Seven Secrets You Need To Know To Make You More Productive and Organised

As I have got a little older, I have become more self-aware of things I am good at, and things that I perhaps should leave to others (coordination sports, digesting lactose, long phone-calls for catching up, drawing and multi-tasking to name a few).

On the flip side, I am a good natural organiser and tend to thrive with tasks requiring self-discipline, productivity and planning. Recently, a few people have been asking for what it is I do each day to get stuff done, or get stuff done quickly. So I thought I would share a post on my top reflections and habits that I think contribute towards my productivity in case it’s useful for a wider audience.

With the above in mind, I also want to reflect that until recently I used to be pretty embarrassed of just how organised (read: borderline control freak) I was as a person. These days though, I welcome it with open arms. I think that because of these traits I find it easier to go after the things that make me really happy, and put a lot of energy and effort into events, trips and plans that leave a lasting impact and memories for years to come.

Top ways to keep organised and productive on a day to day basis:

One: Know your goals, and know your plan

It is so easy to get wrapped up in the hype of being ‘busy’ or hyper productive. There are methods that get you to write down 5-7 habits a day to do every day. Others encourage you to break down big tasks into more manageable chunks to make them seem more attainable.

Personally, I think that the most important way to keep disciplined and productive is to have three things established. One, a very clear vision of where you want to be in life in the next 3-5 years. I am not talking specific here (although feel free to be detailed) but a good understanding of what life looks like for you in the coming years. If you don’t have a good goal, nothing’s going to motivate you.

Secondly, an understanding of your main priorities in life and what matters most to you.

Lastly, a personal acceptance of the fact that you really can’t do everything, but you can do a lot.

If you know you want to be a full time writer, living in a small house in the remote countryside in the next three-five years. You are aware that your priorities are your family, your health, your friends, travel and writing. Then you can easily take a moment to assess your day to day and even week by week plans to see what is contributing towards that and what is distracting.

If in a week you spend two hours a day watching Netflix, but the above is your plan, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to work out it won’t happen for you in the near future because it’s not where you are putting your energy.

Two: Do what makes you happy

This one isn’t really easy for all, but I am a firm believer that unless you are doing something that challenges you, makes you happy and feel fulfilled you’re never going to have the motivation to put 100% into it.

If you are feeling stuck in a rut, or like you’re limited because you are pursuing something you really don’t enjoy, make a change today. No one can be productive all the time for something that doesn’t make them happy.

Three: Do the hardest tasks of the day first, every single day.

Block out the first hour to get the rough stuff done. The stuff that makes you scared, a good dose of exercise, the email you’ve been putting off writing or the paperwork you have yet to reply to and file.

Often the things that are the hardest to do, or that we avoid are the ones that bring the biggest changes or impact on our day to day.

Honestly, if you can just change one thing this for me would be it. Before reading the news, before social media or joining a call, put aside an hour to just get stuff done.

Four: Know your own habits and routines

We all have our own habits and pitfalls when it comes to organisation and discipline. Personally, I know that after 6pm I am cognitively useless. If you check my blog and writing performance, I always have a dip in publishing mid-month.

Instead of being frustrated by these habits, I instead just work my projects and days around them. I write more at the start and end of each month, and during the middle I focus on other priorities such as getting outdoors, trips and down time.

It’s the same with household tasks like taxes, budgeting and planning for my husband’s business, I know if I don’t tackle them in the first week of the month I will lose motivation. So I make these a priority.

After 6pm I don’t do anything ‘mentally taxing’ and use this time to unwind.

Embrace your own ways of working and natural habits rather than consistently trying to overwrite and fight them. Make them work as part of your productivity.

Photo by Michaela on Pexels.com

Five: Time blocking

If you are always finding yourself too busy to do the things that matter, take some time to block out and organise your diary now to make room for the bigger priorities. Give yourself an hour every day to work on projects. Refuse meetings or calls on a Friday to use this time to turn your ideas into reality.

Give yourself an hour a day for self-development.

Six: Don’t hyper organise

An app can be incredibly helpful if you already know your goals and priorities. A notes site can be fantastic to collect articles to read later, if you actually are going to read them. A well-structured calendar will only be effective if you are actually going to stick to your agenda.

We seem to love technology and hyper-organisation when it comes to being disciplined and often think that certain apps, tools and tech will help us become productive. The reality is, these tools complement an already productive lifestyle.

Plus, with these tools we tend to want to add 7-8 habits a day rather than one or two that will actually get done, because otherwise the list looks bare.

Get apps if you need them to further habits you already have, or interests you already stick to. Don’t expect them to be the cure.

Seven: Outsource

This one took me a long time to firstly realise was a thing, and then secondly do properly. You don’t need to do everything yourself, and to go back to my first tip, in order to be productive you need to realise that you really can’t do everything, but you can do a lot.

Outsource whatever it is that distracts from your priorities or what you enjoy where you can. Obviously some aspects require financial freedom to do it, such as having a cleaner or someone or taking a load of laundry to be dry cleaned once a week.

Others however, not so much. Sites like Fiverr make getting all sorts of tasks done quickly and easily for less. They have everything from virtual assistants to data entry and video editing.

Same goes for things like present shopping, do you know many big online stores now offer free personal shopping services or AI powered Chat Bots to get you the perfect gift in next to no time. Or food shopping, have a service deliver a weekly pre-prepared favourites list to you and then add in things you fancy as you think about them.

Lastly, the biggest thing I think that has helped me be more productive is living a lot more minimally. I have less stuff to clean, no real clutter to sort through, I don’t spend hours worrying about outfits as my wardrobe is pretty capsule and I don’t spend hours working out how to get the new car I covet or striving after the next big material success. When you let go of the distractions, the must-haves and the noise, it becomes really easy to just get stuff done.

