Archive of ‘Time Management’ category

4 Must-Have Items for Work-At-Home Moms

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Anyone who know me knows that I love efficiency, time-saving tricks, and (of course) results. As a new mom, I feel like the above 3 have become monumentally important, so I thought I’d share what I’ve discovered.

Below are 4 very simple, but (I believe) essential must-have items that every new work-at-home mom should have.

Cute ‘mom’ coffee mug– This one’s mostly for fun, but I find that my ‘Blessed’ coffee mug (a gift from a friend when I had my baby) puts me in the right ‘balanced’ frame of mind when I start my morning. Drinking from it is a reminder to take a moment, think about my little one, and also gives me my caffeine fix to work hard at my laptop for the day.

All-purpose planner– I’m old school (and I think a lot of other college instructors are, too!), so I have an actual paper planner, and it’s kind of like one huge syllabus with assignment deadlines for my various schools for the entire semester (it’s the only way I keep it all straight!), but I also record baby milestones in it (although I have a separate baby calendar, as well), and pencil in dates with friends.

Nursing shirts for every occasion (seriously)- I found some great nursing tops on Amazon that are super cheap, look great, come in 6 colors (I have all 6), and can be dressed up or down, and even worn to work events with a blazer (the colors and fit are perfect for the classroom or meetings). I sleep in them, wear them to workout, meet up with friends (with a scarf, cardigan, and/or necklace to add some variety), when I’m working from home (with a cozy sweater and leggings), and even during webinars with students (throw on a cardigan or blazer and earrings and you’re ready to go!). The versatility and not having to think about what I’m wearing each day has been exactly what this time-crunched, sleep-deprived work at home mom needs.

Freemie pump parts– Whether you’re working from home, in the classroom, or both, this purchase (discrete cups you can put in any shirt- I prefer to also wear a fluffy, light scarf if I’m using them in the car!) will save you time, effort, and make you feel productive during your commute to campus. They’re also great to use while working at your laptop so you don’t have to take a 20 minute break when you’re on a roll grading papers.

The 4 items above may not seem like much, but here’s the way I look at it: the mug is my ‘get-up-and-go’ each morning, the planner and shirts are my tired brain’s best friend when it’s hard to know where to begin (whether at work or when getting dressed), and the pump parts may offer some freedom and can keep me from wasting unnecessary time during the day.

These are the things that keep everything moving forward and functioning the way they need to in my life right now, and that is worth everything!

Happy living, momming, and working!

How to Get 4 Full Weeks of Winter Break When Teaching Online

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As college instructors know, winter break typically runs for mid-December to early or mid-January, which means we basically get a month off from teaching, which sounds amazing!

However, when teaching online you also have a lot of work to take care of during your ‘break,’ unless you plan accordingly (which is where this blog post comes in).

If you play your cards right and plan ahead, you can actually get that full 21-28 day break from work (which really is incredible), here’s how: 

  • If the schools you’re working for allow you to set your own date for your final exam during the usual weeklong final exam week, set it for the very first day! Then you’re able to submit your final grades a few days earlier, and take your break earlier.
  • For each school, you’ll have a long list of items to take care of when setting up your Spring classes (it may include updating your syllabus, schedule, assignments deadlines, and many other items within your Canvas or Blackboard course)- don’t wait to do this over your break! I always set up my course within 48 hours of getting my new class schedule (which typically happens halfway through the Fall semester). Not only does this mean I don’t have to worry about it over my break, but I have plenty of time to contact my supervisors about any issues- and they tend to be impressed that you’re so on top of things!
  • Anticipate any student issues or questions that will come up right before or during the first week of Spring classes (if you’ve been doing this for long enough, you know what they’ll be), and have automatic, detailed announcements already set up to be sent out on the first or second day of classes. This way, when students come to you with questions about said issue, you can simply say ‘That’s a great question! Go ahead and read the course announcement that was sent out earlier this week, and after reading through it, let me know if you have any additional questions!’ I promise it’ll make your life so much easier, and keep your time spent checking emails to just a few minutes a day toward the end of your break.

Of course (as you saw in #3 above), you may have to respond to the occasional email during your time off, and then during that first slow week of the Spring term, but if you’ve planned ahead, you can set yourself up for a really nice chunk of time away from your laptop and away from worrying about what fires you’ll need to put out next.

