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self-care

Self-Care: Ideas For Home and Work

Whether you work from home or go into an office every day, self-care is important. I’ve worked remotely for over four years now, and while it has many perks and works very well for me, sometimes it can be easy to fall into the trap of not quite doing enough to take care of myself. The lack of commute or excessively early wake time give me enough of a break that I forget other aspects of remote work can make it necessary to take a breather and do something else.

Since I’m a firm believer in taking care of yourself and I’ve gotten to be quite good at it in my thirties, I’ve compiled a bunch of ideas for self-care to inspire you. Try the items listed here or use it as a jumping off point to make your own list.

Ideas for Self-Care at Home:

  • Get comfortable & listen to an audiobook or podcast.
  • Read for pleasure. (Try a romance novel, if you haven’t before!) 
  • Take a bath by candlelight.
  • Prepare an elaborate, delicious meal for yourself.
  • Keep a journal of lists of things that make you happy.
  • Stretch, meditate, or do yoga.
  • Bake yourself a treat and don’t skimp on the decorations.
  • Make something with your hands.
  • Stay in bed for 30 minutes after you wake up.
  • Have a 15 minute dance party with yourself.
  • Re-read/watch a favorite book/movie/show that makes you feel good. (I recommend Schitt’s Creek!)
  • Relax in a hammock or on a blanket spread over the grass.
  • Play a video or board game. (Animal Crossing is so cute and very relaxing.)
  • Declutter your house and make it more cozy.
  • Pet a dog.
  • Stare up at the sky. (Clouds or stars acceptable!)
  • Color.
  • Do a puzzle.
  • Exercise.
  • Write a letter to yourself or someone else.
  • Do a Random Act of Kindness.

Ideas for Self-Care Outside of Your House:

  • Go for a leisurely bike ride.
  • Treat yourself to a manicure, pedicure, haircut, and/or massage.
  • Go for a walk & take photos.
  • Take a class for a hobby. (Make sure it’s not related to your job!)
  • Eat at a favorite restaurant.
  • Spend a day being a tourist in your own city.
  • If you work remotely, spend a day coworking at a favorite local cafe.

Ideas for Self-Care During Your Workday:

  • Be mindful and set limits. (It’s okay to say no!) 
  • Ask for help when you need it.
  • Do nothing for two minutes. (Hands off your keyboard!)
  • Schedule time for yourself each day to do some of the items above.
  • If you work remotely, take a real lunch break. Log off, walk away from your computer, eat lunch, watch an episode of your latest Netflix binge, nap, do some stretches, and/or read a book. Basically, refresh for the rest of your day.

Start Your Self-Care Routine

Whatever you choose, find the types of self-care that help you feel the best and make them a regular part of your life. If you live by your calendar or have a to do list, add them in! I’m a bullet journaler, so I often include my self-care for the day in my BuJo, just like any other task I have to complete. Self-care isn’t less important than your other everyday tasks. Make it a priority!

about sarah, podcasting, pop culture

Hey, Bestie! Podcast: How and Why to Listen

Hey, Bestie! podcast is my podcast. (Did you know I have a podcast?) I co-host with my BFF, Kim, and talking to each other really is our top medium. Our podcast is all about pop culture, feminism, things we love, current events, life as women in Texas, and whatever else we decide. We’re not so much focused on a specific niche, but rather on being two voices on many topics from our unique points of view as thirty-something women. We want listening to feel like you’re chatting with your best friends about whatever comes up.

Hey, Bestie! podcast cover art

(Isn’t our cover art so, so cute?!) 

Some topics we’ve covered on Hey, Bestie! podcast so far:

  • Guilty pleasures (they don’t exist)
  • Romance novels
  • Bullet journaling (I also blogged a beginner’s guide here.)
  • Twilight (and our live tweeting extravaganza)
  • Realistic budgeting tips
  • The five movies we’d take with us in a bunker
  • Why summer TV is so great
  • My staycation tips
  • Healthcare struggles and the ACA
  • Presidential pets
  • Aging while thirty-something
  • Pets and dog adoption
  • Recommendations of favorite things
  • Wonder Woman
  • Tips for self-care
  • The Rock for President
  • Pros and cons of binge watching (with show recs!)
  • Our (accidentally romantic) trip to Connecticut
  • Gilmore Girls (Team Dean/Jess/Logan and 2017’s Gilmore Girls Fan Fest)
  • Texas Tribune Fest and politics in 2017
  • How cozy my house is and how I made it that way
  • Season two of Stranger Things
  • Best and worst episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer
  • #MeToo (the movement and personal stories)
  • The return of TGIF shows
  • A study about how often women on the Supreme Court are interrupted
  • A bird that hates Kim
  • My magazine hoarding and how I’m fixing it in 2018

