All posts filed under: What’s Your System

Real people’s tips and tricks for getting stuff done.

Ditching Multitasking to Be More Mindful

I’m sitting at my desk with my phone on speaker mode. This allows me to participate in this conference call but leaves my hands free to type away on my keyboard. That, in turn, enables me to take care of all manner of business from booking Christmas flights to Miami to checking stats on my football pool to ordering a new coffeemaker. I am a master multitasker! Or, not so much. Turns out I missed half of what each person had to say on the call and added no comments of my own since I was only partially listening. I ordered the wrong carafe for the coffeemaker because I wasn’t paying full attention to that chore either. As for the tickets? Hopefully, I’ll end up in Miami, not Minsk. What’s behind this drive to tackle multiple tasks simultaneously? The obvious answer is that it feels good to get stuff done. But it turns out that a sense of accomplishment isn’t the true driver of this borderline manic behavior. The culprit is actually the rush we …

Walking It Off: How My Morning Habit Helped Me Find Myself Again

I looked at the calendar and couldn’t believe it had been five months. Five months since the last time I had gone on what had been a daily, one-hour walk. I could feel the changes, too, and it scared me. My body missed the exercise: I was more agitated lately and having trouble falling asleep. During the day, my legs were cramping and I felt tired. Things just didn’t feel right, and I knew much of this fatigue and discomfort was caused by lack of exercise. I knew the importance of daily movement for health and emotional well being. But every day, something got in the way of my walk. Even if the first thing I promised myself when I woke up was that I would walk. But here it was, almost half a year since I had exercised. I have been active my entire life, which made it even harder to believe that I had become someone who didn’t move. For the first time in my life, the excuses were winning and it all …

My System: “The Daily Mirror”

Who: Rachel Simon, novelist, memoirist and speaker. System: Communicate daily to-do list tasks via sticky notes left on the bathroom mirror. How does it work? “If there’s something I need to remember, I write it on a yellow sticky note and put it on the bathroom mirror so I have to see it. ‘Mail check on Wednesday’; ‘Review my Powerpoint.’ I wrote a sticky note this morning that said ‘Call Margit.’ “ Well, I’m glad you did. So how does this system work with your husband? “My husband is also creative (he’s an architect) and we’re secluded in separate studios for good part of day. Our house often has the feel of an artist colony. So this way we’re able to have those household conversations you need to have, like ‘would you reread blog post I wrote?’ Or ‘when are you going to work on broken toilet?’ Or even, ‘remind me to tell you about conversation I had with my father.’ “ Does he respond? “Sometimes the way he’ll respond is that he’ll write something right on the yellow …

My System: The Four-Pocket Office

Who: Mary Pat Boian, editor of the Lovely County Citizen, Eureka Springs, Arkansas. Originally from Denver, Mary Pat visited Eureka in the ’70s, fell in love with the town’s beauty… and the sound of bugs: “The first thing I noticed were the sound of beetles, cicadas, mosquitoes… It’s rich here. There was nothing like this in Denver.” So, she stayed. (I met Mary Pat while I was at a writer’s colony, in Eureka Springs. We chatted about her system over cocktails at Rogue’s Manor.) System: Mary Pat uses her carpenter jeans as her purse or as Mary Pat says, “my office.” Each pocket has a purpose. “I have to buy jeans with decent pockets. I can’t buy girls jeans. These were $12 at Freds.” Her 4-pocket office: 1. Left Front: “I keep my pocket knife there, and my iPhone.” She shows me her slim pocket knife. “I gave this pocket knife to my dad for Christmas and he gave it back to me.” She looks at me dead in the eye, “Never give a gift you don’t …

