Excel Bar Graphs

These days, everyone and their mother has “Microsoft Excel” listed as one of their skills on LinkedIn. So you probably already know that Excel is a powerful tool for data analysis, manipulation, and visualization. Working in Marketing Analytics, I literally use Excel every single day. (In fact, you might have noticed that I’ve been AWOL on the blog recently — I’ve been so busy with work that all I can even think about is Excel.) Some people are “Excel Wizards”, using tons of shortcuts and fancy formulae. If that’s you, more power to you! But in the end, it’s the output that matters: how will you communicate your work to an audience of colleagues or clients? Often you’ll present your findings in a series of charts or graphs. And when I see a professional slide deck full of ugly, unpolished, or even default-style Excel bar graphs (or any graphs), it drives me up the wall.

I want to help you.

This post serves as a quick tutorial on how to format your Excel bar graphs to make them awesome. Here’s where we’re headed in this post:

Excel Bar Graphs - Final Product

Why bar graphs, when there are so many other graphs out there? First, because they’re the most common type of graph I’ve seen in my short career so far. I’ll be focusing on stacked bar graphs in particular. If great bar graphs come in handy for me, hopefully they will for you! And second, because “How should I format my bar graph?” is one of my FAQs from colleagues at work. Now I can just send them to this link for a quick tutorial. (Hello, work friends!)

I’m also going to assume a basic knowledge of Excel, meaning I won’t necessarily provide specific paths to every command. (For the record, I’m using Excel 2013.) If you need clarification, please comment below! I’d love to help you out!

Getting Started

Let’s say you have some data.

Excel Bar Graph 1 - Data

On one axis of your graph, you’ll want to plot the time dimension. Traditionally, this is on the horizontal axis. And on the other, you’ll plot your values — in this case, number of baked goods. (Waddup Tim Hortons reference!)

If you plot this data as is, your stacked bar graph will look something like this:

Excel Bar Graphs 2 - Default with Colours

There’s one thing you may notice already: the colours aren’t Excel’s default palette! That’s because I’ve created my own custom colour palette. Plus, my standard font colour is black, rather than the default grey. I would highly recommend deciding on a single, cohesive colour palette to represent your company or team, and use it consistently for all of your work moving forward. Check out Microsoft’s tutorial on creating “themes” here.

I’ve also deleted the horizontal lines that appear as a default option. I rarely keep them, as they just add clutter to an otherwise polished slide.

You may be wondering why I would include the “Total” bar in yellow — doesn’t that make the bar double the size it should be? Yes, it does. But as you’ll see, this is one of the tricks of the trade. Make sure you include a total in your data for these kinds of Excel bar graphs!

Adding Your Labels

Next, we add data labels. Click the + sign just outside the top right-hand corner of the graph and select the data labels option. Once they’ve appeared, you can play around with their placement. For example, I’ve moved the data labels for the “Total” bar to the “Inside Base” option. I also made those labels bold for emphasis.

Excel Bar Graphs 3 - Data Labels

Right now, the labels look pretty cluttered, and that yellow “Total” bar just looks weird. But hang tight — all will be revealed.

Making the “Total”, a Total

Let’s deal with those pesky yellow bars. Right-click on any one of them, then choose “Format Data Series”.

Excel Bar Graphs 4 - Format Data Series

The panel on the right-hand side will allow you to make these yellow bars invisible.  Excel Bar Graphs 5 - No FillExcel Bar Graphs 6 - No FillWe’ll also use the series options to adjust the space between the bars. I usually set this to 50% or 75%, depending on the number of bars across the axis.
Excel Bar Graphs 7 - Gap WidthExcel Bar Graphs 8 - Gap Width

To complete the illusion of a built-in total label, we’ll manually adjust the maximum value of the y-axis:

Excel Bar Graphs 9 - Height

Looking good! We’ve got labels on all of our bars, so we don’t really need the vertical axis labels anymore. But we don’t want to delete the axis so it doesn’t mess up our formatting! Rather than deleting those unnecessary y-axis labels, we’ll simply hide them in the Format Axis panel:

Excel Bar Graphs 10 - Hide Axis Labels

Finally, we have to remove the legend entry referring to the “Total” bar. Just select it and tap Delete.

