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?

Life Lately: Cruise!

Long time no see, friends! I’ve had an extremely busy couple of weeks, so unfortunately, I haven’t had much time for the blog. That’s a hard thing for me to say, to be honest. I’ve never been one to claim that I’m “too busy” for a commitment. But when it comes to Flinntrospection, I see it as a personal development project more than anything. And if I feel the need to step back from a project to benefit my mind, body, and soul, then so be it.

That being said, I can’t claim that my reasons for being away are particularly healthy. I’m still making time for Tone It Up exercise and Nutrition Plan (mostly), which is something that makes me very proud at this point. I’ve conquered some fitness fears and achieved a couple of wellness milestones in the past few weeks. However, the major factor in my life lately has been long hours at work, which is a bit of a different story.

But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel: I’m going on a CRUISE next week! I’m SO excited, and I’ve never felt like I’ve needed a vacation more in my whole life. We’ll be travelling on Allure of the Seas — literally the second-largest cruise ship in the world — to Nassau, St. Thomas, and St. Maartens. You might remember that I went on a cruise just about a year ago (and wrote a highlights post on the blog). Joe and I loved it so much that we immediately started planning out our next trip!

The only thing that’s up in the air for me right now is whether I’m going to purchase an Internet package or not. The boat has high-speed Wi-Fi on special if I book before we board. And between blogging and Tone It Up daily workouts and Instagram check-ins, I’m extremely tempted. If I do purchase the package, you’ll see some more posts from me next week… from somewhere warm and sunny!

What’s happening in your life lately?

Blogiversary — A Look Back and Ahead

Hello readers! One year ago, Flinntrospection went live on the world wide web. So for our blogiversary, I’m taking a look back at some of the posts we’ve all enjoyed over the past year, and giving you a sneak peek into my plans for 2017. If you’re new to the blog, this post will also provide a nice little summary of what you’ll find here on Flinntrospection!

My First Post

This post, “hello and welcome“, went live on Boxing Day 2016. I was so nervous to release my writing into the world! We’ve come a long way since then, but it’s fun to look back and gain perspective on the journey.

Physics Studies & Academic Life

In case you missed it, I studied physics at university. (I know, I know, I’m nuts.) I’ve written a few posts on the topic:

Young Professional Thoughts & Tips

I’ve been in the working world for almost two years. I’m in no position to provide definitive advice yet, but here are some thoughts I’ve shared on the topic here on the blog.

My Fitness Journey

I hesitate to call it a “journey” at this point, but looking back a year ago, I’m surprised by how far I’ve come! This blogiversary is a great chance to reflect — especially since everything is documented! I’ll put these in chronological order:

Products & Apps I Love

At this point in my blogging journey, I’m not getting sponsored by companies to write posts or reviews. If I’ve told you great things about a product, program, or application, it’s because I’m genuinely a big fan!

Writing, Grammar, and the National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo)

The whole point of this blog was to write. So naturally, it follows that I would write about writing, right? Uh…right.

(Don’t know what NaNoWriMo is? Click here.)

Goal-Setting and Check-Ins

Every so often, I publish my goals on the blog, in the hopes that I’ll be more likely to stick to them. Sometimes it works, and sometimes it doesn’t. For this overview, here’s a link to my Goal Check-In for 2016 from a few weeks ago, and my “30 Before 30” Twenty-Something Bucket List!

Other Stuff

If you browse around Flinntrospection, you’ll find all sorts of things that I haven’t mentioned here. There are discussions on astrology, motivationsblogging and budgeting challenges, my favourite teas and TV shows, and ramblings about my cat

I’m not yet at a point where I’m narrowing this blog to a particular area. Someday I might. But I’m enjoying the flexibility of a full-on geeky lifestyle blog, so that’s where I’m headed for now. Now that this blogiversary has come and gone, I want to let you all know that my blogging goals and focus for 2017 will be similar to 2016. Perhaps I won’t be averaging a post every 3 days like I did this year, but who knows?

If you’ve been following along for a year now, thanks so much for your support! And if you’re brand new, hello and welcome! I’m so glad you could make it.

Happy Blogiversary and Happy Holidays!

On Memory & Understanding

I have a terrible memory.

When I was a kid, I received lots of praise for my memory. But this was solely because I memorized “In Flanders Fields” and recited it to my church on Remembrance Day in the second grade. From then on, my family and family friends had it in their heads that my memory was spectacular. Whether or not it was true then, it definitely isn’t true now.

Sure, I can remember basic facts and concepts. I’ve memorized pretty much every intelligible song lyric on KiSS 92.5 (because they’re set to music and repeated fifty times a day). I’ve got close relatives’ birthdays and other important dates in my head. But my long-term memories are spotty at best, and they tend to be visual memories of “scenes” in my head, rather than facts and stories. And when it comes to recalling something I’ve seen, read, heard, or even experienced recently, I’m totally useless.

