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?

My Tone It Up Meal Prep Process

Hey friends! If you’ve been following along on Flinntrospection recently, you’ll know that I joined the Tone It Up 2017 Challenge two weeks ago. It’s a six week healthy living challenge with both a fitness and a nutrition component. (Oops, I joined two weeks late!) I’d been following along with the Tone It Up workouts for a few weeks beforehand. So in spite of a crazy work schedule, I’ve been keeping up with the fitness portion. The nutrition, on the other hand, has been a struggle. There is a ton of planning, effort, and time that has to go into preparing healthy meals for the week. But this week, for my third round of Sunday Tone It Up Meal Prep, I’ve settled into a routine. If you’re on the TIU Nutrition Plan — or even if you’re not — this method might work for you!

Note: I do Steps 1-4 on Saturdays, and 5-6 on Sundays!

Step 1: Choose Your Meals

The 2017 Challenge edition of the Nutrition Plan includes a full six-week meal plan breakdown. But you’re fully welcome, and often encouraged, to choose your own meals. Plus, once the challenge is over, you’re on your own with choosing meals for the week. For Week Five of the challenge, I’m loosely following the schedule, but making lots of substitutions.

The TIU Nutrition Plan has some helpful printables for filling out your weekly meal schedule:

 Tone It Up Meal Prep — Meal Plan Template

Obviously, you can make this for yourself too. Just type one up in Word, or literally draw it on a blank sheet of paper. (Or you can grab one of these — not an affiliate link, just a cool find.)

Once you have your template, write in all the meals and snacks you’re planning to eat for the week. I’m following the Nutrition Plan’s lead in making each weekday M3 (lunch) the leftovers from the previous night’s M5 (dinner). More complex recipes will show up on weekends, when I have time for them. I’m also loving make-ahead meals for weekday breakfasts, like Overnight Oats.

Step 2: Make Your Ingredient List

This step takes a bit of cross-referencing with your fridge or pantry. I pick a meal, look at the list of ingredients in the Nutrition Plan (if necessary), and write down whatever I don’t have in my kitchen. It’s also important to include quantities for the week, so you can aggregate them later on in the process. If you’re making enough for leftovers, make sure you’re duplicating quantities in single-serving recipes! After each meal’s ingredients have been accounted for, check it off everywhere it appears on your meal plan template. Keep going until you’ve listed ingredients for all of your meals, even if the ingredients overlap. It will look something like this:

 Tone It Up Meal Prep — Ingredient List

Step 3: Make Your Grocery List

Now you walk through your Ingredient List and consolidate it into a grocery list, sorted by product category. Cross them off on the ingredients list as you go, and don’t forget to add your quantities. I have one of those “All Out Of” grocery checklists, so that helps the process!

 Tone It Up Meal Prep — Grocery List

Why did I separate these two steps? Because it’s hard to look at a huge list of meals and flip back and forth between recipes to put together a list of, say, all the veggies you need for the week. I find it much easier to work by recipe. And once the ingredients are all on one page, consolidation is a breeze.

If you’re thinking of using the pre-made Challenge grocery list, a word of warning: it lies. (Okay, maybe not on purpose.) I followed it to the letter in my first week on the Nutrition Plan. I ended up missing some ingredients I needed, and having lots of things that weren’t even on the meal plan docket. For the sake of the environment and your wallet, I’d recommend making your own list!

Step 4: Write Your Meal Prep Checklist

The 2017 Challenge booklet also comes with a simple checklist for your meal prep adventures. It’s pretty reliable, but because of my volatile work schedule, I have to prep beyond the suggested list. Feel free to prepare whatever works for you. Pre-chop your veggies, make your frozen smoothie packs, cook your Monday night dinner, prepare your proteins, whatever! Make a list of all the tasks you’re going to tackle on Sunday.

Step 5: Grocery Shop

In the TIU world, Sunday has two purposes: Sunday Runday, and Tone It Up Meal Prep.

With your list in hand, head out to the grocery store and shop till you drop! But don’t drop. You have work to do.

