My Top 5 Tips for Setting Mindset and Increasing Productivity

I have this ideal in my mind….I sit down in my beautiful clean office at my nice, cleared off desk and just write. Everything flows, there are no starts and stops, no writing and then erasing, just wonderfully composed words on my screen. It’s easy. This scene is not reality. Not even close.

In reality, my office is a corner of my living room, my desk is never really cleared off (and is a bit too small overall) and the words rarely flow smoothly into the keys. And that’s ok. Even if someday I have that beatifiul office and big, cleared off desk, the words probably won’t just come to me. Writing is work for me. Enjoyable, most of the time, but work. This is probably a lot of people’s reality, not just mine.

So the question becomes “How do I make this easier? How do I get as close to that ideal as possible?” Because while I have a lot of things I do as a blogger, writing is a pretty big part of it! I can’t have this blog and get to interact with all of you without actually writing the content!

So you might be asking at this point “How does this apply to me?” Especially if you aren’t a blogger or writer! Well, maybe it doesn’t…but I think that most of us have some sort of task that we struggle with and I believe that most of these tips work for a variety of tasks! And I think most of us can agree that there is a lot of satisfaction and pleasure in finishing a day feeling like you were super-productive! I know I love that feeling and these are tips I’ve been using since college (WAY longer ago than I would like to admit!) to achieve just that feeling! They have helped me through a lot of different types of tasks.

 We all love that feeling of being super-productive and getting stuff done! These are my top 5 tips for increasing your productivity and setting your mindset! I use these all the time and they really help me get things done!
Top 5 Tips for Setting Mindset and Increasing Productivity
  • Use music to set your mind – This is a trick I’ve used for year, first in college for studying and now on the blog for writing. Pick a style of music that isn’t distracting to you and put that on every time that you work on that task. I love soundtracks, since they are instrumental and usually pretty uplifting! Only put that music on when you are working on that particular task. It takes time, but after a while you may find that putting on that music actually helps you focus and start working!
  • Declutter your workspace – I still struggle with this one on a regular basis! I am great at adding to my desk or workspace without even realizing it. Then suddenly I barely have room to work! But I know that when my space is cleared off I work better and am less distracted.
  • Turn off your notifications, phone, etc – This one is pretty obvious, but still needs to be said. It takes 20 min (Check for research source to back this up) to get into the “zone” and only takes checking one notification to pull you out of it. This can really mess up your productivity and make it harder to focus!
  • Don’t multi-task – This is one that has taken me the longest to figure out. When I started this blog I wrote most of my posts while sitting in my comfy chair with the TV on. I didn’t have a workspace set up and figured that since I always picked a show I knew really well it didn’t matter. I was wrong. It took me so long to write anything and the quality was probably lower than it should be. I will say, this one is mostly for things like writing, researching, correspondence, things like that. I do some of my more time-consuming creative stuff in front of the TV and it works fine!
  • Pick a day or time of day to work – This is probably one of the hardest for me and doesn’t always get followed, but when you can it helps a lot. I writing most of my posts on Wednesday nights. I’m also adding in a few other times throughout the week, but I know it’s easier for me to get in “writing mode” when I sit down on Wednesday because that’s when I always write.

I will admit, I’m better at some of these than others! Clutter and attempting to multi-task are my weak points and things I am constantly reminding myself about. I hope these tips can help you in being more productive and setting your mindset to what you need to work on!

Bonus tip! Make sure to schedule short breaks into your tasks. This Research News Post from talks about a research study showing improved focus due to short breaks during a 50 minute task. And it’s definitely not the only study out there! There are lots of studies showing that trying to focus too long on one task can decrease your focus and productivity.

Did I miss a technique you use to increase your productivity? Or maybe gave you a new one to try? I love to hear your thoughts, so please leave a comment below!

 

Sara

Meal Prep 101: My Top Tricks and Tips to Make it Easier and Why I Love Meal Prepping!