It takes a lot of effort to move random data from my working memory to my short-term memory. I’m often busy, tired, or indifferent, so many of the things I hear or see don’t make it into short-term. And if they don’t make it to short-term memory, they definitely won’t make it into the long-term. Numbers and equations are awful for this. (Even worse: remembering to remember something — hence my tendency to abandon or lose important items that I need to have with me.)

It’s much easier to store information that has a context or a meaning.

Knowing why something is true helps me to recall what is true in the first place. In my academic life, if I had an understanding of a physics concept, I would be much more likely to remember the equation that models it. Its components and structure would just make sense. And in the worst case scenario, if I forgot the equation altogether, I could use what I do know to figure out what the equation should be.

Between memorization and understanding, I am of the opinion that the latter is much more flexible, helpful, and indicative of intelligence and subject mastery. It’s why I went out of my way to avoid school subjects that required straight memorization, such as biology or history. And given my memory struggles, I believe that grinding doubly hard to memorize is nowhere near as useful for me as developing a thorough understanding of a subject, and working out the “memorizable” facts from there.

Maybe you’re a natural memorizer, and therefore you disagree. More power to you! But I maintain that it’s important for you to have context for the facts and figures you memorize.

The problem, in my opinion, is that a fact recalled is often more revered than a concept understood.

For example, why was it so impressive that I had memorized a poem? Did I understand the poem, its context, and its depth? I highly doubt it. (Though I don’t remember. Hah!) Perhaps people assume that in order to memorize something complex, you must also understand it. But most people who took biology in high school would disagree. There may be a correlation, but it’s definitely not consistent.

I hate when we judge expertise on memory, rather than on understanding. You may have both, but you may also have only one or the other. There are fields and areas of life in which both are mandatory, and that’s understandable. But I’m not likely to focus my time and energy in those fields. I acknowledge the benefits of strengthening and improving your memory, but I also don’t expect myself to be able to recite the Periodic Table (or something relevant to my life now) anytime soon. When it comes to expanding your expertise, I think it’s more important to understand the concepts, then go from there.

“I want to oppose the idea that the school has to teach directly that special knowledge and those accomplishments which one has to use later directly in life. The demands of life are much too manifold to let such a specialized training in school appear possible […] The development of general ability for independent thinking and judgement should always be placed foremost.”
Albert Einstein

For some tips on managing a poor memory at work, check out this post!

How do you balance memory and understanding in your areas of expertise?

Goal Check-In for 2016

I don’t mean to scare you, but there are only 70 days left in 2016! Boy, does time fly!

This year has been jam-packed for me so far, and I’ve undergone quite a bit of change. When I first started blogging last December, I had no idea whether I would be able to stick it out for longer than a couple of weeks. But hey — here we are!

One of the first posts I wrote back in January was a list of goals I wanted to achieve this year. I’ll be honest: I had forgotten almost all of them before starting to write this post. In the interest of transparency, let’s take a look back at the goals I decided were so important at the beginning of this year, and see where they stand so far.

1. More Steps per Day on my Fitbit

I have a confession to make. I lost the charger for my Fitbit back in August…and I haven’t used it since.

Yes, I know, it’s awful. I fully intended to buy a new charger and get back into it, but I got so used to life without it. Plus, having a more demanding work schedule was making it much more challenging to stick to step-count goals. Still, though, I should probably go buy a new charger.

However, the intention behind this goal was to focus on a healthy lifestyle. I’ve been practicing yoga fairly regularly, which is a step in the right direction, at least.

2. 8 Hours of Sleep

This goal is still a priority for me, though I haven’t been very successful with it. Heading to bed as early as is necessary for 8 hours of sleep (i.e. 10pm) is a huge transition. I think I’ve made improvements — but I guess I don’t really know without my Fitbit tracking my sleep. Hm.

3. Read More

I’ve read a bit more this year than last year, I would say. I’m currently in the middle of three non-fiction books, and bouncing between them depending on what I’m in the mood for. I haven’t found time for fiction recently, though, thanks to a little friend called Netflix…

4. Knit a Pair of Socks

In January, I was really into knitting. Like, a lot. But almost immediately after writing my list of goals, I basically stopped knitting altogether and moved onto something else. I daresay it has joined the Hobby Graveyard. I think I would be amenable to retiring this goal altogether for this year. Maybe some other time!

5. Improve my Technical Skillset

My progress in regards to this goal has gone in an entirely different direction than I had anticipated. While I didn’t end up taking a course in programming, which was the original idea, my transition to a new department at my company has led to the development of some bomb Excel skills. Plus, I wrote the book on using our database interface for standard queries. (Literally — I made a training guide. It’s only 30 pages, but still.) So while it’s a little off-track compared to the January intent, I’d say this goal could be counted as a success.