I hope this helps some of you as you’re wrapping up this term (and if it’s too late, remember the tips for next year!).

Enjoy your time off, and happy holidays!

4 Time Saving Tricks When Working From Home with a Newborn

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When my mom friends told me taking care of a newborn would be time consuming, I didn’t realize how much of an understatement that was- that it would take up about 12 hours in a 24 hour day (when you do just the basics- feeding, changing, burping, getting them to bed, dealing with a gassy stomach, etc.). When I did that math when my little lady was about one-month old, it kind of blew my mind.

Right around that one-month mark, after calculating that at 12 hours spent with the baby each day, plus my average of 6 hours of sleep time each night, I was left with just 6 hours left each day.

Just 6 hours each day to do everything else.

That’s the amount of time I have left to work, eat, see my husband when he gets home from work, buy diaper rash cream on Amazon, Google whatever baby crisis is happening, maintain some sort of contact with the outside world (like texting friends), and maybe even change out of my sweats into something different for the day.

After all this hit me, and after feeling like I couldn’t get ahead with my work, I became more strategic with how I did things.

Granted, I haven’t had a maternity leave during these early weeks (no complaining- I have an awesome job, but it can be time consuming!), so I’ve been working 20-30 hours a week without a break (and taking two faculty development classes online, because I kind of wanted to prove something to myself, I guess) and had to figure all this out for survival’s sake. However, I know there are other working moms, or even stay at home moms who are incredibly busy, who could use some of these shortcuts, so here you go!

  • Go to bed early & be willing to sacrifice a little bit more sleep to get an early start in the morning. I know, you’ve probably already sacrificed the max amount of sleep that you want to, but for me a little extra productivity is worth a little less sleep. I’ve been trying to get us all ready for bed about two hours earlier than I typically would like to, that way if I shave off some sleep time in the morning to get an earlier start (like 10 or 11 am- don’t worry, I’m not that ambitious with a 7 week old), I don’t feel it quite as much. I also feel like I then have a chance to build up better momentum to get things done. (Note: If baby won’t go to bed, give dad a pacifier and bottle and have him take over so you can pass out by 10 pm.)
  • Do whatever you can to get baby to sleep faster, or at least find something to occupy her so you can work. I had to experiment with a few things (and I’m still experimenting). The small bassinet she would nap in on the couch in my office left her too fussy to sleep for more than an hour at a time, then the mamaroo worked like magic for a few days so I could work for 3 hour stretches during the day, but it wasn’t nearly as effective a few days later (like most things do with a new baby). Currently, a baby carrier works like a charm to keep her close to mom and keep her content (and normally asleep- like right now) while I’m at my laptop grading papers or writing blog posts.
  • Use feeding time as hour long breaks to recharge for the next work session, as valuable time for baby, and/or keep working at your laptop while she eats. Depending on what I need to accomplish for the day, I might watch Netflix to take a mental break from working, read an ebook out loud to my little lady, play music for her development, or have her eat while she’s in her baby carrier so I can keep working away (it doesn’t always work, but when it does it’s a huge time saver!).
  • Keep snacks next to the laptop. Most people would probably give the opposite advice so that you don’t eat all day long, but I suggest getting the portions you think you’ll need of water, trail mix, fruit, etc. and keep it by your laptop. I tell myself it has to last me until 6 pm when my husband comes home. At the that point I can hand the baby to him, eat some real food, and spend some quality time chatting with him before baby needs us and/or before I need to get back to work.

It may not sound ideal, but so far so good! For you busy work-from-home moms, it’s all about trial and error (as I’m sure you know), so keep powering through. You’ve got this!

Happy living 🙂

Quick, Healthy Foods to Snack on When Working From Home

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When I tell people that I work from home, a surprising number of people respond with ‘I could never work from home, I’d just eat all day.’

However, I actually find that (1) when you’re focused on working, you’re not usually mindlessly rummaging around the kitchen, so you’re fine. And (2), it’s easier to eat better, healthier options and feel satisfied than if you had to limit yourself to whatever you’d brought for lunch or had available at a traditional office.

During the last year or so that I’ve worked from my actual home a few days a week,

I’ve found a few snacks that hit the spots, keep my energy up, and can sit at my desks for a few hours or days if I don’t want to break my work flow by taking too long to eat.

