Career

My Simple System for Organized Email.

August 9, 2017

My Simple system for Organized Email Title

My Simple system for Organized Email

I have dealt with a lot of email over the past decade. In graduate school, we lived and died by email, both as students and TAs. Entire semesters of coursework would sit in my inbox for weeks at a time.

When I worked in a Congressional office, the staff would literally process and respond to thousands of emails every day collectively. My inbox would see hundreds of new emails a day, easily, most of which required a response. 

I get fewer emails today than in years past, but I still get far more emails a day than I care to read. As someone who works from home, I rely heavily on my email. Email is my primary method of contact with co-workers throughout the day. If my email is disorganized and too many messages sit in my inbox, I start to miss tasks and information and then a domino effect follows. 

No matter what you do – small business owner, stay-at-home parent, consultant, freelancer – you probably rely heavily on your email too. Or at least have insurance and the city utility company sending you notices that you shouldn’t miss.

I was in line the other day when the woman at the cash register next to me showed the cashier her inbox … I think she had something like 11,000 emails in there. None of us should be receiving (or staring at) this sheer amount of correspondence. 

A system is totally necessary for my peace of mind and effective work-flow, which overflows into my ability to be fully present with my kids and husband when I’ve checked out of work. I bet a system would help you be a little less stressed and a little more effective too.

So let’s talk about email for a second.

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(I’ll credit my husband in part for this post. He’s been at Inbox Zero since…forever. Since he was in middle school, probably. He’s ridiculously organized when it comes to email. And even though none of the rest of us can actually achieve that, it’s hard to live with someone as organized as him without a few habits rubbing off. His system convinced me to get some control over my inbox several years ago, which in turn inspired this post.)

Whether you have 1000 emails in your inbox or 11k, it’s TOO MANY. Picture your inbox as a physical box. In your house. It should have – a few pieces of mail in it. Not thousands. 

Think of it this way: email is a system that provides you with information that you act upon. It’s not some elaborate lazy filing system (guilty! Haven’t we all treated our inboxes that way?)

First, I’ll give you my quick system for *keeping* my inbox under control. Then I’ll give you a few more quick pointers for getting yours in line.

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  1. If my inbox has more than one page of emails, there are too many. Once there are too many, I block out time to process, delete, file, etc., until I’m back down to one page. Is zero emails realistic? Maybe not. But one page should be. My gmail has 50 emails on a page. There’s no reason I need more than 50 emails in a “current” state at any one time. If there are more than that, it just means I’m way behind and need to spend some time knocking out tasks.
  2. Someone (maybe Michael Hyatt?) once write that you should only touch an email one time. Although I don’t *always* abide by this rule (I’ll note the exception below), I try to do this for most of my emails. First of all, most of your email is junk. Do you really want to give your time and energy to junk email? I don’t.  Touching each (most) email once helps me save A TON of time. When an email comes in, I open it (or read the subject line).  If it takes less than 3 minutes to process, I do one of three things (exception below):
    • Delete immediately.
    • FILE (more details on this below).
    • Add to an active to-do list AND THEN DELETE. Just following those simple steps should help you immediately take back some control over your inbox.
  3. About that exception above. I’ve organized my email settings so that my work emails and personal all come to one inbox. Some people function better with several inboxes but I can only manage one with any sanity. Some of my work emails require more than one touch. Sometimes I’m waiting on a response or a status update or need another team member to respond before I can execute a step. Regardless, these, personal actual correspondence, and emails that take more than a few minutes to process are basically the only emails that are allowed to sit in my inbox (and really, if I followed step #4, that shouldn’t be happening much either) until a scheduled regular daily (or several times a week) time when I sit down and tackle them. NOTHING should sit in your inbox indefinitely.
  4. Remember Step #2 above, where I talked about filing? Make files for your archives. Some of mine are things like “Photos of the Kids that I need to print” or “Trip to Cancun.” I have individual files for various clients whose emails I need to still access. I also have a file where I dump all of my “read this when I get time or while I watch Netflix” (I highly highly recommend this kind of file – a “non-crucial but I’ll get to it eventually” pile. Then you can actually get to it eventually without constantly weeding through it.). Even for those random emails that you kind of want to read but don’t have time, but might later – HAVE A FILE.
  5. Remember Step #3 above? Never ever go through your email without your to-do list and your calendar. As you delete, write down tasks and appointments. Need to follow up on something, produce something, schedule something?  Most of us use our inbox as a sort of loose “to-get-to” list. Folks, this won’t work. If it doesn’t go onto the calendar or turn into an actual task to execute with a deadline, it’s not going to happen. If it’s not one of these and it doesn’t go into your “read later” file, then delete it. 

