Make This Week Something Special

If you go home tonight and devote two hours to a big project at home, you’ve got a start.

Go home every night this week and spend two more hours and you’ve poured ten hours into that project. Spend four hours on Saturday and four hours on Sunday and you’ve got eighteen hours of project time.

You can do something that you didn’t really think you could ever get done. In one week.

The rest of this post consists of twenty two projects you can do this week if you put some elbow grease and some time into it. Each one of them will save you either money or time over the long haul.

I encourage you to spend two hours each night – just flip off the television – and a few hours over the weekend completing one of these projects or one of your own devising. You’ll feel great on the other end of it – and you’ll be set up to save a lot of money or a lot of time in the future.

Make your home more energy efficient. The big part of doing this is air sealing your home, but it also includes things like installing a programmable thermostat and replacing your furnace filters and adjusting your ceiling fans for the right season.

Get a GTD system up and running. I thoroughly covered GTD earlier this year. A GTD system in place is really awesome, but setting one up takes a lot of time. Invest the time this week to corraling all your stuff and processing all of it.

Go through a full home and auto maintenance checklist. There are so many things around a typical American home (and garage) that will last much, much longer with a bit of maintenance. Why not spend this week maintaining all of the stuff you have so that it’ll stay working well for much longer, saving you money and time over the long haul? Use this home and auto maintenance checklist to get started.

Start a real filing system and get all of your papers into it. A good filing system makes it much easier to find things when you need them and also gives you clear places to put the papers you accumulate. Here’s some guidance for starting your own filing system. At the same time, you might want to consider making a master information document to leave behind.

Clean out all of your closets, decide what you actually ought to keep, and sell the rest. If you’re like most of us, your closets are full of clothes and other items that you’ve stuck into storage with the good intention of using them at a later date, only to find that that later date will probably never come. Clean out those closets and sell off the stuff jammed in the back that you haven’t seen in years, because if you haven’t seen it in years, you probably don’t need it.

Reorganize your pantry, fridge, and cupboards with real staples and prepare all your meals at home. A good pantry and fridge isn’t full of convenience foods that taste okay but are pretty unhealthy. Instead, they’re full of staples – items that can easily be combined with whatever fresh ingredients you have on hand to make tasty and healthy (and very cheap) meals. Clean out your pantry and give some of those convenience foods away to the food pantry – and replace them with real food staples. Then spend this week devoted to actually learning how to get around in the kitchen, preparing real dishes out of real ingredients.

Identify a great bank and transfer your accounts to them. ATM fees, overdraft fees, and maintenance fees got you down? There are a lot of banks out there that don’t push you around and are glad to have your business. Think about the features you want a bank to have and look at a wide variety of them (including online banks) using services like BankRate. When you find a bank that matches your needs, move your accounts there, making sure all of your automatic transfers and payments move as well.

Open up a Roth IRA and figure out your investment plan. I use a Roth IRA at Vanguard for my retirement savings. My belief is that if you’re making less than six figures and aren’t receiving an employer match on your retirement at work, your best retirement choice is a Roth IRA. Look for the right investment house for you (Vanguard is the one I use, but there are many solid ones out there, like Fidelity and Charles Schwab), then open an account and study the investment options carefully. Do some reading on retirement choices, but start your investments immediately in something very broadly based – you can always update this later.

Go through your media collections, pare them down, then sell or trade the excess items online. A media collection purge can go a long way towards reducing the clutter in your home and also reducing the cost of future books, games, movies, and so on. The best way to do this is to simply go through your collections, determine ones that you don’t mind no longer having, then listing them on sites like PaperBackSwap or SwapADVD.

Start teaching yourself a new skill related to your career. Almost all of us bring some sort of specific skill to the table in the workplace. At the same time, almost all of us can benefit by showing off newly learned skills at work – they’ll help us get ahead at our current job and improve our resume for the next. Start using your spare time to learn a new language, learn a new piece of software, learn some new programming skills, take an evening class, or study up on an emerging topic in your field. You’ll suddenly have that edge that you haven’t had before.

What are you going to do this week to make your life better? It’s up to you to turn off the television or the computer each evening this week and doing something that will really improve your situation.

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  1. Julia says:

    “Go through your media collections, pare them down, then sell or trade the excess items online”
    I just finished that one today!

