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Ways to get more stuff done

Published: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 @ 4:25 PM
Updated: Tuesday, March 18, 2014 @ 4:25 PM

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Whether we’re overwhelmed by that never-ending to-do list or simply distracted (thanks, Facebook), sometimes it feels like we just can't get enough out of the day. Until 30-hour days are invented, follow these easy, effective tips for getting more done in the 24 we have.



1. Get enough sleep. Whoever coined the phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead” didn’t have all the facts straight. Not getting enough Zzz's could hinder productivity at work, so try to get those recommended seven to nine hours of snooze time [1]!

2. Create routines. Make a habit of, well, sticking to habits.Schedule actions like writing emails at a certain time or hitting the gym after work, and try to do them daily. Soon that routine will happen on autopilot.

3. Wake up earlier. As long as you're still able to squeeze in enough sleep, try extending the day by getting up an hour earlier—when it’s still quiet and there are fewer distractions.

4. Step away from the inbox. Incoming emails can be a nuisance. Make a habit to only check the inbox at certain times of the day to avoid getting sidetracked with requests and responses.

5. Make a daily to-do list. Stay away from huge to-do lists. Instead, create a daily list of realistic jobs to tackle, like folding laundry, scheduling a doctor’s appointment, or paying the cable bill. Break up big goals into micro-tasks, like going to a yoga class over getting six-pack abs, or writing a page over completing a thesis. Soon, the small things will add up to big accomplishments. 

6. Take a midday workout break. Got writers' block? Can’t fathom cleaning the bathroom? Try hitting the pavement. Working out during the day could actually boost productivity, so the time spent exercising could actually help us get more done later [2].

7. Don’t multitask. Our brains aren’t wired to juggle too much at once, and we can work nearly twice as fast if we do only one thing at a time [3]. (And nope, we’re not talking LOST time-travel.) [4]. So remember those childhood manners and finish tasks one at a time.

8. Silence the phone. When it comes to getting stuff done, sometimes silence is key. Turn off email alerts and the cell phone ringer—that’s what voicemail is for!

9. Make a to-don’t list. Bad habits are just as significant as good ones. So make a list of things not to do because they make you unproductive (we’re staring at you, Netflix), and stick to it.

10. Brainstorm. Take some time to sit and get those creative juices flowing. Without distractions, brainstorming may be the way to come up with killer ideas in record time. Bonus: Creativity can make you happier.

11. Do those MITs. Nope, this isn’t college talk. MIT stands for most important tasks, and it’s a way to highlight the items that matter most on that to-do list. At the start of each day, write down a few things that must get done. Commit to tackling those tasks, and let the rest of the chips fall where they may.

12. Hit inbox zero. Sort every email once that inbox is open. Respond, file, draft, or delete. Keeping the inbox clean is key to staying organized and on point. (Just remember not to keep the inbox open when you aren't organizing it.).

Gourmande in the Kitchen

13. Stay healthy. Just like… don’t get sick. (It may be easier said than done.) But health and productivity go hand in hand, so be sure to maintain good health habits, like eating well and washing up after hitting the gym [5]!

14. Keep a pen and pad on hand. Make like Richard Bransonand carry pen and paper (or your smartphone) to catch any useful thought that may come to mind. Up the creativity ante and make your own moleskin DIY style.

For all 27 ways to get more done, go to

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Lion Gate Estate: Bizarre $550K home with carpeted ceilings, vintage cars takes internet by storm

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 2:39 AM

$550K Lion Gate Estate Takes Internet By Storm

In the market for a whimsical $550,000 home with carpeted ceilings, vintage cars and statues lurking around every corner?


You'll still want to check out the now-viral listing for Detroit's Lion Gate Estate. Trust us.

>> PHOTO GALLERY: Inside $550K Lion Gate Estate

>> See the listing here

"Unique barely begins to describe this one of a kind Grixdale Farms estate," reads the listing by Real Estate One's Alex Lauer. "Every aspect of 'Lion Gate Estate' has been articulated with painstaking attention to detail and mind blowing decorative flair. Too many custom features to list!"

Unique barely begins to describe this one of a kind Grixdale Farms estate. Every aspect of “Lion Gate Estate” has been...

