New Publication: Unearthing a Story at Head-Smashed-In

Every writer savours the moment when a new development emerges on a story they are already working on. Last year I was working on a feature for the Canadian Rockies Annual about Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump when an archaeological site discovered 26 years prior was finally excavated.

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What was so significant about it? The site was an oven, deep in the earth, with a 1600-year-old meal still contained inside it. What could it tell us about the Blackfoot people who used to reside there? What does it add to the story about Head-Smashed-In?

Of course, you’ll need to read the piece to find out why (!), but here is an excerpt:

Standing amidst the tall grasses that carpet the base of the Head-Smashed-In Buffalo Jump, I close my eyes and try to imagine the buffalo stampede approaching. An inescapable dust cloud forms as their hooves pound the earth, sending a shockwave of thunder through the landscape. The herd’s panic is palpable as it is rushed to the cliff edge, driven by their hunters. Then it happens: hundreds of beasts hurtle over the cliff, cascading to their deaths in a massive heap. Soon the pungent smell of smoke, blood and flesh permeates the air as the Blackfoot work swiftly to preserve the meat for the long winter ahead.

I open my eyes. Centuries of erosion have worn away the base of the cliff, shortening the drop and burying layer upon layer of bones – 11 metres worth – beneath a jumble of soil, grass and rubble. To the untrained eye, the cliff looks… unimpressive. But time has changed the landscape. And what now appears to be a non-threatening tumble used to be an 18-metre-high fatal drop.

There is more than meets the eye at Head-Smashed-In, not only with the buffalo jump, but also with the award-winning interpretive centre constructed into the adjacent cliffside. From the exterior, the structure disguises itself well, blending inconspicuously with the exposed sandstone that extends from the grass-covered escarpment. Enter the seven-tiered building, however, and a world of discovery is revealed.

The cliffs and plains that make up this buffalo jump have an intriguing story to tell – one that continues to unfold today.

→ Read the rest in Volume 2 of the
Canadian Rockies Annual

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My 5 New Finds This Summer

Time is precious, and in a world where we have a million options to choose from (in every possible realm of life!), I find it helpful when other people help me narrow those down. When you come across something great, why not share it? That’s what this post is all about – my latest finds for making life easier, more productive and interesting.

1. This I Know, by Terry O’Reilly

downloadI put a call out through Facebook earlier this summer, asking for summer reading recommendations and I was inundated with some amazing responses.

One, in particular, caught my eye: This I Know: Marketing Lessons from Under the Influence. I have enjoyed Terry O’Reilly’s radio show for years, and this book perfectly summarizes the lessons I needed to hear running various small business. I highly recommend it to business owners and marketers.

 

2. Great Big Story

Like many of you, I can’t resist a compelling video. Unfortunately, most of what I see featured on Facebook looks great until you watch it and realize you’ve wasted five minutes of your life. But not with Great Big Story. This is a global media company that does storytelling right, and they are always on a quest to, according to their website, “discover the untold, the overlooked and the flat-out amazing.” I highly recommend you follow them on Facebook for a weekly dose of content you’ll actually enjoy.

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3. Fjallraven Kånken No. 2 Laptop 15″ Bag

My husband will tell you I have heaps of bags at home. Laptop bags, hiking packs, backpacks that second as laptop bags. Despite the choices, I have my favourites, so I’m constantly switching my stuff around, emptying out my snacks and gear from a hike to load the bag up for a desk day. I also find that bags can be too big, leaving me with lots of bulk when all I need is to transport my laptop to the office, with just a few other items. Enter: the Fjallraven Kånken No. 2 Laptop 15″ Bag. I love the bag’s durability, size, and detailing. Plus I trust this long-standing Swedish bag-maker to make something that feels comfortable to wear.

 

4. LastPass

If you struggle to remember passwords across your devices and accounts, I highly recommend you take a look at LastPass. Between my personal and business accounts online, I have dozens of passwords and logins to remember. With LastPass you can say goodbye to notes scribbled on paper or the need to reset your passwords when you forget. It takes a bit of effort up front to get all your passwords into the system, but after that, you’ll be so glad you did.