Step 6: The Real Deal — Tone It Up Meal Prep

Organize your groceries, pull out your checklist, and start knocking those things off one by one. Try to prioritize oven tasks, especially with long cook times, so you can maximize your efficiency. This is where I find it was the most helpful to have my Nutrition Plan printed out for easy reference, especially for new dishes. I have tried fifteen new recipes in the past two weeks, which is absolutely insane for me! It also helps to clean up as you go. Prepare for high volumes of dishes, food waste/compost, and Tupperware filling up your entire fridge! (And don’t forget to share #tiuteam photos of the process and the delish food on Instagram!)

That’s how I do my Tone It Up Meal Prep! How do you prepare your meals for the week ahead?

How I Won NaNoWriMo Six Times

Welcome to November – the first day of the National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. I hope you thoroughly enjoyed your Hallowe’en, because that’s the last chance you’ll have to experience joy and happiness for the next thirty days.

Just kidding!

I’ve participated in NaNoWriMo six times over the past eight years. And each of those times, I’ve “won” the challenge, meaning I successfully wrote the first draft of a 50,000-word novel in the month of November. (Check out this post for more info on NaNo and why you should join me this year.) This is not an easy thing to do, but it is a fun thing to do, and it’s a really neat experience to be able to truthfully call yourself a novelist (at least in progress).

Many people have had false starts and failed years when participating in the writing marathon, which is totally normal. So how did I manage to win each and every time I signed up to write? Here’s my advice for current and future Wrimos hoping to knock it out of the park this year.

Start with a Winning Mindset

I’ve heard lots of people, in person and on the NaNoWriMo forums, saying things like this:

  • “I’m going to try NaNoWriMo this year.”
  • “I have a huge problem with procrastination, but we’ll see how it goes.”
  • “My cousin’s wedding is mid-November, so I probably won’t finish.”
  • “I’ve never won before, and this year likely won’t be any different.”
  • Or my personal favourite: “I missed the first day. Maybe I’ll try again next year.”

STOP. Right now. If you head into this challenge with the mindset of failure, or even potential failure, you are so much more likely to give up all motivation and sell yourself short.

I went into my first NaNoWriMo thinking that I was going to write a book in a month. I wasn’t going to try to do it, I wasn’t going to hope I could do it – I was just going to do it. This year is the busiest and most stressful of my life so far, and I’m still not thinking about whether I might fail. (Though I am thinking about whether this is the craziest idea ever…!)

I’m not just promoting a motivational technique here. From what I’ve seen, many people use the excuse, “I always knew I wouldn’t be able to do it” to drop out of the challenge long before they needed to or should have. Give yourself a fair chance. Consider it something you’re going to do for sure.

Get in the Habit

All it takes to win NaNoWriMo is 1667 words per day. Not perfect words, but simply words. I can usually bang that out in 30-45 minutes. Maybe it takes you a little longer, but that’s okay.

Now, if you wait for five days (because you’re so busy with work, school, or anything else to spare 30-45 minutes), you’ve now got a backlog of 8333 words (or so). And because we’re all human and not robots, it’s not simply a matter of multiplying 30-45 minutes by 5. You’ll need to add time for rest, food, interruptions, bathroom breaks, procrastination… and suddenly, you’ve spent an entire Saturday trying to catch up. Overwhelming to say the least. I’ve done it, and it’s definitely not the ideal case.

The trick is to get into a habit of writing every day, or almost every day. Find the free time in your day at which you’re most productive, and use that time for a writing routine. For me, it’s usually around 9pm, but I’ll squeeze it in whenever I can – as long as I’m writing every day.

So what happens when you do fall behind? Try the next two tips:

Get Out of the House

When I’m in a writing rut, I find it’s so important to get a change of scenery, especially if the new locale has a certain buzzing, writerly energy about it. The typical spots are coffee shops and libraries, but anywhere will do.

It’s also often better with other writers! Take your Wrimo friends along, or join a local Write-In organized by your city’s Municipal Liaison.