Posted by Alex Lauer - Real Estate One on Thursday, March 15, 2018

And he's not kidding. The three-bedroom, two-bathroom home, owned by a former automotive designer, is the definition of "extra," with a "Liberace-inspired living room" and "museum-like" interior, Curbed reports

>> Read more trending news 

The listing continues: "Highlights include heated swimming pool with outdoor shower and cabana. Custom two car garage with hand painted automotive murals. Finished basement with billiard room and entertainment area. Fenced in yard with fountains and statuary. Sale includes full contents of the house, including Kohler Campbell baby grand player piano, mint condition Frigidaire kitchen appliances c. 1950. One of a kind custom built 1966 Cadillac Fleetwood Sedan, One of a kind custom built 1974 Lincoln Mark IV Coupe, Custom pool table, countless automotive relics and artifacts. Once in a lifetime offering."

But if you want to take a tour, you'd better check the weather forecast first. "Only shown on sunny days," the listing warns.

>> Click here or scroll down to check out some photos of the home

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Vandalia park offers nearly two dozen community garden plots

Published: Saturday, March 10, 2018 @ 7:00 AM

            Residents of Vandalia can participate in the annual Community Garden project using land set aside at Jeffers Park. CONTRIBUTED.
Residents of Vandalia can participate in the annual Community Garden project using land set aside at Jeffers Park. CONTRIBUTED.

VANDALIA – The city of Vandalia will again offer residents a chance to garden even if they don’t have a backyard.

The Vandalia Community Garden is located at Jeffers Park on Halcyon Drive near Interstate 75.

This year’s garden will feature 22 plots of 15 feet by 20 feet that are available to city residents on a first come, first served basis.

“Our Parks and Recreation Department is always looking for ways to better utilize park space and to respond to emerging community needs. We had heard suggestions we try this for a few years before we finally decided to give it a shot,” said Rich Hopkins, Vandalia communications manager

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The first year, the garden offered eight plots, which were claimed quickly. More plots were added along with a water source in the second year.

The program is a low-cost offering for the city, Hopkins said.

“We did have some initial costs in bringing a water source to the park, but beyond that there is not much we need to do. We prepare the plots at the beginning of the year by tilling the dirt, and we check on it regularly through the course of the year, but that’s a part of our routine maintenance,” he said.

Most of the plots are reserved by individuals, although some list friends as “additional authorized gardeners,” said Micki Weber, a city parks and recreation assistant. Among those using a plot in the past was a Girl Scout troop, she said.

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Most participants grow food, but some grow flowers.

The number of plots reserved declined slightly the past couple of years, Weber said. However, some of the returning gardeners will take a second plot when they are available, she said.

Registration packets are available at the Vandalia Recreation Center, 1111 Stonequarry Road. There is a $25 registration fee. The growing season is April 1 through Oct. 31.

“Ultimately, we believe the community gardens are a great option for folks who have more gardening ambition than they do garden space. The plots are fairly large and give people a creative and nurturing outlet for the spring and summer months,” Hopkins said.

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There have been few problems at the gardens during the first six years, he said, noting “isolated incidents” of trampled plans or pilfered vegetables.

Anyone with questions about the Community Garden can contact Weber at (937) 415-2353 or

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Flip or flop? 9 things to know before you start flipping houses

Published: Monday, March 05, 2018 @ 3:30 PM

The following are five ways to ensure that you're getting the best mortgage rate possible Look beyond a 30-year fixed rate Improve your credit score if it's low Beef up your down payment Get more than one quote Consider paying points

A knack for DIY and a fondness for shows like “Flip or Flop Atlanta” is only the start of what you need to begin flipping houses yourself.

"You must first have a clear understanding of what it is," Sky Five Properties CEO Kaya Wittenburg wrote in Realty Times. "It's not like those addicting home improvement shows. You can't just find a dilapidated house, break down a wall with a sledgehammer, find a vintage couch at a garage sale and sell the home for four times what you bought it for."

»RELATED: 4 of the best ways to turn your home into a cash cow

According to Wittenburg and other real estate and personal finance experts, to start flipping houses, you'll need a little luck and these nine practical things:

An understanding of how flipping now is different from flipping then

"The house-flipping trend died down following the housing crisis in 2008," Wittenburg noted.

As of early 2018, though, home prices are rising and there was a 3 percent increase in homes flipped over previous years. But this isn't like the pre-2008 flips.

