Life Pro Tips - Moving

I like to consider myself a moving expert.

In college, I lived in a different place every year, plus spent two summers at internships in Chicago, totaling 6 moves.

Post-college, I'm on my 8th apartment in 7 years... yikes. Fortunately, I'm (almost) officially a homeowner, so my apartment drifter days are at an end.

In preparation for my own move and to pass down wisdom to future generations, here are my best tips to make things go smoothly:

#1 - Use those project management skills!

Before you even touch a box, map out the move. I use Trello but there are many options, including good old analog pen and paper. Here are some things to list out:

  1. Address Changes: credit cards, bank accounts (including loans), important mail subscriptions, HR documentation at work, insurance (auto, medical, homeowners/renters), utilities (including cell service), drivers license and car registration, mass transit account, shopping websites (I've had stuff sent to the wrong address...), public library, and most importantly, voter registration (do your civic duty!). Additionally, set up mail forwarding through USPS to catch anything that fell through the cracks.
  2. Packing materials: paper, foam, and/or bubble wrap for wrapping breakable items and placing between dishes, packing tape (don't forget a dispenser), Plastic stretch wrap (see "Tricks of the Trade" for details), unscented drawstring garbage bags, moving boxes or bins, box dividers for glassware, vacuum space-saving bags
  3. Decluttering/Sorting: DO NOT pack anything you're just going to trash/donate. Don't do it. Write down the types of items you should be sorting through and getting rid of - either while you are packing or ahead of time.
  4. Packing Categories: Make three lists - Pack Now, Pack Later, and Day-Of. Put items/groups under each that you can accomplish in 30 minutes or less. Examples: small electronics, Books, DVD's, craft supplies, small appliances, office supplies, cleaning supplies.
  5. Home Goods and Furniture: Chances are, you'll have some new things to purchase for your new place. Listing them out as you think of them will ensure you don't forget to buy that toilet plunger until it's too late.
  6. Scheduling: Anything you need to make an appointment/schedule: move-out time, move-in time, movers, house cleaning, painters, turning on/off electricity and gas, mail forwarding, storage unit, furniture donation, etc.

#2 - How many boxes should you buy?

Like most things in life, the answer is "it depends." Here are items that don't need moving boxes:

  1. Folded clothing - pack in suitcases and/or leave them in drawers wrapped with stretch wrap. If there are still more clothes, I like using soft zip totes - great for storage under the bed in your new place.
  2. Hanging clothing - use drawstring bags to pack these up. Poke a hole at the bottom for the hanger hook, slip 8-10 items in, and tie up the bottom with the drawstring.
  3. Items already in boxes/baskets - use stretch wrap to secure the lid (and wrap rest of the box itself if it needs to be protected from dings). Give large plastic latching bins a quick wrap around the middle for extra security.
  4. Pillows and comforters - use vacuum space-saving bags.
  5. Wall art - stretch wrap is again your friend. You can group a few together and wrap thoroughly to protect.
  6. Pantry items - shopping bags and/or food coolers can be used to carry the majority of these.

A good rule of thumb for the items that need to be boxed - unless it's bulky and oddly shaped, small boxes are almost always the best size to use. And there are only very rare cases where a large or extra large box should be used if you followed my non-box tips above:

  • Books, office supplies, paperwork, DVD's, small decor - do yourself a favor and use small boxes. 
  • Use a medium box with glassware dividers for your glasses, but small boxes for place settings and silverware. 
  • Miscellaneous kitchen appliances and pots and pans can generally be put in medium boxes. Be careful and occasionally test the weight. If it's getting too heavy, fill the rest with bulky plastic items like mixing bowls or just tape it up - you do not have to fill every single box to the brim (see "Tricks of the Trade" below)

An alternative to cardboard, if you have the space and funds - consider buying clear plastic latching bins instead of medium size boxes. You'll still need to give it a quick stretch wrap at the end, but they are generally easier to carry and the transparency is super useful when you're trying to find that spatula for your morning-after-the-move pancakes.

#3 - Tricks of the Trade

  1. If you haven't noticed - I'm obsessed with stretch wrap. I only recently discovered it and it is a super economical way to transport awkwardly shaped items. It's also great to use as a buffer from scratches and dings on furniture. I recommend buying a 5 inch on a handle and a wider size between 12 and 20 inches. For the wider size, you can even use regular plastic wrap from the grocery store if you don't want to shell out the cash for a huge commercial roll - it's not as sturdy, but good in a pinch.
  2. All of the moving articles always say this, but I will re-emphasize: don't mix rooms in your boxes. Seriously. If you can't fill up a box, find a smaller container or just tape it up and go. Oh, and mark the boxes with at least the room but a description is always nice too. My only exception is day-of items - put it in the truck last and unpack it first, though.
  3. Start early. There's tons of stuff you can pack up 2 weeks or more in advance, and then you have time to really sort through and get rid of anything not worth taking to the new place. A good place to start is in craft and/or office supplies. 
  4. Give yourself time and packing materials for the aftermath. There's always something that was forgotten, or cleaning supplies that still need to go to the new place.
  5. Don't forget the fridge!
  6. Clean up after yourself. Don't be a disgusting heathen. Doesn't have to be sparkling clean, but sweep, vacuum, and wipe down all surfaces (including the fridge).