Sometimes, you just don’t have the time or energy to generate well-crafted, thoughtful prose to hit your daily wordcount. Besides, the focus of NaNoWriMo is quantity over quality – editing is where the quality comes in, and that can wait until December. I often use “word sprints” to boost my wordcount without taking up hours of precious time.

Word sprints are simply periods over which you write really, really fast, without really stopping to think or edit. You can either write for a defined length of time, or you can try to hit a particular word goal as fast as possible. NaNoWriMo runs “official” word sprints on Twitter so that you can race against your fellow Wrimos. But for writing on your own terms, you can definitely race against the clock instead.

It also helps to have some sprinting tools in your back pocket. My two favourite websites for this are Written? Kitten! and Write or Die (I use the free version). Check them both out for two very different varieties of motivation.

Tell Everyone You’re Doing NaNoWriMo

If I hadn’t blogged about it and talked about it with basically everyone I know, I probably wouldn’t be doing it this year.  For me, this is probably the most effective method for making sure I don’t back out. So here we are.

Well, folks, that about covers the entirety of my plan to write a novel in a month for the seventh (eek!) time. I am starting off today with a single idea and literally no other details prepared. I’m definitely pantsing it this year!

Are you joining me for NaNoWriMo 2016? What tips do you have for aspiring novelists-in-a-month?

Whether you’re a cat person, a dog person, or something else entirely, you probably know that cats can be pretty clever. Some of them are true masterminds:

While others simply know how to play their owners like a fiddle:

My cat, Lorelai, generally falls into the second category. She has me and Joe wrapped around her little…claw. She definitely leads a charmed life, and she’s learned how to make the most of it. So now that cats have essentially domesticated us, their owners, what can we learn from them?

Know What You Want

When a cat wants something, they’ll do everything in their power to get it. (If you’re not convinced of that, watch the above videos again.) And when they don’t want something, they’ll make sure you know it. They don’t worry about how you’ll feel if they reject your “pets” or ignore your toys. “Yes or no” is a much simpler equation when you don’t stress over subtext. Keep it simple and be happy!

 Life Lessons I Learned from My Cat — Know What You Want

…But It’s Okay to Change Your Mind

Cats are fickle creatures. They whine at you until you give them what they want, and then suddenly, they don’t want it anymore.

To illustrate this, here is Business Cat.

To illustrate this, here is Business Cat.

But here’s the thing: humans can also be fickle and change their minds. Maybe you’ve been after a specific goal for a while now, only to realize you were pursuing it for all the wrong reasons. Or maybe your tastes changed, or your mood. That’s okay. We’re not static; we’re dynamic. What’s important is what makes you happy now — not what would have made you happy, had everything stayed the same.

Take a Cat Nap: Rest and Recharge

Getting enough sleep is so important for your health and well-being. No one knows this better than a cat. No one.

Life Lessons I Learned from My Cat — Sleep


Hold Yourself to the Highest Standards

Lorelai is always grooming herself. Whether she’s had an active day or a lazy one, she always takes the time to get fresh and clean — or, at least, the cat version of fresh and clean. For cats, it’s instinctual. Lorelai isn’t out to impress anyone. She makes herself a priority, just for her own sake. I think we can all take a page from our cats’ books on that one.

Spend Time with the Ones You Love

One of the happiest surprises I’ve experienced in getting my first cat was how much time she wanted to spend with me. I’d always heard about cats being solitary and avoiding their owners most of the time. To clarify, Lorelai isn’t cuddly and playful at all times. She needs her space as much as the next cat (or human).

But even when she’s napping or doing her own thing, she’ll usually still choose to be in the same room as us. And if the presence of your loved ones makes you happy, spend time near them. Even if you’re not actively “hanging out”, everyone will benefit from the positive energy of being together — just like cats do!

What life lessons have you learned from your cat?

