Let it begin | 4 Ways To Dominate the Back-to-School Shuffle

I spent today hunched over my computer as I dredged through a backlog of email so impressive I could star in my own episode of Hoarders: Buried Alive – Virtual Edition.

Classy.

I’m doing my best to get caught up before school starts and all hell breaks loose. If you’ve followed along, you probably know that I’ll be student teaching this fall. I’m also taking on the new and terrifying exciting role of adjunct professor and will be teaching my first college class starting in September. Added to my responsibilities at church, family and friends that I’d like to see occasionally, and a weekend class on study skills for elementary school aged children, I have a lot on my plate.

Whether your fall consists of 937 jobs or running kids to soccer, ballet, and piano lessons, it is traditionally a time of change and chaos. Here are 4 ways to fight back.

1. Get Organized

You know I love my planner, but the paper thing isn’t for everyone. Organization, however, is no joke. Preparation isn’t just about knowing what is going to happen. Preparation means controlling what you can so that the uncontrollables in your life don’t derail you. If you’d rather go the techie route, you can use Google Calendars or apps like Any.do to track your tasks, appointments, and responsibilities.

For my self-employed or freelance readers, try an app like Timesheet – Time Tracker to track your hours and make billing a breeze. I used this app to track my students when I was a tutor and it was incredibly easy to use. Best of all, it’s free!

2. Take the Stress out of Dinner

Picture this – it’s been a long day. You were 3 minutes late picking up princess from math team because the little mister’s ballroom dance classes ran over (that’s right ballroom dance, you got a problem with that?) and now she won’t stop giving you lip about how you abandoned her and how damaged she’ll be forever. While you practice  deep breathing and try not to reach out and show her just how damaged she could be, it suddenly occurs to you that you still have to figure out what to feed the ankle-biters. Grrrr…

The Resourceful Gals have an ingenious system for making dinner time a snap by doing a whole month’s worth of planning at once. It takes a bit of work to set up, but it could save you some serious time (and money!) in the long run.

3. Don’t be a Morning Person

People who try to wake me up in the morning do so at their own risk. No joke, it’s not pretty. I’m barely able to function, let alone achieve any level productivity before my first (and second) cup of coffee. Add in the stress of breakfast, backpacks, and bus stops and I’m super glad the only person I have to get out the door in the morning is me.

To preempt some of the morning chaos, try a bedtime checklist. Lay out your clothes, fill the coffee pot, make sure your keys are hung up, and get your bag ready for the next day. Give the kiddos a fun bedtime ritual that includes making sure they have that elusive red folder and that lunches are packed. 

This adorable checklist from The Gunny Sack can be put in a picture frame so that little ones can check off items with a dry erase marker before heading off to the land of nod. Everyone sleeps a little easier and mornings aren’t as traumatic.

Picking out your clothes the night before also prevents that morning panic when you realize that your favorite blouse is in the dirty clothes or that you never sewed the button back on to your trousers. *Gasp*

4. Break down your To Do’s.

The real danger of a busy life (besides collapsing from exhaustion) is forgetting things in the fray. Enter, beautiful, glorious lists. Besides the standard grocery or to-do variety, lists are a great way to plan out long-term projects.

Start by determining your goal, project, or task and listing the steps required to meet it. Assign a due date, then work backward to figure out when the steps each need to be completed. That way, when life picks up, you don’t have to worry about large deadlines creeping up on you.

I have 20 artifacts to complete for my internship, on top of lesson plans, graded papers, and band practices. The completed packet isn’t due until January, but it’s much too large of a project to put off until the winter months. Instead, I have deadlines every two weeks, or so, to keep me on track so that I roll into the new year (relatively) stress free.

If the kiddos have huge projects coming up (science fair, anyone?) breakdown their tasks into manageable chunks. If they spend an hour every week working on the monstrous project, you won’t have to stay up the night before it’s due gluing letters on a cardboard backdrop (yeah, I’ve been there too.)

Happy Back to School!

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One Year with a Planner, Still no Plan | Plum Paper Year 2

It’s been a year since I started using my Plum Paper planner. I think I fall more in love with it every day.