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5. Happy Scribe

Writers and researchers know just how long it can take to transcribe an entire interview. I remember hours spent pausing tracks and pounding as fast as I could at the keyboard. Often, I’d only use a small portion of the interview, but I still felt it was important to have the whole thing recorded in a document. Happy Scribe is a service that allows you to upload your recordings and pay a nominal fee to have it transcribed at lighting speed. You’ll likely need to do a pass of it to make any corrections, but the bulk of it will be there. Major time saver!

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Notes: None of these companies paid to be listed in this post. These choices, and my opinions of them, are entirely my own. This post contains affiliate links – if you click on them and make a purchase, it sends me a small ‘thank you.’ Finally, thanks to Fjallraven for sending me the Kånken No. 2 Laptop 15″ Bag. You know what a writer needs! I have many bags for laptops, but this one now takes the cake. I didn’t need to include it in this post, but I chose to because it’s truly one of my new favs.

 

 

Interview on Hike Like a Woman

How does a mom, business owner, and outdoor adventurer balance it all? Have I ever had a family adventure that went horribly wrong? What would I tell my 12-year-old self?

Rebecca from Hike Like a Woman sure had a wide range of questions for me in her podcast, on an episode she called “Real Life in Banff.” Sounds about right, seeing as I get down to the bare bones (sometimes skeletons) of things, and give you the honest truth on my life as a parent, wife, entrepreneur. Plus, I was entirely unscripted and somewhat unprepared, so my answers are about as authentic as they come!

→ If you’d like to give the podcast a listen (I highly recommend tuning into her other episodes, too!), head on over to Hike Like a Woman.

6 Highlights of 2016

Each year I do a round-up of some kind, whether it’s things that I’m grateful for or how my previous year’s goals panned out. For this year, my knee-jerk reaction was I don’t have time to write one, and I don’t, but that’s exactly the problem. These are the things I need to make time for so that life doesn’t feel so frantic. These are the things that keep me grounded. So, this year I’m keeping it simple and highlighting six things from 2016 – the good, the not so good, and the awesome.

1. CANADIAN ROCKIES ANNUAL HITS THE SHELVES

Back in 2014, my business partner and I sat down and dreamt up a new kind of mountain culture publication for the Canadian Rockies In May 2016, those dreams became a reality when Volume 1 of the Canadian Rockies Annual hit the shelves!  Thanks to everyone who purchased and subscribed – we are down to our last few copies. Volume 1 is still available for ordering (and pre-orders for Volume 2 are now open!) Thanks to Doug Urquhart at UpThink Lab for this awesome promo video.

2. ADVENTURES ON HAWAI’I, The BIG ISLAND

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

This year’s family trip back in March took us to The Big Island, where we enjoyed beach time, cool volcanic features, amazing coffee (a must) and time with Grammy. As I do with all our family adventures, I wrote an article over on AdventurousParents.com: Family Travel – A Short Guide to Hawai’i, The Big Island. Up next? Bermuda.

3. BERG LAKE + MT. ROBSON PROVINCIAL PARK

Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

Photo by Meghan J. Ward.

What would a summer be without some awesome outdoor adventures? This one was definitely a highlight for many reasons: a great crew, new terrain, awesome weather and some good old time alone in the backcountry. I highly recommend a trip into Berg Lake for any intermediate/advanced hikers!

4. Saying Goodbye

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This year I said goodbye to the last of my grandparents, my father’s mother, Maxine (here she is with grandpa Bill, who left us about 15 years ago). I was in the midst of finishing the magazine when she passed away, and the whole experience, including the memorial in Winnipeg in June seems to have whizzed by. But, these days I’m remembering her and missing her. She was an incredible person.

5. LAUNCHING OFFBEAT

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I feel so incredibly blessed to work with a team of creatives who strive to help others on their own creative journeys. This year my husband Paul Zizka and our friend/colleague Dave Brosha teamed up to launch OFFBEAT, a new online photo community and international photography workshops company. Through the process, I also got to meet our project manager, Camila – a woman pretty much cut from the same cloth. Be sure to tell the photographers in your life to check out OFFBEAT!