See? So much variety! We’re always on the lookout for things to cover and love to go from casual topics like a favorite episode of television to more serious chats about real life issues.

How to listen to Hey, Bestie! podcast:

If you have a podcast app on your mobile device, search “hey bestie” and it’ll probably come up. The feed URL is: https://heybestie.com/feed/podcast. We’re on Google Play, Stitcher, and Pocket Casts.

Have an iPhone or iPad? Hey, Bestie! can be found on Apple Podcasts here: https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/hey-bestie/id1250656093 or by search in iTunes or the Podcasts app.

If you don’t see us on an app you like to use, let me know and I’ll see if we can get it added there!

Or to listen on a computer, head to HeyBestie.com and you can listen right there anytime.

Whichever one you choose, we’d love it if you listen. And if you can, please like, subscribe, and leave a quick review so other people will find Hey, Bestie! and give it a try too!

bullet journal

Bullet Journal Beginner’s Guide

I started my first bullet journal on January 1, 2017. Well, to be honest, I sort of started a few months before that. I heard about it and googled it and planned to start doing it for a few months. I told my BFF about it so she’d start it with me, and shopped for supplies. Basically, I did a lot of “bullet journaling” before ever actually doing any. Now that I’m in year two, I recommend skipping that part and just diving in. In this post, I’ll include all the basics to get you started plus some tips I’ve picked up along the way. Then, it’s up to you to start and figure out what works best for your journaling style!

A bullet journal is made up of a few main areas and is a combination of note-taking space, tracker, and journal. The recommended areas to include are:

  • Index
  • Future Log
  • Monthly Log
  • Weekly/Daily Entries
  • Collections

The Index in a Bullet Journal

Create an index on the first few pages of your journal. (Some journals may have a dedicated space there for this, or you can simply make your own.) This space is for tracking where everything is, since it’s easy to lose track of things once you’ve got several months worth of content in your journal. In your index, add page numbers and short descriptions of what’s on each page.

A Future Log for your Bullet Journal

The Future Log is a broad look at your year and it’s especially great for tracking things months in advance (before you’ve made any pages for the month where the item belongs). I tend to track big picture things here, like work trips and vacations (which are often planned several months in advance), holidays, and any other little notes I want to remember but don’t have a place for yet.

Your Bullet Journal’s Monthly Spreads

The Monthly Log helps organize your months. It most often includes a calendar and task list. The calendar gives you an overview of your month, while the task list is a great place to list out things you want to accomplish for the month before you’re able to assign them to a more specific timeframe, like a specific day. Many people reserve two pages, called a spread, for this. I change mine up each month, but often end up with the dates listed on the left page and some form of a task list and inspiration or focus for the month on the right page.

Including Weekly/Daily Spreads in your BuJo

Your weekly and daily pages can be as simple or complicated as you like. Some people simply write the date, then fill up however many lines they need for that day, then the following day they skip one line and start again. I like to dress mine up a little bit more (but not much) so I tend to draw out one week at a time divided between two pages.

This is also a good time to establish a key if you’ll use any sort of signifiers. I use a square for to do list items I want to check off, and a circle for events or appointments. I also use a simple bullet point or a little heart to add additional notes (often just things I want to remember, but don’t need checking off). Like every other part of the bullet journal, this key can be as complicated or simple as you want. If you search “bullet journal key” on Pinterest, you’ll see lots of examples to inspire you, including color coded options, which seem like they’d be great if you need to divide up your tasks and plans further, like between things specific to work or school.

