Email Etiquette Pet Peeves

Hi friends! I’m on a train right now, heading from Kingston to Toronto after a work event. Because I’ve been out of the office, I’ve been checking, sorting, and replying to a number of emails. It’s got me thinking about some of the little things that are so common in emails that drive me a little bit nuts. Maybe you do some of these things when you email, or maybe you’ve noticed others doing them too!

Answering an email with a brand new one

I’m talking about not using the “Reply” button when replying. I’m not sure how this happens. I suppose if you had recorded the question elsewhere (like on a sticky note) and didn’t bother looking for the original message, this could happen… But on the receiving end, it can cause some confusion, especially if it’s not clear exactly what you’re responding to.

Fix it by: Hitting “Reply”.

Deviating from the email chain topic

This is the opposite of the above. Obviously, you can write an email about multiple topics, but if it’s part of an ongoing chain, it’s best to keep things separate and clear. This is especially helpful for someone like me – I store all of my old emails in folders based on topic, so it gets a little complicated when chains start fitting into lots of otherwise unrelated categories.

Fit it by: Creating a New Chain about the New Topic.

Mixing up CC: and To:

Okay, I’ll admit, this is just personal preference. When I receive an email, I find it very helpful to see whether I have been CC’ed (that’s “Carbon Copied”, for you Gen Zs) or actually addressed directly. This tells me whether I should read the email for my knowledge, or if I should be looking for action items or questions to answer. (Not to mention, I’m sure some people don’t expect to reply to emails if they’re only CC’ed – so if you’re asking them a question, you might not get an answer for a while.) Keeping with this, I will actually go out of my way to modify email chains such that only the intended recipient is listed under “To:”. Anyone else is CC’ed.

Fix it by: Using “To:” for People You Directly Address, and “CC:” for Others.

So, I have to ask: am I crazy? Or do these things bug you too? Either way, keep these in mind when you send your next email!

Want more email etiquette pet peeves? Check out Part 2 here!

I’m told I have to start this post off with a disclaimer: I work at Tim Hortons head office. However, I’m also Canadian, so the fact that I happen to work there really has no influence on the fact that I’m totally addicted. Anyone who knew me before I started working at Tims 8 months ago can attest to that fact. Moving on.

I had a pretty typical Canadian childhood, which means it should come as no surprise that I was raised like this:

TIm Hortons baby

Yes, that is me, and yes, that is a Roll Up cup. Photo-finding credit goes to my mother.

In fact, legend has it that my first words were “Double Double”. Not even joking.

My tastes have evolved over the years, but my love of Tim Hortons has been unwavering. I know people can have some seriously polarizing opinions on the menu at Tims, so I’ll just say that these are my favourite products, and you’re welcome and encouraged to share your own in the comments!

10. Café Mocha with Milk

You’ve got the coffee for the buzz, the hot chocolate and whipped topping for the sugary treat, and the milk to smooth out the bitterness of the black coffee. This drink was my go-to winter semester study treat when looking at equations for hours in the library made me want to tear my hair out.

I need Tim Hortons.

Like this.

9. English Muffin Sausage Breakfast Sandwich

My university was three hours away from home, so returning to school to school was a bit of a trek. The highlight of that drive was always stopping at the ONroute in Port Hope to get a breakfast sandwich. So even though it’s just three bucks and there’s nothing particularly special about it, this breakfast sandwich always feels like a treat.

8. Sundried Tomato Asiago Bagel (RIP)

I love sundried tomatoes. And cheese. And bread. This bagel was everything I could ever dream of in a bagel. Then Tims discontinued it, and my heart was shattered into a million pieces. I can only hope that someday, the outcry of millions of Sundried Tomato Asiago Bagel lovers will warm the cold hearts of the product team so that my bagel and I can be reunited.

7. Spicy Thai Soup

This soup is seasonal, so when I heard it was coming back in November, I got really excited. It’s tasty with a kick, it has lots of variety in flavour and texture, and it really fills you up. It’s a great “comfort food” for the winter.

6. Roasted Red Pepper Gouda Soup

So I had this soup for the first time today, and I immediately decided that it was better than my previous favourite soup, the Spicy Thai. It’s got a great consistency – creamy with just a bit of hearty chunkiness – and it tastes great. Unfortunately, it’s also seasonal.

