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Megan’s 3-Step Method for Getting Things Done

Megan's 3-Step-Method

  1. Decide what needs to be done.
  2. Figure out how to get it done.
  3. Do it.

This method is pure gold. If I follow the steps, in order, things get done. If I find myself freaking out over not getting things done, it’s always because I skipped a step.

Perhaps the most common mistake I make is to jump to Step 3 before I think about Step 1. Often, I lose momentum at Step 2. (Right now, I’m avoiding Step 3 for something that’s closing in on deadline.) But, once I double-check my Method, it’s a simple matter of going back and taking it step by step.

For a long time I kept this formula all to myself, even considering a patent for it. Seeing how often things don’t get done, I thought for sure it would be worth money.

One day, though, in the middle of a tough work meeting, I offered to share my super secret process with my boss. When I told him, he laughed. My method wasn’t as marvelous as I supposed.

Since then, I’ve revealed my 3 steps to other people and received the same response. (The only other wisdom of mine that gets even more amused reactions is when I confide that I think, “This internet thing is big.”) It’s enough to make me doubt my highly effective strategy.

Despite the dismissals of others, I follow this method whenever I want to Get Things Done. Send out a business proposal? Start at 1 and keep going. Plan a major event? Just a 1-2-3 till it’s showtime. Clean the House? It’s only 3 Steps away! My method has never failed, so long as I complete every step, in order.

Because I believe so deeply about truth in advertising, I must admit that adhering to the method is not always possible. If the plan depends on agreement from large groups of people, kids, pets, weather, or politicians, among other things, you may never get past Step 1. If accomplishing your goal requires changes to the laws of physics, the involvement of superheroes, or a time machine, among other things, you could get stuck at Step 2 for the rest of your life. If doing your thing takes more time, money, passion, or voter turnout, among other things, than you can ever make happen, Step 3 can be an insurmountable obstacle.

That said, being able to diagnose why I can’t Get Things Done is a balm to my frustrated soul. If I identify that my 3-Step Method is thwarted, then I can turn to another surprisingly simple, yet effective 3-Step approach, The Serenity Prayer:

  1. ***, grant me the Serenity to accept the things I cannot change,
  2. Courage to change the things I can,
  3. and Wisdom to know the difference.

Traditionally, *** is where one says, “God”. My faith ebbs and flows and sometimes changes Streams of Consciousness. For me, this invocation is most effective if I fill in *** with the name my heart calls out at the moment, “Jesus”, “Universe”, “Goddess”, “Great Spirit”, “Santa Claus”, and in times when I don’t believe in anything anymore, “Brain”.

Reinhold Niebuhr, an American theologian, is credited with writing that prayer. Although I agree with him on some things, I don’t on everything. Looking at his opinions about Getting Things Done in America in the 20th century, I can’t say I’d ever get past Step 2 of my Method with him. That’s where his Prayer comes in handy.

One thing Niebuhr didn’t do was patent his Prayer. For that, I am grateful. I’d owe him a lot of money if he had.

Another thing he didn’t do was to keep his insights all to himself. For that, I am also grateful – whether I agree with it all or not.

Life isn’t as straightforward as my 3-Step Method. Learning from the successes and failures, big ideas and bad decisions of people from all walks of life has helped me avoid some mistakes, and soothe the pain when I’ve fallen awkwardly.

With that in mind, Megan’s 3-Step Method for Getting Things Done is my gift to you.

But wait! There’s more.

For reading all the way to the end of this post, which is payment enough on the Short Attention Span Internet (this thing is big), I give you the awareness that your wisdom, no matter how simple or obvious, is also valuable. You don’t need anyone’s permission to share it.

 

An Inventory Of My Mother’s Recipe Box

06-26-15 Recipe Box-1

My drawer of plastic storage containers recently reached maximum capacity and I had to make some hard decisions about what to toss. After I matched tops and bottoms, separated the Rubbermaid from the Tupperware, and accepted that I would never use the pastel bunny-face popsicle molds, I discovered a slightly rusty metal box with a hinged lid. My mother’s recipe holder.