Bullet Journal Collections

This is where you add any other bits of info you want in your bullet journal. These pages are great for tracking things, making lists, and otherwise organizing your life outside of the calendar pages. Here are some collection page ideas to get you started thinking about what you might like to include in your journal: a list of books read or tv shows to watch, a habit tracker, an exercise log, meal planning or a food log, a spending or savings log, and your current wishlist.

A few of my favorite collections pages to create:

  • Travel Details: I like to create a new page for every trip I go on. I add the details as I get them, including the flight details, hotel, restaurant ideas, and activities I want to do. After the trip, I update the page with a short description of how it went.
  • Home Projects: Last year, I acted as the contractor for my kitchen renovation. Over the course of the project I use several pages in my bullet journal to track the progress. I made the initial to do list, mapped out the budget, and added notes about the progress (and my excitement) as it came together.
  • Blogging and Podcasting: I create pages for my blog and podcast projects. It’s nice to have a spot to jot down ideas and make plans for personal projects that feel good to keep up with but generally won’t automatically get the same attention as your work.

Start Your Bullet Journal Now

That’s it! Grab a blank notebook, your favorite pen, and get started.

If you get into bullet journaling, I’d love to see yours! Join me over on Instagram where I share bits of my journal and send me a note so I can check yours BuJo out too!

about sarah, announcements & updates, life, podcasting

I started a podcast!

hey_bestie_podcast

Hi! I started a podcast with my longtime BFF, Kim. It’s called Hey, Bestie! and we chat about pop culture, things we love (or hate) feminism, and modern life.

And there are already four episodes up! So far we’ve talked about bullet journaling, The Rock running for president, shows you should never binge watch, romance novels, and more.

Go to HeyBestie.com for more info and ways to listen or hop right over to iTunes.

happiness engineer

How to Schedule Your Tasks with Calendar Blocks

As I’ve settled into my work at Automattic as a Happiness Engineer for WordPress.com, which is remote and requires self-discipline and managing my own time well, I’ve tried several different methods of scheduling my tasks and keeping track of my time. I used this method of calendar blocks for several months very successfully. (The past few months I’ve been trying a more digital bullet journal-type method, which I’ll share the details of soon, in case you’re not a calendar person.)

How to Schedule Your Tasks with Calendar Blocks by sarah.blog

Mapping out your day with calendar blocks isn’t anything fancy, but it can definitely get the job done if you’re needing to assign tasks to the hours of your day to stay on top of things.

This quote basically explains why it works:

“When it comes to task completion the major difference between a calendar and a to-do-list is that the calendar accounts for time. You’re forced to work within the constraints of the 24 hours that you have. Not only that, given that there are only 24 hours it also reduces the paradox of choice. This tends to be great for scheduling time for high-level creative output.”

Read more here: Why Calendars are More Effective Than To-do Lists.

So, how does this work for me as a Happiness Engineer?

Here’s a screenshot of a week of my calendar:

How to Schedule Your Tasks with Calendar Blocks by sarah.blog
click to see larger.

I tried to add a bit more detail in the tiny spaces than I normally would for myself, so hopefully it makes pretty good sense to someone who didn’t set it up. Note: Slack is our internal chat communication tool and p2s are our internal blogs where we document a lot of our work. We use these instead of email for most things.

How, when, and why did all of that get on my calendar?

I aim to fill it out a week or two ahead of time (at least in large part), but my official self-imposed rule is that it’s done by Sunday before I kick off the next work week on Monday morning. (I tend to add myself to the live chat schedule for a few weeks at a time, so those hours are usually ready to go quite a bit in advance.)

First I add any recurring blocks, like the team hangout on Wednesday mornings. If I had other groups to meet with, like the Training Guild, this is when I’d add those blocks.

I also add my live chat hours early. Live chat makes up a signifiant portion of my work, so it’s important to get it on there early. I tend to chat during similar blocks each week, so I have them set to repeat weekly and usually only have to do minor edits. If you have something that consistently repeats, consider making the blocks recurring so you don’t have to keep adding the same things week after week and Google handles it for you instead.

Next I block off any commitments I’ve made that are time-specific, like a trial buddy chat, a hangout or learnup I want to attend, or personal appointments (like when I go to the doctor). I add these as I agree to them, but this is when I’d check to make sure they made it on here, because it’s starting to be pretty full and soon there won’t be room.

