The Little Book of Life Skills

Deal with Dinner, Manage Your Email, Make a Graceful Exit, and 152 Other Expert Tricks


By Erin Zammett Ruddy

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$26.00 CAD

This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around September 15, 2020. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.

With tips from leading experts in every field, The Little Book of Life Skills is the practical guide on how to solve the trickiest tasks in your day and make life a little easier.

We all have areas of our lives that make us feel disorganized, unprepared, or stressed out. From creating a calmer morning routine to setting yourself up for a good night’s sleep, and everything in between, there are easy and proven ways to do things better. Whether you need advice on how to end an argument, iron a shirt, or keep your inbox under control, Erin Zammett Ruddy has spoken to experts including Rachael Ray, Dr. Oz, Arianna Huffington, and condensed their wisdom into easy to follow steps for all of life’s simple and not-so-simple tasks, such as:
  • Working from Home Effectively
  • Keeping a Houseplant Alive
  • Giving Constructive Feedback
  • Arranging the Perfect Cheese Board, and many more
The Little Book of Life Skills offers simple strategies for being better grown-ups. It’s the perfect guide for anybody who wants to get organized, be more efficient throughout the day, and finally learn the best way to fold that #$% fitted sheet.



As a writer for major lifestyle magazines for the last twenty years, my job has been to get experts’ advice on everything from making a meeting run smoothly to cooking a perfect burger; from asking for a raise to asking for space to asking a neighbor to take down his Christmas lights come March. (All of that is in the book, by the way, except the Christmas lights thing—honestly, you should just move, because that one’s really tricky.) I love talking to people who really know their stuff, regardless of what that stuff is (office organization? yes! lawn maintenance? sure! the perfect blowout? 100 percent!). And I know how to deliver that stuff to readers in a way that makes it applicable to their lives, because a highbrow expert isn’t always in touch with those of us who don’t own cheesecloth or, um, a mop. I can always relate to the reader because I am the reader. Yes, even on the stories about, say, decanting your entire pantry into beautifully labeled glass jars. Honestly, am I ever going to do that? Unlikely. Do I want to read about it? Hell, yes!

So, why did I set out to write this particular book? Because I need this particular book. My father, a former air traffic controller, has been all about order and mental checklists and a little something he likes to call “doing things the right way the first time” long before it was all trending. When I was growing up, every spring my sisters and I had to help him dry and fold the pool cover once the pool was open for the season. This was a long, methodical ordeal that had eighteen steps and inevitable fire drills (“Quick! Get it off the lawn! It’s burning the $*@# grass!”). Then one of us would loudly lament why we couldn’t just roll the thing up and call it a day. We’d be answered with a glare. And every fall, as we’d pull the pristine, moldless cover back out of the shed, my father would beam with pride and say something about why we don’t half-ass things. The man is efficient, he is organized, and he really does do most things exceptionally well. He also hasn’t seen the inside of a control tower since the 1980s but still approaches every task as if the fate of an entire plane of people rests in the balance. Needless to say, things can get intense when he’s involved, but, boy, is he a good person to call when you need help making a decision (um, me, every day).

I wish I could say his methods all rubbed off on me and I grew up living my best life surrounded by hospital corners and checked-off to-do lists and keys that never got lost. I did not. I got very little of my father’s affinity for precision (and none of my mother’s near-professional laundry skills). If I may play psychologist for a moment, I’d say it’s because when you have a parent constantly second-guessing the way you’re doing seemingly inconsequential things—“Is that how you’re going to cut that bagel?” “You can’t pack your suitcase that way!” “You really take exit 42 off the expressway, Erin? That red light is a minute and forty-five seconds, I’ve timed it!”—you sort of give up on striving for “the right way” and settle for “Whatever, I’m still getting it done, aren’t I?”

Of course now I’m forty-two and often catch myself midtask (emptying a dishwasher, de-crumbing a counter, arguing with my husband for leaving so many crumbs on the counter) thinking, Ugh, there must be a better way to do this! And there is! Keep reading! Like so many of you (just guessing here), I’m craving more efficiency and less stress in my day-to-day routine, a need that’s risen steadily as life has gotten more complicated. I mean, there was a time when taking forty-five minutes to zigzag my way through the grocery store like a drunken baby (chomping on a bag of barbecue Baked Lays, obviously) and forgetting two of the seven things I ran in for was a perfectly reasonable way to spend my time. That is no longer the case for a million reasons, but the biggest is probably this: I now have three children, and if you’re not staying efficient with kids in your house you will get swallowed whole by a pile of laundry faster than you can say, “If you brushed your teeth, why isn’t your toothbrush wet?!” Or so I’ve been told.