This box lived in the drawer beneath our wall oven at my childhood home, along with all my mom’s cookbooks. When she moved out and got rid of most everything, I kept the box for sentimental reasons. I can’t remember my mother ever using the box when she cooked. In fact, I can barely remember her cooking.

Due to her declining health from Multiple Sclerosis (M.S.), family meals disappeared by the time I reached puberty. However, I learned to cook early, thanks to her encouragement – and benign neglect of my kitchen experiments.

Southern Living, Betty Crocker, and the Amana Touchmatic II Radarange Microwave Oven Cook Book were my early cooking instructors. On my own I figured out how to dispose of the evidence: muffins like hockey pucks, briquette brownies, and a confusing puddle of sugar syrup that was supposed to be microwave taffy.

My fondest memories in the kitchen are all at my grandmother’s house. At home, I blazed a solo trail of culinary inquiry because even before M.S. made cooking impossible for her my mother had a tenuous relationship with food.

She told me about starving herself all day in high school so she could have a plate of French Fries and a coke after class and still stay skinny. Smoking was a great way to stay thin, but she said she never liked it enough to keep going. She blamed growing up during World War II for malnutrition and told me that was probably why she had such bird bones. Indeed, old photos and dresses show that she didn’t eat much.

Mommy Bathing Suit

(This is not a physical trait I share with my mom. I couldn’t fit into her wedding dress when I was eight years old.)

Back when she did cook for the family, my mom’s rotation included lemon chicken, beef-and-rice, and liver-and-onions. I vividly recall her attempt at stuffing a whole head of cabbage. It freaked me out because it looked like a brain stewing on the stove.

My mother’s taste in food always seemed odd to me. She liked peanut butter and tomato sandwiches, crystallized ginger straight from the container, and liver-and-onions. If I ever wanted to give her a food gift, I’d just think about the last thing I’d ever want to eat and get her that.

The tin box of recipe cards, dishes my mother made a point of remembering, sat under the spare ice trays at the very back of my storage drawer. It escaped the trash can in past years because I promised myself I would find a recipe I liked and think of my mother as I made it. As long as I didn’t open the box, I imagined there was some wonderful meal with the aroma of her loving memory.

This time, the tin box couldn’t deflect my organization zeal with a nostalgic fantasy. A husband, a son, and a daughter all need copious containers to fill their lunch sacks. Storage in my kitchen is a high stakes Tetris game, and I can fit an entire sandwich kit in the space those old recipes occupy.

To purge any sentimentality, I took a calculating, clinical look at the box’s contents. Below is my Recipe Inventory. All recipe names are directly from the cards.

Drinks: 4

+ Mulled Wine
+ Unnamed Punch with Apple and Cranberry Juice
+ Instant Russian Tea
made with Tang 
+ Strawberry Tea Punch
recipe printed on a Lipton Tea Bag envelope

Sauces: 2

+ Hollaidaise (sic)
handwritten card with 11 drips obscuring words
+ White Sauce
handwritten card with 1 large brown drip

Bread: 1

+ Quick Family Dinner Rolls
total time to prepare rolls: 2 hours

Salads: 6

+ Congealed Salad
ingredients include orange Jell-O
+ Blueberry Salad
ingredients include Blackberry jello {A&P} (sic)
+ Fruit Cocktail ‘N Cottage Cheese Salad
recipe cut from a label of a Libby’s Fruit Cocktail in heavy syrup
ingredients include lime-flavored gelatin
+ Strawberry & Banana Salad
ingredients include 3 pks. strawberry & banana jello
+ Salad
ingredients include Marshmallows, crushed pineapple, mayonnaise, and lime Jello
+ Shrimp-and-Rice Salad Ring
ingredients include shrimp, green onions, rice, broth, mayonnaise, red food coloring, heavy cream, and gelatin