5. Chocolate Chip Muffin

You can’t go wrong with a chocolate chip muffin. I’ve actually noticed that Tim Hortons lightened up on the sugar topping on these muffins, which, in my opinion, made them better now than before. In general, this is my go-to baked good if I’m looking for a snack.

4. Strawberry Strudel

I love these strudels for three reasons: they’re tasty, they’re small, and they’re cheap. Lots of sugar without much perceived guilt. And it’s great that you get a discount if you order them with a coffee or tea!

3. Filled Sugar Cookie

This cookie just came out this winter, and oh my gosh, it’s delicious. But it’s horrible for you. It’s basically just sugar. Proceed with caution.

2. Iced Capp with Milk

This drink brings back many memories of my previous job… (More on that later.) The Iced Capp has been a staple in my summer diet for years. I almost never went into work without one. Just make sure you stir the deliciousness regularly so it doesn’t separate!

1. Small Double Double with Milk

This coffee gets me through the day. I think I honestly decided on this particular combination of modifiers because I wanted to be able to order a “Double Double” but I just don’t like cream in my coffee. I’m specifying small because even though I know the ratios are constant, I find I like the taste of a small better than any other size. It’s probably just a psychological thing. Plus, if I drink more than a small at one time, I get a little jittery… As a wise man once said, “Coffee coffee coffee.” This is my mantra.


Wow, that was harder than I thought – I don’t even have any donuts on this list! To be fair, though, my favourite donut changes so often that none of them really outrank what I’ve listed here. (Right now, it’s Chocolate Dip…though there’s also Sour Cream Glazed, and the sorely missed Blueberry Fritter and Birthday Cake Donut…)

One thing I’ve learned from working at Tim Hortons is that everyone has an opinion on it. So have at it: Do you agree with my list? What are some of your favourites at Tims?

Me, in the Sims!

Like many kids in the early 2000s, I played The Sims. Unlike many twenty-somethings in the mid 2010s, I still play The Sims. (Or maybe you play it too?) In fact, I’ve been playing it pretty much all day today. It’s taking great self-restraint to take a break from it to write this post. But I figure that I should probably try to accomplish something in my real life today, not just in my Sims’ lives, right?

I think I actually play The Sims a little differently than most people do, and maybe even from what the game was designed for. At its core, The Sims is just a good old life simulator – you create people, make their homes, get them jobs, give them hobbies, find them friends and romance, build them a family, and repeat ad nauseum. Over the years, as the game has evolved and made a ton of money, expansion packs and new features have made it decidedly more zany. We’ve now got supernatural creatures and random events, plus every mod and cheat you could ever ask for. But for some reason, even with all of these hilarious and entertaining features, I took this game and played it like the biggest keener ever.

No cheats.

No mods.

Nothing particularly supernatural.

Not much roleplaying – just going along with whatever the Sim “wants” or “wishes” in the game.

No reloading after something bad happens.

I started playing like this when I learned about the Legacy Challenge for The Sims 2, in which all cheats, most mods, and reloading are banned anyway. I found that I enjoyed playing the game “straight” a lot more than I liked any of the crazy stuff that was added to the game to make it more fun. So, then, what’s the appeal?

Playing The Sims is a way of feeling realistic accomplishment without realistic timelines.

Want to find a job? Read the newspaper and click “Take Job”. Want a promotion? Read a book for a few minutes to level up your skills and chat your boss on the phone before your next shift. Want to clean the dishes? Drag and drop them into the dishwasher and it will make them disappear. Want to write a book? Sit at the computer and type non-stop until that bar fills up. Want to get a boyfriend or girlfriend? Repeat the interactions in the Romantic category over and over until they love you. And of course, you can always speed up time. Everything happens so quickly and easily – and it’s all of the things in my life that I want, but I don’t really want to wait for or work for.

I wouldn’t say I’m addicted to The Sims now. But in my heyday, especially in the summer after Grade Nine, I was playing it like a full-time job: 8 hours a day, five days a week, whenever my parents were at work and couldn’t tell my I was playing too much.

Like all of my hobbies, the enthusiasm ebbs and flows. Every so often, I’ll get really excited about The Sims again, but usually just for a few days or weeks. And now I actually have important things happening in my life to focus on – I don’t need a virtual life too. Well… maybe sometimes.

