Top 3 Free Things I Do for Self-Care

Today’s post is a quickie (TWSS!).

I have often gone to do the stereotypical self-care things like massages or pedicures or MNOs only to come back and be bombarded with stress all over again.

Here’s what I finally discovered. BONUS: they’re all free. (A quick summary after the video.)

Again, I am away from the computer and YouTube is hating my phone. So you’ll have to make do with my FB Live link. But I will update with the YouTube video soon!

https://www.facebook.com/MandarinMama/videos/1764031296962537/

1) Get enough sleep.

When I am tired and sleep-deprived, I am wretched. I snap at my kids, my annoyance threshold is at a minimum, and I yell at the slightest irritation.

When I have enough sleep, these things are no less aggravating, I just have more stamina and patience.

Sleep is KEY.

2) Get enough to eat.

I often forget to eat because I am lazy and hate eating with my children. Therefore, I put it off and by the time I remember, my stomach is ingesting itself and I am HANGRY already.

Then, of course, I yell and am irritable. I sound like a grumpy bear right before hibernation. There may be some truth to that comparison.

3) “Adult.”

Most of the reasons I am stressed is because I have not taken care of the things I am supposed to. Whether it’s paying a medical bill, writing a piece by deadline, or clearing off my kitchen table, a lot of my stress is caused by my lack of adulting.

It stands to reason if I stop procrastinating, I would be much happier.

Alright! That’s it for today. Hope these tips were of some use.

6 Things to Look for in a Planner

A few weeks ago, I mentioned on Facebook that my favorite ink+volt planner just came out with their 2018 version and as a result of a few comments, I thought it would be fun to discuss what I personally look for in a planner.

Then, I thought it would be cool to see if ink+volt would be willing to partner with me. (I’m trying to be bolder in reaching out to companies.) Since I already bought their planner for myself, ink+volt generously offered to send a black 2018 Signature Series Planner to one of my readers (US residents only).

So, make sure you comment on this blog post (make sure it’s on the actual blog post and not on the Twitter or the Facebook) and I will choose a winner at random. Please leave a comment before Friday, October 27, 2017 at 11:59 pm.

Incidentally, I am not getting paid for this post; I purchased this product with my own personal funds and the only thing I am receiving from ink+volt is the black 2018 Signature Series Planner that I’m giving away.

Anyhow, as many of you know, I am a stay at home mom of four children. I homeschool my older two, send my third to Chinese preschools, and also have to keep my one year old alive.

Between all the classes and extra-curricular activities for my kids, my never-ending task list for the household and family, and my own personal goals and plans for my blog and its growth and expansion, I was having a really hard time keeping track of things.

I was super frustrated with all the planners that I saw because none of them fit my life.

I used to be a huge fan of the Franklin Covey Planners, but they are expensive and I no longer used them in the same way I had in high school, college, and at work. In fact, I started to see them as a huge waste of money because I didn’t really need a daily planner with each day broken down by hour.

The thought of writing in all our classes and appointments seemed silly and redundant because I have a smartphone with Google Calendar installed. Plus, I never carry a paper planner around with me because it just adds weight to my diaper bag/purse.

No thanks.

The problem was, though, that I could not figure out a way to keep track of all the repetitive daily tasks I had to do – as well as other items on my to-do list. Plus, I wanted a centralized place to write down thoughts and ideas for my business.

I tried all sorts of apps and fancy tracking systems for my tasks and goals. I even paid money for some of them! They all failed. (Or rather, I failed them? I don’t know.)

I am a very visual person and I really needed my tasks and goals to be laid out in front of my eyeballs and apps just did not cut it. Plus, it is still really hard for me to brainstorm or even see all my thoughts when it’s on a tiny screen.

I felt like a constant failure.

Then, I saw a ink+volt’s Kickstarter for their planner on Facebook near the end of 2015.

I must have watched the ad at least 5-6 times with great longing. It sounded so beautiful. To have a planner that would help me reach all my goals! It appealed to my little Type-A heart.

But I was afraid.

I was afraid that I was setting myself up for another disappointment. Plus, it was $40 for a planner and I wasn’t really keen on spending $40 for a planner I wasn’t sure I would use.

But then, I thought, what did I have to lose? $40 isn’t TOO bad – and WHAT IF IT WORKS? WHAT IF IT IS TRUE?

What if it really COULD change my life?

Well, long story short, (HA! As if I could ever tell a story in brief.) I loved it. And it changed my life.

Here then are the things that I look for in a planner – and how ink+volt’s planner hits the majority of them to my immense satisfaction.

1) Lays flat.

This is super important.

The last thing I want when I’m looking at my planner is to have to find something else to weigh it down so it doesn’t close up on me. Also, that would block part of my view of what I’m scheduling. That just seems counterproductive.