I mean, I have a completely reasonable relationship with this inanimate object…cause that would be weird.

When I first introduced you to my planner in November, I’d already been using it for a few months. Since then, I’ve streamlined my system. I spend a little more time prepping each week (which I love doing, because I’m a little nuts like that), but the day-to-day usage requires much less effort (and I don’t have to carry around a pack of highlighters).

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I focus less on making sure everything is color coded, and more on adding visual interest to a flat page. It’s a little thing, but I tend to think in shapes and colors, so the prettier it is, the more likely I am to use it consistently. My pages are divided into thirds to designate time, but the bottom section has become the place for notes and reminders. I use the top two sections as a record of my day both for planning and reflection. It sounds silly to go back and record where you were or what you had for dinner after it has already happened, but I’ve found it to be really helpful, especially when trying to keep track of correspondence. The dealership told you the part would be available in 2 weeks, but was that last week, or the week before? Now you know.

Important, exciting, or time-consuming tasks are blocked out in washi tape at the beginning of the week (or when they are scheduled). I write daily tasks in my favorite blue pen.


Side note: At first, I was scared to put things in my planner that might change. I mean, what’s the point of getting excited about something that might not even happen? But here’s the thing, dear ones. Life changes. It just does. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t anticipate. For a while, I lost hope in the future. Slowly, but surely, I’m taking it back.


Planner 2I’ve added some new sections in this year’s planner! Besides a dedicated blogging section in the back, I also opted for an extra notes page, a checklist page, and a monthly bill tracker. It’s nice to see all the bills listed together and I can check them off as they are paid, record current credit card balances, and decide whether I need to adjust my due dates. Since each week and each day have built in checklists, I can make a master monthly list on the checklist pages and then assign tasks to specific weeks and days. This way I don’t lose track of the things I need to do, but I also don’t get overwhelmed with a huge list staring at me all the time.

As I’ve said before, and will continue to say until into perpetuity, planners are deeply personal. Find what works for you, don’t let anyone tell you what your system should be, and don’t be afraid to adjust as you go.

Here’s to the organized life; may we all find it someday…

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day 14 | Climbing Kilimanjaro

I get deeply invested in (read: obsessed with) Vacation Bible School. 2015 marks my 5th consecutive year as the Pre-Primary Director (3-5 year olds). During my tenure, I’ve learned more than a few things about coordinating a week’s worth of lessons, crafts, and activities. To get through the week without pulling my hair out, organization is the key.

All a girl needs is a really organized binder, a large coffee, a pinch of faith, and a Master Plan.

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1) Master Plan: I start in Microsoft Excel and make a skeleton that holds all the information I need. Then I fill in each section, and when it’s done, I have a plan for the week! Of course, you know what they say, “A plan is a point from which to deviate.”

Isn’t it glorious?

Times are listed and the shaded box is to remind me that Thursday is Water Day (dun dun duhhhhh) which means chaos will erupt. I keep a copy of the plan in the binder and post additional copies around the classrooms so that my helpers can easily see what the next activity will be.

20150514_1055112) The curriculum book is full of all kinds of awesome things, but the workbook style of it makes it hard to organize. I spent way too much time flipping through the pages trying to stay on the right day. To solve this problem, I pulled out my handy-dandy paper-cutter, removed the staples from the binding, and sliced the pages free.

3) Order is key! This is how my binder is set up.

Master Plan
VBS Rules Sheet
Parent Info Sheet
Curriculum Book Intro Pages

Day Divider (5 total)
Coloring Sheet Master Copies
Daily Puppet Script
Discovery Center and Craft Cards
Daily Curriculum

4) Parent Communication is a huge part of our success. Between our “No Parents” policy and getting ready for water day, we have a lot to explain! I can’t be sure that in the craziness, I’ll get face to face time with each parent, so we send home announcements with the kids. Here’s my cute African themed sheet for this year!

VBS-Parents

This way, I can circumvent some of the my-kid-isn’t-prepared-because-you-didn’t-tell-me nonsense. I do get parents who are offended that they can’t sit with little Johnny or Susie in class and let me know that they’ll go where they please. A very diplomatic, “I understand, but my primary job is to ensure the safety of all of our campers, including Johnny/Susie,” usually cuts it. If not, I can bring out the big guns with, “I understand if you need to remove your Johnny/Susie from the class, but these are the rules, and they aren’t going to change.