Are you still a Simmer? How do you play The Sims?

Study Tips - Three That Worked for Me

Hi friends! Guess what? This is the first winter in nine years where I haven’t had to study for any exams! I have to admit, graduating is a pretty great thing. On the other hand, I’m now starting to notice what everyone told me would be really strange about adult life: aside from the normal flow of the seasons and holidays, there isn’t as much of a cadence to everything anymore. Sure, there are slow periods and busy times in the office, but there isn’t that massive ramp-up to exams and three weeks of total stress, followed by a complete memory purge of everything I learned, because when am I ever going to need to know this stuff again? (Okay, maybe next semester…)

So now I’m seeing many of my friends on Facebook starting their new semesters with fresh minds – and any high schoolers I know are just starting to feel the pressure rise as their exams approach. And since I’m not one of them, I figured I would take a little bit of my loads of extra time from not having school to share a couple of the things that I did to study for my exams.

I should start by saying that my biggest academic downfall has always been my memory. My study methods usually revolved around making sure I understood concepts and how to arrive at the answer, rather than memorizing particular examples – because I knew from experience that I would completely blank on the exam if I tried that. Physics lends itself pretty well to that type of studying. In fact, I specifically selected courses that didn’t require much memorization, so generally no biology, history, and the like. Even if you are studying for memory-type exams, these methods could still supplement your own!

Make a List

Study List

See that page on the top right? That was my list from Third Year!

 This was always my first step when my university classes ended for the semester. I took inventory of all of my assignments, textbooks, review packages, and made a list of everything I would reasonably need to study to feel prepared for the exam.

Note that I said reasonably. I’m not sure if this is good advice or not, but I found that if I over-studied — that is, got burnt out and just studied for the sake of it — I would run out of steam for my other exams, get super stressed out, and usually start doubting and forgetting everything I had already learned. I would spread out the items over multiple days and mix up which exams I was studying for, but unless I had identifies something I really needed to add, I would stop once I reached the end of the list. This would leave time for me to relax for a bit and get enough sleep (which was a must for me during exams)!

Notes on Notes*

*Patent pending (just kidding)

This idea I didn’t discover until Second Year, but it became a staple in my study habits. I would create a consolidated set of notes based on my class notes, plus any textbook examples or assignment tidbits that felt pertinent. Not only that, but I would colour-code them!

These are actually a bad example - there isn't enough colour! Also, this topic isn't particularly indicative of the difficulty of the subject matter that made these notes necessary. But it looks like I may have thrown out ALL of my physics notes... Oops.

These are actually a bad example – there isn’t enough colour! Also, this topic isn’t particularly indicative of the difficulty of the subject matter that made these notes necessary. But it looks like I may have thrown out ALL of my physics notes… Oops.

Honestly, there wasn’t much of a reason behind the colour-coding, except maybe to make it easier to skim for equations or topics. The real reason was so that I would change pens and colours every few words. That way, I could force myself to stay engaged in my learning.

Once I had my notes on notes, I rarely needed to go back to the originals. It helped me review without missing anything, tap into kinesthetic learning skills, and save time on last-minute review.

Study with Friends — Sometimes

I hate being in a study group where people “quiz” each other. Being on the spot like that makes my memory even foggier than it would be on the exam itself. I end up just thinking, “Oh, I don’t know. Never mind. I’m going to fail.” However, I find that when you teach each other things that one of you is better at explaining than the others, it’s much more helpful and efficient. In general, it’s best if you’re doing the teaching. It gives you the opportunity to get a really great handle on the topic. But that would be a bit one-sided in a study group, so teaching each other is a good compromise.

Combine these with readings, office hours, flash cards, lots of practice… and you’re good to go!

What are your favourite study tips to make exams (just a little bit) more bearable?

In this modern world of smartphones, I know a lot of people have abandoned physical planners in favour of digital calendars. Still, there’s something to be said for writing out your appointments by hand and seeing your schedule all on one page. During school, I depended heavily on having my To Do’s, classes, and meetings written down. This has carried over into my work life as well. So for me, it’s absolutely essential to have the perfect planner.