That’s it! That’s how I keep my email under control.

Ok. But what about those 11k emails in your inbox right now? How do you even start? 

My Simple system for Organized Email 2

  1. First, start with the new emails. Don’t tackle the old.
  2. Create 4 or 5 basic folders to begin – “Work,” “Friends,” etc. Once an email is on your to-do list or calendar, archive it in the correct folder or delete it. 
  3. Touch every email that comes in today ONCE. Get it on your to-do list and delete. When in doubt, unsubscribe. 
  4. Did I mention unsubscribe? All of those lists, ads, promotionals – unless you literally wake up excited to see that email in your inbox, unsubscribe.
  5. Do this with every NEW email that comes to your inbox this week. Then slowly start working your way backwards. 

Do you feel less overwhelmed yet? You should! If you are still experiencing email paralysis, there’s hope. I’m working on a list of 100 ways to escape email paralysis. As soon as it’s completed, I’ll send it your way – just provide your email here

Inspired and ready to simplify other areas in your life? Start with this collection of posts.

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Books

Spring 2016 Book Stack.

May 11, 2016

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My reading list over the past couple of years has been sloooowwww going. But recently, I signed up for my library card at the new-to-us local library and discovered that they had a huge selection of e-books. (Welcome to the 21st century, Emily, I know, I know.)

So during bed-rest and now during nighttime feedings I’m attempting to make up for some lost time. Here are the titles that have been stacking up on my table (and screen) lately.

We Were Liars by E. Lockhart. This was such a strange book. It draws you in like any ordinary cute, light summer novel does and then throws some huge curve-balls. Maybe I’m just not used to the genre, but this book definitely left me sleepless – not quite the effect I was hoping for! But I was able to finish it in just a few days, so if you want some quick, easy airplane reading, this is it. If you can’t handle mildly scary or bizarre though – pass it up.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying up by Marie Kondo. This was both more interesting and a little weirder than I expected. I appreciated her de-cluttering tips, although I think my mom and sister and I have all been secret KonMari practitioners before Kondo invented the system. Her advice definitely inspired me to go back through my closet, my most consistent source of clutter-stress. I also loved her advice regarding keeping items out of obligation or guilt.

I got the feeling that Ms. Kondo has some lingering inner-child issues – she seemed to spend a lot of time painting a picture of herself as this reclusive anomaly of a child who basically raised herself. Also, I would love to know what kind of advice she gives to parents when she consults with them. Do the piles of plastic sippy cups in my cupboard bring me joy? Not exactly. But neither does the idea of my toddler drinking out of adult glasses……

Simplicity Parenting by Kim John Payne. This book was life-changing for me. I’ve been a theoretical fan of Waldorf parenting and educational approaches, but this author explained why. I couldn’t stop scribbling quotes. It was both convicting and inspiring to read. It’s definitely super helpful for parents, but even someone without children trying to simply and more intentionally could glean quite a lot from the author’s words.

Yes, Please by Amy Poehler. This is mostly just hysterically funny. It makes for some great middle-of-the-night light-hearted reading, although it feels less like a real book and more like a show – or a blog – or something? This is probably partly because o Amy stand-up comedy career and partly because so much of the book is designed to look like post-it notes or letters or notes from a set. In addition to piles of hilarity, Poehler has some truly wonderful insights on parenting and life.

Every Good Endeavor by Tim Keller. Mark and I have been reading through this together. It’s quite good and includes a lot of really convicting discussion. It’s one of those books digested most easily at a slow pace which works perfectly since we only read a bit each night. I think it would be a lot to take in quickly. If you’re looking for some career direction or rationale for decisions, start here. Keller provides some wonderful starting points.

I would love some suggestions! What titles are on your summer reading list?

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Career

6 Years of Blogging: 60 Tips and Ideas to Dazzle Readers.

March 28, 2016

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Happy Birthday, little blog! On March 26, this space turned 6. It’s seen a lot of changes in the last 6 years – different blog names, different hosts, hopefully better photography. Meanwhile, I’ve seen a lot of changes – grad school, wedding planning, marriage, job changes, moves, and parenting have all happened to me during this blog’s little life span.

A blog deserves a birthday party with lots of virtual confetti and cupcakes, so to celebrate, I’m going to do a birthday mini-series. First, I plan to share 60 blogging tips and ideas (the presents!). Then in a follow-up post, I’ll list 60 bloggers that I would invite to a real-life blogging party if I could (because every party needs guests!). Finally, I’ll share 60 blogging goodies that you should check out (the party favors!).

{Want to make sure you don’t miss out on the follow-up posts? Sign up for this blog’s weekly newsletter and blog roundup here.}

Ready? Let’s party!