What are your top tips for being productive?

EasyJet Travel Hacks – Ten Top Tips To Have A Better Budget Flight

Love them or loathe them, you can’t deny that the European budget airline carriers have opened up a whole host of opportunities and freedoms when it comes to short haul travel and city breaks. For less than you would normally spend on a weekend meal and night out, you can now fly return to most European cities. This year I managed to fly back to the UK for less than taxi to my hotel upon arrival cost.

However, it definitely comes with some strings attached. Often these carriers make up for their low fares in the extras they charge to provide you with a more comfortable and stress-free flight. Thanks to a combination of business and personal travel I have sat on upwards of twenty EasyJet planes in 2019 (I don’t want to count the actual figure in case it’s much higher).

Due to this, I have discovered some surprisingly little tips and tricks that may make your journey a little less budget, and a little more enjoyable when you next board.

Check in as early as you can to improve your seat

You can check into an EasyJet flight up to 30 days before you depart. However, if you are a bit like me, you tend to leave this part to the few days before when you are finalising your packing and gathering paperwork for a trip.

In the future, try not to put it off and do it as soon as you get the email saying check in is open. You will be allocated a better seat as more are available and the algorithm can do more magic this way.

Cabin bag plus duty free bag in many airports

In most major airports, EasyJet allows you to take your one cabin bag on board in addition to one bag of duty free shopping. This can be a genius travel hack if you prepare properly. Following previous airport purchases, I have kept a Boots, and a Duty Free plastic bag that I always fold into the front of my case.

Then, when I need to queue to board, I put my handbag or tablet into this plastic bag. If I purchase something in the airport, I don’t bring out my trusty old carrier and use this instead.

This way, you don’t get fined for having a second small bag when boarding, and it means that you don’t need to struggle with using a big suitcase as a handbag for little things like your phone, passport and mints in the airport and plane.

I now do this for practically every flight, and fingers crossed, no issues yet!

Obviously this has two disclaimers:

  1. It may not always work for you like it has for me, so if you take this risk and don’t have room for the second bag in your luggage, you will have to pay a fee.
  2. Make sure your duty free bag actually is from a shop in the airport (you can’t just take any plastic carrier!)

Use their fare finders to get the best prices

If you book directly on their site, and look for best prices using their EasyJet Fare Finder, you can find some great deals, especially if you can be flexible with your departure dates and times.

Become a regular and join their Flight Club

If you take enough flights a year, EasyJet send you an email welcoming you into their ‘Flight Club’. It has many benefits but my personal favourite is the ability to change your flights without paying the admin fee, instead you just pay any difference in cost if there is any.

Additionally, if you find your flight for less after booking, they will ensure you get this difference back.

If you take regular short haul trips, it can good to be loyal to one provider to benefit from their perks.

Photo by Jason Toevs on Pexels.com

Pack your own snacks (and drinks too!)

You can no longer bring full bottles through security at departures unless they are under 100ml, but you can bring an empty and reusable water carrier.

Then when you pass security, fill this up at the many free fountains before boarding. This way, you save yourself the £2-3 they charge for bottled water. On this note however, if you ask the crew they can give you free cups of tap water if you go to their galley and ask politely.

Additionally, you can bring through a pre-packed lunch if you don’t want to buy the food on board.

Buying food vouchers before you board

However on the above, if you know you’re going to eat on the plane, EasyJet do these great vouchers that allow you to buy their meal deals for less before you board.

If you are definitely going to want food and a drink, a little bit of prep before you buy goes a long way.

Board early to avoid your bag being placed in the hold

Although usually I hate it when people gather around the boarding gate before their class or zone has been called (if you are one of these people, I genuinely would be interested to know why you do this) an EasyJet flight is where I make an exception to this rule.

Primarily because they don’t board by zones like bigger airlines, and because they have a new rule where only the first seventy bags through the gate go onto the plane. The rest are taken to the hold, free of charge, for you to collect on arrival.

Honestly, I personally like the rule, as there’s nothing worse than your flight being delayed as people struggle to find space for their luggage and coats in the overhead lockers.

However it does mean if you want your bag with you in the cabin, you need to be one of the first seventy to board.

Photo by Tranmautritam on Pexels.com

Hand luggage limit is on size, not weight

As long as you can lift it, it can fly in the cabin. EasyJet are great in that whilst the cabin bags have a size limit, they don’t have a weight limit.

So if you have a few big items you need to take, and they risk your hold luggage going over-weight and incurring a bigger fee, stick them in your cabin baggage when packing.

This was a true lifesaver for me when I was moving to Switzerland without my furniture for four months. All my books came with me in my hand luggage to save weight-space in my two hold bags.

As long as you can personally lift it into the overhead locker, you can fly with it!

Extra legroom gets an extra under seat bag for free

If you book a seat with extra legroom (priced from around £10 up to £25) depending on the flight, you get to board first, and get a second piece of cabin baggage for free.

Sometimes this works out better than having to pay for hold luggage if it’s just a laptop or small rucksack you need to fit all your extra stuff in for a week away.

Going hands-free allows for boarding priority – can be for an individual or a group at a discount

You can pay to check in your cabin baggage for a little as £7 per person, or there’s a discount if you are a bigger family and travelling in a group.

This way, you put it in the hold but you get to board the plane first, and usually the luggage is waiting for you when you disembark as it gets priority status for offloading. A good way to avoid carrying heavy cases around and to get on the plane and seated before the rush.

How You Can Take Over Ten Trips A Year Whilst Working – An Insiders Guide To Travelling With A Full-Time Job

You see so many stories of incredible people handing in their notice, packing up their bags and heading out for an indefinite period to explore the world. Endless countries ticked off the bucket list, an opportunity to forget about long-term plans and the chance to see many countries in such a short space of time.