6. Keep Blogging

I’ve made it this far. Only 70 days to go! Obviously my post frequency has decreased a tad, but that’s just a product of a busy life and blogging authenticity.

7. Identify my Dream Job?

The real purpose of this goal was to do some soul-searching and try out some new things. I made a change to my career path this year, and it was definitely a valuable decision. Beyond that is still a work in progress.

8. Track and Plan my Goals

I was pretty good about this early in the year, but I fell off the wagon over the summer. Honestly, I think that’s okay at this stage in the game. I have some vague targets and I’m not letting everything in my life go wild, but I don’t think the rigid goal structure I’d originally conceived would be very helpful for me right now. Keeping track of these goals (or what’s left of them) for the next 70 days should be good enough for 2016!


What goals did you set for 2016 — and how will you achieve them in the next 70 days?

Business Jargon That Needs to Stop

When I started working in business, I noticed that some of my coworkers used quirky phrases in the office. At first it was only every so often. But the more I was exposed to other departments and people in the company, the more I heard these phrases — nay, clichées — from pretty much everyone. I hear them most often from those of my colleagues that have an MBA. As someone without an MBA, I have to wonder if “Business Jargon 101” is one of the mandatory courses. In all seriousness, though, business jargon has become so overused that it’s actually driving me crazy. Here are some of the worst offenders that really need to go away.

Action Items

When I record actions I am planning to take, I call it a to-do list. But when you’re in a meeting, you have to have Action Items. Usually they’re recorded and tracked by some sort of Project Manager. The problem is when people consider the Action Items to be things the PM will manage, rather than the things they have to do themselves. Even worse, sometimes the Action Item is to hold another meeting to talk about something from this meeting (that you could probably just talk about right now). See also: next steps and takeaways.

Learnings

A.k.a. Things You Learn. This word is grammatically incorrect and wholly unnecessary.

To Your Point

This one isn’t really business jargon. It’s simply a phrase that people seem to use a lot in business to sound a little fancier than “like you said”. Maybe agreeing with others is only impressive when you find a way to restate what they already said.

Net-Net

As a physics major, I will tell you that this is not a real thing. It’s either not net (i.e. there are still considerations to be made on the total), or it is net. There is no net-net. It’s just not a thing.

Take It Offline

I’ll cut this one a little slack. I understand wanting to have certain conversations “offline” — as in, face to face and not in a large meeting — when you’re currently “online” — as in, during a large meeting or video/telephone conference call. But when you blur the lines between off- and online, what’s the point of using this word in the first place? If you’re currently in an in-person meeting with only a handful of people, don’t tell someone you’ll take it offline. Just tell them you’ll talk later.

Solution (as a verb)

Most people know that “solution” is a noun. In business, though, that’s not always the case. “Solutioning” just means “finding a solution”. Except it doesn’t mean that, because it’s not a word at all. I would even categorize it with other fake words like “orientate” and “irregardless”. Please don’t use it.


If you hear any of these business jargon phrases on a regular basis, there are many more examples. If you want to read more of them, click here — and if you’d rather listen to more of them, watch here:

(Full disclosure: this video is technically an ad, but you can just skip the last 15 seconds to avoid the sales pitch.)

What business jargon drives you up the wall?

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?

On Ambition

Where I work, I am surrounded by very ambitious people every single day. They’re lawyers or MBAs; they went to Ivy League schools or prestigious institutions abroad. They’ve skyrocketed up the ranks, holding titles in their twenties that most people spend their whole lives reaching — and they’re not done. For many of my colleagues, their ambition is President, Chairman, CEO. These titles and the lifestyles that come with them are just baffling to me. I look around and think, how did I end up here?

As a kid, my only concrete career goal was to be a writer. I’m talking fiction: novels proudly displayed on the shelves at Chapters. (eBooks weren’t really a factor when I was six.) I was constantly writing stories and showing them off, and family and friends would praise me for it. What kind of six-year-old writes stories like that? Probably quite a lot, but my friends didn’t. I won the local story contest in the first grade, which was my crowning achievement at the time.

Then, as I got older, more kids started writing. Some of them were really good. Some of them were better than I was. I wasn’t competing with a crowd of one anymore: it was a real crowd this time, and it hurt to not be the best. My writing was no longer worthy of the praise. At this point I shifted my focus to publication. If I couldn’t be the best young writer I knew, maybe I could be the youngest published writer I knew! But that timeframe came and went, and other, better, younger writers surpassed me.

The National Novel Writing Month came next. Writing a novel in a month? That’s definitely unique and impressive! But as more of my friends got involved and the years passed, it became less of a feat and more of a social activity. I now had a novel graveyard and no real passion for anything writing-related. Perhaps this blog, too, is just part of my never-ending cycle to find my niche.

