Organize Better with Wunderlist

A while ago I decided I needed to take more responsibility to run my blog as a professional. The problem I found pretty quickly was that my blogging work was often getting lost in the shuffle of all the other things I had to do. Same with my freelance work, stuff for Graham’s school, my own errands, etc. 

I thought back longingly to high school when I had a daily planner. It was the only way I could survive back then. Otherwise I just forgot about assignments. Every day would get completely filled up and every day I’d come home and look at what was on my to-do list and prioritize accordingly. 

Of course, the paper planner is a tough one these days. And honestly, I don’t know that it would work. I find out about some things months in advance, but still need the regular reminders. I have recurring jobs and some that have very specific guidelines I’d like to attach.

So I went on a search for a task management system that worked for me. 

I read a lot of articles, I tried a few programs out, but I finally settled on one. I’m still not perfect, sometimes I forget to add a task or don’t include a reminder, but otherwise? It’s pretty darn awesome. So today I’m here to share the beauty of Wunderlist with you.

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What I Wanted

There are lots of task systems out there and I didn’t hate most of what I tried. But what I really wanted was something with a calendar integration. Something where I could see timelines visually. A lot of people like Google Calendar, but my calendar is already too full. It’s got kid stuff and custody info, and I tend to use it just for actually scheduled events so I don’t forget where I need to be and when. Adding deadlines in there would make it too crazy, plus it wouldn’t have the ability to divide things into task by group. That was one bonus of Asana, the one I used for the longest before finally switching to Wunderlist. I loved the way I could divide my work into folders, because so much of what I do falls into a huge variety of categories.

But ultimately I couldn’t figure out how to get calendars I wanted in Asana and I didn’t have the time to try to work it through. I needed something intuitive and simple. I also wanted something that had the kind of checklist approach with tasks and subtasks that I’d used and liked in Asana. 

I also wanted something with a web-based app and a phone app. I love having a web format so that I can really see everything in a lot of detail. But phone is crucial since I often need to access info on the go, or I find out about something while I’m not at home. 

Oh, and did I mention free? Free was a requirement.

Organizing with Wunderlist

Calendar

Let’s start from the broad and work to the specific. On my Wunderlist page, I have a menu divided into a few categories. 

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Everyone has Inbox, Today, and Week. The rest of the folders are up to you to create. As you can see, my first few are all blog post related. There are more. Many, many more.

I use Inbox for the random stuff in life. Right now I have a note to cancel a service, renew my P.O box, call my car insurance company, etc. These things don’t necessarily have a firm deadline but I like to keep track of them. 

Today and Week are set automatically based on deadlines you’ve entered. So I have one past-due item that’s showing up in my “Today” list because of the deadline I set. And I have 5 things due this week. 

Wunderlist doesn’t quite have the huge calendar I was hoping for, BUT I’ve found that the Today and Week views are more than enough to cover myself and plan my tasks accordingly. 

 Tasks and Subtasks

If you create a task and click on it, you get this little menu on your right side:

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With this one screenshot you can probably see why I like Wunderlist so much. I can associate everything I could possibly need with a task: subtasks, comments, notes, attached files, deadlines, reminders, you name it.

This way I have the flexibility to take a project and make it either a folder or a task depending on how complex it is. The reminders come to my phone and my desktop so they get me no matter what. I can edit any of it, including the deadline if that changes. 

Oh, and have I mentioned that for you to-do list lovers, whenever you check something off your list, you’re rewarded with a “Ding.”

For Blogging

As a blogger and person with too much stuff to do, I divide my life into folders. For the blog itself I divide posts into categories. This is helping a lot already, since I would often forget about a review while I was waiting for product or after the product arrived. I divide them into Waiting for Product, Waiting for Photos, and Ready to Post. I have a separate folder for sponsored posts, since these usually involve deadlines and specific tasks.

I have another section for my freelance writing gigs, where I put reminders for my regular work as well as adding the one-offs I may pick up along the way.