Casseroles: 8

+ Apple-Banana Casserole
+ Hamburger Casserole
+ Ham and Rice Casserole
+ Broccoli Casserole
handwritten
+ Broccoli Casserole
exact same recipe as above, but in a different handwriting
+ unnamed cornbread dressing casserole
+ Seven Seas Casserole
recipe cut from a box of Minute Rice
ingredients include 1 can tuna, condensed cream of celery soup, and cooked peas
+ unnamed chicken casserole
typed
ingredients include 4 chicken breasts, cream of mushroom soup, chipped beef, bacon, and sour cream
+ unnamed chicken casserole
handwritten written on back of State Employee’s Credit Union withdrawal slip
also written on slip is the number of someone named Dave

Dips: 2

+ Tomato Dip
+ CAL-O-RRIFIC DIP
recipe cut from a box of Wheat Thins Crackers

Spreads: 1

+ Beef Spread
ingredients include Smoked Chopped Beef, cream cheese, mayonnaise, sherry, and olives

Party Mix: 1

+ Toasted Party Mix
recipe cut from a magazine ad for Cheerios

Chicken Dishes: 7

+ Chicken Diable (sic)
+ Hungarian Chicken
handwritten on Tiki stationery, not my mother’s handwriting
+ Hungary
handwritten in my mother’s handwriting
+ Chicken Tahitian
+ Chicken Kiev
written on PARKS BUILDING SUPPLY COMPANY note paper
+ Boned Chicken Stuffed with Wild Rice Dressing
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Chicken Liver Saute Japanese Dish
recipe cut from newspaper
headline above recipe: “Japanese-accented liver dish is really delicious”

Beef Dishes: 13

+ Teriyaki Steak (Island Favorite from Japan)
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Braised Short Ribs of Beef for a Crowd
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Grenadin of Beef Tenderloin
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Filet Steak Diane
recipe cut from newspaper

+ Chuckwagon Beef on a Skewer
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Beef Burger Barbecue
recipe cut from newspaper

+ Marinated Steaks
recipe cut from newspaper
+ 30 Second Pan Fried Steak
recipe cut from newspaper
+ Steak San Marco
handwritten
+ Chinese Beef
handwritten
+ Chinese Beef and Rice
handwritten
+ NGO YuK Fan Kay (Beef Tomato)
handwritten
+ Ris de Veau Braised au Jus
recipe cut from a magazine

Specialty Dishes: 10

+ Egg Fried Rice
+ Shrimp Eloise
+ Asparagus Venetian
+ Fondue for Every Taste
recipe page cut from TV Guide, October 7, 1971
includes recipes for Cheese Fondue, Chocolate Fondue, Fondue Bourguinonne, and Fondue Orientale (made with only chicken broth and white wine)
+ Chile Rellenos
+ Taco Pie
handwritten
ingredients include canned “creasant” (sic) rolls, Fritos, burger, sour cream, american cheese, more Fritos, and “sreaded” (sic) lettuce
+ Beefy Quiche
+ Surprise Tuna Quiche
recipe cut from a magazine
last line of directions reads, “This quiche is unique in that it has its own ‘surprise’ cheese sauce.”

Sweets: 26

+ Butter-Cinnamon Delight
+ Butterballs
+ Congo Cookies
+ Marshmallow Treats
recipe cut from a Rice Krispies box
+ Cinnamon Coffee Cake
+ Glaze
made with sugar, butter, and rum
+ Icing
made with 1 can Baker’s coconut
+Quick Trick Fruitcake
recipe cut from Betty Crocker Date Bar Mix box
+ Carnation Five Minute Fudge
recipe cut from a can of Carnation milk
+ 24 Min. Chocolate Cake
+ Pillsbury Create-a-Cake Mix Recipe Booklet
+ Fresh Strawberry Pie
recipe cut from magazine ad for Cool Whip