A new strategy for the ones that think it’s cool to yell at me comes from my sweet friend Kristi, “Okay, but you’re yelling. Why don’t we talk about it?”

5) This year, I’m trying something new. For each Discovery Center and Craft, I made a card that has the instructions and all the necessary materials. This way, I can just hand them off to a helper and there is no need to micromanage everything that’s happening in my classroom! I formatted them in Microsoft word, and printed them on cardstock for durability.

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day 2 – We need a list, and other shenanigans

Tell me what is more satisfying than the kind of exhaustion that comes after a day of accomplishment. I dare you. On a recent Saturday, just before my mom headed out of town on a business trip, we had one such day. In an effort to encourage each other to complete all of the small tasks that get shuffled from list to list, we tackled them together, discovering that indeed, the whole is greater than the sum of it’s parts.

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09:17 – Mom says, “We need a list.” I smile in idiot-like glee.
09:18 – Armed with multi-colored pens, a protractor, and graph paper , we develop 3 lists: Out and About, Outside, and Inside. Each list has three items, satisfying my need for parallelism.
09:58 – Mom adds a 10th item. I fear the imbalance may cause a rift in spacetime.
10:04 – After deciding to do the out of the house errands first, we prepare to leave. But first: we’re going to need a picture-hanging kit later in the day, and are unsure if we’ll need to pick one up. A brief search commences.
10:10 – Picture-hanging materials secured.
10:13 – Actual departure time. We congratulate ourselves on our alacrity.
SUV
10:17 – We realize we failed to bring the schematic of our garden, which we’ll need to purchase seeds. We double back.
SUV10:20 – We depart, more humbly.
10:43 – Arrive at the bank. I need to close my checking account and am told to sit in a waiting area and wait for a personal banker. There are two customers ahead of me. Mom (an accountant) wanders off to find things to look at. I
81c+oaASK6L._SY355_contemplate the wisdom of letting a numbers person loose in a bank. She returns with pamphlets on investing and seems pleased with herself.
10:53 – My turn! A nice woman named “Teri” tries to convince me to keep my account. I am resolute!
10:57 – Success!
11:06 – Arrive at the pharmacy. I need to pick up a prescription and change my insurance information. I’m convinced that there will be some kind of interrogation or alien probe. Mom is there for backup.
11:22 – The irony that it takes longer to change insurance than close a bank account strikes me. I feel this is societally indicative.
11:26 – Arrive at the seed store. (Mostly) resist the urge to look at baby chickens. We need 17 varieties. Seeds, not chickens. Unable to reach/see the seeds near the ground, I sit down on the floor while Mom rolls her eyes at me.
11:45 – We decide Rosemary may, in fact, be a tree and head for the register.
11:50 – Coffee stop. Obviously.
12:12 – We congratulate ourselves on a productive outing, and our ability to go door to door in under two hours. Apparently, the humility was short-lived. Heat up Smart Ones for lunch and revel in smug sense of healthy.
12:48 – Wardrobe change, time for outside. Tackle fall leaves from last 10 years. Smugness wears off.
13:07 – Decide a leaf blower is the best way to handle this situation.
13:10 – Fend off attacks from homicidal extension cord.
14:15 – Leaves wrangled and ready for burning, it’s time to plant our garden. This is the first year we’ve planted a eatable garden. I’d like a word with whoever decided that carrot seed should be microscopic.
veggies14:53 – Open burning doesn’t start until after 4, so we head inside. Hang the aforementioned picture in the dining room in manner of experienced handymen. Smugness returns.
15:10 – Finally put away the last of the Christmas decorations. Whatever.
15:31 – Instigate non-list project of toilet paper roll corral. Mom will be relieved when Vacation Bible School is over and I stop collecting supplies. Until then, we’re the world’s weirdest hoarders. Time to work on deck building permit.
15:35 – Clean kitchen.
15:40 – Mom whines about permit. I insist we actually do it.
15:41 – Mild whining.
15:43 – Slightly more vigorous whining.
15:46 – Begin work on permit. Not as bad as she thought.
16:41 – Head outside to take measurements. Stuart decides to put on a show and rolls around in dirt in adorable fashion.
17:04 – Burn leaves. Pile the size of Buick becomes small pile of ash. Smugness is overwrought by exhaustion.
18:30 – Abandon Mom with small amount of remaining leaves to make dinner and treat sunburn. Everyone sleeps well tonight.

