The Necessity of Vacation

(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)

For the next two weeks, I’m creating my own sort of writer’s retreat, up in the boons of Northern California with my grandmother. I’ve got WiFi (which is on a limited GB plan!), but we were on dial-up up here just a few years ago. No joke. On Wednesday, my most exciting event was finding a dead raccoon and a (live) frolicking deer while taking the dog for a walk to the mailbox, which is down the street.

I’ve been here for a week already, however, feeling more relaxed than I have since I got back from Spain a few months ago. The most convenient part about my little retreat is that I have been able to focus on very important projects, including NaNoWriMo2014. I have never written so much in such a short time. Woot! 

Me in Oahu, Hawaii 2006

Me in Oahu, Hawaii 2006

Having time to ourselves to work on projects and reflect about things in our lives is very important. Therefore, I’d like to touch briefly on the importance of vacation–whether it’s a day of reflection or a week (or more) away from everything.

Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2007 with my grandparents.

Albuquerque, New Mexico in 2007 with my grandparents.

When I was 21, I had worked for 3 years straight with NO vacation. I thought I could conquer the world while working full-time, and going to school full-time. I worked 7 days a week (for the most part) and nearly collapsed from doing waaaayyyyy too much. Then I had a wake-up call when I finally took a vacation. 

Me in Campello, Spain in 2008--a life-changing vacation.

Me in Campello, Spain in 2008–a life-changing vacation.

One of my best friends was getting married in Hawaii and I didn’t want to miss the wedding. I booked a flight and hotel for both my sister and I, and decided we’d make the trip a full 8-day vacation. It was glorious. I had nearly forgotten how wonderful it was to relax and do next to nothing. I came alive again. And I realized that I hated working so much and needed to make a big change in my life.

Girls trip to Disneyland (CA) for Halloween 2009.

Girls’ trip to Disneyland (CA) for Halloween 2009.

A few months after that vacation, I quit my job and pursued other career paths. I was so happy and wondered what had taken me so long to make the change. Then I remembered that my vacation had triggered my desire for change, and that’s when I understood how important vacation is. Had I not taken that trip, who knows how long it would have taken for me to realize that I needed to make a drastic turnaround?

St. Louis, Missouri in 2010. Famous arch in the background.

St. Louis, Missouri in 2010. Famous arch in the background.

Vacation–or even reflection days–can bring clarity that the day-to-day grind can’t. It brings us to a different place physically (sometimes) and mentally (almost always) because we are removed from the norm. When we fail to take time for ourselves to reflect, get away from “it all,” and evaluate our current work/life situation, we do ourselves a disservice. We are more likely to fall into unhealthy habits all around, and wonder why we feel dissatisfied or stuck.

My nephew and I in Disneyland (CA) for my baby sister's Sweet 16 in 2011.

My nephew and me in Disneyland (CA) for my baby sister’s Sweet 16 in 2011.

Vacation doesn’t have to be something expensive or burdensome. It can be a day set aside once a month, or every other month, in order to disconnect from all our devices and e-mail, and become centered. It can be a day where our sole purpose is to journal and project the future of our business or career–or even plan our next novel. It’s a day where we ask ourselves: Am I where I want to be?

Times Square, New York with my mom in 2012.

With my mom in Times Square, New York in 2012.

And, if the answer is “no,” then we can use the remainder of our away time to come up with a way to answer “yes” in the near future.

Me, basking in the Cabo San Lucas, Mexico moonlight in 2013.

Me, basking in the Cabo San Lucas, Mexico moonlight in 2013.

I would like to note that an annual getaway does amazing things for our perspective on life. For myself, I come back from vacation with a new vision for my business and writing endeavors, and I just feel rested and ready for the next chapter of my life. I’m a nicer person when I come back from vacation, and that’s always a good thing. Being happier and more relaxed means that I’m a healthier person who can run a healthy business. I’ve made it a rule to travel somewhere at least once a year since that trip to Hawaii nearly a decade ago, and I’ve been blessed enough to keep that rule.

Gorgeous sunset at the Mona Lisa restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

Gorgeous sunset at the Mona Lisa restaurant in Cabo San Lucas, Mexico.

If vacation is not an option for you in the near future, set aside some reflection days–national holidays are a good start. And, if the thought of vacation stresses you out…um…you should probably take a vacation. 🙂 Grab a piña colada and take some time for yourself. Cheers!