Excel Bar Graphs 11 - Legend

The Finishing Touch

There are lots of little formatting tweaks you can make at this point, so that your graph matches the aesthetic you’re seeking. For example, you could increase the font sizes, move the legend to another side, add a title, and lots more.

My final tweak will be changing the font colour of some of the labels so that they stand out against the background in my custom colour palette. I’ll also remove the border around my chart area.

Excel Bar Graphs - Final Product

And there you have it!

Feel free to adjust to your liking, but this is a great starting point for any beginner working on their first awesome Excel bar graphs. Friends and coworkers, if you’d like more tips and tricks to take this graph to the next level, let me know! I literally already have screenshots for Part 2 of this post, haha!

What are your tips for making beautiful, polished, awesome Excel bar graphs?

Motivation Monday — 5 Tips for Getting Things Done

Happy Monday, everyone! Or perhaps not-so-happy Monday… If you’re like me, you had a generally relaxing, lethargic weekend, and you’re not feeling entirely prepared to take on the long week ahead. I spent some time these past few days (mostly while sitting on the couch) thinking about what gets me motivated to succeed and get things done. Here are some of my findings — hopefully we can kickstart Motivation Monday together!

Create a productive atmosphere.

Sometimes, in spite of your plans to spend the day getting things done, your surroundings drag you back into your comfort zone. I find that it’s a lot easier to get to work when I first:

  • Make the room bright by opening the windows or turning on the lights
  • Play some working music
  • Clear away any distracting clutter — but be careful not to get sucked into procrasti-cleaning!

Make a list.

It’s always helpful to have a roadmap when it feels like there’s way too much to do. Making a list with manageable, “bite-sized” tasks allows you to prioritize the things you need to do. It also shows you the light at the end of the tunnel: once these items are checked off, you’re done! I currently use Todoist for my to-do lists at work and at home.

Make it a habit.

It’s hard enough to get things done. It’s even harder when your usual routine is to lay about and not get things done. This is usually compounded by sleeping in on weekends, which is apparently equivalent to giving yourself jet lag every weekend and then expecting it to just magically disappear on Monday. I’ve been making an effort to shift my schedule seven days a week so that I have the energy and habitual foundation for motivation each and every day.

Solidify your motivations.

People make goals for lots of reasons: out of necessity (like work), to improve themselves, to impress others, and lots more. Some motivations are stronger than others. This step is a personal one: find out what’s important to you, and pursue the goals that match that motivation. And more importantly, don’t wallow in guilt when you fail to achieve the goals you’ve set for yourself. It might be a clue that you’re not seeking motivation in the right places. Set goals that truly matter to you.

Just do it!

Sometimes there’s a task that I know will be pretty quick, but rather painful. Rather than hemming and hawing over when to do it, if ever, this is the time when it’s best to just rip off the Band-Aid, so to speak. Just hold your breath, shut off all of your internal complaining, and do it. This approach definitely doesn’t work for everything, and it’s usually only sufficient motivation every so often. But sometimes, as much as you’re going to hate it, you just have to do it.


I have an exhausting week ahead, but I’m hoping to take things one day at a time and find motivation for the tasks on my list!

Side Note: I had to use a couple of these tips today to motivate myself to write a blog post in the first place!

How do you prepare to get things done on Motivation Monday?

Todoist — My New Favourite Productivity App

Sometimes I discover something that gets me so excited that I have to share it with the world — and Todoist is one of those magical finds!

