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6 quick ways to take control of life

  • Story Highlights
  • Simple tips can free up your time for more important things
  • Small steps on Friday may translate into a more relaxing weekend
  • Instead of a formal weekend dinner, try out game night during the week
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( -- These doable projects and ideas will help get a grip on your home, your time, your relationships, and more.

Try hosting a casual game night during the week to catch up with friends and family.

1. Keep a dinner diary
It's not the act of cooking on a weeknight that you dread; it's figuring out what to make, digging up a recipe, and shopping.

With a dinner diary, you'll eliminate the front-end work. On the weekend, decide what you'll be eating for the week and write down the nightly schedule in a durable blank book. Coming home late on Tuesday? Plan on a simple chicken and rice. Band concert on Thursday? Make a double batch of chili on Wednesday so you won't have to cook. Once the lineup looks good, hit the supermarket.

The longer you keep it up, the more valuable the book becomes. (After six months, you can have as many as 150 menu ideas.) You can also use it for planning parties. Take notes on what works and what doesn't whom you invited and who came. If you have a full bottle of gin remaining from last year's holiday party, make a note of it so you'll have less left over next year. Or so you'll have more.

2. Make a standing date
This tip is from Real Simple reader Jenya Diamond, a graphic designer:

Game night is once a month, on a Tuesday. It's more casual than a dinner party but more structured than sitting around. My friends don't feel stressed about what to wear, what to bring, or what time to get there. Since we all have different careers -- a teacher, a student, a comedian, a social worker, a jilted dot-commer -- we operate on different schedules. Game night is the only constant. It means we don't have to find time to plan one-on-one dinners.

We always order pizza, and the host provides typical snack fare. The location rotates among the five or six hard-core game-nighters, and other fringe players show up. If it's eight or nine people, the game is Taboo or Pictionary, but if it's only four, it's poker or Twister.

We have hours to catch up, so I never get the feeling that I'm out of touch with my friends or that I need to work at being a better friend.

3. Never miss another birthday
There is one friend who, every year, without fail, remembers to send you a thoughtful birthday card. Not an email or a voice mail but a bona fide handwritten note, stamped and sealed, that arrives on the very day you blow out the candles. Your gratitude is quickly eclipsed by your guilt: Did I send her a card on her birthday? Do I even know when her birthday is?

Instead of trekking to the card store every time a birthday rolls around, make one trip now and buy enough cards to last you for the year. Keep them all in one place, along with an address book, stamps, and a list of birthdays organized by month. You'll never feel guilty on your own birthday again.

4. Itemize your possessions
Filing an insurance claim after a disaster can be a disaster in itself. Take steps now to make sure you have all the documentation you need for a speedy and complete recovery. For your own repair and renovation purposes, include paint strips, carpet and wallpaper samples, and fabric swatches. Just as important as keeping good records is keeping them protected -- off the premises or in a fire-resistant filing cabinet. Update records after major renovations or big purchases, advises Kip Diggs, a spokesman for State Farm Insurance.

Real Simple suggests you keep a home-inventory book. For insurance purposes, include:
• Receipts for major purchases and structural improvements
• If you are missing a receipt, write down the manufacturer, the model number, the date of purchase, and the price.
• Photos of items (a video works, too)

For help creating a room-by-room inventory, print Real Simple's free 8 Home Inventory Worksheets.

5. Make a Friday list
You spend the weekends getting errands out of the way for the week. Why not change things around? All it takes is a "Friday list" of all the chores you want to get out of the way so you can relax on the weekend. Some examples:
• Buy coffee, milk, bagels, cream cheese, fruit.
• Fill the tank up with gas.
• Review kids' sporting events and play dates; coordinate rides.
• Make dinner reservations if you're going out.
• Clean favorite weekend clothes.
• Charge the cell phone.

6. Chop veggies once a week
This tip is from Real Simple reader Robin Zerbib, mother of four:

Every Sunday, I chop a million vegetables and fruits that my kids can feed off all week. Melon, strawberries, celery, carrots, peppers, tomatoes. I call it "clean food."

I can only imagine what they're eating all week at school, so I want to make it easy for them to grab a handful of something healthy when they're at home or running out.

I like getting the tedious prepping for the week out of the way on Sunday. I even enjoy it. I can do it while the ball game is on or while the kids are hanging out in the kitchen. I can mindlessly chop and listen to Sophie read to me, Gabi tell me about a story she's writing. A lot of the time, my kids join in. We use the mandolin or food processor so the slicing goes faster. If there are leftover bagels from the weekend, I'll slice them up for bagel chips.

We put the veggies in see-through Tupperware in the fridge. That's key. When the kids are hungry, they don't want to hunt around. They like to open up the fridge and see what's there.

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