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Banner Photo Credit: JD Hancock

Monday Musings: of vocabulary lessons, office overboard, and a world of nope…

Happy Monday!

1) My mom and I spend a lot of time together. I mean, a lot. Which means we talk a lot. So much, in fact, that it’s a wonder that we have anything to talk about anymore. I guess the secret is talking about really inane things. At a recent dinner out, we were discussing…I dunno, something. The conversation took a nerdy turn:

Me: So they feel ostracized?
Mom: No, just left out, there is no…
Me:…
Mom: I don’t want to say ostracizing, but I can’t think of what it should be.
Me: Ostracization?
Mom: I don’t think that’s a word. I don’t know the noun form.

Out come the smartphones, of course for a Google search.

It’s totally ostracization, by the way…

2) In an effort to supplement my income, I’ve started doing office work for a friend who has a business headquartered in her home office. My first task has been to scan an ENORMOUS box of documents, receipts, invoices, bills, and statements into a computerized filing system. That, of course, isn’t good enough for me, and I felt the need to organize the chaos as well.

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Just when I had my compulsiveness under control. Oy.

I’m really enjoying it, maybe too much. I love to organize and sort and set up systems. The work is a little mindless at this point, which is completely awesome. As a bonus, you can only scan construction documents for so long before you start to pick things up, so I’ve learned a ton about the construction industry. I’m always up for learning new things!

3) I don’t want to jinx it or anything, but I think spring has sprung!!!!

*cue epic late blizzard*

But seriously, it was finally warm enough today to open the windows and let a little fresh air into the house. Of course, this made me want to clean (what else?!). First stop: laundry. Because, you know, it takes the longest and I can do other stuff while it runs.

Off I go to load the washer and in the bottom of my laundry basket I find THE. BIGGEST. SPIDER. I’VE. EVER. SEEN. So I did what any normal person would do. I ran away.

Spider Nope

You know what’s worse than finding a spider in your basement? That’s right, losing a spider in your basement.

How important are clean clothes, anyway?

Featured image by FictionChick

Have hot glue, will travel.

I’ve been home for 3 days in a row because of the ridiculous weather we’ve had. We’re two weeks away from the official start of spring and there is 5″ of snow on the ground. Ugh. I’m also holding down the fort for a week while my mom is visiting David & Maggie on the West Coast. So in addition to cabin fever, I’m also an extremely introspective person, alone with her thoughts for a week.

Such potential for bad.

20150306_133152In that spirit, I’ve done my best to stay busy. I have a ton of projects I’ve started, or intended to start, but never got around to finishing. One such project: sorting, purging, and organizing the contents of my closet. With weight loss and finally unpacking from my move (4 years ago *shame*), I have tons of things that no longer fit or are no longer my style. Buh-bye!

Tell me if you’ve heard this one: you hang up all of your clothes in the closet. In defiance, they slide right off the hangers, onto the floor. You then hulk out in frustration and demolish a small village. There are angry villagers and pitchforks involved and your weekend gets way more interesting than you planned.

Solution: hot glue. Seriously.

Simply apply a bead of glue along the top edge of each plastic hanger and it becomes instantly non-slip. Voila!

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A couple notes on hot glue:

  1. The name is not a misnomer. This stuff is hot, so this isn’t really a kid-friendly project.
  2. The glue cools really fast, so make sure you get it where you want it, and nowhere else.
  3. This isn’t exactly a permanent solution. If you’re gentle on the hangers, the glue should last indefinitely, but it may eventually get brittle and start to come off.
  4. Allow the glue gun to cool completely before you put it away, being especially careful around the metal tip.
  5. Don’t have a glue gun of your very own? Please don’t spend a fortune on one. I have a mini high temp glue gun (like this one) It cost me about $3, and I’ve had it for almost 10 years. Unless you need an industrial size gun for some reason, this works beautifully.

