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Op/Ed

Surprise: Savings have mostly grown during the pandemic

(OPINION / EDITORIAL) Even in the midst of the COVID pandemic, some portions of the American populace have been able to – paradoxically – bolster their savings.

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Plastic clear piggy bank representing savings.

What I’m about to say will sound strange – for many Americans, the pandemic has proven to be a vehicle for increasing their savings. Perhaps even stranger, a significant portion of this group may even have more discretionary funds to spend during this holiday season.

I’ll repeat that for emphasis – the pandemic has given rise to an improvement in finances for American families, as the overall debt has lowered, spending may remain unchanged, and savings continue to increase.

I’ll quickly add in that this certainly isn’t the case for everyone, and do not want to paint a picture that is entirely rosey – many are still struggling, job growth recently saw its lowest numbers of the year, and others worry that we could be facing down another potential storm of instability. What will follow is not meant to discount or ignore these issues, but to highlight a somewhat puzzling and weirdly hopeful piece of the American landscape.

Bloomberg Wealth reports that trends reflect Americans holding more cash in reserves. This has been the result of a number of factors, such as the government stimulus earlier this year, record-low mortgage rates fueling refinancing to help decrease monthly payments relative to income, and residual inertia from the strong economy prior to the pandemic.

“The consumer here in the U.S. is relatively stable and, honestly, somewhat relatively better than we might have feared back in the height of the pandemic in the second quarter of 2020,” Marianne Lake, JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s chief executive officer for consumer lending, said Nov. 9 at a virtual investor conference .

Many believe that this means the final quarter could see better-than-expected results (though some disagree given current data). Retail confidence is relatively strong in the face of so many potential hardships. Even working class families that bore the brunt of the downturn are shown – on average – to have more money in the bank now, and may in turn spend it to help the economy during the festive months.

One advantage that the current situation affords over the prior 2008 recession is the position that many were in to begin with, giving the average American a better starting point to deal with the downturn. “The consumer came into this crisis in a pretty strong position in terms of household balance sheets and household liquidity and debt service burdens,” JPMorgan’s Lake said.

Pessimistically speaking, part of these savings are the result of an uneasy and volatile future. Lockdowns still loom in the distance, and layoffs dot the horizon in numerous industries (including air travelentertainment, and food service). This in turn causes people to hold onto what they have now, whether it be pre-pandemic savings, unemployment benefits, or side gigs until a sense of economic normalcy can be re-established.

It remains to be seen how 2020 will end in terms of consumer confidence, but several potential options exist that could bring the year to a productive close. For example, there is hope for another government stimulus package, and money in the bank could be tapped to drive sales further. Americans may approach sales with eagerness, guided by the idea of “comfort spending,” and a willingness to console friends and family through retail.

In any case, while the pandemic continues into the wintry months, there are numerous perspectives on how to view the economy and where it may or may not go.

Robert Snodgrass has an English degree from Texas A&M University, and wants you to know that yes, that is actually a thing. And now he's doing something with it! Let us all join in on the experiment together. When he's not web developing at Docusign, he runs distances that routinely harm people and is the kind of giant nerd that says "you know, there's a King of the Hill episode that addresses this exact topic".

Op/Ed

To-do list tips & tricks to maximize productivity and lower stress levels

(EDITORIAL) Even if you have a to-do list, the weight of your tasks might be overwhelming. Here’s advice on how to fix the overwhelm.

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To-do list in a journal with gold rings.

If you ask me, there’s no better way to unwind and ease everyday stress by making a to-do list. Like they said in the movie, Clueless, “It gives [you] a sense of control in a world full of chaos.”

While that quote was specific to a makeover, it certainly applies here. When you have too many things on your plate, making a to-do list is a quick way to get yourself in order. Typically, this does the trick for organizing your upcoming tasks.

It’s important to determine what method of listmaking works for you. I personally like to use sticky notes around my computer monitor to keep me in check for what’s needed to be done work-wise or by use of my computer. Other personal task items will either be kept in a list on my phone, or in my paper planner.

For work, I have a roster of clients I work with everyday. They each have their own list containing tasks I have to complete for them. I also use Google Calendar to keep these tasks in order if they have a specific deadline.

For personal use, I create a to-do list at the start of each week to determine what needs to be accomplished over the next seven days. I also have a monthly overview for big-picture items that need to be tackled (like an oil change).

This form of organization can be a lot and it can still be overwhelming, even if I have my ducks in a row. And, every once in a while, those tasks can really pile up on those lists and a whole new kind of overwhelm develops.

Fear not, as there are still ways to break it down from here. Let me explain.

First, what I’d recommend is going through all of your tasks and categorizing them (i.e. a work list, a personal list, a family list, etc.) From there, go through each subsequent list and determine priority.