The reality is that the above takes more than just courage to take the leap. It also requires savings you’re willing to invest (and not see back) on the travel costs, an ability to live out of a back pack for an extended period of time, and the knowledge that unless you’re on a sabbatical, if you ever want to come home you need to start the process of job hunting, accommodation sorting and logistics all over again.

The good news is that this doesn’t mean you have to give up on the dream of regular travel if you can’t or don’t want to give up work. It’s actually incredibly feasible if this is a big priority for you.

Here are my top tips for balancing work and travel, to keep those wanderlust dreams alive whilst rocking a traditional 9-5.

Be flexible with travel dates

If you currently don’t have children, or a role that mandates specific holidays are taken (such as the wonderful teachers among us) then make the most of your calendar freedom and travel when the flights are cheaper and the destinations are quieter.

Use a travel comparison site such as SkyScanner to locate the best prices for your next trip and fly on these days where possible. Cost savings like these mean you can then afford more trips throughout the year.

Prague in Winter is incredible, the cold and snow makes the city feel magical and mystical. Traditional expensive ski resorts become affordable hiking paradises in the summer. It’s all about the dates and the flexibility when it comes to travelling more with a job.

On this, also be flexible with your destination

Unless you have somewhere your heart is set on visiting, try and be flexible with your next destination. We have a huge list of everywhere we hope to see, but it’s not constrained by time. The big Weir bucket list!

 We again use travel comparison sites such as SkyScanner to search from flights from our closest airports to ‘everywhere’ and then find somewhere with a great deal on from our big wish list of destinations.

Obviously this isn’t always achievable as you may have a deep craving for pasta and wine in Tuscany that a trip to Poland just won’t quench, but where you can be flexible, try.

Photo by Michael Block on Pexels.com

Enjoy your work

This may seem like a strange tip, but I really do think it’s important to have a good work life balance and a job you genuinely enjoy doing for this to work well.

If you are forever just looking forward to your next office break, have no enthusiasm for what you are going back to or don’t feel excited or stretched then you may begin to resent your time spent not travelling.

A work life balance is just about liking what you do in work, as well as making sure you get enough time away from it to indulge in your passions and interests.

For me, this kind of approach of working hard and travelling harder works because I put the same amount of energy into both aspects. I think it’s a super key element many people miss when trying to strike up this kind of balance with travelling vs. a full-time backpacking year.

Maximise those bank holidays

Every year, I block out the public holidays where I am living and try and book some extra dates off around these to maximise my vacation time. A week away can easily just require two days leave if you time it right.

Yes prices may be a little inflated, but it’s up to you to weigh up the benefits of longer travel vs. the cost. Plus, you don’t need to fly for these trips. Do the planet a favour and hop on a train to the nearest country, or a short ferry or cruise overseas. Sometimes the best places to discover are on our doorstep.

Long weekends are golden

Again, similar to the above, you can see some incredible cities in just three days. Take a Thursday night flight out, and Sunday night flight back and you have easily squeezed in an exciting long weekend without much stress or missed work!

We love our long weekend escapes. Pack light, pick out a few top sights to see and indulge in some good food and new cultures for three days.

Great weekend city breaks include Paris, Copenhagen, Helsinki, Rome, Prague, Krakow, Berlin, Budapest, Vienna or Edinburgh.

Ignore the comments

One of the strangest things about this kind of lifestyle has to be the frequent comments and observations from others it attracts about how ‘you are always on holiday’ or ‘they’re shocked you ever manage to get any work done’.

The reality is you get just as much vacation as your peers. You are just utilising it in a way that works for you and meets your travel goals. If you choose to spend your weekends in Naples enjoying a pizza rather than a weekend at home it doesn’t matter. You will both be back in the office on Monday.

Do what works for you, and don’t worry about what others think of it.

Photo by Oleg Magni on Pexels.com

Live with less to travel more

People quite often comment on how we manage to afford all the travel we do. Sometimes out of intrigued, sometimes I think a little suspicious, and sometimes perhaps not with the best intentions.

Our method is simple. Prioritize what matters to you and invest both your time and money here.

For us, travel matters. As a result, we rarely buy new clothes, we currently are car-free, we live below our means and we don’t tend to buy ‘nice-to-haves’ like decorative items, makeup trends or the latest iPhones / other technology. It’s our choice, and definitely isn’t a choice we think is better than others or right for everyone. But it’s right for us.

By living like this we have freed up money to go away often and make many memories in different places. It’s perfectly possible to have a mix of both, with a few trips a year as well, but our reality of upwards of ten vacations a year wouldn’t be possible without this choice we’ve made.

Work on the go

If you have a job that allows this, or a remote career, then you really have unlocked the next level when it comes to working and travelling. Office hours by day, and exploring at night and weekends. However this isn’t possible for everyone – though definitely something we can all work towards!

These tips all sound obvious, but they all require flexibility and discipline to turn your bi-annual vacation into a true blend of constant work and travel. What are your top tips when it comes to working full time and travelling?

Flying While Pregnant – First Trimester Travel Tips

During the first twelve weeks of my pregnancy I took sixteen flights for six different trips. Some went well, some were challenging and a couple were downright dreadful. The positive from all of this is that I have extensively sampled what it is like to fly in the first trimester both for leisure and business, and hope that from this I can at least share what I have learned along the way. Consider me your pregnant guinea pig, learning the flight mistakes so you don’t have to.

Before I begin though, there’s one important thing to note here. No two pregnancies are the same, and every women may have different experiences when it comes to travelling whilst expecting. My experience may be entirely different from yours, but I hope that there are perhaps some things I have learned which can be a benefit for those embarking on an early adventure. Please make sure you speak to your doctor regarding any specific medical concerns or health issues ahead of a trip.

