5 Crucial First Steps Toward Optimal Productivity

“There aren’t enough hours in the day” is not an uncommon complaint. And yet, the most productive people that exist today have the same amount of hours in a day as anyone else. What makes them more productive?

We can’t change how many hours there are in a day, but we can change how we use them. That is, we can better manage our energy, which will in turn make our use of time more efficient. Here are a few tweaks you can make to your daily routine that will help you start maximizing the time you do have.

1) Start your day the night before.

Decide the night before what time you want to get up, and what you are going to do in the morning. If you decide to wake up at 7:00am but spend an hour wandering aimlessly around your apartment, you might give in to a mid-morning nap, which defeats the purpose of getting up at 7:00am. Whether it’s exercise, writing, or reading the newspaper, having a plan will make it easier to get up—and stay up—when sleep inertia is telling you to press snooze.

2) Get out of bed when your first alarm goes off.

When your alarm wakes you up, instead of hitting snooze, get right out of bed if you don’t want to feel groggy throughout the morning. Even if you’ve gotten seven hours of sleep, you might still feel groggy when your alarm goes off because of sleep inertia: the period between waking and being fully awake, when you’re more likely to be tempted to snooze for “just a few more minutes.” But those extra five minutes of sleep can make you feel worse than if you had just gotten up, because your brain restarts the sleep cycle. When your alarm goes off for the second time, you’re likely in an earlier, deeper part of your sleep cycle.

3) Build in flex time.

The key to planning out your day the night before is to build flex time into your schedule. It may sound counterintuitive. You want to get the most out of your day, so you shouldn’t waste a single minute not having something on the schedule to do. But downtime is actually beneficial for optimal productivity. It gives your mind a break—a chance to unwind and reenergize so that you can reach maximum productivity the next day, or while tackling your next task.

4) Make meals a priority.

Healthy eating may not seem compatible with a busy lifestyle. But food is energy, and we all need energy to function, let alone excel at the tasks before us. You may sometimes get so caught up in a task that when you finally look up, it’s 4pm and you haven’t eaten lunch. To avoid this, plan out your meals the day before so that you don’t feel like figuring out what to eat is an interruption that you can’t afford, or that you’re wasting valuable mental energy deciding what to eat. If you don’t want to waste your decision-making energy on minor things, plan ahead so that you’re simply doing rather than deciding.

5) Don’t let emails dominate your day.

While it may feel like you’re really on top of things if you answer emails immediately, don’t keep refreshing the page to see if there’s new mail. When an email comes in, deal with it right away when you read it. This is different from constantly checking to see if you have a new email, which will actually make you feel more pressured throughout the day.

Making small changes such as these will be beneficial as you take the next steps toward your goal of being more productive.

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– Kaitlin Puccio

A Casual Relationship With Time

Though not everyone is given the same amount of days, everyone is given the same amount of time in a day. It might seem as though most people have just enough time in the day to not complete everything on their to-do list. Have you ever paused to consider someone—your toddler in one arm, your vacuum in the other, and dinner roasting away in the oven—and wondered, “How does she do it all?”

Time management is a widely considered topic, which is not surprising given these days of 24/7 global communication and instant gratification. There exists plenty of advice on how you can better manage your time, how you can make yourself more productive in shorter periods of time, how you can break the habit of “multitasking” and complete one task at a time to actually make progress.

What’s less considered when thinking about how you can better manage your time is how other people can affect your schedule—or even how their perception of your schedule can influence the way you perceive your own level of busy.

1) Meetings

There are two ways that meetings can become an inefficient use of time before they even begin. The person with whom you are meeting could arrive late, or could cancel the meeting altogether.

It is understandable in some cases when a person arrives a few minutes late to a meeting. Don’t necessarily expect it, but budget for it. If you are like me, you always try to arrive to meetings with at least ten minutes to spare. This means if someone is even five minutes late, you might wind up waiting fifteen minutes for a meeting to actually begin.

I’ve heard many people say, “I wish I had more time to read…” but I know those same people to sit in cafés at times waiting for their friends/colleagues/etc. to arrive, staring blankly at their phones not because there is something interesting on the screen, but simply because they are sitting alone. Swap those fifteen uncomfortable minutes of pretending there are important things on that phone for fifteen minutes of reading.

