December 2017


I gave myself really specific goals for a lot of my first 6 weeks of the Best Self Journal, and in so doing I found myself being incredibly productive on very specific, concrete projects. I was able to meet deadlines, get things graded, and have positive encounters with family and friends. However, as I wrote about earlier this week, I’m hitting some undesignated time in my schedule; not ‘free’ time, since things still have to get done, but definitely less structured and with fewer things due on specific days. It’s more like everything must be done before my departure for holiday travel.

For that reason, I’ve split up my daily goal section into a concrete and a vague goal for each day; one is about a task and one is about an attitude. Sure, I still have my “targets” section, which is always brimming with concrete tasks, but if I have one particular thing I’d like put to rest by the end of the day, it can get top billing in the goal.

Today, for instance, I want to get a little bit less flighty (settle down) and a little more rapid in my task completion (speed up). Some days, I’m sluggish and still slogging through work, but today I feel the opposite: amped up, ready to go, but somehow still not getting things done at any kind of speed. We all have those days!

My concrete goal is actually one that can be split up over a few different attempts (30 minutes, for instance, to sort the dreaded stack of papers, 10 minutes to create new folders I need, and 10 minutes to actually file everything? Maybe too optimistic…) but I really want it done before I walk out of the office. I’m even bribing myself a little by planning to go to a networking meet-and-greet this evening if I can just get a few things done today!

Do you prefer vague, concrete, or a mixture of goals?

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Time is on my mind lately; the semester is winding down and my students are all busy submitting final papers and finish exams. I have about 5 days of work time when I can really get things done: no meetings, no classes to teach, just me and my desk and all my plans for next semester.

I have, in the past, sort of squandered such opportunities. I don’t know why such lethargy comes over me, but when I don’t have the instant worry of getting something done on time, I tend to do it much more slowly. I don’t love this quality in myself; in fact, I feel like one of the main resolutions I’d love to stick to in 2018 is the idea of working ahead when I have a chunk of time, so I don’t get quite so stressed when I don’t have a chunk of time to spare.

That being said, I am going to give myself some guidelines, here on the blog, for how I will spend this time. It’s not “free” time, after all, because I am expected to add value to my school and to make next semester less stressful for myself. So here are my goals – hopefully specific and manageable – for the next week.

  • I want to develop the materials for my most work-intensive class next semester; this means syllabus, course management site, assignment sheets, and lecture powerpoints. I also want to develop a plan for my other 3 classes, but those don’t need to be as nailed-down from the beginning since I’ve taught them before.
  • I want to clear my desk and file my paperwork from this semester, since I’ve gotten massively behind on my David Allen-style filing system.
  • I want to make a rough calendar of the different things that must be done when I return from the holidays, so that rather than being discombobulated by the long absence, I am prepared for starting quickly and decisively.

What about you? You may have crazy busy stuff to do right up until any celebrating you’ll be doing at the end of this year, but if not, what will you do with whatever time you have?

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There is a very popular recipe for Chex Mix in my family; I am always happy to give it a shot, but other people in my family are much better at it. That being said, I try every year anyway for a simple reason: one recipe worth makes 6, 7, or even 8 packages worth of Chex Mix, suitable to give as gifts to true aficionados and, more commonly, suitable as a gift to thank someone who has chosen to host us for a holiday party. We make it during the first week of December and it is shelf stable enough to last till January; that being said, Husband can rarely resist it for that long!

I like the idea that there are some foods that are just for certain times of year. Sure, the ingredients are now available year-round, but I enjoyed a cone of Egg nog ice cream last week way more because I only get that creamy, nutmeg-y goodness once a year. I like that by sticking with a traditional timing for a food, I add specialness to it and I make a gift that would seem pretty phoned in, like a bag of prepared Chex Mix, into a labor of love (hours and hours of cooking!). It creates a fun tradition and expectation, which can be nice especially when my family is mostly adults and there aren’t many kids to get super excited about Christmas.

What are your favorite holiday food traditions? Do you make a big batch of something to split up and share with many people, like cookies for the neighbors, or do you make smaller and diverse dishes for different occasions? All this talk is making me hungry for my favorite gingerbread men with the butterscotch pudding mix as the “secret ingredient” – excuse me, I’ll be right back. 🙂

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This holiday season, I am trying to be more positive about myself. I don’t want to do this just to toot my own horn, but instead to realize that I’m bringing something valuable to the table. When I feel like I’m a useful human being, I work harder and I get more things done well. Today, the exercise I wanted to share involves creating a Venn Diagram.

Basically, I know that I don’t have all the skills in the world, but there are a few I do have that, in combination, make me an asset. For instance, there are zillions of people who love to write; no uniqueness there. When you add that I write fairly error-free writing (only one typo per page on average), you narrow the pool a little bit. When you add in that I write extremely quickly, you narrow down this skill even more. So rather than telling myself I’m the best writer (super general and definitely not true), I can tell myself, “Self, you enjoy writing fairly error-free prose very quickly!”