I add a lunch hour at this point. It’s usually at noon, but shifts around based on the week. My afternoons go way better when I take the break, so whenever it is, I make sure it’s there as many days as I can. I close my computer and watch an episode of a show, read a book, play a game, or go out for lunch somewhere, or exercise, and then come back in an hour refreshed and ready to work.

Then I add Helpshift, which is a small portion of my work and very flexible, so I can squish it in where ever I’ve got the time. Next  I fill in the empty spots with project and dedicated ticket/forum time. I also work on tickets (or forums, if tickets are handled) when I’m in live chat and it’s slow enough to allow that, so these ticket blocks are extra time to really focus there, beyond what I get done while chatting. For project blocks, I add a note about what I’m going to be working on during that time, since I have a few different things I do outside of my usual support work. (See: the Instagram block on Thursday. I used that hour to look for sites to feature on the WordPress.com Instagram account, the create and schedule posts for the week.)

A few extra notes on why I think this has worked well for me: 

  • It’s flexible! I don’t let it feel like an over-scheduled trap. No one is in charge of it except me, so I allow myself to move things around as needed, or to switch gears if I blocked off too much time for a task. This is meant to be a basic layout of how my time will go and removes the time spent each day deciding what to do next. It can change whenever I want, and often does.
  • The blocks for p2s are not only for reading p2s, but also for writing p2 posts. I have many drafts floating around in my Simplenote. I’m trying to make an effort to finish them up and actually post them, so they’ve got official time on the calendar now.
  • I take short breaks throughout the day (every hour or so), but they’re so tiny they’re not on the calendar. Still, don’t forget those just because they’re not shown here! Your eyeballs need a break and your muscles need a stretch.
  • I add Reminders to my calendar for very specific tasks I need to remember to do at a certain time, such as a phone call to make or a domain to check on. They catch my attention, and will also keep following me around if I miss them, instead of disappearing in the past like a random calendar block would.
  • For more detail, I use IDoneThis to track completed tasks. My calendar is the overview and plan, while IDoneThis is the official record of what happened (completed tasks) or what has to happen soon (goals). I drop links to things I wrote, stats, project updates, etc. in there and use that to write my weekly update post each week (where my team shares an overview of what we each did the past week) and make sure to complete specific tasks that I may otherwise have forgotten. (I get the email each morning to remind me of what’s on the to do list there, and then reply to it with completed tasks throughout the day.)

And that’s it. (Ha!)

If you’ve struggled with managing your time or always seem to miss a task, give this method a try. It goes beyond the standard to do list, by making the space in your day to actually complete the task, which can be really helpful.

automattic, happiness engineer

A Day in the Life of a Happiness Engineer

I work at Automattic as a Happiness Engineer for WordPress.com. I’ve shared some details on what that’s like before (see here), but never a whole day play-by-play… until now! My day, as it happened on Wednesday, February 22, follows.

Note: The organization and demands of the job have changed quite a lot since I wrote this post, so it is no longer an accurate depiction of how a day would necessarily go. When I find a post with a good, current example, I’ll add a link here to update.

A Day in the Life of a Happiness Engineer by sarah.blog

7:30am – This is when my husband says goodbye and heads to work, so I start thinking I should probably get up too. I rest a while longer, then grab my phone and check Slack to catch up on my team’s channel plus a few others, and see what happened on Twitter overnight. I’m still not quite ready to get up, so I read a few chapters of a historical romance novel I’m in the middle of in the Kindle app. (Book: A Duchess in Name, The Grantham Girls #1 by by Amanda Weaver.)

8:50am – I jump out of bed and get dressed in real-ish clothes so I’m video-worthy, then I finger comb my hair, brush my teeth, grab a big ol’ cup of homemade cold brew iced coffee and a piece of toast, then wedge myself into the corner of the couch in my living room with my laptop propped on a cushion.

9:00am – It’s time for my team’s weekly video hangout. The ice breaker this week is about songs or playlists we use while working on tickets. My answer is very un-musical (except that one episode), because I tend to keep Buffy the Vampire Slayer on a loop while I work. I’ve seen it so many times that I can tune it out when needed, but I never tire of it so it’s nice to look up and see my old favorites anytime I want. When I do listen to music while I work it tends to be movie scores so words don’t distract me, although sometimes I can manage some catchy pop tunes while I live chat.

