Switch activity types

When you do the same type of activity for hours on end, you will find yourself less mentally sharp, more tired, and often more frustrated. A key to accomplishing many things is to switch to different types of activities throughout the day.

Some tasks require you to interact with people: phone calls, meetings, conversations with co-workers, engagement with clients. Other tasks need your technical mind: writing proposals, documentation, code, doing research. Yet others need you to be physically involved, such as working out, cooking, or cleaning. Some need you to be creative, some pragmatic, some playful, and so on.

To keep your day going smoothly and efficiently, try sequencing tasks in such a way that different types of activities follow each other. For instance, make a few phone calls in the morning, to get those out of the way. Follow that with a few stretches, to let your mind rest and your body engage. Then take on a technical task such as research, followed by a creative one, followed by a play session with your child. These can be done in whatever order, as long as each task allows you to engage a different part of the brain and body, and let those used in the previous task take a break.

You might also notice that after a physically-engaging task, such as a few stretches, a workout, or a brisk walk, your senses will awaken, which is likely to give you a fresh perspective on a mentally-intensive or a creative task. Additionally, while you are physically engaged, you might be working out a logical problem in the back of your mind, which will make it easier to come to a resolution once you are back to actively working on that problem.

The key is that you do not need to be doing nothing in order to rest. Relax different parts of your body and mind at a time while engaging other parts, and you will be more productive and feel more rested.

Battling a cold

As my grandmother used to say: “If you treat a cold, it lasts a week. If you do not, it lasts seven days.” I have since gave into the truth of it. However, with children around, it becomes a matter of managing symptoms so that I can be coherent and awake enough to tend to their needs (especially now that the baby is sick as well). So, here is what appears to be working for me:

Black tea with lemon, ginger, and cloves. It soothes the throat and cloves have a numbing effect. Drinking keeps the throat from getting too dry, which makes the soreness more manageable. Plus I love the comfort of hot fragrant tea.

Heated rice sock for the ears and back of the neck. I’ve had the sock with rice in it in my freezer since the preparation for my first birth – it is supposed to be great when heated up and applied to shoulders during labour. With my labours progressing as intensely as they did, however, we have rarely had time to reach for any remedy except the birthing pool. So the rice sock bides its time in my freezer for those times when I need a hot compress. Warmed up in the microwave for a minute and a half or so, wrapped in a folded towel (as it is extremely hot at first), lying on a pillow with it under your ear is pure bliss. As the sock cools, you can peel off the layers of the towel, getting more heat out of it. Switching it between the each ear and back of the neck let me get through my toughest night with the fever. Sore throat often comes with middle ear irritation, and this ear warming compress feels very comforting. In my childhood, we used a sock with salt if rice was not available. Of course, back then in Russia we had no microwaves, so when the sock cooled down, we had to empty the salt or rice into a frying pan, heat it up, refill and re-tie the sock, and only then be able to use it again. Certainly not the ordeal you want to go through in the middle of the night while in pain.

Steam inhalation tent with Eucaliptus essential oil (thanks to a friend who reminded me of it). I used a basin with hot water (and as our tap “hot” water just at that moment decided to be lukewarm, I had to boil two kettle’s worth to fill up the basin) and put two drops of the doTerra Eucaliptus essential oil into it. Turning the overhead light off in the bathroom, putting the basin on top of a little footstool, and sitting on the floor under a towel tent, in the soft glow of our Himalayan pink salt lamp, it felt like ten minutes at a spa. On day three, my sinus pressure was through the roof, and so the relief lasted for only about 2 minutes afterwards. On day four, I have repeated it three times, and each time I breathed easier for about 15 minutes afterwards.