So, if you have recently discovered you have a little one on the way, and need to travel for work or fancy a week away for leisure, here are my top insights to make the journey as comfortable and pleasant as possible.

Tell the crew

I can’t stress this one enough. If you let the crew know you’re expecting and how you are feeling, they will definitely ensure you have what you need to make the trip as comfortable as possible. When I was suffering from severe morning sickness (I am talking being sick upwards of six times a day and keeping nothing down) the kind crew let me board early and gave me water as soon as I was on board.

Other kind gestures I have been grateful for have been extra pillows, moving to seats with more room or easier bathroom access. Side note – thanks to pregnancy hormones, the smallest kindness from strangers in these situations may bring you out in unnecessary tears. Pack the extra Kleenex just in case and have your other half practice a ‘what can I say’ look for the now alarmed and confused cabin crew.

Book an aisle seat

On that note, if you have the chance to choose or pre-book a seat, do it. Go for an aisle seat. You will need it for regular bathroom runs and getting up to move and walk around on longer trips.

Pack light

If you are not feeling well, carrying a heavy bag while wheeling along a suitcase through the airport is something you definitely want to avoid. Take what you need only, and if you are genuinely struggling, ask for help. 

With that in mind, it definitely make sense to take with you anything you rely on at home which you may not be able to get abroad. Think prenatal vitamins, stretch mark cream, sickness tablets and snacks you can stomach.

Pack your own foods

So airline food is definitely improving, but the reality is that in the first trimester there may be few foods you are able to stomach or stand. Bear this in mind and prepare so that you are not stuck on a long-haul flight without adequate nutrition. Trust me, nothing is worse than a long flight when you are already sick than a long flight where you feel sick but you also cannot eat anything the airline provides and get hangry. If you are still unsure, ask my husband how well our flight to New York went! Bland crackers, beige foods and ginger biscuits are a great staple to bring on-board.

Photo by Mudassir Ali on Pexels.com

Refillable water bottle

In addition to foods, make sure you have a good quality refillable water bottle with you so you can keep sipping and keep hydrated between drinks and meal services. Often airlines don’t bring round water until the plane is cruising which can sometimes take a good forty minutes. Stay ahead of this and keep a filled bottle with you at all times.

On that note, flying dehydrates you, jet lag does too. Make sure you drink water, and then drink some more during pregnancy travel. It may feel like all you do is drink and then pee, but it’s best for baby if you keep yourself topped up water wise.

Pillows, socks and loose clothes

Comfort is key during this time, especially when tight waistbands can make a sensitive stomach feel even worse. Wear loose and layered clothing, compression socks for long flights and pack a comfortable pillow or two to make your seat the best it can be for the duration of your trip.

Take it easy Travelling is normally tiring, so there’s no wonder it suddenly feels like a serious effort once you discover you are expecting. Give yourself time to get through the airport, manage your day and reduce your activities where possible. The first trimester is basically a twelve week blur of naps, nausea and excitement so if you add the joys of jet lag into the mix, two naps a day isn’t actually that extreme and I think should be recommended to everyone. Allow yourself the rest and take it easy on yourself.

9 Things We Have Learned From Hosting Guests.

For us, the next few months will be a little unusual, in that we don’t have plans to be hosting any guests or visitors until Christmas. Living abroad has many advantages, and one personal favourite of mine is that you get to host many visitors as they travel to see you and your new home.

It’s been a year since we made Switzerland our new home, and in that time we have had ten sets of visitors, some visiting multiple times, enter our home and share our space with us. Honestly it’s something we both truly enjoy and we only hope that each time the people staying with us have a great holiday and experience too.

On that note, there are definitely a few tips and tricks we have learned along the way about hosting that make it a lot easier and comfortable for all during visits.

One: Get a feel for what your guests want to do when they visit

A few weeks before people arrive to stay with us; we always try to discover what key things they want to experience while in Switzerland. No two visits are the same and so it’s important to know in advance what is high on their must-see lists. Do they plan to relax and recuperate, or expect an active weekend where they can see as much as possible?

We usually provide visitors with our detailed guide to the local area ahead of their stay, so they can then use this to let us know what kind of activities really takes their fancy. Moreover, we include costs and any clothes or unique requirements so there are no surprises or disappointments when the trip is underway. Preview our visit guide below if you are inspired to create something similar for your guests.

Plus, we like to do something a little unique and special for each visit as people have made a lot of effort to come and see us. Here’s an example of a Weir Wine Tour we made for one of the trips!

Two: Time the visit well

Based on the above, it’s really important to be conscious of the timings of visits where possible. If you have guests wanting to do outdoor pursuits, it’s best to let them know when the weather is reliable. For those visiting when you still need to work, make that clear ahead of the trip so they can organize their days and plans in advance where needed.

Three: Have a spare key cut for your guests

Even if you are going to be spending the majority of your time together, it’s good to offer guests their own key so they can come and go without worry. This makes it easier if they tend to go for runs earlier in the morning, or will be entertaining themselves whilst you are in the office.

On that note, a house guide for those who will be in your home without you for extended periods is always a good idea. It means they can easily make themselves at home without worrying about how to work the TV or heating.

Four: Don’t forget the little things

Ensuring you have fresh bedding, a clean home and a well-stocked fridge are the basics when it comes to hosting, but sometimes the little things that make stays a lot easier can go overlooked. We try to put adapters in the sockets for those coming from abroad, the bedside tables in the guest room have eye masks, ear plugs and sleep spray and we like to leave a little welcome gift or two from the local area in the room as a surprise. Plus, put fresh towels in their room, so they don’t realise mid-shower they haven’t got one at hand!