  1. Actually hit the “publish” button.
  2. Be yourself.
  3. Don’t blabber on about nothing – write something useful.
  4. Copy edit your posts.
  5. Proofread your posts.
  6. Post consistently.
  7. Produce content that readers want to share.
  8. Blog ABOUT SOMETHING besides yourself and your coffee cup.
  9. Be generous – with your content and the content of others.
  10. Don’t plagiarize.
  11. Write like a professional.
  12. Use images thoughtfully.
  13. Compose catchy headlines.
  14. Compose clear headlines.
  15. Post on Mondays.
  16. Post about parenting.
  17. Or your career.
  18. Create a course.
  19. Ask your readers questions.
  20. Tweet between 12:00 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. on weekdays.
  21. Post lists like this one.
  22. Pin on Saturday afternoons.
  23. Instagram on Monday mornings.
  24. Use photos that are relevant and high-quality.
  25. Share posts on Facebook between 1:00 p.m. and 4:00 p.m. on Thursdays.
  26. Write short paragraphs.
  27. Give something away.
  28. Write posts that are 1149 words in length.
  29. Make blogger friends.
  30. Do interviews.
  31. Create a free item to give to your readers.
  32. Or an entire resource library.
  33. Use a sans serif font.
  34. Use an image for every 350 words.
  35. Add watermarks to your images.
  36. Engage with your audience between 9:00 p.m. and 12:00 a.m.
  37. Compose a post series.
  38. Record a podcast.
  39. Drive traffic from Pinterest.
  40. Springboard off of journaling prompts (or create your own list of prompts!)
  41. Envision your ideal reader.
  42. Pay attention to your blog’s layout.
  43. Tell real people about your blog.
  44. Use a signature color scheme.
  45. Advertise your blog in the local coffee shop or use other guerrilla marketing techniques.
  46. Interact with your Instagram audience more effectively.
  47. Set out on a blog-centric networking challenge.
  48. Create inspiration boards connected to your blog’s themes.
  49. Engage your readers.
  50. Publish a newsletter.
  51. Guest-post.
  52. Leverage your popular posts.
  53. Share your posts with specific friends who have an interest in the content.
  54. Format your posts creatively.
  55. Comment on other blogs.
  56. Reformat the title images of older posts for Pinterest.
  57. Create a style guide for your blog.
  58. Publish a series.
  59. Use consistent filters to create a cohesive look for your blog’s images.
  60. Blog content that you would want to discover!

Want to learn more? Check out last year’s blog-birthday post, 50 Things I Learned from Blogging.

{Would you like to be reminded when the other two posts in this series are posted? Sign up for this blog’s weekly newsletter and blog roundup here.}

 

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Career

A Day in Our Life / Fall 2015.

December 6, 2015

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I felt like it had been a while since I’d written one of these, but when I went to look – over a YEAR since I last tracked our daily routine.

When I talk about juggling working from home and being a stay-at-home mommy to a once-infant-now-toddler, I often don’t have much that is super magical to say. My best answers? There is no guidebook for this. You did not take this class in college. No schedule can save you from the bad days.

You may be the most routine-setting, goal-driven, carefully planned person on earth, but nothing can prepare you for what happens to your schedules and routines when you become a mom. Add on to that trying to continue working from your home office – there are no answers that will carry you through all of it.

All this is to say that these occasional posts are not some sort of fantastic recipe for work-at-home success. My systems may or may not work for you and our schedules may be everything or nothing alike. But I write these posts to encourage you towards the possibilities.

It is not possible to have everything work well all of the time, but it is probably possible to juggle more. It is not possible to say “yes” to everything, but it might be possible to be more efficient with your time. This is what is working best for us, right now, today.

This semester, thanks to Mark’s schedule, my primary “work days” have been Mondays and Wednesdays. (This has changed in the past couple of weeks as his program has begun to conclude and we’re working on our move, but I want to preserve a snapshot for us of what the early part of this fall was like.)

Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays have tended to be the days when I’m the primary parent and are normally full of play-dates and errands and trips to the park, with me squeezing in a little work during nap time or after bedtime, or sometimes none at all. I’d like to capture those days too, but for now, here’s a snapshot of a regular “working day” for us.

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6:30 a.m. (ish) – Miles calls to us from his crib. I bring him into our bed and try to convince him that it’s still night-time and that he should go back to sleep. We play this game for 30 minutes and give up. Time to start the day.

7:00 a.m. –  Mark feeds Miles breakfast and makes a smoothie for us all. I turn on my computer and start answering emails and setting a plan for the day.

8:00 – Miles and Mark play and then set out for a walk and a coffee run. I jump on to a conference call.