Me being a frugal Russian, it did not feel right to waste the 2 drops of oil on only the inhalation tent. I have then reused the basin with the same water for the foot bath with Eucaliptus essential oil. Do be sure to let the water cool down a bit – the heat your feet can handle is quite a bit less than what you need for an inhalation bath to be effective. If you don’t have time to wait, just add some cold water. The temperature should be as hot as your feet can possibly bear. This reminded me of another remedy to try: back in Russia we used to do a hot foot bath with mustard powder. Unfortunately, we didn’t have any mustard powder around, so I haven’t given it a try. Yet I recall it being effective when I was a kid.

Water with apple cider vinegar and honey. Try sending your partner to a store to get some apple cider vinegar with “Mother” still in it. It makes for an entertaining conversation, especially if you can barely use your vocal chords. Thankfully we used to make kombucha, so a clarification on what a “mother” is was easy. It also helps if the manufacturer has it clearly marked on the bottle. I made myself a pitcher holding about 4 cups with 4 tablespoons of vinegar and 2 tablespoons of honey, to drink throughout the day (I didn’t want to overdo honey as I’m a bit sensitive to it and extra sugars are not great when fighting off a cold).

Peppermint essential oil (I diluted doTerra Peppermint with fractionated coconut oil as a carrier for a 2% concentration – 6 drops essential oil to a 15ml carrier oil) applied on the back of the neck, under nose, to the soles of feet frequently (every 20 minutes when I had a chance). Peppermint is good against fever, and it made it easier to breathe. To give you an idea of how congested I was by day three: I could not smell that oil when mixing it at all, and it is very potent.

On day four, I was alternating four doTerra essential oils, all diluted at 2%: Peppermint, Melaleuca, Breathe blend (Eucalyptus, Laurel leaf, Lemon, Melaleuca, Peppermint, and Ravensara) and On Guard blend (Cinnamon, Clove, Eucalyptus, Rosemary, Wild Orange), applying them with a roller bottle to soles of feet, and Peppermint and Breathe to back of the neck. I’ve also used a drop of the Lemon essential oil in water a few times (do be sure that the oils you are using are safe for internal consumption). I did seem to breathe a bit easier, but I had to be diligent at the application which was not always possible with the baby needing attention. I’ve also been diffusing some oils, but the effectiveness of that is even harder to evaluate.

Most important remedy which I lack: if you have someone who can act as a doula-grandma-nanny-nurse – that is invaluable! I did not need help with cooking, as my weekly cooking session filled the fridge with meals for the week. However, cooking aside, what this person’s main job should be is keep you supplied with remedies, hot tea and food, entertain the baby, make you that steam inhalation tent or foot bath (and clean up afterwards), heat up the rice sock when it cools down, perhaps give you a massage, and let you rest while they take care of after-meal cleanup and other small chores that pile up.

I found that with a head feeling like a Tibetan singing bowl for its heaviness and ringing, it was challenging to even think of which remedy to try next to ease breathing and get me through the next half-hour, let alone attempting to execute the preparation steps for it. Add to it trying to figure out which food I can tolerate (day four I did not want to look at food at all) and attempting to keep the baby happy. With the lack of mental focus, all the remedies I know slip out of my head, and I tend to reach for whatever might be available. Even re-heating water and brewing more tea becomes a Sisyphean task when you have to traverse stairs to accomplish it every 20 minutes with a baby in your arms.

And when all else fails, hugs, chocolate truffles, and lots of love make things better.

Challenged to focus on the bright side

I must say, this past weekend has truly been testing my ability to stay positive and look for the best in life. There I was Friday, singing to my baby as I went about my errands, and planning a bbq with a couple of friends on Saturday. Saturday morning, I woke up with an extremely sore throat, my voice gone, and a snow storm outside.

Now, normally I’m not a wimp – sore throats come and go and my voice should come back in a few days. However, this time the pain was from hell. Unable to sleep due to coughing that would leave my throat more raw, triggering more coughing, waking up the kids who they would have to be cuddled and fed back to sleep. I couldn’t swallow even tea without pain, let alone trying to have some food. I would howl, only a mere thought of using my vocal chords almost reduced me to tears.