With the new year upon us, many of us are motivated to try out new things to improve our lives. For me last year, it was meal prepping! I started out 2015 hopeful…but frustrated. I loved cooking good and healthy (or healthyish) meals for Draz and myself, but too often we would get home from work exhausted and reaching for quick and easy dishes like pasta or pre-made convenience foods like frozen pizza. I had tried planning out menus for us, but a lot of times this just ended up with some of the meals made and the rest thrown out after it went bad. This was definitely not the lifestyle I wanted for us.

I had started getting into reading blogs the year before and had seen some of them talk about meal prepping. I knew that this could be an option to help us get on track. I jumped right in…which definitely lead to some mistakes and some exhausting days in the kitchen. But there has been a lot of learning this year! 🙂 Now I want to share what I have learned with you, so here is my meal prep 101 to get you started!

Busy lives can making eating healthy stressful! But it doesn't have to be that way! Meal prep can be your solution to simplifying your life and still eating healthy, tasty meals every day! To help you along the way, here are my top tips and tricks I learned through over a year of weekly meal prep!!

Reasons to Meal Prep:

  1. Convenient. Yes, there is a time-investment, both on the day you plan and the day you prep. But that time is much less than cooking each meal fresh when you eat it!
  2. Healthier. If desired, you can make sure that eat food you prep is healthy, or in line with your desired diet. When you already have delicious, healthy food made, it lessens the temptation to go with frozen pizza!
  3. Saves money. You can prepare your grocery list based on your meal prepping menu. This saves so much! Not only does this lessen impulse buys when you are doing your grocery shopping, it also helps prevent those “Oh no, we are out of this ingredient I need for dinner!” trips to the store!
  4. Lowers stress. Ok, this might just be me, but the whole “What’s for dinner?” thing can be stressful. I have enough going on that I don’t want to worry about what I want to eat, how long it takes to cook, etc. And I don’t even have kids! I know there are tons of people out there that are busier than me, meaning that they would benefit even more!
  5. Healthier. Yup, I needed to say this one again! Meal prepping has made such a huge difference on my fitness journey! Quite possibly more than any other individual thing.

Getting Started:

  1. Plan, plan, plan. Set aside some time prior to the day you plan on prepping to make your grocery list and plan out how much food you will need for the week. Also take this time to decide what meals and/or snacks you are prepping. I use Wednesday of each week to lay out my recipes, check what ingredients I currently have, and write my grocery list. I like doing this a few days prior to actual shopping, so if I forgot anything I have a few days to think about it.
  2. Containers. Check how many containers you currently have and will need on average. It is incredibly frustrating to finish cooking and then be scrambling to figure out how to put it away. My favorites are mason jars for my salads and Pyrex!mason-jar-salads-food-prep
  3. Space. Along that same line, make sure you have enough room in your fridge and freezer to put your food away!
  4. Time. Plan for more time than you think you will need. This is especially true for the first couple months that you are prepping. The first few times I prepped I felt like I had spent the whole day in the kitchen and was exhausted! But even then it was well worth it. Now, even with prepping all of our meals and snacks, it only takes 4-6 active hours, and sometimes only 2-3. (Please, please keep in mind I prep a lot of food. You don’t have to spend nearly that long!)

Tips and Tricks:

  1. Batch process your veggies! If you have a bunch of veggies needed for different dishes, cut them all up at the same time! This cuts time getting supplies out repeatedly.food-prep-behind-the-scenes
  2. Know how your food is being cooked! I suggest varying cooking methods. Having everything needing to be in the oven or on the stove is difficult. And once I planned for 3 dishes needing a slow cooker! Granted, I have two, but this was still an unexpected difficulty. Now I try to pick a variety of cooking methods each week.
  3. Multi-task! While something is simmering you can be chopping veggies. The same rule goes for just about anything else. That being said, pace yourself. It can be very stressful if you try to do too many dishes at once.vegetable-food-prep-process
  4. Clean as you go! This is especially true if you are planning a longer prep session. I usually find 2 points while I’m cooking that are good “pause points” that I can use to clean up, load and start the dishwasher, handwash things, etc. This makes things so much easier and less stressful! I will admit, this took me a few months to figure out and a few more to put into regular practice!