If you don’t want those fifteen minutes of waiting to turn into thirty and beyond, confirm the meeting the day before. I once set up a meeting a week in advance and confirmed the day before. The person with whom I was scheduled to meet responded to my confirmation that she thought I had cancelled the meeting. She had mixed up her contacts—another one of her meetings had been cancelled and she thought it was ours. If I hadn’t sent the confirmation, I would have been waiting for a meeting that would never begin.

About meetings that will never begin…

Some meetings will inevitably be cancelled. There are those that are cancelled well in advance, and those that are cancelled after you’re already on your way. They are both time-consuming. Oftentimes there is an understandable reason for cancelling a meeting. You might even do it yourself. Some other times you might find that you sent a confirmation email only to have the meeting cancelled in the reply (and what would have happened if you hadn’t sent the confirmation email? Perhaps it would have been cancelled even later…when you were already on your way.) Still other times you might find yourself in the middle of rescheduling a meeting (you’ve found a mutually agreeable date and time…it’s just a matter of place) when the other party simply stops responding.

The mysteries of what causes these things to happen may never be known. It may just be that some have a more casual relationship with time.

But time is a nonrenewable resource for individuals regardless of its inherent infinity.

A cancelled meeting could mean that suddenly there is a block of open time in your schedule. You understand the value of your time, and this might seem like a good thing. But you could have so much on your plate that you become paralyzed not knowing what to attack first, not wanting to waste your extra hour. Don’t dwell on how much time you spent preparing for your cancelled meeting—instead focus on the time that you have at that very moment. After all, time that has passed is fixed in a state of non-existence and therefore cannot be changed. Take one minute to readjust, pick a task, and do it. It truly doesn’t matter what it is; anything that you accomplish in that time is a better use than letting it slip away.

2) “You’re so busy…”

Another phrase I’ve heard a lot is, “You’re so busy,” or, “You probably don’t have time, but…” The strange thing about these phrases is that whenever they are directed toward me, I always feel that while they could be true, they are not necessarily true. If something is important, there is time for it.

Time is fixed. The hours on our clocks do not change. There are 24 in each day. Assume I automatically subtract 8 from those 24 for sleep, because sleep is not optional. I am left with 16 hours every day to be awake and productive. If hours are fixed, we are left with variables that we assign to each of those 16 hours. Those variables could be Eat, Read, Family, Work, Leisure, Tennis, Study, Guitar, etc. Variables will change for everyone, depending on what’s important/necessary in their life. Notice, however, that I classify neither Read nor Guitar as Leisure. They are their own variables. If they are important, they must be assigned a time. Otherwise, Leisure from 12pm-1pm could quickly turn into TV watching rather than the intended guitar practice, and you’ll find yourself down the ever-shortening line of time ahead of you wondering when you stopped playing guitar.

So when someone says to you, “You probably don’t have time to direct this film…” (or meet for coffee, or become a Certified Pilates Teacher), that may seem true at first. But because you are the puppeteer of the variables that fill your fixed 16 waking hours, if directing that film is important, it becomes the variable Direct, and it must be assigned the appropriate slots. Other variables will shift, but that’s why they’re variables and not fixed. They are flexible in their placement, but not in their existence.

Variables as discussed here are like rubber bands. If a variable has been assigned to a fixed time slot and must be replaced, the further away from that original time slot you move that variable, the more tension in the band. It can only be moved so far away from the original slot (days, weeks, months) before it snaps. A snapped band implies that variable is no longer important.

If someone posits that you might be too busy to do something that you deem important, it might be tempting to agree. But in reality, their perception of your busyness has little to do with how you manage your fixed hours and variables.

3) Scheduling Logic

Assume that you have 16 waking hours to complete 8 variables: Eat, Family, Guitar, Leisure, Read, Study, Tennis, Work. (I am assuming here that you wish for each of these things to be completed every day. If different days of the week have different variables, create a spread, as shown below, for each day of the week. You can also create spreads for a week or a month, depending on how variable your variables are.)

 

 

Because the 16 hours are fixed, they are in a fixed line above. Each slot represents one hour. The variables are represented by the first letter of the activity to be completed. You can figure out the assignments of each variable to the 16 slots using a series of conditional statements, or rules, that you determine to be true.

