Planning

Why You Need to Make an Entertaining Playbook Right Now

In January, Mike and I were snowshoeing through the breath-taking landscape of Interlaken, Switzerland. Our first night in town, we went sledding down a pitch black mountain in the middle of the night. We were wearing all the layers we had, it was so cold! But the beauty above us made the adventure worth the chill. The stars sparkled like confetti.

We slowly made our way down, spotting sharp curves and steep cliffs as we went. After an hour, we arrived at the base of the mountain and wandered into a tiny bar.

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They served us piping hot cheese fondue and local beer by the pitcher. We dined at a table with 8 strangers who didn't speak the same language, but that didn't matter. We all laughed and drank together well into the night. 

Now whenever someone serves me a beer, I think about that tiny shack in the middle of the mountains. It's light that glowed for miles amidst the dark, snowy mountainscape. And the warmth and happiness we felt as we dined there. 

Those feelings are exactly what I try to create for my guests when I entertain. Hosting, for us, is about gathering together and enjoying each other's company. 
 

Now, entertaining means different things to different people. But whatever it means for you, the best way to achieve it is to create your own Entertaining Playbook. Consider it your secret weapon for achieving your entertaining goals.

Everything I do when I entertain is intentional. I have a playbook in my head of how to achieve my wins and I follow it religiously. It contains the following golden nuggets:

1) A Pre-Arrival Cleaning Check List

This can vary a little depending on guests and party type, but a few rules always ring true:

  • Having a clean home is actually more important than having a perfectly decorated one. If you have dirty floors or dusty furniture, people won't feel very relaxed.
  • The bathroom must always be spotless. It's the one place your guests are alone, so make sure it is in ship shape! Read more about how to always keep your house clean here. 
  • If you are having babies or young children over, pay extra attention to floors. Also, look for anything that needs to be child-proofed for safety. 
  • Avoid clutter at all costs. It makes people feel crowded. Think clean, clear counter tops and make sure everything has a proper place to live. 


2) A System for Greeting Guests. 

Mike does most of the heavy lifting as guests arrive. I'm usually wrapping things up in the kitchen when they start pouring in the front door, so Mike answers it. He collects coats and gets everyone situated with drinks. He's awesome at it and this takes a lot of pressure off me. The key things to remember for when your guests first arrive:

  • Greet them with a smile and a kind word
  • Take their coats and show them where they can set their purses and other belongings down
  • Give them something to drink. Immediately!

This stuff is really simple but it makes a big difference. It's important that one person has these duties and does them well because it sets the tone for the rest of the event. 

I am always amazed at how often I arrive at someone's home and 20 minutes later I'm still standing there in my coat. Or wondering if it would be rude to ask for a glass of water because they never offered me a drink. 

Anyway, to make drinks easy, try having a bottle of wine or signature drink out and ready for pouring.

3) Guidelines for Creating the Ultimate Ambiance 

I could go on about ambiance for days, but I'll try to keep it brief here. When it comes to designing your party environment,  consider:

What does winning at entertaining look like for you?

To me, winning is when my guests are so happy and relaxed that they feel at home. 

For example, recently I invited some close friends over for dinner and a movie. We noshed on appetizers and had a simple dinner with tasty wine. Then I shooed them down to the family room to pick a movie while I finished up dishes. At the moment I turned the corner to join them in the family room, I saw that everyone was horizontal.

 Literally. 

They're all lounging comfortably on the couches, snuggled under hand-knit blankets. As I watched them sipping wine and laughing among themselves, my heart swelled a little. I did it! I made them feel at home. 

To achieve my ideal environment, I focus on warmth and comfort. There are candles lit in every single room a guest might wander into. (Seriously, so many candles! I'm pretty sure my in-laws think I'm a giant fire hazard.)

There's always a tabletop fireplace burning in the living room. It doesn't give off much heat so it creates the warmth visual all year long. If it's winter, I also light the big fireplace downstairs so guests can enjoy its cozy crackle. 

I also have countless blankets and pillows available. My favorite blankets are the ones I knit because they have a lovely weight to them. When you snuggle under one, they feel like a hug. 

