Good For You

Spring Cleaning (with Some Help from Disney)

My mom was relentless about spring cleaning. When April vacation rolled around, every corner of our house was turned out, scrubbed, inspected, and returned (unless we rearranged the living room that year). I lived with the hope that woodland creatures would pour into our house and dust the furniture with their tails or help with the laundry.

They never did.

Woodland_cleaning

Pretty sure this is exploiting cheap labor, Snow White.

April vacation was probably my least favorite. But as an adult, I appreciate the lesson, and thought I’d share a bit of Kathy’s wisdom about spring cleaning, with the help of Disney.

1. Do I even need this?

As you go through your space, take some time and reassess what you really need. Mom always accused me of being a pack-rat (a.k.a. hoarder, like my girl Ariel). Although I preferred to think of it as possessing powerful gathering instincts, Mom had a point. Useless clutter build up around my room, and if left unchecked, I would have had a collection of “stuff” that put the Little Mermaid’s to shame. 

Little_Mermaid_Hoarder

Face it, Ariel. You have a problem.

The awesome part about this step is that it can be a preemptive measure. When shopping, I use a little trick my mom taught me. Sometimes, there’s a shirt or dress that I try on, but can’t determine my level of commitment to the purchase. Mom chimes in with “Will you wear it seven times?” This number changes based on a) the item in question and b) how much it costs, but the point is to have some system in place. Sometimes, you have to ask, “Will this thingamabob serve its purpose, or sit in my closet collecting dust?” If you aren’t going to wear it seven times, put it back on the rack. This article from MoneyNing offers other tips for determining what you need in your life (bonus points for saving money).

Technology Takeaway: Are there errant files on your computer? Plugins on your Wordpress website you aren’t using? Delete, purge, and enjoy the extra space!

2. Upkeep 

One of the reasons why the annual spring cleaning of my youth seemed so daunting was because most of what we cleaned hadn’t been touched for…about a year. It’s amazing how disgusting an area can become when neglected.

You may have a vague awareness that things are starting to slip, and anxiety about cleaning it accumulates to the point where part of your brain shuts off and you forget the area exists. Or, like the Beast, you’ve constructed this shame-cave of neglect and become a hyper-aggressive jerk to your house-guests.

 

Even the roomba isn't allowed in the West Wing.

Even the Roomba isn’t allowed in the West Wing.

The good news: It doesn’t have to be this bad! The bad news: Chores. As previously mentioned, you cannot get woodland creatures to clean your house. But, there are great tools online for cleaning, whether you’re tackling some hard to reach places  or searching for an app to remind you to do chores. Plus, you can always invest in a Roomba.

Technology Takeaway: Do you have automated backups on your computer? Have you not updated your website software in awhile? Set aside an appointment with yourself quarterly, even if only 30 minutes, to tackle those technology chores before they become unmanageable.

3. Letting Go

Part of the spring cleaning process involves throwing out old belongings. As a child , by this point I developed a strong sentimental attachment to everything, and tried to convince Mom that separation from any object in my room would cause deep emotional scarring. On my laptop, I currently keep hundreds of terrible pictures, homework assignments from high school and college, and old PDF files that I never read in the first place.  It’s the same with that shirt I’ve had for six years but never wear…because, that one day I wore it was a really awesome day.

Frozen_Meme

Those shoes are being held together by super glue and fond memories. It’s time to move on.

There comes a point, either during spring cleaning or life in general, when you’re faced with letting go of something that you still value. But, a one-legged Barbie doll with a mullet or shoes that have begun disintegrating probably don’t have a place in your life anymore. And that’s okay. If you’re struggling to take that last step, you can always look to Elsa for encouragement.

Technology Takeaway: Did you start that Tumblr blog two years ago and know you will never update it? Look at those aspirational technology tasks you’ve taken up (and things that are no longer a part of who you are) and let them go. Just because you used to have a Myspace account, doesn’t mean you have to ever log in again.

These days, I’m by no means thrilled about spring cleaning. I still need a carrot (or pint of ice cream) dangling in front of me as a motivator, and still harbor some resentment that I can’t whistle and summon woodland creatures to do my chores (thanks for nothing, Bambi). Spring is all about starting fresh, and I suppose that’s as good a reason as any to roll up my sleeves and start cleaning.

Toy_story

If your childhood toys resemble these, NEVER get rid of them.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Living the Dream: How to Avoid Getting Burnt Out

(For optimal experience, listen to “Eye of the Tiger” while reading this post).