"House flipping in the early 2000s involved people buying a house and then sitting on it waiting for the price to rise," Wittenburg said. "Now, however, house flippers are getting their hands dirty and doing major upgrades to increase the value of the home."

Time management skills

According to Wittenburg, the average time it takes to flip a house is about 3-6 months. That's how long you'll have to complete the upgrades that will appeal to sellers without dumping a lot of your own money into the project.

The ability to recognize a good house to flip

In a guide updated in December 2017, Remodeling Calculator noted that people who want to get into the flip market need to know how to spot properties that offer good value, not merely a low price.

"Rushing into buying a foreclosure only because its cheap often becomes a bottomless money pit."

A steady source of financing

"You need to be sure that you will have enough money to fund the entire process, from making a down payment to paying real estate broker fees when you go to sell," according to Remodeling Calculator. Remember to budget for the monthly mortgage payments and utility bills you'll pay until the house sells.

DeRon Jenkins and Page Turner on 'Flip or Flop: Nashville.'

The cost of renovation

One of the biggest outlays is the cost of renovation, which pros told Remodeling Calculator averaged $15,000-$25,000 on a basic fixer upper.

"One of the biggest financial pitfalls is running out of money during the remodeling stage," they noted. "Ideally, you should have 15 percent-20 percent of the sale value of the house set aside for renovations."

Building permits

You can end up flopping as quickly as you'd hope to flip if you neglect to get the required building permits. Bear in mind that only a licensed contractor will be able to obtain permits.

"Without a building permit, the town has a full right to request that the project be removed and the home be returned to its original state. They can also put a halt to your project, and impose fines, until appropriate permits are obtained," according to Remodeling Calculator.

Remodeling contractors at the ready

"One mistake newbies make is looking for remodeling contractors after they already purchase a home," Remodeling Calculator noted.

While that's logical if you're purchasing a home for yourself, when flipping, you want to resell as quickly as possible and scoping contractors stalls the remodel. At the same time, being in a hurry destroys your negotiating power with contractors.

"They will sense you are on a very tight schedule and have limited options, and will definitely up-sell their services. Start looking for contractors way before you even start searching for a property."

A real estate broker who specializes in the house flipping market

You'll be competing with professional builders and you may never see potential houses because they're quickly sold to well-connected pros. And while you can start your search on websites like RealtyTrac, Trulia, and, Remodeling Calculator also recommended finding a broker who specializes in this market.

An eye for newer homes that mostly need cosmetic changes

If you don't have experience with flipping or remodeling, Remodeling Calculator warns against picking up older homes. Even pros don't want homes older than 100 years and newbie flippers should stick to much newer properties. "A very old house will have very costly electric, heating, plumbing and other issues," Remodeling Calculator cautioned. "Taking this high expense into consideration, such a home will not end up bringing a high return on investment, and may actually result in losses." Instead, vie to flip homes that mostly require new paint, flooring, fixtures and so forth. "You make the most money when the majority of the updates are cosmetic."


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9 hidden costs of home ownership - and how to plan for them

Published: Thursday, March 01, 2018 @ 3:25 PM

Be sure to avoid these 6 common mistakes that first-time home buyers often make Not getting a professional inspection Not putting a pause button on purchases Not keeping up with correspondence Not understanding the hidden costs of buying a home Not working with a buyer's agent Not looking into loan assistance programs

Whether you're buying a "starter home" or your "dream home," a house can quickly earn the nickname "the Money Pit" if you don't consider the hidden costs of home ownership.

»RELATED: 6 common first-time homebuyer mistakes that could cost you big time

When comparing the costs of renting to the base purchase price of buying your own home, the numbers usually look like a great deal. But in reality, unplanned fees and the responsibilities of maintenance and repairs can be a huge drag on your bottom line. "Buying a home can be expensive, but what newbie homeowners often don't realize is that the spending has only just begun," noted CPA Liz Weston on the NerdWallet blog. "The hidden costs of homeownership can equal if not exceed the mortgage payments you send to the bank."

While the additional outlay doesn't mean that renting for the rest of your life is the only solution, you should weigh the hidden costs long before you start picking out paint colors. That way, Weston advised, you're able to gauge whether that "affordable" home will trash your budget and you can set aside money for those expenses and develop a back-up plan in case you can't cover the unexpected costs with savings.