So what am I doing at a company that glorifies ambition above all else? Well, it just so happens that I’ve carved out a little niche for myself there — for now. I’m “The Physicist”, the only non-Business student alumnus of the company’s leadership program. As we continue to work and our degrees fade into the past, though, this distinction won’t make much of a difference anymore.

What does this all say about ambition? For one thing, it’s not one-size-fits-all. Ambition is all about aspiring to reach the top of the heap — but the heap you choose to conquer is up to you.

Like many Millennials, it took me a while to learn how unrealistic it was to expect myself to literally be the best at something to which many people aspire. But I realize now that my goal then became the discovery of a teeny tiny heap, so that getting to the top (and earning the praise for it) would no problem. I’ve never looked at a role or an accomplishment and thought, “That hard thing is what I want to do.” Now is probably a good time for me to figure out where I should direct my ambition based on what’s right for me, not just on what’s easiest. Will I aspire to be the CEO of a multinational food service company? …Probably not, but I don’t want to rule anything out just yet.

What’s your ambition?

(And in case you haven’t read it, here’s an article from 2013 on ambition and Millenials: Why Generation Y Yuppies are Unhappy.)

No Buy July (+ June Review)

Happy Canada Day to my fellow Canadians! I’m so glad Canada Day falls on a Friday this year so we can all enjoy a nice, relaxing long weekend. (That goes for those of you Americans that are off on Monday as well!) Now that July is here and summer is in full swing, it’s time to recap my successes and failures with my June goals, and tell you a little bit about my goal for this month: a No Buy July!

But first, let’s check in on my goals for June:

  1. Continue going to the gym: Check! I’ve been attending the weekly Zumba and yoga classes at my office gym that I mentioned last month. That means I’ve been heading in to work at 7am on Wednesdays for 9 weeks now!
  2. Pack 5+ meals per week: …Almost. If I average it out over the four weeks, I’m short by about half a meal per week. But it was definitely an improvement from my habits this past spring.
  3. Run (once): 200% accomplished! That’s right, folks, I went to the gym for a run TWO WHOLE TIMES! (This is a big deal for me.) Okay, so I didn’t run very far or very fast, but it HAPPENED.
  4. Garden: Success! Stay tuned for my garden update, coming this weekend!
  5. Keep up with blogging: My pace slowed way down this month in terms of blogging, but at least it didn’t grind to an absolute halt. And I’ll be honest, it would have been easier to just lay on the couch watching Netflix and not blog at all, so I’ll count this as a success.

I’d call that a pretty successful month, wouldn’t you say? The best part is that none of these goals feel like a stretch anymore, and they feel more like a routine, which is awesome. I figure I’ll work to maintain most of these goals in the background for the coming month, and focus on more of a stretch goal for July. Which brings us to…

No Buy July!

What is No Buy July?

Well, it’s exactly what it sounds like: it’s a July in which you don’t buy anything. It’s not really an official thing, but I’ve seen it pop up on other blogs and forums, and it can mean different things to different people. My definition will be:

  • No unnecessary expenditures.
  • Necessary expenditures include:
    • Bills
    • Food and sundries
    • Gas, or alternate transportation (if necessary)
    • My movie ticket if my dad decides he is super adamant about going to see Independence Day 2 even though it’s probably terrible
  • Unnecessary expenditures include:
    • All other movie tickets
    • Expenses for entertainment
    • Material products, i.e.
      • Clothing
      • Makeup
      • Home stuff
      • Cat stuff
      • David’s Tea tins (don’t let me pretend that counts as groceries…)
    • Dining out (I’m going to exclude lunch at work, and a coffee now and then. I don’t want to starve. Or get cranky.)

Whew. Listing it out makes it sound like a really boring July. But there are lots of things to do that don’t cost money! (Plus, with my new position at work, I have less free time to spend worrying about not having enough stuff… Silver linings, right?)

So why am I doing this? There are a couple of reasons.

  1. My credit card bill this past month hurt my heart.
  2. My spending this past month was basically a bunch of little stuff that all added up. My guess is that it’s a systemic issue.
  3. I’d love to beef up my savings.
  4. I’ve been spending a lot of time thinking about what I don’t have that I haven’t left time to focus on what I do have. It feels like an unhealthy mindset, and I want to detox from it for a while.
  5. I was thinking about doing a No Buy June. But it didn’t rhyme. July it is!

That’s the plan in a nutshell! I hope to post some updates throughout the month if I face any particular challenges or develop any meaningful insights. It’s time to get saving!

What are your goals this month? Will you be joining me for No Buy July?

The Monthly Goals Link-Up

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?