For a while, I had a very simple agenda that I would use strictly for daily To Do’s. But because I had trouble prioritizing and remembering everything, I started doing this kind of thing:

Makeshift Agenda

Every weekday would be mapped out from 6am to 11pm, and colour-coded according to course or category. I made my own printable template for my weekly calendars, and over two years, the sheet got more complex – I would add weekly goals, grocery lists, and other reminders to the sides and bottom of the page. There were three big problems with this method, though:

  1. My schedule and my agenda weren’t in the same place.
  2. I had a hard time keeping track of the single sheet of paper, and it would often get crumpled or otherwise damaged.
  3. My printer sucked, and I ended up getting streaks through my schedule.

So it was clear that I needed a change as I headed into my last semester of university. The standard agendas they handed out during frosh week weren’t going to cut it anymore. Since I was graduating, I’d need to look at the year as a whole rather than the academic year, and my To Do list was getting broader than just classes and assignments. Not only that, but I was looking for motivation in the structure of my life, and I needed a tool to help me find it.

(I should pause and mention that the planners I’m about to describe are pricey – as in, $50-$75. This is how I like to spend my money. You’ve been warned.)

When I first learned about the Passion Planner, I immediately fell in love. It was the perfect mix of goal-setting and life-planning! But unfortunately, by the time I found out about it, they were already back-ordered for 2015. They kindly provided me with printout versions of the interior – but I ran into all the same problems as my previous system. I didn’t receive my copy until February. When my planner finally arrived, I was all over it!

Weekly scheduling!

Weekly scheduling!

Monthly reflections!

Monthly reflections!

But just over a month later, my classes finished. Then I started work. Suddenly my scheduling didn’t need to be as rigid, and didn’t have nearly as many items to consider, so I barely used the planner.

Yeah, this isn’t helping me at all.

I found myself needing more of an organized To Do list, and less of an hourly schedule. Not only that, but I was finding the black and white, minimalist design of the Passion Planner to be a little demotivating for me. As you can probably guess, I’m not a washi tape and glitter kind of gal. I like planners with some colour, but I won’t be the one to decorate. (I want to point out that I would absolutely recommend the Passion Planner to students or anyone else looking to schedule a busy day and focus on their goals. It just doesn’t suit my life at the moment.)

Thus began the journey to find a motivating planner with lots of space for lists and customization, without requiring me to do too much of my own designing. I found many of the planners I came across were very much geared toward stay-at-home moms (go figure) with meal planning sections and the like, but I found one that suited all of my needs: the Erin Condren Life Planner.

The internet tells me that Erin Condren’s product is the Lexus of planners. I’d have to agree. It’s gorgeous and quite expensive, but it has all the features I was looking for:

  • Colourful and motivating interior:

    Love the quotes every month!

  • Vertical date layout with Monday to Sunday weeks (this is also customizable, but these are my preferences), with space for three categories of items plus extra To Do’s:
    Interior Weekly View
    Note: Over the past few months, I’ve switched up how I use the three daily boxes pretty regularly. Right now, it’s Work, Home, and Blog, but I’m sure that will change.
  • Some goal tracking, though not to the extent of the Passion Planner
  • Beautiful, customizable, and interchangeable covers, so I can always order a new cover if I get bored with this one:

    You can also use your own colour schemes, photos, or phrases to make a unique cover. I was a little lazy with my design but I still love it.

Another great thing about this planner is that there’s a whole suite of similar products in the shop – stickers, notebooks, laptop cases, you name it. I haven’t ordered anything else yet, but I’ve got a $10 eGift in my inbox as a bonus for my first purchase, and it’s calling my name!

What makes a planner perfect to you?

Last night my sister took me to a drop-in Zumba class. I’ve tried Zumba once before – and trust me, I was no better this time than I was last time. For context, my sister has been dancing for, what, twelve years now? And I’ve been dancing for a total of zero. (Unless you count ballet in Kindergarten. Which I don’t.) Here are some of my thoughts from the experience.

I have no coordination whatsoever.

I knew that going in, but for some reason I figured I would get better as the class progressed. I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to do any moves that involved my arms and my legs moving in different directions. I was less winded by the end than I was at the beginning, but no less awkward.

I’m convinced my sister and I can’t be related.

If you overlook all the other ways my sister and I are basically identical… Okay, fine, we’re related. I guess I’m okay with her being the athletic one. I’m the smart one. (I’ll keep telling myself that…)

I got my daily steps! Or did I?