We keep our little guides we get from great places we visit and tourist information booths to provide to visitors so they can easily see what’s good to do nearby without too much effort.

Five: Check on dietary needs or special preferences

Make sure you know in advance if people have specific needs. Whether it’s specific dietary requirements, cat allergies or a particular fear which might make an activity you choose unsuitable, we’ve seen it all.

It’s always easy to navigate as long as you know beforehand, so if in doubt, just ask.

Seven: Prepare some meals in advance

If you are going to be using your time to see as much as you can with your visitors, you don’t want the day to day chore of cooking to eat into these precious hours. Prepare one or two meals you can throw into the slow cooker in the morning for when you arrive home tired at the end of the day. Lentil curries, hearty soups and five-bean chilli are easy solutions for quick group meals.

Plus, snacks never go amiss. Have plenty in to put in bowls in between meals, and take supplies out in your bag with you to keep guests satisfied in between meals especially if you’re hiking or doing something active.

Eight: Wow with a good breakfast

On that note, having a good selection of goods for breakfast each day makes sure you start the day well-nourished and gives you time to sit round the table and plan the day ahead as a group. During the weekend, put out cereals, pastries, breads and fresh fruit alongside some yoghurts and a warm dish to allow people to take their pick and have a slow brunch before heading out for activities.

Nine: Have fun

Hosting is about spending time with people whose company you truly enjoy. Prepare in advance but when they are here, just try to relax and make the most of the time together. We realised just last week we should have had a lamp in the spare room all along to make our guest more comfortable, so there’s always more to learn!

No hosting is ever perfect, but we try and make it as good for our guests as we can each time.

What are your top hosting tips? What do you always notice or appreciate when you are staying with friends or family?

Five Simple Changes You Should Embrace As We Enter A New Decade

There are only ten weeks left in 2019, meaning that in the blink of an eye we will be reigning in a New Year and saying goodbye to the last decade at the same time.

For many, this time of year results in a time of personal reflection. What have I achieved? What do I still want to do before the clock strikes twelve on December 31st? Did I meet the goals I set for myself at the start of the year?

Personally, I am not fond of New Year Resolutions; however, I do believe that the close of the year provides a natural opportunity for reflection and an opening for new lifestyle changes or commitments.

As we enter the new roaring twenties, I think there are a few simple and yet impactful changes we can all make to ensure the next chapter is our best yet.

One: Embrace the joy of learning something new

Too often, we let the day-to-day noise of everyday life get in the way of developing our personal self and our deeper understanding of things that interest or intrigue us. Honestly, it does not matter if you are studying in a classroom or learning something new via a podcast, it is the on-going discipline of pursuing new knowledge, which really matters.

When did you last master a new skill or discover something that really surprised you? Adopt this mindset from a quote I love:

‘Anyone who stops learning is old, whether it’s at twenty or eighty. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.’

On this note, I think it is incredibly important to read something. Anything. Every single day. Whether it’s a short newspaper article or a chapter of a good book, reading is our gateway to knowing more, and knowledge allows us to enact change, challenge what we know and escape into new worlds even for just an hour.

Two: Simplify and stop over committing

It is easy in the New Year, or any moment, to write a list of everything you truly want to achieve. Quite often, the problem we instead face is the complexity or sheer volume of the goals we then go and set.

Stay realistic, don’t set a goal to run a triathlon if you have neglected exercise for some time. Make your goals simple, clearly defined and achievable. Start with committing to running three times a week no matter what the distance, and work up from there.

Any time you’re about to make a big change, getting to the end result can be overwhelming. Setting small, easily achievable goals is one way to jump-start yourself and in a short period of time you can look back and see how much you have already accomplished.

Then look at how you are spending your time. We are all busy, but we are also in control of what we allow into our lives. Commit to what matters. Define your priorities. Try to enter 2020 with a view that being busy isn’t necessarily a good thing, and instead a life that makes time for what matters is instead a true sign of success.

Photo by Matt Hardy on Pexels.com

Three: Become a morning person

I love the golden hour before the world truly wakes up and you have some time for solitude, self-prioritization and spending time on things you cherish.

Personally, I use this hour for a variety of different activities rather than a set ‘routine’. One morning I may spend the hour writing posts such as this. Others I will dedicate to exercise, studying for my masters, planning personal travel or just snuggled up reading in bed with my cats before I have to tackle the day ahead.

By carving out this hour, I ensure that every single day I start my day right. I have done something that really matters to me, something that aligns with my priorities and contributes towards my own personal goals.

The impact an hour dedicated entirely to the structure of your choosing can have is huge.

Four: Consume less and consume better

It sounds simple but it’s surprising how we are often inclined to do the opposite. Try to enter the New Year with the comfort of knowing you are content with everything you have.

In Western society, we often attribute happiness and success with material goods and status. Ironically, almost all studies on this topic show that neither contribute to our long-term happiness.

If you believe that a better model of car or bigger house is the key to your happiness, then what happens when you obtain it and you realise there is an even more luxurious or bigger version within reach in a few years? You end up in a cycle of consumerism. Of seeing goods as an achievement of your goals, and every time you obtain that success the feeling is short lived as you quickly begin to covet the next best thing.

If you see goods as a way to fulfil the things that make you happy. A car to help you travel, see loved ones and visit new places. A house to make memories with friends and family around the dinner table, and shoes as a way to take you on new adventures, you realise you already have all you need.

Our planet, your happiness and your perception will thank you when you break out of the cycle of wanting and start living with what you need.

This doesn’t end with material goods. It means taking control of what you eat, drink and what you’re putting into your body each day.

Be conscious of your consumption. Start 2020 investing in what you truly need. Time, health, family and personal growth.

