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Tricks and Tips for getting dinner on table on a busy schedule!

I’m all about the planning!  Planning your week’s meals is an important element to making sure that our family receives a balanced and healthy meal in today’s over scheduled world.

However…. Planning isn’t always done. In order to be ready for these crazy days where everyone is hungry at 6PM and you’re home at 5:55PM with no ideas for dinner you need to have some basics at home:

  • Pasta
  • Rice
  • Chicken Tenders (homemade from previous dinner)
  • Black Beans
  • Frozen vegetables
  • Frozen potato wedges (Alexa’s recommended)
  • Frozen Shrimp
  • Veggie Burgers (we like the Chipotle Black Beans from Gardenburger)

Here are some quick & easy meal Ideas:

Cuban Style Black Beans over a bed of white rice
– heat up pre-made frozen black beans or open up a can of black beans. Make rice (25 minutes). Serve black beans over white rice with side of veggies or a salad.

Veggie Burgers with Salad
– Grill up some frozen veggie burgers and serve with a salad

Chicken Tenders
– heat up frozen (homemade) chicken tenders and serve with roasted potato wedges (from frozen, Alexa’s) and vegetable of choice (fresh or frozen, no canned veggies please).

Pasta with sautéed shrimp
– sauté some minced garlic in Olive Oil, add defrosted shrimp and add S&P and basil (fresh if you have it) and cook until shrimp is done.  Serve over cooked pasta.

These are just some of my ideas, what are your favorite quick & easy meals?

Betty Hakes is a working mom and entrepreneur. Her passion is to bring families back around the dinner table and to help business succeed locally and in the online space.

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4 Time Saving Questions to Ask Before Completing Any Task

Are all those little tasks on your to-do list eating away at your productivity? Do you find yourself struggling with organizing your day’s tasks effectively and completing them on time? If so, there are four easy questions to answer before starting any task- at home and at the office.

4 Time Saving Questions to Ask Before Completing any Task

1.       How relevant is the task to my priorities and goals? When daily tasks threaten to overwhelm your schedule, it’s important to keep your eye on the bigger picture and evaluate a task’s relevance when compared to your priorities and short and long term goals. This helps you get the biggest and most important task in motion before the smaller ones chip away all of your working time for the day. However, if you find that many lesser important tasks are being pushed from day to day on your calendar, it’s time to call in some help to tidy up these leftovers before they become a problem.

2.       Can I/Should I delegate this task? Effective time managers know that the key to productivity is to avoid being bogged down with micromanaging every task. If someone else in your family or office is capable and willing to perform the task, pass it on and move on to the next item on your list. Tasks that do not require high levels of performance, like taking out the trash, scooping the cat box, or stapling papers, should always be delegated, leaving you free to tackle the more sensitive tasks for the day.

3.       Am I capable of completing this task? This question encompasses the need to gather supplies or  equipment, recruit extra hands or brains, and identify weaknesses in your skills and ability to successfully complete a task before you get started. Gathering supplies, a creative team, or instituting the necessary training before tackling a task ensures that your total work time from start to finish is as streamlined as possible.

4.       Do I understand the task and its requirements? Nothing can kill your productivity faster than getting halfway through a task and then realizing that you misunderstood a crucial detail or don’t know what comes next in the process. Knowing and understanding what your job will be in completing a particular task is crucial to managing your time effectively.

These four questions will help you prepare, prioritize, and complete your daily tasks at home and at work with greater efficiency. Saving time lets you free up space for increased productivity and a little more time for yourself. By streamlining your productivity, you enrich your life both at work and at home.

Jamie Simmerman is a registered nurse and freelance writerFollow her on Twitter

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Your Top 3 Excuses for Not Exercising Destroyed

You’ll totally start exercising…tomorrow. Or maybe next week. When the weather cools down. When it gets warmer. When you can afford a gym. Someday.

Sound familiar? Almost all of us know how important exercise is and the ways that it can help virtually any problem yet we come up with reason after reason to put it off. Here are some of the most common reasons I’ve heard and a virtual butt-kicking to get you off your tush and moving.

