shoutout to my passion planner.

Dear Passion Planner,

Thank you for helping me get through this week. It was full of all kinds of ups and downs — some I expected, others I didn’t. 

You helped me stay focused and motivated in my new daily routine, despite the fact that I’ve really struggled to keep my head together and be creative in my work amid all the ugliness of our world these past few days. 

For the last eight months, you’ve indulged my crazy obsessive behavior, provided me with plenty of space to doodle and draw, and given me an excuse to invest in lots of colored pens. When I look through all of your pages, I see a full record of my first full year working out on my own, and that’s pretty cool. On the days when I wonder if I’m actually getting anything accomplished, you remind me that I’ve already made so much progress. 

Basically, Passion Planner, you are one of the better decisions I’ve made in the process of revamping my work and life over the past year, and you can consider me a true lifelong fan. 

Thanks! (No, seriously, thanks so much.)

Alli 

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Working on putting together my schedule for next week. 

For the record, this is not a sponsored post, and I am not a Passion Planner affiliate. I just really love this product, and I want to give it the credit it deserves. 

People often ask me what’s helped me be successful working from home, and my Passion Planner is easily one of my best secret weapons. But why should I keep it a secret? You can get your hands on one, too, and I totally think you should.

I’ve tried so many different planners and planning systems over the years, so why do I love this one so much? It gives me so much space. I use the classic size (instead of the compact), and it allows me to break down my day into hourly chunks. Since I make my own schedule, I find this really useful. I also love being able to get creative with all the white space! I keep a set of colored pens (I like Paper Mate Flair felt tips!) with me at all times, and noting my appointments, deadlines, and to-do lists in such a fun and colorful way makes the chaos seem a lot more approachable. If you’re someone who likes journaling and periodic goal-setting, the Passion Planner is especially perfect for you, because it prompts you to reflect on the progress you’re making both personally and professionally at the end of every month.

I wanted to let you all know that Passion Planner is currently running a Kickstarter for pre-orders on 2018 planners. There are tons of product options (including a new eco-friendly line), and for every planner sold during the campaign, Passion Planner will also plant a tree. What’s not to love about that? Inventory is often backordered later in the year, so if you’re interested in getting your hands on a Passion Planner for 2018, this is the right time to do it. I, for one, pre-ordered my Rose Gold Blossom planner earlier this week, and I can’t wait to get my paws on it in a few weeks when the Kickstarter is finished.

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Feel free to reach out to me with any questions you have about how I use my Passion Planner. If you haven’t figured it out by now, I seriously love talking about it.

Are you pre-ordering your 2018 planner? I’d love to hear which one you picked in the comments below!

Have a great weekend, everyone! I’ll see you back here next week for the AUGUST GIVEAWAY!!!!!!

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tired + uninspired.

Yesterday was a weird one, guys.

It was also an exercise in flexibility and in being patient with myself when things don’t go to plan work-wise. So often, I share the positives of freelancing and being out on my own, so today, I thought I’d give you a peek into the days that are less straightforward, the kind of days that can make me play head games with myself if I’m not careful.

I barely slept on Wednesday night (as many of you know, sleeping — or not sleeping — is a recurring problem for me), so my day yesterday started on a very wrong, very tired foot. When Matt left for work at 6:30, I resisted the urge to try to fall back to sleep and instead started working right away. Since I was already up, I figured I would get an extra early start on my to-do list for the day, and then take a break later on if I needed it. Everything was going OK for a while. I knocked a lot of items off my list, and I was feeling pretty good — even if I was still super tired.

At the beginning of every week, I loosely plan out how I’m going to spend my time for the upcoming days, so I knew the plan for yesterday was to be as productive as possible on a few miscellaneous projects in the morning, leaving the afternoon open to work on writing the book. By the time I got to that afternoon portion, though, I was dragging.

When I opened up my work in progress and started trying to type out the next words, I was suddenly totally overwhelmed. My mind was entirely blank, which made me feel terrible about myself, only making me feel less inspired. I sat in front of my computer stuck in this vicious cycle for about 30 minutes.

When it became clear that staring at the screen was only making things worse, I considered my options. All of my other urgent work items had been taken care of, so I thought about parking myself on the couch, granting myself an official half day, and simply sleeping it off with some Hulu in the background. Then, I remembered that one of my goals for August is to avoid low quality “me time” — basically the textbook definition of binge watching.

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Instead, I gave myself permission to grab my book (I’m nearing the end of The Nix, which I would definitely recommend) and get comfy in my office chair. I left my laptop open in front of me so I could keep an eye on any urgent emails coming through, and started reading. If my problem was writer’s block and a lack of inspiration, getting lost in a good book seemed a totally worthy solution, even if it wasn’t part of my plan and even if it felt like a bit of an indulgence. I spent the rest of the afternoon that way, and it was (obviously) an infinitely more productive alternative to watching four episodes of the Kardashians.