My Fitbit buzzed during the class to congratulate me on reaching 10,000 steps today. But I have to wonder, how many of those “steps” were actually just from shaking my wrist?

I wish I could control the colour of my face.

Am I the only one whose face turns bright red whenever I exercise? It stays like that for almost an hour! It probably has something to do with the fact that I never exercise, but maybe I’m not alone in this.

I enjoy Zumba more when I recognize the songs.

Out of the hour-long class, I knew one of the songs. It was Pitbull, obviously. I found it a lot easier to engage and follow the instructor when I was able to anticipate the music and sing along in my head when I knew the words. I imagine that if I were to join a Zumba class and attend regularly, I would probably get to know a number of the songs in other languages. I noticed my sister had learned the words to some of them. Maybe this could be a minor motivation to make this a regular thing?

It was pretty fun!

Would I go again? Probably. Will I go weekly? Maybe not. We’ll see what the new year will bring!

Have you tried Zumba? What was your experience?

Goals for 2016

The new year is finally upon us! Well, actually, it’s been upon us for three days now. I love using the new year as a fresh start for pursuing my goals, so I’ve spent the last few days composing a list of the goals I want to achieve in the coming year. Last year was pretty great, and I was able to accomplish many of the goals I’d set out for myself. But there were still many things on my list that I didn’t complete. The common trend in those unachieved goals was that there was no clear motivation behind them – they were just items on a to-do list that were never done. This year, I really hope to focus on the goals that will have a real impact on my life.

More steps per day on my Fitbit

I purchased a Fitbit Flex back in September, and I love being able to see how much exercise I get on a day-to-day basis. I’d like to be more consistent with increased activity levels this year so that I can improve my emotional and physical well-being. My realistic goal is 50,000 steps per week, but I’d love to hit 70,000 (the recommended 10k per day)!

8 hours of sleep

This one is so hard to stick to, especially when the rest of my household doesn’t have a fixed sleep schedule (that’s the boyfriend and the cat). I personally benefit in a lot of ways from getting enough sleep, so I’d like to make this a habit!

Read more

I used to be a voracious reader, but now I’m ashamed to admit that Netflix has taken over. Reading has all of the benefits of television for me, without the downside of lasting lethargy. I’ve already started making a list of books I want to read on my new Kindle (both fiction and non-fiction), and I hope to wean myself off TV as much as possible.

Knit a pair of socks

This one is a bit arbitrary, but I just got a set of circular needles for Christmas, and I want to tackle the quintessential knitting project!

Improve my technical skillset

I haven’t narrowed this down yet, but I want to become more proficient in technology. This might be in the form of a new programming language, a concept or course… I’ll let you know when I figure it out.

Keep blogging

As I mentioned when I launched this blog, I want to stretch my writing muscles, share my thoughts, and get to know myself a little better. I hope to post at least every other day and nail down what this blog is really about!

Identify my dream job?

I don’t want to jump the gun here, but if I don’t make it a goal, how will I ever achieve it? I hope to do some soul-searching and research in the coming year.

Track and plan my goals

I’ve got a really sweet planner (more on that later), so I want to use it! Creating mini-goals will help keep me motivated and on track to succeed.

What are your goals for 2016?

You may have noticed that I talk a lot about my cat. I’m a proud pet lover. But when I was in university, I didn’t have the time, money, or commitment level for a dog or a cat. (Two of my housemates ended up getting cats, actually. I loved having them around, but I definitely wasn’t ready to make the leap myself.) I lived in an on-campus residence in first year, and I missed having a pet – at the time, my family had a dog at home, three hours away. In my second year, I moved off-campus into a house with some friends. I took that year to ponder what type of pet I would like… and could handle.

  • A fish? Interesting to watch every so often, but not much of a “pet” in the companionship sense.
  • A bird? It would be a risk – they could be loud and messy, which would be an issue with housemates. Plus, their feet kind of creep me out.
  • A reptile? Not cuddly enough. Their diet was also a bit off-putting.
  • An amphibian? Same deal as a reptile. Cuter, granted, but still not the kind of experience I was looking for.

I’d narrowed it down to mammals. While I considered factors such as size, lifestyle, and expense, I had a friend introduce me to her own hamster and share some of her experiences. Hamsters met all of my criteria! And in September 2013, I acquired Henry the Hamster.

why hamsters make the best pets for students - henry

This is Henry. Sitting in a shoe.