Music.

I have sort of a weird approach to music. I don't like to pick a generic dinner party playlist. I choose music based on guests and occasion. 

If we're having a birthday party for someone, I like to play a mix of their favorite artists all day. It makes them feel super comfortable and they, of course, will immediately love it. You get extra points if you catch them humming a favorite when they think no one is paying attention. 

You can never go wrong with themed music for themed events. Bachata for a Cinco de Mayo party. Horror movie soundtracks for a Halloween Movie Night. You get the idea. 

Soundtracks are actually an amazing source for party music. They naturally strike feelings and emotions in the listener. Because they were written and composed for that exact purpose. 

It really works. Next time you're planning a romantic dinner, try sourcing music from movie scores. The more romantic the scene of the movie, the better. 

Consider alternatives to the basic playlist too. My husband has a massive record collection, so sometimes we'll fire up his turntable. We take turns pulling albums from a display and playing tracks while we eat. 

Norah Jones actually has a piano in her kitchen so she can play whenever the mood strikes her. It's my dream to have a piano for my guests and myself to play during a party. So far, my hubs isn't convinced the piano will fit in the house... (#lifegoals)  

Decor.

It's become more about ambiance and less about the show, for me. My approach at this point is playing with what you have and don't over think it. I try to arrange candles in different ways or dig things I haven't used in a while out of storage. As long as your keeping up with your seasonal decorating, there's really no need to go crazy with party decor. 

Setting the Table.

I always have a set table with polished silverware, and tall glasses filled with water. 

Polishing the silverware. Ok, so that might sound snobby, but it's not. Silverware falls under the category of "stuff guests physically interact with". It's part of their tactile experience, as are the wine glasses they drink from and the napkins on their laps

When you're buying items for your table, always spend more on things in that category. Silverware should have a nice weight to it. Glasses should have beautiful curves and cuts. Mix colors and textures to add interest. Buy a couple sets of quality cloth napkins. You can cut costs on plates, and plain white dinnerware is the best way to showcase your food. 

The water thing comes from my bartending days, when I learned that people can never have too much water. Like ever. Make sure you're getting up a couple times during the meal to refresh drinks and refill waters too. 

4) Good To Know Tips for Food & Drinks

Wine.

I do try to pair food and wine as best I can. I think it elevates the guest experience when flavors come together well. The easiest way to find a great pairing is to:

  • Serve the wine you're cooking with. 
  • Serve "like with like." For example, if you're cooking a recipe that comes from the Burgundy region of France, like Coq Au Vin. The wines from that area will be natural partners to the dish. 
  • Serve wine you love to drink.

Wine always tastes better with air. It's not unusual for me to decant a bottle or two a couple hours in advance of the party so the wines have time to relax. You want your guests to enjoy the full potentiality of the wine, so don't be shy about opening early.

If you're serving a new signature cocktail, it's always best to do a dry run a couple days before. Practice makes perfect! Also, it's easier to serve cocktails to crowds if you have the liquors and mixers already in a pitcher. Then all you have to do is shake or pour over ice as the drink requests roll in. 

Never underestimate the power of a drink garnish. Even if it's a little wedge of citrus on a water glass or a sliced strawberry on the side of a flute of champagne. Small stuff like that packs a punch for your guests. It reflects care and attention to detail.

What if you're serving craft beers and high-end wines, but you have one friend who likes a cheap domestic brew? 

Buy them the cheap beer. The point is to make your guests comfortable and to make sure they have a good time. Don't try to force your advanced beer knowledge on them. Some people like what they like. Just go with it. 

Along with that, let's talk food. 

When it comes to food, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. A fancy dinner is not going to impress a table full of picky eaters. (Ask me how I know!)

Sometimes, as a foodie, I can get a little overzealous about the menu. It's just so much fun to try new recipes! But if no one will eat your fabulous meal, you've missed the mark. 

We all want to impress a little when we entertain, I get it. But forcing people out of their comfort zones is not going to score you any points. In fact, it could cause them to reject future invitations. 