1. I DON’T HAVE TIME.

Most of us do have the time, we’re just using it for other things. I know you’re tired, I’m tired, too but exercise is nearly guaranteed to give you more energy and stamina in the long run and it’s worth feeling exhausted for a couple of days or weeks to get more energy for life.

If you truly have a packed schedule, chances are good it’s time to reevaluate your life and do some thinking about what can be eliminated so that you can take care of yourself. Keeping yourself fit and healthy is not a luxury, it should be at the top of your list of priorities. Not just so you can keep going for everyone else, but because you are worth it.

2. I DON’T HAVE MONEY FOR A GYM OR SPECIALIZED EXERCISE EQUIPMENT.

You don’t need to join a gym to exercise and there are plenty of physical activities that don’t require expensive gear. Good workout shoes are pricey, but while you’re saving up look into low impact activities like walking that can be done with the shoes you already own or look into exercise that you can do barefoot like yoga.

Be creative and ask around. I’m amazed at how many churches in my area offer totally free gyms for the public to use, no strings attached. Some even offer free workout classes and free or low cost childcare. Do an internet search, ask friends and coworkers, ask your human resources liaison, call community centers and your city’s parks and recreation department – chances are good you’ll find a wealth of free or low cost resources to help you get in shape. Take some initiative and stop using money as an excuse.

3. I’LL DO IT AFTER….

You don’t have to immediately leap into a Rocky-style workout regimen, so why not start small, now instead of waiting for perfect conditions that will probably never come? Take a walk, do an easy work out tape, do some yard work, go for a swim, just get moving.

Start small and start today. What’s that old saying? The enemy of good is perfect? Don’t put off taking care of yourself until you can do it perfectly. It’s better to do a little now than to try and wait until you feel you are ready.

A caveat: Everyone should get a yearly physical to make sure that they are in good shape and have no serious health conditions. You’ve all heard that you should talk with your doctor before starting a new exercise routine and that is solid advice, however people in good physical health can’t use it as an excuse not to take a walk or do a little stretching! Go ahead and schedule your physical and in the meantime get moving.

For those with chronic conditions or serious warning symptoms like shortness of breath, go to the doctor first, but don’t put it off. Be proactive about your health by finding out how you can use exercise to help relieve or eliminate your symptoms and lead a healthier life going forward.

What are your excuses for not exercising? How do you get over them?

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Let’s face it we all multitask out of necessity and with the goal of getting ahead. However (contrary to popular belief), research shows the brain cannot fully focus when multitasking.

The interference that comes when performing more than one task at a time creates a block which will impede your ability to efficiently finish a task. The ability to manipulate information and toggle tasks simultaneously will rarely benefit you in the long run.

Here Are 5 Reasons Multitasking is Keeping You Ineffective:

1.  Social Consequences. It is all too common to see people texting, listening to music and having a conversation with a friend at the same time. However, we are incapable of responding to our friends completely if we are juggling more than one task. A person will feel excluded if you start texting in the middle of a conversation because there is zero eye contact and connection. Multitasking when with friends or family creates a body language that says, “I am not connected with you and the social consequences are not worth it.” Living in your own world is the opposite of having a healthy social life.

2.  Hinderance to Happiness. If you are switching attention from cooking to talking to a friend, to helping with homework, to tweeting, then your brain will be on overload. With an endless sea of information at your fingertips and the ability to have so many choices, your happiness is compromised because you cannot fully complete each task with the attention it deserves. This leaves your spirit feeling incomplete, and possibly incompetent, thereby interfering with your happiness.

3.  Productivity is Compromised. When we fragment our attention, our ability to reason, learn, understand, work, and be creative is hindered. Our ability to produce and the depth of our focus continue to deteriorate as we juggle too many tasks at a time. We make more errors and that doubles the time of getting the job done efficiently.