There’s a section for Listen To Your Mother (OMG we’re getting started soon!!) and one for the Parent Council at Graham’s school. 

Oh, and I even have one for groceries, so I can check and see what I’m forgetting when I’m at the store or making a list.

The only deadlines I’ve missed since I started using Wunderlist are the ones I forgot to add to Wunderlist. You can’t necessarily stop human error 100%, but you can sure put a dent in it.

I have no connection to Wunderlist. I just really like this program.

Under the Yellow Umbrella

A week ago Saturday I was at my other other job, driving out to a delivery, and as I generally do in that situation I had the radio on. There was an interview with a musician, and she talked about one of her songs about the quintessential American woman. Somewhere along the way she said, “You can’t keep her down, you can’t hold her back,” and my already-low heart sunk a bit.

I wondered, When did I become the opposite of that?

I have been feeling pretty kept down and held back of late. I am often too busy to feel much of anything, and when I get a moment, the feelings I have are usually sadness, frustration, anger, and other negativity. 

Sure, there are explanations. Being financially unstable, working constantly to try and make up for it, being pulled in all directions, having too much to manage, and there’s also the fact that I’ve been off my antidepressants for over a month.

It sucks to have less serotonin when things are so legitimately tough. But I also know that I’m not feeling the way I’ve felt when I needed to get on meds. There are plenty of times when I’m comfortable, relaxed, happy… when I have a good day with the kids or when I’m at work (the regular job). Still, I was starting to worry. Every day I’d leave work and feel my stomach start to clench. 

If you asked people if I’m the kind of person about whom you could say, “You can’t keep her down,” I’m guessing most would say yes. And yet, it wasn’t happening. 

I decided I needed to do a little brain intervention on myself. I’ve done one before that worked out quite well. It’s basically a decision to refuse to let my brain go down certain paths, or at least to refuse to let it get stuck there. 

And luckily last week I also had a quick 2-day press trip. I knew it could be fun, different, a break in the routine, but I mostly thought about the fallout in my schedule, the craziness that would surround it, and the stress of travel.

But then I stopped myself. Take it, I thought. Take this time and use it. How often lately have you wished you could just have a few hours with nothing on your to-do list? So take them.

And I did.

I had 4 hours between the wrap-up on Thursday and my drive to the airport. With the downtime, my gracious hosts encouraged me to rent a beach chair and an umbrella and enjoy the beach. They didn’t have to tell me twice.

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It’s been years since I sat on a beach. I kind of forgot how to do it. At first I wasn’t sure I could pass 3 hours just sitting there with a book and the ocean. 

But I remembered.

The key is that you don’t really concentrate on anything. You let your brain float wherever it floats. One moment you read your book, and if you look up and watch the waves for a while, it’s okay. You just watch. There’s the book, the sun, the people, the waves, the occasional doze. 

It’s almost trance-like, there’s something about letting your brain go like that. It’s not exactly what you’d call happiness, but it’s not far off from it. It’s a kind of calm that knows nothing but the moment you’re currently in. I’m guessing it’s kind of like meditation. My mind wasn’t empty, it was taking in everything around me, but it wasn’t picking things apart, it wasn’t getting distracted by anything. This was the really amazing thing, not my gorgeous surroundings, but the fact that nothing was nagging at me from the back of my mind for once. 

I felt better afterwards. Calm, clean, collected. 

On Saturday I did a delivery shift and didn’t spend the whole thing feeling bad. 

Sunday didn’t quite go so well. The work was frustrating and my shift went too long and by the time I picked up the kids I could tell that whatever peace I’d picked up was mostly gone. 

I’m still hoping that I can tap into it. That was my main goal while I was there, getting so enveloped in that feeling that I could summon it when I needed it. Or at least build up a long-empty reserve. 

I don’t really expect it to last, but it doesn’t mean I won’t work on it. 

Next time I get an opportunity for a vacation, it could be years, but whenever it is, I know a beach will be on top of my list. Sure, I love sightseeing and museums and exploring. But I get something from a beach that I can’t get anywhere else and it’s more than worth it.