The fact is, there’s a particular order in which everything we do in a day should be done, a best practice that will heed maximum results with minimal frazzle. There are also important tricks and tips for taking better care of our hearts and minds, things I didn’t even know were life skills when I went off to college (I also thought fabric softener was detergent, so there’s that). But so many of us (hi!) just plow through our busy lives without paying attention to how we’re getting from one task to the next. This book is not going to make you feel bad about the way you’ve been doing things, though. Nor is it going to tell you that what you’ve been doing your whole life is completely wrong. Because it’s probably not. But there’s a good chance it’s not the most efficient, effective way to do things, either.

But wait, can’t you just Google the right way to do… anything? Of course you can. I certainly have. Type in “how to iron a shirt” and you’ll get 1.2 million results. (That is not an exaggeration—I just typed it in and that’s what came back.) Which is precisely why this book is needed. Who has time to sift through all that often-conflicting content and decide what to trust? Do you really need to watch a seven-minute YouTube tutorial on ironing? And what if—Oh, look! Celebrities without makeup! And now you’re in a wormhole of Kim Kardashian’s Instagram comments. Hey, it happens to the best of us, but weren’t you trying to be more efficient here?! News flash: Looking for advice on the internet can be an overwhelming time suck. And that’s not including the fifteen ads you’re now going to get for new irons.

So I went straight to the experts. The best of the best in their fields to walk through the basic steps for doing things better. Things that have always tripped me up—keeping a houseplant alive, pumping gas (where I grew up it was illegal to pump your own, so don’t make fun), introducing two people over email (why does it always seem awkward?). And the mental and emotional stuff we should all have in our repertoire—talking kindly to ourselves, taking a calming breath, saying hi to someone on a train without having to sit next to them. Every chapter of the book is chock-full of faster, smarter, more streamlined ways to approach the day’s to-dos. The reward: more time, less frustration, and the simple pleasure of a job well done. Yes, there is a sense of joy and (OK, Dad) pride that comes from doing something right, even if that something is as simple as emptying the dishwasher or storing a pool cover properly. It’s not about rushing through the mundane tasks so you can get to your real life (or Netflix queue) faster, it’s about slowing down and doing the little things right. Because real life is going to the grocery store, and writing emails and sitting at a four-way stop sign wondering who’s going to go first.

With the more than 150 how-tos in the book—written in easy, actionable steps we can all implement—you’ll be able to approach every task with more confidence and carry that calm, can-do attitude throughout your day. You’ll accomplish more (and curse less). And you won’t have to call your mom every time you spill something on your silk shirt. Who wouldn’t want to infuse their day with wins like that? And some of this stuff is downright genius. Not to overstate it, but the day I learned the quick way to tell which side of the car the gas tank is on was a really big day for me (see chapter 2 for that mindblower).

For this book, I’ve chosen to focus on the basic life skills most of us could use in an average week, because what’s the sense in learning how to paint a bathroom or host Thanksgiving if you don’t first know the best way to make your bed? These are the tasks that can make the biggest difference with the smallest adjustments, the things that we do over and over and over again but rarely stop to ask, “Wait, am I doing this right?” Perhaps some of the daily chores we realized we could use a refresher on after being stuck at home for months. Just me?

I’ve organized the chapters in the order in which you might need these abilities on any given day. From getting up, getting ready, and getting out the door with minimum hassle, to having a productive, satisfying workday and figuring out what the heck to order for lunch, to advice on getting through all your housework and yardwork pain free, preparing dinner (ugh, again?!), and getting a good night’s sleep. There are also chapters focused on being your best self in your head and your heart, as well as in your relationships with others (yes, how to argue productively is a life skill).

Oh, and you know how a food blogger lures you to click with the promise of the greatest lemon tart recipe ever and then there’s a 1,200-word essay about her great-aunt’s lemon farm and the limoncello she drank during her gap year in Tuscany and you’re, like, but where’s the $%*@ recipe? The Little Book of Life Skills jumps to the recipe for all of it. No backstories or lengthy explanations, no need to skim until the juicy parts. Just the thing, the order in which to do the thing, and the many fist pumps that will inevitably follow when you master that thing.