Beautiful start to a weekend, wouldn’t you say? It would be easy to stay in bed (or at least attempt to do so with two kids around), but I am easily bored, and, equally important, stubborn. And so I went about my day in as productive and positive a way as I could. My concession was to slow down and take things one at a time. I took a shower and then made my family breakfast of boiled eggs, avocado, cucumber, and pork pate, followed by some black tea with lemon, ginger, and cloves. I have then called and rescheduled the bbq, which could not happen in the snow storm in any case.

I had decided to give doTerra oils a try, and some have arrived this past week, so I thought this would be a good testing ground to see if I can speed up the recovery using the oils. I’ve tried diffusing a few different blends and oils throughout the day, gargling with some, putting some on my neck and feet, all while consulting with the groups online to determine a protocol to follow. An immediate relief came only from gargling with oregano and lemon, but as oregano is not recommended while breastfeeding, I have not repeated that one. Everything else alleviated the pain very marginally, making my tongue feel like it has been scraped in the process. I think I will stick to external applications, except for lemon and lime oils, for now. I also made sure to have garlic with every meal, including breakfast, took elderberry syrup, made myself a salad with fresh onions, took echinacea, probiotics, vitamin C, and tripled my vitamin D.

I would say, the day went in as normal and productive manner as it would were I not sick. I even managed to provide a healthy lunch to my partner and son (thanks to advance planning resulting in sweet potato soup residing in the freezer) and to go get groceries in the evening, after the snow has stopped (thanks to advance planning once more that had me put together a list of recipes and ingredients I needed for the week a day before). I have also managed to review all the treasuries I’m curating on Etsy (of which by now there are over 70) and update the ones missing sold or removed items. I did not set myself a goal to update all of them, but I’ve chipped at it throughout the day and ended up finishing the task.

The marinated chicken breast purchased for the bbq the day before, grilled in the oven and supplemented with a stir-fry of cauliflower, broccoli, cherry tomatoes, bell peppers, and cranberries, became dinner. That took all of 15 minutes hands-on time, including serving and cleanup.

The night was rough with coughing and baby cluster-feeding, and Sunday morning brought no relief for the throat. I had to opt out of a Consumers Supporting Midwifery Care meeting on Sunday night, as without voice I would not have been of much use. However, I did manage to gather my thoughts and provide some input via email.

More experimentation with the oils, another healthy breakfast, and another healthy lunch (thanks to the gingered zucchini and beet yam soups in the freezer), breastfeeding and playing with the kids, and generally taking the day slowly, gave me the energy I needed to address the weekly cooking session. Chopping ingredients when I had a free moment and using the slow cooker and the oven to simplify the preparation allowed me to end the day with a dinner of baked salmon, fresh veggies, and cocoa-toasted cauliflower from Well Fed (which was absolutely delicious!). We also now have almost all of our weekly meals ready: piƱa colada chicken, roasted spaghetti squash, Italian pork roast, Taj Mahal chicken, grilled skewers that didn’t make it to bbq, and a few chopped veggies and greens. Given the energy, I’ll be making the crispy chicken livers with crisp-sweet collards (from Well Fed 2) tonight, as they have to be consumed right after preparation.

It’s Monday and I’m still in pain. However, looking back on the weekend, everything that had to be accomplished, has been. Thanks to my partner, my son got to a skating rink on Saturday and to a toy store to get crayons on Sunday, so he’s been entertained even though I was under the weather. We did some colouring and building with wooden blocks. Kids got food, sleep, baths, and playtime; my partner got food, rest, and watched hockey on Saturday night; and I have done the planned cooking, learned about essential oils, completed the Etsy treasury maintenance, finished a 1000-piece puzzle, packaged a couple of Etsy orders, photographed the new potion vial pendants for Etsy, cuddled with kids, and got as much rest as I could despite the cough. Since I had some quiet time when the kids were asleep, I’ve also listened to more Wheel of Time – The Fires of Heaven, while doing the puzzle and cooking. I’d say I would rather remember all the accomplished things than focus on this hell of a pain that’s still piercing my head. Wouldn’t you?