Which brings us to the most important food rule: your guests should NEVER go home hungry. Ever. You want to make sure there is more than enough for everyone to eat. Leftovers aren't going to kill you. 

Also, always set your coffee pot up ahead of time so you can start it as soon as the meal finishes. 

5) Tiny personal touches. 

This is my favorite! A couple weeks back, I mentioned that I keep files about my loved one's preferences and allergies. This really helps with creating little personal touches when you host parties. 

I enjoy finding unique ways to make my guests feel warm, welcome and comfortable. And I try to find fun gestures to express just how happy we are that they've come to spend time with us.  

For example, I placed a 6 pack of an uncle's favorite beer next to his recliner when I hosted the Super Bowl this year. It was cold and waiting for him and he thought it was the best thing ever. 

Little things like that go a long way. 

Another thing I like to do is cut down on the chaos around the table. I always make sure everyone has their own individual dish of butter. This prevents conversation disruption. No one has to ask for anything they need to be passed to them.  

People love having their own mini anything. Individual wine decanters were another hit.  Once, I even served everyone their own individual cheese plates on tiny granite slabs. 

Be creative and have fun with it. Little delights make your parties memorable and they boost guest enjoyment. 

So now that you've had a peek at my playbook, it's your turn to put together an Entertaining Playbook!

If you have any fun tips or tricks, make sure you share them on our Facebook page. I always love learning new ways to dazzle people!

Cheers,

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What You Need to Know to Be Awesome at Fall

The nostalgia of Fall is never lost on me. Each year, I giddily pick apples and hike through forests of changing leaves. I buy new office supplies and refresh my workspace. I embrace the chill in the air with a cute coat and a cup of hot cider. And I eat s'mores. Like, crazy amounts of s'mores. 

Of course, the best way to conquer fall is to plan for it.

I can make anything about planning, lol. Anything. 

But it's true! If you're not proactively scheduling ways to enjoy this season and prepare for the next, you won't do much.

Here are 7 things you need to do to be awesome at fall:

1) Clean and Maintain your Home. 

Every month, I publish a new list of things to do to clean and maintain your home for that time of the year. You can find it in the library! 

2) Make Your Fall Bucket List

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Decide how you want to spend your time this season and put it on a bucket list! Use it when you do your weekly planning to help balance all your hard work with a little seasonal joy.


3) Schedule Some Fall Fun!

Find ideas for things to do to enjoy this month (big and small) here.  You need to choose your fun and schedule it in so the days don't pass you by. Remember, if it's not on the schedule, it doesn't get done!

4) Change Up your Recipes

For me, fall is the season of slow cooker dinners and afternoons making a perfect apple pie. Dig out your favorite fall recipes or check out my Fall Recipes Pinterest board for new ideas! 

5) Decorate Your Home

You need to freshen your environment a bit to make it really feel like Fall. Looking for inspiration? Check out my Fall Decor Ideas board on Pinterest!

6) Host a Fall Gathering

Whether it's a football tailgate, a backyard bonfire, or a fall dinner al fresco, get it done! It doesn't have to be anything big, but you need to try to bring people together to enjoy the moment. Looking for tips on how to be a good host? I'll give you a sneak peek into my entertaining playbook on the blog in a couple weeks. 

7) Prepare for the Holiday Season

I know I'm going to get some flack for this, but you should really be preparing for the holidays now. See the replay of my 10 Clever Ways to Get Ahead of the Holidays here!

Ok, you're ready! I'd love to see how you used this guide to conquer the season. Post a photo of how you were awesome at fall this year (and tag me!) on Instagram

Happy Fall!
 

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How to Be the Most Productive Person in the World

Getting things done (GTD) is really all about logistics.

You have a concrete number of hours in your day and how you choose to spend that time determines how you GTD. Sounds simple, right?

Not for most people. Did you know that 89% of people do not finish their daily to-do lists? It's true!

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You can't make a to-do list and expect to crush the day, because, there's a lot more going on in your life than just your list.  You have countless facets of your day to manage, and a list doesn't get you very far in achieving anything. 