    I started two months ago selling things on Amazon. This weekend I had a yard sell. What I didn’t sell at the yard sell I took to a pawn shop. What didn’t sell at the pawn shop I dropped off at the Goodwill.

    This whole process earned me about $300. And it wasn’t as big an effort as it sounds. It just takes a long time for things to sell on Amazon. The hardest part was preparing for the yard sell. To complete that task I just hit it hard for about 8 hours straight. The next day I spent the day sitting in the sun, talking to people and reading a book.

    I’m down to less than 10 DVD’s (which I’m keeping), 3-4 CD’s (which I’ll keep for a while), no “cute” but otherwise worthless nick-nacks (I used to collect porcelain dolls and collectible ornaments), and my books are down by about 25%.

    I’d like to get my book collection down further. The problem is that the vast majority of them are text books and notebooks from college. I can’t seem to figure out what I want to do with these. At the very least I have to hold onto them until I pass the licensing exam I’m taking next April. Even then, most engineers I know keep their college text books forever.

  2. MikeTheRed says:

    While this week probably won’t be “the week” (looks like a lot of 16+hr days to finish a project), once that’s done, I intend to do this 2hr/day thing to declutter my apartment.

    My wife and I are always grumbling about all the junk we have sitting around and how we don’t have room for the stuff we actually use/want. So room by room we’re going to create two separate piles. “Keep” and “Pitch”

    The two most challenging rooms will be the kitchen and the office area.

  3. EngineerMom says:

    No offense, but I personally think 2 hours every evening is a bit much. Between housework and spending time with my husband and son, I’m lucky to get 30-60 minutes in the evening that aren’t already taken. I don’t go on the computer at night, and we don’t watch TV regularly (1 or 2 45-minute shows on hulu per week).

    I’ve gotten more done by deciding to commit 30 minutes per day to a particular project. Sometimes those 30 minutes extend into a couple of hours on the weekends when my husband is around to watch my son, but other than that, even as a stay-at-home mom, devoting 2 hours of my day to a project for the entire week is a completely unreasonable proposition.

    I like your list of projects. My current project is bringing order to our home, setting up routines that help ensure a relaxing, welcoming home environment, and straightening out our budget so we can keep closer tabs on our money.

  4. Nick says:

    Trent you say 22 projects in the intro but then there’s only ten! What gives?

  5. Belinda says:

    I just caulked my windows yesterday! I am so looking forward to the energy savings I will see this winter.

    We are constantly in the process of cleaning out closets. Seems like a never-ending project there.

    This is back-to-school week, so my evening projects will revolve around that!

  6. Brittany says:

    I think the new baby must be exhausting Trent and taking away his ability to count. First 5=15, not 10=22. Get some rest when you can, padre.

  7. Brianne says:

    I just cleaned out my closet last night, definitely wouldn’t take all week.

    The programmable thermostat thing always annoys me a bit though. Renters can’t just change out a thermostat. And my apartment doesn’t even have one. We don’t have air conditioning and our heater has to be manually turned on.

  8. Steve says:

    I think he has 22 links in there? Either that or I can’t count either.

  9. I’m studying for my GRE for the next couple of weeks. I could take the test anytime, but I just decided to pick a date two weeks from today to encourage me to do serious studying time every night.

  10. Courtney says:

    I like the idea but agree with EngineerMom that two hours per evening is not doable in our busy house. I could see it working if you had no kids or maybe if you have young kids who go to bed early, though.

  11. valleycat1 says:

    I agree that 2 hours a night isn’t doable for a lot of people, & I don’t even have kids at home anymore.

    Re the programmable thermostat – I read another blog where she had an interesting post that switching back from a programmable to a manual actually saved her more money, because she could more easily control the times it was set higher or lower.

  12. Jonathan says:

    Since the average American watches over 4 hours of TV per day, I think it’s reasonable for Trent to generalize about people turning off their TVs for a week and devoting 2 hours each night to a project. Not everyone is average, but I think most articles are written for a general audience. Besides that, I’m guessing that by investing time into a project like GTD now will pay dividends in having more available time later. It’s all about payback, and I really appreciate Trent’s very specific suggestion along with the links to articles to help me along the way.

    Thanks!