9:30 – Mark and I drink coffee on the couch, read a devotional together and catch up while Miles plays nearby.

10:30 – I start cleaning up the main living areas while Miles enjoys a snack. Mark packs up for the day and heads to school on his bike.

11:00 – Miles and I play, read books, sing, fold laundry, etc.

11:30 – Miles lays down for a nap. I sit back down at my computer for some more uninterrupted work time.

1:15 – I set out lunch for Anna to feed Miles after his nap.

1:30 – Anna arrives and Miles wakes up for lunch and playtime.

1:30 – 4:00 – Work-time.

4:00 –  Anna leaves and Mark comes home. I make dinner.

5:30 – We all eat together. If the weather is nice, we’ll go for a walk after dinner or to a nearby park.

7:00 – One of us manages bath time and pre-bedtime play and routines for Miles while the other one cleans the kitchen.

8:00 – Miles goes to bed. If Mark has homework due or I have a deadline, we’ll both work for a while. If our schedules are clear, we’ll watch one of our shows until 10:30 or 11:00.

11:00 – Lights out!

Our schedule this fall has been unusual in an amazing way because Mark has had a lot of open time that he’s able to spend with at home and with Miles. That’s made juggling our schedules this fall so much easier than it was last year.

That will change once he transitions back into a full-time job which will happen in the New Year (eek! How are we done with school?!) and then we’ll have to find another new normal.

What do normal days look like for your family?

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Career

My #Unfollow Experiment.

April 9, 2015

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I love social media. Everyone who has been reading this blog for fourteen seconds knows that. I am in love with all things Instagram-Pinterest-Twitter-take-another-picture-with-your-iPhone. Social media and the Internet have given us so many wonderful, enjoyable ways to share and be inspired by beautiful photos and words.

But one day recently, I realized that it was time to have a DTR with my social media. I felt like I was drowning. Feeds that I once enjoyed and where I once found inspiration felt like a black hole. I found myself scanning my blog feed frantically, waiting for something useful to leap off the page in the midst of tons of word clutter.

Instagram, my best bud, had become this sticky mixing pot of inspiration and family and friends and acquaintances and friends of friends that I met briefly years ago and spouses of people who used to be friends but whom I hadn’t talked to in forever and friends of friends that I met at parties that I can’t now place who I really clicked with but then we never actually ended up meeting up for coffee and so I don’t understand why I now see every meal that they eat.

My social media feed had turned into that bad party where you pretend to like someone you are standing next to while you frantically scan the room for your actual friend who never turns up.

And then I read about one woman’s adventure in unfollowing. And one creative’s radical approach to Instagram. And this plea for an Internet Holy Year of Mercy. I knew I wasn’t alone. There was a way for me to take back my social media consumption and my sanity. The answer was within my reach. I just needed to act.

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Here were the biggest, most glaring problems with my social media streams.

1. I was following people in the wrong channels for the wrong reasons. I would follow people because I felt obliged to follow them back if they followed me, even if their feed provided me with no inspiration or encouragement or anything good whatsoever. I would follow people for the same reason people stay in bad relationships. Some vague sense that maybe we were friends or could be friends or should be friends kept them in my streams, even though actual relationship ground was, like, nada.

(I’m not saying you have to be actual friends with people to follow them. But one shouldn’t follow Instagram accounts under false pretenses. Like in any good relationship, you should know where you stand and why you stand there.)

2. I was following the same people in multiple places, so a great deal of my content was duplicative. (Thanks, Jeffrey Kalmikoff, for pointing this out.) I would see the same pictures on Facebook and Instagram and like them both places (often, the second time, again simply out of some cloudy feeling of obligation.)

3. I was following friends, inspiration, and acquaintances on channels where they had accounts but weren’t active. So if I had a friend who was on Instagram and Twitter, even if she only used Instagram, I would still follow her both places. This is a totally futile endeavor. Multiple this by 200 and the futility factor is sky-high.

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Why do we do this to ourselves? Part of it, for me, was FOMO. I was terrified to miss out (what exactly I might be missing out on is unclear). I was afraid to miss a great article, an important update, a cool shot.

But isn’t that part of the whole grand scheme that keeps us hooked to our screens? We are utterly terrified that somewhere, something really great is going to happen and WE ARE GOING TO MISS IT. OR BE LEFT OUT. OR SOMETHING.

This is irrational fear. This is ridiculous. And this is making us all a little crazy. First of all, I cannot follow every single thing that every other person in the world does. Even if it’s all awesome. There aren’t enough seconds. So even attempting such a thing is totally ridiculous. And let’s admit it: most of what is on Instagram and Twitter is not awesome at all. A good chunk of it is entirely meaningless to the majority of the population.