There are 16 slots and only 8 variables. You can assign multiple variables to a single slot, or you can assign a single variable to multiple slots. You can assign that single variable to successive slots or not. Here is an example:

Assume each variable requires either 30 minutes or 1 hour to complete, except W, which takes 8; E, which takes 2; and F, which takes 2. That leaves 4 hours for G, L, R, S, and T. Because there are 4 hours left to do five things, two of those things must be 30-minute tasks. You might determine a rule to be: If I play tennis for one hour, I do not eat in the hour that immediately follows. If you assign the first slot to Tennis, then Eat cannot occupy the second slot.

Depending on the travel time required for each of these tasks, you may need to add another variable, C (commute) and adjust the rules of your spread.

With a spread like this, “busy” has no place. You do not need to eat and study at the same time (create a rule that says Eat and Study cannot take up the same time on your spread), which can lead to cold food, sauce-stained books, and the feeling of time pressure. You do not need to panic that you haven’t spent enough time with your family—you will know exactly how much time you spent with your family (and it might be more than you give yourself credit for, Guilty Gil).

With this more formal relationship with time, you won’t find your hours slipping by unnoticed. You will know where you are in space at designated times, and any variation of dealing in some way with a meeting (attending a meeting, having a meeting cancelled, waiting for a meeting to begin), or other variable whose fixity is largely dependent upon others, won’t hemorrhage into your future time slots, causing a massive temporal clean-up and readjustment of variables. No one has time for that.

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– Kaitlin Puccio

To Have A Life, Automate Your Life

I thought I had reached wardrobe equilibrium the last time I cleaned out my closet. Apparently not. As I filled the second bag with clothes to give away, I wondered how I still had so much.

How had I accumulated all these shoes? How many shirts do I really need? How many more times will I edit my closet before I actually reach wardrobe equilibrium?

The problem, I realized, was that my wardrobe seemed to be connected in a strange way to my work: The more projects I had on my plate, the more streamlined I was trying to make my life outside of work. This meant being able to go into my closet and pick out anything knowing that it would be appropriate, look good, and reflect my style without wasting any thoughts on it. My closet editing wasn’t just about getting rid of things—it was about my ability to work efficiently, which meant minimizing the attention paid to anything external.

Here are a few ways you can streamline your life outside of work so you can actually have the life you want outside of work.

1) Unsubscribe from all emails.

A few weeks ago I expressed to a friend my shock at how many emails I had received overnight. I was surprised when he replied, “How many of them were newsletters?”

As much as it would be nice to think that for every ten emails I receive only one needs an actual reply, I am subscribed to precisely zero newsletters. When I do receive one that I haven’t actually subscribed to, I unsubscribe immediately before deleting.

If you find yourself deleting newsletters, offers, etc. every morning because you are overwhelmed by their existence, start unsubscribing. Keep a reading list instead. It is possible to keep your inbox manageable if you opt out of all the excess.

2) Eat the same thing.

If you have a good variety of foods in your rotation, you won’t get sick of them, you won’t miss out on things you need, and you won’t spend time wondering what to eat.

You can be flexible even if you prepare your meals in advance like I do. Have everything chopped, sliced, and cooked for the week so that you can mix things as you feel like having them.

Spend some time figuring out what you need in your diet, and what is important to you (Free-range, vegetarian fed chicken? Milk from growth hormone-free cows? Soy-free everything?) and find brands that match your values. You can clean up your schedule and your diet at the same time.

3) Stick to your routine.

If you leave room for decisions during the day, you are likely to waffle. Have a morning and an evening routine.

If you have tea every night before you brush your teeth, wash your face, and lay out your clothes, you will waste less time than if you decide to brush your teeth at some point before you go to bed while walking back and forth to see snippets of the show you don’t really care about on TV.

Just know that for ten minutes every night after tea, you brush your teeth, wash your face, and lay out your clothes, and there will be no thought wasted about how you are too tired to do any of it and just want to watch TV. Procrastination has never been good for the time-conscious.

4) Edit your wardrobe.

You make enough decisions during the day. Do you really want to stare at a bunch of clothes that don’t really look good together, and don’t really look good on you?

You don’t need a lot of clothes, you just need the right clothes. If you have an outfit that you only wear on days you want to look your best, get more clothes like that. You should aim to look your best every day, and looking your best shouldn’t take a lot of brainpower. Find what works and do it more. Get rid of the rest.

It doesn’t mean having a boring closet—it means being excited about what you’re wearing each day. It also doesn’t mean wearing the same thing every day so you don’t have to think about it. If you can pick out anything and know it is a good choice, no thinking is required.