My System: One Blackboard to Rule Them All

Who: Adrianna Dufay, founding member of TueNight  System: My family uses a huge (4′ x 6′) blackboard on our kitchen wall that holds our weekly family calendar, nightly dinner reminders, grocery list, general to-do list and notes passed back and forth. Inspiration: My husband and I both work full time, have lots of evening events and have two kids in two different schools. We’ve experimented with different calendars for years now — online or not, separate or together, paper or write-erase, monthly or weekly— and this is the system that has inspired the most calm. How it works: On Saturday morning, we turn on cartoons in the other room and banish the children. Then we pour ourselves some coffee and dump everything from our shared electronic calendar (and anything else we forgot) onto the board. As we talk through the next week, we’re writing our to-do list on one side of the board and groceries on the other. How long it takes: It takes about an hour, but when we’re done with that, we’re ready for the week. My …

What’s Your System: How I Prepare To Sing

Who: Nora York, New York vocalist and composer. System: Before a show I try and do some yoga, I do my digital pranayama and I take a bath, if I can. I like a bath. And then I usually try and do some kind of meditation. I like to apply my makeup while listening to (the late) Irish tenor John McCormack. I listen to the stuff he recorded with just piano, not with orchestra. Why John McCormack? He has the most clear emotional delivery of singing and I find him incredibly inspiring. Songs like, “Off to Philadelphia in the morning…” LISTEN And then sometimes I’ll listen to Jimi Hendrix. That’s quite different. And now that I’m blind, well, older, I have to wear glasses. But I don’t like to wear them for the stage. So I apply my contact lenses, I have special ones for the stage which are bifocal. And it takes me a really long time to put them in. How long have you been wearing them? I convinced the Chinese optometrist to give them to …

How I’ve Taught My Kids to Give, Save and Spend

The “Give Save, Spend” system is something many parents use — it’s a great technique for kids (and heck, anyone) to learn the value of money. We ran this piece over on the WhatsYourSystem.com site back in 2010. We thought we’d republish it and check back in with Valerie and her girls to see how things had changed four years later.  2010 Who: Valerie (the mom), Maya and Rachel Gardner Job: Singapore denizens, world travelers. My sister-in-law and nieces. The System: Valerie introduced the concept of “Give, Save, Spend” to her two daughters a few months ago. The idea is that each girl gets an allowance equal to her age (Maya is 8, Rachel is 3) and then they allocate the money in three envelopes – one to give to charity, one to put in “savings” and one to spend. “They can do any allocation they want,” says Valerie, “but at least one dollar has to go into each category per week. So, yes, Rachel then only has one discretionary dollar but it’s just to get her used …

My System: Running With Manicure

  Who: Lili Schwartz, Graphic Designer System: ”Before I go running, but after I tie my sneakers, I put on nail polish. Then my nails dry while I run!” Inspiration: “My husband hates the smell of nail polish so I had to put the polish on outside the house.” While twiddling her thumbs, literally, waiting for her nails to dry, she got inspired: “I needed to find an outdoor activity that didn’t require my hands. Since I often need motivation to run a few miles, having freshly polished nails at the end of a workout became a great incentive!” Pitfalls? “This is a seasonal system. I don’t run outside in winter.” Favorite polish color?  “Currently I’m wearing Milani’s NY Apple Red.” Any polish work better than others? “All shades work, but I only apply one coat of color at a time. I don’t run far enough for base and top coats!” illustration: Kat Borosky

My System: How to Have Perfect Hands

Who: Lauren Young, Wealth Editor, Thomson Reuters System: Brooklynite Lauren Young has had a love affair with her hands for as long as she can remember. Below are her tips to caring for and maintaining perfect paws. What products do you use?  “Neutrogena Norwegian Formula Hand Cream, Fragrance Free, and Essie nail polish. I usually like Essie’s Pink Glove Service. I keep hand cream by my bed, on my desk at work, and in my bag.” What’s so great about that hand cream? “You just need a dab – it’s very thick and rich. I also use it on my feet. It creates a wonderful seal to protect skin from soap and cold weather.”  How long have you had this love affair with your hands?  “I’ve always had long, very hard nails, so I’m lucky. I probably started using this hand cream in high school when I worked at Gladwyne Pharmacy (outside of Philly) and got to try lots of products. All of the women in my family have beautiful hands. My dad also has lovely hands.” Did …