Learning to give myself grace on days when I can’t simultaneously be the perfect boss and the perfect employee is an ongoing process, but I realize on days like yesterday that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. I don’t need to be “on” or “off.” There are plenty of gray areas in between, and when I allow myself to exist in those areas, I make better use of my time than when I simply get discouraged and give up. And in my world — where words and creativity are the tools of the trade — spending the afternoon with a good book is the equivalent of spending an afternoon in meetings or workshops with upper-level management (and I know this because I spent five years in corporate America!), because it’s a dedicated period of learning and development. I’m a book lover, so I can’t pretend that it’s not also a treat, but remember — it doesn’t need to be all or nothing, one or the other. I’m working on figuring that out myself each and every day.

Happy weekending, friends. Wishing you lots of rest and inspiration!

6 lessons from my inbox obsession.

Hello. My name is Alli, and I’m obsessed with my inbox.

OK, so I don’t lose sleep in the quest for inbox-zero. (Ugh, only in my dreams do I have inbox-zero.) But the tendency toward hyper-organization that you’ve probably noticed in some of my other posts really rears it’s head when it comes to email. From the late-nineties days of my first AOL email account (#flashbackfriday, anyone?), I can remember feeling super overwhelmed anytime messages began piling up in my inbox. To this day, when email starts to get out of control, I feel a little extra twinge of anxiety. Sound familiar?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot this week as my inbox has exploded with post-Fourth of July sales junk mail and as I’ve gotten all of my communication back on track after spending the holiday in Turks + Caicos. People often ask me how I’m able to stay organized and (mostly) calm, cool, and collected as I’ve learned to run my own writing business, and I honestly credit a lot of it to my somewhat annoying tendencies in this area. As far as I’m concerned, a well-tended inbox is the key to tackling a busy day or a long to-do list. If I’m feeling overwhelmed by email (and, believe it or not, I’m actually really sensitive to things like this), I can get pretty freaked out — and I start to wish I could have what my parents used to call a “do over day” when I was little.

Email is such a major part of our lives both in the office and at home, and I know I’m not the only one who craves order there! More than a few times over the years, people have commented on how crazy-controlled my inbox is (if there are ten messages hanging out, that’s a lot for me), so I thought I’d share some of my weird and obsessive tips with you today. Here’s hoping they help you take on another week with a perfect (at least on the outside) composure — but not before you enjoy an amazing weekend!

Check out my six inbox tips here:

1. Don’t overdo it on the go. I only do two things on my phone’s email app: 1.) respond to urgent messages and 2.) delete messages that are clearly trash. Obviously, you may need to make exceptions to this rule if you’re constantly traveling for work, but I find that managing the vast majority of email in front of my computer forces me to stick to more of a system and to be more consistent with the other tips below.

2. Make morning and evening email purges part of your schedule. If you’re usually the kind of person who doesn’t care about an overflowing inbox, but you’re trying to get some new email habits, this is a great place to start. Kick off your day by going through your messages, deleting junk, and marking priority follow-ups. Do the same before the day ends. Even if your more relaxed nature (I’m jealous!) keeps you from purging your inbox continuously throughout the day, these two checkpoints will help you make progress!

3. Don’t be afraid to delete. Yes, I know that the new Bed, Bath & Beyond coupon you received today has you all excited about buying some new sheets, but you probably have (at least) five other Bed, Bath & Beyond coupons already in your inbox — and you haven’t cashed in on any of them yet. Get real about what you’re actually going to use, and then delete the rest. Trust me: streamlining your email is going to be really good for your productivity and for your mental health overall… even if you end up doing a little less online bargain shopping.

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4. Use folders, labels, and color coding. I’m not even going to tell you how many folders and labels I use in Gmail. Let’s just say it’s a lot (what you see above is only a handful of them). If you didn’t know you can create these in Gmail (I’ve found that a lot of people don’t!), you can get an easy how-to here. My favorite thing about this system is that it allows you to label things while they’re still active in your inbox and when you archive them later on. PLUS, you can color code them, which I love (duh).

5. Figure out a different place to track follow-up items. Instead of letting emails linger in my inbox simply because I know I need to reply to them later on, I archive them (in the folders described above!) and note the day I want to follow up in my trusty Passion Planner. You could do the same in your to-do list app or Outlook calendar. You’ll be amazed by how much this helps with clutter.