6 Tips for a Better Night's Sleep

I did not have a very good sleep last night. Lying in bed with my eyes (almost) closed, my mind was racing! Ironically, I was thinking of all of the things I had done wrong that evening when it comes to preparing for the night. So in the interest of learning from mistakes and taking advantage of the online accountability of a blog, here are some of my best tips for a restful night — a.k.a. how to get a better night’s sleep than me.

1. Stick to a sleep schedule.

Having a steady schedule is key when you want your body to just know when it’s time to wind down. In fact, Fitbit just added a fun feature to their mobile app that plans out your sleep schedule for you, and sends you notifications when it’s time for bed. Of course, I left my phone in another room, and completely lost track of time. Mistake number one.

2. Avoid screens.

You have probably heard that it’s best to turn off electronics a couple of hours before bed. And if you’re like me, you probably completely ignored that advice. Logically, though, it’s understandable that getting your eyes and brain active by staring at a screen right before bed isn’t a great idea. Plus, there’s the biological component: the artificial light from a screen simulates daylight, messing with your melatonin levels and prompting your body to wake itself up (more on that here, if you’re interested). And yet, I was on the computer right up until bedtime tonight. Oops.

3. Get things done the night before.

Some of my issues with falling asleep stem from the dread at having to wake up early in the morning, with so much on my list of to-dos before I even leave the house. I find that I sleep easier knowing that some of my early morning chores are complete. So pack that lunch, pick that outfit, or take out the recycling in the evening to save yourself some stress.

4. Make a list.

The previous suggestion isn’t always feasible, of course. If that’s the case for you, I’d recommend keeping a pen and paper on your nightstand. That way, when you do remember something important, you won’t need to keep yourself awake, worrying about whether you might forget it. This is a tip that’s super helpful for novelists as well (NaNoWriMo, anyone?) for those midnight flashes of inspiration!

5. Cool off.

Instinctively, cooler temperatures indicate to our bodies that it’s nighttime. (Believe me, it’s science!) However, the allure of fuzzy PJs or a cozy comforter can sometimes lead us astray. Don’t bother going down the path of getting all bundled up, only to spend the next hour removing layer after layer before falling asleep!

6. Cut down on the caffeine.

I may have mentioned that I work at Tim Hortons. (Just kidding. I definitely mentioned it.) And since I transferred to a new department this month, I’ve been leaving the office around 8pm each night. That means my last cup of coffee is around 5 or 6 to get me through to the end. So when I read that I should be avoiding caffeine six hours before bedtime to ensure a good night’s sleep, all I can do is laugh and move on. But hey, maybe this advice will work for you!

With these suggestions in mind, I hope we can all get a better sleep tonight!

What’s your best advice for a good night’s sleep?

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?

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?

Here we are on April 6th, and the temperature outside is below zero degrees. (That’s in Celsius, American friends… but still! It’s freezing!) And like many people, women in particular, when it’s cold, I’m cold. And even when it’s not cold, I’m usually still cold. I am cold. All the time. It boils down to really poor circulation. It’s so bad that I actually can’t sleep with my hands or feet elevated, because they will literally go numb in the first five minutes. Clearly, then, my body won’t do a very good job at keeping me warm when my surroundings are doing nothing to help.

Despite all of this, I still prefer cold winters over stinkin’ hot summers. Why? Because when it’s hot, there are only so many layers that you can take off. But when it’s cold, there are really no limits to how bundled up you can get.

So how do I handle always being freezing cold, all the time?


My feet are the first things to get cold. That’s why my mom got me these slippers, many years ago:

 "F" is for Freezing — Slippers

I’ve worn them down over the years, so they don’t look quite that fluffy anymore, but they still keep my feet warm. I think my favourite part might be the significant sole of the slipper. I’m well above the ground, so cold tile floors don’t phase me in these.


And not just any sweaters: sweaters with sleeves that can cover your entire hand if you’re cold enough.

 F is for Freezing — Sweaters

My dad used to get mad at me all the time about my sleeves being pulled down over my hands. I think he thought it had something to do with teen angst. Nope! Just freezing!


Netflix and chill — literally. Enough said.

