Get It Done!
Take out that big red pen and finally scratch those lingering “someday” tasks off your list. Sense of accomplishment included.
Put those nagging to-dos behind you with our savvy action plans
Banish Junk Mail Everywhere
IN YOUR (SNAIL) MAILBOX
Call 888-5-OPT-OUT or go to optoutprescreen.com to stop receiving credit card and insurance offers. If you keep getting junk mail or catalogs, visit dmachoice.org. For $2, you can opt out of entire categories of mail for 10 years. Also, try the app PaperKarma ($4 per month, $25 per year; iOS and Android), which helps you unsubscribe from unwanted mail after you take a photo of it.
IN YOUR EMAIL INBOX
Beyond clicking Unsubscribe, you can “train” your inbox to handle unwanted types of email. In Gmail, click Report Spam. In Outlook, send the message to your junk folder. Subsequent emails from the sender will go to spam automatically, so you can batch delete them. The app Unroll.Me (free; iOS and Android) lets you unsubscribe from mass promotional emails or group them into daily email digests. —Martha Upton
FIND STASHED CASH
Most Americans have about $100 in unclaimed money, says Marietta Jelks, a consumer education expert at USA.gov, and it takes mere minutes to track it down and start getting it back. The mistake most people make is hiring someone to find it for them, Jelks says; the fee could be as much as 20 percent of the total find. Head to usa.gov/unclaimed-money for free resources and links to help recover dough from every possible source. Note that unclaimed money may not be held forever. Depending on your state, the government could reclaim it in as few as five years.
Check in other states:
Remember to look for unclaimed money in any state you’ve ever lived in. USA.gov provides links to search each state individually.
Check your old banks: Closed or failed banks are often sources of unclaimed money. Visit the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s website (fdic.gov) to see if you’re owed money from a failed bank.
Check for undeliverables:
Often money that should be yours— such as tax returns and security deposits—doesn’t find its way to you because there’s no forwarding address. The funds are remitted to the unclaimed money offices, Jelks says, which are searchable by state through USA.gov. —M.U.
Free Up Space on Your Phone
To create a more efficient and attractive home screen, start with a good old-fashioned app purge.
Unused apps are a total eyesore—and an unnecessary drain on precious phone data. To create a more efficient and attractive home screen, start with a good old-fashioned app purge. Determine which apps you use the least by checking your phone’s battery usage in the settings. Jot down the ones you only use once or twice a month and manually delete them. (It’s unlikely you’ll miss the apps, but you can always redownload when necessary.) Next, declutter your home screen by dragging and dropping apps into folders. Categorize each folder by color or purpose: For example, use the label “Listen” for Audible and Spotify and “Watch” for YouTube and Netflix. —Rachel Sylvester
TRY A BIKE COMMUTE
Still a little wary of public transit, or just tired of gridlock traffic in the morning? John Fowler, senior vice president at Huffy, has been biking to work for 28 years—and he shares his top tips.
Ease into it: Plug your work address into a map app and check the available routes; a 10-mile journey or less is great for beginners. The way you drive to work might not be suitable for biking, so consider a longer route that helps you avoid heavy vehicle traffic—or better yet, look for a designated bike lane or path. Take a test ride before your first commute to get familiar with your chosen route. Remember that your commute should be a relaxing activity, not a scene out of Mad Max.
Choose your ride: If you’re shopping for a bike, look for one that has at least three gears and a seat that puts you in a comfortable riding position. There’s no universal commuter bike, so think about your route and preferences. If you already own a bike, take it in for a quick maintenance check.
Be prepared: Make sure there’s enough air in your tires, and outfit your bike with a bell, lights and reflectors, and a sturdy lock. You’ll also want a hand air pump and a spare inner tube in case you get a flat. Before you hit the road, pack a waterproof bag with a change of clothes, rain gear, and body wipes so you can freshen up before clocking in.
FIND A THERAPIST
Searching for the right therapist “is a little like dating,” says Maliha Khan, a therapist at the Menninger Clinic in Houston. “You may have to go through a few trials to find the one.” Here’s how to meet your match.
Clarify your goals: Many therapists specialize in one or more areas—like career counseling, addiction, or selfesteem issues—so having a clear objective will help focus your search. Also consider what approach appeals to you. If you’re looking to unearth the source of unhealthy relationship patterns, you may prefer traditional talk therapy (also called psychodynamic therapy), which delves into the root causes of emotions. If you want to address a specific behavior— say, social anxiety—you may opt for a targeted method, like cognitive behavioral therapy, which challenges unhelpful thoughts, usually through practical exercises. Can’t decide? Some practitioners offer a combination of approaches.