The other part of the equation of for me was a fuzzy sense of polite obligation to follow and “like”. The Internet’s moral codes of politeness are still being honed, but following is not an obligation. It is a choice to consume or not consume.

I found myself following bloggers that I love and then routinely becoming irritated during the day as they Instagrammed their perfect (through the lens of Instagram) life: “Beautiful breakfast!” “Followed by cute baby napping!” “Followed by new haircut!” and then “Date night in new gorgeous outfit with perfect makeup!”

I was suddenly less content with my breakfast eaten with one hand while playing with Miles who was not napping because he believes that a nap strike every other day is perfectly normal, in a ponytail and yoga pants because I didn’t have time to shower or answer my work emails, much less get a haircut. This times 15 blogs times every day was a lot of irritation.

This is not a criticism of aforementioned bloggers or their Instagram accounts. I still follow the same bloggers and I still love their content. But if I am routinely becoming discouraged instead of encouraged and annoyed instead of inspired, I need to disconnect from the pieces that are dragging me down and focus on things that fill me with joy. In this case, it was blogger overload. They may take pictures for a living, but I don’t have to consume every single image they produce.

This is part of intentional living, of choosing what comes in and what gets my time and what holds my attention and where I spend my energy. I realized that I just needed to practice what I know about being intentional in a (heretofore) very unintentional space.

Here’s what really scared me into action: I began to realize that every needless word, every pointless article, every headline I scanned and skipped, every picture that held nothing for me was actually taking (in tiny microscopic bits) my time, my day, my year, and my life. Literally. From myself, from my family, from the creating that I am actually supposed to be doing.

Are those milliseconds? Yes, of course. But those milliseconds add up. I needed to do so serious purging for the same reason that I leave the television set turned off during the day and the same reason that I choose my reading material with care. Those little margins that we reclaim are what make the difference. Were any of those useless pieces of social media, added together, worth one less conversation with Mark, one less game with Miles, one less real book that I actually want to read? Absolutely not.

And so my unfollow campaign began. I determined to squeeze every drop of futility, pretense, and time-wasting out of my feeds. I was going to take back control of my social media accounts.

First, I turned to Instagram. I scanned through my list and unfollowed almost half of my list. To decide if an account stayed or went, I asked myself:

  • Am I personally attached to this person? (I.e., do I talk to this person regularly, do we share life offline, am I interested in hearing about their coffee-cups and family reunions and children?)
  • (If yes to the above, then) Does this person post regularly in this channel? (Or should I be following them somewhere else to more effectively stay in touch?)
  • Am I inspired, encouraged, or motivated by this feed?
  • Do I frequently interact with this person, either in person or through comments, blogs, etc.? (And, if yes, does this person post in this channel regularly?)

If I couldn’t answer yes to one of the above, I unfollowed. (Tip: If you do this, move FAST. Don’t think too long or hard about this. Go with your gut.)

Side-note: Was it weird to unfollow actual friends? Yes. But if we are friends on Facebook (for instance) and we actually interact there, then it doesn’t make sense to also follow them on Instagram. Or vice versa. I used this not as a time to *unfriend* people but to decide whether Instagram was the best possible way to keep up with this friend. If the purpose was already being served via Facebook or Twitter or some other channel, then Instagram was simply duplicative.

The second hard truth about this is that a lot of people that I follow because of “friendship” are not actually my friends. The world of Facebook has made friendship such a funny thing. We think we are connected to people who we will probably never see or talk to again. We think we have long-lasting relationships with people that, were more effort required of the relationship, we wouldn’t consider a part of our circle.

This is harsh, but it’s true. Brothers’ old girlfriends? Not actually my friends. Bridesmaids in weddings that I attended years ago? Not actually my friends. Girlfriends that I text and talk to on a regular or semi-regular basis? There are about 8. There are not 50. If we tell ourselves that we actually have 500 close friends, most of us are lying to ourselves.

Next came Twitter. I used the same questions and unfollowed almost 2/3 of my feed. I follow a lot of news accounts, journalists, etc.  on Twitter for work purposes, but I was still able to do a lot of purging.

Sometimes I would run across an account that was connected to a blog that I loved. But if I followed the blog in Feedly and/or on Pinterest, then it was likely that I was already seeing updates and inspiration from the blog. Again, the principle of duplicative content: DELETE.

At the end of the process, I was annoyed at myself for having followed so many accounts that were so easy to delete for so long. And a little exhilarated, because purging, all purging, is good for the soul.

This morning, when I checked Instagram, there was far less content. And it was refreshing. I actually looked at my Twitter feed this morning because I knew that the channels on there were resources I had intentionally chosen to allow onto my screen.