My System: I Steam My Clothes Every Day

Who: Marie Robinson, celebrity hair colorist extraordinaire. System: “I steam my clothes every single morning.” Why’s that? “I have pretty nice clothes, but I usually end up messing them up with hair color. I’m in very small living quarters right now so I don’t take things out to iron them. It’s easier to just steam them.” Not that I wear couture all the time, but I was told when you have nicer clothes, steaming is actually better for the colors and the quality of the fabric than dry cleaning or washing them too much. The steam also kills any germs or whatever. Some of the stuff I’ve had from Chanel stays nicer longer because of steaming — the colors haven’t changed at all. Obviously things that need to be dry cleaned or washed I do. But dry cleaning can become time-consuming and expensive.” What inspired you to start steaming your clothes every day? “I made a lot of changes and sacrificies in my life to quickly get out of a marriage that wasn’t working. The one thing I was …

My System: How to Spot a Celebrity on the Down-Low

  Living in NYC, you’re bound to spot the occasional star hunkered down over a plate of pancakes at Buttermilk Channel or walking their dog in the East Village. For New Yorkers it’s a bit of a quiet sport. To make matters easier, Rentenna.com just released its 2014 map of NY and Brooklyn celeb abodes. But heaven forbid you call attention to the fact that you actually notice them. (There you are repeatedly elbowing your husband pleading, “Look, look honey it’s…it’s that reporter from…from NY1!” Oh, the horror.) Instead, my husband and I simply say the word “Rutabaga.” For example, Susan Sarandon strolls by us in Chelsea? All I need to say is “Rutabaga” and my husband will casually glance about until he sees said celeb. Easy and no one gets hurt. Or embarrassed. This was adopted from a  system I used as a teenager. Back in the day, by using the code words “MT” (which stands for “my type”) or “YT” (“your type”), my bored sister and I could quietly acknowledge a random hot guy in …

My System: Gretchen Rubin on Her “Power Hour”

Who: Gretchen Rubin, best-selling author of The Happiness Project and Happier at Home. System:  At 6 a.m. Gretchen has a “power hour” of solitude and focus where she can write, catch up on emails, tweet, before her day “officially starts.” ”At 7 a.m. I have to get my children up, get them fed, get them to school. So, I have this precious early morning hour when everything is quiet and I don’t have any distractions. It’s just for me.” What prompted the idea? “I realized that our family mornings were hectic and unpleasant, because I was racing around trying to get too much accomplished at once. It finally dawned on me that if I got up an hour early, I’d be able to get a good start on my day.” Do you consider yourself a morning person?  ”I think some people are larks and some people are owls and you really have to know where you are. And so for an owl I don’t think that would work at all to get up early, to fight their nature. But …

My System: Geeta’s Top 10 Uses for Duct Tape

Who: Geeta Simons — Philadelphia mom, radio producer, musician and instructor at Girls Rock Philly. System: “I use Duck tape for just about everything. It’s a musician’s best friend, but I also use it for baby stuff and fashion mishaps.” By the way, is it Duck tape or Duct tape? “I always thought it was ‘duct’ as in ‘I am finishing this duct work with my duct tape.’ And it is, but the brand I use is called Duck.” And originally it was made from cotton duck cloth. So it’s actually both. Geeta’s Top 10 Uses for Duck Tape: 1. Band promotion. “For taping up band flyers to a telephone poll. Works really well on brick walls.” 2. Multiple music uses. “For taping extra guitar picks to a mic stand; muting a snare drum head or cymbals; keeping the nine-volt battery in a guitar effects pedal; taping set list to monitor; taping guitar case shut (note: don’t do this if you actually like your guitar).” 3. Fashion Mishaps. “For taping a stiletto heel back onto a shoe. (Note: …