The ink+volt planner lays flat despite it being a hard bound book. There is no spiral binding to get in the way of my hand if I have to write near the fold of the book and I can see the entirety of both pages – even if it’s near the crease.

2) Large, legible font.

Look, my eyes are NOT getting any younger. When I was in my youth, I didn’t mind tiny print. Now, I do not have the time nor inclination to hunt around and make sure I’m on the right page.

Since the 2018 ink+volt planner has been redesigned, I miss the giant font for the “Week Of” portion, but love that it now includes the dates of the whole week instead of the first day only. (It’s still legible – just not GIANT.)

Even with that minor detail, everything else is still an easy to read, large font. My eyes are grateful for the lack of eye strain.

Font size of 2018 ink+volt planner

3) Sturdy, quality materials.

Look, I like a deal as much as the next person, but I also hate things that fall apart. And since this is a weekly planner, I will be using it all day, every day. The last thing I want or need is for pages to rip out at a perforation (because knowing my luck, it would be something important) or the ink to bleed through the pages, or even have the cover rip off or start curling.

I am pleased to say that despite living on my kitchen table and in my laptop bag, the ink+volt planners have survived each year with little wear and tear.

I have spilled tea and all sorts of food stuffs on it and the pages have not turned to mush and ripped or torn. They kind of crinkle after drying, but they did not disintegrate. The ink barely bled.

The covers are sturdy and aren’t scratched or nicked. Even the rounded corners have stood up nicely. The two ribbon bookmarks did not fray or tear out.

This planner is meant for daily abuse and it can take it!

4) Good balance in planning elements: not too structured and not too blank.

For me, any planner with an hourly section (as well as lots of tiny sections to fill out) makes me break out into a panic. I also panic when there are completely blank pages (like the Bullet Journal). The former makes me feel too much pressure to fit my life into their suggested boxes and the latter makes me feel too pressured to design the best flow/calendar/doodles/etc.

I like the ink+volt because it is a good balance between the two extremes.

These planners split week days into morning, afternoon, and evening sections. Weekend days are about half the size of a weekday – which works out well for me. (Not so for some of my friends. They cram a lot more into a weekend day than I do in a normal day.)

I’m so happy they don’t have hourly breakdowns because quite frankly, my life is not measured in such minute (pun intended!) blocks of time. I need space to breathe. With hourly schedules, I feel as if I have to throw away my entire day if we get off track (even if just by 15 minutes).

I understand that may be a personal problem or quirk, but that’s what works for me. If you are someone who can stay on schedule and also live and die by those minutes, I can see how the lack of an hourly schedule would be annoying.

Keep in mind, I note all my appointments in my phone – so I really do not need the hourly slots to remind me of when I have to be somewhere.

I use my planner for the big ideas – as well as to list the small details of my big ideas. I do not use it to keep track of daily living.

Incidentally, the ink+volt has weekly journal prompts but I also hate journal prompts so I ignore them and just use the empty space for working out whatever it is I need to work out. This year, they added tiny dots in a grid pattern so it resembles the Bullet Journal in that aspect, but I like them because I think it will help me write in straighter lines.

Weekly View of the 2018 ink+volt planner

Monthly View of 2018 ink+volt planner

5) Well thought out design – especially the Goals section.

Technically, this could be under the previous point. However, I feel as if this particular feature deserves its own bullet point because one of the main reasons I bought the ink+volt planner was for how they designed their goal section.

I LOVE how there is a yearly, monthly, and weekly goals section and pre-made boxes to check off. (I love checking off boxes. I also love crossing items off a list. Sometimes, I do both.)

Monthly Goals in the 2018 ink+volt planner

Weekly Goals in the 2018 ink+volt planner

I LOVE how there is a place to list your big accomplishments in the yearly, monthly, and weekly sections, too. All too often, we forget all the awesome stuff we have done and then, when it comes time to reflect upon the past year either personally or professionally, we think we’ve done nothing.

These sections remind me that I’ve done a LOT worth celebrating.

Yearly Goals and Accomplishments in 2018 ink+volt planner

They also have a page where you focus on a habit to change each month and provide boxes for you to check off when you do it for each day that month. I confess, I don’t use this section much – but I have in the past and it did help!

As an aside: I have definitely found that by actually filling out the goals sections and then actively reviewing them on a weekly basis, I have gotten much better at following through on the tasks I need to do to get what I want. So I am absolutely grateful for this planner.

Would I have gotten the same results using some other planner? Probably. I don’t think that any particular product will be a magic bullet unless you personally do the work. However, this particular planner called to me and because of that, I was able to use its system to accomplish what I wanted.

In addition, there are lovely and useful details that make the planner easy to use. There are two ribboned bookmarks you can use – that though not quite enough for me personally, I still appreciate.