And then, this afternoon, I spent more time writing, because I had more energy that was not being drained away through the Internet Black Hole of Passive Consumption. Day 1 of my #UnfollowProject was a success.

We need to be creating more and consuming less. Purging your closets, cupboards, and feeds is an easy beginning.

And what about me? What about this blog? My Instagram account? My Twitter feed? If I don’t inspire you, encourage you, motivate you toward better living, please unfollow. Make it the first step in your own #unfollowproject.

The first step of living intentionally is to stop wasting our time on that which is not for us.

(If you’re interested in reading more about this kind of intentional living, check out Richard Swenson’s Margin, one of the most life-changing books I have ever read.)

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*Some links are affiliate. Thank you for supporting The Orange Slate!

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Career

50 Things I Learned From Blogging

April 1, 2015

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If you follow me on Instagram, you know that on March 26, my blog turned 5 years old. I feel like such a milestone necessitates a cake, lots of confetti, cute straws, and a pretty flag banner, but since I can’t invite all of you over, some reminiscing and a long list will have to do.

Five years is a milestone for me. Five years is just a baby blog compared to some of the really great, long-surviving ones out there, but it’s also long enough to prove that I made it past the statistical certainty of a blog funeral.

A lot of things have happened to me (and to this space) over the last five years. I’ve blogged about food, about books, about writing, about organization, about photography, about travel, about English degrees and unemployment, about marriage, about Miles, about Mark, about motherhood, about creativity, and about change.

As I’ve perused my archives, gleaning some lessons from the experience of blogging, a few things stuck out to me:

I wish I’d blogged more “life” stuff. I know everyone is afraid to share too much online (at it’s wise to be thoughtful about one’s media sharing) and we all know those blogs that are too personal. But one of the major purposes of this blog is memory-keeping for me and my family. I know it’s popular to talk abut how we wish we kept more private, but I honestly wish  the opposite – that I had a better journal in this space of the private events that have transpired while I’ve been blogging about more editorial topics.

Secondly, I have been challenged recently to spend more time developing longer essays in addition to the other, more easily digestible content that I produce on here. This is in part for my own growth – writing coherent longer pieces is more difficult (at least for me) than developing a bulleted list and I want to keep developing my writing. In part, this is an outgrowth of my thoughts above – essays are a good way for me to encapsulate events, thoughts, and emotions as they happen.

So expect more life posts from me and a few longer pieces occasionally around here as I try to maintain the balance of both recording my family’s journey and using my blog as a creative outlet for myself while providing my readers with content that is meaningful and encouraging to them.

Finally, I’m celebrating this 5-year milestone with one of my very favorite things of all: a list.

Here are 50 things I’ve learned the last five years of blogging, in no particular order, with no particular thread tying it all together except for social media and this delightful journey on which it has taken me.

Hope you enjoy it!

  1. Anyone can blog.
  2. And that some people are really really fantastic at blogging.
  3. There are apps that can help you with this.
  4. Blogging can inspire you to create great stuff.
  5. Or finally scrapbook all of those pictures.
  6. Or make a balloon arch.
  7. Or create an activity board for your baby.
  8. I learn how to set a table.
  9. And how to make flowers last longer.
  10. And how to clean everything.
  11. How to decorate a small apartment.
  12. How to set goals effectively
  13. I learned that my friends have lots of good parenting ideas.
  14. And great gift ideas.
  15. And better insight.
  16. Through blogging, I learned better writing skills.
  17. And how to get rid of that annoying “picked for you” option on Pinterest.
  18. And how to use Twitter effectively.
  19. I learned to take more pictures.
  20. And better pictures.
  21. And to record those pictures.
  22. And to record our stories.
  23. And that I wasn’t alone in that postpartum panicky stage.
  24. And that it’s ok if Baby doesn’t do what the books say he’ll do. Ever.
  25. I learned the best strategies for visiting a farmer’s market.
  26. And all of the books that I should read to Miles when he’s in kindergarten.
  27. And how to make the perfect grain bowl. With my own twist.
  28. And all sorts of tips for our DIY wedding.
  29. Like my invitations.
  30. And that my wedding dress didn’t have to be white.
  31. I learned to ask my friends questions.
  32. And my mom questions.
  33. And my dad questions.
  34. I learned that if you want someone to listen to your advice, that putting it in a blog post is a good idea.
  35. I learned that Sunday lunch is highly underrated.
  36. I learned how to say goodbye.
  37. And how to make memories with friends.
  38. I learned the best way to say goodbye at a party.
  39. I learned that it’s ok to quit.
  40. But that sometimes, you just need to lean out backwards over a cliff.
  41. I learned why it’s important to read fiction.
  42. I learned that this truth about kindness.
  43. I learned that excuses are worthless.
  44. I learned that free dates can be the best dates.
  45. I learned how to make those cute social media icons.
  46. And how to make a great blog header.
  47. But mostly I learned this.
  48. And this.
  49. And this.