6. YOU WOn’t remember this

Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Taken on the Redearth Creek trail on the way home from Shadow Lake Lodge, 2015. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Last month I got a few hard copies of a new anthology I wrote for called You Won’t Remember ThisIt is my first official book authorship! With four tourist books in the works this year, and plenty of ideas down the pipeline, I feel like I’m finally embarking on my ultimate goal which is to work more in the book world. Thanks to Sandy for the opportunity to be part of her book!

Happy New Year, everybody!

All good things,

-Meghan

You Won’t Remember This: Travel with Babies

The Adventures in Parenthood Project

I recently received an email announcing that You Won’t Remember This: Travel with Babies had been published! This book, edited by Sandy Bennett-Haber over in Scotland, has been a major work in progress. But that’s how these things roll when you’re working to accomplish a behemoth task with kids in tow (good on you, Sandy!).

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The book includes twenty stories from writers around the world, including one I wrote about our first two days in New Zealand when we embarked on our 70-day journey through the South Pacific. I called the chapter “Finding Our Bearings on the Banks Peninsula” since it was based largely on a post I wrote here on this website back in 2014.

Here’s an excerpt!  

The room is finally quiet. Cries have subsided and transitioned to the soft, rhythmic whistle of a baby soundly sleeping. I can’t tell if my husband, Paul, is asleep on…

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Managing the Load: 12 Tips for Parent/Entrepreneurs

Most entrepreneurs have an insatiable desire to see their ideas and projects come to fruition. They have many balls in the air at once as they build out their ideas and create businesses from scratch. It is a volatile position to be in, but manageable.

But, when an entrepreneur also wants to have a family, the juggling act can get overwhelming – at times even out of control.

For me, the health of my family comes first, but that often means I put my own needs by the wayside. I hit major burnout a few times in these early years of parenthood after letting the candle burn at both ends a bit too long. Running two businesses while creating a new magazine and raising a spirited baby-then-toddler became more than I could handle. After some time, I recognized that I needed to put a few things in place to help me manage the load (and eliminate some things from my plate altogether).

My system is far from perfect, but these are the tips that have helped me regain some balance:

12 Tips for Parent/EntrepreneurS

1. Sit down weekly to plan.

Spontaneity can be a good thing, but life can unravel quickly when you fly by the seat of your pants a bit too much. When you take some time to sit down and look at the calendar, you can get a good overview of how your time is balanced in the upcoming week, and where you’ll fit in your workout/outdoor time, family time and meal prep on top of your workload.

2. Synchronize your calendars.

Whichever platform you use (I use Google), a digital calendar allows you to synchronize between your devices and synchronize your calendars with other people. I share a calendar with my husband and a  calendar with my business partner. This allows me to maintain a good level of communication when things get busy, and it also helps me manage my family’s schedule overall because I can instantly see when we are all available or what’s in the books.

3. Buy a crock pot.

An odd one, I know, but seriously it’s a lifesaver. After a long day, whether I’m working or in full-time parenting mode, I find I’m usually feeling exhausted or scattered right around 5 p.m. The last thing I want to do is start cooking dinner. With the crock pot, I can prepare most of the meal in the morning, when I have energy. My particular model has timers and a “keep warm” setting when the cooking is done. So satisfying.

4. Avoid the unnecessary.

This one sounds rather obvious, but I find I often get caught up in the “urgent + unimportant” and “not urgent + unimportant” quadrants (if you’ve never used the Do, Decide, Delegate or Delete method, check out this post). Ideally, tasks should get broken down into these quadrants to help you identify what you can simply delegate to someone else or eliminate altogether.

5. Don’t try to do it alone.

Neither of our businesses – both media and photography – are run by a single person. There is power in partnering up for many reasons: you share the load and the responsibility, you can work according to your strengths and eliminate items from your list that you simply don’t enjoy doing. Yes, this involves some financial output, but if you can swing it, bringing some assistance on board, or going into business with a suitable partner, can be key assets in helping you manage the load.

6. Turn off notifications.

Most notifications are totally unnecessary and I promise they will distract you from what you’re trying to accomplish. I recently read it takes 25 minutes to regain your focus after giving in to one of these distractions. Productivity aside, I noticed I felt less stress when I shut down my notifications and wasn’t tempted by the small bits of information appearing each minute on my phone. It also keeps me more focused and attentive in my meetings and social engagements.