"That rhymed. Unintentional" Hot Rod, 2007

“That rhymed. Unintentional” Hot Rod, 2007

Setting goals for yourself is awesome, and reaching them is one of the most rewarding experiences of all time. But what about that middle part? The part with all the hard work, the blood, sweat, and tears? It’s the part that can make or break a goal. Only 1 out of every 8 people who make New Years resolutions actually keep them, and that seems like a sad statistic. For instance, last year I spontaneously decided to run my first marathon. Although the goal was met, it took a lot out of me, and I pretty much never wanted to run again. I left the experience thinking, “That wasn’t even worth it.

Hard work is required to reach your goal (whatever it may be). But, it doesn’t need to be an excruciating process. Here are five things to keep in mind that will hopefully keep you from burning out or abandoning ship:

Check Yourself: Ask yourself, “Why am I really doing this?” Is it a lifelong goal? A matter of pushing your limits, an opportunity for growth? Are you trying to impress someone? Personally, I’m more likely to reach a goal if I’m doing it for me. Don’t get me wrong, having a support system and outside motivation helps exponentially. Unfortunately, my support system can’t hover around in the morning when I’m having a hard time extracting myself from a warm-ish bed to run through whatever Mother Nature decided to dish out for the day. I remind myself, “Hey, I could just stay right here. No one is making me go for a run.” And, it’s that thought that propels me out the door.

Look Up: While taking it one day at a time has its benefits, if you keep your head down and barrel through one day after another, you may lose sight of a few things. Your thinking may become more geared toward short-term results for a long-term goal. This article from The Simple Dollar discusses how this phenomenon manifests in terms of financial goals. You probably won’t notice the small changes that happen day by day. Remember to look up once in awhile, just for a dose of perspective. You may be surprised at how far you’ve come.

Realistic Goals in Reasonable Time Frames: I tend to set arbitrary goals for myself that involve going from 0 to 60 in 0.2 seconds. This equals setting myself up for failure. Deciding on a whim that tomorrow, I will bench 300 pounds, will only result in disappointment and probably some sort of horrific injury (especially since I only work my glamour muscles). This tragic hypothetical experience will prevent me from ever wanting to lift again. When you’re mapping out a goal, keep it real. It will look different for some people. For instance, I would be delusional if I made a goal to become a billionaire by 2015. However, this may be in the realm of possibility for you. And if so, we should be friends.

Encourage Others: Karma is a real thing. You get what you put in.  Offer your help, support and good vibes to others, and most importantly, mean it. If you aren’t genuine…it doesn’t count. When you take the time to do this, it feels good, and it may actually help boost your own chance at success.Plus, in the grand scheme of things, we’re all just spinning on a rock around a huge ball of fire and no one knows what tomorrow will bring. We might as well help each other out.

Chill Out: No matter what you’re trying to accomplish, sometimes you may need to take a step back. Hey, we all need a break once in awhile. If you find yourself overdoing or overthinking, it’s time to chill for a bit. Focus on something else for a while, or reflect and maybe tweak your plan. When you come back to it, you can hit the ground running. While upsetting, my six month hiatus from running last year was probably necessary. Something I formerly enjoyed warped into a source of frustration and resentment. Running and I found ourselves in a passionless relationship, and secretly wanted to smother the other with a pillow in the middle of the night. After a break, I had a new attitude. I started approaching running, and everything else in my life, with ideas covered in this post. So far, so good.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way- so, just keep that will alive. Whatever your dream, don’t stop believin’. (Yeah, that’s right. I went there).

 

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

How Running Keeps Me Creative

In times of “bleh,” such as mid-March when Mother Nature can’t quite decide if it should be winter or spring, it’s hard to stay inspired. Creative thinking gets put on the back-burner as we focus on getting through winter.

I believe that we are all creative beings, in our own way. Our methods of expression vary (I mean, you can be creative with how you brush your teeth), but there’s something satisfying about looking at what we’ve made, and thinking, Hey, check out what I just did!

Personally, I channel my creative impulses with writing. Although, last spring I rediscovered Microsoft Paint and it was like the first time I had ice-cream (minus the heartbreak of being a slow eater). During stretches of time when I don’t access my creativity, life becomes gray and shapeless. It’s like the blobs from Zoloft commercials. My theory is that I’m not alone in this feeling. With each passing uncreative day, the lurking doom of losing life’s colors and shapes becomes inevitable. Unless, of course, you have a counter-attack- an activity that helps keep you going.

MS Paint: An often under-appreciated medium for self-expression.

MS Paint: An often under-appreciated medium for self-expression.

For me, that counter-attack is running. Yes, there are all kinds of studies about how running releases feel-good chemicals, but on a more personal level, it just helps me think.