6. Stop procrastinating and just reply. Even on a good day, I can still feel really overwhelmed by emails, and sometimes, I just want to cover my eyes and pretend there aren’t more coming in. We all know how this ends, though. It just makes the problem worse. I’ve learned over the years that replying to emails is pretty much the last thing I should procrastinate on. Getting back to people quickly allows me to clear out my inbox… and everyone appreciates when you make a habit to respond ASAP!

Do you have any other email tips you’d like to share? Please tell me I’m not the only one who’s a total freak about this.

: )

in it for the long haul.

Wow, what a week. If you could see me right now, I’d probably be doing a happy dance. Or sleeping. Either way, I would be celebrating the end of what feels like one of the craziest five-day stretches of the last few months. I have even more to celebrate today because we are heading home to Pennsylvania this afternoon for my sister’s high school graduation tonight… and I have another sister turning sixteen and getting her driving learner’s permit tomorrow. Life never stands still over here, and it couldn’t be more fun.

Lately, the whole rhythm of my work has been a little bit different, because I’ve been spending a lot of time on longer-term projects. Typically, I write a few articles on a shorter turnaround every week, with a handful of “bigger picture” pieces that I’m brainstorming, researching, and drafting simultaneously at any given time. I’m also always trying to grab time here and there to work on writing my book, which, as you all know, I accomplish to (seriously) varying levels of success.

These days, I’ve had to shift my focus a bit, because I’m also tackling a massive copyediting project. For a variety of reasons, the timeline went into overdrive a few weeks ago, and I’ve really had to pick up the pace so I can meet the deadline. In order to make that happen, I’ve had to shuffle my other priorities and put other things on the back burner. At the same time, I’m working hard at being more disciplined with my book writing process, which is a majorly long-term project in itself. Basically, the whole tone of my work has changed over the last few weeks, and it’s been an adjustment.

When I was working in corporate America, I worked almost entirely on a long-term project basis, so I’ve been trying to dust off some of those handy skills. One thing I’ve been missing as part of that process, though, is the teamwork element. When you’re working on the same thing day after day, only slowly chipping away at something that feels totally overwhelming, it’s nice to have a group of people around to help motivate you. Doing it on my own, I find that I’ve needed to put some systems in place that can keep me focused and visually remind me of the progress I’m making.

I’ve always loved the feeling of checking things off lists, and my experience working in sales has given me a forever fondness for what we used to lovingly refer to as “grids.” I’m bringing the grid concept into some of the long-term work I’ve been doing lately, and it’s been really helpful, especially since I’m more or less operating in a vacuum!

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I’ve been tracking my progress on the copyediting process chapter-by-chapter since the beginning, but it’s really been keeping me motivated in this last stretch. (For those of you who are fans of The Office and Parks and Rec, I also like to think that Michael Scott and Leslie Knope would be proud of this whiteboard action. Didn’t they both use “thermometer-style” drawings to keep track of things over the years?) I love the way it feels to fill in each block — so much that I think I may even be sad when it’s finished and there’s nothing left to fill in! (That might be an exaggeration, but, you know what I’m saying…)

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This week, I expanded this tool to help me stay on point with working on my book. As you may remember from my latest goals recap, I’m trying to work toward setting aside a few hours, two to three days week to do this (instead of a few minutes every day, which was sort of overwhelming me). I started creating these little time trackers and taping them into my Passion Planner, and I’ve already seen a major difference in just a week! (I know, I’m a total nerd. When I was in high school, I was the girl who carried a pad of graph paper and a pair of scissors to math class so that I could draw perfect graphs and tape them into my notebooks. Yeesh.)

Working on these bigger-scale projects all on my own has definitely been a challenge over the last few weeks, but I do feel like it’s been a good opportunity for me to figure out some new ways of managing this whole work-from-home thing. I’m definitely excited to keep up with my new time tracking habit when it comes to working on my book, and I have high hopes that it will help me pick up the momentum that I’ve so desperately needed.

How do you manage bigger-picture projects at work and home? I’d love to read your tips in the comments below!

seventh month recap.

Happy Monday, friends! Whether you celebrate Passover or Easter, I hope you got to enjoy some quality time with loved ones over the last week. Matt and I were traveling to see family for the weekend, but just like that, it’s back to the grind today! Saturday marked seven months since I left my job in corporate America, and since I was busy watching my sister’s college team kick butt on the lacrosse field, I’m sharing my monthly recap today instead (you can check out the last recap here).

Check out some of this month’s developments below. The spring weather (and blooms!) has really given me a new outlook on work, life, and everything in between. I’m loving it!