Having these specific, niche skills can empower us to see our place on the team. For instance, I frequently meet people whose work is more lyrical than mine, or whose sentences have better SEO for their keywords. That’s great! We make a good team, because if I can write fast, error-free prose and they can optimize it for search engines or make it sound beautiful, we’ve complemented each other.

What are the skills you bring together to make a more specific, more niche skill? Figuring this out on Monday will help motivate you as you work through the difficult challenges this week. In some cases, it will help you realize that you are the person who is born to do this work, and in others, it will help you justify reaching out to others for help, since we aren’t all built to have all the skills.

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I am not a person who naturally fills with holiday cheer; if anything, the end of the semester is an exhausting time of year that makes me wonder whether or not I will have any feeling left in my brain by the time the holidays start. We celebrate Christmas, but with very few cousins under 25 on either side of the family, it is always fairly low-key.

That being said, I don’t like doing things halfway either! So this year, Husband and I have a bucket list of things we’d like to do during the holiday season. I think all the goals are achievable, but by having them, we’re more likely to actually put some effort into making them happen.

Attend two Christmas parties: Right now we are on track for this; some friends have invited us to one, and Husband’s work has another. I would be open to more if they showed up, but this has definitely not been an option in years past; the small city is perfectly nice but it has taken us all of 2.5 years to get to a place where we really feel we have a friend group. It’s a good time to celebrate that feeling that we’ve really “made it.”

Walk in the Snow: This one is strangely harder, since I am pretty anti-cold weather no matter now pretty snow is. That being said, if I take the time to bundle up really well, it is pretty close to magic to walk out in the quiet of new fallen snow. I’ll make the effort.

Make Christmas Foods: I have a few traditional foods: I make a super-secret snack mix that is super delicious. I also love a good banana bread or pumpkin bread, as well as my favorite gingerbread cookies, which have butterscotch pudding in them!

Drive through the local Festival of Lights: We’ve been here for two Christmas’s already, but we’ve never made the time to visit our local light display. We also want to drive through the neighborhoods to look at all the lights on houses where people go all out.

We did our first item already (go see the local production of the Nutcracker!) and it was a mixed bag – while it was beautiful, basically everyone in the audience was a family member of a ballerina! Regardless, we’ll keep working on our traditions, since it’s fun to do them and we always get surprised by something.


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I’ve been getting gifts for people in our families this week, and let me tell you: it gets expensive fast! In trying to make sure I have meaningful, generous presents for every one in both my family and my in-laws side, I’ve found some good money sense can help keep my head from spinning as we spend money:

  • A small present is great if the person will really like it. We’ve chosen locally-made necklaces for two of my in-laws, and they are beautiful even though they are quite small, smaller than stocking stuffers. I know they’ll be enjoyed, so I let go of my need to get people gifts that fill nice big packages.
  • Food gifts are sometimes impersonal, but sometimes they are perfect for the person who has it all. My sister got Husband and I a subscription to try different fancy coffees a while back, and it was great because we got a new experience together, enjoyed the high quality of the coffee, and then didn’t have anything new cluttering our house!
  • Making handmade presents is wonderful, but it still costs money. We’ve been making a really fun art project for three of the gifts we’re giving, but it isn’t without the challenges of having to purchase materials, sometimes twice if anything goes wrong! The best homemade gifts, I think, are also made with things that you already have handy, saving you money and being personalized at the same time!

How do you keep from breaking the bank during the Christmas season? Share good strategies in the comments!

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Guys… it’s been 5 weeks of Best Self Journaling! In that time, I’ve run a 5K, resisted some substantial piles of unhealthy food while aiming for tons of veggies and fruits, and written more than 50,000 words on articles and blog posts. It’s been a landmark 5 weeks.

That being said… I’ve fallen off the wagon a few times. My ideal usage of this journal is for an initial 5-minute entry in the morning, a couple of notes all day, and a 5-minute entry in the evening. Those aren’t big time commitments, but especially while I was travelling, they were hard to fit in.

I’ve now passed my first cringe-y milestone: two full days without writing, returning only in time to work on the third day’s goal setting and gratitude.

What I realized is that these kinds of moments are not where goals go to die: they are where goals are actually forged. We all start projects all the time; it takes a serious person to get back on the horse after falling down.

So that’s what I’ve done: rather than dwelling on two days of not getting my work written down, I push myself to write on the future pages. I push myself to write on whatever is relevant now.

A small silver lining I’ve found is that, once every week or so, I’ll be BRIMMING with gratitude. More than 3 items. More than the 3 items for my next morning or evening session. So what am I doing? I’m putting gratitude in all the empty spaces in my journal. It is a nice metaphor: filling the parts of my goals and plans that are currently empty with the things that are filling me up at the moment.

I’ve only begun to think about how the Self Journal could help me after I have completely filled it, but this seems to be one of the ways: I want to be able to look back and see what simple things gave me happiness and contentment during a time when I was very busy.

Those future looks back? Just might be worth the frustration of not quite measuring up in the moment when I get behind on my journaling. Alright, time to get back on that horse.

