I Tried Calendar Blocking for 30 Days. Here’s what happened!

Calendar blocking is something that I have been doing for a long time, but maybe not to the same extent as you might see online. When I was in university I used what I call a TimeBar or a Chronodex and for really busy weeks I would literally block out time for various projects and study sessions. To the point where the people in my life would cheekily laugh at me for planning everything I do including scheduling naps and meals. But when it came down to it, when giving myself a block of time completely devoted to whatever it was that I needed to do and nothing else, I was at my most productive state.

Now that I’m noticing a rise in the popularity of calendar blocking, I decided I would try it for a month and report back to you as to how it went.

One of the challenges for me when I started this was deciding what app I would use as my calendar. It was a tough decision between Google Calendar and iCal. I use an iPhone and have an iPad, but my personal laptop is a PC and so is my work desktop. I knew I couldn’t rely entirely on the Apple Suite, so Google Calendar it is.

One of the biggest reasons calendar blocking is so conducive to productivity is because it forces you to give your tasks as much weight as an appointment or event. By mapping out exactly when you are going to do something and making sure to give yourself enough time to do it, you are making a commitment, similarly to booking an appointment.

So, I started calendar blocking on August 1st. I used Google Calendar as the platform because it’s available on all devices. For now, I have 6 categories; work, personal, get things done, fitness and wellness, routines, and a calendar for my partner’s work schedule.

This is a breakdown of my calendars setup.

I keep the default tasks and reminders calendars turned off because they function differently than the standard calendar and they don’t really fit into this system.

The work calendar is just to separate that time out from the rest, as I found early on in the process that I do not like calendar blocking for work. For me, it just can’t work because of the nature of my work. But more on that later. I also use this calendar to book time for my casual freelance work, and I differentiate those time blocks by changing the event colour to green.

My personal calendar holds any personal events or certain tasks that are not quite hobby or work-related. For example, I will book a slot to wash my hair using this calendar. Errands also are blocked within this calendar. At the moment, I also schedule meals under this calendar, though I am often tempted to switch them over to my fitness and wellness calendar.

The ‘get things done’ calendar is where all of the meat and potatoes of this system are. Any time that I need to spend in a ‘productive’ work flow (usually in front of a computer or notebook) needs to be scheduled in this calendar. I will keep things pretty vague in the calendar, sometimes adding descriptions in the notes, but usually the details about what I am doing during that time slot are in my planner. For example, I have a languages session scheduled for today. I blocked time for it and have specified in the notes (in this case) what I will be doing during that time.

An example of a ‘productive time’ slot.

My fitness and wellness calendar includes any time slots for workouts and I book time for grocery shopping and meal prepping in this calendar as well.

The routines calendar is a bit of a work in progress, at the moment I just book a morning routine slot and a sleep slot, which indicates what time i plan to end my day. I hope to one day have a guideline as to what i am doing during these routines in the descriptions of the events, but for now I am just winging it, based on my current habits.

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Process

Every Sunday (or Monday if it is a long weekend) I sit down with my laptop and plan the bare-bones structure of my week. This is basically entering anything that is unmovable. For a ‘productive time’ block, occasionally I will book a ‘productive time’ slot and either freestyle what I spend time doing during that slot. Sometimes, I would change the slot to what I really plan to do closer to the day, as things tend to change depending on what I get done in the days before.

For daily recurring items that are at different times, schedule them as a recurring event for the same time every day. Otherwise, it will be overwhelming to add them on a week-to-week basis. Even if the time of that activity changes from day to day, I schedule a recurring slot or task, for the amount of time that it usually takes and change it on Sunday’s when I am planning out my week.

For example, I like to keep track of my partner’s work schedule so I can plan my time around it. I know I won’t be productive when he’s around because my priority is to spend time with him, so I plan most of my productive time slots around his schedule.

I also always schedule travel time. I do this for work by setting two recurring daily events within my work calendar and then I chnage the colour of this specific event to grey. That way, I know this is travel time related to a work event as opposed to a personal event. For personal event-related travel time, I book these on an event by event basis, and I use pink to match my personal calendar.

Tips

  • Set the events up as a daily repeating event and delete it or reschedule it as needed. This is so easy with Google Calendar because you can drag events around your calendar.
  • Always book time for your travel time.
  • Keep your work calendar and personal calendars separate.

I knew I couldn’t rely on calendar blocking alone, I am the type of person who needs a place to brain dump, set goals, and plan ahead. For that, I use the CleverFox Pro Planner.

I still keep things flexible by moving things around as I go, this way I am not bound to anything I can’t do but I won’t lose track of it either. Instead of deleting slots, I tend to move them to ensure there is no lost time dedicated to whatever that thing is. This is similar to the concept of migration in bullet journaling. Doing this is especially good for things that require more dedicated time to being successful, such as learning or studying.

For Work

I tried adding unmovable events to my work calendar but I just didn’t see a purpose of it. It didn’t have any value to me in terms of keeping me productive or on track and I rarely used it as a reference, so I quickly stopped doing that.

I also tried using Outlook for work-related tasks, to see if it would help to keep me focused and on the task at hand.

  • I found out quickly that it truly doesn’t work, at least for me. The only thing it helps with is making sure that people don’t book meetings with you during the time that you have allotted for something else. Similar to what I found during my Bullet Journal journey, I learned that I need two separate planning systems, for work-life and personal life, that are well-integrated or I can’t function.
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Did it work?