Sometimes my "media fasts" look like this. One day in the great outdoors is enough to refuel me for a week or two. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

Sometimes my “media fasts” look like this (see #10). One day in the great outdoors is enough to refuel me for a week or two and provide me with new perspective. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

7. USE Wunderlist.

This one also made it onto my list of productivity tools for writers. For me this app goes far beyond the writing business. We use it for all of our businesses and as a family, too. Having the ability to share specific lists with specific people, and to categorize them into folders keeps me organized and helps me to clear the clutter from my brain. The ‘Quick Add’ feature on the desktop version allows me to add an item without interrupting my workflow. Gold, I tell you.

8. Prioritize.

This one goes back to our quadrants from #4, but let’s go deeper. Priorities need to be made on a daily basis because life is constantly changing. A task that may seem important one day can be eliminated the next. I frequently scroll through my Wunderlist to look for items that can be *starred* as important or deleted. I also use the 80/20 rule when I’m looking for items to bump up or down the list.

9. Just ask.

My daughter is in part-time daycare, but I live far from family (and, as I say, help I don’t have to ask or pay for). There are times that Paul is travelling for work, or we’re both in crunch time on a project, or someone is sick (you name the reason) and I simply need to reach out for help. Now we schedule visits more regularly from grandparents or set up a few hours when someone else can take care of the little one. When I try to be Superwoman, I crash – big time.

10. Go on a media fast.

Each week, I pick one day to go on a media fast. What this means for me is no checking emails or social media for the entire day. (Since text messages have largely replaced phone calls now, it’s difficult to cut those out, but I cut out work-related texting on those days.) My media fast days usually line up with a weekend day when I’m with my family, which ensures quality time together. I’d like to try to add a second day during my regular working days to increase my productivity level in other aspects of my work. Once you get over the initial urges to ‘check in’, it feels so good to be disconnected.

11. Choose to unitask.

I am becoming more and more convinced that multitasking is much less productive than choosing a task and seeing it through before moving on. I have also heard that you’re not actually multitasking so much as toggling between tasks quickly. This working style makes me feel scattered and stressed. Eckhart Tolle writes about this in The Power of Now – about finding calm and peace in the present moment by focusing wholeheartedly on a task, even if it’s making a cup of coffee. If you find you’ve got 10+ tabs open in your web browser and you’re flip-flopping between tasks, take a minute to assess what your focus should be.

12. Finished is better than perfect.

This has been my mantra this year, and I have grown to love it. I am certainly still on the perfectionist end of the spectrum, but being a parent has certainly taught me that I simply can’t always finish things because my time is not always my own. There have been many times in the past few months that I have resisted the urge to go that extra mile, provide feedback or tweak something myself. It’s not to slack off; it’s being realistic and practical when I have so many things demanding my time and attention.

The bottom line is to create more time in our lives by sloughing off the unnecessary. If anything is truly urgent, it will present itself again. Keeping our priorities in check helps us to quickly determine how to expend our energy and worktime, and retains some quality, stress-free time to spend with family.

Resources in this article: 

What tips do you have for managing the work-family-life balance? Let me know in the Comments below!

My Favourite Things From 2015

I resisted writing this post today for various reasons. Busyness. Fatigue. Repetition. Mainly, I wondered if these more personal reflections are better kept in a journal.

But, as usual, my keyboard called me back.

I have been doing a year-end review online for nearly ten years, in one form or another. And every time it forces me to sit down and count my blessings, to recount the moments that made me smile. I have also enjoyed reading the annual reflections that other people are posting and think it’s silly to keep these thoughts to yourself. Putting them out there helps to spread positivity in this world, and I think there can never be too much of that. 

I recently heard that it’s in being grateful that we find joy and not the other way around. So, call this year-end round-up my way of expressing gratitude for yet another year of memorable, sometimes miraculous, things. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but sometimes the ‘top-of-mind’ items stand out for a reason. In no particular order…

My Husband.

If you’re wondering who inspires me, it’s my husband, a guy who chases his dreams with relentless passion. Seriously. I don’t know anyone else who, among many other things, stays up all hours of the night waiting to shoot dramatic and innovative photos of the Northern Lights, plans photography workshops in his dream destinations like Greenland, keeps up with a massive social media community, and manages to find an amazing amount of time for his wife and daughter.