So, what's a busy gal to do? How do you conquer your list each day?

It all comes down to your schedule.  

Your schedule is the nexus of planning and information. It's how you do everything: your activities, meetings, events, travel, etc. 

Without your schedule, you're toast. 

It's not enough to create a to-do list.  Because, if it's not on your calendar, it's not to getting done.  You need to have your actionable tasks on your schedule.  

The most productive people in the world have schedules, not to do lists - for this exact reason!

This is why the EO Daily To-Do List has your schedule down one column and space for tasks in the column alongside it.  You have to decide what you're doing and when you're going to do it. 

That's easy enough.  But there's more! 

There's a hidden benefit to this approach because it forces you to realize your limits. It's pretty hard to have an overflowing to-do list once you run out of room on your schedule. You have to decide what to do now and what to do later. 

Which brings us to the next phase in becoming the most productive person in the world: rank your to-dos. It's not just about what's important. You have to focus on what will give you the most forward motion towards your goals

Enter the Task Priority Matrix. 

This magical worksheet will take your productivity to the next level. It forces you to make all the decisions to determine your next most important tasks (MIT). And when you're done filling it in, you have a visual representation of where everything falls into the mix. 

Basically, it's the gatekeeper.

And every schedule needs a sentinel. Nothing goes on the calendar until it's made its way through the Task Priority Matrix. Not a thing. 

See, your time is your most precious resource. If you are not using it to your greatest advantage, you're wasting it. 

The Task Priority Matrix is your benchmark for success. Use it to plan your days and weeks. Every time you cross something off, you'll be able to move something else into its place. 

Now, you may be thinking, "not everything will fit on my Task Priority Matrix." You probably have many running lists of items to take care of and, it's true, they won't all fit. And you DO still need these lists. What do you do with them? 

You put them in your digital brain. 

For those of you not familiar with the concept, the digital brain is your second brain. 

Basically, your real-life brain is not a storage device. It was never meant to be. Having endless things to remember is not healthy for it. And we have more information coming at us all the time. 

You need to create a digital database where you can store the information you have to retrieve "someday." 

There are many program options to use for your digital brain, but we recommend OneNote. I have made a starter version of this digital brain in the Library

It's called the Household Manager Notebook. And it's awesome!

I included pre-populated forms and checklists to get you started. And the best part is, you can completely customize it according to your needs. 

This is also where you keep sets of running lists. 

Came across a travel article for a trip you want to take recently? Put it on your running list of travel research articles. Need to access prescription information for your dog on the fly? Access it in their digital medical records. Have a list of home maintenance projects to attend to? Put it on the list!

I know. It's amazing. 

Now that you have your 3 tools for success, we need to put this all together into a system.

Here's what you need to do.

1) Update your Household Manager Notebook in real-time. 

Every time something comes up that you need to store/remember/come back to, pop it in the HHMN.

2) Update Your Priority Matrix and Plan Your Week

I do this every Sunday. As I fill in my TPM, I reference lists and reminders inside my HHMN. Catch the workshop replay on Boosting Your Productivity with Weekly Planning here.

3) Fill in the EO Daily Agenda each day according to your weekly plan. Effectively scheduling your tasks!

That's it. Now you know the secrets to being the most productive person in the world!

go forth and conquer life!

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PS- Imagine how amazing the world would be if we all got better at accomplishing our goals. If you know anyone who needs help being more productive, share this post!

 

How to Tame Your Crazy To-Do List For Good

We don't actually have 24 hours in a day. 

I mean, technically speaking, we do. But from a productivity standpoint, most of those hours are already allotted before we open our eyes. When I wake up, I already have a full schedule of things I have to do.  

On an average weekday, my timeline looks like this:

12:00 am - 5:00 am: Sleep

5:00 am - 6:00 am:  Morning Routine

6:00 am - 7:00 am:  Commute to Job

7:00 am - 4:00 pm:  Work 

4:00 pm - 5:00 pm:  Commute Home

5:00 pm - 6:15 pm:  After Work Routine 

6:15 pm - 10:15 pm: Tackle To Do List

10:15 pm - 11:00 pm: Before Bed Routine

11:00 pm - 11:59 am:  Sleep

When you account for all these time constraints, I have 4 hours to get anything important done. Less if I need to squeeze in a work out or get some down time. 