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  • I’ve been switching up my routine. Initially, I was more or less sticking to my old 9-to-5 schedule: get up and out of the apartment early, get to the gym, then switch into office mode for the rest of the day. In the last few weeks, I’ve sort of naturally changed things around, and I’m really liking the way it’s flowed. I’m still up and moving by 6:30 or 7 at the latest (I’ve always been an early riser, plus Matt is out the door by 6:30, so I’m usually awake, anyway!), but instead of getting right into my workout, I’ve been doing an intense hour-ish of work — and usually in bed. I know, I know… I was pretty high and mighty early on about “never working from bed,” but I find that if I can get the bulk of my administrative work and emails out of the way first thing, it gets my day started on a really productive foot, and if bringing my laptop under the blankets with me from 6:30 to 8 makes that easier, then why not? Lately, I’ve been getting to the gym for a workout (usually a run, since the Brooklyn Half is just a few weeks away!) sometime between 11 and 1, which is a nice way to break up the day.
  • I’m feeling healthy again. After the holiday season, I found myself in a bit of a rut with my exercise and nutrition. I was struggling to control my sweet tooth, having trouble finding ways to eat healthy during the day, and generally feeling icky about myself — and the lack of Vitamin D certainly didn’t help things. Over the last week or two, I’m finally starting to feel back on my game, and I think that changing up my schedule has had a lot to do with it. As much as I love to stick to one consistent ritual, I’m realizing that making small adjustments can totally change my outlook and state of mind.
  • I’ve started taking advantage of outdoor workspaces. I can definitely admit that this is a luxury of working from home, but I’m happy to say that in the first week of spring weather, I indulged in it — enthusiastically. Who knew that so many of the city’s outdoor spaces have WiFi? Over the years, I’ve struggled a lot to figure out if NYC is the right place for me, and I’ve been finding that when I have more opportunities to explore it in the fresh air, I feel a lot more at peace with being a New Yorker. Pretty soon it will probably be too hot to bring my laptop outside, so in the meantime, I’ll enjoy this fun little season of afternoons working on rooftops and in Bryant Park!
  • I’m having to say “no” to things. It’s hard to believe that seven months ago, I was practically begging for any gig I could get my hands on. I still have a long way to go in building out my writing career, but there have definitely been periods lately when I’ve had to force myself to politely turn down new projects, or press pause on hustling for new opportunities. It’s a delicate balance between stalling the growth of my business and letting things get too out of control, and figuring out that balance seems to be an ongoing process!
  • Money is finally feeling less stressful. My natural state is to be frugal, so I don’t think I’ll ever be totally comfortable financially, but seven months in, it feels like my income is now reliable (knock on wood, right?). In the beginning, I often thought to myself, “There’s no way I’ll be able to earn money like this again next month,” and I’m finally starting to believe that my work is paying off in the form of consistent paychecks. It’s important not to get complacent, but it does feel good to be able to take a deep breath and relax about money… and to treat myself to a new pair of shoes every once in a while : )

On to month eight! Thanks, as always, for being the best cheerleaders out there!

real talk #2

Last week, I wrote about a few of the things that I would call “keys to success” for work-from-homers. While I stand by those suggestions and credit them with the fact that I’m now almost six months into this journey and haven’t lost my mind (yet), my method is far from perfect, so I think it’s time for another round of Real Talk (you can check out the first one here!). You guys keep me honest, and as always, I want to be as transparent as possible about these transitions and experiences.

Matt and I spent this past weekend at the Jersey shore, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. I was feeling pretty burned out toward the end of last week, and even though I still had to work while we were away, the change of scenery couldn’t have come at a better time. Sometimes, all it takes to get back on track mentally is a day or two outside of your normal routine — and a walk on a cloudy beach or a few hours with a good book definitely doesn’t hurt, either.

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I’m so lucky to have this guy to help bring me back when I’m feeling down. 

I wish I could put my finger on exactly why I felt so stretched to my breaking point last week. After a weekend of traveling, I was trying to settle back into both my work and personal routines, and I just felt like I couldn’t keep up with what needed to get done. Then, as soon as I felt caught up, I realized that what I really wanted to be was ahead, and the frustration of not being ahead launched me into a whole other round of being annoyed with myself. And then, I would internally scold myself for not being more patient and not celebrating the strides that I was making. All of this ultimately led to me getting angry that I was scolding myself and not granting myself more grace… and you can totally see how this line of thought could drive a girl (especially a sleep-deprived one) crazy.

One thing you can really miss when you’re working from home is the voice of reason that often comes to you in the form of incredible office friends and co-workers. I hit plenty of low points back in my old job, too, but there was always someone in the next cubicle ready to talk me down and put a pin in the irrational cycle of thinking described above.