The book can be read cover to cover, or you can look in the table of contents for whatever you need help with right this minute. You can even zigzag your way through if you like. I promise not to judge the way you read a book about the right way to do things—as long as you promise not to tell my dad I still totally take exit 42. Every. Damn. Time.




1. DO NOT hit the snooze button. RESIST.

2. Open your eyes (a “1-2-3 go!” can help if you’re stuck on this step).

3. Swing your legs over the side of the bed and plant your feet on the floor.

4. Take 5 deep breaths.

5. Drink a full glass of water.

6. Get outside into the sunlight if you can (or hang out near a window—crack it for the unfiltered rays). Aim for 15 minutes, ideally.


Michael J. Breus, Ph.D., aka “the Sleep Doctor,” is a renowned sleep expert and author of The Power of When.


Starting your day with a snooze is the worst thing you can do; your body cannot get back into a deep sleep in those seven to nine minutes, so you’re just giving yourself light ZZZs that can ultimately make you more groggy. Instead, before you even stand up, take those deep breaths to get oxygen to your body and brain so both can function at their best. You lose almost a liter of water each night through the humidity in your breath (kinda cool, kinda gross), so drinking a full glass will replenish and hydrate. Then sunlight—ideally ten to fifteen minutes—which turns off the “melatonin faucet” in your brain and lifts that groggy morning fog. Get outside (without sunglasses) within fifteen minutes of waking for the best results. If the sun isn’t up when you are (or you live in, say, the Pacific Northwest) turn on the lights. Blue light—which is in sunlight, LED bulbs, our electronic devices and fluorescents—is what you need most in the a.m. Or consider a light therapy box, a device you can sit or work next to which gives off bright light that mimics sunlight.


Want to feel even more bright-eyed? If you’re taking a morning shower, slowly decrease the temperature at the end. You don’t have to make it ice-cold, but it should give you a mild chill, which will force all the blood to your trunk, and is very alerting. Cool!


1. As soon as you wake up, write down 3 things you’re grateful for (be specific and don’t just say “the sunny day” though you can totally be grateful for that). Keep a journal by your bedside to make this step easier.

2. Write down something great that happened in the last 24 hours—this can be a big thing or a small thing but, again, be specific.



5. Do one random act of kindness for someone.


Hoda Kotb is the coanchor of Today and author of several bestselling books including I Really Needed This Today, which features 365 sayings to inspire and uplift. One reason Hoda always seems so genuinely happy? She writes (“scribbles”) in her journal every single morning to remind herself how lucky she is.


When you wake up in the morning and the first thing you do is write down three good things and one great thing, it starts to change the way you think—instead of waking up going “Oh God…” and thinking about something that upset you the night before or what you have to do later, your brain starts changing. It helps you reframe your whole day to be a good day. Specifics help, so don’t just be grateful for the sunrise or being alive (though Hoda is grateful for all of those things). Instead, think of something small and specific—like the guy who held the door for you last night even though he had three bags in his hand and could have let it swing shut. This helps you stay aware of the thousands of reminders of goodness around you. You actually start to look for them! And exercise because, well, endorphins. It doesn’t have to always be super strenuous, even a walk around the block counts. And one of the best ways to get out of any funk is to do something nice for somebody else. This can be as simple as buying a coworker a cup of coffee when you run out to get yours.


Hoda’s other positivity hack: Good music. Create a playlist you love and use as needed.


“You spend a third of your life in bed, it should be a place that feels good and gives you comfort. And it only takes two minutes to make it look great!”

—Ariel Kaye

1. Pull back all the covers and start at the foot of the bed to assess the situation—every morning is a little different in terms of what things look like.

2. Make sure your fitted sheet is pulled down all the way and securely tucked in at the foot and then around the whole bed so it’s taut and you have a nice clean surface (move your pillows to a bench or side table, or just work around them).

3. If you sleep with a top sheet, pull it up, giving it a good shake as you go (think about that parachute you used to play with in gym class and mimic that movement). Next, smooth it out with your hand and tuck it in to your liking. You can opt for taut hospital corners or go for a more relaxed, lived-in look. Another option is to forgo the top sheet altogether. (A top sheet often ends up tangled at the foot of the bed and can feel like an unnecessary extra layer.)

4. Give the duvet or comforter the same big parachute shake and make sure the duvet insert is properly aligned in all four corners, then spread it out evenly across the bed.

5. If you have a lot of pillows, pull the top sheet and duvet cover entirely up to the top of the bed and smooth out. If you don’t do a lot of pillows, you can fold the top sheet and duvet back a third of the way down the bed for a layered look.

