Category: Organization & Productivity

Friday Link Round-Up: Life Balance Edition

Golden Buddha, by Elizabeth Ditty

By the time this goes live, it’s entirely possible I could have a baby in my arms instead of in my belly — and if not now, then soon!  So, as you can imagine, I’m looking for any and all advice on how to maintain a good life balance between a day job, freelance work, family and creative pursuits.  So this week’s links are all about finding some semblance of balance.

Lesson of the Week

One of my favorite bloggers, Joanna Goddard of A Cup of Jo, has done two life balance series where she interviewed a variety of women to find out how they manage it all.

Thought Provoker of the Week

Despite all the advantages women have today, Anne-Marie Slaughter argues why women still can’t have it all — and what needs to change for real equal opportunity to exist.

Recipe of the Week

I’ve talked about freezer cooking before, and I recently made a freezer version of Shutterbean’s Curried Chicken & Coconut Rice for easy meals while I’m on maternity leave (and beyond).  I’ve also heard awesome things about her Freezer Burritos, so those may go on my to-make list soon, too.

Gaiam Balance Ball Chair

Product of the Week

What is a better representation of work-life balance than sitting on a balance ball while you work?  I’ve wanted one of these Balance Ball Chairs for a long time, and this may finally be the year I treat myself to one.

Laugh of the Week

Why I’ll probably keep the chair at home instead of at my office job.

How do you all maintain work-life balance?


Friday Link Round-Up: Don’t Give Up Edition

Tea Wisdom: Inspiration is an unlimited power.

They say that nearly half of us make New Year’s Resolutions every year, but only 8 percent of us are successful in achieving those resolutions.  If you’re struggling now that the newness of 2013 is starting to fade, it’s perfectly OK to give yourself a new start.  Remember, it only takes 21 days to form a habit, so there’s still plenty of time left in the year to make good on those resolutions.

Product of the Week

One way to stay on track during those habit-forming 21 days and beyond is the Chain Method, first popularized by this Lifehacker article on Jerry Seinfeld.  As much as I love all the digital tools out there, sometimes there’s nothing better or more motivational than a good, old-fashioned calendar.  I like the size & feel of a traditional desk calendar, but this dry erase calendar is pretty snazzy, too.

Recipe of the Week

If you’re looking for healthy but also delicious recipes, then check out Gina’s SkinnyTaste food blog. She provides not only the recipe (with enticing pictures) but also nutritional information (including Weight Watchers points, if that’s your program of choice), so you can choose and plan recipes to fit your diet.  Here are her Top 25 recipes of 2012 to get you started.  (I adapted her Skinny Scones on New Year’s Day, and they were excellent.)

Thought-Provoker of the Week

Forbes tells us why our New Year’s Resolutions will fail by Feb. 1 — and offers advice on how NOT to let that happen.  And remember, you can make resolutions at any time of the year, so if you’ve decided your initial resolutions weren’t quite right, use this advice to make new ones!

Laugh of the Week

Jimmy Kimmel asks folks if they’ve been able to keep their New Year’s resolutions two & a half weeks into the new year.

Lesson of the Week

And because any time is a good time for a TED Talk, 12 TED Talks to inspire your New Year’s (and anytime) resolutions.

Bonus Video of the Week

And when times get tough, just remember…

That’s it, folks! Have a great weekend!

Monday Tips & News: Organization Tools – Part 2 (Apps & Hardware)

Sarah Writes Stories: Organization Tools - Apps & HardwareHere’s part two of my list of organization tools.  This time, we’re talking mobile apps and hardware.  If you missed it, we talked about web and software last week, so check out Part One here (and weigh in with your own recommendations!).


HomeRoutines: This is what I use to manage everything chore- and/or household-related.  You can set daily task lists as well as morning, afternoon and evening routines.  It also features weekly zones, where you focus on a given area of your home in a little more detail.  It also has an overall to-do list for one-off items you need to keep track of.  It’s a great way to keep on top of tasks on a daily basis.

MyFitnessPal: This is my go-to calorie-counting app.  It’s super easy to use, and its library of foods is huge.  It also lets you track calories burned.  It uses the calorie deficit principle to help you set a weight loss or a maintenance calorie range, and it also lets you track nutrients like protein and carbohydrates.  It’s one of the easiest-to-use health/fitness apps out there.  I discovered it toward the end of my 110-pound weight loss journey & continued using it to maintain my weight and now to track calorie intake & burn during my pregnancy.  Highly, highly recommended if you’re serious about any sort of health & fitness effort.