    Jonathan

  13. Elaine Huckabay says:

    Trent,
    There may be a few technical errors in this post, but it is simply one of the best blog posts I have ever read. Proof that same amounts of concentrated effort and time can make a massive difference. I

  14. Jonathan says:

    I should add that in my case, turning off the TV for 2 hours isn’t an issue. I need to get off the internet! :)

  15. Laura Lyday says:

    I’ve been doing this a little sporadically, but to enhance my website, brand and resume to get more freelance work to make more money :)

  16. Mary says:

    2 hours is easily doable for me, as I barely watch TV. The internets are another story…oi.

    I have a filing system already in place, but end up putting papers that need to go in there, just on top of it. Gonna tackle said pile this week so it’s in there and out of the way.

  17. Annie Jones says:

    This is a typical routine for us. I stay at home during the day and tackle bigger organization projects like this for a couple hours each day after I do my daily chores. I don’t watch TV during the day, but will occasional put on a movie in the afternoon while I’m working on a project that doesn’t require 100% of my attention.

    My husband comes home from 8 hours at work (construction) and starts right in on whatever chore, home improvement or organizing project is currently at the top of his list. Depending on the day, he’ll work 2-4 hours on that before coming in for the day.

    By the time we’re done with what want to get done, we might have 30 minutes to an hour left to watch a recorded TV show or part of a movie. That’s plenty of TV time for us.

  18. Greg44 says:

    Turning off the TV has been much easier this Summer given the lack of time worthy stuff to watch. I have reintroduced myself to the library! I have read several books that have been on my list.

    It seems like I never had time to read except while I was on vacation.

    I have forced myself take the time to read – and have enjoyed to escape.

  19. How do you stay this productive? I love to find more time in a day to complete those projects, but I simply don’t have the time between all my endeavors. However, I just bought a Canon 7D, so I will be taking photography more seriously.

  20. Maya says:

    I’m doing this right now as we unpack after moving into our new house. We’ve definitely made good progress unpacking this way. But I’m with several other people that 2 hrs/evening is a bit much ordinarily. Right now, in order to have around 2 hrs each evening to work on cleaning and unpacking I’ve had to stop running, stretching, and meditating for a while; and we’re eating take out, simple snack meals, or no dinner at all. And we haven’t even been watching any TV!

  21. Get a gameplan together and start your own business.

    I did it and now I have two besides my “day” job. And I do it all in approx. two hours per day, including weekends.

    And I have a three year old at home with whom I haven’t missed a beat regarding his quality time.

    What’s the saying–we always find the time to do the things that are importnat to us.

  22. Pearl says:

    Cool post! Last month, I did spend 1 hr per night plus a Sat to clear up all my bank statement. I’ve divided all paper bank statements (from 2007!) into 5 bunches, and shredded one bunch each night, then on Sat, I went to the bank to cancel all unnecessary bank a/c, credit cards, and change to use e-statements. It’s a real good way to finish a big task.

  23. Jon says:

    Speaking of re-organizing the cupboards, I realized one day last winter that all of the pots and pans, dishes, cups, etc. were in exactly the same positions that they got stuck in the day we moved in to our house – fifteen years ago! The thing that made it totally crazy was that it was my mother and sister-in-law who unpacked it all for us, and we really didn’t have a say in where it went. I spent a few hours thinking about where things belonged more logically, and making some adjustments, and saved a lot of wasted motion ever since.

  24. Amanda B. says:

    I have been getting rid of books on paperback swap. Does anyone have a suggestion on what to do with the books that never get requested? How long should I wait?
    Thanks!

  25. Norman says:

    Trent, I like how your articles pose a question and make us think about ways to improve ourselves and our lives. What I’ve been doing for years is taking a day off from work or a week off from work. I write down an entire list of things I want to get done before the time arrives. I like having that block of time to concentrate on a project where I see the project through from start to finish. I don’t like starting things and stopping in the middle to pick it up again the next day. This is just how I work. Trent, you make some good points to consider so I think I will write down some smaller projects that I can finish in one evening. I have also been thinking about learning Spanish, so that is a self improvement project that could be ongoing during a couple of evenings a week.

