10 Homemade Gifts Even the Busiest Girl Can Make

My dad tells this story about a time when I was younger and my family was going through a rough patch financially. It was Christmastime and my dad was stressing out about making ends meet, let alone giving his young family a nice Christmas.

I must have caught wind of the situation somehow, because my dad describes me as suddenly becoming very busy in the days leading up to Christmas. I squirreled myself away in my room, only emerging occasionally to ask for art supplies. My parents had no idea what I was up to until Christmas Eve, when I proudly put all of my homemade gifts under the tree.

The story usually ends with my dad confessing that to this day he still owns the gift I made for him, a small plastic container covered in construction paper and glue, with a handmade label on the lid that says “paperclips”. (Spelled incorrectly, by the way. Also there’s a wiggly line that looks like a worm curling up in distress which I can only assume is a drawing of a paperclip.)

It’s his favorite gift of all time (or so he claims) and even though I’m a little bit biased, I have to agree- homemade gifts are some of the most meaningful to give and receive. They don’t necessarily require a whole lot of time, money or Martha’s crazy crafting skills. Here are some of my favorites that I’ve made and/or received over the years:

(1) I love baking so it’s not unusual to receive a gift of edible goodies from me around this time of year. If sweets aren’t your thing, other homemade goods that can be packaged up and stored also make great gifts, such as pasta sauce, snack mixes or homemade pickles. If you want to be super fancy, why not experiment with dried herbs, chilies and spices to make your own infused oils or vinaigrettes? (For baking ideas, click here. To go straight to my favorite Christmas cookie recipes, click here.)

(2) Maybe you’re not a baker yourself, but you know someone who appreciates baked goods all the same. Save yourself time and effort by gifting them a pre-packaged mix for cookies or scones, and top with a cute cookie cutter or mixing spoon. Dry soup mixes and specialty drink mixes also make great gifts, plus they’re easy to assemble in bulk for mass-giving. (For some suggestions, click here.)

(3) Not everyone has the ability, talent or time to sew, knit or crochet gifts for all of their friends at Christmas, but even the most novice of crafters can still pull off one of these easy scarf projects simply by using their fingers. You can always find time to work on projects like these while commuting or watching Netflix. (For other finger knitting projects, click here.)

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(4) Crafts are always more fun when they’re a little personalized. Give the budding gardener in your life the supplies to make their own gardening labels like I did here using only tongue depressors and white outdoor paint. I used Sharpies on mine but paint pens or markers would probably work even better!

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(5) I have a couple of artistic friends that take their cues from nature; you may recognize this little fairy door from Instagram that I received as a gift for my birthday a couple of summers ago. It’s made entirely of little twigs, pebbles, moss and other flora and fauna that can be found at your closest park.

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Another friend of mine collected smooth stones from the river near her cottage and gave them her own touch with a coat of paint. She gave them out to friends and family members last Christmas, and mine sits on my desk as a paperweight. I love looking at it every day!

(6) If staying indoors is more your thing, there are all sorts of crafts that can be made using things around your home. For example, a neighbor had just finished tiling her back splash and was getting rid of a few leftover tiles. I snagged a few and turned them into coasters using my trusty Sharpies and a coat of epoxy to seal and protect it.

(7) Even if crafting isn’t your thing you can still give a purchased gift a homemade flair. A friend of mine buys chocolate bars in bulk and turns them into tasty bouquets as gifts. (Here’s some inspiration on how to wrap candy gifts.)

(8) Don’t forget the favorite animals in your life! Once my dog G brought her favorite dog biscuits for all her doggie friends to a human cookie exchange, which you can read all about here.

(9) Looking for a way to treat a run-down friend or family member? Homemade scrubs, masks, hair treatments and lotions can all be made in bulk and popped into pretty jars for a luxurious gift. Just make sure you take note of any skin or hair conditions or other allergies or sensitivities before you give. (Click here to find some recipes.)

(10) I love scented candles but I’m always stuck with the jars they come in after they’re done. As a last-minute craft idea for a kid’s birthday party I was hosting, I grabbed one of the jars and used a mixture of one part water and one part glue to decoupage tissue paper to the glass, making a stained glass effect. They were so festive I couldn’t resist making a couple more for Christmas, plus it’s a great way of re-purposing a small jar or candle holder that needs a facelift. (Click here for more candle gifts.)

Happy crafting!

B

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Holiday celebrations can be fun, but only if you can ensure that things go smoothly. While there are never any guarantees when it comes to social gatherings, there are still plenty of ways to get your holiday game on. Click here to read more of them, or click here or here to read about some of the other best practices I’ve been trying to put into my place in my life.

 

Why A Soft Deadline Will Save Your Life

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I like to think I’m pretty good at editing other people’s work- after all, it’s what I do for a living, and I got a lot of practice editing both the newspaper and yearbook in high school (yes, I know my picture is next to the entry for “nerd” in the encyclopedia). So you may not be surprised when I tell you that I ended up editing a lot of papers for my friends and classmates in high school and university as well. This is for free, mind you. I did it for the sheer joy of editing. (Again, yes. I know I’m in the encyclopedia.)