5) Go paperless.

This is good for so many reasons. Aside from the ink cartridges and paper saved, you won’t have stacks of papers waiting to be filed, or unopened mail burdening your soul. While you should keep a copy of certain important documents, you should also keep your paperwork to a minimum.

There are few legitimate reasons to have twelve filing cabinets full of papers you haven’t seen in twenty years—and when you go looking for the one you do need, how much time do you spend trying to find it?

Often we are faced with a task that makes us wish we had an assistant. Wouldn’t it be nice if someone could pay our bills, bringing us a stack of checks already filled out that just need to be reviewed and signed?

Even if there is no assistant to delegate to, you can still “delegate” to a third party by setting all your bills to autopay. You should still check them for errors as they come in, but you can save a lot of time by just monitoring.

Same thing for grocery shopping. Sure there are some things that you may want to buy fresh, but for the most part, grocery delivery services are a great way to save yourself time.

You’ll need to do some research up front to find one that fits what you are looking for, but it will pay off. Plus, if you eat the same thing, your orders will start to look the same (with a few tweaks to keep it interesting), and you can reorder without even needing to create a new shopping list.

Some of these things may not seem like they are even worth a second thought. That’s exactly the point—they’re not. Automate as much as possible so that you can focus on things that are worth your attention, and you might even find that you have—gasp—downtime.

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– Kaitlin Puccio

Productivity Physics

You know the feeling, right? Emails are flying, your phone is ringing, things are happening. By 10pm you’ve gotten what feels like a week’s worth of work done. And strangely, you want to do more. That last email that comes in that thwarts your Inbox:0 goals. Or one minor administrative task on your To Do list that you really don’t want to leave until tomorrow, but which will definitely take some brain power to complete. And so, you either press on, or you go to bed with your mind racing.

The next day, you feel like you haven’t slept in a decade. You can barely answer one email without losing focus, and everything you put into motion yesterday is piling up again on your desk.

What happened? Work inertia.

I remember studying for a science exam when I was in middle school, and memorizing definitions. I never forgot the definition of inertia, because it sounded lyrical in my head: The tendency of an object to resist change in motion. I experience inertia every day, but I am never more aware of it than when I fall victim to work inertia. Here is what I learned about the physics of productivity.

1) Time

If you love waking up early, working efficiently, and blasting through your To Do list, you need to give yourself time to unwind. While it’s usually not a good idea to leave until tomorrow what you can do today, sometimes that one last thing really should be left for tomorrow. If you’ve been spinning all day and feel a bit hyper as bedtime approaches, stop working. Start shutting down around thirty minutes before sleeping to give yourself time to come to a stop.

2) Space

Even if you do give yourself time, it means nothing without space. If you’re spending the thirty minutes before bed reading a book, but are really just moving your eyes over sentences while you think about work, you’re not giving yourself the mental space you need to shut down. If your mind is still racing when you try to sleep, you will probably have a restless sleep. The next day, all those brilliant thoughts you had will fall away, because you will be too tired to do anything about them.

3) Frame of Reference

At the end of a busy day, there are two steps to giving yourself mental space. First, definitively decide that you are done working. Don’t waffle. This will only contribute to decision fatigue and a lot of wasted minutes. Second, zoom out. Take a look at what you’ve put in motion and what is still waiting to be put in motion. This will help you synthesize your day, and organize and prioritize for the next day. If you have a plan for tomorrow, it might be easier to mentally let go of what you didn’t finish today.

If you keep work inertia in check, you’ll find that you come to rest more easily, so that you can start again refreshed.

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– Kaitlin Puccio

How To Reach Your Personal Goals When You Have Zero Time

No matter how productive you are at work, you might feel stagnant. If you’re burning out, the things you once loved doing might start to feel like another thing on your To Do list. You might be too exhausted by the end of the week to spend thirty minutes learning Spanish—especially because it requires mental effort and discipline. But then you might become frustrated that you’re not improving your language skills. You start to feel down—just as another email comes in.

While it may seem counterintuitive, when you have absolutely no spare time there are a few things you might need to add to your schedule. Yes, you may need to add to your overload to give yourself a break—but don’t add just to add. Follow these three steps to do it right.

Step One: Find a mindless hobby.

