Whether it’s a tight deadline or an unexpectedly massive workload, sometimes your 9-5 can turn into a “9-whenever”. Extended work hours can seriously drain you for days to come. Despite my best efforts, I tend to pull some long hours at work for a variety of reasons, so I’ve had to develop ways to make the schedule a bit more bearable. Try out these tips next time you need to stay late at the office! Continue reading

Lessons from my First Road Trip

Hello from the East Coast! I’m currently on vacation in Sackville, New Brunswick on my first-ever road trip. It’s only been a few days, but I’ve learned a lot already! Here are some of the road trip lessons I’ve learned so far:

Be Flexible…

The prospect of a road trip was initially pretty stressful for me. Planning routes, stops, and excursions was a lot, not to mention having to rely on the weather’s cooperation! I’ve learned over the past couple of days, though, that having an open mind and a flexible schedule makes for a much more relaxing trip. This was especially clear when we realized we accidentally set our Bed & Breakfast check-out a day too early! Rather than panicking and trying to stick to a rigid plan, we took the opportunity to book our extra day in Gaspé to hike in one of its National Parks. I’m looking forward to the (unplanned) adventure! Continue reading

Five Simple Choices That Help Me Save Money

Millennials are having a really hard time these days when it comes to finances. Mountains of student debt, underemployment, housing prices through the roof… It’s crazy! And without a clear game plan, a lot of us are struggling to make ends meet and achieve our goals. While it’s not as easy as forgoing avocado toast (for a few decades), every money-saving habit helps to build the foundation for your financial future. For me, the most reliable ways to save money are the ones I don’t even think about. Here are five everyday choices and habits that help me save up. 

Continue reading

Tim Hortons Tips from an Insider

Happy #Canada150! For those of you not in the know, today is widely celebrated as Canada’s 150th anniversary. Today we celebrate all things Canadian: hockey, poutine, apologizing, and, of course, Tim Hortons. This coffee and donut chain is basically the hallmark of our Canadian identity. You might already know that I work at Tim Hortons Corporate, so it’s no surprise that I’m a Tims superfan. But even before I started at the company two years ago, I was already living that Timmies life. So today, in honour of Canada, I want to share with you some Tim Hortons tips to help you have the best experience next time you pick up your double double. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

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.

SPRINT!

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

Zzzz….

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?