6. Plump your pillows to get them full looking, then arrange with the shams against the headboard and the pillows in front, or vice versa (if you’ve pulled down your covers, you want the pillows to stay on top of the exposed bottom sheet). Add any decorative pillows.

7. If you have a quilt, fold it in thirds and lay it out across the foot of the bed with the open side facing the bottom, smoothing out any creases with your hands.


Ariel Kaye is the founder and CEO of Parachute, a modern lifestyle brand, and author of How to Make a House a Home: Creating a Purposeful, Personal Space. She first launched Parachute as an online-only brand with a curated assortment of bedding products (it was named after the way the fabric billows when you shake out your sheets!). Parachute has since opened brick-and-mortar stores across the country and expanded to include bath, furniture, tabletop, and a baby collection.


Deal with the foot of the bed first because, well, nothing is more frustrating than when things come undone in the middle of the night. (Did you sleep like a corpse or a tornado? The damage will be different each day.) When you’re pulling up the covers, getting that big parachute lift is helpful to shake out wrinkles, freshen the linens, and make sure everything gets evenly distributed. If you’re a more-the-merrier pillow person (Ariel is), you don’t also need to fold things down—you want the bed to have a layered, textured look but not be too busy.

Everyone’s bed-making method will be slightly different and that’s fine, so long as you do it every damn day. Yes, you have the time (it takes two or three minutes). Research shows that a made bed actually boosts happiness. It makes the room feel instantly organized and makes you feel organized, too—nothing better than checking something off the to-do list before you’ve even had your coffee. Oh, and if you ever wanted a reason to not use a top sheet (Europeans don’t and many companies, including Parachute, now sell sheets separately for this reason), it will save you about sixty seconds when making your bed. Boom!


Ariel’s thoughts on thread count: It’s a marketing gimmick that doesn’t have much to do with actual quality. (Anything over 400 is a result of fiber manipulation, which means synthetics were likely used to make it feel softer.) What really matters: caliber of the fiber, staying away from chemicals and synthetics, and the way the fabric is woven. So what should you buy? If you tend to sleep hot at night, you might want percale sheets, as its one-thread-over-one-under weave gives the fabric ultra breathability. If you tend to be cool at night, sateen is lustrous with a soft feel from its four-over-one-under weave, which also keeps you warmer. Avoid anything that says “wrinkle resistant”—that’s often coated in formaldehyde. Really, any claim that makes you think, How would they do that?! means it’s generally done with something toxic that you wouldn’t want against your skin. Instead look for sheets that say OEKO-TEX certified, which means there are no toxic chemicals, artificial dyes, or synthetic finishes used from beginning to end.



1. Spray hair with a heat protectant hair spray to shield it from the high temps, and loosely blow-dry to 70–80 percent dry (or let it air-dry to this point).

2. If you have bangs, dry them first so you can set them properly. If you’re looking for a specific part, create that first, too.

3. Section the top layers of your hair and secure with a clip. (You’ll start drying the bottom layer and work your way up and out.)

4. Put a concentrating nozzle on your hair dryer—as long as you use a heat protectant, you can safely use the high setting.

5. Take 2-inch sections of hair into a round brush and overdirect the root (overdirecting means to blow-dry in the opposite direction, toward your scalp, to set the root).

6. Place the brush under the section, and lift the brush up with tension for volume. Place the dryer on top, and follow the hair and the brush down, holding the nozzle parallel (about a half-inch away) to the section to help close the cuticle.

7. Roll the ends under. Hold for 3–4 seconds, and then remove the brush downward.

8. Repeat with all sections, removing clips as you go. Finish by blowing down over all the hair with a cool shot on the hair dryer. Tame any stubborn pieces—like that frizz by your ear—with a flat iron on low heat. Don’t touch your hair until it’s fully cooled because you want your hair to maintain the set.


Sarah Potempa is a celebrity stylist (her clients include Lea Michele, Emily Blunt, Camila Cabello, and Reese Witherspoon) and the inventor of the patented Beachwaver® curling iron. She’s the CEO of Beachwaver Co.®, which provides innovative hair tools and products to customers worldwide. She’s styled hair on photo shoots for Vogue, Marie Claire, Vanity Fair, and W magazine and appeared on Today, The Real, and Extra!