We use Zoom for our hangout, so we can see each other (in a Brady Bunch-style grid) and chat about a bunch of things, like helping another team cover their workload while they’re away for their upcoming meetup, a new feature recently added to WordPress.com we’ll need to check out so we’re able to support it well, and so on. We also had a special guest this week (our lead’s lead) so we grilled him asked him a bunch of very nice questions.

10:00am – A roofer swings by my house to give me an estimate on some work I need done. When he remembers I work from home, he asks what I do and when I mention WordPress, he lights up and tells me how much he loves it. He shares how he’d never imagined he could handle making his own website, and previously had to pay someone every time he wanted them to update the content, then a friend told him to use WordPress and the rest is history. I basically feel like a hero once he’s done talking about how great it is and how he’s glad I help people with their sites.

10:15am – I open my logbook (a personal p2 I keep in my bookmarks bar) and see what I’ve got planned for the day. P2 theme lets you post from the frontend of your site, rather than in the dash, so it’s nice for this type of work. (You can use the theme for your own logbook if you want!)

In my logbook, I make one post per day and it always includes a checklist that I refer to throughout the day. I also publish a monthly post that I keep pinned to the top with an overview of my month that includes any travel I have planned, time-specific appointments, project goals/deadlines, expense report reminders, and so on. It’s basically a very simple digital bullet journal.

Here’s February’s to do list:

my work logbook's monthly to do

And here’s February 22’s post (screenshot taken the following day):

my work logbook's daily to do for February 22

If I can’t get to everything one day, I make sure to carry things over into the next day’s post so it’s on my list again. I also reply to the post and leave comments throughout the day if I need to save reminders for myself, store URLs to tickets I want to check in on later, notes for bug reports, and so on.

I started this logbook back in October and it’s worked out really well. It helps me keep things all in one place more, rather than having notes in different apps and a mysterious in-my-head to do list. Plus checking boxes is fun.

10:20am – I usually live chat in the mornings for a few hours, but it was well-staffed when I went to schedule myself last week, so I’m on tickets (emails) this morning instead. First I check my replies and I’ve got one that gives me another boost:

“This is EXACTLY the help I needed to get going! THANK YOU for your assistance!”

The day before I’d walked through setting up a theme in detail and answered several questions about configuring this person’s site. When I look at it now, I see he’s done it all and his site is looking great. This is exactly the kind of thing that makes me happy to do this work.

I work on tickets in batches for almost two hours from my couch corner. I tend to claim a handful, work through them, then pop over to Slack to see what’s going on and say hi to my team, before grabbing more and going again.

12:oopm – I post a photo to the WordPress.com Instagram account. I started running the account a little over a year ago when I noticed we had one but it had no photos on it and wrote up a proposal about how I thought we should use it. I got the green light and have been handling it ever since. I share content from WordPress.com sites, and really enjoy searching the Reader to find new-to-me bloggers and websites to feature. I try to share a mix of food, quotes, DIY projects, travel photos, art, journal pages, style bloggers, books, and anything else that catches my eye.

Posting this photo right now is really simple, since everything is ready to go. I plan posts on Trello, which has a nice iPhone app, so I open it up, copy the caption and hashtags, save the image, and head over to Instagram to share. While I’m there, I also check for spam to delete, comments that need replies, and mentions to like.

12:15pm – Lunch time! Today I have salad and chicken tenders waiting, plus yesterday’s episode of The Mindy Project. I eat and laugh a bunch, which makes for a really nice break. I run and unload the dishwasher so my husband will load it as he cooks dinner tonight. This is pretty much the only chore I can manage during the day. When I try to do laundry, I end up starting one load in the morning and forgetting about it until around 5:30. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

1:00pm – I write captions for a few videos I recently helped record for a video series I’ve been a part of making for over a year now. We record short videos with coworkers about what it’s like working at Automattic, what their application process was like, their favorite things and the most surprising things about the work, and more. The playlist for the series is on YouTube here. If you’re curious about applying for a job with us, I recommend checking out the videos. You’ll see how great the people are, and they’ll give you the nudge you need to apply. 😉

1:15pm – I do a 15-minute stretch/yoga routine in my living room to loosen up a bit and help with some lingering shoulder pain I’ve had lately.