Autumn Cuteness Overload

I hope that in a few years when I look back on my life right now I’ll think, Well that sucked but at least I have lots of really beautiful pictures

I get serious satisfaction when we come home from an outing, put the SD card in my computer, and see that everything turned out so nicely. I’m not a pro by any means, but I’m getting pretty fantastic at getting pictures of my own kids, if I do say so myself. No more professional photographers for us, although I’m going to have to figure out some work with the self-timer if I ever want a decent picture with me in it.

We headed out to Pakeen Farm for pumpkins. I chose it for a few reasons. 1) Way closer than most other options. 2) No apple picking, so hopefully smaller crowds. 3) Mini-maze for pumpkin picking. 4) Cider donuts. It turned out okay. Short drive for us, a very small place, and even though we got their early it was starting to fill up by the time we left. The mini-maze was cute, very small, perfect for kids 6 and under to wander through and pick out pumpkins. 

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Nice foliage, if I do say so myself. I haven’t been able to get out and see much of it this year.

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I found a little corner of the patch to have the kids sit down and smile for the camera. Thus began the ongoing struggle to get Tessa to look in my direction for pictures. It’s a battle I rarely win. 

 

 

 

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Inside, and many pictures later, I finally got eye contact from the little one, only to lose it from the big one. Of course. Side note: when your kids yell “pumpkin” instead of cheese you get really hilarious open-mouthed pictures. Also this was totally their idea, not my suggestion.

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Then we ordered our donuts and cider, and the kids went leaf hunting while we waited for our snack. Graham was a big fan of the multi-colored leaves.

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Graham was being silly, it made for some great pictures, with more than the usual smiles.

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And this head tilt from Tessa shown in sequence below, is SO HER that I just about did a double take when going through the pictures.
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All in all, it was a simple trip, not too long, and totally worth the small price tag for the pictures and the pumpkins which we decorated at home. (They picked little ones, so no carving which is fine by me.) And I now have a bag of leaves we may press if I get really ambitious. Don’t cross your fingers.

6 Reasons

Things are heavy around here. It’s sucking me in. I feel frustrated or overwhelmed much of the time. 

I need a distraction. 

And I’d like to request a distraction that’s also cute, funny, and a good kisser.

Look, I know it’s not appropriate female behavior to go around saying you want a boyfriend. It’s uncool. It’s needy. But people, I am NOT cool and I AM needy. Might as well just lay it out straight. 

When you’re not even living paycheck to paycheck, but getting by on a lot of extra work on top of the paycheck and the hope that it’ll all be enough at the end of the month, you can get lost in a perpetual feeling of anxiety. It’s hard to break out of it.

Breaking out of it requires a trump card kind of emotion, one that overrules any other stuff in your life. There aren’t a lot of these. Grief is one, it turns the world gray no matter how much color is in your life. But I’m hoping for that flush of new love, that feeling after you’ve met someone where your brain takes every free moment (and plenty of non-free moments) to remember that this new person exists, that they’re wonderful, and that they’re yours. 

Lately my brain takes these free moments to feel frustrated or sad or hopeless or angry or bitter or something else staunchly negative. My brain is stuck there. 

So I need a boyfriend. 

That’s the first reason:

1. A distraction.

There are more reasons, of course. So many.

2. Adult conversation. 

It’s not as bad as it was when I was home with the kids after Tessa was born, when my only conversation consisted of small talk with Graham’s therapists or a quick word or two with the cashier at the grocery store. But my only talk is at work, and home at the end of the day is quiet. So quiet. There is no one to talk to about the victories of the day, big or small. No one to tell funny stories. No one to commiserate with when things go badly. Social media helps, but it’s no substitute for a real talk.