Shop around: Even if a trusted friend has a therapist they love, counselors aren’t like hairstylists—it’s generally not a good idea for both of you to see the same one. “Therapists are careful about confidentiality,” says Jeffery Smith, MD, a psychiatrist and therapy trainer in Scarsdale, New York, “but patients can’t help being distracted by the knowledge that we’re getting two different stories— not to mention jealousy and concerns about whose ‘side’ we’re on.” However, your friend’s therapist might be happy to offer a referral. Khan and Smith also recommend searching for a therapist at psychologytoday.com or goodtherapy.org. You can filter by location, gender, fee, accepted insurance, and type of therapy. You can also check out a candidate’s credentials (clinical social workers have master’s degrees; psychiatrists have medical degrees), years of experience, areas of expertise, and even photo. To verify a clinician’s license, contact your state board, or try searching for the therapist on your state board’s license verification website.
Unfortunately, therapy, like most health care, is not cheap. If you need a more affordable solution, find out whether your company offers free short-term therapy through an employee assistance program. Or try your community health center, your place of worship, or the psychology department at a nearby college or university, which may provide services at a reduced rate or on a sliding scale (the lower your income, the lower the fee). Other options: the websites Talkspace and BetterHelp, which take some guesswork out of the process. You fill out a questionnaire and get matched with a licensed therapist. For a weekly fee, you receive counseling via video sessions and text messaging. Though research has shown that video therapy is just as effective as the face-to-face kind, texting should be a supplement to care, not a substitute for it, says John Torous, MD, director of digital psychiatry at Harvard Medical School’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. “Asynchronous texting—when a client sends a text and might not get a response until hours later—removes the therapeutic bond, which is the active ingredient in mental health care.”
Make a connection: Some therapists will agree to a free 10-to-15minute consultation, Khan says. “Come with a list of questions, then tell them about your goals and ask about their approach.” That initial contact will help you assess whether you like the vibe, which is more important than any specialty or advanced degree. “Clinical research hasn’t found an algorithm for determining who’s right for you,” Torous says. “Listen to your gut, and see what it says.”—Amy Maclin
Therapists aren’t like hairstylists— it’s generally not a good idea for friends to see the same one.
DUST YOUR BELOVED BOOKS
Put down the damp microfiber cloth, says Brandy O’Briant, owner of the booksubscription service Page 1 Books. You don’t want water—even a little— near paper pages. Instead, try the Redecker Goat Hair Book Dust Brush ($25; amazon.com) or Swiffer Dusters, which is O’Briant’s go-to tool. —Leslie Corona
Make a Family Giving Plan
Call a family meeting and reflect on how you’d like to spend time as a group. Maybe you want to pitch in at a monthly beach cleanup or an animal shelter. Check volunteermatch.org and goldenvolunteer.com for local opportunities.
GIVE FOOD YEAR-ROUND
“Due to Covid, there’s need all the time,” says Kay Carter, CEO of Second Harvest Food Bank of Metrolina in Charlotte, North Carolina. “Since many children are learning remotely, we’re trying to make sure they receive the food they’d receive if they were in school.” Before donating, contact your local food bank to find out what items it needs. Consider giving sought-out items like fresh produce, meat, and dairy rather than cans when possible. Sometimes funds are more helpful than goods, especially for donation centers with reduced staff during the pandemic.
AUTOMATE FINANCIAL DONATIONS
Identify where and how much you’d like to give, then set up automatic donations. Give once a month rather than at the end of the year. “Receiving recurring support from donors throughout the year lets organizations plan and adapt more quickly,” says Phil Buchanan, president of the Center for Effective Philanthropy. —R.S.
Clean Grimy Mini Blinds
Start by vacuuming closed blinds horizontally with a brush attachment, says Sarah McAllister, director and CEO of GoCleanCo, a cleaning company. This will pick up much of the filth and make the rest of the job easier. Then tilt the blinds so you can clean the other side. Next, fill a bucket with hot water and add a teaspoon of powdered laundry detergent or a dishwasher pod. (McAllister swears by pods for kitchen blinds—they cut through dusty grease exceptionally well.) Dip a microfiber cloth in the solution, then, working from top to bottom, pinch each slat with your cloth-covered hand and swipe horizontally. Replace your water often with a freshly mixed batch, and don’t forget to wipe the pull cord! —L.C.
ORGANIZE YOUR RECIPES
Emily Teel, senior food editor at Better Homes & Gardens, relies on the app Paprika Recipe Manager ($5; iOS and Android). “I can download magazine recipes from the publication’s website, and I can even save recipes from a library book by snapping a photo.” Teel also likes being able to customize categories (“chicken,” “vegan,” “entertaining”). Paprika automatically syncs with all your devices, so you can save a recipe on your laptop and then access it on your phone at the grocery store. Still prefer paper? Grab a threering binder and a box of clear sheet protectors. Label each sheet protector by category, sort your recipes into the corresponding categories, and add them to the binder. Using a one-size-fits-all system like this means you can corral Nana’s recipe cards plus anything you tear out of a magazine or print from a website. —Jenna Helwig
Bring Your Résumé into 2021
NIX OLD-SCHOOL SECTIONS
There’s no need for references, objective sentences, and extracurriculars, says Sarah Dewey, a technical recruiter and career expert at Jobscan, a résumé-building site. “They can make it harder to find the skills and experience I’m searching your résumé for,” she explains.