Yes, definitely. I found that going back to calendar blocking and doing it systemically everyday (or at least every day that I had large gaps of free time) helped with my productivity immensely. Even on days where I didn’t follow my schedule to the tee, I found that I was still more productive because that time was blocked for something, even if I replaced the block with a new one. Ultimately, I was still doing work that needed to get done. I will absolutely continue to calendar block going forward. Considering the fact that this is a productivity system that is also completely free, given you use something like iCal or Google Calendar, it is at least worth a try.

If you’re looking for a productivity system that will facilitate maintaining a work-life balance, this is a good option, but if you’re anything like me or if your work is anything like mine, you may need to find a unique system for that. But overall, calendar blocking gives you a great opportunity to visualize how much time you’re spending on work and on your personal events, chores, and hobbies.

So my recommendation is definitely to try it out and see if it works for you. I know a lot of people who can’t work with a rigid schedule, so it might not work for everyone but it is worth a shot. Especially if you remember that whatever you book for yourself is not set in stone.

I hope this post was helpful to some of you. I know I’ve been absent for a little while, but I am back now and hoping to get back to a consistent schedule. Until then folks, keep on keeping on!

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5 Easy Steps for Catching Up When You Are Overwhelmed

When tasks and to-dos pile up it can become overwhelming and difficult to catch up; and if you’re anything like me, you might tend to procrastinate when you are overwhelmed. It can be hard to stay motivated when it feels like there is no end in sight. Below are the five steps that I take whenever my plate seems to be overfull.

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  1. Block at least ten minutes to sit down and do a brain dump. Sit down with your planner, notebook, or a loose piece of paper and write down everything that is on your mind. Tasks, appointments, reminders, notes, projects you want to start, chores, literally everything.
  2. Take that list and prioritize your actionable items. If there is anything on your list that will take you less than 5 minutes, keep that on a list of its own. You will do those items as soon as you finish this planning session.
  3. Time block the day and/or week. Calendar blocking is becoming a very popular method of time management and it’s something that I have resorted to, since high school, whenever I am feeling overwhelmed or behind. Take the tasks you have identified during your brain dump and block them into your calendar. Make sure to start by including a block, right after our done your planning session, to complete your list of 5-minute tasks. And make sure to give yourself 5 minutes per task, so if you have 4 -minute tasks plus 5 minutes for a short break. Therefore, this block should be 25 minutes long. Remember to include travel time, rest breaks, meals, and some buffer time.
  4. Start with your list of tasks that will take 5 minutes or less each. Getting these done in quick succession will help boost your momentum and will motivate you to continue. Take a short 5-minute break.
  5. Carry on through your day, keeping as close as possible to the schedule you blocked out but understand that it can be flexible if need be.

I hope these steps help you out when you feel like your to-do list is bigger than what you can handle. Remember, that simply is not true, you just need to prioritize and do what truly needs to be done first.

Until next time, keep on keeping on my friends!

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Is this app even worth it? Forest App Review

Productivity apps are largely subscription-based these days. They either require a subscription immediately upon download (some might give you a 7 or 14-day trial) others are free but require a subscription to access all features. I would argue that most people are becoming fatigued with subscription services like these, between streaming services, monthly boxes, and apps, it’s all a bit much and quite costly. Some apps may be worth it though, but you wouldn’t know unless you try. I love trying out productivity apps, actually, one of my guilty pleasure pastimes is to browse the App Store for new productivity apps to try.

Forest app’s main screen.

So I will be doing just that and will be reviewing productivity apps, both free and paid and will report back as to whether or not they are worth it. The first app I have decided to review is ‘Forest’ an old favourite of mine that I have been using for years. Keep reading for a detailed review.

The Forest app is essentially a Pomodoro timer with a fun twist. How it works is you pick a tree to grow and if you stay focused for the set amount of time, you get to add that tree to your forest, otherwise, it withers. But, when it withers it stays in your forest as an eyesore but also as a reminder that you did not stay focused for that session. The Pomodoro technique is already a well-proven method for time management and productivity, and the Forest app gives you just that so it is effective as long as having a cute forest of productivity trees is appealing to you. It can be very motivating when you complete a tree and also motivating when you cause a tree to wither. I found I wanted to spend more time being productive so I could make more beautiful trees and kind of bury the withered tree, in a forest of flourishing and beautiful trees. The app has a lot of great features that will help you organize your time tracking and your forests. You can tag your sessions, for example, ‘homework’, ‘studying’, ‘reading’, ‘chores’, or whatever works best for you.

Another motivating feature is the coins. Every time you complete a tree successfully you get a certain amount of coins, which you can spend to unlock various kinds of trees. You can also gain coins by completing achievements, these will give you a hefty chunk of change. For example, the first achievement you’ll get is to reach a total focused time of four hours. I gained 200 coins for that, and I’m excited to spend it on a whole new type of tree. There are all kinds of realistic trees and plants you can buy, like Lavender and Sunflowers. But there is also a lot of fun and crazy frees, like the Doggo Tree and Sundae Tree. As you grow your arsenal of trees, you can dedicate one type of tree to a particular tag making it easy to visualize how much work you do in the various sectors of your life or how much of each type of work you do (depending on how you set up your tags). You can also just filter your forest based on the tag if you’re hoping to get that visual without dedicating tree types.