Homemade guacamole (with chips) and a

Homemade guacamole (with chips) and a “handcrafted” piña colada! Made it myself. 😉

Don’t Be a Slob: Organization, Part 2

(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)

I’m continuing with the theme of organization, which I wrote about yesterday. Today, I want to focus specifically on digital organization. As the “age” of the Internet has become the norm rather than a breakthrough, all things digital are here to stay. That being said, it is easy to become a digital hoarder. (Think: Pinterest.)

Though it’s great to have so many resources at our fingertips, digital clutter can become just as overwhelming as physical clutter. Here are some easy things you can do–this week–to diminish those megabytes of crap, and find zen with your computer.

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     1. Stop hanging on to old e-mails.

  • I personally don’t understand those of you who have over 1000 e-mails in your inbox. Why? If you MUST save an email, archive it or forward it to Evernote for digital filing.

 

  • E-mails should read and deleted; read, replied to, and deleted; or deleted right away if it’s spam. Out of 2 e-mail inboxes, I currently have 5 e-mails. That’s it. And the only reason I don’t have inbox zero right now is because each email sitting there is something I must take care of tonight or tomorrow (they’re each flagged as reminders). Otherwise, they get filed in Evernote or a Gmail folder, or sent to the trash.

 

  • Deleted/trashed e-mails should be permanently deleted at the end of every month. Just get rid of it!

 

  • Delete spam every day or every week. It doesn’t need to be hanging out in your spam folder until the zombie apocalypse.

 

  • Unsubscribe from junk or e-newsletters that you don’t read/care about/use/etc. This can take a while, especially if you’re addicted to subscribing to every shoe deal that comes your way. When I unsubscribed from irrelevant e-newsletters, it took me about 6 weeks–but I did it! My inbox is a much happier place.

    2. Keep your contacts updated.

  • Check your contacts every 3-4 months and keep them updated. You may have 5 Jims in your contact list, all without last names. Don’t be the guy who has to call all 5 of them in order to find the right one.

 

  • If you still use a Rolodex… Just. Stop. Seriously. Rolodexes are like pudding pops. Do they even make pudding pops anymore? (Cue Jimmy Fallon’s Real Housewives of Late Night parody here.) Transfer your contacts to a contacts app (or similar) and never lose track of contacts again! You can even sync contacts apps with your smart devices. (I’m still trying to get my mom to do this, but she really loves her old skool address book…)

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     3. Overhaul your computer documents.

  • Consolidate similar documents and put them into folders that make sense. For example, in my HelaWrite (business) folder, I have sub-folders like: “Clients,” “Payments,” “Quotes,” and “Marketing.” (To name a few.)

 

  • Purge/delete older versions of the same file. Do you have 20 documents of your resume? Just keep the one that is updated and get rid of the rest.

 

  • Do you still have files/documents that you need but don’t use often? Use Dropbox! I have the desktop plugin and LOVE it! I don’t have to sign in on my web browser to access it; I simply open it up on my desktop and drag and drop files I need to keep but don’t use often. Try it out if you don’t yet do this.

    4. Check other storage/backup apps/devices.

  • If you use Evernote as often as I do (which is on a daily basis), chances are that you have a lot of notes that need to be deleted or moved to another folder. Look through all your notebooks and get rid of what you don’t need. Add tags to tagless notes. Put a deadline on notes that you want to read (like helpful articles).

 

  • Also check apps like Dropbox (mentioned in the previous step) and get rid of files you don’t need anymore. Leave shared folders that you don’t need to share anymore, too. You’ll be surprised at how much space you can free up and use for more important things.

 

  • And the CARDINAL RULE of all things digital: you MUST–absolutely MUST–have backups of your files. And I’m not talking about a little USB drive (unless it has some serious GBs). I’m talking about an external hard drive PLUS Dropbox PLUS Evernote PLUS Google Drive… in other words, do what it takes to protect your stuff in case of a loss. 10 years ago, my laptop was stolen, and had I backed up all my files, I would have cried less. Lesson learned. I back up my files at least twice a week now, if not more. You should do the same.

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There is, of course, so much more you can do to become digitally organized, but I’m not trying to overdo it today. If you can get through the steps above, I’m sure you’ll have more ideas in regards to other digital arenas in your professional and personal life that need some T.L.C.

Can you think of further digital organization tips? Do you want to share? If so, please feel free to leave a comment.

Don’t Be a Slob: Organization, Part 1

(As previously see on the HelaWrite blog.)