So what made Henry the best pet I could have asked for as a university student?

Size and Footprint

In a small student apartment, the size of a pet and the equipment needed to take care of it is a deal breaker. For Henry, I bought a cubic collapsible fabric box with a lid (about 50 cm each dimension). His cage sat on top of it like it was a table, and I was able to fit all of his equipment inside the box if I ever needed to do so. For exercise, I had your standard 7″ exercise ball, and he could just run around my room – no need for a playpen like some larger pets.

Independence

From what I’ve seen and read, hamsters are moderately social. They don’t get along well with other hamsters, and most of the time they like to be left alone. With more social pets, skipping a day or two of play negatively impacts their mood and mental health. For a hamster, leaving them alone simply gets them accustomed to being alone, so it may take some time to warm them back up to playing with you. The longer you wait, the harder it gets, but if you’re looking to get a pet for companionship, I’ll assume that you’re planning to socialize with them regularly anyway. I tried to play with Henry daily, or at least have him get some exercise in his ball.

Cleanliness

Did you know that hamsters can be potty-trained? And it’s actually the easiest thing! They will naturally pick a spot in their cage to use as a toilet, and you just place a potty tray in that spot for next time. Not only that, but they will also clean their sleeping nests of old food and other garbage, so the cage doesn’t get as gross as you might think. Of course, a hamster’s standards of cleanliness might be different from yours, and you’ll still have to remove trash, litter, and old shavings regularly. But your hamster will help you out as much as they can! I know mine did.

Sleep Schedule (no, really)

You might have heard that hamsters are nocturnal, which sounds pretty awful for a pet. But in reality, they’re crepuscular, which means they’re awake twice a day during “twilight” hours: around dawn and around dusk. I don’t know about you, but when I was a student, I was basically out of the house all day doing work. I’d only really be home for a few hours before going to sleep. So while a diurnal pet sounds like a good idea, you might actually miss most of the time they’re awake because you’re busy in class or at the library. In general, Henry was awake from 6pm-10pm, then again early in the morning when I was getting up to go to class. This turned out to be an awesome schedule, as I didn’t feel like I was missing out on any of the fun!

Cuddles

Maybe this doesn’t apply to everyone, but one of the reasons I wanted a mammal as a pet was for the feeling of fur when holding, petting, or playing with them. There’s probably a scientific, oxytocin-related explanation behind it. I found it was very beneficial to have a cuddly creature always available during stressful times such as exams.

Relatively Low Costs

It’s obvious that there is a correlation between a pet’s size/complexity and the cost to raise them. Here’s a rough cost breakdown for Henry over 22 months:

Basic

  • Hamster: $10
  • Cage: $30
  • Bedding: $5/month ($110 total)
  • Food: $5/month ($110 total)
  • Toys: $20 (plus free stuff, like paper towel rolls)
  • Cleaning spray: $10 (the bottle lasted his whole lifetime)
Total: $290 ($13 per month)
If you buy food and bedding in larger bulk quantities than I did, you can probably reduce that monthly cost as well.

Advanced (i.e. Additional Costs Because I Spoiled My Hamster A Lot)

  • More Toys: $30
  • Litterbox: $10 – it’s not really necessary, but it will save you time and effort in cleaning the cage.
  • Litter: $5/month ($110 total) – it has to be small animal litter, since cat litter will mess up their little lungs! I recommend this stuff since it clumps for easy cleaning.
  • Cage Extensions: $50 – I’m talking tubes, a carrier, a fancy wheel, a mini maze…these were always on my Christmas list.
  • Treats: $20

Total after additional costs: $510 ($23 per month) – keep in mind, though, a lot of this was in the form of gifts.

Personality

Even though hamsters are small, simple animals, they still have quite a bit of personality. Some of the stuff Henry did was pretty hilarious. I’ll let you discover the unique personality of your pet on your own!

Lifespan

This one is a little bittersweet, but it’s true. In university, most of us don’t know where our lives will take us next, so committing to a pet that will be with you for a few decades may not be the best decision quite yet. Henry lived to be almost 2 years old, so he and I went through third and fourth year of university together. When he did pass away (peacefully, in his sleep), I was sad, of course, but also confident that I had given him a pretty awesome life for a hamster.