Five: Be kinder

We are statistically more stressed than ever thanks to online capabilities providing less of a ‘shut down’ window than we used to see in previous decades. We can email at any hour, online shop at 3am and check in with friends with the tap of a button.

Thanks to this, and a disengagement with real, in-person interactions thanks to the rise of social media, it’s hardly surprising that we have begun to put more pressure on ourselves and at times, not provide others with the time and kindness they deserve.

Being kind is something we do out of love and care, but research shows it also makes us genuinely happy in many ways. For those feeling disengaged, stressed and burnt out, a little bit of kindness can go a long way.

Smile at others for no reason; be open to making new connections and meeting new people. Treat those you care for to a thoughtful gift or experience ‘just-because’. Adopt an animal in need of a loving home; open your doors to someone needing an ear. Pay it forward by supporting someone’s goals with your skills or advice, or even just buying a strangers coffee that day.

Just as important as being kind to others, is being kind to yourself. We are our worst critics, and sometimes we need to take a moment to appreciate all that we do and all we are striving for.

Being kind may boost your mood, but research has also shown that being in a good mood can make you more kind. This makes it a wonderful two-way relationship that just keeps giving.

What do you think of the above? Is there anything you’re going to adopt moving forward or is there something you thing is missing from this list that people can do tomorrow to make a meaningful change for the years’ to come?

You’re Not Doing Less, We’re Just Expecting More Of Ourselves

The other day I woke up and realised I really needed a day to just unwind, recover and relax.

A spot of light reading, perhaps a cup of coffee or two on the sofa and maybe a walk in the afternoon if the weather held out.

When I was living in the reality of that day, I felt that I had truly achieved this and managed to amble through a day doing next to nothing.

If I look back now, and am totally honest with myself, I have to admit that I may have sneaked just a few jobs, errands and tasks in there.

The difficulty is that it is really hard to justify, and just accept, that in this busy, hectic world, it’s okay to do less. It’s okay to have a day or two of doing absolutely nothing.

We feel that unless we have a grand sense of accomplishment achieved by successfully ticking off at least ten things on our ever growing to-do lists, we have had somewhat a failure of a day.

Rather than measuring our success on our happiness, our prioritization of the things that matter to us and our wellbeing, we instead measure it on how important we feel because we have managed to do more ‘stuff’.

On my ‘relax and recover’ day I managed to, on top of my reading, coffee drinking and walking, do an online shop, deep clean and sort the kitchen cupboards, pack a little more for the move, order a friends birthday present, call my family for a check in, order a new lightbulb and starter for the bathroom and order a cake for our leaving party.

If that was a lot to read in one sentence, just imagine how much extra it added to a day that was meant to be filled with nothing. Additionally, just imagine how much more gets done on a day not planned for rest.

I am not writing this to show how much extra I managed to do on a day off. Instead it’s a bit of a personal reflection on how much I felt I needed to just get done, when really my head, body and mind was telling me to just take a day.

Quite often I find that it’s the unreal expectations we set ourselves which stops us from really doing what we want to do. We are not doing less, we are just demanding more from ourselves.

A 2018 survey by Forth with Life found that 42% of women and 36% of men feel way too stressed. Guess what one of the top causes was? You got it, it’s being too busy.

A quick search on Twitter, Facebook or Instagram gives instant insight into why we have adopted a culture of seeing busy as a sign of success.

#busybusybusy = nearly 100,000 posts on Instagram

#busylife = over 350,000

and let’s not forget, you can’t be a good mum if you’re not exhausted from cramming things into every hour of your day, so it makes sense that #busymom has nearly one million shares.

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Photo by Stokpic on Pexels.com

Personally, I don’t want to be busy.

I want to stop filling my downtime with more stuff and noise just so I don’t feel bad about reading a whole book and maybe even having a bath and nap in between chapters.

Relaxing, unwinding, reflecting. It’s still you doing something. It’s arguably more important than anything else as without your health, it’s hard to do the rest.

Just because with technology it’s easier to do more, easier to feel lazy when you see others filling their days with more, and easier to find more ways to be busy, doesn’t mean it’s right.

Looking back, I don’t feel success or any striking memories from the days where I ticked 10 menial things off my to-do list (most of them instigated by my need to do more and be more busy). My memories come from good books, successful projects in work and at home, travelling and laughing with friends and family.

I am happy to be seen as someone who does less. As long as I am happy.

That’s success for me.

What Items Are Worth Investing In When Moving Often?

Over the last two weeks, I have started to pack for a big house move. It’s different this time for several reasons, one being that the house we are leaving is the place we have stayed the longest as a couple. Therefore, we’ve gathered a little bit more than usual over the last three years.

Note – I have nearly packed all my possessions and the rooms still look pretty full, which shows the dynamic of my relationship with stuff vs. my husbands!

One thing, which has made me think, is what has made me keep the possessions I have decided to hold on to. With all the minimising, and living with less, how have some goods retained their longevity when it comes to need and use?

We are really fortunate to have and cherish all the below. This is why I think it makes all of it even more valuable from a personal perspective.

Below is a collection of the items I have kept, repeatedly purchased or invested in over time. They will follow me around for years. I would love to hear about what ‘things’ you have that you will treasure forever or have invested in over the years. What would you class as your ‘keepers’?

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A quality, capsule wardrobe

Find your personal style, buy good quality over quantity, and consider the impact of trend, fashion or impulse buying on the planet, on people and on animals.

I have a set series of items in colours, cuts and styles that I know suit my body shape and frame. They can easily be mixed and matched, and it makes getting ready in the morning much easier.

If you don’t know what your style is, find you keep buying clothes you end up hating months later, or experience a regular wardrobe rotation, use this guide here to define it.

When I buy clothes I buy for good, not to fit in with the new seasons must-have trend.