Ideally you want your hair to be about 70–80 percent dry by the time you take your blow-dryer to it, so use that break to do your makeup, get dressed, maybe even meditate. Resist the urge to just throw your head down and dry it that way; it will fray the cuticle too much. And avoid roughing or twisting your hair up with a regular towel, especially if you have curly hair or are prone to frizz (in lieu of rough towels, you can use T-shirt material to absorb moisture without damaging hair). Sectioning saves time, so use a strong-hold sectioning clip to pin back hair layer by layer as you go. A gentle targeted air flow will close the cuticle and polish the hair. (Imagine the hair cuticles as roof shingles—the shingles point down, so if you direct the dryer at your hair perpendicularly, you’re fraying it by opening those shingles again.) As soon as a blowout is done, a lot of people immediately start touching their hair. Yes, it feels good, but you don’t want to mess with all the work you just did. In order for the physical change to set in, you need the hair to completely cool down before handling it.

A word about washing your hair:

A great blowout starts in the shower. Shampoo should be focused on your scalp so you’re cleansing it of natural oils and product buildup that could be weighing down your roots. Conditioner is really what’s meant for your hair, where you put in moisture and give it the correct ingredients to have a good hair day. Apply conditioner only to the middle and ends of your hair. (If you put conditioner on or near your roots, it will weigh your hair down.) The ends, which have been around the longest, are the least healthy and need the most moisture. Rinse with cool water to close the cuticles.

A word about sulfate-free shampoo:

Sodium lauryl sulfate is an emulsifier and foaming agent used in a ton of common cosmetic products and industrial cleaners. It’s the main ingredient in a lot of shampoo brands, but it’s a really intense cleanser and irritant—think of it like dish soap. So if you’re not shampooing properly (i.e., you’re washing the ends of your hair instead of your scalp), you’re basically using dish soap on your hair and fraying the cuticle—and setting yourself up for a bad hair day every day.


Sarah’s tips for extending the life of your blowout:

Use dry shampoo at your roots. A lot of people use dry shampoo only on the very top layer of their hair, but then that hair falls back on greasy, flat pieces by your ears and your neck. To create a solid foundation, lift the hair starting at your ear level, and spray underneath each layer. Repeat in 1-inch sections up to the top layer. You want the shampoo to absorb oil from the root.

Tame flyaways by spraying your brush with hair spray and brushing that through your hair to distribute evenly. In a pinch you can roll the hair spray can (it’s always cold!) to lock down flyaways. (Sarah does this on photo shoots all the time.)

At night pull your hair into two high, loose buns. Take the hair on the left side of your part and roll it away from your face into a bun, then take the hair on the right side of your part and roll it away into a bun (you’ll look like Princess Leia). Secure them with soft scrunchies or large hairpins. One topknot in a scrunchie can also work if your hair will hold that, though it can cause hair to kink because one side is fighting to go the other way. Two buns prevents that.

Put your hair into a loose, low braid to sleep in. This is particularly successful if you have long hair and like some movement to your blowout. When you remove the braid, the cuticle is still smooth and flat but the hair has a soft, pretty wave to it.

Avoid regular elastics; they’ll put a kink in your hair. Scrunchies, hairpins, and silk headbands are the way to go. (Silk pillowcases are also great because the material won’t fray your hair cuticles while you sleep.)


“The best foundation is healthy skin.”


  • "Never quite learned how to fold a sheet, end a tiff or stay productive working from home? Baffling basics, both large and small, are demystified here."—-People
  • "If you've ever struggled with making a great cheese board, exiting a party gracefully, or keeping a houseplant alive (um, guilty!), this is the book for you."—-Rachael Ray, Rachael Ray Magazine
  • "Wise ways to have a calmer morning, end an argument, clean your shower and more are covered in the fabulous Little Book of Life Skills."-Parents
  • "I'll never iron a shirt the same way again"—-Rachel Hardage Barrett, Editor-in-Chief of Country Living

On Sale
Sep 15, 2020
Page Count
272 pages

Erin Zammett Ruddy

About the Author

Erin Zammett Ruddy is a longtime magazine writer and editor who writes frequently for many major magazines. For 10 years she was a lifestyle editor at Glamour, where she wrote the award-winning Life With Cancer column. Currently, she’s a contributing editor at Parents. In 2005, her acclaimed book My So-Called Normal Life was published by The Overloook Press. Erin is a frequent guest speaker, has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for cancer research and has appeared on several television programs, including Nightline, The Today Show, Dateline and Good Morning America. She lives on Long Island with her husband and three young children.

Learn more about this author