So if you’re thinking about getting a pet to be your companion during school, I would definitely encourage you to consider a hamster! What have been your experiences with pets in university?

How I Quit Nail-Biting Using Apps

I’ll start this off by saying that it wasn’t easy. Nail-biting has been a 16-year habit for me (a solid 73% of my life), and an unpleasant one at that. For context, I’d say I was a middle-of-the-road addict: I would bite them right up to the nailbed, but usually not beyond. The exception was back in middle school, where a combination of stress and boredom really took a toll on my fingers. It hurt! Not to mention the hangnails, infections, and inability to scratch or grasp anything that needed nails. At that point, I knew it was time to stop, but I didn’t really know where to start. It was so ingrained in everything I did.

My thumb in July 2014. Ick.

My thumb in July 2014. Ick. And this is nowhere near the worst of it.

Like most people, the first thing I tried was straight willpower. It was just a habit, right? All I needed to do was not bite my nails. Simple enough – but not easy. I could last about a week or two this way (and only when I was really trying). But when it came time to clip my nails shorter so they wouldn’t break or tear, I’d just bite them off and start all over again. The second one of my nails had a jagged edge, I knew I was screwed. It took me a long time to finally figure out that I should carry a nail file with me, but even that solution wasn’t very effective since I was prone to forget about it.

Next I tried keeping my nails painted. A number of problems arose from this:

  1. It was hard to keep up – every time the polish started to chip off, I’d be back to biting.
  2. My job at the time only allowed clear nail polish, and since I couldn’t see it to remember it was there, I’d end up biting anyway.
  3. I ended up not minding the taste of it. Gross, I know, but that’s the truth.

Then there were the drastic measures: bandages on my fingertips, gloves everywhere all the time, that gross-tasting polish stuff. They all failed; none were consistent enough to actually make a lasting difference.

#nailspiration

#nailspiration

About a year ago, I started getting really excited about apps for everything – games and stores and fitness and organizing and finance and writing… and it occurred to me that there must be an app to help people quit nail-biting habits. When I sought them out, I found lots! But most of them didn’t suit my needs. In fact, many were general habit apps, and a lot of them tracked on a day-to-day basis. Back then, it had become so bad that I couldn’t even make it a day without biting my nails. It was pretty demotivating to see long streaks of “missed” days. Not to mention, if I happened to bite my nails in the morning, I would treat it like a free-for-all and end up biting them straight through the day – it would all look the same on a habit tracker anyway.

Much further down on the Google Play search list, I found a funny little app simply called “Nail Biting“, and it looks like this:

Nail Biting App

And that’s it. You open up the app and press the “I DID IT” button whenever you bite. To be clear, it was a little annoying to have to open the app every time (I would have preferred a widget), but because the app itself is so simple, the loading time was negligible.

The cool part, which ended up being the most helpful, was the granularity of the statistics:

nail biting app stats

Hourly! So exciting!

I used this app on its own for a few weeks. I did see my no-biting stretches increasing, but I still had some slipups now and then. Once I was able to go a day or two without biting, I added another app to the mix: HabitBull (the free version). This app has a lot of features and is good for lots of habits, which I won’t get into here.

This is my real progress back in April. The thought bubbles indicate comments I've added to those days.

This is my real progress back in April. The speech bubbles indicate that I’ve added comments to those days.

I would log my nail-biting in the Nail Biting app throughout the day, and then transfer the number of times in the day over to HabitBull before bed. I would also add comments to days when I filed or clipped my nails, since those were they days I struggled the most. It was the combination of mindfulness and accountability (in the form of red “missed” days) that made the difference. Plus, I love charts.

It took me a few false starts on HabitBull, but as of April 14th (260 days ago), I no longer bite my nails! I stopped using HabitBull in August; it was getting pretty tedious to record each successful day.

how I quit nail-biting in 2015 using apps — progress

Progress!

I should clarify: I no longer bite my nails. I still do, on occasion, pick at them, tear them, or randomly find that I’ve got my fingertip in my mouth after zoning out for a while. I’m working on those things. The longer I go without biting my nails, though, the easier the other pieces of the puzzle are to leave behind.