  • Water. Of course, maybe you wouldn’t consider this a snack, but it’s good for you, and it does energize the body, help you stay full, and it will get you up and moving every couple hours to refill your bottle and/or use the restroom.
  • Dark chocolate. I keep a stash of small dark chocolate bars in the kitchen, and normally snack on one over the course of a day. I eat the really dark stuff (85%), so that I’m not tempted to eat too much, and so that I get a nice little boost of energy.
  • Melon (cantaloupe, honeydew, or watermelon). We have one of these cut up into huge slices in the fridge at all times. If you want something refreshing that you can eat a lot of without overdoing it, start snacking on some type of melon.
  • Nuts. If you’re in the middle of a project and don’t want to break your focus, keep a small bag of nuts at your desk. Nuts aren’t my favorite food, but if I’m getting hungry and I really don’t want to start preparing something in the kitchen (which, I know from experience, inevitably leads to a longer break that could lead to procrastinating), I’ll eat some almonds or cashews to hold me over until I can take a real break.

You may already eat some of these snacks at your home office, or even from a traditional office, but if you haven’t discovered these choices, I encourage you to give them a try!

Happy living :).

How to Create Boundaries When Working From Home

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There are plenty of things I could work on in my personal and professional life. However, I pride myself on having finally mastered the surprisingly difficult task of working from home (I might regret saying that as soon as Baby joins us in a few months here..). For the most part, I’m organized, efficient, and pretty great with a routine.

However.

As much as I thrive with structure, it still took me a full year of working from home to feel like I had actually nailed it.

Here’s how I learned to create a routine, a work space that actually works, and learned to establish some mental, work, and social boundaries (as someone who could easily be tempted to work or play 24/7, but has learned not to):

  • Working from home doesn’t have to be pretty. If you’re better off working from a coffee shop, do it. If you get more accomplished working from a home office or your kitchen table, do it. Since I’ve been pregnant and queasy on a daily basis, my 8-10 hour ‘work from Panera’ days started making me nervous, so I had to retrain myself to work from home. I wish I could say I sit in my beautiful home office, close those lovely French doors, and get my work done gracefully, but as hard as I tried, it didn’t work. In reality, I sit at my new, trendy kitchen table and bury it under schedules, folders, textbooks, and other odds and ends (it easily seats 8 people, but I’ve managed to leave only one clear spot for someone who needs to eat- it’s not great, but it works perfectly for grading and checking emails!).
  • Know what type of schedule is required of you, and don’t overextend yourself. Maybe your boss has told you to work your 40 hours a week whenever it’s best for you, or maybe you’re given a pile of work (like me) and when you’re done you’re done. Know what you have to do, and do no more. Most weeks, if I work diligently, I work all day (8-10 hours) Monday and Wednesday, and just 1-2 hours on the other days (which I don’t count as work days, since it’s mostly checking email, taking care of loose ends, and dealing with the usual student crisis and/or paperwork- but no grading). I try not to drag things out throughout the week (like I’ve done in the past), since it makes me feel like I never get an actual break.
  • Check your email once a day, that’s it. If your company has a different email policy, by all means, follow it. However, as an online instructor I’m required to check email every 48 hours (which initially meant that I nervously checked my email 3 times a day and had a hard time getting anything else done). These days I feel most comfortable if I check my email once every 24 hours (usually first thing when I wake up in the morning, otherwise it hangs over my head until I finally do it). It typically takes 1-2 hours to deal with my emails, but once I’m done, I’m done until tomorrow and I can move on to other things.
  • Don’t make yourself socially available every day of the week, block off solid working days. When I first started working from home, I felt like I could make plans with family and friends every day of the week, but it kept me from getting into the right mindset to get things done, and it set a bad precedent that I was always around and willing to do anything on any day of the week (which was tempting, but I still had work to do!). These days Mondays are definitely off the table for socializing, and normally Wednesdays are, too. I didn’t set out to do things this way, but after a year of working from home and learning what days are best for me and my students, Mondays and Wednesdays organically became my work days (give yourself some time and you’ll likely fall into your natural work-from-home rhythm, as well). Before I knew it, my plans with family and friends started shifting, and they would only ask to hang out on my other available days of the week.