1:30pm – I read p2s (our internal blogs) to keep up with everything going on around Automattic. My work email is used almost exclusively for post notifications, since we tend to communicate over p2s and in Slack instead. I especially pay attention to any updates around a project I’m working on right now (but it’s a secret so I can’t share any details about what it is yet). Shhhhh!

2:00-4:30pm – Chat time! I’ve scheduled myself for live chat during this block of time, so I settle in at my desk and hop into chat. I do 15 chats during this time, which means it wasn’t very busy/had plenty of staff on. I tend to stick to up to three chats at a time as my maximum. I can do more, but I feel like quality starts to decline and it drains me quicker, so I’d rather get through three really well then accept some more. When I have some slow times, I grab tickets to work on while I wait for a new chat.

4:30pm – After chat, I troubleshoot an issue I couldn’t figure out while chatting and email the user an update, as promised. I check and clear my ticket replies again one last time before I sign off for the day. I chat in Slack for a few minutes, skim my notifications for anything I need to know right now, then say bye to my team. I publish tomorrow’s logbook post with my checklist for things to do the next day.

5:15pm – I close my laptop. My husband is home, so that’s my cue to stop. We’ve got to head out to look at appliances for our upcoming kitchen renovation.

My days vary in length and work, and I’m starting a rotation in mobile app support soon, so I’ll do another post like this to better show the variety a bit. Beyond how my days vary, every Happiness Engineer works differently, on various projects, and in their own way, so these #a8cday posts are a great chance to get a look at that.

Interested in working with us and finding your way through the chaos too? We’re hiring! 

food, recipe

Recipe: Small Batch Cupcakes

Small Batch Cupcakes (made in the toaster oven!) by sarah.blog

As one-half of a two person household, I’m always looking for ways to not make giant amounts of food that will either go bad or result in us feeling like we have to eat way too much. Cupcakes are delicious, but two people do not need 24 of them!

Since I’ve mastered making two chocolate chip cookies from scratch in the toaster oven, why not try cupcakes? I used cake mix, instead of baking them from scratch, to avoid turning six cupcakes into a big measuring, multi-bowl mess. I figured if I’m only going to end up with six instead of 24 at the end, the process should be about one-fourth of the usual difficulty, right? 😉

I forgot to take photos of them when they come out of the oven, so here’s the best I can do for the look of the actual cake until I bake them again:

Small Batch Cupcakes (made in the toaster oven!) by sarah.blog

Yum!

Now go make your own…

Small Batch Cupcakes

  • Servings: 6
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

This recipe makes six cupcakes using part of a box of cake mix and homemade buttercream. They can be baked in a toaster oven for maximum simplicity.

Ingredients

For the cakes:

  • 1 cup cake mix
  • 3 tablespoons butter (softened) or oil
  • 1/3 cup water
  • 1 egg

For the frosting:

  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
  • 1 3/4 cup confectioners’ sugar
  • milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees (F).
  2. Combine all ingredients and beat on medium (or by hand) for 2 minutes.
  3. Divide batter into 6 sections of your greased muffin tin.
  4. Bake at 350F for about 14 minutes, or until golden and springy (or a toothpick comes out clean).
  5. Cool completely before frosting.

While your cupcakes cool, make your buttercream icing.

  1. In a bowl combine butter, sugar, and salt.
  2. Beat on medium until blended.
  3. Add vanilla and 1 tablespoon of milk.
  4. Mix for an additional few minutes.
  5. While you’re mixing, add more milk in small splashes until it’s just the right consistency.
  6. Frost your cupcakes!

Optional: If you want your batch to be iced with half vanilla and half chocolate, frost the first three cupcakes, then toss a few tablespoons of cocoa powder in with a splash of milk and mix. Frost the last three cupcakes.

For my cupcakes, I used this (light-colored) Wilton 6 Cup Regular Muffin Pan and baked them in my toaster oven (the Breville BOV800XL Smart Oven) for 14 minutes (the lowest time listed on my cake mix for cupcakes in a light baking tin).

Enjoy!