When I run, the ties that bind (be they self-doubt, fear, pride) come undone. Freed from the burden of expectation, nothing is good or bad, but MAN, am I happy. And suddenly, it no longer seems like I’m trying to reinvent the wheel. Ideas start to flow organically. By the time I get back home, creative energy is practically shooting out of my fingertips.

Running may not fuel your creative fire, but something out there does. Maybe you need to move or remain still or stand on your head, talk it out or reflect in silence. Take some time to discover what inspires you, what moves you artistically. And, whether you’re painting a masterpiece, making macaroni art, breakdancing, or singing “Let Her Go” by Passenger in an opera voice on a long drive home, get out there and create.

Kassie is a distance runner and a distance reader really. She lives in Ellsworth Maine and, while she might be quiet when you meet her, will throw out something witty when you least expect it.

Accountability Partners: The How And Why

 

Accountability is key! Image from: http://hauterepublic.com/blog/

Accountability is key! Image from: http://hauterepublic.com/blog/

As part of a business program I am doing, one of the challenges proposed was to get an accountability partner and check in with them once a week.

Initially, I thought of this as one more meeting I had to go to but sighed and said I was in. (My usual strategy to something I think will be good for me is to try it at least, even if I think it’s lame.)

I got paired up with A, a photographer and graphics designer in Atlanta Georgia. (A random matchmaker in the group paired us up based on being in the same time zone.)

It’s kind of funny to have gotten to know A as I’ve gotten to know her. Normally when you meet friends, you get to know each other slowly. Maybe you exchange some small talk in the break room.You might send them a “Happy Birthday” message on Facebook or be pleasantly surprised to run into them. But in general this friendship is built over time and starts off casual.

An accountability partner is kind of like getting right to the ‘best friend’ part of the relationship. It’s happens fast because it has to.

A and I had a first conversation (about two hours) on the phone where we spent an hour telling the other our respective back stories. While you might think this might not be adequate time, it was relatively intense and, at least speaking about me summarizing my whole life in about 50 minutes, I can say A knows enough about me from this conversation to be friendly but more importantly to be helpful.

As I write this, I am not entirely sure where A went to college or what religion she is (though I could easily look that up on Facebook because we’re friends or ask her the next time we talk). It’s not really the point.

So if you don’t share anything in particular (even an arbitrary interest) you might ask ‘Well what is the point?’

After the first getting to know each other conversation, we set our 3 month, 6 month, and 12 months goals. We wrote them in Google Docs and shared them with each other. As stuff gets done, we cross it off (no deleting- we want to track progress). Every week (well most every week), we have a check in phone call.

What’s hilarious is that despite taking up an hour every week in my life, this has actually been pretty useful. Talking to A about what I’ve done and not done makes her part supportive friend, part impartial third party, part tough love.

And tough love, I mean asking me the questions I should be asking myself. We didn’t I email that person I said I would? Oh right, because I’m scared they won’t want to work with me. She’s never pushy, just inquisitive. We all need nudging and I’m glad she does it.

Because A and I don’t have lots of time together, we don’t have time to tell each other stories or think of false excuses. We get right to the point. Sure we vent sometimes but it is never long winded  when we do.

The relationship I have with A is unlike any relationship I’ve had with anyone. It’s useful to both of us and, while I’m sure we’d be actual friends if she lived closer or we shared some interest together, it’s kind of better that we aren’t. I don’t have to run into A after admitting to a petty thought. I don’t have to tell her why I am so frustrated that I gained three pounds last week. Her being friend, impartial third party, and nudger in one means she is also not one of those things. She can acknowledge, give an idea, and move on. And I do the same for her.

Now you might ask yourself, how do I get an accountability partner?

First off, it helps if you are set up. The program I’m in does that but your alumni association, business course, or some other group you belong to might be able to set you up. Several places online seem to be able to help you if you are willing to pay a bit of money (my program costs money). The only free one I’ve really seen is this Reddit group.

But ideally this person is someone you don’t know well but someone you can trust whose perspective you can appreciate. If A and I after hearing each other’s backstories didn’t see some common values or ideas, I am sure we would have both opted for another accountability partner option. While I would have probably been offended, I know it would be better in the long run to work with someone you are very compatible with. This isn’t just someone you go hiking or drinking with; this is someone who knows things about you that lots of other people don’t so choosing the right person should take time and effort.

If you want something more intense, this is one of the coolest articles I’ve read this year about an accountability group (It’s a long one but worth a read).

And as a third and final alternative, if you like the idea of a group but want something a bit less intense and a bit more short term of a format than The Elephants, you can always start or join a goals group. 