+ Lemon Ice Box Whipped Cream Pie
+ Cherry Topped Cheese Pie
ingredients include cream cheese
+ Lemon Cheese Cake with Lemon Cheese Filling
ingredients do NOT include cheese of any kind
+ Coconut Pie
+ Candy Apples
2 copies of same recipe
+ Coca-Cola Cake
2 copies of same recipe
+ Orange Kiss-Me Cake
+ Orange Candy Cake
ingredients include a 14 oz. box of dates and 1 lb. orange candy slices
+ Carrot Cake
the only recipe she wrote her name on
+ Banana Nut Bread
+ Pineapple Nut Bread
+ Strawberry Nut Bread
handwritten in my sister’s handwriting
+ Brownies
handwritten by me, around age 10, on notebook paper
ingredients include “shorting” (sic) and “baking power” (sic)
corner of recipe page burned

 

You couldn’t pay me to prepare or eat the vast majority of these recipes. How can a person have SIX salads, all gelatin-based, and nary a one featuring lettuce? A casserole with chicken, beef, AND bacon is just pandering to the barnyard. My surprise about the Surprise Tuna Quiche is that anyone would think canned tuna and American cheese quiche would be a good idea. TV Guide simply isn’t a source I trust for fondue. Popular cuisine from the late 60’s and early 70’s just didn’t have legs, like a lot of culture from that time.

Nostalgia looks best with movie lighting, and very little analysis. Under the harsh glare of retrospect, many things that were special in the past become grotesque, outdated, and revolting. I think it’s time to let go of those wistful dreams of reliving good old days that never were.

At the same time, opening that box released a flood of laughter, and nausea, and happy memories. Each recipe took me back to church potlucks, neighborhood barbecues, family gatherings, and ordinary weekdays after school when my mother would talk with me for hours. While we didn’t have gourmet meals, we had delicious conversations and shared juicy stories about our lives.

Even if the recipes are ready to be retired from active duty, they still have value. I can use them to tell my kids about the grandmother they didn’t get a chance to know – and how lucky they are to have me in the kitchen instead.

This is why my house is cluttered. This is why I’ll never achieve the modern minimalist decor that looks so exquisitely clean and child-free in the magazines. This is why the storage drawer is always at maximum capacity. Family history is the reason I live in Dirty House Beautiful.

***

In all of the box, there is one recipe that I’ll keep in the kitchen – the one written in my sister’s handwriting.
Strawberry Nut Bread is a heroic treat.

According to my sister’s testimony, one day she pulled into the parking lot of the fabric store and saw an older woman lying on the ground, and another woman helping her get up. Then my sister noticed a man running away with a purse in his hand. So, she revved the engine on her Toyota Celica and drove after him, even jumping the curb in her little red two-seater and pursuing him down the sidewalk. The snatcher finally threw the purse back at the car’s windshield to get my sister off his tail.

My sister carried the purse back to the woman. Then, they came to discover that the victim was a close friend of my grandmother. A few days later, my sister received a fresh baked loaf of Strawberry Nut Bread, with the recipe attached, and a lovely handwritten thank you note.

I’ll save you from the Chicken Liver Saute Japanese Dish, even though it bears the headline, “Japanese-accented liver dish is really delicious”. Instead, take some U-pick strawberries out of the freezer and give this a try.

06-26-15 Strawberry Nut Bread 1 06-26-15 Strawberry Nut Bread 2

 

Elegy For The Dead Mouse In Our Wall

Art by Megan
Art by Megan

***

On this radiant May Day, full of flowers basking and leaves shimmering, I remember the sun was once a god.

Watching his blazing chariot high in the sky, I call Apollo’s attention to a tiny, deceased bod.

+

Way back when, the ancients sometimes called him Apollo Smintheus, because he was also Lord of the Mice.

Mice adorned his temples, served as his informants, and delivered his plagues, which wasn’t so nice.

+

Today, Apollo’s golden radiance can’t shine where one of his rodents lay dead and alone in the dark.

He expired behind the plaster walls with only a rank bouquet as his final resting mark.

+

Since I cannot locate his corpse, rotting in some unseen space, for proper sacramental burial,

may this kitchen table verse, its stinky rhymes written with wrinkled nose, be his soul’s carry-all.