The app also has the ability to play an ambient sound to help with your focus. the default that the app comes with is a forest sound. But you can also spend your coins to unlock new sounds.

My current month’s Forest. A little bare I know, but we are only 5 days in.

The app works smoothly and the user interface is aesthetically pleasing and easy to navigate. In order to use the app, you should have a device that is running iOS11 or later. The app is available on the iPhone, iPad, iPod, and Apple Watch, although the Apple Watch app is very limited. You can only view your forest for the current day. Forest is also available on Android. The app also offers several widgets, which is nice for easy access and tracking.

Forest is a free app but there are features that are unlocked when you purchase the full version which is a total cost of $2.79 (CAD). Most notable if the ‘deep focus mode’ and ‘stopwatch features’. When ‘deep focus’ is activated it really restricts your phone use, you won’t be able to open any other apps or your tree will die. I use this feature often especially if I really need to devote all of my attention to something and I know that I won’t need any other iPhone apps to do so. The stopwatch feature is probably one of my favourites, essentially it keeps track of your productive time as opposed to setting a countdown timer for a period that you want to work within (i.e. 25 minutes). I use this for tasks that I am dedicating focused time to but I am not exactly sure how long it will take me. There are also in-app purchases, but not quite pay-to-play. For example, you can between $1-3 for Sunshine Elixir which triples the number of coins you will get from planting trees.

I have to say, I honestly haven’t tried any other apps quite like this, as I mentioned in the introduction to this review I have been using this app for many years and I think it was one of the first of its kind. While browsing around the App Store I have noticed that there are copycat apps out there, but considering how the free version of Forest is not very limited and the full version of the app is so inexpensive, I really don’t see why anyone would consider an alternative.

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The only real problem I see with the app is that you actually have to remember to use it in order for it to be effective. The app does have the ability to set a reminder to use it, this is hard for me though because I work based on my partner’s schedule which is very erratic. But of course, none of this is the app’s fault and is just user error, if you will.

One of the most incredible things about this app is you can spend 2500 coins to plant a real tree through ‘Trees for the Future’ (note: each user is limited to planting 5 real trees, due to cost constraints for the company). This is still an amazing feature that makes your personal productivity truly impactful.

If I had to give this app a rating I would say 5 stars out of 5, but officially I will say 4/5 because there should always be room for improvement. At the end of the day, would I recommend this app to you, a close friend, colleague? Yes, absolutely yes. It is a great app, especially if you use it consistently.

I hope you all enjoyed this review! Stay tuned for more productivity and self-development app reviews. Until then, thanks for reading and keep on keeping on!

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7 Ways to Hold Yourself Accountable

A common question that comes up in productivity spheres online is “how do I keep myself accountable?” Which is a great question. It is easy enough to be organized and make plans, but at the end of the day, if you’re not actually getting to your work, you’re not going to be productive. This can be especially difficult in society today due to the digitalization of literally everything. If your work requires you to be on a computer, it is only a matter of time before something on the internet pops up and takes your attention away from what you should be doing. Even without digitalization, it can be so easy to get distracted with things like food, your beloved pets, daydreaming, anything really.

In today’s post I offer you seven tips on how to avoid distractions and how to hold yourself accountable.

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  1. The first and one of the most effective tips I have for holding yourself accountable is to tell someone in your world that you’re going to do something. This can include telling your partner, a close friend, or even making a Twitter post. It’s best if you tell an actual person in your life because you can ask them to kindly follow up with you to make sure you have done what you originally set out to do.
  2. My second tip for holding yourself accountable is in the same vein as the first tip, which is to find an accountability partner. This is a good option because it not only provides the other person with an incentive to work with you, but you can also be more sure that they will follow up because they are counting on you to do the same.
  3. Use an app like Forest or some other timekeeping or Pomodoro app. There are so many options out there as far as time tracking apps go. Forest has been a favourite of mine for many years and I have purchased the full version of it at least twice, quite a testament as to how great it is. That said, it is a very inexpensive yet powerful app and it can be quite motivating. Other time tracking apps can help you to track your time, which can not only hold you accountable but it can also allow you to see where you spend your time and whether or not adjustments are needed.
  4. Remove distractions whenever required. Use apps like Forest (deep focus feature) or Chrome extensions like BlockSite to help you remove distractions that you know will pull you away from your work. Oftentimes I’ll use Forest’s deep focus mode to ensure that I don’t use my phone when I should be working, occasionally I will use Blocksite to block YouTube because it is the biggest distraction for you. Take some time to reflect on your workflow and what is causing disruptions for you, then look for ways to remove the distraction.
  5. Use a productivity system that forces you to migrate to-do items that you haven’t done, eventually, you’ll either get sick of migrating it and just do it or you’ll notice how long you’ve been putting it off and make time for it. For example, bullet journalling and calendar blocking force you to migrate items that you weren’t able to get to. This is especially effective if you use an analog productivity system because you won’t want to have to rewrite the same task over and over again.
  6. Set goals for yourself that are attainable but still under a time constraint. You might even want to go as far as to plan a reward if the goal is achieved, similarly to how the CleverFox Planner does. Just remember, that any rewards you plan to give yourself shouldn’t work against the goal or any others. For example, if you also have a goal of getting more fit and healthy, it might not be a good idea to reward yourself with cake. Or, if you are trying to save money, it may not be ideal to set a reward that requires you to spend a large amount of money.
  7. The last tip I have for you for holding yourself accountable is probably the most important and one that a lot of people don’t think about and that is to reflect on why you need to do something or what you will achieve by doing it and why you want to achieve that. For example, if you have a goal to lose 20 pounds, you will want to ask yourself “Why do I want to lose 20 pounds?”, make a list of the reasons. And don’t worry about the reasons being vain or selfish, it really doesn’t matter why as long as the ‘why’ matters to you. You might want to lose 20 pounds so you can fit into your favourite pair of jeans again, or maybe you want to improve your sex life, or maybe you’re worried about the long-term consequences of being overweight. Whatever it is, as long as it matters to you, it will motivate you to keep going.
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At the end of the day, the only thing that can truly hold you accountable is you, but I do hope these tips have pointed you in the right direction on how to make that happen.