You’ll want to find a hobby that is engaging enough to keep you from thinking about all the work you’re not doing, but which doesn’t require mental energy. It should be something entirely different from what you work on all day. It should also be something that isn’t a huge time commitment. Until you’ve gotten things under control, you probably really don’t have time to commit, and choosing a mindless hobby that requires a solid hour on a Wednesday night could lead to abandoning the process altogether.

My mindless hobby is baking. This is not the time to create new recipes or take on a daunting new kind of cake that requires beating eggs three different ways. When I bake to give myself a rest, I follow a simple recipe that keeps my hands busy and my mind free. The oven does most of the work. Sometimes I get creative with the decorating, but most of the time I make something that doesn’t require a lot of prep or clean up—because who has time for that?

The key here is to use what little downtime you have to give yourself an actual break—and don’t feel guilty about being mindless instead of learning Spanish. This is only step one.

Step Two: Work efficiently.

If your mindless hobby did its job, you’ll feel like you’ve gotten a decent mental break. Getting back to work will be slightly easier with a clearer, refreshed head. Luckily, finding those first thirty minutes was the hardest part.

After stepping back from work, you’ll be able to refocus and work more efficiently. You will find that your work performance gets better after having time away. Greater efficiency over time will lead to more mindless hobbying, which will lead to greater mental clarity and efficiency. One way to focus yourself: If you think a task will take you one hour to complete, give yourself thirty minutes to complete it. Keep working on the task with the same amount of focus until it’s complete after thirty minutes, and you’ll probably find that you don’t need the full hour.

Will you be able to take on the job of three people in the first week? No. It’s a process. But it’s a process that benefits from the snowball effect, and if you stick with it, you’ll find that you have time and energy for that language textbook/dust collector.

Step Three: Realize your ultimate goal.

You’ve been baking up a storm, giving top performance at work, and feel less mentally bogged down overall. But when will you finally stop feeling stagnant? Wade through the spiderwebs on that Spanish book. It’s time.

Start with fifteen minutes. It’s a short amount of time, so you might not think you can get anything done in fifteen minutes. You can. The short time period will focus you right away, and your mind won’t wander because every minute counts.

Plus, if you are mentally drained, fifteen minutes won’t seem like such a tall order. Starting is the hardest. Thinking about starting makes starting even harder. Don’t waste mental energy thinking about what you’re not doing and how much you want to do it.

Adopting a mindless hobby will give you mental space that will allow you to approach work differently, and will leave you with enough time and energy to incorporate into your schedule something that will make you feel less stagnant. Adding the right things to your full schedule can reduce your burnout and help you reach your goals.

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– Kaitlin Puccio

A Formula for Decision-Making Without Anxiety

In business (and life), it’s easy to start overanalyzing when you’re making a critical decision or trying to plan your next steps. This often yields more stress than answers. A four-step process can help you find your answer without thinking yourself in circles. 

1) Gather all the information.

You may be tempted to come to a conclusion as soon as you are faced with a question. Oftentimes, this backfires. If you try to find answers before gathering all the information, you might wind up rethinking your decision at a later date when new information pops up.

Much of the time we don’t even know what information is out there to gather. If it feels like you are faced with an impossible decision, you may not have gathered all the information. Talk to your contacts. Make contacts who will talk to you. Ask questions. Ask broad questions if you don’t know where to begin, just to get people talking. You’ll probably be surprised by how much you’ll learn just by letting people talk.

2) Stop listening to people.

At some point you will have gathered so much information that it feels like there is simply no more room for mental input. If, when you talk to people, you are finding that you are analyzing their information based on your other research and forming confident opinions about it, you’ve probably gathered enough information. It’s time to stop listening to people when they start telling you what you should be doing, because you now have enough information to decide for yourself.

3) Think for yourself.

Think time is important. Sort through the information you’ve gathered without trying to form a conclusion. Mentally eliminate any information that doesn’t mesh with your goals. It’s likely that before you start actively thinking about everything you’ve learned, you will have already started synthesizing in the back of your mind. The decision-making process will feel less fraught with anxiety and mental blocks if you give yourself space to process independently.

4) Talk to people about your decision.

Once you’ve organized your thoughts and have a general direction, talk to people again. This group of people might include family, friends, and trusted advisors who have your best interests at heart. Present the information you’ve gathered and communicate how it informed your decision. Then listen to the opinions of others. Consider all advice alongside the results of your own think time.

You may be surprised by how naturally you reach a decision after following these steps.