My tricks aren’t revolutionary, but it took a full year to step back and see what I had done. At this point, working from home feels effortless, and if you give yourself some time, you might also find yourself falling into a natural routine that reduces the mental burden of working from home.

Give it some time and patience :). Happy living!

Automate Everything: How to Save 10 Hours Each Week

DSC_4981 copyTim Ferriss has talked about how to cut hours from our busy schedules in The Four Hour Work Week, and I took some helpful suggestions to heart after listening to the audio book. However, I’m sure many people, like me, were still left thinking “I don’t know that I could apply this to my job/life.”

Having said that, I think I’ve found a number of ways to apply the advice, put my own spin on it, and cut out a few tedious hours from each week.

If you don’t teach online college courses, this might not feel relevant to your situation, but who knows- it might just spark some similar ideas for efficiency in your particular field or life in general.

Here’s where I’m at:

I’ve reached the point in my online teaching career that I’ve started having regular conversations with a colleague of mine who lives in New York, has two kids, and has been teaching at multiple universities online for much longer than I have (something I rarely find), so her advice about balancing work and life is invaluable to me.

I’ve discovered a major theme in our phone calls lately, which is simple but also life-altering, and similar to the theme of The Four Hour Work Week and other helpful life hack-related articles I’ve read:

Automate everything.

When I sat back and thought about everything I’ve learned about organization, consistency, and teaching efficiently from my colleague and other like-minded people, I realized that the real gems that are helping me at this point are about automation (or as close to it as you can get as a freelance employee of sorts).

These are 4 new changes I’ve made to make my personal life and work life not only more efficient, but also much less stressful and more satisfying:

  • Set up weekly announcements to be sent automatically to each class at each school months ahead of time. My friend turned me onto this idea, and at first I was afraid there would be some massive mistakes and incorrect deadlines in these pre-planned announcements. However, it’s been two months since I stopped sending bi-weekly announcements, and I have to admit, having one less thing to take care of (in online classes at 3 schools) on Mondays and Wednesdays is so much nicer (and much more of a timesaver) than I thought it would be.
  • Have a separate planner to keep school deadlines and grading tasks straight. I used to rely on a random list of ‘to dos’ for each school that I updated daily (yes, daily- a huge waste of time) based on what I saw was up next in each class’s course schedule. However, after taking the same colleague’s advice, I created a planner that worked well for me (I actually made my own- if that gives you any indication of how obsessively organized I am), and pre-scheduled (a few weeks before the semester started) every day that I would have to grade certain assignments. My brain is so grateful for not having to strain to remember what was on the course schedule for that one school in that one tab that I just closed on my computer. Again, I was very doubtful (I normally have an aversion to calendars and planners), but it has been really nice to have ‘past me’ organize this entire semester’s ‘‘to dos.’
  • Plan meals ahead of time. I have tiny tubs of peanut butter, chicken salad and cracker ‘snack kits,’ and bags of almonds ready for when I need to run out the door (and they’re usually already packed away in my ‘teacher bag’ when I’m in the classroom all day). I also have dinners and lunches set up for my husband at the beginning of the week (all from Trader Joe’s, which eliminates most of the dedication, cooking, cost, and concern about health content on my part- thank you, Trader Joe’s!).
  • Automate your social life as much as possible. My husband and I have a few different groups of friends, and we also enjoy spending as much time as possible with family members who live nearby. For a while, it was time consuming just figuring out how to coordinate plans with everyone. To cut down on having to come up with creative activities to fill our usual 3-day weekends and see numerous people, we’ve established a few different ‘go-to’ activities on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays; it includes movies in the park with friends, Saturday and Sunday farmer’s markets (all scheduled by our city), family dinners on Sunday night, and an always ready guest room for dear friends and family who want to hang out for the night.

You may look at this list and consider the concept of ‘automating everything’ ridiculous; it is kind of crazy that we’ve become so busy as a society that we have to be hyper-organized to keep up with the demands of life. However, I see this as a chance to eliminate much of the busy work we deal with, and save hours of our lives to more fully enjoy being present, living at a slower pace, and appreciating the simple things in life.

Happy living :).

The Best Rubrics for Grading Online Discussion Posts

DSC_4984 copyTeaching as an online instructor at a variety of colleges has its advantages- one is that I get to see how different deans, department chairs, etc. run their departments, and most importantly, I can see where there might be some overlap in grading requirements among the schools without too much guesswork on my part.