Until next time folks, keep on keeping on!

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Clever Fox Planner Pro Review

I have been using the Clever Fox Pro Planner for just over a month and a half. Although I was skeptical at the beginning, I have found that this planner has been effective for me and in combination with the rest of my system, it has nearly solved my planner peace problem. If you want to know more about how this planner has helped along my planner journey, keep reading for a full review, a quick TLDR pros and cons breakdown, and my final recommendations.

I heard about the Clever Fox planners through Amazon, since I was struggling with my planning system, I was often browsing Amazon and other sites for a solution. I found the Clever Fox Planners and would put different ones in my cart and then would delete them, and this went on for a couple of weeks. Finally, once I sorted out my work solution, I decided I wanted a pre-printed planner (as opposed to a notebook and the bullet journal system) and I wanted to try out one of the Clever Fox Planners. I searched through Amazon and compared each planner and all of its features to find the one that I thought would work best for me. I landed on the Planner Pro, a very difficult decision for me because it is huge. Previously the biggest planner I had was the A5 Filofax Fusion and that was half the size of the Clever Fox Planner Pro. There were also a couple of features that I didn’t really see the point of (and I’ll get into that later in the review) so I was a little bit skeptical. But I went for it anyway.

Keep reading for a walk-through of the features of this planner.

The Clever Fox Pro Planner in all of it’s glory!

Construction

The planner I chose was the Planner Pro and it is in a beautiful and bright yellow colour. This planner is A4 or 8.5 by 11 inches in size, and it is huge. If you plan to get the Pro keep this in mind. The Pro is also shipped in a beautiful box, it comes with a ‘How to use this planner’ guide and five pages of stickers. The planner is made of sturdy, vegan leather material. The paper in this planner, is high quality and is essentially bleed proof and does not have any ghosting, except for when I use the Sharpie S-Note markers. The back envelop is very strong but is not big enough to hold a full sheet of paper unless you fold it. There are three ribbon bookmarks, all coloured differently but they match the colour of the planner well, and there is an elastic band to keep everything closed. The Clever Fox Pro can also lay flat straight out of the box.

Goal-Setting Features

The most interesting and unique features of this planner are the goal-setting features. This is fairly new to me, I usually set my goals in a casual way, only and when I felt lost or like I need to refocus. But for the past month and a half, I have truly enjoyed having my goals laid out on paper and being able to visually track and measure my progress has been motivating.

The planner starts with a page for ‘Awareness and Self-Discovery’ it asks you some journal prompt-type questions to get you thinking about your purpose and goals in life. I will be honest; I haven’t done this yet. But I appreciate that it is there and intend on doing it sometime soon. The next page is for ‘Daily Rituals’, another page that I haven’t quite used to its potential but have started filling out. These pages are followed by a ‘Vision Board’, I’d like to say I will fill this in eventually, but I honestly can’t, SMART goals are more effective than visualization in my opinion. These couple of pages were part of the reason I was hesitant about getting the planner. I didn’t really see the need for these pages, but I figured it is only 6 pages total, if I feel like I don’t need them, I won’t use them. But the next couple of pages edged me toward buying the planner, and I am glad they did.

One of the most interesting spreads in the planner is the ‘What Do I Want My Life to Be Like’, which breaks down your 1-year, 5-years, 10-years, and 20 years goals. While I don’t think planning 20 years ahead is necessary, it really does help align your present-day goals with your ultimate life goals. Thinking this far ahead can also orient you in a way that whenever you’re planning, even daily tasks, you are made to think about how these tasks contribute to achieving the future you see for yourself. Following this page, is a spread that breaks down your 1-year goals by the area of your life (i.e., health and fitness, business and career, personal development, etc.). This spread is awesome. It gives you an opportunity to think about the 1-year goals you set for yourself on the previous page and break them down into smaller, bite-sized goals. The most important feature of this page is that it reminds you to ask why you want to achieve a goal, and this is so important and motivating when setting goals.

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Monthly spreads

One of the great features of this planner is that it is completely undated. The monthly and weekly spreads are undated, so if you need a month’s break or know you will have a week that is too busy to plan or not busy enough to plan, then you can skip it without wasting pages.

To start the monthly section, there is a spread for ‘My 3-Month Goals’ and there is a spread for this every three months. I absolutely love this, it gives you space to really reflect on your goals each quarter, how you intend to achieve them, and what reward you will get (or give yourself) once completed.

