It Feels So Good to Get It Done

We all have those tasks that never seem to get accomplished, lingering on our plate like the last shrimp on the party platter. These pages will help you understand why you're avoiding certain to-dos and cross them off your list for good. Now all that's hanging over your head is blue skies.

Photos by Corey Olsen Illustrations by Leon Edler Prop Styling by Angela Campos
5 min

Finally Paint Your Bedroom

WE TEND TO put off painting a bedroom, because guests rarely visit it. But it's the first space you see every morning and the last one you see at night. Break the project into four steps to make a color refresh a breeze.

  1. Prep the space. Wipe the walls with a sponge dipped in soapy water to get rid of dust and dirt. Use painter's tape to protect the ceiling and trim areas.
  2. Using a roller dipped in a paint tray filled with primer, paint the walls vertically until evenly coated. Let dry completely (at least three hours).
  3. Tackle the area near the trim: Dip the tip of an angled brush into the paint and run it along the edge of the wall, feathering it out about three inches from the tape.
  4. Roll paint onto the wall in overlapping three-foot W shapes until it's covered. Remove the tape while the paint is wet.


Just Deal With That Giant Pile of Mail Already


"MANY PEOPLE AVOID mail because they have an underlying fear that if they go through the mail too quickly, they'll throw out something crucial," says Susan Bartell, PsyD, a psychologist in Port Washington, New York, who specializes in life balance. "But seeing that pile on the kitchen counter is anxiety-provoking. It's a reminder of all the stuff you haven't taken care of yet, which feels overwhelming." Discipline yourself to tackle mail sooner and it will be less stress-inducing, says Bartell. Train yourself to go through it as soon as it's in your hand and immediately throw out the obvious junk. (Place a recycling bin in the garage or near the front door to prompt you.) "Very quickly, your pile will be less daunting," she says. It's easier to make quick decisions if you keep your sorting system simple: Bills go in one pile, invitations or anything else of value go in a second pile, and the rest gets tossed on the spot. Keep the "holding pen" from growing too big by sticking to a regular routine of responding to (or filing) those pieces. "Once a month works well for some people; others do it weekly—say, every Sunday night while watching TV," says Bartell. "The more you can make it a routine, the better."

Decide on Window Treatments

Windows as naked as the day you moved in? Get unstuck with ideas from designer Elaine Griffin.



Ready-made curtain panels that are twice the width of your window give the illusion of a larger opening. Lowe's and Bed Bath & Beyond have great selections.


A custom Roman shade has a high-end feel without a high price. Try Smith & Noble for quality shades that arrive in about three weeks.


Combine form and function with two layers of window coverings. To control light, use wood slat blinds from Lowe's or motorized roller shades in a neutral color from The Shade Store. Then add curtains for decoration. Curtains should start one inch below the ceiling and extend 5 to 12 inches past the window on both sides.

Bring Order to the Cords


"ISN'T THIS THE cord to the PS2? We don't have a PS2 anymore. Or is this the cord to the photo printer?" I am in our home office talking to my husband, who has stopped listening. I don't blame him.

We supposedly live in a wireless world, but we have a drawer full of cords. Most of the time I'm scared to look inside. The contents look back at me like cyber snakes. There are black cords, white cords, a thin, clear cord with even thinner colored cords inside. That one's actually kind of pretty, but what does it click into? No one knows, and yet we can't make ourselves toss them.

My husband has more cord-based gear than I do, and I feel certain that the cord I threw away is the one he needs right now to do this important thing for work. This is one of those tasks that are doubly difficult because they can't be done solo. It's not just cord culling; it's a conversation. So it's easy to put off. Who wants to spend quality time talking about cords?

Sometimes I have the conversation in my head in advance and realize, eh, I don't want to use my relationship currency to pin my husband down on this project. It's about as fulfilling as figuring out a new spice rack system. Sometimes I don't want to have that conversation—or that marriage. Sometimes I just roll with it and let the spices fall (literally) where they may. So we do what we can.

Recently we confronted the drawer, organizing and labeling the cords with painter's tape and moving them into a pretty pink box from Ikea. It's all very orderly—for now. But I know the cords will multiply, and when I tilt open the pink lid they will stare back like mean spaghetti, their labels gone, daring me to do something. And we will break for wine and then start again.

Control Email

You don't have to aim for "inbox zero," says Jocelyn Glei, author of Unsubscribe.