As a checklist addict, I’m always on the hunt for solid productivity tools. I love my physical Erin Condren planner, obviously, but there are limitations to the power of paper. When it comes to collaboration and recurring events, digital is the only way to go. My coworkers and I use Trello for assigning tasks and keeping track of the goals for the week, but Trello has some serious deficiencies that impact my workflow:

  • No checklists. Once you create a card (or a to-do item), it’s either there or it’s not. You can create checklists within the card, but there is no way to mark the entire card as complete. You can archive, but those closed tasks will no longer be easily accessible for historical purposes.
  • Limited nesting. In Trello, there are three tiers: lists, cards, and checklists. Beyond that, you’re SOL. And as I mentioned, they don’t all have the same functionality.
  • No recurrences. This one is a killer, especially in a department like mine, with lots of weekly or monthly tasks to remember.

The recurrences issue was what drove me to seek out a new tool for keeping track of my daily, weekly, and monthly tasks at work. (Full disclosure: This issue came to light because I forgot about a weekly action item…)

Enter Todoist.

Todoist is a checklist app for smartphone and desktop (plus a browser plugin). Side note: the Android app looks just like the Gmail app! There is a premium version, but for the sake of this review, I’ll stick to the free features (since I’m not that dedicated yet!). You can add tasks with due dates and priorities, make them recurring, and assign them to “projects”, i.e. folders. You can also add collaborators to your projects, so that your friends, family, or coworkers can view and edit your lists together. Here are some of my favourite features:

View by Project or by Upcoming Due Date

A lot of checklist apps have calendar views in addition to categorical views. I like Todoist’s approach in particular, because the by-date arrangement is still formatted like a checklist to give you that consistent experience.

Indentation: Sub-Projects or Sub-Tasks

At any point, you can “indent” a task or project so that it falls under the category of the one above it. And, of course, you can drag it up or down so that the item is assigned to the right parent. Parent Projects are helpful if you want to be able to view multiple lists at once, but still have them broken down by subcategory.

Todoist: Nested Checklists

Pretty neat, huh? The colours indicate priority levels, so you can sort by those as well. (Side note: this is not my real to do list…)

Recurring Tasks

Yay! There is now an easy way to set up those pesky repeated tasks, without having to select any dates by hand. You can easily set up recurrences by typing something like “Every Wednesday” or “Daily at 3pm” or even “Every 5 days starting July 5th” into the due date slot. Todoist will interpret your request accordingly. It’s actually pretty fun to test the limits of the Quick Add date selector.

Postpone

Sometimes life doesn’t go as planned. But that’s okay! Todoist has a built-in Postpone function that will shift your due date either one day or a full recurrence forward. You can always change the actual due date if you prefer, but this is a nice, quick fix that doesn’t make you feel so bad about yourself when you don’t accomplish everything you hoped to!

View Completed Tasks

This feature is pretty simple and neat. At the bottom of any project list, you can click a button to display all completed tasks. Plus, you can then uncheck them if you want to revive them on your checklist.


Now, of course, no app is perfect. But given the way I work and the features Todoist has, it’s a definite improvement over my previous system, or no system at all!

In short, I would definitely recommend you give Todoist a try at work, home, or both!

What are your favourite apps for getting things done?

Outlook Like a Boss — 3 Simple Tips

Before I started working full-time in a corporate office, I was a Gmail evangelist. I loved its storage space, its customization, and how easily it integrated with Google Drive, Maps, Calendar, and everything else Google does for me on a daily basis. At work, though, we only use Microsoft Outlook for our email. Bummer!

But for those of you out there (ahem, Millennials) that are being forced to use Outlook for the first time in their real-world jobs (or anyone simply looking for help with Outlook), fear not! I have some tips to help you save time, get organized, and maybe even like Outlook for once!

I’m writing step-by-step instructions for Office 2013. They may not apply exactly to other versions of Outlook.

Schedule Emails with Delayed Delivery

Sometimes you want to get ahead of the game with your emails, but for some reason or another, you don’t really want to send that message just yet. For example, if it’s a Friday at 5:30pm and you know your recipient won’t open the email until Monday morning, sending the email now will only get it buried at the bottom of their weekend-email inbox. Instead, why not schedule the email you wrote to send on Monday morning at 8am?

How to do it:

  1. Click the Pop-Out button to open the email in a new window (if you haven’t already).
  2. Select the Options tab.
  3. Click Delay Delivery.
  4. Under Delivery Options, check the “Do not deliver before” box, and fill in the date and time you’d like your email delivered.
  5. Click Close.
  6. Send your email!