The monthly spreads are quite standard. The most wonderful part of them is the size. With monthly spreads, I usually feel crammed like there isn’t enough room. The boxes are big enough to write whatever I need to, and I can even use stickers without losing too much writing real estate. There is also a column to the left for notes, and a huge section on the left page for more notes and on the right page there is a little spot for goal-setting prompts.

After each monthly spread, you are given a place to review your month. You are given a space to reflect on the biggest wins, lessons learned, areas of your life that maybe weren’t given enough attention, and more. This spread also has some cool graphics that help you to visualize your progress.

Weekly spreads

The weekly spreads are where this planner really shines. The left-hand page is your space for daily notes, to-dos, and reminders. There is a small amount of space for each day, but I find that it is more than enough for me. Within each daily section, there is a space to put your day’s goal and the three top priorities for the day, which is a practice I did in my later years of university. On the right-hand page, there is space your overall goals and priorities for the week. There is space for a work to-do list, space for a personal to-do list, and a habit tracker. The space for the work to-do list is one of the features that I absolutely love about this planner. When I am at home planning my personal tasks and a work task comes to mind, I have a place to jot it down so it doesn’t get lost. It is so important to dump things from your mind that aren’t relevant to what you are doing in that moment. So that is what I do, I dump work items there and when I come into work the next day, I am able to transfer it into my work book.

The habit tracker is blank so you can decide on a week-to-week basis what habits you want to track. This is a great feature, after a few weeks you may have made a repeating task habitual and can replace it with a new task that you would like to make a habit. Then there is a life-balance to-do list and a section for things you are excited about. Followed by a blank dot-grid section for random notes. Lastly, there is a section for wins, lessons learned, and ways to improve next week. This last section is very powerful, it gives you an opportunity to quickly reflect on the week and think about how you can change your workflow to better achieve your goals.

The dotted paper in the back of the planner is great for bullet journal-esque spreads. I haven’t used too many of these pages yet, but it is nice to have them there when needed.

Pros and Cons

See the table below for a quick summary of the pros and cons of the CleverFox Pro Planner.

PROSCONS
Inexpensive and accessibleThe size. This planner is huge and can be hard to carry around.
There are so many planner variations to choose fromThere is an overwhelming choice of various planners
Bright ColoursThe back envelop can’t fit an 8.5×11″ sheet of paper without folding it
Has a lot of writing space
Paper is thick, almost completely bleed and ghost-proof.
Space dedicated for work to-do list
Made from vegan leather
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Conclusion

I would consider buying this planner again, but I don’t know if I can commit so far as to say I would without a doubt. I might want to try a different CleverFox planner or branch out and try something new entirely. I would recommend this planner to a friend or colleague, especially to a young professional who is sorting out their life and career goals. For now, I will continue to use this planner for as long as I can and hopefully it will continue to help me stay aligned with my ultimate goals.

I hope you have enjoyed this review of the CleverFox Pro Planner. If so, subscribe to my blog and stay tuned for more!

Until then, keep on keeping on!

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Outlook Tips to Maximize Your Productivity

Microsoft Outlook is one of the most prominent email clients out there. Almost every business I have worked for or have been a part of was using Outlook and the rest of the apps within the Microsoft suite. The university I attended also used Outlook as their email client which gave me a little bit more exposure and helped me learn how to organize my Outlook.

What really pushed me to learn the ins and outs of Outlook was getting the job I am in now. Most (but not all) of the tips I have on how to make Outlook a productive space, I have learned while working this job. I have a very high volume of emails coming in on a daily basis. I am a member of various email groups and I receive several automatic reports, some are daily and some are sent every few hours. That is a lot of emails. And if my email client wasn’t sorting this out automatically, it would all get lost in an exponentially growing unread email notification. Email can be a significant source of stress at work so it is important to master your email client to make it do the majority of the work for you.

Personal Inbox

Try to keep your email inbox at zero. To help do this, unsubscribe from email blasts that no longer serve you and do this regularly. When going through your inbox you’ll recognize patterns and can eliminate emails you have no intention of reading or referencing. You’ll also find newsletters that you do want to read, organize those to so you know where to find them when you are finally ready to browse through them.

This is my personal inbox, you can see I have folders for various emails set by category or source of the email. YNAB is a good example of nerwsletters that I indeed to read, so they have a category of their own for easy access.

Work Inbox

Tasks will often come to you through your email. I have found the best way to handle tasks in email is using the flag function in Outlook. Flag an email if there is any type of action associated with it, even if the action is to file the email. This will ensure that nothing is missed. If the task will take less time than 2 mins, do it now. I often get commended at work for how quickly I respond to emails. This is because I always respond or action the task right away if I know it would take less than two minutes to complete. Work to get your task list as close to zero as often as possible. I also use flags to set reminders of recurring tasks for myself at work. For example, I do two types of payroll, one is done weekly and one is done bi-weekly, setting to-do reminders using the flag function helps me to ensure these tasks are not missed.

Never delete emails unless they are truly irrelevant and will never need to be referenced. To be safe, archive instead. I can’t count how many times I have needed to go back and reference an email that a team member deleted not realizing we would need it again.