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Paul under The Milky Way over the mountains in Mount Assinboine Provincial Park, British Columbia.

My Dream Job.

A “dream” job does not imply that everything is easy. While it’s quite the opposite, I am grateful for the opportunity to use my skills in a meaningful way and sink my teeth into an exciting project. Many of you have already seen a bit of what Crowfoot Media is up to, but I can’t wait to release the first volume of the Canadian Rockies Annual, our beautiful print magazine (if you’d like to have it, order a copy!).

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This is a mock up. Yeah, we make you wait for the real thing. ;)

My Daughter.

This little rock star is growing up to be a beautiful human, inside and out, with the most vibrant and vivacious personality in 100-square-kilometre radius. She calls me to be my best self each and every day and opens my eyes to new ideas and possibilities I often overlook. I love her spirit and can’t wait to create some new memories with her in 2016.

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This Quilt.

My mother sewed this quilt for my daughter for Christmas this year. It makes me grateful for the family ties and the love that flows through the generations. I don’t take this lightly as I have a number of people in my life who don’t share in this privilege. So here’s my shout out to anyone who has (or is married to someone with) Ward or Moore blood running in their veins, including my parents, sisters, brothers-in-law and nephews.

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Our Trip to Belize.

It was an ‘easy’ trip by our standards, in that we didn’t rough it or explore as much as we usually do. But it was exactly what we needed. We learned the hard way that on previous trips we had pushed our little girl a bit too far past the limits of her temperament. (On that note, you can read about that in The Difference a Year Makes).

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Biking to The Split on Caye Caulker, Belize. iPhone snap by Paul Ziza.

My Business Partner. 

The very term feels a bit too stifled since I’m lucky my Crowfoot Media business partner and I work insanely well together and we get along! Dee Larosa (Medcalf) is one of the most talented designers I know (check out Phaneric.com), and I am eternally grateful for her attention to detail and self-motivation. Knowing we can lock ourselves up for hours on end for a work retreat or take off in the backcountry for four days and come out still talking is totally awesome!

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Me and Dee (left) and our volunteers at the Spindrift Sessions back in June. Photo by Kurtis Kristianson/Spindrift Photography.

Mountains!

It has been a long journey back to this point, and one I’ve written about in depth over on AdventurousParents.com. This past year, I went on three backcountry trips (to Lake O’Hara/Abbott Pass Hut, Skoki and Egypt Lakes) and climbed Mt. St. Nicholas, Mt. Cory, Mt. St. Piran, Fairview, Mt. Lawrence Grassi, Lesser Pharoah Peak, Cirque Peak, Wastach Peak (am I forgetting a bunch?). The best thing was I fell right back into my stride as if I’d never taken a break.

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Coming down from St. Nicholas Peak. Photo by Paul Zizka Photography.

 

And to complete the list…

I am grateful for my house, my friends (who shall go unnamed so that I don’t forget anybody!), my writing nook, the gym with the awesome views, cappuccinos, chocolate, hiking, biking with my little girl, yoga, skiing, Paw Patrol, gluten free baking,  Wild Women Magazine, Aventura Clothing, our Crowfoot Media contributors, the last light on Cascade Mountain, and everything else, even the ugly stuff that made me stronger.

Have a Happy New Year everyone!

Time for a Change? Tools for Setting Goals

As I sit in my office this morning and look out at the snow globe world outside my windows, I realize this is one of the last articles I’ll be writing at this desk. This month I have many shifts happening in my life, the most tangible one being a move to a new home. This is how my life tends to work: one change leads to another, or somehow they all converge at once. Often, things reach a boiling point before I even realize change needs to happen.

And the best person to make change is me.

The reality is: we’re just darn too busy. Too many balls in the air. Never enough time. Always coping and prioritizing to-do lists. And no margin should something go wrong, such as sickness (even a minor cold), unexpected travel plans or a big opportunity we can’t turn down.

I say “we” because I’m talking about my family. I don’t know too many couples where both parents freelance, but in my experience the best way to keep things under control is to put everything out on the table and treat it as something we all need to work through in order to maintain some semblance of balance.