 Outlook Delayed Delivery

Caveat: the timestamp on the email will still be the time at which you clicked “send”, not the delivery time. If, for some reason, you don’t want the recipient to know the actual time you wrote the email, don’t use this method. Set a reminder for yourself instead!

Use Outlook Conversations

Most people, I find, consider and display their emails in order of date and time. But when you have a million complex things on the go, is that really the best way? I made the switch to Conversations, an email arrangement in Outlook, a few months ago, and I’m definitely never going back. Here’s what it looks like:

 Outlook Conversations arrangement

The unopened email is titled with a list of the most recent senders, and the subject line of the parent email. If you click the little arrow or press the right arrow key, a list appears below of all emails in that thread that are in the current Outlook folder. (If there is no arrow, that means that the original email has had no replies.) And if you click it again, it opens the full list of emails in the thread from all of your folders, including the Sent folder. Emails from a different folder will be greyed out That’s my favourite feature — now I don’t need to go hunting in the Sent folder for something I said weeks ago, since I can find relevant emails straight from my inbox!

How to do it:

  1. Select the View tab.
  2. Check the “Show as Conversations” box.
  3. Choose whether you’d like the arrangement to apply to this folder, or all of your folders. (I recommend all of them!)
  4. (Optional — I don’t use these) Click Conversation Settings, then Use Classic Indented View or Always Expand Selected Conversation.

Caveat: If you receive multiple replies to the same email thread before checking your inbox, you may not realize there are older messages to read. If that’s a concern for you, use the “Always Expand Selected Conversation” option mentioned above!

Folders and Filters

Please use folders. It drives me crazy to see inboxes full of emails about all sorts of things, and no folders to put them all away! Plus, if your email policy includes something like “Delete Inbox Messages After 90 Days”, like my office, then moving your emails into folders will save them from unexpected disappearance.

If you receive regular emails that you don’t necessarily need to read, such as a daily dashboard report, it might be good for you to proactively declutter your inbox using filters. Filters send all emails that meet your set criteria into a specified folder. You will find them there if you need to refer to them later.

How to do it:

  1. Create a folder to which emails will automatically be sent.
  2. Select that folder.
  3. Select the View tab.
  4. Click View Settings.
  5. Click “Filter…”.
  6. Create whatever parameters will capture the email you want to filter for (and, hopefully, nothing else). See below for an example.
  7. Accept and Close the popups.

 Outlook Folder Filter Setup


I hope these tips can help you make the most of Outlook at work!

What are your tips for using Outlook like a boss?

It’s May!

 It's May — I survived the Blogging from A to Z Challenge!

I’ve taken a couple of days off to rest after completing the Blogging from A to Z Challenge. Now I’ll be getting back to a normal routine, with more time for other hobbies and priorities.

A new month has begun, which means it’s time to reflect on the past month and look forward to the future. To recap, my four big goals in April were the following:

  1. Spring-Clean my Wardrobe: Done! I packed away my seasonal clothes and put them away for a later date. I also got a bunch of hangers to hang clothes that probably shouldn’t have been stuffed in my drawers. Unfortunately, I didn’t pull off as much of an overhaul as I was hoping for, but I suppose I haven’t purchased as much clothing in the last year as I thought. Plus, unlike a year ago, I now have a weekend and a workday wardrobe to maintain.
  2. Complete my Codecademy Course: Done! I actually completed this item just a couple of days after posting the goal. It wasn’t as useful as I had hoped, in the end, but I will probably look into further Codecademy courses to take in the future.
  3. Save 50% of my Income: Done! TFSA is looking pretty good right now. 🙂
  4. Blogging from A to Z Challenge: Crushed it! 26 posts in 30 days was a lot, especially with very little planning and preparation for each post. Still, it was great to make blogging more of a daily habit than it had been previously.

So now that we’re into May, what will be my focus?