4.  Lack of Clarity. When we are working on too many objectives at the same time our brain is conditioned to an over stimulated state. Physiologically it is impossible to maintain concentration. When we lack clarity there is a loss in the skill and the perseverance necessary to focus.

5.  Overstimulation. The human brain needs rest and recovery time to process ideas and memories. If we fill every second with habitual multitasking then the brain never receives the reprieve it needs to maintain concentration. The end result when the brain is overstimulated is that it cannot process and grow cognitively or socially.

Multitasking is ineffective. We are distracted by irrelevant information, rendering us less capable of focusing on a single line item.

Many people depend on synchronizing their lives through technology and integrating personal tasks. The computer encourages society to multitask, while leaving zero room for reflection, family relations or creativity.

It is impossible to properly plan or execute strategies to eliminate all your daily tasks if you attempt to do too much at once. Concentrating on one thing and suspending several other tasks will help you to create a sense of momentum, without ever feeling snowed under.

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Expand Your Dinner Options with this Asian Stir-Fry Dish

If you are a busy working mom and entrepreneur like me, we know that sometimes time is tight and resources are low in the kitchen. When this is the case, its options we seek.

Asian style stir fry is always a tasty and versatile option. You can serve it over a bed of rice or noodles and you can add in your vegetables of choice (or what you have in the fridge or pantry).

The sauce and seasoning of the meat (if using) is the key to any successful stir-fry.  Below please find my version of the “base” sauce.  Double it as necessary, I’m not one for measuring but this serves my family of 5 nicely.  I usually add meat or chicken, onions, red peppers, broccoli, carrots, zucchini, snow peas and water chestnuts.  Mushrooms and tofu would be a great addition as well.

Another key ingredient to making this a quick and easy meal is to plan ahead. For example, if you are using onions in a dish on Monday and you know you’re making stir fry on Wednesday, cut up extra onions and keep them reserved in the fridge.

Expand Your Dinner Options with this Asian Stir-Fry Dish

Here’s one of my recipes, what’s your favorite Asian Stir-fry recipe?

Meat:

  • 2 lb chicken or beef, sliced thin

Vegetables:

  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 red pepper, sliced
  • 1 small package of snow peas
  • 1 can water chestnuts
  • Carrots, julienned

Sauce:

  • 1 cup chicken or beef broth
  • 2 Tablespoons of Hoisin sauce (or a spicy BBQ sauce works well too)
  • ¼ cup of soy sauce
  • 1 ½ tsp grated fresh ginger or 1 tsp of dried ground ginger
  • 1 Tablespoon of cornstarch

Other:

  • Olive, sesame or peanut oil
  • S&P to taste
  • 1 can Water chestnuts, sliced
  • Cooked rice or Asian noodles

Directions:

  • Sprinkle meat (chicken or beef, whatever you are using) with salt and pepper and set aside.
  • Mix all of the sauce ingredients in a large measuring cup or bowl and set aside.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of oil over medium-high heat in Wok or large non-stick pan, add meat and brown on both sides.
  • Remove meat from pan and set aside. (Meat will not be cooked through yet).
  • Add more oil if necessary to the pan, then add the vegetables and stir fry about 1 minute – just until the snow peas bright green and the onion begins to soften.
  • Return meat to pan.  Add in water chestnuts, then pour in the sauce, stir to coat. Cover and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Remove cover and cook for another 3-5 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and sauce has thicken.
  • Serve over white rice or Asian Noodles

Servings: 4 – 5

How do you make your dinner quick & easy?  Let me know your thoughts.

Betty Hakes is a working mom and entrepreneur. Her passion is to bring families back around the dinner table and to help business succeed locally and in the online space.

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Ten Things to Do To Jump Start Your Productivity for Next Year

For many of us, work slows down and we have a lot more free time between Thanksgiving and New Year’s. Of course, a lot of that is taken up by holiday preparation and celebration, but why not take a bit of time to get a great start on your next year?

1. Purge and declutter. Do you need it? Will you ever need it? Is it irreplaceable? Make it easier to put your hands on the things that you do need by getting rid of the things that you don’t.