Recently, I discovered that grading online discussion posts doesn’t have to be the headache I thought it was. After consulting with a department chair at one school, and an instructional designer at another school, I realized that many instructors use an incredibly simple rubric to grade their discussions.

For the sake of privacy, I won’t give you their exact rubrics, but I’ll include the rubrics I created based on their original wording and weights:

Discussion Rubric (Worth 100%)

Answered the discussion prompt at a minimum (50%)

Answered prompt/question/s correctly, and with detail (30%)

Responded to 2 student posts (20%)

Discussion Rubric (Worth 10 points)

No participation: Original discussion post is not submitted (0 points)

Competent: Original discussion post does not meet the length requirement and/or is not well developed (5 points)

Proficient: Original discussion post meets the length required and is well developed (10 points)

This following is a rubric I recently reworked for a third school where I teach online, based on what I learned about simplifying the grading process for discussions:

Discussion Rubric (Worth 20 points)

Poor: Insufficient work (5 points)

Fair: Some components missing (10 points)

Good: Competent/minimal effort (15 points)

Excellent: Substantial effort (20 points)

I hope these samples helped some of you struggling out there. Feel free to implement these, share them, or alter them to suit your own needs in the classroom.

Happy learning and happy teaching!

4 Tips for Staying Focused When Working from the Local Coffee Shop

IMG_0133I recently had a former student ask me how I stay motivated to work from home or coffee shops. I’m currently working from my laptop at the Panera down the street, so I thought now would be a good time to list 4 tips that are helping me stay focused at the moment:

  1. Focus on completing/make a written list of your 3 most important tasks for the day, which are probably your most difficult and time-consuming (but a measly 3 tasks always seems more doable than a list of 10 small things!)
  1.  Put your phone on airplane mode (texts and incoming email get especially tempting when you don’t want to get to the hard work)
  1.  Listen to classical music, jazz, or whatever helps you focus (I actually bring 2 pairs of ear buds just in case)
  1.  Wear comfortable clothes (I’m not going to lie, I tend to wear layers, even in the summer, so I don’t get too cold and unfocused)

For those of you out there working from a laptop without a traditional boss or traditional working hours, teaching online, freelancing, or even just telecommuting for a big corporation, I hope this helped!

Happy working and happy living 🙂

Top 5 Lifesavers for New Online College Instructors

DSC_5846During the past few years that I’ve taught online, it’s been a lot of trial and error to figure out what schools and supervisors expect from online adjuncts. Generally, we get tossed into the online classroom without much guidance (and regardless of how long you’ve been doing this, different schools place value on different areas/assignments in your course, so there’s a lot to learn!).

However, now that I’m working at 4 schools as an online instructor, I feel that I finally have a well-rounded view of what most supervisors and schools are looking for in a quality course, and I’m starting to notice some patterns evolve, so I thought I’d share this with other new online instructors (or those thinking about it), so you can set up your courses appropriately, effectively, and in as uniform a way as possible:

  • Get each school’s email sent to your smart phone.

I know I’ve mentioned this in posts before, but it’s the easiest and most convenient way to be sure you respond to student emails in a timely manner. One of the biggest things schools want to see is that you check your email and respond within 24 hours on ‘business days’ and within 48 hours on weekends.

To be on the safe side (you never know when a new department chair might quietly step into leadership and expect something different without necessarily announcing new expectations to everyone- and this has happened before in my experience), I always check email and respond within 24 hours, even on weekends.

  • Have an electronic rubric for each assignment.

Use rubrics often, keep them simple, and use them for each student. I used to have complicated online rubrics (back when I was coming straight from the classroom, and didn’t understand how annoying this would make the online grading process for me, or how frustrating it would be for my students to try to deconstruct once they got their grades back). I’m still working on fixing up the rubrics for some of my schools, but the simplified, more effective rubrics I recently implemented just require a few clicks and are much easier for my students to understand. It also saves time on grading and requires less written feedback..

Schools appreciate it when they see an instructor using a well-designed rubric (which makes grading more objective and less subjective, and tends to be preferable at every school), as well as giving students some additional, substantive feedback on the assignment other than simply “Good job!”

  • Close all comments on the Course Announcements if you use Canvas.