During this time one of my roommates was going through a rough patch; she was really trying to get her act together and pull up her grades so we sat down one day and went over her agenda. She showed me all of the deadlines on her schedule to see if we could coordinate some editing jobs.

At first she wanted to hand me everything the night beforehand but I told her the strategy didn’t make any sense: after I handed her back the first draft, she was going to need time for rewrites and corrections of her own. Depending on how badly she was struggling with the paper, we might want to pass it back and forth more than once; it was important to allow her the extra time she needed to let the ideas marinate without feeling the pressure of a looming deadline.

That’s when we developed the idea of a “soft” deadline- a concept that I’ve since applied to virtually every writing project I’ve worked on personally ever since its inception. Taking into consideration her workload and the other deadlines she was working towards, we created fake deadlines where she would be responsible for handing me a completed first draft of her paper so I could help her out with the corrections well before the paper was due.

Part of our contract was that I was to hold her accountable; if she didn’t hand me a completed first draft by our deadline, I was to refuse to edit it.

To reward her for her efficiency, we scheduled the fake deadlines for dates that were convenient to my schedule as well so I could ensure that I could turn around my edits promptly.

Scheduling a soft deadline for yourself allows time to let ideas flow and develop; at the very worst, it’s a way to save your own butt from procrastination, unexpected hiccups and all of those little pesky details that always seem to creep up at the end of a project and leave us feeling like we want to pull our hair out.My friend usually scheduled her soft deadlines a week-and-a-half or so before her actual deadlines; meatier projects or other things she anticipated taking longer we pushed the deadlines back to give her a two-week gap.

Based on your own workload or the nature of the project you’re working on, you may want to follow her lead and allow yourself a week or two to clean up the small tasks left over to help get it completed. For longer or more involved projects, you may want to be break larger tasks up into smaller steps, and play with scheduling more frequent, smaller soft deadlines for yourself in order to keep your work on track.

Every good editor knows that sometimes it takes a fresh pair of eyes to catch all the sticky little typos and grammatical errors in a manuscript. When we plug away at a piece of writing, or any project for that matter, it can be difficult to take a step back and look at your work with objectivity. Extra time is often required, even if it’s time to walk away and forget what you’ve been working on for a while in order to come back to it with a new perspective.

As for my friend? Well, I’m pleased to report that did she really well that semester. And she made every single soft deadline we set.

KBwB-BFlower-50Want even more ideas on how to manage your time more efficiently? Hop on over to the Busy section of my blog where I talk about the ways in which I’ve tried to make my life more productive. I hope they can make your life more productive, too.

Maximum Productivity

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Here it is: a quick and dirty list of some of the ways in which I have found that I have achieved “maximum productivity”. It’s a state that some people tease me sounds a lot like “maximum overdrive” and in a way it kind of is- I love the feeling of looking up from my desk and seeing that the time has flown by while I’ve been absorbed by a project. Even better is the feeling you get from looking at a to-do list with all its items completed. At least, that’s my idea of a good time. Here’s how I’ve accomplished it.

I have this natural talent for taking on big, complicated projects so I’ve learned that breaking down these behemoths into smaller tasks has done wonders for my productivity, my self-esteem and my procrastination habit. I’ve got tips on how to do this here.

I tend to get easily distracted, so establishing a quiet time for myself with no phone or internet access was a key factor in helping me control my workflow. Sometimes I love this silence so much that it’s tempting to do nothing at all, but it’s still a great way of forcing myself to stay productive. I borrowed the idea from personal organizing guru Julie Morgenstern, whose books I chat about here.

I mentioned briefly in this post about procrastination about how adapting your workflow to coordinate with your energy cycles throughout the day can help prevent putting things off. It took me a lot of time to figure out when I was at my best and it took longer still to assign which tasks to which times of day, but in the end it was worth it because it made a big difference. Those of you who work from home or in another flexible work environment should definitely give it a try.

Incidentally, this practice has also helped me to have a better handle on what my threshold of concentration is, so I know ahead of time to anticipate breaks or shifts in workflow and schedule them accordingly.

Of course, it can become pretty difficult to complete a task (not to mention inefficient) if you’re constantly ill-prepared, are unable to access supplies, or are forcing yourself to work in an environment that’s counter-productive. I’ve got a list of basic needs for any great office here.

And the simplest, dirtiest trick that I could give you? Time yourself on how long it takes to really complete a task, and schedule yourself that exact amount of time to complete it. There are so many things that we put off or ignore because we overestimate the amount of time it will take us, and if you set aside an hour to do something that would normally take you five minutes, you better believe it’s going to take that full hour.

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Ready, set, go! I want to hear about all the things that make you productive and I want to hear them now! Comment below or write to me at keepingbusyb@gmail.com.

And if you still feel like you’re lacking in productivity smarts, I suggest you visit this page immediately! Even if you’re a super-organized professional like myself (mostly), you may still find some good tips and tricks. Productivity is one of the many things that I love to write about!