3. Fun.

Yes, fun would be good. Fun that isn’t a way to keep the kids busy. Fun that isn’t for the benefit of someone or something else, but to be enjoyed by me. By us. That would be good. I miss fun. My occasional bouts of fun are still fun, but when you go out with a friend who’s going home to their husband/wife/partner when it’s over I can’t shake a tiny bit of bitterness. Like I said, the negativity is really stuck in my head and some fun would be a good way to help shake it off.

4. New stuff.

New people bring new stuff. They have different interests, they’ve read different books, they’ve lived a different life. I could use a life that isn’t mine to pull me out of this stupid hole I’m in. I love that early stage when you’ve still got so much to learn about a person, when every new detail you learn is fascinating, when every date is like a lesson in New Boyfriend 101. 

5. Chemistry.

Or in other words, the kissing stuff. Even a boring marriage where you exchange physical affection without thought is still one where you’re getting touched, held, kissed, etc. I get hugs from my kids, snuggles as they sit on my lap, and it’s wonderful. But it would be nice to get that from someone who’s grown-up sized, and someone who isn’t asking me for a snack while they’re cuddling. It’s just different. And the kissing and… everything else… is so exciting at the beginning. It feels like you’re eating one of your favorite foods you haven’t had in years, where it’s so familiar but it’s like you’ve never had it before and you never want to stop.

That sounds good.

6. I Deserve It, Dammit.

I do. I may have kids, but I’m a catch.  I am totally date-able. I’m funny and smart and not bad to look at and I’m even feeling kinda hot what with me losing 12 pounds and all. 

There are probably 100 more reasons, 1000 more reasons, but I think this is enough. I’m primed. I’m ready. I’m worried I’m too ready, that I’m jinxed because I want it. I send messages and get… nothing. I haven’t been picked up by someone in real life since grad school. It’s been quiet and I’m antsy and I’m starting to get down.

 

Wild Feet

review pic Wild FeetMy kids have always cared deeply about their footwear. Kids latch on to stuff, you know? Then there’s the trip to the Children’s Shoe Store where everything lights up and sparkles and it’s hard to convince your child that they actually need something sensible for their feet. 

So I’m always happy to hear from New Balance. Their rainbow shoes were a favorite of Graham’s for months and they held up really well. It was definitely a win-win for us. This time New Balance told me about two new lines of shoes for kids and toddlers and I showed them to Graham and Tessa to see what they thought. If they don’t opt in, there’s no use trying to force it. And I’m definitely not going to surprise these two opinionated kiddos. 

It wasn’t hard. Tessa zeroed in immediately on a pair of fuchsia sneakers from the Trip to the Zoo line, shoes with cool animal prints and bright colors.

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Over a month in, she’s still wearing them every day and they’re holding up beautifully. My favorite thing is the wide velcro, which makes it easy to take on and off. Tessa, at 2 and a half, is pushing for independence and saying “I do it,” about everything. So she likes that she can put on her shoes by herself, even if I have to tighten the velcro for her. 

Tessa edited Wild Feet

These are the Hook and Loop 574 available for toddlers, in sizes 4-7.

The other zoo prints include black shoes with zebra stripes and purple and pink highlights, orange and brown with lizard scales, and grey and black with orange tiger stripes. You can also find some styles in Preschool sizes

As for Graham, I was pretty sure he’d go for the new 890v4 lines for kids, I just didn’t know whether he’d go for the multicolor ones inspired by Lisa Frank, or the blue and gold ones that go for a superhero look

Graham collage Wild Feet

As you can see, he went for the latter. He’s been a little more cautious and aware about things that may appear to be more “girl,” but I love how these shoes still let him have interesting colors and patterns that he loves. Even if I do miss his pink shoes a little.

I’m no longer content to throw the kids into whatever shoes they set their fancy on, like the Angry Birds Graham adored that fell completely to pieces. Giving them choices from New Balance means they find something they like and I know they’ll be ready for anything and I won’t have to buy another pair until they go up a size.

Tell me your shoe horror stories. Do they light up? Make noise? Have awful characters you can’t stand? I feel your pain. I think we’ve all been there. I’m just glad I’m not there right now.