  1. Use to scan your inbox for e-newsletters and marketing messages, then unsubscribe or roll those you do want into a daily digest.
  2. Add the free Chrome extension Inbox When Ready: It temporarily hides your Gmail inbox so you won't be constantly interrupted. (Most email can wait.)
  3. Curb your cc compulsion. You can't ban people from cc'ing you on everything, but you can shift expectations by stopping the cc'ing yourself.
  4. Tackle email in the stray 10 minutes between other tasks. When you have 20-plus minutes, do a task that requires more focus.


Get All the Laundry Done


THE BIGGEST REASON we lose track of laundry midway through the process can be summarized by the adage "Out of sight, out of mind," explains Meg Selig, author of Changepower! 37 Secrets to Habit Change Success. "Once laundry is in the washer or dryer, it requires effort to remember it. So set up a cue to remind yourself that it's in there, like leaving the laundry basket on your favorite chair. That way you'll think, "Before I sit down, I should switch the laundry to the dryer."" It also helps to find ways to make the task more pleasant, adds Julie Bestry, a pro organizer and productivity specialist: "Get rid of any clutter in the laundry room and install a valet hook, a rolling clothes rack, or a retractable clothesline. In your closets, move all the empty hangers to one area so you can hang up your clean clothes more easily."

Lose Those Last Five Pounds

Five women share the tweak that tilted the scale in the right direction.



"I have a 2-year-old and a 4-year-old, and I cook pretty healthy meals. But I realized that whenever my kids would go down for bedtime or naps, I would crash on the couch with a ton of junk food. Instead of swearing off specific foods, I decided I wouldn't eat when they're asleep. Now I don't eat nearly as much junk."—Liz Prowell, Frederick, Maryland


"I wanted to drop a few pounds for an upcoming girls' trip, but I didn't want to deal with counting calories or tracking food. At first I planned to just avoid chocolate, because I know the little handfuls of chocolate chips from the pantry or the afternoon cookie add up. But then I started looking at more labels and was floored by how many products have a ton of added sugar in them. I decided to skip anything with added sugar, and I could feel the difference in how my clothes fit within a week."—Jamie Mummey, Minster, Ohio


"It's crazy how easy it is to eat a small meal while you cook—a nibble of this here, a taste of that there. And then as I'm serving, I might have an extra bite or two. I vowed to stop eating anything that wasn't from my own plate at the table, and that one change made a real difference on the scale."—Mary Yarashefski, Chicago


"Slowly changing my mind-set around food has made the biggest difference. When I want to eat something specific, I've started asking myself, "Am I hungry, or do I just think that will taste good?" If it's a craving, that doesn't mean it's off-limits! But I'll have just a bite and really savor it, then pop in a piece of gum. I feel like this is something I can keep up."—Christine Michaleski, Virden, Manitoba, Canada


"Just because a food is low-calorie doesn't mean I want to eat it. I started scouting the grocery store aisles for new foods that have a ton of flavor without many calories. Right now I'm obsessed with harissa, the North African hot chile spread. Adding a little bit to some crackers and veggies makes the perfect lunch."—Clare Vickery, Chicago

Bring Your Lunch

Packing a midday meal doesn't require waking up an hour earlier, provided you have the right supplies on hand.


BROWN-BAGGING is one of those things we know are virtuous—thrifty, healthy, time-saving—and yet many of us end up eating takeout anyway. So try focusing less on being virtuous and more on making lunch delicious. Stock up on ingredients you know you'll enjoy eating. There's no point buying a ton of lettuce for salads if you're more of a hot-lunch gal. If you like sandwiches, load up on your favorite bread and a variety of fixings over the weekend and cut up some vegetables the night before. Toss them into your lunch bag for a balanced meal.

Some lunches you can—and should—prep in advance. Hearty greens like kale will soften slightly if dressed ahead of time, and leftover soup always improves with age. If you do assemble in the a.m., set yourself up for success before bed. Clear off the cutting board and lay out whatever equipment you might need, including the container you plan to pack your lunch in.

At work, stash shelf-stable condiments—olive oil, hot sauce, salt and pepper—and use those to perk up salads, soups, or homemade burritos. You can grab lemon wedges from most delis or coffee shops if your office doesn't have a cafeteria, and packets of honey, Dijon, and even chile flakes and Parmesan are available at many grab-and-go lunch joints.

Brush Up Your Baubles

A professional cleaning can remove dirt, fix damage, and identify loose settings. Don't wait until a valuable stone is lost forever.