A good coat, gloves and hat

Following on from the above, nothing can bring an outfit together more in the winter than a quality coat, pair of faux-leather gloves and a hat.

If you invest in a winter coat you should have something that can last you for a decade. Dry clean it each year, and store in a dry place ready for the colder season to come around again.

Want to mix it up, buy two or three and rotate them over a long period of time, rather than one ‘on-trend’ throwaway jacket a year.

Well-made candles

I light a candle almost daily. I use them as part of my bedtime routine, when I am soaking in the bath and when I am entertaining over Winter.

Locally made candles are my go-to when I buy for myself, however many of my bigger candles tend to be gorgeous gifts and last for months.

Cruelty-free, good quality, face creams, room sprays and bath oils

Spend a little more on your face when you are younger, and you’ll have to spend a whole lot less as you get older. Unless you are happy aging gracefully and naturally, which is brilliant.

Personally, I like to invest in good quality serums and creams to keep my skin clear, moisturised and feeling soft. My favourites are The Ordinary Range for face serums. Nuxe dry oil spray, and Dr Hauschka Soothing Cleanser.

For room sprays, a scent can quickly calm and sooth, especially Lavender pillow spray.

For bathing, I am a huge fan of the Neal’s Yard bath oil range.

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Plants

When my husband first started coming home with plant after plant I was a little apprehensive. Now however, we have over 15 houseplants and a little vegetable garden. Watering, spritzing and tending to them daily is so calming. Plants can be quite expensive if you struggle to keep them alive, so I would advise you buy one at a time and make sure you can tend to and care for them before buying another.

Art (ish)

We don’t have masterpieces to rival the Louvre in our little home, but what we do have is priceless to us.

A painting of our favourite bay by my talented mother-in-law. A print of York, the city we have called home for five years from our brother. A wedding present from our Best Man.

All the little photos, hand painted prints from our travels and commissioned pieces hang on our walls and not only tell a story themselves, but are filled with memories on where they have come from.

Bedding

You can never underestimate the power of high quality bedding. Years ago we moved from cheap and cheerful Ikea duvets to a set we got when we were gifted as a wedding present, and it marked the point of no return!

Sleep is so important, and I personally love my Sunday mornings reading in bed with a coffee. If you are able to, invest in a quality duvet of at least 400-thread count in a breathable fabric.

Books

Something I buy regularly, and will always treasure.

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Dinnerware and Tableware

We are fortunate to have a gorgeous collection of dinnerware that has been passed down from various strands of the family in different patterns of blue toile.

This inspired my love of collecting old but beautiful strands of other table and glassware.

They don’t all match, they certainly are not part of a wider collection, but they evoke a lot of memories, and together all their differences come together and make it just…work.

Tech

It’s a given, but we have quite a bit of technology around our house. Both working in digital, and one of us being incredibly creative (clue: not me) means that we have a small selection of cameras, laptops, drawing tablets.

Without them, we wouldn’t be able to do what we both love to do (write, design and work in data) as easily.

Simple, but sentimental, jewellery

I may not have a large jewellery collection, in fact it’s really quite small, but each and every item means something important to me.

Nearly every item I have kept for a long time was gifted to me by someone special, passed down or handmade for me.

Now I wear jewellery sparingly, but meaningfully. If I perhaps suited the layered rings and necklaces look it may be a different story!

 

My Bedtime Routine: Seven Tips To Sleep Better.

There honestly isn’t a day which goes by where I don’t seem something online relating to sleep, the importance of it, or the struggle people have with it.

One thing that we all know to be true is that consistently getting a good night’s sleep is essential if you’re going to remain at your peak.

On average, adults need between seven to nine hours sleep a night to fully repair and recharge. This can be harder to achieve in the ‘always-on’ world we now live in. There’s always something new on Instagram to read, streaming services have changed the way we access media, allowing us to binge watch or engage at any hour without restrictions, and as a whole we seem to be a lot more stressed and forever busy.

All the above conflicts with our natural need to rest.

This is why over the years I have honed a few little techniques which help me to switch off and get a good nine (yes, I am on the extreme of the spectrum and need a lot of sleep!) hours of shuteye every night. Luckily I am now pretty good at getting my needed quota each night thanks to the below and finding what works for me.

They may not all work for you, in fact they could all be the opposite of what you need. However if you are struggling to get consistent rest, maybe try the below routine one night and see if it helps.

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No technology thirty minutes before bed

This one is really important, and something that I notice has an instant impact if I neglect it. No TV in the bedroom, no Netflix before bed, no last scroll on my phone down a social feed before snoozing.

Thirty minutes before I plan to sleep, I plug in my phone to charge, put it on do not disturb and set my alarms. Then it’s reading time, journaling time or just talking to my other half before bed.

Sleep sounds

I don’t know what I did for the first twenty five years of my life where I didn’t know about white noise apps.

If you live in a busy area, share a house or walls with noisy people, or on or near a main road, then a white noise app could help you drift off much quicker.

I use the ‘storm sounds’ ambient app on my Alexa device, so it starts to play automatically at a set time. It’s amazing how much sound a low-noise app can block out.

Tea-tox

Sipping a warm cup of herbal tea is a great way to just slow down and reflect on the day. My go-to is Lemon and Ginger or Pukka Detox tea.

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Bathe away the day

Light some candles, put on some relaxing music and use lavender bath oil to soak away the day. A good half an hour in the tub is the best way for me to clear my mind.

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Lavender

As already alluded to in the above, I use several lavender based products in my nighttime routine. Lavender bath oils, pillow spray, or essential oils to burn on my oil burner. Either way the smell just calms me, and makes me ready for bed!

I also love this new Linen Spray pictured above. It’s Vegan, smells incredible, and gives me that newly washed bedding feeling every night instead of once a week. Bliss.