Because those precious 4 hours fall at the end of my day, my productivity is dependent on how I'm feeling. Often, by the time I've washed the last dish, set the coffee pot, and packed my lunch, I'm pretty spent. 

So. 4 tired hours. That's what I have to work with. 

Know Your Limits.

Half of winning the "get sh*t done" battle is understanding your real life vs your ideal life. It doesn't matter how ambitiously you assign your tasks for the week. If you don't have the time or energy to execute your plan, it's not a good plan.

It's also important to recognize your productivity ZERO days. We all know these days. For example, if you know you often get held late at work on Monday, address that in your weekly plan. You might have an appointment every Tuesday that just drains you. Or your kid's soccer meet always goes into overtime. Recognize these days and plan accordingly.

Some days, you might not get ANYTHING done. And the sooner you accept that, the more successful you will be at knocking out your to do list.  The more realistic your to do list is, the better your chances of executing it. Period. 

It all comes back to planning for your actual energy levels. Your obligations,  appointments, and schedule affect your productivity.

Learn how to manage the humans in your life.

tame your crazy to do list for good

This is something we don't talk about enough. The people in your life can wreak total havoc on your to do list. It is always so frustrating to read blog posts about productivity that talk about how you have to say "no" more.

As if it's that simple, right? Your kid walks up to you the night before their paper is due (that you didn't even know existed) asking for help. And you're supposed to say "no". It's not realistic. Frankly, it's insulting to say that you're failing at your goals because you don't say "no" enough.

Now, I am not saying you should say "yes" to everything. Of course, if you have a big goal, you want to cut your other commitments. But, you need to figure out how to efficiently manage how others will impact your goals.

Not sure where to start with this? Read this post on how I check in with my husband every week. 

Scheduling your tasks according to your real life is the best thing you could ever do for your goals. It's the difference between being a planner and a goal crusher. And we can all use a reality check, now and again, right?

Use Your Planner. EVERY DAY.

One of the main reasons people fail to check off their to dos, is that they're not looking at their list. We've all struggled with this. You planned your perfect day and then never bothered to actually look at your planner.

It should be something you reference often throughout the day. If you have a digital to do list, schedule notifications to ensure you're keeping up with it. And if you're using a paper planner, you need to create a habit of always referencing it and leaving it open for you to see. Need help remembering to use it? Read this post on creating a habit!

How are you spending your precious time?

When you have so little of each day for yourself, it becomes even more important to spend that time well. Rank your to do list to crush the things that really need doing. 

Checking off a bunch of small items may make you feel more productive in the moment. But, you may wonder why, 6 months later, you never got that book written or that mudroom built. It's because the small stuff distracts us from the big. 

Stay focused. If you have a big goal, you need to hit your targets for that goal before you do anything else each day. 

Trim the Fat.

If you have 20 items on your to do list for any given day, you are setting yourself up for failure. Overachievers are known for this. We are so ambitious we often bite off more than we can chew. It usually results in sinking disappointment. You feel like a failure when you "fail" to check everything off your list. 

To Do List Truth: If you chip away at everything every day, you will take FOREVER to finish ANYTHING. It is better to get one major project done a month than to chip away at 6 projects for 6 months and never finish one. 

I try to focus on a Top 3. Often my to do list only has one item because I theme my days. So, today's list is simply, "Write Blog Posts." That's all I'm accomplishing today. And it's perfect. I am relaxed and focused and getting a lot of writing done. 

The best way to ensure the big stuff gets done is to batch your tasks.

Some people do this by theming the days of the week, so every day is dedicated to a specific kind of work (a great example of this is my cleaning schedule). A typical week might look like this:

This works best for people who do the same type of work each week. Theming doesn't have to be a weekly process. For those whose work is more project based, theme your month instead.