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– The Editors

Four Waffles and a Pancake

It all fell into place when my doctor asked me if I lost weight after going gluten-free. Two distinct experiences popped into my head: one when I was in high school, and one when I was in college.

I used to bring a sandwich with me for lunch every day in high school. But eventually, even though I was hungry by the time lunch rolled around, I couldn’t stomach it. I tried to eat it—slowly, breaking off smaller and smaller pieces because I felt less sick if I only had to swallow small amounts of food at a time. I didn’t notice what was happening until weeks had passed. I just kept thinking that the sick feeling would go away, and tried to ignore it.

After school I usually had a snack. One afternoon I was feeling particularly ravenous, so I made myself two waffles. I wasn’t satisfied, so I made two more. Why I thought I could double my usual waffle intake I do not know, but I did, and I finished those two waffles also. But I didn’t feel full. I found a leftover pancake in the fridge and ate that too. It was more fear that made me stop eating than actually feeling full. Four waffles and a pancake? Something was wrong. That’s when I realized how little I had been eating in the previous weeks. That sick feeling never went away.

I was losing weight. Often I wanted to eat, but couldn’t. A well-meaning but ill-informed teacher of mine accused me of being anorexic. That certainly didn’t help things.

The sick feeling did eventually go away. I don’t remember when, or how. But it came back one day, years later, in college.

I used to have tomato and fresh mozzarella on ciabatta bread in the NYU dining hall whenever I could. I loved that sandwich. Everything was fresh and flavorful. Even the texture of the ciabatta was perfect. I looked forward to that sandwich whenever I knew I would be eating on campus.

One afternoon I met a friend for lunch. On campus! Tomato mozzarella ciabatta! I ordered, paid, sat down, and ripped open the tinfoil that stood between me and my sandwich. The first bite.

As I was chewing, that sick feeling came back. All at once. I put the sandwich down, thinking it would pass. Nothing would come between me and my sandwich. But I didn’t take another bite. I felt too sick. Thirty minutes later, as I walked to class, hungry, I wondered what had happened.

I didn’t connect these experiences until that day in the doctor’s office years later, after having been diagnosed with celiac disease and eliminating gluten from my diet. My beloved sandwiches had been making me sick in high school, and they had been making me sick in college. Sick to the point where I couldn’t eat. Sick to the point where my already thin frame shrank.

And it makes me wonder: How many people are misdiagnosed with eating disorders who are, in reality, affected in this way by celiac disease? How many people develop eating disorders because of how food makes them feel—physically at first, and then mentally, when it stops making sense?

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– Kaitlin Puccio

Intestinal Fortitude

Sometimes, for me, having food restrictions isn’t a big deal. It is what it is. I wouldn’t “kill for a piece of bread.” I mostly cook at home, and mostly stick to the same types of foods. Generally I’m not tempted by foods outside my norm, like sweets, because I feel better when I stay away from them.

It took months of slowly transitioning different foods into and out of my diet to find my equilibrium. For example, I’ve been gluten-free for years, but only in the past year have I started changing other parts of my diet. First came the switch from dairy milk to dairy-free milk when I realized that I was intolerant. Then all dairy products followed with the exception of cheese. I love cheese, and have not given it up completely, but I did take a hard look at the type of cheese I was eating, and how often.

I’ve always seen cheese as a treat. A good cheese plate makes me disproportionately happy. But that wasn’t the type of cheese I was eating. I was eating the type that lasts for almost a year in the package, with lots of ingredients that don’t sound edible, and which doesn’t taste like cheese. So, I stopped.

With every change I made—which included not only eliminating foods, but adding foods and being picky about their origins and journey to my plate—I felt a little better. My workouts were better, my mind was clearer. I was even pleasantly surprised when I went out to dinner and requested steamed vegetables, a plain baked potato, and steak, “with nothing on any of it—no salt, no spices, zero, nothing, just the food itself, totally plain,” that my request was honored. It may seem bland, but the taste of food itself, when totally unmasked, it quite astounding.

But then. After weeks, months of me swapping foods, perfecting my meal plans and prep, and reaching maximum efficiency such that I never even thought about what to purchase or what to cook, having food restrictions became a big deal.