It’s the last quarter of the year, and most of us can’t even remember the great resolutions we made at the beginning of the year. Though you may know how I feel about resolutions (I prefer setting goals instead), being in a mind-frame of wanting to change habits is a good thing. Why? Because this post is about changing the habit of being messy (or a clutter-bug). 

Spring isn’t the only time to clean out your attic (etc.), so don’t put off a good thing until later. NOW is the time to make a change, specifically with your office.

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Let’s get physical. And by physical, I mean: Let’s explore some ways to physically de-clutter your work life, step-by-step.

     1. Make a list of essentials.

  • What/how many office supplies do you need? Do you need 15 Sharpies, or 5?
  • Do you need a new chair or desk? Is it time to say goodbye to furniture on the cusp of death?
  • Do you need a smaller/larger bookshelf? Do you even need one at all?

     2. Make the switch to digital filing.

  • Trust me: you do NOT need a ginormous, physical file in this day and age. Scanners and even cameras on our smartphones have made life so much easier. Scan and upload important documents, then shred the physical copy. Make sure you have 2-3 backups!
  • Evernote, Dropbox, and Google Drive are some great places to use for digital storage.

3. Speaking of digital filing: Purge old files.

  • I try to purge my files at least 2-3 times per year. It makes a huge difference, since I only keep a small file container.
  • You should keep your tax returns and old pay stubs for at least 3-7 years, depending on how you filed. (I personally keep all my records for 7 years, just in case.) After that, shred them.
  • Archive prior years’ files (that are still important) by either making them digital OR physically file them in a secondary storage container. I keep both my current and archived storage containers up-to-date.
  • Shred junk. You know what I’m talking about: Those old papers you thought were super important (like those notes from college Statistics that you swore you’d need 10 years later) and recycle them, or shred them if they contain sensitive and private information.
  • Shred old bank/account statements and credit/insurance/school/etc. cards. Statements from years prior can now be downloaded in seconds from most financial institutions, so stop hoarding them!

      4. Make your space presentable.

  • Sure, some of us thrive in chaos and we like a little “creative clutter.” But what about all those times you couldn’t find your favorite container of glitter paper clips? Or that time you spilled your third cup of coffee all over your client’s contract? Find what works for you, but don’t be a slob and keep things tidy.
  • Make your space your own. Make it a functioning, feng shui space in which you actually like to work. Chances are, you’ll increase your productivity.

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     5. Donate anything useable that you don’t need.

  • I think this one is pretty self-explanatory.

     6. Update your resources.

  • Do you have important reference books that are out of date? Donate/sell your old ones and buy the latest edition as needed.
  • Make sure your reference charts are up-to-date as well. An example that comes to mind is a chart/poster that serves as a quick reference for formatting (i.e. MLA, Chicago/Turabian, APA, etc.).

Tomorrow, we’ll look at digital organizing–FUN! Be sure to come back for that topic.

Are there other organizing/purging tips you have that I didn’t cover in this post? Feel free to leave a comment!

Make It Work: Approaching a Problem with Multiple Solutions

(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)

"Make it work!" Photo via Jessie Pridemore from Flickr Creative Commons.

Tim Gunn: “Make it work!” Photo via Jessie Pridemore from Flickr Creative Commons.

If you’ve ever watched Project Runway, then you’ve heard the famous “Make it work” motto of fashion genius Tim Gunn. My family and I often use this phrase in a patronizing or humorous way, but Mr. Gunn has a great point. In other words, he’s admonishing the show’s contestants to figure it out–make something happen. And that’s what we need when it’s problem-solving time.

Solving problems can be a daunting task, especially if you only look at the big picture rather than piecing it out in parts. Believing that there’s only one solution to a problem can also stop you dead in your problem-solving-tracks.

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Before I started my business last year, I was a school administrator. The school’s Director of Operations, to be exact. Solving problems was at the top of my job description. I had the support of our leadership team, but at the end of the day, I was the one responsible for all the small- and large-scale events, community gatherings, communication processes, and marketing. Talk about putting out fires.

I knew I had to keep my cool, no matter what the circumstance. The most important part about problem-solving, for me, was to draft out solutions and keep an open mind to the ideas my team members and the school’s parents had. If I had chosen to shut out every opinion, there’s no way I could have accomplished everything I did while in that position.

Solving problems involves efficiency, the ability to move quickly (mentally and sometimes physically), and the desire to involve the appropriate people to get the task done. Being a good leader means that you abandon the temptation to be a “lone wolf” and you get your team involved.

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Needless to say, I learned a lot from that job and was able to apply multiple solutions to the hurdles that came my way. So, just how can you solve a problem by using multiple solutions?