2. While you’re decluttering, go ahead and put all receipts and other documents you’ll need to file next year’s taxes in a folder or box.

3. You won’t be able to file your taxes until after the New Year and after you have all your documents in place, but that’s no reason you can’t get things started now. Find out what documents you’ll need that you might be missing (such as a social security number for  a new baby or tax identification numbers for contractors) and sort receipts by type.

4. While we’re at it, find out ways that you can still do this year to lower your tax bill.

5. You know all those broken things that trip you up and vex you every time you go to use them? Fix them or replace them. Life is easier when your things do the job that they were meant to do.

6.  Get caught up on your sleep and work on developing good sleep habits and hygiene.

7. Take some time off and completely relax. Your brain needs to see and do new things to keep growing and working its best so why not try exploring areas of your town that you’ve never gotten around to visit or playing new board games?

8. Read a book that can help explain how your mind works and what you can do to take advantage o f its natural inclinations rather than going against it. I recommend Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming Distraction, Regaining Focus, and Working Smarter All Day Long by David Rock.

9. Do care of all of those little nagging items on your to do list like returning library books and donating those old clothes to Goodwill. Breathe a sigh of relief.

10. Reevaluate your schedule and obligations. What makes you happy and motivates you? What makes you feel tired and hopeless? Even if you can’t immediately rid yourself of the energy drains, you can start on a plan to free yourself of them, which in turn can help with motivation and enthusiasm.

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Life is a whirlwind of activities, threatening to sweep you up and carry you away.

Nothing makes sense and your priorities are spinning out of control. You are officially sick of your lifestyle and have hit rock bottom.

You are tired of complaining and ready to do something about it.

Time is a priceless commodity, often depleted and leaving us living in vapor. It is all too easy to get mired in bad habits and time zappers such as procrastination, crisis management, media (television, telephones, technology), and emotional blocks ranging from stress to daydreaming.

Prioritizing your life’s tasks will help you find order, set precedents, and live up to the master plan you’ve designed for your best life.

Shift Your Priorities With These 5 Simple Tips!

1.Define your priorities by planning and using lists. A weekly calendar with daily to-do’s is a helpful tool to budget time and map out the activities that take precedence in the week. List daily, weekly, and monthly activities and prioritize the importance of each task with a ranking of  “A(most important),” “B,” or “C.”

2. Always keep your priorities in front of you and check them daily. This is the time when you create order, rearrange ideas, and ensure nothing is left out. Remember, the order of priorities isn’t permanent and should be a flowing, fluid list that is continuously adjusted as personal preferences or life alter each project. Use the master list to keep track of all your commitments. If you are worried about finishing something, put it on the list. Having a list helps you develop long term goals and frees your mental space for other items that need attention.

3. Be honest with yourself and never create impossible goals. Whatever your priorities are, give adequate time to each goal. Being realistic will lead you to a life of fulfillment. Whether your priority is family, health, or career, don’t fall into the trap of doing too much too soon. Take time to identify each priority and define the boundaries that will lead you to a positive outcome.

4. Take time for yourself to reflect. Taking time for yourself seems simple, yet it is the first thing we tend to neglect. When time isn’t set aside to regroup and reflect we feel frustrated, overwhelmed and stressed out. The end result is a loss of priorities and personal needs. Take five minutes in a quiet place to close your eyes and focus on your breathing. A peaceful mind will always lead to clearer thoughts.

5. Stick to the plan. You wouldn’t take a trip around the world without an itinerary. If you want to go anywhere in life you need to plan ahead and remain consistent.  Pinpointing the priorities and staying true to the personal goals requires great time management and perseverance.

Remember, life changes and your priorities will shift. You can’t manage all your tasks if you have not identified what needs to be done, determined the actions to accomplish the task and provided yourself with time to reflect. If you don’t set goals and prioritize, you can expect to spin your wheels.

Opportunities happen to people with a plan, and having one is half the battle to changing your life’s priorities.

