New Year, New Perspective: On Finding Your Roots, Quitting Your Job, and Embarking on a New Adventure

Last year I presented you with the idea of choosing a simple one-word mantra to represent your new year rather than a resolution. What I love about it is that you can give your new year a theme, something you choose to embrace, rather than focus on passing or failing some arbitrary goal. As I wrote, “Rather than define success as a goal, success would be my journey.”

In 2014, my word was “opportunity.” I had just had my second child and didn’t want motherhood to consume all of me. At the end of 2014, I decided my word for 2015 would be “roots.” I had focused so much on new opportunities, I didn’t want to forget to embrace my past.

With “roots,” I had intended to share more of my French Canadian heritage with my husband and children. I would start speaking French to them at home. We would travel back to my hometown, Montreal, so we could spend time with my extended family and visit Quebec’s countryside as I had as a child.

But it’s now the end of 2015 and I did none of those things.

Did I fail at following my mantra? No. I don’t think so. I failed at meeting the goals I had attached to my mantra, yes. One the other hand, I did learn exactly what “roots” could mean to me.

We had a very hard year: my husband and I both took on more responsibilities at work, everyone was always sick, oh and did I also mention all the sickness? It was never-ending to the point of becoming comical. My husband and I sacrificed more sleep than we ever thought possible just trying to meet our various commitments while managing sick kids out of daycare/school practically every other day.

2015 nearly broke us. Not as a couple, but as people. Continue reading New Year, New Perspective: On Finding Your Roots, Quitting Your Job, and Embarking on a New Adventure

How to Be a Productivity Ninja

How to Be a Productivity Ninja © Graham Allcott
How to Be a Productivity Ninja © Graham Allcott

It’s January, and I think I’m not being too outlandish in saying that most of us are trying to initiate some kind of change in our lives.

Some of us might be trying to quit smoking, we might be joining a gym, or considering enrolling on a course to help bolster our career prospects. Whatever it is we’re trying to achieve, one of the most important things we can do toward it is maximizing our productivity. How to Be a Productivity Ninja by Graham Allcott aims to help us do that by training us in new ways to actually get stuff done.

There are plenty of books, like this, on the market but Productivity Ninja differs slightly by changing the general approach. Rather than focusing on time management, instead it focuses on attention management. It helps you separate “boss mode” (time spent planning and researching) from “worker mode” (time spent actually doing whatever it is your job entails). By analyzing your personal patterns of attention, the book helps you figure out the best times to get each activity done. It also advises some rather radical practices such as unplugging your wi-fi during worker time so you are not distracted by new emails or tweets that could pull you away from that task and into researching something new. I’ve not quite managed to do that one yet…

Cover of How to Be a Productivity Ninja © Graham Allcott
Cover of How to Be a Productivity Ninja © Graham Allcott

However, I do know that I’ve not been making the most use out of my time, partly because I’m a world class procrastinator with an amazing ability to fall down the rabbit warrens of Pinterest and BuzzFeed when I’m supposed to be producing something worthwhile.

I also know that I am capable of very high levels of productivity. I completed NaNoWriMo last year after all. After reading the book, I started looking at my available time and thinking of how I could make the best use of it. One of the things I wanted to start doing in January was exercising more, specifically I was keen on running. Rather than adding that as yet another thing to do in the limited time while my son is at school, I decided that it would be more efficient to run on the way home from dropping him off; I would already be out and having to walk home anyway so this would make better use of that time. By getting dressed straight into my running gear in the morning for the school run, I can be home from my run, showered and ready to work by 10am. This is the way of the ninja.

The ninja way is repeated throughout the book and focuses on nine key elements. These include Stealth & Camouflage (delegating, disconnecting, screening calls), Ruthlessness (saying “no” and ignoring distractions), and maintaining a Zen-Like Calm (lowering expectations, being prepared and organised). Unlike many similar books, everything Graham suggests is feasible; in fact the ninth–and maybe most important–step on his ninja path is remembering that ninjas are not superhuman. They are simply very well trained and capable of handling anything thrown their way.