***

I first saw you, up close, when I discovered your poops, scattered behind the pasta on my cabinet shelf.

How shocked we both were when I found you still hiding in the Santa cup, that sneaky old elf.

+

You scrambled from the plastic mug, your gray body only inches from my eyes, and I screamed.

With the smell of your passing now filling my head, I confess this is the ending I dreamed.

+

When the cats saw you on the back porch the next day, scurrying under the plants, I let them outside to find you.

My hope, I must say, was that they would stalk and pounce and be anything but kind to you.

+

The undoubtable confirmation of your permanent demise should be a joyful pest expulsion.

Alas, the lingering vapors of sulfur dioxide, methane, and benzene just fill me with revulsion.

***

O Mouse, wee mouse, house mouse, you’ve inspired some of the greatest cartoon characters.

Mickey and Jerry, Mighty and Fievel, I drank in their stories like ambrosia’s nectars.

+

Only you would be stirring, scampering deep in the night, while the rest of us lay sleeping.

Not even a clock striking or blindness or a farmer’s wife’s knifing could stop your creeping.

+

Long before the moving pictures, the poems, even the books, humans honored your small mousy ways.

Your presence meant an abundance of food, and you were a prophet back in the days.

+

Some believed that you gnawed through the weapons of the enemy on the evening before battle.

For all your good deeds and entertaining adventures, though, it’s time to skedaddle.

***

Mystics say your spirit shows small actions can achieve great goals, if you don’t get too picky.

As a totem mouse, you bring wisdom to my life, no matter how icky.

+

Despite the billowing fetor of your current state, you’re an orderly and fastidious creature.

Modest, resourceful, orderly and loyal, I should adopt some of your best features.

+

Once considered a carrier of souls, the incense now burns to carry you across the threshold.

For my wishing your death, let this sage smoke atone and release your odor’s stranglehold.

+

Experts say it may take weeks for the stench of your decomposition to finally dissipate.

Until then, remind me to smell life’s sweetness, before I reach the same fate.

****

Lilacs Smell Sweet

Day 127: May 7, 2010

Lilacs smell sweet

on a still April night

as clouds drift past the waning moon

and the brightest stars shine

in spite of

the bank of billboards out my front door.

I never would have known the heady fragrance

if the 24-hour Mexican restaurant across the street

hadn’t cranked up the bass beat of its kitchen music

in time for the burrito rush

after the bars closed

at 2:30 a.m.

In my bathrobe

and bare feet,

I stomped down the sidewalk

intent on yelling across the Avenue,

but then the perfume

of the first blooms

made me pause.

Smelling deeply,

surprised at the warmth,

the way the city felt smaller

when most people are asleep,

I thought twice about my plan

to scream,

“Shut off the damn noise!”

I lingered at the lilac bush,

ran my fingers across the perky blossoms,

buried my nose in the purple,

and decided

to hurl my obscenities

into the telephone instead.

photo: Elizabeth Thomsen

Dirty House Beautiful: Turning A Blinds Eye

12-01-14 Turning a Blinds Eye-1

Here at Dirty House Beautiful we understand if you assume our laissez-fare attitude about cleanliness means we live in filth. We understand your suspicion because we do, in fact, live in filth.

It is the human condition to forever be surrounded by the decaying matter of time gone past. The dirt from that walk in the woods, the microscopic crumbs from that graham with peanut butter, fluffs from that blanket you spread in front of the fire place, dander from those two kittens who arrived this past summer, other dander from that old cat who really didn’t want anyone else’s dander in the house…

12-01-14 Turning a Blinds Eye-2

Rather than fanatically purging that evidence of our transient existence, though, here at Dirty House Beautiful we survey the disarray of our domicile with a discerning eye. Each dusty corner is a time capsule, holding souvenirs of our fleeting lives.

***

This morning, a cold December sun drew my eye to the thick layer of fuzz covering each slat of the dining room blinds. I followed the light back to its source and considered the total amount of dust clinging to the thirty-four slats covering each of the twelve windows on the first floor.