11 Systems to Help Victims of Sandy

[photo: Aly left, aka @alywalansky and Allie aka @dearstormer during Aly’s Park Slope Beauty Bounty stoop sale] It’s 8 a.m., the hour formerly known 9 a.m., and I’m catching a taxi to Target to get blankets, batteries, flashlights. I’m attempting to meet Congregation Beth Elohim‘s  deadline of 10 a.m. – that’s when volunteers are loading up and driving out to the Rockaways, Staten Island, and other coastal spots devastated by Hurricane Sandy. The taxi driver, who seems particularly conversational, asks me what I’m up to today. I tell him that I’m shopping for supplies for folks in the Rockaways. He looks back at me, “I live in the Rockaways…” He says, “Thank you so much… “ “How are you doing?” I ask. “I haven’t been able to work until today. We haven’t seen any of the news. Our house was flooded and…” He doesn’t finish and I don’t want to press him further. I’m not a congregant at Beth Elohim, but it’s only a few blocks away in Park Slope and it’s a very organized, concerted effort. …

When 750 Words Are Enough: A Q&A with Buster Benson (Part 2)

Here’s part II of my interview with Buster Benson. It is more than 750 words, thank you very much. (Here was Part 1)   How did you get started in the habit mapping concept? Does this track back to something you did as a kid? I would write in my journal every single day as a kid. It wasn’t until I graduated from college and learned how to build websites that I got more interested in [habit tracking] though. The first web-related habit I did was back in 2002 or 2003 called Moblogging — these days that’s just called taking photos with your phone. I’d take these 640×480 tiny little pictures but there was no site to really capture the photo so I built a service that would capture tag and add it to my blog. From there I started tracking my mood.  Along with the photo, I would add a +1 or -1 and that got pulled into my “morale-o-meter” which was supposed to check whether I was interacting with things that were uplifting my mood …

Don’t Think, Act: Life According to Buster Benson

As a system-obsessed person, I am in awe of Buster Benson. A man who was once Erik Benson and then Buster McLeod and now Buster Benson. (At least that’s as of today.) He isn’t afraid to test and retest; reinvent and rename. He doesn’t worry about it, he just does it.  And if he can’t figure out how to get it done, he’ll build an app for it. “If I have an idea, I don’t do a to-do list. I just spend a couple hours building it to see if it’s interesting to me or not,” says Benson. The former Amazon.com developer and current CTO and co-founder of Habit Labs, 35.96-year-old Benson creates apps that track “habits” and, ideally, help people tackle their big lifestyle hurdles (diet, exercise, smoking etc) that have them stuck. He estimates that he’s created about 30 of these apps to date, including seasonal food-finder Locavore; the list-making 43Things.com; the health-improving game Health Month; online “morning pages” journal, 750Words; the recently launched Gonna Try; and the burgeoning Budge. His apps are marked by intuitive and …

My System: How to Find a Clean Shirt

Who: My 79-year-old Dad System: “In order to know which of my golf shirts are just pressed, and which have been worn once, I hang the newly cleaned shirts with the hook of the hanger facing away from me; if I’ve worn it once the hook of the hanger faces towards me.” And all your shirts are hanging in the same direction: ”That’s right.” Do you color code too? “Absolutely.”

My System: Changeable Chicken

Who: Diane Davis Otter System: “Just about every Sunday night I make what I call “Changeable Chicken,” preparing me for a week of healthy and quick meals ahead.  I adopted this technique from Jason Denton, founder of panini pioneer ‘Ino in New York’s Greenwich Village.” Here’s Her Step-by-Step: 1. Pre-heat a grill pan/grill press or panini press to medium-high heat. 2. Place two thin-sliced chicken breasts each on rectangles of aluminum foil. (Make as many as you want.) 3. Drizzle on some olive oil and rub in salt, pepper and any kind of seasoning spices you like. Flip chicken over and repeat. 4. Fold the foil into a packet, seam side up. (You can actually do this hours ahead and the chicken will be more flavorful for it.) 5. Cook on pan or press, seam side up for about 6 minutes. (Use a thermometer to test for temps at 165 degrees.) 6. After the chicken cools a bit, store it in your fridge in the foil packets, seam side up again. Saving the juices to use with the chicken is key! …

