Do you have a section in your home where you keep anything related to travel? Keeping all that stuff in one place will make it easier for you to pull everything together for the next trip. It will also remind you of what you already have and what you still need. It’s so frustrating when you buy something because you can’t find the one you already own.

If you have travel planned this summer, bon voyage!

Things to Do in Late November

Dear Sharon,

During Thanksgiving week, there are several things I do that make the end of the year so much easier:

  • Order my holiday cards
  • Order stamps to mail my holiday cards
  • Review my holiday address list
  • Finish up my charitable contributions

Thanksgiving weekend has always seemed like an endless stretch of free time for me because for many years I was performing in a show or had directed a show that played in the first half of November. I also spent 25 years working in Corporate America, and a four-day weekend was a true rarity. (Now that I’m self-employed, I often work several of the days of Thanksgiving weekend, but it still hasn’t lost its specialness for me.)

Holiday Cards

If you send out photo cards, Thanksgiving weekend is a great time to review all the photos taken throughout the year and select the favorites. Having the whole family around and available to look over the photo card options helps to speed along the decision-making process.

Whether you include photos or not, getting your custom-printed cards ordered in November will get them back to you in record time. And the prices are usually cheaper if you order before December 1.

If you are going to be hand-signing store-bought cards instead of having them custom-printed, you definitely want to get an early start on that. Hopefully you bought your cards on Dec. 26 last year when they went on sale. If not, buy them this weekend while all of the styles are still available. And start signing!

Holiday Stamps

I enjoy getting on the US Postal Service website and browsing the new stamps. There are always so many cute designs. I always order a little extra so that I have stamps to last me well into the new year. Ordering your stamps right after ordering your cards will ensure that you won’t have a holdup in sending the cards out.

Holiday Address List

After ordering my holiday cards and stamps, I review last year’s address list to see what changes need to be made. Unfortunately, there are always a few names that need to be removed because people have passed away. But there are also new friends to be added. And I always have a few friends who have relocated. Updating the list early gives me the time to email or text them and ask them for their new addresses.

Charitable Contributions

I have several clients who wait until the end of the year to make their charitable contributions. Sometimes they simply run out of time before making all the contributions they had intended.

I used to make all my contributions over Thanksgiving weekend to ensure that the acknowledgement letter from each charity had this year’s date on it. In more recent years, I’ve spread out my contributions throughout the year so that I don’t have to do so many at once. Thanksgiving weekend is my final review to make sure I’ve attended to everyone on my list.

What are some of the things that you always wish you had started earlier? Start an end-of-year checklist now that you can pull out in future years on Thanksgiving weekend. Your future self will thank you!

Creating a Home Maintenance Schedule

We recently spent some time moving all of the furniture away from the wall so that we could vacuum behind it and dust the baseboards. Yikes! It has apparently been a long time since we did that.

I’ve decided that it would be helpful to make up a year-round maintenance calendar for my home. (Luckily I live in an apartment building, so I don’t need to include things that house-owners would need to do, like roof gutters and lawns!) Tasks will include:

  • Vacuuming and dusting behind furniture
  • Dusting ceiling fans
  • Vacuuming bottoms of closets
  • Cleaning windows and window screens
  • Dry cleaning or laundering curtains
  • Vacuuming the refrigerator vent
  • Waxing wood furniture
  • Vacuuming upholstered furniture.

My plan is to assign one of these tasks to the first weekend of each month. Have you organized your home maintenance tasks to ensure that they don’t get overlooked? Let me know what is working for you.

The Power of Checklists

I’m not a big fan of reinventing the wheel. Once I figure something out, I don’t want to have to waste the time to figure it out again in the future. For that reason, I am a frequent creator and user of checklists.

When I was younger, my memory was sharp enough that I simply remembered everything. When I was in high school taking geometry, I learned the acronym SOHCAHTOA which explains how to figure out the sine, cosine, and tangent of a triangle. I scoffed at this acronym, thinking that I would always remember how to calculate those three functions. At age 14, anything I learned appeared to be in my brain for good. (I have long since forgotten the formulas but still remember SOHCAHTOA!)

Once you get to be a grownup, the brain just isn’t so fresh anymore, and life is also more complicated. So I’ve been documenting things that take me time to figure out and that I suspect will stymie me again in the future. I’m also in the habit of updating my checklists after I use them — by clarifying items that weren’t documented as clearly as I thought, or by adding items that I realized were missing the last time I used the list. It’s a great relief to me to know that I can pull up one of my checklists and benefit from my past experience.

The Checklist ManifestoA few years ago, I read a book by Atul Gawande called “The Checklist Manifesto” which explained how checklists can save lives. As a surgeon, he discovered that creating checklists for the many steps required before, during, and after a surgical procedure, ensured that nothing was overlooked. He also applied his process to other professions and found that checklists can benefit many other areas besides surgery. It’s a fun book to read.

Here are some of the checklists I’ve created and used over and over again to save me time and be more efficient:

  • How to enter certain transactions into QuickBooks and Quicken (my business and personal financial software, respectively).
  • How to make modifications to my web site.
  • How to download specific reports from financial web sites.
  • What supplies I need to bring with me when I work the front desk at my theatre group for auditions or performances.
  • What to pack when I travel.
  • Instructions for the dog sitter who stays here when when we go away on trips.

I’ve even added pictures to some of my checklists, such as the software how-tos.  It’s a little time-consuming to create but saves me a lot of time each time I use it. Remember, a picture is worth a thousand words!

Next time you find yourself struggling to remember how to do something you once knew how to do, or neglect to bring something that you remembered but then forgot because you didn’t write it down, create a checklist so that it doesn’t happen again. Be sure to give your document an easy-to-remember name, since you don’t want to be frustrated in the future because you can’t find your checklist!