Mint: This mobile app along with their web interface is one of the easiest ways to manage your budget & track your spending & saving out there.  It aggregates all of your accounts into one place, lets you set monthly budgets and alerts you when you’re spending too much.

Best Hardware: Moleskine NotebooksHardware

Moleskine Notebooks: Cliché for writers, I know.  But I carry one with me everywhere.  I admittedly use them slightly less now that I can jot things down so easily on my iPhone, but I still make it a habit to break out the pen & paper on a regular basis.  And no matter how reliable technology is these days, it’s likely to never beat out paper and pen.  Personally, I like the blank pages rather than the lined ones for times when I feel like sketching or even just writing outside the lines.

G2 Gel Pens: These are the best pens out there for my money.  They write smoothly, don’t bleed, don’t link, and come in a variety of colors to keep things interesting.  The little cushion is nice, too, for writing the occasionally story longhand or taking notes.

Post-It Notes: You’ll find these all over my house. T and I scribble notes on them and leave them in random places on a fairly regular basis.  And while that’s my favorite use for them, I also use them for more practical things like posting notes (imagine that!) to myself or marking pages in books.

3×5 Note Cards: These serve a similar purpose to the Post-Its, but they give me more room to work.  I use them to plot screenplays, to take notes on phone calls, to jot down recipes when I’m creating them in the kitchen or to add up calories as I work.  This is a habit I picked up from my dad, who’s had a neverending stack of 3×5 cards on his desk for as long as I can remember.

Best Hardware: Apple Products

Apple fangirl forever. Not ashamed.

iPad: While I still prefer my laptop for most mobile computing, the iPad is a great substitute for when I’m travelling and not planning to spend a ton of time at the keyboard.  When coupled with my wireless keyboard, though, it’s even easy if I do need to do some longer-form writing on it.  I also use it a lot in the kitchen, where I pull up recipes while cooking.  Just be careful not to splatter stuff all over the screen obviously.  I also occasionally watch Netflix or HBOGo on it when I can’t be arsed to drag myself to my iMac or actual TV to watch something.  I’m still operating on an original iPad I bought used from my mom, who then went out and bought an iPad 3.  No, I’m not jealous at all.  (That’s a lie.)

iPhone 5: I honestly have no idea how I functioned before upgrading to a smart phone.  I started off with an HTC Evo Shift, which worked great until it didn’t.  Switching to an iPhone was one of the great decisions of my life.  Yes, that is a slight exaggeration, but only a slight one.  The speed, the apps, the iCloud syncing, the camera, etc., etc. Just like my conversion Mac computers, I can’t imagine I’ll ever switch to a non-Apple phone again.

What Do You Recommend?

That’s the gist of how I keep my life together — more or less — using apps and hardware.  What am I missing?  What app is a lifesaver for you?  What hardware changed your life?  Share with us in the comments!

Monday Tips & News: Organization Tools – Part 1 (Web & Software)

Sarah Writes Stories: Organization Tools - Web & SoftwareIt’s hard to believe that in approximately two months, I’ll be tasked with the responsibility of taking care of another tiny human being.  As you can imagine, the big thing on my mind currently is how I’m going to stay organized — which I’m hoping will help me stay sane.  Or sane-ish.  Let’s set some realistic expectations here.

I’ve always been one to pile on the tasks to somewhat crazy levels, but throwing a kid into the mix is going to require a new level of organizational kung-fu.  Here are some of the tools I currently use to stay organized.


Google Drive: This is where I keep any document that I access on a daily or near-daily basis, as well as documents that I want to be able to access from anywhere at any time without worrying about what software I have installed on any given computer.  My workload/project trackers, my holiday/birthday gift lists, event guest lists — they all live on Google Drive.

Dropbox: In addition to my automatic back-up software (I use Carbonite), Dropbox is where I keep back-ups of all important software-specific documents.  My Scrivener docs get saved & backed up there as well as my screenplays and any document that requires me to use Microsoft Word.  It’s also a fantastic way to share files that are too large for email with both family and clients (separate folders, of course!).  Best of all, it’s free up to sign up.  You get 2 GB to start with, and you can earn up to 18 GB by referrals (if you use the link above, you’ll be helping me out!) or other easy tasks.  They also have very affordable paid plans, but I’m not anywhere near needing more space yet.