Of course reading a very good idea is a very different thing from putting that idea into practice. I’ll be interested to see how well I do at using the ideas I’ve read about in my own work and how much more productive I can become as a result. If you think you might benefit from the way of the ninja, you can read over 50 pages of How To Be a Productivity Ninja on Book 2 Look, and check out Graham’s CORD Productivity Model diagram on his website. The site also features a guest post by Leanne Dal Santo on the ways she incorporated ideas from the book into her life as a busy mum, something I think we can all identify with.

 GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

3 Ways Post-it Brand and Evernote Can Simplify Your Work Life

Image: Post-it
Image: Post-it

I am not a stay-at-home mom. SAHMs out there, I salute you. But when the rubber meets the road, I love being at work. I adore my kids, but I know that I’m happiest when I’m both mom and a happy employee.

That said, I love my job. I was truly lucky this last year to find myself at a most amazing company, with the best coworkers I could ever imagine. Being in the work environment again after taking a year off with my daughter has been an awesome experience, but it definitely took some adjusting.

I work at a large company. Over four thousand employees. I have tons of meetings. Sometimes I joke that I need meetings to organize my meetings. While I absolutely love the fast-paced environment, there are days where I just feel like my (lack of) organizational skills are going to get me into some big trouble.

But thankfully, Evernote exists. And with the new partnership between Evernote and Post-it Brand, my life just got a whole lot easier. In the short time I’ve been using the new functionality—since I came back from Evernote 2013—I’ve come up with some solutions that you can use in your work life for optimal organization techniques.

Oh such pretty colors! Image: Post-it
Oh such pretty colors! Image: Post-it

Visualize your thought process with color. Post-it Notes are known worldwide for their bright, eye-catching colors. It’s a method that pretty much cries out for use. I’m pretty dedicated to using my iPad at work, anyway, and during the day I’m constantly hit with a barrage of requests. Quite often, I get an idea for one project in the middle of another. The result? Chaos. But if I write down ideas for our Community Relations team on an Electric Blue Post-it Note and snap a pic, then I can go back and see it easily in Evernote—and I can see at a glance where it belongs! For someone super visually motivated, this makes me look a whole lot more together than I often feel.

Save your creative sanity. In addition to being a social media specialist, I’m also a writer. And I’ve found that if I don’t feed my creative side, my work side suffers. The trouble is keeping track of inspiration during the day. So, I dedicate green to the creative process. And into Evernote go those Limeade Post-it Notes, in their own special folder, for later retrieval. That way that next possible plot point or song lyric doesn’t get lost. It just gets filed away for later use.

Be awesome in front of your coworkers. You know what stinks about white boards? Transcribing them is annoying. You know what’s awesome about Post-it Notes? They come in bigger sizes called Post-it Big Pads! So brainstorming with your favorite team just took on a whole new searchable meaning. You can snap pics of Post-it Big Pads from the brainstorm you had last Tuesday, and not only do you keep it for posterity, you can search it and share it. Now who’s the rock star?

Learn more about Post-it Brand and Evernote by visiting your local office supply store or by visiting Postit.com/Evernote , Post-it Brand on Twitter (@postitproducts), or Facebook (http://facebook.com/postit).

How Bones Went From Strong Women to Throwing Us All Under a Bus

Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX ©2011 Fox Broadcasting Co.

For seven seasons now, Bones has been one of, if not the single best example of, strong female characters on television. Two weeks ago, all that changed.

You may have heard of The Bechdel Test, which states simply that a movie passes if it has:

– Two (preferably named) women in it
– Who talk to each other
– About something besides a man

If you haven’t heard of it before, you’ll likely be surprised how hard it is to think of popular movies that qualify. And if you add a preference that they be strong, smart women, the list gets short. (You can, however, look through this list of movies to see who passes. Also see the TV Tropes page.) If you then try to move the test to TV shows, the list becomes really, incredibly short.

Bones, however, has always more than excelled. The show’s titular character is herself strong, brilliant, and exceptionally independent. She has three doctorates–anthropology, forensic anthropology, and kinesiology–and speaks seven languages, among a whole host of other fascinating skills. Her best friend and coworker, Angela, is equally strong, brilliant, and exceptionally independent, in her own ways. Add to all of that when Cam became head of the lab in season two, and it’s a show full of women talking about a whole lot more than the drama of their love lives–even though that comes up from time to time.