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7 Things Being a Waitress Taught Me About Time Management

Plus, since your wages are dependent on tips, it helps a lot if you can do it with a smile and project an air of cool confidence instead of being a flustered, distracted mess.

I don’t wait tables any more, but as a busy mom of five who works at home, those lessons I learned from being a server have served me well as I try to get it all done with less stress and a bit of flair.

1. Minimize the number of steps you have to take. This is horrible advice if you want to lose weight, but if you want to get too much stuff done in too little time, then you have to make every step count. Organize your actions so that you are never going any where empty handed.

2. Write things down. I know there are servers out there who pride themselves on being able to remember orders but I found that writing things down was the best policy and ensured that I wouldn’t forget the extra ranch and have to make another trip.

3. Clean as you go. During my early days of waiting tables, I never felt like I could spare that extra minute to straighten out the drink or salad station. The thing is, a mess only added to my feelings of anxiety and keeping things tidy and organized made it that much easier to get things done quickly, but in a calm, collected way instead of a mad panic.

4. Speaking of mad panic: breathe. Don’t get so wound up about all that you have to do and forget to breathe fully and deeply. Taking short, shallow breaths is not only hard on your body but also adds to the feelings of stress.

5. Take control of the situation. At first, I’d walk up to take a tables orders and frantically tried to keep up as they told me what they wanted willy nilly with no particular rhyme or reason. Once I got more experience under my belt, I learned to take charge by asking one person for their order and from there, going around the table clockwise. People don’t usually mean to make your job harder and don’t generally mind friendly clear directions but you have to show that you’re the one steering the boat otherwise it’s like herding cats.

6. Keep the lines of communication open. Good servers know that if there are going to be delays the worst thing you can do is hide. There is no need to give updates on every little thing but people appreciate getting a heads up when things will take longer than expected and being able to reach you easily if there are concerns.

7. The storm always passes. No matter how bad and out of control things might feel on a very bad night, it always ends and calm is restored. Do the best you can and you will start to see results even if it feels like you’re in the middle of chaos.

What lessons did you learn about time management from you first job?

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How to Beat Depression

Depression is a often a symptom of a very serious problem. Depression can stem from a chemical imbalance in the body, deep-seated guilt, anger and frustration, bitterness, regret, or mourning. Nearly any negative emotion or major life change can result in a lingering depression. While pharmacological management is often used and is suitable for many cases of depression, most health-care professionals now recommend adding other interventions as well to help manage depression. Here are a few you can try at home.

It’s important to note that if you are experiencing lasting or deep depression that includes thoughts of harming yourself or others, you should seek medical help immediately. Also, if you are already being treated for depression, you should consult your doctor or therapist before trying any of these interventions.

1. Develop a support system. Depression thrives when we are isolated from others. There is great power in living openly in community with others, and developing a support system to help you through the dark days is essential in beating depression. Seek out others who have overcome depression, those who love you, and those who are willing to walk alongside you during your struggle. You can check for community sponsored support groups, church mentoring programs, and your local counseling center to locate support persons if you don’t already have people in your life to help you through your depression. Just remember, help is available- you are not alone.

2. Enlist help. Enlist the help of three to four people who agree to be your emergency army in times of need. These are the people you can call on day or night when you’re in a crisis and need to talk. These are often people who understand that when you say, “I think I need help”, there’s a world full of meaning behind those words. They stand ready to support you and love you during the darkest days.

3. Know your limits. We all have days when we feel overwhelmed, but know your limits well enough to know when to call out for help. Know when you need to get out and be with other people, and when you need to refrain from intimate conversations and major life decisions. With the help of others and your doctor or therapist, you can overcome depression.

4. Deal with your emotions. Many times, depression’s root cause is deeply seated emotions. These emotions can carry over from a troubled childhood, a bitter divorce, the loss of a loved one, or any unresolved life experience. You don’t have  to rehash every negative emotion you’ve ever had, nor do you need provide intimate details of painful experiences to heal in every case. However, you do need to give validation and light to these emotions that continue to affect your mental well-being. A trained counselor or therapist can help you work through your emotions if you need help.