So while I didn’t invent this idea, I did want to let you know that it’s not hokey or weird. It actually has been working really well for me! Accountability can sometimes be lame (or maybe a little scary) but having someone to be it with makes it much less so.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Forced Creativity In 30 Day Challenges

I have been working with a health coach the last couple of months.

I haven’t mentioned this partially because I’ve been waiting for the big reveal in a few months… it can take longer to get results you can see than it is to get results you can feel apparently. I also haven’t mentioned it because it feels like that’s what wealthy people who have too much money do.

Not so it turns out. It’s one of the best investments I’ve ever made.

Anyway, part of her work with me has been evaluating all aspects of my life. I took the assessment at the beginning and two months in. Improvement in health (and other) areas but one area continues to lag for me: creativity.

Now I know what you’re thinking: Nicole, you’re creative all day. And I am, I get to be creative all day… for the business and for other peoples’ businesses.

But not really for myself. In terms of creating art or ‘fun’ creativity, I have been neglectful the last few years. And I am someone who has always needed that in my life.

What I like about Pinterest is that it has introduced a series of these ’30 day’ challenges. A lot of them are fitness ones:

30daypushupchallenge

This is forcing creativity in your workout… and not taking much of your day.

Other challenges I’ve seen go by?

30dayphotochallenge

And this one:

30daywardrobechallengewwwI’ve actually been doing the 30 day wardrobe challenge to push my creativity (and to make me less sick of what’s in my closet by wearing things in new ways).

I’ve gotten lots more compliments on my outfits and by having the challenge, it’s almost given me permission to experiment in a way I wouldn’t have without an assignment.

If you feel a bit in a rut in some area of your life and think some creativity might improve it, I urge you to find one of these 30 day challenges and see how it goes. Your creativity might surprise you. It certainly has surprised me.

So if you see me wearing something totally nuts this month, I have an excuse… and an opportunity.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.

Three Reasons Why You Should Rename Your Files Before Sending Them To Me

*Note content has been changed to protect the well meaning.

I open the email from a client and there are three photos: ‘IMG_93245’, ‘IMG_3445’, and ‘IMG_4558’

The text in the email “These are photos of Rachel, Pam, and Sheila.”

I appreciate knowing but having never met Rachel, Pam, or Sheila, I don’t know who is who. So I take a stab at it and figure the order they are attached might be a clue; maybe the first person is Rachel, etc.

Nope.

Here are four reasons (three you actually care about) before you fire off an email to your web developer, social media person, etc. you might want to rename those photo files.

1) It’s less confusing for us. (I swear this is my only self serving reason.)

Here’s the thing, I get a lot of email. And sometimes, I download it onto my computer only to find a stray photo months later and think ‘Oh was this what so-and-so was talking about?’ By naming the photo, it helps me stick it in the right project or simply find it in my email… which brings me to.

2) Renaming your files allows you to find it years later.

Let’s say a year from now, you are redoing your brochure. “Remember that beautiful sunset photo I sent to Nicole? I wonder where that is…”

If you would have called it ‘sunset_near_rental.jpg’ when you initally sent it to me, you’d be able to search your computer for the word ‘sunset’ and likely find it. The generic file name off your camera will not be helpful in this instance.

Now am I saying you should name ALL your files? No way, who has time for that? But if you think it’s nice enough to send to someone like me who shares it on social media or your blog, it might be nice enough to use for some other purpose later.

3) You can see how huge the file is when you rename it.

Usually renaming it will allow you to see how big, or not big, a file is. (Because at least for me, I get to the file info when I rename things.)

I had a client send me a photo she wanted on a slideshow once. It was small but I shrugged, figured she was the customer and always right… so I put it on her slideshow and asked her about it. When she saw how pixelated it was, she knew she had sent me the wrong (too small) photo.

Renaming your files gives you that chance to look at the file again, whether it is in iPhoto, Windows Media Gallery, wherever.

4) File names are picked up by search engines.

You know when you do a Google image search for something and think ‘How does it bring me back such relevant (and sometimes hilariously irrelevant) results?’ It’s not like there’s people at Google cataloging photos on the internet. Instead search engines skim things like filenames and alt text. How else would we know that little girl is also named Nicole Ouellette (like me)?

nicoleouelletteincaption

In other words, there are several good reasons to rename your favorite photos. You can do it however you like (here’s an idea) but the point is, you’re not just doing it for me. You’re doing it for search engines and most importantly, for yourself.

Nicole runs Breaking Even Communications, an internet marketing company in Bar Harbor Maine. When she’s not online, she enjoys walking her short dog, cooking with bacon, and trying to be outdoorsy in Acadia National Park.
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