These shoes and more are at newbalance.com or New Balance stores. 

New Balance provided us with two pairs of shoes for this review.

Three

You know those stories you hear from someone who’s successful and accomplished and they tell you about how they grew up disadvantaged and you’ll hear them say something like, “My mom worked 3 jobs to put food on the table.” You know that story.

It’s a nice story. A story of sacrifice and reward. You think of that mother and you see her as someone noble.

Well, right now I am working three jobs to put food on the table and make sure our bills are paid and we have a place to stay. I have my 9-5, I have freelance writing projects due nearly every week, and I have my new part time delivery job. 

I’m writing this on Saturday night. I spent all week doing my 9-5 from Monday to Friday. On Monday and Tuesday nights I took care of kids. On Wednesday night I came home and worked on freelance projects. On Thursday night I took a shift on delivery. On Saturday morning I got up and took a delivery shift, a longer one than I expected. I was working until 3, then I took a few hours to run errands, then I came home and started working on freelance jobs. On Sunday morning I’ll get up, work another delivery shift, and then pick up the kids and start the week over again. The only time I wasn’t working this week was Friday night.

So let me tell you something. Working 3 jobs to put food on the table sounds noble.

Working 3 jobs doesn’t feel noble. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it for your kids, it doesn’t matter if it’s to put food on the table. You don’t get to feel noble, you don’t get to feel fulfilled or satisfied. You don’t get to feel like it’s all worth it, or at least it will be eventually. 

You’re too tired and busy to feel those feelings.

All you feel is tired and busy. That’s pretty much it.

And honestly? If I had the time and capacity to feel my feelings, I don’t think I would feel particularly noble. Other people have a place to live and food to eat and clothes to wear without working 3 jobs. It’s not like working harder or longer makes those things any better or more worthwhile.

I’m taking a break from my work at the present moment because I’m fading. The deadlines don’t care that I’m fading. The hours I have to put in don’t care either. These things must be done and that’s that. Tomorrow will be another day, and after that there will be more days, and the days will just keep coming. I have a tiny blip in a couple weeks, a period of about 30 hours where I’ll be mostly off the hook. It won’t be enough, and I won’t be able to stretch out and relax enough to feel ready to get back into the grind again. But that’s life. That’s how things are right now.

 Oh, and “now” has morphed into Sunday night. Because I went back to work on my projects and then collapsed of exhaustion around 10. My morning of work and afternoon of kids has me beat enough that I’ll probably be in my bed at 8:30, which is coming up soon. Tessa is making little noises from her bed. She wasn’t feeling well at her dad’s house and it’s possible I’ll be sharing my bed with her tonight, which will be a setback for the week for sure. 

I wonder if I’ll ever tell the kids about this time. Will they ever ask me what it was like after their dad and I split up? Will they ever be curious about whether we went through hard times? Of course, all this assumes that eventually times won’t be hard. I force myself to think that way. I think that I could meet someone, get married again, and go back to the bliss of a household where two people can share the responsibility of meeting financial burdens. I think that the kids’ dad could be making a lot more money in a few years, which would mean my child support payments could go from miniscule to actually helping. I think that maybe we’ll move somewhere that I could find an apartment at half the price I’m paying now. I think that things could change at work, or maybe there will be a different job in a few years, or whatever other tricks of fate could have an impact on my monthly paycheck.

Part of me insists there’s no need to tell my kids about my struggle. But most of me disagrees. Most of me thinks it’s important to show that adulthood doesn’t mean you’re free from trouble. It doesn’t mean you can’t make mistakes or that bad things won’t happen. Things go wrong, life takes turns, you shouldn’t judge someone for their misfortune. If I tell them, that’s how I’ll do it. 

And who knows, maybe one day, years from now, one of my kids will be at a microphone, telling the story of their single mom working three jobs. I’m hoping if they do, at the end they tell everyone about how thanks to their unbelievable success they’ve sent their mother off to a beach to retire in luxury.