As nice as it had been to be in my little food bubble, sometimes you have meals with people, and sometimes those people are business contacts. Maybe those contacts are interviewing you for a position over lunch. There are some times when you just don’t want to spend twelve minutes detailing your dietary restrictions to the waiter. My plain-eating regimen was working well for me, and whenever I strayed, I felt unwell. As if lactose were angry with me for giving it up, and got its revenge with even the slightest amount of cream in my soup. But in order to maintain my plain eating standards, even if I order the plainest thing on the menu, I might still spend twelve minutes grilling the waiter about how it’s made and with what.

This is where “intestinal fortitude” comes into play, particularly for celiacs, who must be diligent and insistent about making sure their meal is uncontaminated. Quite literally, the physical intestinal fortitude of celiacs is directly related to their mental intestinal fortitude. Courage, stamina. Guts. How fitting.

No matter what your food restriction is, there will likely come a time when your intestinal fortitude will wane. Just remember to listen to your gut (okay, I know, I couldn’t help it), because your health should always be your priority, even when it’s inconvenient, and difficult, and you wish it weren’t so.

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– Kaitlin Puccio

Six Ways to Fit Days

freeimages.com/izellebakkerFitness is an important part of my life, not only for my physical health, but also for mental clarity. But with a busy schedule, going to the gym may not always seem like a priority. Here is how I stay healthy, and fit everything in without sacrificing sleep.

1) Make it a priority.

There is no doubt that our schedules get busier every year. Between time spent at work and time spent with family, there seems to be little time for me-time. But just as work and family are priorities, your health should be a priority, and a large part of that depends on staying fit. Don’t want to live out your days down the road in a nursing home, or be too frail to run around with your grandchildren? Staying fit can help prevent that.

2) Change it up.

My routine isn’t very routine. I make sure to balance strength exercises with endurance training, and always stretch after my muscles are warm. And I don’t mean touch my toes for ten counts. I mean splits, back bends, and calf stretches against the wall for thirty minutes. Short muscles will make me tight. Cross-training is also important. I regularly run, bike, and do ballet, but I also play tennis, take aerial classes, ballroom dance, and practice Pilates to make sure that I’m using different muscles in different ways and keeping my body alert.

3) Get enough rest.

Sleeping enough at night and allowing your body rest days are just as important as regularly working out. Your body needs time off to prevent injury. Ever go to the gym having only four hours of sleep and with already fatigues muscles? Better make sure your spotter is on his toes. My brother once went to the gym so exhausted that he fell asleep between sets of sit-ups. Your body will tell you what it needs. Listen and oblige.

4) Eat right.

Your body will also tell you what you need nutrition-wise. If you aren’t eating enough carbs, you will feel it. But it will take some time to understand this second type of body language. Only after you start eating right will your body recognize what it’s missing or getting too much of (and I don’t just mean cutting down on the brownies—I mean really knowing how many fruits, vegetables, carbs, fats, proteins, etc. you are consuming, and adjusting it for what you actually need). That doesn’t mean you can never have a brownie, or that you always need to measure your vegetables. Once you adjust to what’s right, any other way will feel unnatural.

5) Have a workout corner.

Do you roll out your muscles while watching TV, but only if the roller is right there? Maybe you always do your ankle exercises with the TheraBand, as long as it’s within reach. But you put your five-pound dumbbells away last spring and haven’t used them since. It’s certainly unsightly to have a pile of exercise equipment anywhere in the house that’s not a gym, but if you need to roll your muscles before bed and will only do it if the roller is right there, there is a solution. Make yourself a little workout corner in whatever room is most practical. If you roll out in front of the TV, put it in the TV room. The equipment will be small—a foam roller, dumbbells, TheraBand, etc. so it won’t be too cumbersome. Place everything in the same corner of the room, and put it back when you are finished using it. Remember when you took toys out of the toy chest in your parents’ living room as a child? Same idea. Everything will be where you need it when you need it, without being unsightly.

6) Don’t buy into the myths.

Carefully consider the beliefs you have about fitness and nutrition. Where do they come from? How do you know they are accurate? If you want to be the master of your own fitness and health, there will be some research to do. Think about things that you might not even think you need to consider. Are you doing push-ups correctly? How did you learn? If you aren’t doing them properly, you aren’t doing much good. Think you can’t be a runner because you’re a ballet dancer? Find out where that idea came from, why, and whether it’s true for your body before you write off running.