You can do this by setting a deadline for each task, and then put every task in order based on what deadline is coming up first. From there, pieces start to fall into place and tasks begin to be eliminated. I do recognize that this is what works for my brain, and may not be what works for yours.

Leo Babauta of Zen Habits has some interesting insight on the topic and examines the importance of how you relate to your tasks. The concept is, instead of letting the tasks be some sort of scary stress, find ways to make them more relatable. Here are some examples that Babauta shares:

  • I’m fully committed to this task because it’s incredibly important to me, so I’m going to create a sacred space of 30 minutes today to be fully present with it.
  • This task is an opportunity for me to serve someone I care deeply about, with love.
  • These tasks are training ground for me to practice presence, devotion, getting comfortable with uncertainty.
  • These tasks are an adventure! An exploration of new ground, a learning space, a way to grow and discover and create and be curious.
  • This task list is a huge playground, full of ways for me to play today!

Finding the best method of creating your to-do list or your task list and the best method for accomplishing those tasks is all about how you relate and work best. It can be trial and error, but there is certainly a method for everyone. What are your methods?

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Op/Ed

How minimizing your clutter will help you with time management

(EDITORIAL) If you’re a clutter queen that tends to wait until your inbox has more than 500 emails in it or your closet can’t shut, read this…please.

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Woman carrying boxes representing minimizing clutter.

Rethinking your clutter habits

Are you one of those people who has an endless to-do list of mindless tasks like emptying your inbox, decluttering your entryway, or balancing your checkbook? Think about these tasks for just a minute.


In each case, the longer you put it off, the more time it takes to get it back to a manageable amount. If you’re a procrastinator that tends to wait until your inbox has more than 500 emails in it or your closet can’t shut, maybe it’s time to look at this clutter through a different lens.

Busyness is like a debt

When you have a credit card, it’s recommended to pay off the balance each month to get to zero. You would never let your bill go unpaid month after month. Once you get your credit card balance paid off, you’re probably more cautious about taking on more debt.

Consider your inbox a debt you have to take care of each week. The idea is to get it down to zero.

Delete it or file it, just get it out of your inbox so that it doesn’t get back up to 25, 100, or 500 to reduce the clutter in your life. Same thing with your entryway. The idea is to minimize the clutter. Once you keep this clutter at zero, it’s much less work to manage it.

Minimalism as a lifestyle

You may have to spend some time cleaning up your inbox or tidying up the kitchen to find your zero, but it’s time well spent. Don’t try to tackle every job in one week, but think about some of the things that have gotten out of hand in your life.

Routine work is manageable, but you have to make a commitment to it. If you need more inspiration, check out Zeromalist, a manifesto of living simply and embracing minimalism.

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Op/Ed

How to go about delegation to *actually* bring about peak productivity

(OPINION) Delegation is well, a delicate subject, and can end up creating more work for yourself if it isn’t done well. Here’s how to fix that.

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Man talking on virtual meeting, using delegation to get more work done.

Delegating work is a logical step in the process of attaining peak efficiency. It’s also a step that, when executed incorrectly, leads to a huge headache and a lot of extra work for whomever is delegating tasks—not to mention frustration on the part of those asked to complete said tasks. Here is how you can assign work with the confidence that it will be done quickly and effectively.

Firstly, realizing that a “one size fits all” approach doesn’t work can be a bit of a blow. It’s certainly easier to assign tasks across the board and wait for them to be completed; however, when you consider how much clean-up work you have to do when those tasks don’t end the way you expect them to, it’s actually simpler to assign tasks according to employees’ strengths and weaknesses, providing appropriate supports along the way.

In education, this process is called “differentiation”, and it’s the same idea: If you assign 30 students the exact same work, you’ll see pretty close to 30 different answers. Assigning that same piece with the accommodations each student needs to succeed—or giving them different parameters according to their strengths—means more consistency overall. You can apply that same concept to your delegation.

Another weak point in many people’s management models revolves around how employees see their superiors. In part, this isn’t your fault; American authority paradigms mandate that employees fear their bosses, bend over backward to impress them, and refrain from communicating concerns. However, it is ultimately your job to make sure that your employees feel both supported and capable.

To wit, assign your employees open-ended questions and thought-provoking problems early on to allow them to foster critical thinking skills. The more you solve their problems for them, the more they will begin to rely on you in a crisis—and the more work you’ll take home despite all of your delegation efforts. Molding employees into problem-solvers can certainly take time, but it’s worth the wait.

Finally, your employees may lack strength in the areas of quality and initiative. That sounds a lot worse than it actually is—basically, employees may not know what you expect, and in the absence of certainty, they will flounder. You can solve this by providing employees with the aforementioned supports; in this case, those look like a list of things to avoid, a bulleted list of priorities for a given project, or even a demo of how to complete their work.

Again, this sounds like a lot of effort upfront for your delegation, but you’ll find your patience rewarded come deadline time.

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