Super Study Tool (version 1)

I'm very pleased to present my first of several planned Excel templates and tools - a suite of tools to help optimize and streamline study planning. It was developed with actuarial studying in mind, but can be adapted to many other applications as well.

I've been frustrated in the past with feeling like my studying was being held back by being too unstructured - while I could find resources for estimating importance of topics, I found it difficult to translate that to study time. In addition, I prefer to track my studies by what I've accomplished instead of by number of hours. And thirdly, I wanted an easy way to transfer all the effort spent listing out what to study and how much into an easy-to-use calendar format.

Thus began a multiple-sitting journey of finding and modifying tools to do each of these tasks - but they didn't synch together the way I really wanted. So I finally sat down and started from scratch, taking the best elements of each of my found tools and integrating them into something that was lightweight, easy to follow, and specifically intended to be printed and used physically instead of digitally.

My tool is inspired by a very common and popular time tracking spreadsheet that I've seen at multiple companies and weekly calendar templates from Vertex42, with lots of flavor of my own thrown in. (If you haven't visited Vertex42 and love spreadsheets, that place is a goldmine. I love all the clever ways they've used formulas instead of macros to make powerful and flexible spreadsheets for a variety of uses.)

It is in .xlsx format but it should be backwards-compatible for Excel 2003. 

I hope you find it useful!

Procrastination and Studying

Ah, my good friend procrastination. We have been buddies for decades already and I anticipate many happy years together in the future.

Today an article on bit-of-news (an awesome daily mini-newspaper right to your email inbox) was featured about scientific research on procrastination - you can read the full article on The Atlantic, but I'm going to summarize and give some ways to apply the findings to studying for actuarial exams.

Finding #1: Breaking the Habit Loop

I'm also in the middle of reading a fascinating book on how habits are formed and I'll hopefully have some useful commentary on it in another post. But the same concept was brought up in this article - a series of thoughts or actions spur each other into repeating the loop over and over.

The proposed way to handle breaking the loop is to impose deadlines that "shock" the system into getting out of the procrastination loop and spur action. But the source of deadline matters - externally imposed deadlines are much more efficacious than internal.

External deadlines for the actuarial student studying primarily alone can be hard to find. But here are a couple of ideas:

  1. Many study manuals come with a suggested study schedule. Use that instead of your own calendar to set benchmarks.
  2. Find a local or online group of students studying for the same exam who are willing to set a schedule together. A good way to enforce those deadlines is to meet (or have an online discussion) to review the material up to that point and work through a set of practice problems or a quiz together.
  3. Find an exam "mentor" who you feel accountable to for your studying progress, like your manager at work or an esteemed peer who has already finished the exam. Work with them at the beginning of studying to establish a study schedule and have checkpoints along the way with them to report on your progress and re-set deadlines and goals if necessary.

Finding #2: Change Your Concept of Time

With a final deadline far from the current date, it is extraordinarily easy to to think in terms of "tomorrow" or "next week" or "next month" - this can "separate us from future selves". While humans are very intelligent, sometimes we're also very stupid. Immediate and instant gratification is much easier to reach for than something that is happening in a conceptually vague "future".

This concept circles back to setting deadlines, but also emphasizes a focus on keeping your eye on the nearest prize instead of something far in the future. Set small, measurable, and near-immediate goals.

  1. At the beginning of each week, map out study time - you can choose whether to schedule specific times of day, a set amount of time, or an amount of material that approximates the time planned.
  2. Each time you sit down to study, take a minute to review what you intend to accomplish, and make those goals specific. Make a checklist that you can cross off items as you complete them. It's a bit silly but something as easy as a checkmark can be immensely gratifying.

Finding #3: Make it Fun

"HA!" was my first reaction to this finding. Studying for actuarial exams is the opposite of fun, especially when you're sitting inside on a beautiful sunny day. But obviously there is some root of passion and excitement for mathematics and statistics underneath the dozens of pounds of study manuals, so let's explore some ways to incite that.

  1. Let yourself play with the numbers. Instead of feeling like you need to plod through the material and practice problems, let curiosity take hold every once in a while. Make up a practice problem for yourself. Look up real life examples of concepts you're studying.
  2. Spreadsheets. If you're anything like me, Excel is your favorite program. Find a fun way to record your studying progress or keep track of your notes in a spreadsheet. 
  3. Take pride in your progress. Instead of getting down on yourself for being behind schedule or feeling inadequate, take a step back and look at all the things you've learned in a relatively short span of time. 

I hope these ideas help you steer your studying into more productive territory!