Set an ‘Out of Office’ (OOO) auto-reply if you are going on vacation or will be away from your emails, this way anyone emailing you will know not to expect a response until your return. You can set automatic replies in the settings of Outlook, on the desktop app, the web app, and the mobile app.

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My Biggest Outlook Tip and it Works for Both Work and Personal Inboxes

Folders and rules are so important to keeping any 21st century inbox manageable. The way you set up your folders will also adapt and grow as time goes on and as you notice new patterns. Make sure to make a folder for every person, type of email, and topic, coming into your inbox on a regular basis. For example, I receive emails from my boss on a daily basis and want to access them easily, so I make a folder for him and set up a rule so anything he sends me is put automatically into that folder. In my personal inbox, I have folders for various aspects of my life, for example, any emails coming in from my part-time gig are filed into a folder and I have a folder dedicated to emails related to By The Scales. I also have a folders for receipts and another for tax returns because I usually file online. If the email is important, not a newsletter, subscription email or from a retail business of any kind file it right away.

If you do set up folders and automatic rules, make sure you keep an eye on the unread notifcation for every folder so you are aware when something new comes in. Automatically filed emails won’t trigger a notification, so you will need to keep a close eye, But this is particularly handy for when you are at home and not wanting to receive notifications for every email coming in.

BONUS: Online and Mobile App Features

Sweep is a brilliant feature that basically allows you to choose from a shortlist of rules that would help clear out the unimportant mail coming through your inbox. I use this to clear my inbox of promotional emails mostly. For example, I had unsubscribed from ‘BestBuys’ emails, then I highlight the last email from them, click sweep, and select ‘Move messages older than 10 days from the inbox’. Then Outlook will go through your entire inbox for email from that specific sender (so usually, any receipts or customer service emails from the same company won’t be included, because they all use different emails for different purposes) to whatever folder you set it as, in this case I would choose to delete the emails.

This is another screenshot of my person email that shows where you can access the Sweep function in the web app.

“Do Not Disturb”, the do not dsiturb function is another very important function if you are worried about keeping your personal life and work life separate. I have set this function so it automatically turns on for evenings and weekends. I do occasionally check my emails when I have a spare moment during these times, but overall thanks to this feature, I am not getting notifications and being distracted at home by work.

This image shows a screenshot of my work email in the mobile app. Here you can see some of the folders I have set up and I have also highlighted where you can find the ‘Do Not Disturb’ function.

Mastering applications like Outlook is not only good for your productivity at work but it can also help you organize your personal life. Making your work and personal inboxes can also help to keep the two worlds as separate as possible. It is so important to keep your inboxes as organized and free from clutter as possible, this will help increase your productivity and will be less overwhelming on high email volume days. I highly recommend slowly implementing these tips to your inboxes you will notice a huge difference.

As always, I hope you all have found these tips helpful! Thanks for reading and until next time, keep on keeping on.

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6 Ways to Take a Productive Break

When I was a full-time student in school, I would have to sit in front of my computer writing or sit at a desk reading for hours on end. When trying to stay productive for long hours, it is important to take breaks. However, sometimes, depending on how long the break is and what you do during the break can, taking one can interrupt your flow and momentum.

For me, I learned that it was best to take a break by doing something else that is productive but not in the same stream of work. To put it in other words, I would change the task at hand but I would make sure whatever I’m doing is either mentally or physically stimulating, energizing, or productive.

If you vary the type of work you are doing in a session, you can make your mind and body believe you are taking a break, even though you are still being productive, one way or another.

Below are six suggestions on types of productive breaks you can take that won’t kill your momentum!

Do a low intensity workout. It really doesn’t matter what the activity is, but if you are doing a long study session, it’s always a good idea to get up and get some exercise.

Play a mentally stimulating video game. I play challenging video games like Civilization and X-Com, these are both games that encourage strategizing and problem-solving. Skills that are important to develop no matter what you plan to do in life and working on these skills is stimulating enough to keep your momentum going. After about an hour of gaming, I go back to my essay or studying feeling like I’ve just taken a break, but my brain hasn’t gotten fogged up or listless after consuming passive entertainment like TV or scrolling through social media.

Video games have so many benefits, among them, hand-eye coordination, critical thinking, problem-solving, team work, and more!

Go for a walk. This is a wonderful option because it means your going to get some light exercise and fresh air. If you take a walk while the sun is out you’ll even get some added benefits of Vitamin D. Vitamin D can fight disease, reduce depression and boost weigh loss (Healthline, 2017).

Use your creativity. Creative outlets like painting, drawing, colouring, knitting, and other mixed media and crafting, can have the same effect as playing a stimulating video game. Studying for two hours, taking a thirty minute break to use your creativity, will feel like taking a break without making you to return to the task at hand.

Painting can be a great way to keep momentum and get those creative juices flowing!

Learn a language. If you are hoping to learn or are trying to learn a language or two, you know that it can be quite difficult if you don’t stay consistent and ensure you are working on it in some capacity every single day. It can be easy to add it to your study sessions without having it feel like work. For example, don’t pull out your beginner language textbooks if you were just studying for your English class. This will feel far too much like what you were just doing and you won’t feel like you just took a break. Instead, pull out a language learning app, a book, TV show, video game, whatever type of media it is, as long as it’s not in your first language your brain will find it stimulating and you won’t get sluggish or unproductive.