Open curtains and eye mask combo

I sleep with the curtains open, to wake with the sun. However when I first go to bed, I pop on an eyemask as I find it helps me switch off and fall asleep easier.

In the middle of the night when I wake up, I take it off and go back to sleep mask-less.

Rehydrate

It’s not my evening routine as much, but every morning when I wake up, I slowly drink my way through a litre bottle of water as I wake and read the news, do my hair and makeup and cuddle the cats.

Do you have any sleep routines or tricks you swear by to get a good night’s sleep? Please share with me in the comments below!

Episode 06 – Kyran Weir: The Extraordinary Ordinary Series.

Kyran is a talented graphic designer, animator and illustrator who currently is putting his skills to use to create artwork, and engage with the community, for some of the UK’s top confectionery brands.

On top of this, he volunteers his creativity to support Oxfam Bookstores across York with their designs, bookmarks and publications, as well as lending a hand time to time with the local community independent cinema and volunteering to create some of their graphics, logos and branding.

Outside of design, Kyran is a keen photographer, gamer and loves to watch films.

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What makes Kyran so extraordinary? Kyran is creative, has a fantastic imagination and is a lively and social character that everyone quickly warms to. At just twenty eight he has already travelled to over 48 incredible cities including trekking for ten weeks across Costa Rica, lived in four (soon to be five) countries, and is a brilliant cat-dad and husband.

He approaches work in a very different way to a lot of people, and his passion truly shines when he is applying his skill set to something he loves.

He has a natural curiosity, love for life, and a no-fear approach to trying something new, which is why he is probably so good at packing up his life into a few suitcases and moving to new places!

Kyran is soon going to be launching his own graphic design agency, and putting his everything into something he loves. It’s inspiring to watch this journey unfold.

So here are his answers to my twelve questions:

What makes you happy?

My wife, my cats, eating out in good restaurants, travelling, gaming, watching films. Okay, I could go on as many things make me happy which I guess is very lucky.

In a nutshell, I love my family, entertainment, socialising and being creative.

What book had the biggest impact on your life?

Tools of Titans by Tim Ferris

It made me work harder but also smarter, and it’s fantastic to read all about the people who really are living their best life and at the top of their respective fields.

It taught me that four good hours in a day can produce better quality work than eight bad hours.

Apply yourself, work hard and produce work of quality not quantity.

What quote, or saying, do you live by?

‘Practice choosing discomfort’

It is a way to become more disciplined. Don’t choose the easy route (which is my natural and preferred path!)

I am not saying I am good at this yet, but it’s something I am working towards.

How do you remain, or regain, your focus?

I like to look at motivational quotes, Ted Talks and look at other designers work across Instagram, Dribbble and Pinterest.

What inspires you?

Great Artists – Tom Haugomat, Mark Conlan, Oli Moss. My wife. My colleagues who work with me in the studio.

What are your top three priorities?
  1. Die without regrets
  2. See the world
  3. Love my wife, cats and family

I am not massively interested in traditional success in the sense of a big car, three houses and top-level career. What I want is to be happy, experience every opportunity that comes my way, and see the world not only whilst I am young, but continually throughout all of my life.

What’s the biggest misconception about you?

I am a laidback guy.

People think it when they initially meet me but it couldn’t be more wrong.

I am not great in a crisis, and get easily stressed about the little things, and can be wound up by my friends really easily, however at the same time I am very easy going and so people often confuse the two.

What two purchases have you made this year that you really value / had most impact?
  1. Manual Camera – Pentax K100. I wanted to get into film photography and this camera has been a fantastic way to experience and discover more about taking photos in a more traditional way. I took it to Cuba with me where I got some fantastic shots.
  2. Audible Subscription. I love audio books, they are a way to make doing boring jobs easier, motivate yourself, and learn more.
Top tips for someone who wants to do what you do?

Anyone can do anything it’s just about putting time into it. YouTube is a great resource for learning to design.

Don’t think you instantly need to have your own ‘style’. Instead take influence from other peoples, copy their work, and learn how to do it until you find your own, it will come. Learn from people better than you. Design is just your thoughts and ideas, put down on paper and made real.

I would say you need to be able to also use Photoshop, Illustrator and After Effects if you want to design for a living.

What are you most proud of?

Teaching myself to design, illustrate and animate. I didn’t do a degree or a professional course to learn, but instead dedicated hours and hours to it around whatever job I was doing at the time.

I am still learning every day, and so this often means waking up between 5-6am to get in an hour or two before work of practice, and luckily I now get to spend a lot of time at work creating, but it’s a never ending journey.

I have found something I love to do and managed to do it for a living. I would recommend you do the same, and you won’t work a day in your life, but don’t worry if you are on a long journey there.

It took me eight years, doing jobs in five different areas and industries, to discover and then build up the skills to do what I am doing now. Your time will come, just work hard for it.

In three months I am about to embark on the next big adventure in my career. Setting up my own design business. I just need to make it a success now.

An unusual habit of yours?

When I game (Xbox) I grind my teeth, my dentist hates it. It has meant I now have a problem with lockjaw as well. Not good.

What do you do every single day?

I listen to music without fail.

I am currently a bit obsessed with The War on Drugs – A Deeper Understanding. It’s a great album, you should check it out.

Thanks Kyran, perhaps it is about time I checked out Audible, and discovered more about YouTube tutorials!

His Key Advice:

  • You often don’t instantly land in a job you love, but the journey is all part of the amazing experience to get there.
  • Anyone can do anything if they put enough time into it.
  • Learn from people better than you
  • Audible is great for discovering new books, podcasts and more
  • Try to produce more work of quality, rather than volumes of lower standard work in a higher quantity.

If you want to see more of Kyran’s designs, you can follow him on Instagram here.