Once I got into a rhythm, it didn’t even take that long to get all of my hangers done. Martha Stewart, eat your heart out.

Step 1: Admit you have a problem.

May I just share something with you, without the inevitable scrutiny and eye-rolling? Probably not. I’m going for it anyway. I, Simone, being of sound mind and relatively sound body admit that I did knowingly and with intent spend in excess of 2 hours rearranging the pins on my Pinterest boards. *Shame* But it felt so good. As of press time, I have 1,941 pins on 42 boards. If you’re doing math, that is an average of 46.21 pins per board, a manageable number. Before I reorganized, I had hundreds of pins on fewer boards with generic titles and I couldn’t find anything!!!!!! How did I do it? I’ll tell you: subheadings. Pins HeadboardTake, for example, my board of future home decorating. Instead of 1 board with a whopping 216 pins, I divided it into:

Home, Sweet Home – Floor plans
Indoors, Beautifully – Whole room decorating concepts
Decor and more – Individual decorative elements
Organization and DIY – Pretty self-explanatory
Holidays – Decorating ideas throughout the year

Now my boards are indexed and arranged for maximum efficiency in retrieval. Yeah, I know I have a problem. Here’s one more example. I had a board of references and ideas for my classroom and tutoring students. Now I have all 371 pins sorted by subject matter

Classroom Organization
Ideas and Tips
Earth/Space
Life Science/Biology
Chemistry
Higher Order Thinking
Students with Special Needs
Professional Development
Super Tutor
Vacation Bible School

It sounds crazy, I know, but there is a lesson to be learned here. What in your life is so jumbled and messy that you can’t see your way through? Maybe it’s a relationship issue that needs to be resolved or a closet packed so full you can’t find anything. The task may seem daunting, but the payoff is a sense of peace and accomplishment. Start small, start cleaning out the clutter in your life.

But it’s Color-Coded!!!!

Half a dozen times in the past couple of weeks I’ve been complimented/called out/mocked for the same reason: I carry a paper planner.

In the technological age in which we live, it may seem ridiculous that I tote around a spiral bound, 9×7″, 2″ thick notebook in which my whole life is contained.  I mean, I can’t sync it with anyone and I certainly can’t back it up the cloud, but I love it.  I like seeing my whole week laid out in front of me.  I like using highlighters to classify events and information.  I like taping ticket stubs and photos and thank you notes into the pages to memorialize my time and create a bit of a scrapbook of my year.

It works for me.  Maybe you’re looking for a system to keep everything straight, or maybe you’re going to laugh at my system, in which case, bite me to each their own.

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First, the planner.  Most people assume it’s from Erin Condren.  Truth is, it isn’t.  At $50 a pop, I just couldn’t justify it.  I got mine from Plum Paper, and it is 20141110_134157quite similar, for around $30.  There are options to add additional note pages and stickers and other goodies on both kinds. My planner features a 2-page month spread and then a 2-page spread per week.  Sturdy tabs provide easy navigation from month to month and a note page at the beginning and end of each month is handy for jotting down goals, Christmas lists, or random thoughts.

I’ll warn you, though.  A planner is just a stack of pages unless you have a system by which you keep everything organized. I use colors to separate different tasks, giving me a quick reference when I look at a whole week.  Here’s my breakdown:

Blue – Bills
Pink – Mary Kay Activities
Orange – Church
Green – School
Purple – Work
Yellow – Personal

My average week:

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Don’t panic!! It looks complicated, and it took a little getting used to and a lot of tweaking, but the key to success with this system (or any system, really) is balance.  Too simple, and it doesn’t allow for organization; too complex it’s confusing and hard to keep up.  I have a retroactive process where I go back and fill in events or activities after the fact, if necessary.  My planner acts as a record of what I’ve done, as much as a blueprint of what I’m doing.

The first time A encountered my planner, I thought maybe it would be the end of us.  It’s a lot to take in.  I know this.  But it works for me, and it keeps me from losing my mind when life gets stressful.