Most of the time, I enjoy being alone in my home office. I’ve always been inherently independent, and I find that I’m much more productive when I can be self-directed about my work. When things are status quo, this is all true, but when I’m talking myself into a pretty depressing corner (like I was last week), I really start to miss the tough love and listening ear of colleagues. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again — working from home is not all easy, and it’s not all glamorous. The highs feel super high, but the lows are no fun. And that’s your Real Talk for the day : )

Luckily, as I start to rack up more projects, I’m able to surround myself with new contacts who are definitely feeling more like friends every day. I’m trying to learn to open up to these new people, and I’m also working harder at asking for help from my loved ones when I know I need their support to snap out of a freelance/work-from-home funk. Like I did this weekend, I need to allow myself to take a break from the daily routine so I can reset my attitude. A little self-care really does work wonders!

What do you do when you’re stuck in a cycle of negative self-talk? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!

***Don’t forget to enter the February giveaway so you can win this beautiful blue necklace from The Shine Project!  All you have to do to enter to win is comment on my last post here. I’ll be drawing and announcing the winner on Thursday! ***

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the work-from-home “should list”

I just got back from a weekend in Savanah, Georgia, where I had a chance to celebrate the bachelorette party of one of my closest friends! It was so fun to have lots of girl time, and Savannah also happens to be one of my favorite places in the world. I couldn’t be more honored to be part of this wedding!

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After a whirlwind weekend, it’s always a little stressful to settle back into my everyday work routine, especially since I’m trying to catch up on “life stuff,” too! Since this is a pretty typical challenge of working from home (I feel like I can both be unpacking and answering all of my e-mails at the same time!), I thought I’d share more today about what I think it takes to really be successful outside of a standard office. I get questions about this a lot, and although I’m definitely not an expert yet, I do have some thoughts about what you “should” do to get the most out of the experience. Here are some of the things I’ve learned in my first few months:

  • You should be motivated and self-directed. When I first started telling people that I was leaving my 9-to-5 job to work from home as a freelancer, the first reaction I got from many of them was, “I could never do that because I couldn’t force myself to get things done. But you probably can.” I’ve always been pretty proactive, which is a total necessity in my new life. If you’re not someone who’s driven to get things accomplished on or ahead of a schedule — even when no one is reminding you and there’s no official risk of being fired — working from home could definitely be a stretch for you.
  • You should understand your ideal work habits. It’s pretty amazing what you can learn about your work habits when you get to explore them outside of a traditional office environment. For the first few weeks after I went freelance, I tried out different things — working in lots of coffee shops, sitting in my home office all the time — until I had a feel for what would be most efficient and effective. In the end, I’ve found that I work best when I spend the first half of the day with my things spread out on my coffee table and the second half at my desk. I think you have to be open to figuring out how to make the most of your work-from-home routine.
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My typical morning work environment.

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And the typical afternoon!

  • You should be flexible. Every day is different, and even though I tried to set some rules for myself when I first started working from home, I’ve learned that I’m more productive when I allow myself to be a little less rigid. When I allow myself to lean into the different routines of each day, everything works better.
  • You should be able to be patient and forgiving with yourself. Since every day is different, there are definitely days when I get more accomplished than others. This was true in my old job, too, but I think I’m more aware of it now because I put added pressure on myself to really come through and be successful (and because now, if I’m not focusing 100% on work, I can read a book or run some errands instead of just messing around on the internet, which somehow feels like cheating the system!). I still have to remember to be kind to myself on those days, and I can’t allow myself to discredit the work I’m doing by being my own worst critic.
  • You should be prepared to develop some workaholic tendencies. When your home is your office and your office is your home, all of the lines that separate your professional life from your personal life get pretty blurry. In my former life in corporate America, I didn’t even get my work e-mail on my phone. These days, I’m constantly connected to my e-mail, and I’m usually sending messages first thing in the morning and last thing before I go to sleep.
  • You probably shouldn’t enjoy being in your bed too much. While I definitely wish I was a better sleeper, I’m honestly kind of relieved that I’m not someone who likes to snooze until 10 in the morning or lounge in bed all day. There are moments when I feel tempted to snuggle in a little longer, but if that was more of a habit, I think that working out of my home would prove a much bigger challenge.
  • You should feel really confident about what you’re doing. Other people aren’t always going to understand your job. In my experience, they may not buy into the “work from home lifestyle” or give a whole lot of credibility to your work simply because you don’t report in to an office every day. I’ve learned to let these comments roll off my back — but, admittedly, that’s easier on the days when I’m feeling extra confident about my work and how I choose to do it. It’s important not to allow negative attitudes to throw you off your game!