Pinterest: I use Pinterest for typical things like recipes, decorating and crafting ideas, but I also use it to clip informative articles from around the Web.  I clip articles I want to share with my SWS readers as well as items that inform how I run my own business (and that I want to be able to refer back to).  With the introduction of secret boards, it’s an even greater and more flexible tool.  I use one of my secret boards for weekly meal planning (I just repin the recipes I plan to make for the week onto that board so I can find them quickly) and another one for gift ideas.

Amazon Prime: One of the ways I save time is by ordering just about anything I can online.  And ordering at Amazon usually saves me quite a bit of money, too.  (There is no shame in ordering toilet paper from Amazon, folks. None at all.)  Dropping $75 a year for Prime isn’t for everyone, but if you’re a high-volume user like I am, it’s definitely worth considering.  In addition to free two-day shipping and $3.99 one-day shipping, you get access to their online movie/TV library (not as good as Netflix, but still nice to have around) as well as benefits for Kindle users.


Scrivener: I was first introduced to Scrivener as a NaNoWriMo participant, but I’ve since started using it for most of my initial word processing.  It’s a great organizational tool for drafts of blog posts, promotional emails, web copy and more.  It’s also a fantastic writing tool for books of all sorts, whether it’s an ebook for your business or that novel you’ve been chipping away at for months (or years).

 iPhoto: I honestly don’t know how I organized photos before I bought my first Mac. With its tagging features and search capabilities, it’s one of the most user-friendly storage systems I’ve come across.  It’s certainly better than the elaborate folder structure I was using pre-iPhoto.  And now with PhotoStream, the photos I take with my iPhone go straight to my computer without me having to do any work at all.  I typically organize by month and/or special event, but it’s completely customizable to whatever works for you.

iPhoto Organization Snapshot

A snapshot of my 2012 in iPhoto.

Evernote: If I can’t pin it, I clip it into Evernote.  And sometimes I do both, just for the heck of it.  Evernote also lets you store entire documents, access them across computers, online or on your phone.  I use it to store home-related documents, family recipes, to-do lists and project information.  And I know I’ve only scratched the surface of its usefulness.  Evernote’s blog is also chock-full of great information about how business owners and hobbyists alike use it in new and creative ways.

What Do You Recommend?

That about covers it for me on the web/software front.  Is there anything awesome out there I’ve overlooked?  I’d love to hear your recommendations.  Next week, I’ll tell you about the mobile apps and hardware I use to keep my life running relatively smoothly.


Friday Link Round-Up: New Year Edition

Tea Wisdom from Yogi TeaHere’s what’s been capturing my attention around the internet this week.  If you’ve come across anything interesting (or have anything to say about the links below), I’d love to hear from you in the comments!

Product of the Week

If a new and improved healthy eating plan is on your agenda for the New Year, then this Personal Blender with a Travel Lid is fantastic way to enjoy easy-to-make, vitamin-packed smoothies on your way to work or after a workout without dirtying up another cup.  Pro Tip: start with liquid, then add softer ingredients like yogurt, fresh produce, protein powders, etc., and top it off with frozen items like fruit or ice.

Recipe of the Week

And to go with that blender, how about a Green Smoothie Challenge? This collection of 5 combinations is super easy to get you into the the green smoothie habit.  I’ve been looking for easier ways to get my fruits & veggies in (since I crave salt & sugar even MORE while pregnant apparently), and smoothies are a great way to do it.  Adding a handful of spinach or kale to a fruit-filled smoothie packs a huge nutritional punch, and you’ll never even know you’re drinking spinach/kale — except for the bright green color, that is.  Throw in some Greek yogurt or some protein powder to make it a fully functioning nutritional powerhouse!

Thought-Provoker of the Week

I’m big on reviewing the previous year (the good and bad) and setting new goals for the next year.  Instead of setting New Year’s resolutions, I define New Year’s initiatives.  I first came across Nicole’s review method in 2011, and I used it again at the end of 2012.  If you haven’t done any sort of review/initiative process yet and want to, check out her free guide.

Laugh of the Week

To the point about why content matters, from The Oatmeal: How to Get More Likes on Facebook

Lesson of the Week

Inc. interviews successful entrepreneurs for their advice on How to Succeed in 2013.

Shameless Self-Promotion of the Week

Speaking of facebook (and I’m pretty sure I’m not committing any of The Oatmeal’s DON’Ts here), if you’re facebook-inclined and like what you’ve seen so far here, I’d like to invite you to visit (and like if you like!) the Sarah Writes Stories facebook page, just launched last night.  Thanks, and have an awesome weekend!