Home Chef – Review

For the last two months, my husband and I have been using Home Chef for a lot of our weekly meals.  Since he works full-time and I spend most of my days writing and working on freelance jobs, planning out meals often becomes a task I dread.  I work from home and I come from a family of home cooks, so I really enjoy the art and the act of cooking, even if the planning is not as fun.

Home Chef lets me cook fun meals without the stress of making a trip to the grocery store and making lists of ingredients (where I often forget things I need and have to go back to the store).

I know this review doesn’t necessarily relate to writer things or geeky things, but I will say that Home Chef has given me more time to write and alleviated some of the tension that goes with weekly meal planning, which I’m sure improves my work as a writer.

My more in-depth review will be below, but if you would like to try Home Chef with $30 discount, here is my referral link:

https://www.homechef.com/invite/xQ67YFwZDQAM

The Pros:

  • Everything is Included – Except for common items like cooking spray, salt and pepper, each Home Chef meals include all the ingredients you need to make each meal.
  • Home Chef has a LOT of meals to choose from – When you join Home Chef, you are able to choose certain types of meals: Low-Carb, Low-Calorie, Vegetarian, Soy-free, Gluten-Free.  If you select these options, Home Chef will automatically pick them for your next order.  You can also go in and customize.  One week, my husband and I wanted to try their Monte Cristo French Toast sandwich, instead of our usual Low-Calorie meals.  It was easy to customize our order.  You can also add/subtract/skip meals as you need to.
  • The meals are easy to cook – Each meal provides a step by step walkthrough of the recipe, complete with pictures.  The instructions are easy to follow, and when read carefully, I’ve been able to do things like use a little less butter or oil, to make our meals a bit more healthy.
  • Good for picky eaters – One of the reasons I waited to try a “meal service” was because I am an incredibly picky eater.  With Home Chef, I have a lot of freedom to choose the meals, but I am also able to skip parts of the meals that may not be appetizing to me.  I am not a fan of sauces or gravies, but my husband loves them.  When I plate our meals, I usually just leave off those parts of the meal, and they are still generally very delicious.
  • Packaging – Most of the packaging is recyclable, so you don’t have to feel bad about it.  It’s also filled with ice packs, so that your food arrives cold and stays cold even if you are at work all day.
  • They will fix mistakes – The first box we got was missing an ingredient for one of the recipes.  I emailed Home Chef to let them know, and they gave me a $10 credit toward my next box.
  • It’s really easy to skip a week – You can use their website and just skip the weeks that you do not want to order meals.  We did this for our recent trip to Disney World and it was super easy.  I resumed delivery for the day we got back, which also saved us a trip to the grocery store right after traveling home.

The Cons:

  • Packaging – When we got our first box, we had a bottle of sauce leak in the bag.  Most of the time this does not happen, but occasionally it does. Even when it has happened, it was not so bad that it ruined the food or made it so I was unable to prepare the recipe.  Generally, I just pull the ingredients out of the bag, wipe things off and I’m good to go.

Overall, we have loved using Home Chef and have now used it for almost two months!  If you want to try it, please feel free to use the referral link above to get $30 bucks off your first order.

 

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5 Tools to Boost Your Productivity

After nearly 3 years of writing and working as a freelancer, I’ve found good tools that keep me productive are essential.  I think these tools can be helpful to just about anyone, from writers and artists, to people who work in a more traditional job.  Most of these are tools I have used for a time, and then I’ve gone on to modify them to best work for me personally.   I’ve written about some of them before, but this is an updated list that I think will be of great use to you!

Momentum

Momentum.PNG

Momentum is an add-on app for Google Chrome.  When you open a new tab on the browser, you are met with the beautiful Momentum Dashboard.  This is one of my favorite parts of the app, each picture is stunning and inspiring.  Way better than looking at a blank new tab page.  It has a place to list your main focus for the day, as well as menus where you can make a to-do list and store your favorite links.  For me, Momentum helps me remain focused on projects that matter, when I might be opening a new tab to do something that’s not quite as productive.

Strict Workflow

StrictWorkflow.PNG

Strict Workflow is another add-on for Google Chrome and it is honestly one of my favorites.  It uses the Pomodoro Technique, which involves 25-minute working sprints and 5-minute breaks, but it takes it a step further.  The little tomato on the upper right-hand part of your browser works as a timer, but it also blocks sites that might distract you while it is ticking away.  If you want to look at Facebook during those 25 minutes, you can’t, unless you want to disable the extension or uninstall it.  If I am struggling to focus, this app is perfect.  It blocks sites that might tempt me away from my work, but I can still access them once the break timer starts.  You can also edit the work and break times, according to what works best for you.

RescueTime

RescueTime.PNG

RescueTime is an application that runs in the background of your computer and measures the time you spend on different programs and websites.  You can log into their website and monitor your productive time, see what distractions you’re spending the most time on, or see if you’re spending way too much time replying to emails.  They also send you a weekly email that breaks down all the time you spent on your computer for the week.