My System: A Buy-it-in-Brooklyn Thanksgiving

By which I mean I bought just about everything for our Turkey Day fete. With 12 family members popping over tomorrow, I’m all about keeping it easy. To wit: A deep-fried Jive Turkey. Despite buying this sucker ahead of time, we had to wait in a two-hour line for our very own. Seemed like a rite of passage. So be it. I’ve never tried a deep fried turkey, last year we purchased our pre-cooked turkey from Whole Foods. Hopefully this one will be worth the wait! [photo: Courtesy of Jive Turkey] Sides from Bklyn Larder: Yes they’re pricey, but the homemade goodness is worth it. Cheese plate, mashed potatoes, roasted Brussels sprouts with bacon, cranberry sauce, herb bread stuffing, foccacia. Picking those up tomorrow morning. Flowers & apple cider from Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket: The Greenmarket is always open the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, so I hit that this morning, buying some lovely orange fleurs and fresh apple cider. Delicata squash from Whole Foods: The one thing I’m making (and not from Brooklyn), inspired by my …

System: Pin Your Inspiration

Above my desk is a messy cork board crammed with photos, doodles, postcards, reminders and general bon mots. Looking up at this smattering of inspiration every day warms me and grounds me. It reminds me where I’ve been and where I want to go. A rainbow drawn by my niece; the band of 14-year-old girls I coached; a postcard of author Eudora Welty; a scrawled love note from my husband; Stefan Sagmeister’s manifesto which includes “Complaining is silly. Either act or forget.” (The April date on the calendar proves that some of this stuff goes up and I never really look at it again.) I’ve had a wall of inspiration since I could apply scotch tape to ripped-out pages from Tiger Beat. Here’s the highschool version behind the 16-year-old me, almost exclusively music-related (and yes, that’s a cassette tape in my hand). That my parents let me affix radio bumperstickers to my wall…wow. And like everything good these days, there’s now an online version. In the last few months I’ve spent/ wasted/ enjoyed about two hours making lists and …

My System: The Perfect Pantry

Who: Don Gaile, an award-winning filmmaker, food lover and entrepreneur. He says he’s been a stickler for uniformity “ever since I wore my first clip-on-tie to kindergarten photo day.” System: To create the perfect pantry, visual uniformity was key. Don says he first had to amass the exact same containers. He found the perfect container in the ClickClack brand. “I ordered them straight from New Zealand when it appeared I bought out [all NYC stores].” says Don. How many do you now have?“83.” Wow. Ok, this system must really work for you! “It solves two problems. 1. Aesthetics: Just because it’s behind a door doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be beautiful and clean. 2. Organizational clarity: I know what I’m out of and know when to buy more rather than attempt to open a box only to find a scant of an ingredient. Also, I can fit a lot more in my pantry by eliminating oversized boxes.” Any system to your labeling? I’m assuming it’s alphabetized. Can you share your funniest label? “Of course they’re all labeled with a P-touch. Lower case lettering. …

My System: I Dress to Match My Makeup (Not the Other Way Around)

  Some people, like me, wear the same damn makeup every day. Mascara-foundation-lipstick, repeat.  And the last thing I do is slather makeup on my face before heading out for the day. This beauty expert, however, does it in reverse. Who: Elke Von Freudenberg – celeb makeup artist & eyebrow specialist, NYC System:  ”I do my makeup based on how I feel that morning and then choose my outfit based on my makeup, ” says Elke. “I’ve always gotten way more excited over my makeup look than what I am actually wearing.” And then you carefully put your clothes on? “Yes. I don’t really have a strategy for that.” How many different “looks” do you have? “I have 3 basic looks that I vary: 1. My pretty, natural, run-around-town errands look, with lipgloss, a touch of blush, mascara. 2. My business look: Foundation, a neutral lip, blush and a smoky bronzed eye 3. A more made-up look for evening or events, with a darker eye and a glossier lip.” And then how many variations on makeup? …