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Refuel. Eat a snack and have some water. Keep in mind, it is important to have only small snacks or a light meal mid-session, eating heavy food or too much food can cause you to become lazy and lose momentum.

The great thing about shaking up how you take breaks, is that it gives you an opportunity to keep things fresh and make every day different. This can increase your overall, long-term productivity becasue it will take longer for you to fall into a rut. Every work session will look different and that is great. When I was a full time student, I would get an essay done, infiltrate an alien base, and paint all in one hours long session. I’d take short five or ten minute breaks to have snacks, go to the bathroom, or stretch my legs. This is the reason I was always working ahead. I would be well-prepared for most due dates well in advance. Unlike a lot of my peers, I would start studying for an upcoming test for weeks in advance.

I think it is so important to keep how you work fresh so it is easy to stay inspired and motivation to keep on keeping on!

Thanks for reading folks!


Sources

Healthline. 3 Surprising Benefits of Vitamin D. Last medically reviewed November 13, 2017.

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2 Reasons Why My Work Planner is Unstoppable

In my post about Planner Peace, I talked about the main challenge I was having in finding a planning system that worked for me, was that I was having a hard time bringing my work world and my personal life together. In my most recent post on Digital Planning, I also talked about my difficulty with needing everything to look perfect.

The first step for me to achieving planner peace was to find the perfect solution for work. Whatever it was it needed to be versatile, effortless, and I needed to make sure I wouldn’t get caught up on how it looked. After over two years of trying various planners and planning methods, I stomped over to the supply drawer at work and picked up a standard, five-subject notebook.

My New Work “Planner”

Why it Works

This work notebook has served me well for the past month and a half and there are a two reasons why.

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Perfection. If you are anything like me, then you want your planners to go look as good as your artistic abilities will allow. As soon as one mistake is made it can feel mortifying and the anxiety that leads up to this moment can slow down your productivity and block your ability to focus. It important to let go of perfection, especially for your work planner

And I have let go of perfection to the point where I just use a huge, lined, Hilroy notebook to write out to-dos and reminders. It’s not pretty, it’s not aesthetically pleasing, but it gets the job done.

Messy but fast and effective.

Versatility. The Hilroy notebook is great for this. Any notebook will do, just like the Bullet Journal System. Essentially, what I am doing is a stripped down version of the Bullet Journal. There is no index, no spreads, and no collections. Just a daily to-do list, with notes, and appointment reminders spread throughout. I can turn any page into whatever I want it do be, whenever I want. This is so powerful when you need to spontaneously write meeting notes, jot notes on a conversation, jot a fact down from a website, write a to-do, and everything else what can be done on lined paper.

Highlighted items are migrated to the next day, occasionally I highlight items I want to be easy to find.
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How it Works

I use a bullet journal type key for the to-do lists, but there are no spreads in the book other than ‘dailies’. I write the date at the top of the page and go from there.

Every day I go through the previous pages with a highlighter and highlight anything I haven’t done yet or any reminders that are still relevant and ‘migrate’ them to the current page. This helps me make sure that nothing gets lost.

I use sticky notes occasionally as well, but it’s not wholly systematic. Sometimes I have a sticky note with me and not my book so I use that.

Other than that, I do use sticky notes for a particular purpose though. I will use sticky notes for personal notes when I don’t have my personal planner around or even out. At the end of the workday, I take any stickies that pertain to my personal life and stick them in my personal planner.

Sticky notes galore but not for decoration.

Have a dedicated space in your work planner for personal stuff and a dedicated space for work items in your personal planner. For me, my personal planner has space for work items. I use sticky notes for personal items, this makes them transferable and only in my work planner temporarily.

If I am at home, and a work to-do, reminder, or idea occurs to me there is a section of my personal planner dedicated to work to-dos. In the morning, when I get to work I transfer this information to my work planner, if it is relevant for that day. I’ll show what this looks like in my upcoming post about my current personal planner.

What I learned through this whole process is that in order to achieve planner peace you need to really sit down and reflect on your habits and how they affect your productivity.

Stay tuned for more! Until then, keep on keeping on!

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Digital Planning and Why it Didn’t Work for Me

As mentioned in my post on Achieving Planner Peace, I used a couple of digital planners for a few months prior to moving on to my current system.

I bought an iPad Pro about a year ago, I wanted it for several things, including work, productivity, Dungeons and Dragons, creativity, and gaming. At the same time, I kept seeing videos on YouTube of folks using their iPads as digital planners. I thought the concept was interesting, and I was going through another phase of planner fail, so I thought I would check it out.

I knew I didn’t want to freehand a planner in an app like GoodNotes or Notability, I figured if I’m going to freehand my planner, I want it to be in hardcopy. So I browsed through Etsy for some premade planners I could use in GoodNotes.

I found a digital planner by ForLittleLion on Etsy, it’s a beautiful, minimalist design, and it was very functional. The planner was jam-packed with features and links.

I started using the planner in August 2020 and stopped using it in February, when I picked up the new digital planner, also from Etsy and started using it. I called it my “work planner” and hoped to use both at the same time. Spoiler alert, this didn’t work out. I used this one until April 2021, and I only used it sparingly.