5. Help others. Helping others is a great way to help lift the fog of depression. When you focus on others, you learn to put your own problems aside, and perhaps gain a new perspective on the scope of your troubles. Helping others is very rewarding for most people and serves as an instant spirit lifter when depression lurks nearby.

6. Monitor your thinking. Carefully control the thoughts that you allow to run rampant through your mind. Stop any negative thoughts as soon as you notice them and replace them with a positive statement. Find something positive about each and every day, even if it’s just the sunrise and the birds singing outside your window. Each day has something wonderful to offer, but we must look for it and learn to treasure it.

You can beat depression. You can take back control of your life with the help of a strong support system, a positive attitude, professional counseling, and lots of love. If you decide to try medication for a time, just remember that there is no shame in seeking help for your condition. Medication has effectively helped countless individuals conquer depression and it could be the answer that finally lifts the fog enough to see the light. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by depression, seek help today. Waiting only makes it harder. There are people who are willing and able to help you through this dark time.

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If you’re considering finishing a degree or staring a new educational path, you’ll soon discover that graduating as an adult learner is a great deal different from graduating as a young adult. A few time management tips gleaned from personal experience can help you adjust to college life as an adult a little more easily.

Going back to college as an adult learner presents more challenges than I originally anticipated. I did well while earning my Associate’s Degree just out of high school, earning my Bachelor’s Degree should be no different, right? I soon found out going back to school as an adult student was anything but easy.

This time around I was struggling to read through a chapter of easy text while dealing with constant interruptions from my kids, husband, and the constant reminder from the clock ticking toward the end of my allotted study time. I realized I was going to have to make some changes to manage my study time more effectively before my grades suffered.

Time Management Tips for Adult Students

1.  Outsource whatever you can. To make room for study time, I took a look at my finances and determined what I could spend on babysitters, housecleaners, takeout food, and extra trips to the library for some peace and quiet. By outsourcing as many of my usual tasks as I could, I carved out a significant portion of my week to devote to schoolwork (and part time work to fund my outsourcing).

2. Create a firm schedule. If I was going to stay on track and meet my educational goals, I needed to replace my flexible stay at home mom routine with a firm schedule. It was difficult to adjust at first, especially for my children, but the end result was a significant increase in my productivity.

3.  Naps rule. In order to carve out quiet study time, I gave up several hours of sleep a week to study while my family slept. To stave off the effects of sleep deprivation, I learned the value of a power nap. 15-20 minutes of rest in the afternoon was enough to keep me going for the rest of my day. I popped in a movie for my kids, created a nest behind my knees with blankets, and encouraged my baby birds to curl up in the nest for the duration of the cartoon. Sometimes they napped, sometimes they just cuddled, but I always got my power nap in and made it through the day.

4.  If you can’t beat ‘em, enlist ‘em. On days when I absolutely could not get away from my kids to study, I made flash cards and let them quiz me on terms and study questions. The kids enjoyed helping and they learned a few facts along the way. My five year old became an expert in labeling the parts of the brain, and would quiz me every night while taking his bath.

5.  Create a buffer. One of the most valuable time management lessons I learned was to provide a time buffer in my schedule every week. I allotted time for schoolwork early in the week and set a goal to turn in assignments early rather than at the last minute. This gave me enough flexibility to allow for all those unexpected things in life that happen when you have a family (like the stomach flu at 3 AM, trips to the Emergency Room for stitches, and in-laws dropping in for an unexpected visit).

Higher learning can be an enjoyable experience for the adult learner, and the entire family, but your approach to the changes you’ll need to make will help determine how your family views and adjusts to those changes. Keep a positive attitude, de-stress often, and set achievable time management and educational goals that fit your lifestyle. Managing your time effectively when taking classes as an adult student requires a good deal of preparation, juggling of responsibilities, and setting a strict schedule.

Jamie Simmerman is a registered nurse and freelance writerFollow her on Twitter

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