What works for you?

If this is going to ruin our friendship, just walk away…

So Emily has this problem….

I call it “Waytoomuch(stuff)ititus”.

Between moving from home to school and back again and trying to keep her ever burgeoning wardrobe under control, she’s in way over her head, and has been lamenting her plight to me all summer.  So last week I finally relented and offered to help.  We each took the day off of work today and started early, tackling the project head on.

Now, in case you’re thinking, “Hey, it’s just her bedroom.  How bad could it possibly be?” I offer you photographic evidence:

Yeah.

Emily prefaced this adventure with the words (no joke), “I’d like us to be friends at the end of this, so if, at any time, you feel like you’re going to hate me forever, just walk away.  I swear I won’t be mad.”

We filled 2 giant trash bags (42 gallons each) an enormous bin for charity and reorganized a ton of stuff. Along the way, we found several humorous and largely unexplainable items.  These are my favorites.

6 hours, 1 pizza, 1,849 bobby pins, and 5 times vacuuming the carpet later, and it looked like this:

I’m good, yeah?

Ultimately, I knew I could do it, but there were definitely moments when I wasn’t so sure.  In case you have a messy space (though hopefully not that messy) that you need to clean, here are my top 6 tips for cleaning and organizing.

6 – Do It…NOW

Set aside a day (or an hour, or a weekend) to clean.  Designate that time and finish the job in one sitting.  If you swear you’ll get back to it, I swear you never will.  Have your meals and snacks delivered or pre-made, so you don’t lose focus making food.  Keep drinks handy so you don’t have to stop.  The name of the game is MOMENTUM!

5 – Prioritize

Think seriously about the things you keep available.  We sorted Emily’s shoes into ones she wears regularly for work or casual wear, and the ones she wears rarely, or seasonally (like boots). Everyday shoes went on a rack in her closet and seldom used shoes went in an organizer under the bed.  This is a good strategy for dealing with anything seasonal, or just items you rarely use.  After all, you’ll want to keep the latest novel or two by your bed, but there’s no need to keep an entire library there.

4 – Relocate

If sheer volume of the items in your designated area is overwhelming, take it all out and start from scratch.  In this case, we relocated everything in Emily’s room to the guest room (and the hall, the staircase, the bathroom…it was a LOT of stuff).  By getting everything out of your space, it’s easier to bring back in one thing at a time and fight small battles.  Just remember that when you lay it all out, it will look like even more stuff, so don’t get discouraged.

3 – Quick Sort

When dealing with boxes with varied content, do a quick sort.  Health and Beauty here, Office and Electronics here, Books, Clothes, whatever.  Don’t spent a lot of time trying to figure out where everything goes, just sort them into piles and move on.  This will help you get rid of trash quickly, and start to create order.  Since things of the same category are likely to end up in approximately the same place, pre-sorting is the first step to more refined organization.

2 – Phone a friend

It’s always easier to organize and clean if you have someone with you.  Even just having someone there to give you permissions to throw things away that you don’t want, can’t use, but feel guilty getting rid of.  It’s nice to have someone to talk to, commiserate with, and laugh at all the ridiculous things you find.  A friend will also be a lot less sentimental about the whole thing, so she’ll keep you going, even when you want to sit and look through a box of baby pictures.  Make sure you have boundaries though, like providing lunch and never NEVER asking your bestie to clean your bathroom. Also, you’ll want a deep, firm friendship for this; it isn’t the kind of thing that a fledgling friendship is likely to survive.

1 – Singular Focus

Focus on exactly one thing at a time.  If you are on a mission to round-up all of your shoes and put them away, don’t get distracted untangling electronics cords.  It seems ridiculous to pass up an easy job if it’s right in front of you, but that’s how you get pulled away from finishing anything.  You’ll end up with 27 half done things and nothing to show for it. Finish one job and then move on to the next.  You’ll be making room for yourself as you go, and you’ll feel accomplished.

Seriously, the best thing to do is just start, and don’t put too much pressure on yourself.  If you stress about everything you have to do, you won’t get anything done, so take it easy, and just dive in.  It’s amazing how accomplished you feel.

Happy Monday!