KEEP IT SIMPLE
Avoid fancy formatting and use a résumé template from Microsoft Word or Pages instead. Be concise and clearly convey your hard skills with specific examples, Dewey says. Mention whether you have remote experience too. “Demonstrating that you have less of a learning curve in our new work environment is a real benefit,” she says. Don’t be ashamed of career gaps, especially ones that occurred during the pandemic. “That said, it can be beneficial to include what you’ve been doing to keep your skills sharp—like taking online classes or pursuing side projects,” Dewey notes.
MAKE IT ADAPTABLE
Many larger companies use applicant tracking systems to help recruiters scan résumés and find the most qualified applicants. “Make sure the keywords mentioned in the job description appear prominently in your résumé so a recruiter can quickly see you’re a match,” Dewey says. Keep a bank of skills in a separate document, and pull from it to fine-tune your résumé for different jobs. —B.B.
Installing something as simple as a deadbolt could trim your bill by 10 percent.
SHAVE MONEY OFF YOUR HOMEOWNERS AND AUTO INSURANCE PREMIUMS
Focus on safety: Installing deadbolts, a fire extinguisher, or a security system can get you up to 10 percent off your homeowners insurance, says Fabio Faschi, property and casualty operations manager with Policygenius, an insurance comparison site. On your car, features like a backup camera and antitheft device may qualify you for a better auto insurance rate. And taking a safe-driving course can earn you a discount of up to 15 percent. Check your local department of motor vehicles or AAA branch for an online or in-person class.
Try basic upgrades: Save up to 5 percent by etching your vehicle identification number onto your windshield (you can buy a DIY kit for about $20). This can help authorities identify and recover your car if it’s stolen, says Penny Gusner, senior consumer analyst at Insure.com. As for your home, replacing your roof could save you 5 percent. If you have a basement, installing a sump pump could lower your rate, depending on the amount of water backup coverage you have. An automatic water shut-off valve, which protects against flooding from a burst pipe, could also get you a 3 to 5 percent discount, Faschi says.
Save by bundling: If you purchase your home and auto policies from the same company, you could receive up to 20 percent off, Gusner says. Bundling identity theft insurance and life insurance could also save you 2 to 5 percent. —B.B.
PLAN A SAFER SUMMER TRIP If you’re staying at a hotel:
Many big-name hotels are following enhanced cleaning protocols, says Ravina Kullar, MPH, an infectious disease expert in Los Angeles. “Hilton’s CleanStay program ensures extra disinfecting of guest rooms and public areas,” she says. Both Hyatt and Marriott have implemented similar programs. Before you book, check if the hotel has the seal of approval from Sharecare and Forbes Travel Guide, says Jacqueline Gifford, editor in chief of Travel + Leisure: At forbestravel guide.com/verified, you’ll find a list of hotels that meet rigorous standards for cleaning, mask wearing, and ventilation. More than 500 hotels have been verified worldwide already.
If you’re renting a place:
Choose one that will be vacant for 24 to 48 hours before your arrival, and confirm it will be properly cleaned, Kullar says. Airbnb is asking hosts to commit to a five-step cleaning process; look for the “Enhanced Clean” label in the listing, Gifford says. It’s probably not necessary to bring your own linens, since science has shown that the coronavirus is transmitted mainly through respiratory droplets in the air. Even so, Kullar and Gifford suggest packing antibacterial cleaning products so you’re prepared just in case.
If you’re headed to a popular tourist destination:
Kullar prefers beaches and national parks to theme parks because it’s typically easier to maintain social distance. “Double mask by layering a disposable mask under a cloth mask, and avoid public restrooms,” she says. Opt for attractions operating at reduced capacity, which is often noted on the website. “Many world-class art museums are at reduced capacity, and you can view the art more closely than you usually would with big crowds,” Gifford points out. No matter where you’re going, brush up on the current safety guidelines and quarantine requirements of the state you’ll be visiting. —M.U.
Tidy the Crafts Stockpile
You’re hardly alone if, during Covid, your home slowly started resembling the art room at the school your kid wasn’t attending. The key to organizing all those supplies is to first tamp down your impulse to buy more: “Kids feel overwhelmed when they have too much. More things doesn’t mean more creativity,” says organizer Shauna Yule Brasseur of Lovely Life Home in Hingham, Massachusetts. Once you’ve donated what your kids don’t use, sort the keepers into clear, labeled shoeboxes. Designate one box for smaller items, like beads and pompoms; store them in the box in clear jars, she says. Nikki Boyd, an organizer in Charleston, South Carolina, recommends stashing a “creativity box” in the pantry. Kids often want to do crafts at the kitchen table, and “it keeps them occupied while you’re making dinner.” Store drawing and construction paper vertically in magazine holders or file folders so kids can pluck out just a piece or two. When your mini Amy Sherald gets going on a masterpiece and bedtime beckons, put the project in a handled tray, says Ashley Murphy, cofounder of Neat Method. “It keeps the space clutter-free until next time.” —Rory Evans