CHANCES ARE, you've got at least one nice piece of jewelry—whether it's a wedding ring, a family heirloom, or a pair of studs—that could use a little more attention than it normally gets. Daily wear can result in dings and loosened settings, while contact with corrosive materials, like sweat, perfume, and other jewelry, can dull even the shiniest sparklers over time. Diamonds and gold are easy to clean at home with a few drops of dish soap dissolved in warm water, and specialty cleaning cloths for sterling silver are readily available. Costume pieces can be spot-treated with a damp cloth—avoid soap or cleansers, as they may cause discoloration or break down the glue used in settings.

At least once a year, a thorough professional cleaning is a good idea for fine jewelry. (And for some materials—like delicate gemstones and pearls,which can be ruined by homemade or commercial solutions—it's necessary.) To keep yourself on track with this task, for a recommended professional in your area, then schedule a cleaning just before your anniversary or any other important annual event where you'd like your bijou to shine. That way, you'll have extra motivation not to skip it.

Toss Old Beauty Loot


Item: anti-aging or acne cream
Ditch it after: six months

Item: body lotion
Ditch it after: two years

Item: eyeliner and mascara
Ditch it after: three months

Item: foundation and concealer
Ditch it after: one year

Item: masks and peels
Ditch it after: three months

Part With Gift Cards


WE CALLED IT the magic drawer: a spot in a bedroom bookcase where, instead of junk, my husband and I began stashing stuff that made us happy. Passports. Checkbooks. And gift cards—so many gift cards.

The cards piled up so high that we could hardly pry the drawer open. We just never seemed to use them. I had iTunes cards, but no music ever seemed worthy of cashing them in. Not even Hamilton! Call it the Lord of the Rings effect: By imbuing the drawer with magical properties, we had made its contents feel too precious to part with.

It's a fancy problem, granted, but also a common one. One estimate found that $973 million in gift cards went unspent in 2015, and a thriving online marketplace has popped up to help people buy and sell them. In the bottom of my drawer were discounts for Gymboree classes for my now school-age kids; a pass to the President's Club of Continental Airlines, which merged with United seven years ago; and an expired coupon for free Spanx. How could I have passed up a chance to get free Spanx? I vowed to clear the drawer out.

I started small, at Starbucks. I masked my embarrassment with a shrug and a smile—"I found this ancient gift card, and I have no idea how much is on it!"—and it turned out I had more than enough for an egg sandwich and a Venti. When I discovered $87 left on a partly used restaurant gift certificate, my husband and I booked a date night and toasted to the wine being free.

I'm thrifty (OK, cheap), but shopping with gift cards somehow made a mini splurge easier. I pooled my iTunes cards and got a membership to Apple Music. I spent some Pottery Barn credit on a faux-fur pillow that my kindergartner promptly adopted; then I used the remaining credit on another one so we wouldn't have to fight over it.

I got a massage (thanks to an old friend) and a pile of Sephora products (courtesy of my mother-in-law). It felt great, and not only for greedy reasons. I realized that not using my gift cards had been ungracious. Enjoying the givers' generosity made me feel connected to them.

The magic drawer is a useful organizing technique because you never want to treat your blessings like junk. But the real magic lies in making its contents disappear.

Learn the Beauty Basics You Should Have Picked Up at Summer Camp


A Cat Eye

  1. Grab a freshly sharpened creamy black eyeliner and draw a small wing, starting at the outer corner of your eye.
  2. Make small dashes across your top lash line, working from the outer corner to the inner corner.
  3. Goofed? Dip a cotton swab (the precision ones are great for detailing) in makeup remover and use it to erase any smudges, overly thick lines, or uneven wings.
  4. To lock in and intensify the look, go over the cream eyeliner with a liquid one.
  5. Apply a few coats of mascara on top lashes, wiggling at the roots to boost volume.

An At-Home Mani

  1.  Remove existing polish, then put a dab of oil on cuticles.
  2. Shape nails, filing in only one direction to avoid weakening them.
  3. Push back cuticles with an orange wood stick.
  4. Moisturize hands, then wipe nails with polish remover. This helps your polish adhere better.
  5. Apply a base coat, two coats of color, and a topcoat, letting nails dry thoroughly between coats.

Mark Your Calendar

Make a year's worth of appointments…today!



  • Plan health appointments for the rest of the year.
  • Start on your taxes now—typically, the earlier you file, the earlier any refund you're due will arrive.


  • Make special reservations for Valentine's Day well before the 14th so you'll have your pick of a good table.
  • Book your summer getaway this month to avoid springtime price hikes.


  • Have winter shoes polished and reheeled before you pack them away.
  • Early spring is a good time to buy, service, or reinstall an air conditioner—before it gets hot.
  • Bring your bike in for a tune-up so you'll be ready to ride on that first warm day.