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Nanowrimo is one of those challenges just crazy enough to lure a lot of people into it. If you haven’t heard, National Novel Writing Month (abbreviated with the first few letters of each word) is the challenge to write a short novel in November, a 30-day month for 50,000 words or more. The month draws droves of people back to their dusty dreams of being a writer, being a novelist, and let’s them really live it.


I’ve only successfully written the 50,000 words on two… maybe 3? occasions. That being said, the past few years, as I’ve tried to get better and better at writing short pieces and essays and blog posts, I’ve given myself a different challenge in the midst of the excitement of November; I challenge myself to write 50,000 words total, on whatever I need to write: sometimes its emails or pitches or notes or freewrites, but every word counts and I aim for 50K.

This year, I got it! This very blog post, written ahead of time and queued for you to see, was part of those words. I like the accomplishment of setting an arbitrary and unrewarded goal and hitting it. It makes me think that I can do a lot more than I do on an average day if I set my mind to it.

One thing I’m all too aware of is that most of the novels written during Nanowrimo are not ever published; they often aren’t very good at all. At the same time, the people who wrote them are a little better somehow: they figured out a good synonym for a word, or they practiced what they’ve been saying for years about how they “love to write,” or they are a little more confident in themselves. I really think it is a challenge that changes people for the better, even if the prose it generates isn’t all that great.

Is there a major challenge you set up for yourself, only to make sure that you are continually pushing yourself? It’s a bit like bravery practice, actually, but perhaps a little different. Feel free to share in the comments.

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Thanksgiving Day was so nice with my family, and I was able to mentally prepare for the meal partially because a few folks in our family have recently gone vegan. Not eating dairy or meat or eggs meant they had to use spicing, soy, and a little magic to make some truly amazing fruit, veggie, and whole grain dishes. The quinoa cakes were to die for, and of course I dug into the green bean casserole. I aimed for 75% of my plate to be filled up with fruits, veggies, or whole grains, and I did it! I am no vegan (ate some of that tasty grilled turkey for sure), but I love getting my proportions a little skewed toward plants.

That being said… AFTER Thanksgiving is when the real trouble starts for me. I’m pretty well-versed in making great plates, but I am still a child when it comes to resisting plates of dip and chips, piles of cookies, cheese trays, and more. Snacking is something I do with relish when there are just one or two options, but I get overwhelmed and make pretty poor choices when (like at the holidays) there are options to eat all the time.

No judgment for snacking aficionados – I am one! That being said, I’ve developed a few guidelines that I hope will carry me through the season:

  • A Taste is Fine: One of my great joys is trying new things, so I’m never going to deny myself one almond, one cracker, one cube of bacon cheddar. If I aim for a diverse group of tiny tastes, I will still make a moderate dent rather than a full stomach.
  • Load Up on Veggies When I Know I’m Craving: I try, these days, to be the person who brings the veggie tray and a big container of fruit salad, because I know I want to be able to mindlessly nosh on something that will only benefit me. I take much longer to finish a tiny plate of raw broccoli than the same plate piled with fudge, so it also takes up some party chitchat time.
  • Forgive and Forget… Focus on Good Memories! I know that my Thanksgiving week was punctuated by some serious splurges on French onion dip and peanut butter bites, but I refuse to let them make me feel guilty and wrong. I don’t want the holidays to feel like a time of scarcity, but rather just want to establish some general thoughts for myself in the midst of the snack abundance. If one or two days go south… I’ll forget them as soon as I can, and dwell instead on the great times with friends and loved ones.



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I have found a gamechanger, everyone. You know that I mentioned that I’ve enjoyed Getting Things Done by David Allen, but one thing has made it possible to start streamlining my to-do lists more than anything else. That thing… is Evernote.

Evernote is a program I’ve known about for a while now; I once got a boss a very cool notebook that allowed you to write on it, take a picture with your phone of your notes, and automatically convert that writing into typed notes inside Evernote. However, when I installed Evernote on my computer (mind you, years ago!), every note I wrote was erased when I closed the program. Not great for utility.

I started using it again this year, and now that I have a smartphone, I discovered one of the best things Evernote does: it syncs my notes between my computer and my phone. I can only use two devices without paying for the premium edition, but I can live with just work computer and phone having access. Just that is amazing.

The other nice thing is that my phone doesn’t come pre-loaded with an audio recorder, and Evernote lets you record audio notes. I do a few interviews a month for articles I write, and it is so nice to not only be able to record the interviews but also be able to transcribe them in one place that is then accessible from phone or computer. Incredibly helpful!

Finally, I like that one of my new soothing activities is going through and consolidating notes. I’ll find old notes, make sure I’ve handled everything I wrote in them, and close them out. I sometimes find old tasks that never got done and I’ll actually add them to the current day’s to-do list. It’s nice to know that I have a record keeping system rather than just a never-ending list (sorry to those of you who really appreciate Allen’s method; I am not so scrupulous as to have only one list!)

If you don’t use Evernote, do you have another favorite list-making application? Feel free to share about it in the comments!

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