Here are nine costs you should factor into a decision to purchase, according to Weston and other real estate experts:

Expenses that add to the original mortgage cost

You'll certainly know by the end of your purchase that you have to pay property taxes and insurance on top of your mortgage payment, but it's a good idea to consider them at the outset.

Homeowners' association fees

When you're looking for affordable property, make sure to note whether a condo or development charges HOA fees. These can cost anywhere from $100 per month to nearly as much as a decent apartment rental and you can't opt out of them. Be sure to check (or have your agent check) on the bylaws that dictate when and how these fees can be raised.

Simple maintenance

"No new homeowner, myself included, can ever feel fully prepared for the maintenance costs and renovation costs associated with homeownership," Brunch & Budget's Pamela Capalad told NerdWallet. Maintenance can include anything from keeping the hedges trimmed and the lawn mowed to cleaning gutters and hiring a chimney sweep annually.

Repairs large and small

A financial planner in Brooklyn, Capalad had brand-new pipes burst four years into owning her home. "There went $2,000 in repairs just like that." No more speed dialing the building maintenance crew when catastrophe hits, either. Instead, you'll have to do it yourself, or, in cases where it's inadvisable, hire somebody. A few of the repairs that could be lurking in your home include any plumbing mishaps that result in standing water and correcting a poor roof design.

Furnace replacements

You probably learned long ago that warm air and hot water don't just magically flow through your living spaces and into your bathtub, but when you're the homeowner, you're in charge of keeping the source in good repair or (shudder) replacing it when the time comes. You can expect the following lifespans for the equipment that heats your home and water, according to the International Association of Certified Home Inspectors:

  • Electric radiant heater: 40 years
  • Furnace: 15 to 25 years
  • Gas fireplace: 15 to 25 years
  • Heat exchanger: 10 to 15 years
  • Heat pump: 10 to 15 years

Air Conditioning

On the other end of the spectrum - and of particular importance to homeowners in the South - is keeping the air conditioner going. Central AC units have a lifespan of just 7 to 15 years, according to NACHI.

Appliance replacements

Whether you switch rental arrangements every couple of years or are used to your landlord taking responsibility for replacing appliances, you may be surprised at the cost of replacing appliances yourself. Plan on it, though: "You don't want to be caught off guard when the dishwasher you've been using for a decade suddenly goes on the fritz and you haven't budgeted for its repair or replacement," noted Sears. Assuming you don't get a lemon, you can count on appliance to last at least as long as these estimations:

  • Washers, dryers, refrigerators and dishwashers typically last 10 to 13 years
  • Gas ranges typically last around 15 years
  • Stovetops typically last between 15 to 18 years
  • Microwaves typically last 9 to 10 years

Deck re-do

Looking forward to enjoying lots of time on your new deck? You'd better make sure the deck will be there for you: according to NACHI, deck material doesn't last nearly as long as most homes, predicting that deck planks would last 15 years, composite 8 to 25 years and structural wood 10 to 30 years. Unless the deck was brand-new when you bought it, you might be replacing it sooner rather than later.


Sure, all-wood floors can stand up to hard use for a century. But carpets? They'll go South in 8 to 10 years, according to NACHI. Even if you negotiate an allowance to buy new carpet with the new home purchase price, it will still need replacing pretty quickly.

To narrow your expected home costs even more when you're in the market, hire a good home inspector before you buy, NerdWallet's Weston recommended. A local inspector can give you both an idea of the remaining life expectancy of the house's various components and a rough estimate of how much they'll cost to replace. "It may become apparent that a bargain house will turn into a money pit, while a better-maintained home is worth the extra money."

The solution to hidden home costs, assuming a life with landlords isn't something you're comfortable with, is simply socking away money for potential repairs. "While every situation is different, the typical rule of thumb is to expect to spend an average of one percent to two percent of the value of your home on repairs each year," financial planner Matt Becker told NerdWallet. That may not be the tally every single year, but it should give you a little wiggle room for the years when the big, bad breakdowns (like a broken furnace) occur.

"Chances are, you spent a good chunk of time saving for a down payment, so you're already used to that money being put aside," Capalad told NerdWallet. "The best way to prepare is to continue to maintain a house savings fund, even after you buy the house."


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