  • Contribute to your Roth IRA; contributions made up until the tax deadline are applicable for the previous tax year.
  • Return forgotten library books during National Library Week. Some libraries offer an amnesty day during the year when fines are forgiven; call your branch for information.


  • Get your chimney cleaned and inspected. Doing so in the summer allows ample time if repairs are needed.
  • Clean and open a home pool, if you have one. Summer's almost here!


  • File the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) for college-bound kids if you haven't already. The deadline for 2017 fall funding is the end of this month.


  • Buy or order school supplies to avoid the late-night stampede at your local office-supply store.


  • Call or write to an old friend to honor Friendship Day on the 6th.
  • Take Fido for his checkup. If your furry friend has a microchip, August 15 is Check the Chip Day.


  • Turn off your sprinklers and winterize your yard before temperatures first drop below freezing.


  • Get your annual flu shot before winter germs begin to circulate.
  • Start on your taxes now—typically, the earlier you file, the earlier any refund you're due will arrive.


  • Take your car for its tune-up now to help prevent a breakdown during a long holiday drive.
  • If possible, sign your kids up for summer camp to take advantage of early-bird prices. Spots fill up fast.
  • Order custom holiday cards before the season is in full swing.


  • Make your final 529 contribution and charitable donations at the beginning of this month to ensure they're deductible on your 2017 tax return.
  • Never got that flu shot? You still can—in the U.S., flu season can last as late as May.

Schedule the Health Tests You Need This Year

Recommendations here, from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, are for healthy people at no increased risk of these conditions.



Cervical cancer (Pap test): Every three years.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea: Annually if you're sexually active; after age 25, annually if you have a new sexual partner or more than one partner.


Cervical cancer plus HPV screening: Every five years.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea: Annually if you have a new sexual partner or more than one partner.


Cervical cancer plus HPV: Every five years.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea: Annually if you have a new partner or multiple partners.

Type 2 diabetes: Talk to your doctor about screening if you are overweight.


Cervical cancer plus HPV: Every five years.

Chlamydia and gonorrhea: Annually if you have a new partner or multiple partners.

Mammogram: Every two years.

Colorectal cancer: Start at age 50; consult your doctor about frequency of testing.

Type 2 diabetes: Talk to your doctor about screening if you are overweight.

Bone density test: Start at age 65; consult your doctor about frequency of testing.

Declutter Your Kids' Art—3 Ways

  1. Pluck some from the pile to turn into abstract art. Focus on just one part of the picture—say, a giant flower, the sun, or any interesting shape—and cut out that piece to hang in a smaller frame.
  2. Create a rotating gallery wall in a playroom or your kid's bedroom. Use washi tape to hang pictures in a grid, about two to three inches apart—it's easily removable, so your kids can change up the composition and swap in new pieces.
  3. File away favorites and keep the rest in a medium-size bin to use as gift wrap or repurpose as tags. (Cut into a tag shape, hole-punch, and insert twine to attach to the gift.)

Face Down Your Future—Fearlessly

Most people find death too depressing to talk about. But that denial has a huge price, and it's loved ones left behind who will pay.


THE BIGGEST LESSON I learned when my mom died unexpectedly was that we were equally unprepared for her demise. The daunting task of dismantling her life fell solely to me. When I was in this wilderness of grief, the last thing I wanted to do was figure out what bills needed paying. But my mom wasn't there to answer the million questions that came up, like where was her car title? What was her iPhone lock code? How could I get into her bank account to pay for her cremation?

I knew I had to prevent others from going through what I went through, so I created an advance planning company—I call it Good to Go!—to try to change how we view death preparedness. With potluck dishes and cocktails (talking about the hard stuff means you need to drink the hard stuff), I guide people through the paperwork they will leave their loved ones, from medical directives to social media passwords. I now sell a "Departure File" ($55; that helps you compile personal information all in one place.

My healthy 71-year-old dad came to a Good to Go! party. A year later, he was admitted to the ICU and died after six days. During his hospital stay, I didn't have to make a single gut-wrenching decision, because I knew his wishes. His willingness to face the uncomfortable topic of dying in advance allowed me the emotional space I needed to focus on his life and his love for me. He even wrote his own obituary.

My dad and I had a lot of laughs while we prepared for his death. As we went through his bills, listening to '50s music and eating pizza, I asked him if there was anything in his house that he wanted me to keep after he died. He said, "Not really. You can get rid of it all." And with that, he eliminated any guilt I might have faced about selling his home after he died.

Write down your own wishes. Talk about them with loved ones. No one regrets the decision to plan for their death.

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