Goal #1: Comment More Frequently

Since I started this blog back in December, I’ve found a ton of awesome posts and sites. But I get so lost in the consumption aspect of blogs that I forget about the contribution piece. I know it’s super important to get involved in the blogosphere and support other bloggers. To quantify this goal, I am going to try to comment on 5 posts per day, 5 days per week. I aim for about 3 posts per week anyway, so I can make time for commenting on the days I don’t post, plus weekends (Friday-Sunday). Reasonable enough, but still a tough commitment for me!

Goal #2: Go to the Gym

OMG, guys, I did it. I signed up for the gym at work. I was mostly motivated by their introduction of weekly Zumba and yoga classes, the first of which is today. And, as you can probably guess by my aversion to all things gym-related, I am terrified. So hopefully I can pull myself together and actually go. I’m aiming for twice a week, so even if I don’t attend one of the weekly classes, I still have to go. We’ll see.

Goal #3: Organize Our Files

My documents — tax, insurance, payments, etc. — are in okay shape. I mean, they’re kind of all in the same place, but I have to really dig to find something specific.

Joe’s files are a mess, of course.

Armed with a file rack and a label maker, I hope to sort through our papers and get them into a state that actually makes sense.

Goal #4: Visit 3 Conservation Halton Parks

As I mentioned in this post, Joe and I have memberships with Conservation Halton, and we need to visit the parks at least 10 times to get our money’s worth. (To be fair, it was, like, fifty bucks, so it’s no great loss to begin with.) We’ve done 3 since purchasing the memberships, so 3 more this month will make some progress for the year. Hopefully we can knock that 10-visit goal out of the park! (Pun intended. Hah.)

Goal #5: Garden!

May is the height of springtime, so now is the time to garden! We have already planted some hearty veggies in the backyard, and we intend to take full advantage of the outdoor space with which we have been blessed at our house. I mean, check out the view out our back door:

 May Goals and April Review — Backyard

And this is just a rental! We’re very excited for the full season ahead.

Goal #6: Write my “Thirty Before Thirty” List

I’ve seen Thirty Before Thirty lists, which are essentially “bucket lists” but for completion before turning thirty, on a number of popular blogs. I’ve also noticed that many of those bloggers are writing their lists in their late twenties. Because I’m a huge keener, and because I know the importance of goal-setting, I’d like to write mine sooner rather than later. Of course, the exact items will be negotiable as I get older and start checking them off the list. I’ll post it here when I’m done!


Those are my goals this month! What do you hope to accomplish this May?

 May Goals Linkup

S is for Shelfie

For today’s letter S post, as part of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge, I wanted to share a shelfie — a picture of my bookshelf to give you a snapshot of my reading habits. But then I realized that my books are too well-organized around my house. I’ve got each bookshelf categorized, so no one picture would sufficiently capture my literary persona. So instead, I took shelfies of all of my shelves!

Shelfie Collage

Ta-da!

I wish I could say I was one of those people with beautiful, inspirational bookshelves. But I simply have too many books for that!

This image is a little overwhelming, so let’s break it down a bit.

Shelfie Set 1: The Beige Bookshelf

Shelfie Number 1

First up, we have a mix of books that can fix into my smallest shelf! Here you’ll see my diaries (note that I titled one of them myself in the sixth grade), some notebooks, and all of my published books on the right-hand side. And also the large wristband that came with my Fitbit. Maybe I should put that away somewhere…

Shelfie Number 2

This one I’ll call the creative shelf. All of my writing-related instructional books are here, plus some more notebooks. That tube is my BScH diploma that I still have yet to frame. Priorities, right?

Shelfie Number 3

Hey look, textbooks! And on the right-hand side, those coil-bound books are actually all the same book; they’re various iterations of my novel, The Source (which you can read about here).

Shelfie Set 2: The White Bookshelf

Shelfie Number 4

Welcome to Journal Land! Literally everything on this shelf is a notebook of some kind. My notebook collection size was around a hundred at one point… I have a bit of an addiction. But they’re always a good go-to when someone doesn’t know what to get me for Christmas. (Plus, I can’t resist a journal sale at Chapters!)