The added benefit to theming your days is that batching your tasks is the most efficient way to get stuff done. It allows you to focus better because you're not switching tasks constantly. You will get more done!

Focus will set you free. 

If you need a little help with figuring out where to focus your energy each week, I made you a worksheet!

Now, it will take time to get used to cutting down your to do list and having one big goal for each day. It can be uncomfortable to not look at everything or to put projects on hold until their designated day. It felt a little scary at first, but it has been a serious game changer. I am completing my to do list every day and it feels great. I'm actually accomplishing more than I was before!

This removes all the pressure of an endless list of things to do and allows me to sink into what really matters. And that's what designing your life is all about. 

Have you tamed your to do list? Tell us how you get stuff done on our Facebook Page!

xo Katie

The #1 Thing That Will Make You Have a Happier Marriage

All households come with responsibilities. It's the nature of the beast.

For the sake of efficiency, couples tend to divide these responsibilities by type of task. For example, grocery shopping, cleaning, and yard maintenance are all types of tasks. It makes the most sense to have one person in charge of a certain thing than to have many people doing everything. 

But here's where things go off course. You're sacrificing your ability to function as a team by splitting tasks this way. 

For example, when you have one person in charge of groceries, no one else gets much of a say in what the family eats. 

There is also an issue with communication when items are so divided.

Who here has texted or called their partner at work to ask them a trivial household question? 

I am SO guilty of this!

"Do you need anything from the store?"
"Where is the black flashlight?"
"Do you like these end tables?"

It's bad form to interrupt your partner's work day with questions that can wait until later. But if you don't ask, they don't get opportunities to give input.

This begs the question, if marriage is all about teamwork, how can we bring in the team on these individual tasks?

How can I make sure my husband is eating the dinners he likes? How can he get more involved in our house projects?

And, more importantly, how can we do this efficiently?

Partner Weekly Check In

It is with all this in mind, that I designed our Weekly Partner Check In system. 

It started with the worksheet. I made a printable for us to fill in every week.

It includes the following sections:

  • Requests for the Chef (meal suggestions)
  • Expense Tracking (records weekly household expenses)
  • News
  • General Household Business (i.e. Where's the Netflix dvd?)
  • Upcoming Projects
  • Notes Spaces for each member of our household (for love notes and pertinent info)
  • Q&A Space (i.e. How should we spend date night Friday? Do you need anything from the store? Do you need any special support from me this week?)

It's important to note that we both fill in sections of the page.

Two-way communication is key.

Next, I created recurring tasks in my planner to fill out the sheet and deliver it to my husband. 

Here's how it works: 

I carry the sheet with me all week and add to it whenever something pops into my head. I try to have my half filled in by Friday. On Saturday, I deliver it to my husband with his morning coffee. He fills it in before dinner that night and we go over anything that needs more follow up together while we eat. 

At first, I wasn't sure how my check in worksheet would go over with my husband. I delivered it with a big kiss and a brief explanation about how I wanted us to communicate about household business more. To my great delight, he fills it in every Saturday. 

#1 way to have a happier marriage

It's success stems from the fact that checking in tells your partner you care. When I hand him this sheet, I'm letting him know his opinions are important to me. I want him to be a part of the household decisions that I would otherwise make alone. 

Besides, the sheet gives my partner space to respond when it's convenient. It takes him 6 minutes (I timed him once) to fill it all out and he has the whole day to do it.

My favorite benefit of this system has been the open communication.  Sometimes he'll throw in a silly answer or write something sweet.  Sometimes he'll have a great suggestion for dinner or a fun date night idea.

He also says things that surprise me. Once, I asked him to rank our upcoming house projects in order of importance. To Mike, making curtains for the sun room is higher priority than organizing the crawl space. (who knew?)  

This system has been a great addition to our weekly routine. We're handling general household business more efficiently. Expenses are being recorded in record time and everyone is on the same page about projects. 

Looking to give the Weekly Check In a try? I made a printable worksheet for you! 

Do you have your own weekly check in system? Share it in our Facebook Page!

Until next time,

xo Katie