It may seem impossible, but getting and staying healthy doesn’t require a lot. Even if you start by working out one day per week, it’s better than doing absolutely nothing. Start small and build up. Soon it will become a regular part of your schedule—and you might find that even though you’re doing more in your day, you’re more focused and productive at work and have more energy for your family.

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– Kaitlin Puccio

Three Tips For Cleaning Out Clothes and Books

Two things I tend to accumulate most are clothing and books. Having so many of each doesn’t fit well with my personality—I prefer to be more minimalist. I would rather own a few that I really love than own a whole pile that is just okay. But since I love both fashion and books, I find it hard to let go. There is a lot of literature on how to clear out clutter, and I’ve certainly tried many tactics. Here are three tips for cleaning out and maintaining both bookshelves and closets that work for me.

1) First, ask yourself if you love it.

Books:

If you hold a book in your hands and remember how the last time you held it in your hands was the fifth time you read it, it’s probably a favorite that you’ll read again and again throughout your life. The great thing about books is that the good ones aren’t over after you’ve finished reading the last page. Every time you read a good book you will gain something new from it. Identify these books and keep them.

Clothes (and shoes and accessories):

There may be clothes in your closet that you love but never wear because you love them. It may seem strange, but I’ve done this before. I will buy a dress that I think is untouchable, so it sits sadly in my closet getting wrinkled, it’s gleaming title of “favorite dress” draped glumly across its hanger. Don’t just keep these. If they’re still a favorite, wear them.

2) Focus on what to keep, not what to give up.

Books:

It’s hard for me to get rid of books, even if I didn’t like them or know I’m not going to read them again (or ever). But I had so many books that I wasn’t reading any that I really wanted to read. I acquired books from work, friends, family, etc. So I made a list of all the books that I owned, then identified the books that I was excited to read and would buy right then if I didn’t have it already. I kept those books, started reading them, and sold the rest. If I ever want to read a book that I sold, I consult my list, and find it in the library.

Clothes:

It will be hard when you come across clothes that you recall excitedly buying and see that the tags are still on. It makes sense to think that if you haven’t worn it yet, you never will. Before convincing yourself to say “Farewell fair fabric,” consider whether you never wore it because your closet is jammed full with clothes that you do wear, but don’t like. Once you get rid of things you don’t actually want to wear, the things that you do will appear. If you want to keep something, keep it. It’s the other things that need tossing.

I may not be sure if I want to get rid of something, but I’m always sure if I want to keep something. If I vacillate at all, it goes. It seems to me that when I ask myself if I want to get rid of something, I lean toward keeping it. But when I ask myself if I want to keep something, my answer seems more objective.

3) Clean out in layers.

Books:

The first book that I decided to sell was a big step. It took days for me to choose one. As soon as I decided to sell it, the sell pile grew to about 100 books in three minutes. I had to break through the keep-all-books inertia. But after 100 books, the momentum stopped. I had gotten rid of the books that I definitely didn’t want on my shelves.

But there were still books that I didn’t definitely want to keep, but didn’t definitely want to give away. I took a break, then went back at it for round two. This time I was in a different mindset. I was dealing with a different category of books—a second layer. I considered each book. If it wasn’t a definite keep—for whatever reason—it went.

Clothes:

In times of stress or extreme change, I tend to clean my closet. Sometimes that means cleaning out, and sometimes that means just rearranging, refolding, and neatening. It gives my hands something to do while my mind clears itself and rests. This means that nothing in my closet goes untouched or unnoticed for years at a time, even if it just gets moved around. Anything with irreparable holes gets weeded out.

I infrequently buy new clothes because I only buy things that I love (not so easy to find!). When I do buy a new piece, I take an inventory of the existing pieces in my closet. I’ll quickly notice the shirts that look old, the jeans that are frayed, and the shoes that are clearly worn out. It looks shocking compared to my new wardrobe piece. Those items are immediately removed from my closet, and I’ll take note of what I need to replace, such as a black sweater. Maybe a few days later I’ll return to my closet, motivated by my miniature clean-out, and go through the rest. Round two: the not-so-obviously clutter.

Very infrequently do I need to do an intense belongings-purge. I simply don’t have a lot of room to begin with. But I do find that I can keep a surprising amount of clothing and books in a small space, and applying these three tips has helped me stay on top of my accumulation rather than be buried by it. I now only acquire books and clothes that I unwaveringly love, keeping my shelves and hangers pristine—and my mind uncluttered.

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– Kaitlin Puccio