Shelfie Number 5

This is my Sci Fi shelf, but one of these things is not like the other! I’ll let you figure out which one is the odd book out.

Shelfie Number 6

This shelf is a little more philosophical. Plus, those white coiled books are the story anthologies published when I placed in the Brampton Library’s Short Story Contests in Grades One and Two! Ah, memories.

Shelfie Set 3: The Red Bookshelf

This bookshelf doesn’t entirely belong to me, but there are some things to be shared here.

Shelfie Number 7

On the right you have science-y type books (plus A Year of Living Biblically), and on the right you have business-y type books (plus Room and CatSpeak)! I could reorganize the books that are out of place, but it’s more fun this way. The trophy in the middle used to have a stuck-on plaque that said “Best Student: Hillary Flinn”, thanks to my grandfather (after finishing Grade One), but the plaque fell off to reveal my dad’s Junior Badminton tournament win. Why do I still have it? Because no one else wanted to store it on their own shelves, of course!

Half a Shelfie

And finally, we have a little bit of a shelf, since Joe’s books are on the other half. Kind of random; essentially, these were the books I missed when I was organizing these shelves in the first place. Plus, a llama from ByWard Market!


So those are my shelfies! Now that I’ve started using my Kindle a little more, I imagine my bookshelves won’t change much for the next while — but hey, I can still amass great quantities of notebooks!

Have you taken your own shelfies? Post links in the comments!

Organizing Your Home or Office — 3 Simple Tips

Looking around my office right now, I feel a little silly giving anyone advice about organizing. I’ve got stuff lying all over my desk that I could easily put away, but I just don’t feel like it right now. However, I will say that it could be a lot worse. I know this because it used to be a lot worse, before I implemented these simple, yet perhaps not-so-obvious, tips for keeping your space and your life organized. If you want to make an improvement in your current mess of a bedroom, office, kitchen, or wherever, then read on.

1. Don’t use lids when organizing highly-used items.

I absolutely love the look of decorative boxes for storage, with their pretty patterns, label holders, and how they hide away clutter. They’re great for holding items like old photos and memorabilia. But these boxes are not good for storing items that you will use every day. If you put something away in its “spot” and it’s hard to get to on a regular basis, you will be much more likely to never put it back in that spot again. Either that, or you’ll end up taking the lid off the box and never putting it back on. So when it came to finding a storage space for my knitting tools, for example, I opted for a basket, instead. Still cute, but much more easily accessible.

2. Store things where they are used.

On the surface, organizing objects by category seems to make the most sense. Books go on the bookshelf, toiletries go in the bathroom, and so on. But do you find that you always paint your nails in front of the TV, and end up leaving your nail polishes all over the house because you forget to put them away? Or perhaps you make your to-do lists in the kitchen, and never remember to put your stationery back in your office? It’s important to recognize your own habits and lifestyle, and be honest with yourself about them. Maybe it’s most logical to store your hairbrush near the front hall mirror, because you never remember to brush your hair until you’re running out the door.

If you store things where you use them, you’ll be more likely to put it all away when you’re done. You do you.

3. Organize with your laziest self in mind.

 O is for Organizing — Neat Desk

Wow, what a beautiful desktop organizational paradigm! Everything is lined up perfectly!

And then, ten minutes later:

 O is for Organizing — Realistic Desk

Saw that coming.

The most important organizing tip is to be realistic with yourself. Are you really going to line up your pencils in order of length every single time you use them? Or are you going to neatly stack your folders to line up perfectly with the edge of the table? No, you’re not. (And if you are, then you probably don’t need to be reading organizing tips because your house must already be immaculate.)

Hope is not lost, though. There is a middle ground between perfection and chaos. Use an old mug or a mason jar to hold your pens. Use a utensil drawer insert to organize your office drawers (and your kitchen drawers, of course). Stand up your papers or books between two heavy objects, so that you can access any one of them without having to dismantle the pile you had before.