I could not recall cleaning the blinds, ever, since my husband installed them. I could recall, quite clearly, THINKING of cleaning them. ACTUALLY cleaning always escaped me.

The Sisyphean nature of dusting depresses me. No one ever says, “Hey, did you clean your blinds? They look smashing.”

Today, though, I noticed how the gray film dulled the reflection of a rare sunny winter day in the Northwest. I looked closer and saw black fingerprint smears and splats of something vaguely tomato.

Knowing that cleaning is a siren song to my obsessive, compulsive side, I committed to just three windows. That way I could take my time and absorb the philosophical insights of ‘turning a blinds eye’. Also, I could see if cleaning made any difference before spending my whole day wiping off four-hundred-and-eight slats.

Within four slats, I wanted to quit. After dusting and wet wiping each one, they looked only marginally better. However, I persisted with the intention of meditating on the task.

“What other parts of my life,” I asked myself, “require this same level of tedious attention? When else have I felt this frustrated to spend so much time on so little return?”

By the second window, somewhere around slat #50, I started to think back over all the years the blinds had hung. It didn’t seem so long,  just five.

I wiped more dark smudges and remembered how little the kids were when we redecorated the dining room. My daughter was newly walking.

I worked top to bottom, operating under the unscientific hope that the dust would cascade down so the upper slats would stay clean. As I worked, though, I could see the particles hang in the air, sparkling in the sunlight, defying gravity. I imagined the dust giggled as it waited to cling again to its Venetian home.

Halfway down the third window, I was defeated. There is so little time to accomplish anything in any given day, and I wasted an hour running microfiber and a wet sponge over nearly one-hundred two-foot lengths of two-inch-wide faux wood.

My mind wandered to the rest of my to-do’s as I quickly scrubbed my way to the end of the blinds. Then I reached the next-to-the-last slat on the last window of my abbreviated cleaning and rethought the whole job.

12-01-14 Turning a Blinds Eye-6

She misspelled her own name, so she must have written it at least two years ago. I remembered how hard it was to contain her art to pieces of paper back then, away from walls, furniture, her brother. There were threats and promises, hiding markers and lots of finger pointing. The era of her vandalism faded so slowly I didn’t quite realize we were past it. Now, her scrawl was already a relic.

I knew I could remove any trace of her autograph easily. I held the magic eraser; it’s advertised to do that exact task.

Of the whole job, that was the one place where I would be able to see that my cleaning made a difference. But. proving my work would require removing all evidence of hers. So, I turned a blind eye.

This is how I come to live in Dirty House Beautiful.

***

Dirty House Beautiful eschews frenetic, punishing maintenance of one’s home. When the natural, chaotic tendency of our abode demands attention, we embrace the invitation to step out of our linear thinking.

We understand if you assume this is “procrastinating”. We are, in fact, “carrying out less urgent tasks in preference to more urgent ones, and thus putting off impending tasks to a later time”.

Morning in the Garden of Good and Evil

Since the middle of May, a compressed nerve in my neck has made just about any activity with my right arm excruciating. Above all, I can’t type or write for more than a few minutes at a time. I’m in full-on treatment mode, but this thing is taking forever to release me from its Vulcan pinch.

I’m fit to burst with stories and projects and activities, but my husband suggested the enforced recovery time is a signal that I shut up already and see what the rest of the world has to tell me. He’s wise – and kinda ouchy – like that.

So, I took my camera out to the yard with me today to see what I could learn. (Click on the thumbnail to get a full-screen slideshow.)

Dirty Dish Bouquet

image

Like flowers in the Spring, the utensils of your meals bloom into a surprising array of colorful arrangements. Just think of all the stories and insights that were shared while eating off those plates.

Rather than tackling the wash-up, grab a glass of wine and admire the interplay of light, shadow, glass and chrome. You may find surprising insight in the juxtaposition of form and function.

You might also discover that it’s time to take the family out to eat. Or, perhaps, you might decide it’s time to invite these little guys over.