Thanks for reading! Here’s to another five years of life well-lived offline.

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Books | Career

March Book Report.

March 28, 2015

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It’s been a while since I posted a book update. Making time to read again feels good. Tracking the books I’m reading encourages me to keep doing it because I’m reminded that I am completing books (which, for someone as OCD as me, is so necessary for successful goal-achieving!)

This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage. Reading this one through Oyster. I was late to the e-reading train but I have been pleased with Oyster’s selection and love this collection of memoir-essays. P.S. Here’s a $15 credit towards Oyster if you want to try it. (When you sign up for the $15 credit, I get some credit too! Free books all around = win / win.)

Fierce Convictions: The Extraordinary Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist. This one had me at the preface (which happens to be written by Eric Metaxas, the author of Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy.). I’m so excited to keep reading this one.

A Bend In The Road: Experiencing God When Your World Caves In. My mom’s group is going through this book together – it’s been challenging. You know those Bible study books that are super boring to actually read? This is not one of those. It’s one of those books is so good when I curl up alone but that also works well for a group-discussion.

The Whole-Brain Child. Still reading through this one. It’ll be particularly helpful, I think, when Miles is just a little older – most of the ideas are geared towards toddlers or young children. It contains some fascinating concepts though about mindfulness and emotion.

The Creative Family. Still reading this one too – I love it! It makes me excited to pick up activities that I haven’t tried ever or in years. It has some really wonderful step-by-step ideas for encouraging young and very young children towards creativity – lots of Waldorf-style activities, which is so inspiring. There’s also a nice collection of quotes and helpful resources.

Leadership and Self-Deception: Getting Out of the Box. Finished this! It was fantastic. It had some wonderful concepts for leadership and workplace relationships but it also was so applicable to marriage and other personal relationships. I enjoyed it and was truly challenged.

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Career

CREATE2015: The March Edition (Canvas Wall Art and a Giveaway)

March 9, 2015

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For 2015, my word of the year is CREATE. As part of this, I’m challenging myself to create or complete a project each month.

For March, I plan to make a piece of canvas wall art using black paint and lyrics. Examples of this are here, here, and here.

I’m spending some time looking for the right lyrics so that I can finish up this project by the end of the month – any suggestions??

ALSO. Remember that January project? The nearly-disastrous art journals? They are done. And I am so happy with them. They aren’t perfect. I learned a lot of lessons and would do several things differently if I created another set. But. They. Are. Complete. And I love the result.

I found the metal hinged rings that I envisioned next to a stack of highlighters at OfficeMax. Go figure.

For the cover, I cut (by hand) sand-toned card stock slightly larger than the other pieces of paper to cover a few irregularities in the edges. (Note to Self: Order a real grown-up paper-trimmer for the next paper project). I attached a title tag. And done.

The pages would look perfect with 2″ x 2″ prints from Instagram or with journaling. The cover would look so crisp spruced up with one of Artifact Uprising’s square prints.

Here’s the catch: I am loving working on my Project Life albums right now and I’m sort of one-track mentally when it comes to learning a new system. So I can’t imagine trying to fill these art journals while also completing my Project Life albums, at least during this learning phase. So I’m GIVING THEM BOTH AWAY TO YOU. (If you’re curious about the paper in the journal, check out the original post about these.)

Here’s how you can enter to win one:

Subscribe via email in that box in the upper right before 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, March 22. That’s it. I’ll select a winner from this blog’s email subscription list and announce and email the winners. Here’s the bonus: you can enter more than one time by sharing one of your favorite posts from this blog on Instagram or Pinterest. An extra link on each of those outlets will count as an extra entry, so every person can enter four times. (Just remember to tag me so that I see the link!)

I’m off to stalk Pinterest for lyric inspiration….

Read about February’s CREATE2015 project here.

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Career

CREATE2015: The February Edition (A Sensory Activity Board)

February 11, 2015

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For 2015, my word of the year is CREATE. As part of this, I’m challenging myself to create or complete a project each month.

February’s project was born one morning as I was searching around for creative ways to engage Miles. I stumbled upon this homemade sensory activity board and was instantly captivated.

A sensory board is a great idea from about 6 months (whenever a baby can sit) up through the pre-school years. The toys, textures, and objects can be selected and replaced to suit a baby’s individual needs as he or she grows and learns and a big board can keep a baby captivated for hours.

I knew that I wanted to make the sensory board for my February project. I modified the basic design, grabbed some cork board tiles that I had on hand, wandered around in Hobby Lobby collecting fun items, and completed the project in just a couple of hours.