 

Just a few of my meal preps over the last year!

Do you meal prep or are you just starting? If you do, what is your favorite thing or part of prepping? I would love to hear your thoughts, so please leave me a comment below!

Sara (1)

 

Plum Paper Planner Review + My Top 5 Tips for Planning in 2016

Do you love planners? I do! There is something about the physical reality of a paper planner…being able to lay everything out with pen or pencil, add designs, take notes, and so much more. I have always preferred using an actual planner instead of one on the computer or online (though those do have their uses).

The one thing that I have searched high and low for is the perfect planner layout. I can be super-picky about my weekly layouts, any extra pages, the thickness of the cover…I know it’s a little crazy, but a great planner can make things so much easier!

The last couple years I have started using them again and have spent hours looking at different stores online, reading reviews, noting my favorites and just generally agonizing over the decision (told you I’m a little crazy). This time I think my searching has paid off! Enter Plum Paper!

I have actually been using this new planner for a little over a month and have been anxiously awaiting the time to share it with all of you! With the new year a couple weeks old and now that I’ve had some time to try out the new planner, it’s time!

Plum Paper 2016 custom plannerPlum Paper 2016 custom daily planner inside front page

I love how easy this was to customize! The cover image and words and 13 months instead of 12 so I could start in Dec’ 15 (plus much more you will see below). Isn’t it pretty?!

Monthly Pages

I love everything about the pages that make up each month! The 7 labels for the weekly categories were ones that I wrote myself. Just imagine what you could do with 7 categories for each day of your week! It took me a bit to determine the best way to use them, as some things fit in multiple categories, but I’m getting use to it now and loving it.

I added on extras, one sheet of To Do Lists and another for Bill Recording. I’ve been mostly using the To Do Lists to track my weekly menus, which is really helpful. The other thing I really love is the monthly highlights page at the front! 3 goals, important dates, things to remember, plus extra spaces for notes!

Now on to one of the other features that sold me on this planner…

the Blog Section!

They have a ton of different sections you can add on, but the one that I loved was the blog planning section! I am trying to improve how I plan the blog and I hope this will be a helpful tool in that goal. I’ll admit, I still am learning how to utilize this section and some of the pages aren’t currently relevant, but I have high hopes!

Overall, I am so glad that I purchased this planner. This is the best one I have found thus far and incredibly reasonably priced. I would predict that I will be making another purchase from them next year!

The only complaint I’ve had so far is that I wish the cover was thicker or plastic. I put my planner in my purse on a regular basis and I worry about it being bent up.

My Top 5 Tips for Planning in 2016

  1. Start off the week laying out the priorities for the week. I use this time to make sure I haven’t forgotten anything (a meeting, outing, etc) and set time aside to work in my studio and to write.
  2. Make sure you keep it with you! This is regardless of how you plan, be it a physical planner, cell phone or computer. It is so easy to think of something you need to get done and forget it by the time you get home. I take mine with me to work and almost always write things down in my first break. Also, if I remember something when I can’t write it in there, I put it in the notes section of my phone and write it down as soon as I can.
  3. Actually check your planner throughout the day! It doesn’t help you to lay things out early in the week and then leave it alone the rest of the day. Our memories are fallible, that’s why we use planners 🙂 I have had multiple times I have thought I was done when I got home, not checked my planner and then realized the next day I forgot to do something.
  4. Don’t overschedule! It’s demoralizing to constantly not finish what you have set out to do. Now, this is something I’m guilty of on a regular basis, so this is definitely a “do as I say, not as I do” situation. I really am trying to work on this, but it’s rough! I have a tendency to overestimate how many things I can get done and underestimate how long each thing with take me.
  5. Reward yourself by checking things off as you go! Each time you do it gives your brain a little hit of dopamine, which is always nice. Not only does it make you feel rewards, it provides motivation to keep productivity high so you can keep checking more things off!

How do you plan? Do you like physical planners or are you more tech-based methods? What’s your favorite? Any tips for planning? I would love to hear your thoughts, so please comment below!