My System: The Crazy Songs I Make Up For My Cat

Who: Martha Sullivan Job: Designer for Hounds of Hell, clothing for dogs that rock. Hair stylist. Animal lover. System: It has come to my attention that many of us have thoroughly embarrassing pet-feeding songs we sing to our animals. Martha Sullivan, pet clothing designer extraordinaire, is no exception. Here’s her pet-feeding-song system: “I wake up. I put on the coffee, I open the can and Harry comes running. I let him sniff the food and lick it in the can while I sing a special song, which is all about his favorite flavor of Fancy Feast. It goes like this: Ocean Whitefish Tuna Feast/ Is what Harry likes to eat/ Classic. I say ‘classic’ because that’s the only one he likes.” That’s quite an advertisement for Fancy Feast! Have you always had songs for your animals? “Oh yeah. I remember hanging out under the dining room able with my brother and our dog and singing to the tune of Paradise City, “Take me down to the Paradise City where the grass is green and the Billie is Chilly.” Cause our dog’s name …

My System: How to Get More Juice From Citrus

Who: The Vamp Job: Food blogger for VittlesVamp.com System: “If I need to juice a lemon, lime or any sort of citrus fruit, I microwave the little buggers on medium for 45 seconds, so they’re warm and squishy inside, and are much more amenable to juicing.  I usually find I get more juice out of the fruit that way.” How much juice does this get me? ”One regular-sized lemon should produce about 2 tablespoons of juice, if not more.” Best use of this system? ”It’s particularly useful when you’re prepping cocktails for a large group.  It is amazing how much citrus you can go through when making a batch of drinks.” Favorite citrus-enhanced party cocktail?  Vamp’s all-time fave is the classic Gin & Tonic – served with a wedge of lime. Natch!  But she also recommends the Zombie as a great party drink. Here are Vamp’s Zombie particulars: The Zombie 1 oz. fresh squeezed lemon juice 1 oz. fresh squeezed lime juice 1 oz. pineapple juice 1 oz. passionfruit nectar 1 tsp. brown sugar 1 oz. white rum 1 oz. gold …

My System: I Think of My Ideal Reader

Who: David Cole, sleepoversf Job: Web designer. Makes Tumblr templates (like this one) System:  To create great stuff (for his blog, a design or a website), Cole imagines whether or not his favorite people or heroes would dig it. Simply, he envisions creating things for his ideal reader, and that’s his filter. When have you used this system? For this post on Sleepover SF, Cole wrote about clever containers and designed his post as a clever container. He says when he wrote it, he thought about people like San Francisco writer and “media inventor” Robin Sloan. Did he read it?  Yup. Check it out. Modeled system after: This talk that Merlin Mann and John Gruber delivered at South by Southwest 2009. Mann says, “Ask yourself, who do I want to delight?’ Can you think about one face behind your monitor that you see when you’re making something?… The truth is once you figure out who those faces are it gets a lot easier to make something you’re really, really proud of.” Mann, in turn, was inspired by Stephen King’s …

My System: Bribing the Kids to Bed

Who: Robin Marshall Job: Brand Strategist, Brooklyn Mom, Zipcar enthusiast How does it work? Robin says she created this system to eliminate night-time battles. “Every night our four-and-a-half-year old has the opportunity to earn three quarters. 1) for going to sleep without a fuss, 2) for sleeping IN HIS OWN BED all night (no 3 a.m. visits), and 3) for staying in bed, or at least staying quiet until 7 a.m. Each morning he gets to put stars on his chart and mom and dad pay up. After three weeks, he’s earned 40 quarters (his self-imposed goal) to buy a book of knight stickers at the Scholastic Store.” How long have you been doing this? About three weeks. Does your son actually like it? ”He loves it.  He feels good about his accomplishments, is learning about saving and spending. We’ve only had one night where he didn’t earn any stars. You’re raising a little capitalist, in his sleep! Yes, well, he likes feeling in control and ‘choosing’ to earn his reward.