  26. DrLT says:

    Trent’s principle works well on a list of multiple things to do if you don’t have one big project to complete. Last night I went out and spent two hours cleaning the interior of my car. Today I’m going to give the exterior a good cleaning. I’m trying to take care of several things like this before my semester starts at the end of the week (I teach college). After tonight I’ll work on a crochet project–a hand made gift I’m planning to give a friend for her birthday next week. (Which is a bit of a cheater because I can do that AND watch TV at the same time!) But I like this idea and I’m going to try to use it once a month or so to help me get caught up–or stay caught up–on all those odds and ends projects that always seem to go undone because I “don’t have time.”

  27. valleycat1 says:

    #14 Amanda – donate your unwanted books to the local library. They will either add them to their collection or sell them through their friends organization (I have yet to find a public library that doesn’t hold a book sale at least once a year – ours, in a small town, is every month!). Or, if appropriate, donate them to the local high school or community college library.

    As far as how long to keep the books, wait as long as you care to keep them around.

  28. Mary S says:

    post,Trent!
    I think it’s great that you can even write with a new baby in the house, never mind think up these useful articles consistantly.Don’t worry the brain farts (10 instead of 22,etc)
    Re #14 Amanda, I use paperbackswap,too and have found that more of my books are requested when I post a review for them,and I have a 3 for 1 on kids books (if someone requests 1 then I send them 2 for free) and I am a Boxer, which means you can swap with another boxer with no credits.
    So, for example, if a boxer wants 4 of my books, I might only request 1 or 2 of their’s. That way, I am getting rid of a lot more than I am receiving.Hope this helps, Mary

  29. Mary S says:

    Hi,Trent,

    I forgot to ask you-what is GTD?
    Hope this is not a stupid (forehead-smacking)question!

  30. Suzy says:

    Great suggestions and a great blog. There are many things on this list that I need to do. Sometimes we get overwhelmed with all our “stuff” and can’t move forward. Just taking one of these steps and simplifying your life can make a big difference. I am going to bookmark this post and refer to it often.

  31. PF says:

    As a mom of a 1 & 3 year old with a full-time job and a commute, the only way I can get a 2-hour block of time is to take vacation time, which I occasionally have to do. I haven’t had TV in 17 years, so that’s not gonna help! LOL!

    Since I became a mom, I think of my life in 5 to 10-minute increments and tackle projects that way. This week I’m working on my files and making awesome progress in just a few minutes every night. If I think about doing a big project, I get overwhelmed. If I only think about putting in 10 minutes on a project and making progress, I get things done.

    The point is, just devote time to something and start going.

  32. Debbie M says:

    Some projects can be done with kids, even if it takes longer. Usually, they love to help; they just aren’t that good at it!

    If your kids are walking and talking, they can help you organize things by carrying things around for you. Even files–if you put different toys by different files around the room, you can say things like “Please put this in the file by your teddy bear.”

    If they are older, they can help you make calculations and even research options online.

  33. Gal @ Equally Happy says:

    @EngineerMom
    My girlfriend and I manage to do what Trent suggests by taking this project time and turning it into “our” time. Sure, you lose a bit of efficiency but it’s fun and you still get a lot done. Not sure how it would work with a child but it can’t hurt to try. :)

  34. Thanks for the inspiration! I made a minimal desktop wallpaper for this post: http://www.minimalwall.com/2010/08/24/make-it-special/

  35. Julia says:

    2 hours a night doesn’t good to me either, but I bet most people can do more than they expect. Once you get going on something time flies.

    Maybe start with a 30 minute goal and see what happens.

  36. Julia says:

    oh, and about programmable thermostats…
    I contacted my apartment manager about doing this and learned that they don’t work with the heating system I have.

    But I really only needed the heat for about an hour in the morning (I’m in western Washington – it doesn’t get very cold here).

    So I bought a space heater with a remote control and a timer. When my alarm went off, I would turn on the heater and set the timer for 1 hour. Then go back to sleep. About 20 minutes later I’d get up and my room would be warm and comfortable while I was getting my body warmed up and ready for the day. That’s for my bedroom.

    For the living room I can build a fire, cuddle up with a blanket, or move the space heater into the living room. Usually when I’m up doing stuff I don’t need any heat turned on.

  37. Purging the house is such a rewarding feeling. Been working on this all week, going to tackle the organization piece today.

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