So, while the pot threatens to boil over, I thought it was high-time to start taking out some of the water bit-by-bit. And I do that by shifting focus and settings some goals. But, not just any goals: S.M.A.R.T. goals: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely. This was a concept I learned when I worked at lululemon athletica. Keeping goals specific, realistic and time-sensitive makes all the difference, and I have seen them make a big impact in my own life.

Care to join me in goal setting?


Download the Goal Setting Sheet in two formats:

PDF    WORD


Resources:

Proud to Be on Board as Aventura’s Newest Ambassador

affiliate_logoIt’s not every day you get asked to represent a company that you really admire, but back in July that’s exactly what happened. Aventura Clothing is a lifestyle apparel brand based in the beautiful Sierra Nevadas. They use organic and sustainable fibres to make their clothing and fulfill their mission to “help the earth one garment at a time.”

As an ambassador I engage regularly with the company on social media, represent their brand by wearing their clothing and will soon do a round-up of their Fall 2015 line on AdventurousParents.com.

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In the Ziva Sweater by Aventura Clothing.

They recently conducted an interview with me for their blog to introduce me to their community. I appreciated their thoughtful questions and wanted to post some of them here for you to read (you can read the rest in the interview!)

What piece of advice would you share with parents who are new to adventuring with their children?

Young children are quite adaptable, but the best approach, in my opinion, is to retain some familiarity and sense of routine amidst your adventuring. This might mean planning adventures around a nap schedule, bringing some of your child’s favourite items on a hike, or establishing a new routine while you’re travelling. Be sensitive to your child’s particular needs and help him or her feel comfortable and included in the adventure by making it fun and exploratory. Appropriate rewards and incentives go a long way in helping them cope in new situations.

What is one accomplishment in the past year you are most proud of?

Last March I launched a new mountain culture media and publishing company here in Banff, called Crowfoot Media. It was the culmination of eight years of dreaming, many years of working with other publications, and finding the right business partner. I can’t wait to see our first issue in print.

What is one thing that gets easier as you get older?

As I get older I’m better able to discern which relationships I want to invest in, which seem to have played an important role in my life for a season, and which I should let go of. I have less tolerance for carrying other people’s negative energy, and so I like to surround myself with positive people who have a clear vision for their lives and who don’t get caught up in drama. It’s wonderfully refreshing to have the confidence to involve myself with people who keep me feeling buoyant.

READ THE REST OF THE INTERVIEW ON THE #AVENTURALIFE BLOG.

Psst…ladies in the USA, if you love Aventura, contact me to get a unique discount code!

My 5 Favourite Productivity Tools for Writing

I have often discussed with budding writers how a good portion of the writing life is staying organized and productive when we actually have time to write. If I let something interrupt my flow, I may not get it back again in the same sitting.

Time is a precious commodity these days, between helping my husband with his photography business, running a media company, and…right – motherhood. So, I thought I’d put together a quick post for you about the tools I use each and every day to keep me on track. The great thing about these tools is that most of them are useful in any field of work, so even if you’re not a writer, you can still benefit from incorporating them.

Google Docs

Gone are my days of endless files tucked away in folders on my hard drive. In many cases I have moved my projects on to Google Docs. My best advice is to get set up fully on Google (Gmail, Calendar, etc.) so that you can maximize all of these amazing tools from one account. Using Google Docs, I can share a document, work remotely on a project with a colleague and see them making changes, and in cases where I want them to “View” only, there are permission settings that allow for that.

Wunderlist 

This is a relatively new app that I’ve adopted and I’ve fallen in love. Wunderlist allows you to create categorized to-do lists, and it instantly synchronizes between your phone, tablet and laptop. I particularly love the pop-up desktop tool that allows you to quickly add a task. That way, you can get it off your mind and move on with your work. I also like the way you can share lists with colleagues or family members.

Google Calendar

I mentioned this tool already, and it has been my “go-to” for years. Ditch the paper agenda and go electronic to keep you on task and on time. Google Calendar allows you to set up both Tasks and Events, so that you can outline projects for each day and move them around as you need to. Set up reminders and alerts, colour code your events, and share your calendars with others.