F is for Freezing — Layers Pls

Layers pls.


I wear gloves outside starting in late September, all the way through till Victoria Day. If there’s even a chance that my hands will be cold, I bring gloves along. It’s not worth the risk of having hands that won’t function because they’re so darn cold. Honestly, my hands are cold right now just from keeping them elevated to type this post. Brrr.

Hot Drinks.

 F is for Freezing — Hot Drinks

Sure, I like to drink a hot drink on a cold day as much as anyone. But here I’m not talking about drinking the drinks… I’m just talking about holding them. Seriously, I will make myself a cup of coffee at work, or tea at home, and then just let it sit there with the lid on for, like, half an hour before I actually drink it, just so I can hold it and keep warm. Sometimes, warmth trumps caffeine.


 F is for Freezing — Lorelai

This little one is a pretty good snuggler. When she wants to be.

Are you always freezing? What are your favourite ways to stay warm?


how to deal with poor memory at work

“What is your greatest weakness?” Ah, the classic interview question. When it comes to fessing up to professional shortcomings, it’s easy to cop out with a strength framed as a weakness. You know, the usual, “I’m too much of a perfectionist” or “I work too hard”. Honestly, people, everyone can see right through it. On the other hand, you don’t want to admit to something insurmountable, like “I don’t get along with people”. Yikes. My own personal answer to this question didn’t become apparent until I actually started my career: my memory sucksWhile most of the time I can function totally fine, my poor memory gets in the way when I need to recall dates, facts, or decisions from others. This is especially true when I’m working with someone who has a great memory, and expects mine to be the same. Over time, though, I’ve developed a number of methods to help me manage my memory — and sometimes even use it to my advantage.

Get it in writing.

Whether it’s a meeting, a conference call, or even a casual conversation — if a decision is made, get it in writing. Always take notes in meetings, even if you’re the one answering the questions. You never know when someone will ask you, “Remember in that meeting, when you said…?” Because, if you’re like me, you won’t remember. So make sure it’s written down, or in an email and stored somewhere safe. It helps here to make sure you’re organized, so when it comes time to look for whatever it is you wrote down, you can find it easily.

Keep track of your tasks.

At work, I have a lot of smaller tasks on the go, alongside a few big projects. When the big projects take up my mental bandwidth, I find it very hard to keep track of the smaller items, especially when the current responsibilities lie with someone else. Rather than trusting my poor memory, I’ve transferred the high-level status of each of my projects into a single Tracker. Even when the ball is in someone else’s court, I still have constant visibility as to the current status of my projects. I also use the Tracker as a weekly update for my manager, so I don’t need to draft a separate update message, which is nice. This method could also work for students, or anyone with a poor memory and lots on the go.

If you’re interested in making a tracker for yourself, I’ve made an Excel template for you to try: click here to check it out!

Use the Inbox Zero method.

I didn’t even know this method had a name when I started using it, but having a full and cluttered inbox has always been a pet peeve. However, I can’t just read and delete emails at work, since I might need to refer back to them (especially if I can’t trust my memory). Instead, once I have responded to and/or taken the actions requested by the email, I store it in one of my many organized email folders. That way, the only emails in my inbox are the ones that need immediate attention — and the ones I really can’t afford to forget.

This method had a secondary benefit: my work email automatically deletes all emails more than 90 days old — unless they’re in a folder other than the Inbox. None of my emails last more than a week in my Inbox, let alone 90 days, so my emails never get deleted!

For an in-depth discussion on the Inbox Zero method, check out this article from the New Yorker.

Get enough sleep.

It’s possible that lack of sleep is the reason you have a poor memory. (Insert science here.) Even if it’s not, getting lots of sleep keeps the brain fog away so you can focus on getting organized. That’s from personal experience, folks.

It’s scary to admit a professional weakness to a potential, or current, employer. But if you have a clear, effective approach to overcoming your personal obstacle at work, your honesty and resourcefulness will shine through.

Do you have a poor memory? Share your tips in the comments!

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?