Only use the kinds of storage solutions that you would still use if you were exhausted, stressed, distracted, or just plain lazy. That’s the only way to attain sustainable organization.


The moral of the story is: be honest about how you live your life, and organize your stuff to suit that life.

What are your best organizing tips?

A is for April - Blogging from A to Z

Hey folks! I just found out about the Blogging from A to Z challenge for the month of April and decided to participate, so I’m already a day behind! That’s alright, I think I’ll be able to make up the lost time!

 

The idea of the Blogging from A to Z challenge is to write a blog post each day throughout the month of April, Sundays excluded. It’s reminiscent of NaNoWriMo, right? But perhaps a bit easier… (Check out my own post about NaNoWriMo if you’re interested in that.) Each post has a consecutive letter theme. For example, in this post, I want to share a little bit about some of my goals for the upcoming month.

We all on board? Okay, let’s roll.


Yesterday was the first day of April, and it was lovely, sunny, and warm — I’m talking 12ºC or 55ºF… And then this happened.

 A is for April - snow

In the span of a one-hour nap, the ground was covered in snow. This is not how I pictured springtime this year. But, to be fair to Mother Nature, we did have an insanely warm winter. I suppose what goes around comes around, even when it comes to the weather. Despite the snow, though, it is indeed springtime, so I’ve set some goals for myself this month to start fresh in a number of areas of my life.

Goal #1: Spring-Clean my Wardrobe

I have so many pieces of clothing kicking around that I really don’t need taking up valuable real estate in my closet. In the coming days, I’ll be packing away anything seasonal or rarely used but potentially still necessary. (Like my Tim Hortons training uniform…) I also intend to donate anything that’s in good condition and could be put to better use by someone else.

Goal #2: Complete my Codecademy Course

A couple of weeks ago, I found Teach Yourself JavaScript on Codecademy and started going through the exercises. The topics covered in the course are relevant to some of the things I’m doing at work in IT right now, and since I don’t have much of a formal coding background, I figured it would be good to get the basics down. This specific course isn’t ideal since it’s meant to be a companion to a book I don’t own, but it’s a good starting point, at least.

Goal #3: Save 50% of my Income in April

Because Joe and I just returned from a cruise, we had a pretty indulgent month in March when it came to spending. This month it makes sense to run a little leaner, especially since my bills and necessities don’t take up that big of a chunk of my paycheque at the moment. I’ll admit that it’s a little arbitrary, but we’ll see where it gets me!

Goal #4: The Blogging A to Z Challenge!

I’ve been blogging for just over three months now, and honestly, it’s been hard to stay motivated. Why not make a bit of a game out of it? My favourite thing about this challenge is the fact that it is completely open to interpretation. Hopefully I can stick to it and not fall behind (again)!


What are your goals this month?

The Monthly Goals Link-Up

work smarter (not harder)

Have you ever heard the saying, “Work smarter, not harder”? What about “Quality over quantity”? I’m a big believer in both of these phrases.

Throughout my education, the quality of my work mattered a great deal to me. This applied not only to my grades, but to the actual papers, assignments, and projects I would produce. They were under my name, so of course I wanted them to be great! But there were limits to how far I would go to achieve a good grade. It was very important that I prioritize my time and efforts, especially since my biggest pet peeve is wasted time. So when it came to the night before an exam, you wouldn’t find me cramming and guzzling caffeine into the wee hours of the morning. The reason was simple: that wasn’t working smart.

As I get more tired, stressed, or burnt out, my work starts to become impaired. I lose focus easily, my memory degrades, my work gets sloppy, and my eyes go all wonky. Maybe you experience the same thing. Naturally, when you hit that point, your body is telling you to stop working. It’s not worth it.

When you’re working on your own schedule, as you do in university or high school, it’s quite logical to organize your time based on when you’ll be most productive. It takes some discipline, but if you want to work smarter, you need to learn and be mindful of your own rhythms. If you’re a night owl, don’t expect yourself to start a study session bright and early at 9am. That sounds really obvious, but I’ve seen a lot of coffee cups at those library desks. But hey, maybe having a caffeinated treat is what motivates you to get working — that’s okay too.