I love this app, because I can see exactly how much time I’ve spent writing and working for clients, based on the programs I’ve used and how long I used them for.  I can also see if I’m spending too much time playing games or writing emails.

Focus Booster

Focusbooster.PNG

Focus Booster works similarly to Strict Workflow, in that, they both make use of the Pomodoro Technique.  Focus Booster is not a free program, but they have a trial you can make use of to see if their program is helpful for you.  They also have a “Professional” option, which is about $5 a month and allows you to track your sessions automatically and compile a timesheet.  This is great for those of us who work freelance jobs, because you can seamlessly track the time you work on a particular job for a particular client.  You can also export a CSV report to use for invoices.

Bullet Journal

This year I’ve actually purchased the Ink+Volt Planner, but I use a lot of the functions I learned from 2 years of bullet journaling.  I loved using this method because it made it so easy to see what I had worked on and what I needed to work on.  It’s basically like creating a renewable to do list. You can check out the Bullet Journal website for step by step instructions on how to craft and create your own journal.  You can also check out the bulletjournal tag on tumblr to see how other users are creating their journals!

I hope this list helps you!  Do you have any awesome apps or methods I should check out?  Please comment if you do!

 

 

 

Productively Tools: RescueTime, Momentum, and Strict Workflow

If you are anything like me, you probably hop on the computer and at first you’re totally ready to write, but only after you check facebook.  And tumblr.  And several other sites that suck your time into the void, never to return.

I won’t lie, I still do this, but I’ve found a few handy tools that help me cut into that time and ensure I stay productive with my writing time.  Here they are:

Rescue Time

Rescue time can be install via the link above and I also have the Chrome extension on my browser.  With the Chrome browser extension, I can check my productivity for the day at the top of my browser.  You can also go to their website and sign-in for more detailed information.

REscuetime
My weekly dashboard at Rescue Time’s website

My favorite feature?  The weekly productivity email I get on Sunday.  Each week it shows me how productive I was, what I spent most of my time on and how my productivity compares with the week before.  It’s an easy way to see how much time I’ve spent on facebook, or other sites, and how much time I spent in Scrivener writing.

You can categorize your activities however you like, which is great!  If you actually use facebook for business on a regular basis, you can change its category to reflect that.

Momentum

Momentum is one of those awesome little extensions/apps you use so often you forget how helpful it is.  Momentum is replaces the new tab page with a dashboard you can personalize.  It includes: A place where you can put your focus for the day, a to do list, a place for your favorite links, the weather in your area, a beautiful background image and inspirational quotes.  

momentum

I don’t use the to do list as much, since I have my bullet journal for that, but the reminder of what my focus is helps me stay on track for the day.  The background images tend to be very breath-taking and inspirational for me as a writer.  It also helps you remember that you should be working, when you open that tab to check out what’s happening on Twitter.

Strict Workflow

I’ve written about the Pomodoro Technique before, where you work in 25 minute on/5 minute off productivity units.  Strict Workflow extension works with that template, except it works for your browser.  When you press the little red tomato at the top of your screen, it blocks distracting sites for 25 minutes, so you can work uninterrupted by your need to see what that friend from high school is doing.

What the 25 minutes is up you’ll hear an alarm go off, and you can then click the now green tomato for a 5 minute break.  You can surface facebook, tumblr and any of your other blocked sites for 5 minutes, then the alarm will ring again and you can again click the tomato to start another 25 minute work session.

STrictworkflow

Be aware, once you install this extension the only way to see the sites you have blocked during that 25 minute work session is to uninstall the app.  You can also change which sites you have blocked and what amount of time you want to work/have a break.

 

Hopefully these help you!  Let me know what you’ve used to be more productive!  I’m always up for new tools.

My Newly Discovered Productively Tools: Bullet Journaling

I’m a little behind on blogging because, as most of you know, I’m knee deep in working on my novel for NaNoWriMo.  But I wanted to share some new tools I’ve started to use that are working wonders for me.

If you’ve read my blog before, you know that I’m always seeking new ways to improve my productivity.  If you want to see some of the methods I’ve used in the past, including my awesome post-it system (which is now upgraded to my bullet journal) go ahead and check it out here.

POSTGOALS
Here’s an example of how I used to do things.  Not bad, but the bullet journal is MUCH better.

When you dictate your own work schedule, or if you’re just pursuing a creative career in the side, it’s important to set goals.  The bullet journal is the perfect way to balance not only your creative goals, but also your daily tasks lists, events and other notes.  It’s like a planner and a journal had a baby, an organized, inspiring baby.

The problem with my post-it note system was that the items all had equal weight and at the end of the day/week, I didn’t hold onto the notes.  I couldn’t look back and see what I had accomplished or what had been moved forward to accomplish on another day.

You can customize and build your journal in a way that works for you.  I have a page for each month, then daily pages.  I also have pages like:

  • Books to Read
  • Yearly Goals
  • Recipes to Try
  • Weight Loss Tracker

I was able to find many samples of pages online as well as different ways people use and build their journal.