Here’s my process:

1. Brainstorm

Approaching a problem organically is a huge factor. It alleviates the pressure of finding the perfect answer right away (kinda like the stress of huge math problems). Here are some ways to brainstorm:

  • Draw it out: Use a web, diagram, or pictures to generate ideas. Don’t throw out any crazy ideas during this process. Sometimes the crazy ones are the best.

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  • Write it out: Grab a journal and have a dialogue with yourself; walk yourself through the process of solving the problem.

 

  • Talk it out: Call a meeting with those you trust most; those who have the ability to give you varying perspectives. Be open to their ideas and hear what they have to say in regards to finding a solution. This would be a GREAT time to use someone who has strategy as one of their Top Strengths. Since my Top Strength is strategy, I have often been called into various planning meetings to give input during the brainstorming process. Strategists usually have great solutions, but make sure they don’t dominate the entire conversation. 🙂

2. Narrow It Down

Once you have generated multiple solutions, prioritize the ideas that could actually work. Throw out the ones that are bogus. You can use a criteria list to help with this part of the process. Look at things like: 

  • Efficiency
  • Time it will take to implement a solution
  • Cost of the solution (especially if you have a tight budget)

3. Choose the Best Solution–or a Combination of Some

Again, there is not always ONE right answer. Sometimes, it may take a combination of solutions and ideas to approach a problem and solve it. Keep an open mind while trying to figure out what will work best, and be wary of falling into the trap of over-analyzing.

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4. Set A Timeline

This is one of the most important areas of problem-solving. A solution is only as good as its plan. I know that sounds strange, but planning is so underrated. Once you have an answer, set up the blueprint for execution. Here are some questions you may need to ask yourself:

  • Does this problem/solution have a due date?
  • When will I/we begin working on the problem, using the chosen solution?
  • How long will the problem take to solve?
  • Do I need others to help me solve the problem?

5. Delegate As Appropriate

The key to success begins with delegation. And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If you’re like me, wavering between perfectionism and creativism (totally made up that word), then you can empathize with the real temptation of doing everything yourself. I had to learn the hard way that it’s a good thing to ask for help, and that I can actually get more done with extra hands. Who knew, right?

Build a team (if applicable) of people who are trustworthy that can get the job done. They may not do things your way, but that’s okay. As long as the outcome is successful, you’ll be grateful for the extra help. And let me be the first to say that my former assistant was a godsend! I wouldn’t have been alive at the end of the school year without her.

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6. Execute

Once you have the pieces in place, it’s time to solve the puzzle. You have your solution, timeline, and team, so get to work! Just picture Tim Gunn looming over your workstation, and ask yourself if he’d be impressed or horrified by your creation.

 

I hope you find yourself using some (or maybe all) of these tips the next time you face a big problem. Nothing (except hangovers and procreation) happens overnight, so take a breath and give yourself a break. Look at the problem as a whole, then break it up into manageable pieces. You’ll be surprised at how much simpler it looks that way. “Make it work!”

Monday Motivation: Read This Cool Stuff V

(As previously seen on the HelaWrite blog.)

Happy Monday, readers! To start off a new week, here are three great articles to get you motivated. Enjoy!

1. Clicks on Pinterest Generate 4X More Revenue Than Twitter [Infographic] by Pamela Vaughn at HubSpot

There’s not a whole lot to read here, which is a good thing. Most of the post includes an infographic that shows just how Pinterest is able to live up to the claim in the title of the blog post. I’ve personally been investigating the power of Pinterest this year and use my account for more than building my never-to-be-bought-dream-wardrobe. (Though, I might need an intervention…)

2. What Works For Me On Twitter by Rochelle Moulton

This was a great find. I can’t remember the exact events that led me to this post, but the destination was gold. Moulton doesn’t divulge every Twitter secret, but she certainly gives some great tips that can help any Twitter novice build their following in no time.

3. 4 Ways to Boost Your Social Media Marketing for Less than $1 Per Day by Jason Parks on JeffBullas.com

Before I read this, I was extremely skeptical of spending ANY money to boost tweets on Twitter and posts on Facebook. But the way the article breaks it up into small amounts of change–well, now I’m thinking I may try it out this year to see what happens. The other platforms mentioned–YouTube and Instagram–are not my main methods of marketing myself as an author and/or business person. But, if that’s “your thing,” the article provides some great tips.

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Wishing you all a very happy and productive week. And remember: if you’re in need of an editor/writer, send me a message!