What strategies do you have for sore throat? What do you do to motivate yourself when you are not feeling well?

Blessingway and a weekly cooking session

This past weekend, I have participated in a beautiful Blessingway ceremony for an expectant mama. We had put together a Blessingway bead necklace from stones and two of the beads made by me (Summer blooms tree of life and Red rose white lily key), painted a sunny design with henna on the mama’s beautiful belly, shared in delicious potluck snacks, love, laughter, and baby cuddles. We also each took home a candle, to be lit when the labour starts. Such an inspiring ceremony and such loving energy – it has stayed with me throughout this entire week.

Sunday was spent in a weekly cooking session interspersed with caring for my little ones. And even with all the interruptions for breastfeeding, playing, cuddling, serving meals, and getting them to sleep, I was able to complete everything I had planned before midnight (mind you, I started around 2pm). I have been exploring recipes from the Well Fed and Well Fed 2 books by Melissa Joulwan, and am quite impressed. The results of my cooking session consisted of a paleo cottage pie (a shepherd’s pie variation with beef instead of lamb and mashed cauliflower instead of potato), a large portion of Blue Ribbon country captain chicken, cauliflower rice, some tuna salad with homemade mayo, a paleo version of pad thai (with spaghetti squash replacing the noodles), a portion of coconut-almond green beans, Velvety butternut squash, and a few vegetables cut up for snacks or steamed and ready to be used in a stir-fry later in the week.

It is Thursday, and I have not had to cook since Sunday (and will not for a couple more days), since all I have to do is warm up the already-made food. This means it takes me about 5 minutes to get dinner on the table in the evening, with less than that time in clean-up since there are no pots or pans to clean. So I’ve got more time to spend with my partner, play with the kids, read a book or indulge in a puzzle.

What are your tips to save time making dinner?

I am an efficiency fiend

This is to say that I am always looking for better ways to juggle a variety of unrelated projects, from creative to mundane, while handling incoming client requests, daily family responsibilities, and hourly new baby demands. And I strive to do this without losing my sanity, while keeping my children happy, leaving some time for myself, and smiling occasionally.

To give you an idea, I have completed grades 11 and 12 in one year after coming to Canada, earning a Governor General’s medal for the highest marks in the school, while learning English and holding a part-time dishwasher job at a restaurant. I have studied for my Bachelor’s in Computer Science while maintaining a household, working on personal and client web projects, and having a part-time job (first at Robin’s Donuts and then at a web-development company), going on to three co-op terms in Winnipeg and Ottawa with the government (Manitoba Education) and IBM. I have completed my Mistress of Computer Science degree in a year and a semester, while working a full-time software developer job. All this without stopping to explore life, engage with a new culture, host parties, read books, attend concerts and goth nights, drink my share of spirits, maintain long-term relationships, and cuddle pets (I did have a pleasure to learn about hedgehogs and Holland lop bunnies).

With the birth of my first, and now second, baby, I have taken the efficiency up a notch. I now maintain our home and cook our meals, breastfeed and play with the children, as well as work on personal and client web projects, volunteer for local birth and baby initiatives, read, do jigsaw puzzles, make jewellery, do yoga, and take care of a million more little things that come about with having a family. I also take up full-time work once my maternity leave is over, balancing family and work obligations while trying to stay sane and breathe deeply.

All this is not to bore you with details of my life, but to say – I’ve lived many a lifestyle with combinations of study, full- and part-time work, partner, household, children, personal and client projects. I’ve also lived in a very different culture from the one I have been raised to, with many psychological and practical adjustments this entails. And I maintain that it is possible to have a fulfilled organized life while doing what you have to do, and staying sane and happy throughout.

So in this Efficiency Dance section, I shall attempt to gather various tips and strategies that have helped me throughout the years. My arsenal is always growing and evolving to adjust for higher demands and changing life situations, and I hope many of these strategies will be helpful to you.