IMG_2967My daily pages usually look like the picture to the left.  It has both tasks I need to do for writing, day to day tasks, and events. You can also see little stickers next to the most important tasks I needed to accomplish for the day.  I’m able to visually organize what is the most important for the day, this way.

Completed tasks and appointments get a line striking through them.

If something does not get finished that day, I put an arrow through it and move it to a future date.   I love this, because it makes me very conscious of what tasks I’m not completing and moving forward.

I also included some inspirational quotes I found and liked on pages here and there.

I would definitely recommend this system for people who like to cross goals off a list daily.  I’ve even added some small tasks to my daily list, so I have something to cross off first thing in the morning.  It gives me that extra motivation to keep accomplishing things throughout the day.

If you want to learn how to set up your own bullet journal, check out their website here.  There are also several posts on youtube and tumblr that have so many ideas on how you can make the system work for you.  My journal is fairly plain compared to some of the cute ideas out there.

How about you?  What’s one new productivity tool you’ve discovered that’s helped your work load?  I plan to share a post on RescueTime next, which is another awesome tool I’ve recently found.

Time Management: Ways to increase your productivity as a writer

We all know it takes a lot of work to get better at writing, because the only way to truly improve is to keep writing.  I used to not worry so much about time management, but in the last two years as I started working towards a career in writing, it became a bigger focus for me.  Each day I have to direct my own schedule and for the most part, no one is looking over my shoulder making sure I get my work done.

So out of this need for self direction was born a need to productive with my time.

There are lots of ways to do this and I’ll show you some of the strategies that have worked for me, and some that haven’t but might work for you.

Sprinting

This one is probably my most simple tool. I set a time I’m going to work and I work for that time.  Usually it’s 25-35 minutes.  I also have sprinting buddies that I email when I’m ready to go, to see if they want to join in.  At the end of the sprint, we email each other again and report what we got accomplished.  Having a buddy is an awesome way to make yourself accountable…And honestly?  Writing can be a lonely job.  This is the writer’s equivalent of co-workers.

Also, if you’re a little competitive like me and you have friends who are sprinting with you, have them report their word count.  I’m a slow writer so seeing that my friends have twice the word count I do in some of our sprint, spurs me to write more and try to get faster.

The Pomodoro Method

I was originally introduced to this method by my best friend, the queen of time management.  It goes basically like this,

1, You work for 25 minutes and give that work your complete and undivided attention.  I use Chrome as my browser, and you can even get an add-on for it that blocks sites like Facebook and Tumblr while you’re working, so you have less opportunity for distraction.

2. Once your 25 minutes is up, you take a 5 minute break.  Play clash of clans, watch that youtube video your sister sent you, and check facebook.  When the 5 minutes is up, you jump back into your next work session.

3.  Focus on your work for another 25 minutes.  Then take another five minute break.  Once you’ve done this process 4 times (2 hours) take a longer break, usually 15-30 minutes.

I sometimes lose track of time, so you can use the timer on your phone or you can even get a tomato timer from The Pomodoro Technique’s website, you can also find more info about this method there.  I also tend to draw squares with my times on them, so I can keep track of what my work sessions were, like the picture below.

Ways of tracking Pomdoro work sessions
Ways of tracking Pomdoro work sessions

Kanban Tables

I’ll be honest, I haven’t been able to get myself into using these as much, but I have friends who they work really well for.  This is sort of a watered down version of it, I’ve seen people with much more elaborate tables.  Mine table is pretty basic, To Do, Doing, Done.

Where I fail with this method, is that I forget to move things around.  I will have things that were done, and forget to move them over.  So I think I’m more of a list maker and less of a table user.  Which leads us to our next tool!

kanbantables
My KanBan Table. You can also do them on a white board, I’m just a sticky note fanatic.

Goal Setting and Task Lists

Each week, usually on Sunday night, I make a list of what I want to accomplish for the week, then I break that down into daily tasks for each day of the week.  I generally write it on a google doc and put it on a post-it note that I can physically cross tasks off of, which will both be pictured below.  I also tend to write them in my day planner, and sometimes I put them into HabitRPG, which is awesome for productivity and for fun!

The great thing about goal setting, is it really feeds itself.  Each week you make a list of what you want to get done.  The most important thing to do when you make your list, is to make sure that these goals are getting you closer to what you want.  If I want to be a writer who writes fiction, if my goals are learning the trombone, I’m probably not going to be getting much closer to my dreams.

Also, make your goals things you can accomplish and things that are realistic.  For most people, writing the first draft of their first novel in a week isn’t realistic.  There are a few of us out there that can do it, but they are few and far between.  Make sure they push you a little too, we all need a challenge if we want to get better.

POSTGOALS
My Goal Post-its! I cross out as I go along and let that feeling of awesome accomplishment was over me.
Google Doc list of my goals.  This is usually the list I refer back to is all else fails.
Google Doc list of my goals. This is usually the list I refer back to is all else fails.

So those are some of the ways I keep myself on track as I work toward a career in writing.  How about you?  What methods have you found that help you stay on track?