Unfortunately, I’ve also noticed that my nailbed doesn’t seem to be growing back. Every time I clip my nails, it sort of looks like I’m starting from scratch (though not nearly as gross). So a warning to you nail-biters out there: even if you quit, your nails may never be as good as new.

Do you have any nail-biting struggles or tips to share?

Happy New Year to all!

Ten Commandments Digital Organization

The New Year is fast approaching, so now’s the time to get a handle on all of the clutter in our lives and start the year off on the right foot. This year I’m all about organization — specifically, digital organization. And after spending way too much time at work trying to sort through endless folders and files searching for a particular document, I cried out in desperation, “There must be a better way!” (In my head, of course.)

Don’t do this. Ever. Please.

I volunteered to reorganized some of those folders, and in doing so, I realized that there are a few rules I inherently follow when organizing computer files. If you’re struggling to find your files months later, maybe this could help you out.

1. Thou shalt name thy files and folders in a descriptive manner.

If I see one more “New Folder” folder with actual important information in it, I’ll scream. Same goes for “doc-123015” or folders named after people for no apparent reason.

2. Thou shalt use consistent date formats.

Switching between yymmdd and mmddyy and yyyymmdd for the date will make the list impossible to sort in your file manager (or in your head).

3. Thou shalt use consistent naming conventions.

I’m talking about version numbers, word order, owner… whatever needs to be in the title. If the documents go together, they should look like they go together.

An extension of this: you can use version numbers or dates in your file titles, but not both. You’ll lose track of your version control and make a mess for everyone. That means:

  • Do this: “File Name – 01012017”, “File Name – 01022017”
  • Or this: “File Name – v1”, “File Name – v2”
  • But not this: “File Name – v1 01012017”, “File Name – v2 01012017”

4. Thou shalt name subfolders concisely.

If you have a folder called “Project A”, and then a subfolder containing all of the legal info for the project, call the folder “Legal Info” (or whatever). Don’t bother calling it “Project A Legal Info” or “Legal Info – Project A”. It’s unnecessary and makes your list of folders cluttered and hard to scan. Plus, if you have to send the path to the folder to someone else, “Drive Name:\\Project A\Legal Info” makes perfect sense.

5. Thou shalt not need to scroll through the list of files in a folder.

If the list of files (or subfolders) extends beyond a reasonable-sized window, you need to divide those documents into categories of some kind, and place those categorized groups into appropriately-named subfolders.

Disclaimer: when it comes to folders full of pictures, you can usually disregard this commandment. If you’re looking for a particular picture from a vacation out of a pool of hundreds, you’re probably just looking at the thumbnail anyway, so it’s not worth going crazy with categorizing. The same goes for anything clearly labelled by date or another numbering system.

6. Thou shalt not create a folder for one document (or no documents).

Maybe this sounds counter to the previous commandment, but a “category” of one isn’t a category at all. Either broaden the scope of the folder so that more documents fall into the category, or bring that document up a level.

7. Thou shalt not create a shortcut to a folder… and store it in the same place.

Why is this a thing? This is common sense, right? Maybe it was just a mistake, but I keep seeing it and it kills me every time. Shortcuts have to save you time to be shortcuts.

8. Thou shalt not save everything on thy desktop.

In my opinion, the desktop is for commonly-used applications/programs and shortcuts to commonly-accessed folders that are otherwise properly stored in a hard to reach place (e.g. you’re currently working on a particular section of a project and don’t want to have to go down five levels of subfolders to find your files every few minutes).

Another potential use is for files that you need to access right away, but don’t have time or the need to store it somewhere logical. If you needed to send that file to your coworkers yesterday, it’s probably best that you don’t spend a lot of time finding a good place for it in your folders. When you do have time, though, either delete it or put it away. The same goes for shortcuts or programs you don’t use much anymore (see the next commandment).

9. Remember the organizational “Sabbath” day.

By this, I mean that every so often (monthly, or whatever works for you), you’ll need to go through your folders again to make sure everything is in order. Some of the categories you used to create subfolders may not make sense anymore, or may need a shift. I also do this, to some extent, with my email folders, which helps declutter my inbox and my mind.

10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s organizational paradigm.

Just kidding.


That about covers it. Of course, it’s all up to your discretion… but if you want happy coworkers/family members/other people that share files with you, give it a try!

What are your digital organization tips?