Sara (1)

My Top 5 Tips for Setting Goals for 2016

Ah, the new year…The time for reflection, celebration and resolutions. Next year everything is going to be perfect! I’m going to do all of these amazing things to change my life! Right?!

Ok, while there are people out there who set their resolutions like that, that’s not what I’m talking about today. Honestly, I’m not a big fan of resolutions. Most of them sound exactly the same and very few are achievable. They are generally these huge, vague yet life-changing statements with no actionable plan as to how to go about making those changes. Get in shape! Eat healthy! Save money! Quit my job! All great concepts, but without breaking these things down and planning out how you want to do that, these things are almost impossible to stick to.

It’s my belief that setting resolutions like these are the reason a lot of people only stick with whatever resolution they set for the first few weeks and then continue on with life in exactly the same way they were pre-resolution.

Now, goals….those are a different story. I love goals! As you’ve seen in previous months (like this post and this one, for example) I love setting goals for myself. Some months I do well, some not so well. But I always have those goals in the back of my mind. I’m currently working on my goals for the next year, so I want to share some of that planning process and mindset with you!

  1. Be specific. Goals work best when they are clearly stated and you can look at them and say “Yes I finished that goal” or “No, I didn’t.” Being specific also makes it much easier to break down that goal into smaller pieces, especially if you have a larger, more complex goal in mind.
    • DSCN1222_picmonkeyedExample: You want to to end 2016 in better physical shape than you are at the end of 2015. What does that look like to you? Does that just mean you’ve lost weight, or you can lift a certain amount? Are you going to exercise, change your diet, maybe both? How many times a week do you want to exercise? How do you want to change your diet? These questions can go on, but you get the idea.
  2. Be realistic. Setting a goal that is far beyond what is possible is not only setting it up to fail, but is very demotivating and demoralizing. While I know that some of the goals you may have in mind are huge life changes, realize that they may not be achievable in one year. How can you break those down into 1-2 smaller, more manageable goals that you can work on this year to get you to your ultimate larger goal?
    • Example: You want to start your own business, quit your day job and be self employed full time, making $100,000 a year. Outside of extreme examples (I’m sure that there are a few people that have managed this) this probably isn’t likely to happen in one year. Especially if you haven’t even started your business yet. Instead break that down into a few smaller goals, like getting the business started and making your first few sales.
  3. Write it all down. Don’t just write out you main goal. Write down the steps you will need to take to get to that goal, plans for setbacks, smaller goals within that main goal, etc. Planning is essential for success.
    • DSCN1439_picmonkeyedExample: You want to start eating healthier. You’ve already narrowed down what that looks like and how you want to achieve it. Now write down steps like finding X number of healthy recipes, cleaning out your pantry, setting up for meal prepping or cooking in general, etc. Plan how you will stay on track through things that might cause you difficulty, like stress, holidays or eating out.
  4. Pick a focus. By this, I mean choose goals that focus on 1-2 areas of your life, instead of spreading yourself thin trying to change everything. Now, I mostly mean this for brand new goals, not continuations of existing goals. But even then I would say not to try to focus on too many at once. Change can be hard. Cliche, I know, but true. Instead of trying to change something in every area of your life and overwhelming yourself, try to narrow it down to a couple areas that mean the most or would have the most impact.
  5. Plan, Plan, Plan! Ok, I know this was kinda covered in all the other tips, but it’s important enough that I felt it needed it’s own number. Start planning now for the changes you want to make in 2016! Goals are much easier to start working on if you have everything laid out, and sometimes the planning period alone can take a week or two.
    • DSCN1580_picmonkeyedExample: You want to exercise 6 days a week. Lay out where you will exercise, what exercise options you want or have available, what time of day works best with your schedule, etc. Spend a week or two looking at your schedule and how your week generally goes, noting when you have the most availability or energy. If you need to join a gym, now would be the perfect time to start looking at them and pick which one to join.

So there you have it! My top 5 tips for setting your goals for 2016! What tips do you have to set and succeed at your goals for the coming year? I would love to hear them! Let me know!

Sara (1)