This one might seem oddly specific, but two of the schools I work for are currently making the move from Blackboard to Canvas, so this is important and might just save your reputation on RateMyProfessor and elsewhere: If you send Course Announcements in Canvas, students can comment on them (at any point during the semester, regardless of how old the announcement is), and you will never be notified, ever.

I wish someone would eliminate or improve this feature so it does more than get well-meaning instructors into trouble with students (it’s happened to me as well as my bosses), but until it changes, do yourself a favor and disable it on day one. One of the worst things that could happen for your reputation and career as an online instructor (in the eyes of current students, potential students, and your supervisors) is that you’re known for being hard to get ahold of.

  • Ask your supervisor what they’ll expect from you in areas that you’re not clear on.

It’s important to know how each specific school wants things done, so ask. If you get the impression that questions may not be welcome or may end up getting you into trouble with your supervisor, ask a colleague or another leader in the department for answers. For the most part, I’ve found that supervisors welcome questions when you’re new to the program- it shows that you’re engaged, hardworking, and that you want to be sure you’re doing things in a way that would be most beneficial for the department.

I’ve been fortunate enough to have very organized, clear, and communicative supervisors that I can be honest with, and I’m very pleased that they’ve been honest with me about their own learning curve and past mistakes, and have shared the way they run their own courses.

  • Make effective changes to your course if it would work in everyone’s best interest.

The course design and syllabus may be created well in advance, without your input, for the course you’re about to teach (this is how some schools do it and I love it- it eliminates so much guesswork and preparation). However, if you want to make some tweaks, normally you can simply talk to your supervisor and/or instructional designer and they’ll make the changes you need, or allow you to do it yourself.

For instance, I’ve changed the essay questions on assignments that I felt were much too involved for my beginner level students at one school (it saved my sanity and helped them learn at a better pace). I’ve also set up all the speech assignments (at 3 of my schools) so that they follow the same general rubric (the trick is to make the rubric categories general, while the more detailed directions and guidelines for each type of speech that the school requires are still included in the course, attached to individual grades for reference, and followed by the students and instructor.)

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If you’re anything like me, you sometimes question whether you’re running your course in the best way possible, and you’re not always sure how to find the answers. Hopefully, these tips helped to eliminate some of the guesswork, or at least encouraged you to talk to a supervisor or friendly department chair to get the full rundown.

Happy teaching!

How to Have a Simple, Yet Productive Morning

DSC_4987 copyI don’t do this regularly (although I used to), but if you find yourself in a less than fantastic mood, I highly recommend this 10-15 minute exercise to get you out of your funk. Not to mention, it also helps you get more accomplished during your day (according to podcasters, authors, and famous entrepreneurs who have read The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod).

I’ll be honest, I have no plans to read The Miracle Morning myself, but I believe I’ve picked up what I need to know from others who have read it.

Here’s the rundown.

Spend 10 minutes of your time each morning doing each of the 6 activities, in whatever order you’d like (for a total of 1 hour each morning):

(*Quick note: I have very little patience, so I spend 1-2 minutes doing each, and about 3-4 minutes on the Silence portion because that’s my favorite part, and I feel I still get the benefits!)

Silence- I choose to meditate during this part.

Affirmations- This part feels weird for me (I feel funny telling myself, “You’re great” Stuart Smalley style) so I just have one affirmation/quote that I made up that I think rings true pretty much every day of my life, and is just an all-around good phrase for anyone to live by: “I’m easily inspired by anything and everything.”

Visualize- I spend a minute or two daydreaming here. I imagine a life of travel, working from home on my own schedule, spending time with loved one, and living comfortably; I’ve just about met all those goals, but maybe I could plan more trips.

Exercise- I choose to do yoga and stretches.

Read- Every time I do this routine, I read a few pages from a fun French book, Bonjour Happiness; it just always feels like the right type of book to start my day.

Scribe/Write- I usually make a short list of things I’m grateful for.

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There you have it. I’m not one to implement new daily routines into my schedule, and I can’t say that I’ve made these 6 practices ‘routine.’ However, when I do spend some time in silence, saying affirmations, visualizing, exercising, reading, and writing, for just a few minutes each in the morning, I can say that I do notice distinct mental, emotional, and physical benefits throughout the day. Go ahead and give it a try!

Happy living :).

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