What, after all this time, could in one episode change the entire spirit of a show? Even if you don’t watch it, you could guess: Bones had a baby.

Two weeks ago, we left off with Bones having her baby in a barn. The next episode was a fast-forward of about six weeks to the day when the previously hyper-rational Bones returns to work. To recap what happens in this episode (spoilers, obviously):

– Bones has Booth use his FBI connections to illegally obtain the Jeffersonian’s day care director’s master’s degree transcript.
– Bones threatens to have said director fired if she doesn’t send her a picture of the baby every half-hour (because as I’m sure you’re aware, people caring for infants have nothing better to do than take and send pictures of them all day).
– Angela repeats her previous infraction of bringing and hiding her own baby in the office, which is not allowed.
– Upon discovering that Angela has already done it, Bones latches on to the idea and swears to sneak her own baby into the lab every day.
– Oh, and they solve a crime in a grocery store. Then buy organic baby wipes from said store while hauling away the criminal.

Meanwhile, Cam, who already had been vacillating between strong professional woman and neurotic mother, spent the episode entirely in neurotic mother mode, trying to prevent her 18-year-old daughter from dating one of the squinterns.

There’s already a serious lack of successful working mothers on television. How many times have you seen a joke about baby spit-up on a suit or a storyline about the mom who just can’t get it all done, sigh?

Sure, it’s better entertainment for rational, unemotional Bones now to fall apart when she has to leave her baby at day care. But read how show creator Hart Hanson recently described the current situation in a conference call with reporters:

As Stephen said, we have to contend with who’s going to take care of the baby and how is Brennan going to juggle her being a mom living with Booth–how is Booth going to juggle her and the baby and do their jobs. But they’re still doing their jobs.

How they’re going to juggle it and do their jobs? Well, let me see if I can work out how this would go in real life. Bones is exceptionally well-paid, and although Booth makes significantly less, he should be doing OK in the paycheck department as well. And they have on-site day care at work, which Booth assures her is one of the best day care centers, with a day care director who has a master’s degree in early childhood education (she struggled with her nutrition course). So to “still do their jobs,” they’re within walking distance of their baby for most of the day, can visit and feed her whenever necessary, and have plenty of resources to afford this exceptional care. It’s a rough life.

Do Hanson and the others who work on Bones have any clue how far above and beyond that is compared to what most working mothers have available to “still do their jobs”? Or how many women of childbearing age face workplace situations in which managers assume they won’t return to work or won’t be as productive after they have children? (Hello, sneaking your babies into a forensics lab.) There are laws that hold your job (some jobs) while you’re on maternity leave, and the 33-year-old Pregnancy Discrimination Act. But that doesn’t mean that motherhood–or even potential motherhood simply by being a woman of childbearing age–doesn’t lead an employer to look differently at a woman come time for promotion, raises, and career growth.

In the end, the three strongest women on television have been downgraded to the cliche of working mothers who can’t handle the combination of job and parenting. Thanks for nothing, Bones.

Kari Byron, Mythbuster Mom: Preschool Hustle

KariCloseUp-e1308329695929I am writing another $50 check, to another preschool … just for the chance to have my application reviewed.

The more I think about this game, the more it feels like a grift. I show up to a potential preschool along with a dozen other mommies and daddies to compete for a spot that may actually not exist. We’re all trying to look like the most interested, the most invested, and the best candidate — all while our 2-year-olds are running around putting things in their mouths with their finger up their nose.

Is this just an urban problem or modern problem? Is this really the lynchpin for my child’s entire future? If I choose the wrong preschool, am I dooming her to a life of, “Do you want fries with that?”

The stress is overwhelming. It was easier for me to get into college. It was easier for me to get an apartment in San Francisco at the peak of the dot com boom!

I never took rejection as personally, as I do now when it comes to my kid. I got a letter in the mail denying me from a preschool co-op that I applied to when my daughter was a few months old. My husband had to put ME on a “time out.”

The preschool hustle is making me a crazy person.

If I make it to the end of this process without choking out the obligatory suck-up mommy taking pictures of the potty area and asking philosophical questions about their educational structure…My baby may just learn how to make ants on a log and finger paint macaroni art.

Next stop, Harvard.