Hootsuite 

I was an early adopter of Hootsuite, and have seen it continually improve. This is one of the best social media productivity tools on the market, and once you get to know how it works, you’ll never look back. I use this platform to monitor all of my professional Twitter feeds, including Lists and specific keywords or search terms. I want to stay active on social media, but can’t afford for it to eat up my writing time. This is the perfect answer.

Thesaurus.com 

This one could also be slotted simply under “writing tools”, but anything that saves time allows for more productivity. Not only has using a thesaurus helped me to overcome that feeling that I have a word on the tip of my tongue, but it has also helped me to expand my vocabulary! There are many tools out there, but I generally turn to Thesaurus.com. I like the way you can click through words to dig deeper into nuances and meanings, so that you can be sure to get the right one.

What are your favourite productivity tools?

Creating a Mind Map

Life is constantly evolving, particularly on the work front. How I spend my time and energy depends on the projects I have on my plate (and how I manage them). Being self-employed, I have a lot of choice in the matter of how I prioritize my time and which projects I take on. But, my tendency, like many others, it to take on too much when my businesses already demand a lot of my attention to ensure they run smoothly and successfully. Add my family and personal life into the mix and it all starts to feel like I’m riding a runaway train.

As our businesses and lives evolve, we need to take a step back to see how certain elements may have shifted. What needed our attention six months ago may no longer deserve the time we’re putting in. Certain tasks we’ve been doing on ‘robot mode’ may have become irrelevant over time, and yet we’re still doing them!

One thing I do when it’s time to take a step back (or when I’m feeling scattered) is create a mind map. The point of this exercise is to see how you spend your time, what demands your attention and how you are prioritizing your life.

All you need is a big sheet of blank paper and a pen or marker (you can also search your apps for a digital version like this one, but I prefer to go ‘old school’ with this exercise). If you’re a visual learner, you may choose to organize your thoughts with various colours and stickers.

This is a simplified mock-up of a mind map, but you get the idea!

This is a simplified mock-up of a mind map, but you get the idea!

1. Begin your map with a central idea in the middle of the page (My Commitments, Current Projects, How I Spend My Time, My Priorities, your Name are all good starts). This can be as general (Life!) or specific (Your Business) as you want.

2. Branch out from there. Draw a line to a blank space on the map and start breaking down that central idea, giving each new section its own area on the map. These could be Family, Work, Volunteering and Friends. Or, if you’re going with a more specific mind map (e.g. Your Business), this may include Admin, Client Relations, Marketing, and Revenue Streams.

3. Branch out further. Under Work, for instance, you could write out your projects – even indicating roughly how many hours a week you allot to those. Under Revenue Streams, list out each of the areas and products that bring money into your company. Under Household, list the various areas of responsibility you hold, such as cleaning, bills, groceries, and maintenance (the point is to identify which things take up time, energy and money). Keep branching out, smaller and smaller, until you have created as comprehensive a map as you need.

4. Next, ask yourself some questions:

  • Where is the bulk of my energy going? 
  • Which areas need more attention?
  • Is there anything on my map that could be eliminated, delegated or hired out to free up more time?
  • Which projects or commitments bring me joy?
  • What doesn’t serve me anymore? 
  • How do these items line up with my life goals?

Make notes on your mind map however you like – cross out, highlight, circle, star. It’s all yours to play with in a way that makes sense to you.

5. It’s thought that 80% of a company’s profits come from 20% of its customers, and this concept (the 80/20 rule) can be applied to many aspects of your life and business. Use it with your mind map to identify which 20% of your items/activities you should be focusing on the most. Look for ways to eliminate, delegate or hire out the 80% of activities that aren’t as deserving of your energy and attention.

If you find this concept confusing, check out this article on the Pareto Principle. This principle applies particularly to the work side (handy for entrepreneurs/self-employed/business owners!), whether it’s your customer base or time management. But, you may also find it useful as you analyze your relationships, how you organize your personal life, and more.

6. Next, set some goals around how you can shift your focus to the things that matter and the things that make a difference. Use this downloadable goal setting sheet to help you through that process.

Let me know how your mind maps are coming along in the Comments below!