Then you go and get yourself a 9-5 (or whatever regulated schedule you work on). If you’re not someone who’s productive at those set times, it’s no longer an option to essentially sleepwalk through the day and catch up when you’re more physically prepared for the task. Now there’s an expectation of continuous, productive work — and this time, you’re being paid for it, so there’s a much heavier obligation.

I’m lucky in this area. My most productive times are mornings between breakfast and lunch, most of the afternoon (once I’ve digested lunch, haha), and late evening (when I hit my second wind). I try to always eat breakfast to make the most of the morning, and I eat a relatively early lunch so that my slower periods don’t conflict with any early afternoon commitments. Late evening is generally my blogging time. 😉

In our highly competitive and multitasking-obsessed society, it seems like almost everyone is overworked at least some of the time. People and businesses are mistaking harder work for smarter work. I read recently about the negative physical and mental health impacts of longer hours in the Harvard Business Review: we’re talking “impaired sleep, depression, heavy drinking, diabetes, impaired memory, and heart disease”. And a big part of that is trying to get quality work from working harder, not smarter. It just doesn’t happen that way. Like I said, outside of our productive periods, our work and our bodies suffer. If you work harder but you don’t work smarter, you may get more quantity, but you won’t get more quality.

So how do you work smarter? By taking advantage of your productive periods, and by focusing on the quality of what you do. Prioritize, take breaks, and stay healthy. Make a plan you can stick to based on how you work best.

Now, I’m not saying that we shouldn’t work hard. Of course, I will do whatever I need to do to get something my work done with the highest possible quality. But when it comes time to choose between working smarter and working harder — or worse, making it look like I’m working harder — I’m going to choose to work smarter. That’s just who I am.

How do you work smarter?

20 thoughts you have before a vacation

Hey there, Internet friends! In less than 24 hours, Joe and I will be on a plane to Orlando for our cruise vacation! This is my first cruise, so while I’ve heard lots of details and advice from others, I’m still not quite sure what to expect. I think it goes without saying that we’re very excited. I’ll be sure to take lots of pictures. I also hope to blog throughout, but the actual post frequency will depend on the state of my Internet access. We shall see!

If you’re like me, getting ready for a vacation isn’t all fun and games. I’m both organized and scatterbrained, so the preparation for any trip or event of this magnitude is an emotional roller coaster. My pre-vacation thought process is all over the place!

  1. “This vacation is ages away… It’s going to take forever! At least I have lots of time to get ready.”
  2. “I’m actually kind of excited to go away. I mean, sure, it’s far off, and I’m not really sick of the daily grind yet, but it’ll definitely be a nice change.”
  3. “Wow, trips are expensive.”
  4. “Maybe I could just have a stay-cation instead? We could go to a bed and breakfast or something. It could be close to home, and we could take in the beautiful Canadian landscape…”
  5. “Canada is freezing. But only when it’s inconvenient.”
  6. “I feel like I’m forgetting to book something… I do have a plane ticket, right?”
  7. “I need a new bathing suit.”
  8. “I need new sunglasses.”
  9. “I need new luggage.”
  10. “On second thought, luggage is expensive. I’ll just borrow from my parents…”
  11. “I hate packing.”
  12. “I’m forgetting something.”
  13. “Google sent me a push notification for the weather in Orlando! Too bad I’m not there yet.”
  14. “What did I forget to print out? Or was it something I was supposed to look up?”
  15. “I can’t wait to go on vacation!”
  16. “Oh my gosh, I leave tomorrow? That took no time at all! There’s so much more to do!”
  17. “I am going to miss my cat so much.”
  18. “I hate packing!”
  19. “Okay, okay, calm down. You made it to the airport! You have all of your luggage! You even remembered your passport!”
  20. “I know I’m forgetting something…”

My biggest challenge when going on vacation is setting aside all of the worries and stresses that come along with it, and actually enjoying it — which is the whole point! Here’s hoping I’ll be successful this time.

Does this sound a little like you? How do you prepare for a vacation?