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There are a lot of reasons I stopped using Digital Planners

  • If I forgot to charge my iPad I was in big trouble.
  • As mentioned in my previous post about planner fail, using two actual planners was not working out for me. Stay tuned for upcoming posts on my current system! Coming soon!
  • My writing was messier than it would be on paper on the iPad, which was not okay for me.
  • I was again wanting to use my planner for documentation but didn’t like how it looked – while the format and aesthetic of the planner itself was professional, it looked unpresentable.
  • Sometimes it’s easier and faster to just write something down on an actual piece of paper or a physical notebook.

Things I did enjoy about the Digital Planners

  • The whole entire planner was linked, with thousands of links, making it really easy to navigate.
  • I loved the fact that there was a “meeting notes” page and that I could duplicate it an infinite amount of times. It was difficult to organize though.
  • There was no need to carry an additional notebook and my iPad, my shoulders thanked me for the short amount of time that I used this solution.
  • This solution was sustainable and environment-friendly.

Even though Digital Planning didn’t work for me, I would still recommend giving it a shot because it is a more modern and sustainable option. I, myself, will continue using some of the pages from these planners for other projects.

I will be posting about my current solution over the next few days, stay tuned for more on that!

Until then, keep on keeping on folks!

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Why I Stopped Bullet Journaling. Planner Fail and How to Fix It.

The Bullet Journal, a planner system invented by Ryder Caroll, has been one of the most popular planning systems on the internet since the Filofax. I’ve been using planners for at least a decade, through my years of being a student in high school and then university and working full-times jobs throughout.

My Planner Journey

I started off my planner journey by buying a cheap, undated, Martha Stewart notebook from Target and making it eseentialy into a bullet journal, but before Ryder Carol actually created the concept of bullet journalling.

I took my notebook around with me everywhere and basically turned it into a DIY planner. Some pages would have lists on them or general notes and some were strictly planner pages with to do lists and my work and class schedules. I used crayola markers as highlighters to spruce it up.

One day while shopping at Winners I lucked out and found a Malden Filofax and this is where my planner journey truly kicked off. The binder was stunning, it had beautiful and bendable black leather, that only improved with age. The Malden was my sidekick, I carried it everywhere I went and it housed everything.

Black Personal Sized Malden Filofax
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I used my Filofax throughout my victory lap in high school and at several jobs. But eventually, the small amount of writing space and the annoying binder rings drove me to buy a bigger A5 sized Fusion filofax. This one i loved as well, with more writing spcae and room to decorate i was able to use it for more. But eventually, the bulkiness of this binder sarting becoming a nuissance and I stopped using it as my daily planner.

I will still use this binder, I’ve put a lot of my language learning matierals in it.

Black A5 Fusion Filofax

After the Fusion, I purchased the Nude Original Filofax. Again, another great binder, but I couldn’t use it for long, for the same reasons as before, writing space and the binder rings. It was around this time that the Bullet Journal was starting to become popular and I was going into my first year of university and was on the hunt for something simple and effective.

So I went to Target and bought a plain black, lined Moleskine and started my first Bullet Journal. And it was amazing, it was the best planning system I had ever used because it was built by me for me. I used the bullet journalling style as an inspiration but made it my own completely. For my daily spreads, I printed out Chronodex Diagrams and glued them into my planner, I would put labels around the Chronodex in the top half and on the bottom half, I had my “Bullet Journal List” including, appointments/events, to-dos, notes, reminders, etc. It was fantastic and now that I am thinking about it, I might have to go back to it if my current solution doesn’t work out.

Black Hardcover Moleskine
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I stayed with the Bullet Journal for years and enjoyed it very much. Sometimes I miss it, but I also want to keep trying new things. I did fall out it bullet journaling in my last notebook. For quite a few reasons, but namely, because I was trying to use it for both work and my personal life and it wasn’t working for me anymore.

I bought an iPad Pro and figured I may as well try out digital planning. But I knew I didn’t want to do a free hand planner digitally, so I went through Etsy and picked the planner that looked the most versatile, the most filled with features, and had a minimalist aesthetic (shoutout to forLittleLion on Etsy). I used the digital planner for a few months and moderately enjoyed it. But I was using it for both work and my personal life again, and it truly wasn’t working for me. I was also running into issues with wanting to use my planner’s work notes as documentation but couldn’t because I have personal notes written on the same page.

Today, I use the Clever Fox Planner Pro. I have only been using it for about two to three weeks, but so far I am loving. Stay tuned if you want to know why I love it, a full review is coming soon. I have an entirely different solution for work, and so far, I think this is going to work for me for a while. Stay tuned for a post about that work solution. The only thing I see as maybe changing in the future is my personal planner, because it may get boring for me.What is the solution to planner fail? I think the solution to planner fail, really depends on the problem itself, so the answer will definitely not be the same for every person. For me, the issue was that after I got the job I have now, I was struggling to mesh my working life and my personal life into one planner. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t make it work.

Yellow Clever Fox Planner Pro

If you followed the progression of my planner story, then it should be obvious as to what the first step is, it is to diagnose your issue. Really take the time to reflect on your planning goals, needs, and wants and think about the ways in which your current system supports that and the ways it does not. This will help you narrow down your options and determine what you need to make things work for you.

Once you diagnose the problem. Start working on the solution.

Make sure to sign up for my email subscription and follow me on social media, so you don’t miss out on the follow-ups to this post.

As always, thanks for reading folks and all the best on your journey to planner peace!

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