This project was definitely a success. It was easy and inexpensive to complete and Miles loved it. Also, since we are in a tiny apartment, it’s wonderful to have an activity center for Miles that doesn’t take up more floor space.

Materials:

  • 4 cork tiles
  • Nails
  • Felt letters and numbers
  • Embroidery hoops and various felt pieces
  • A mirror
  • Metal teaspoons
  • A bell
  • A mini straw hat
  • A large wooden “M”
  • A rubber heat-proof kitchen mat

I nailed the four cork tiles to a convenient spot (the short wall below our kitchen bar-top). I secured the materials and objects, some with nails (like the embroidery hoops of fabric), some with command-strip tape (like the wooden letter and the mirror).

The felt letters and numbers are sticky, so I simply stuck them on.

What did I learn? I secured some of the items (like the bell) with ribbon, but the ribbon didn’t hold after a little bit of pulling by Miles. I need to re-secure movable objects like the bell with something stronger like yarn. The felt letters don’t stick to the cork-board as well as I would like, so some of them are going to need to be replaced.

When we are somewhere more permanent, I’d like to make another version of this with a wooden backdrop, which I think would work a little more effectively. But for now, I love the cork-board (bonus: the cork gives Miles an extra layer of texture to touch and explore).

I plan to extend the board with two more cork-tiles and will replace some of the objects as he gets older.

Have you ever made a sensory board for your baby or toddler? I would love to hear more ideas for fun objects to attach!

Read about my January CREATE2015 project here.

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Career

CREATE2015: The January Edition (An Update on the Mixed Paper Books)

February 5, 2015

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So what happened to my grand visions for creating more in 2015? Where did CREATE2015 go? What have I started? Finished? Did the project disappear into oblivion?

*deep breath*

As I mentioned earlier, I wanted to try my hand at mixed paper books* for my January project.  Some talented bloggers made it look like a breeze and I figured it couldn’t be too complicated to assemble some pretty paper.

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Mistaken, thy name is Emily.

Working on the mixed-paper books was fun at the beginning. I enjoyed selecting the paper and choosing different card stock weights and textures from my supply. But then it spiraled into a nightmare.

Error #1. I’ve yet to invest in a big paper cutter. I don’t have a lot of storage for supplies right now and I haven’t really needed it. So I ended up cutting and measuring All. Of. The. Paper for the first two books (which were supposed to be identical twins) by hand. This meant that the cutting was less precise and definitely more time-consuming than I had planned.

Error #2. Once I had all of the paper assembled and cut for the first two books, I had no idea how to bind them. Originally, I planned to simple use a hole-puncher to create holes and then bind them with three loose-ring hinges. I hadn’t considered how difficult it is to cut through a stack of 20 pieces of paper, most of which are card stock.

I ended up painstakingly hole-punching three individual holes in each piece of paper using my single hole-puncher, lining up the pages to make sure that the holes were place consistently.

Again, this was so much more time-consuming than I would have dreamed. It was also sort of painful on my wrists. Also, my initial attempts at hole-punching left the corners of a few pieces looking messy. I used a pair of scalloped-edge scissors to try to mend the look, but I would have been happier with a cleaner aesthetic.

Error #3. I planned to use a piece of heavier material for the cover of each book. My hole-puncher can’t punch through material that thick. Instead of searching for a solution, I simply abandoned the cover in favor of time.

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The long and the short of this? I’m almost done with the two mixed-paper books. I’m only going to try to complete two for now, instead of the originally four. I need to reassess my methods before I expend a lot more time and materials on a similar project.

However. I do think both books will be done by the end of February. So the project wasn’t an utter failure; it will just be completed later than I had originally planned, with fewer books to show for my efforts.

What did I enjoy most about this project? The paper! I loved playing with all of my favorite papers, digging through my collection and finding paper long forgotten, and organizing it.

I definitely would try to make a mixed-paper book again. I think I just need to plan a little more carefully and design the book in advance (along with addressing logistical issues like binding)

On a related note, I’m planning to give these journals away to two of my subscribers once they are complete. More details to come, but if you are interested in one of them, go ahead and provide your email in the box in the upper-right. I’ll keep you posted about the completion of these.

They would be perfect for storing 4×4 or 2×2 Instagram prints or journaling. I am trying to focus on Project Life albums this year, which is why I am going to give them away.

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Meanwhile, I’ll be sharing my February craft project (which, ironically, is complete) on the 16th.

Now it’s your turn. Any craft project disasters that you care to share? Humor me in the comments.

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*Pictures in this post detail all of the pages, front and back, of the mixed-paper books.

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