I use one bookmark a the current monthly view and I use the other bookmark at the current week schedule. In addition, I have a sticker tab at the yearly, monthly, and weekly goals pages as well as a tab at the very end where there are blank pages. (Ink+volt also sells planner accessories – I just use what I have on hand for free at home.)

Plus, the planners all now have a half-pocket included on the back cover for you to slide important notes or loose pages. I don’t really use it, but I do have my kids’ master homeschooling schedule tucked in there for reference.

Pocket on back cover of 2018 ink+volt planner

6) Leaves a lot of room for personalization.

Personally, I hate adding stickers, washi tape, or doodles to my planner. It stresses me out. I want things to be consistent from January through December and would make myself sick with worrying about whether I used the same sticker for a thing that I used last time – and all sorts of nonsense that in general, I do not consider personalization a bonus.

However, I recognize that not everyone has my problem and inability to chill. So, for those of you who love to decorate and go wild with stickers and washi tape and who knows what else – there is plenty of space for you to indulge your creative sticker using urges.

Plus, ink+volt have an undated version of their planner that you can use if would like to start using the planner right away and don’t want to wait for the new year.

Incidentally, one of my friends uses undated planners in a completely unexpected way. I thought folks just got the undated planners and then added in a full year’s worth of dates from whatever start date they choose. But she actually only fills in the date on the days she actually uses/needs her planner!

I found that SO interesting – and something my little Type-A heart would have never thought up! You can’t do that with the ink+volt undated planner because they do label the week days. BUT, you could ostensibly copy her idea and only use the weeks you want to.

I find this to be mindblowing in the sense that it would never in a million years occur to me to use a product in this manner. But she did and does and it works for her. (The coolest part is that she thought of it on her own – as in, it wasn’t some life hack she read somewhere. So creative!)

Anyhow, these are just a few of the things I look for in a planner beyond the obvious “is it pretty?” question. I have been very satisfied with my ink+volt planner and look forward to another productive year with it in 2018. (In true fact, once it hits August/September every year, I start looking out for their emails to buy the next year’s planner. I worry they will sell out!)

All in all, so glad there seems to be a planner out there for all of us – and that it doesn’t have to be the same one. What do you look for in a planner? Which planner have you found to be your favorite? Let me know in the comments.

Don’t forget. Enter to win a free black 2018 Signature Series Planner (US residents only) by leaving a comment on this post before Friday, October 27, 2017 at 11:59 pm.

How to Get the Most Out of Facebook Groups

If you’re like me, you’re likely in at least a few groups on Facebook. Some of them may be private groups formed by your friends, some are based on your hobbies and interests, and some of them are for more professional improvement and/or networking.

Regardless of the purpose of the group, they all desire meaningful engagement, true community, and useful information. And depending on your bandwidth, your inner lurker status, and your inability to NOT comment, your activity on these groups will likely vary.

I know I may be bit of an outlier in that I spent 99.9% of my life on Facebook. (Judge me all you want – I’m right there with you.) I am in way too many Facebook Groups – including actively administrating several of my own groups.

Now, despite being in a bjillion Facebook groups, I am only active in 5-7 groups with varying degrees of participation. All the other groups, including some of my own, I am in as a lurker.

Personally, I think most people just lurk in groups and if they do happen to have the capacity to be actively engaged, they likely only do so in 1-3 groups. Any more and it becomes too overwhelming and they just quit all groups (or mute them) and only check in when they want an answer to a specific question and maybe scroll down for a few seconds to see if there’s anything else that might be useful or interesting.

I totally get it.

And I’m guessing that due to the limited nature of folks in Facebook Groups, most of us don’t know how to act – let alone act right.

So then, here are a few handy tips for you to get the most out of your Facebook Groups.

1) Read the group rules and guidelines. Follow them.

Look, I know you’re not going to be actively participating much, but don’t be that person who ruins it for everyone else.

Every group has their own dynamics and their rules for appropriate behavior. Most of it is common sense, but think of it like visiting someone else’s house. You can do whatever you want in your own house, but when you’re at someone else’s house?

Follow the house rules.

2) Before you ask a question, use the FACEBOOK search function. Better yet, GOOGLE FIRST. Then use the Facebook search function. Read the search results.

I get it. You might have questions. Burning questions. (Yes, it likely is an STI.) Questions that need to be answered RIGHT THIS INSTANT.

But if you stopped for even half a second before posting, you will likely realize that perhaps, you are not the first person in the world to have this question. And that it just might be possible that prior to your popping in, someone (or several someones) might have already asked this question and if you just did a quick search and actually read the results, your question would be answered.

Incidentally, when I say search first, I don’t mean search your EXACT SITUATION.

Like, if you are looking for books for your five year old girl who likes trucks and donkeys and ballerinas, don’t be searching for “five year old girl who likes trucks and donkeys and ballerinas” and then say, “I can’t find anything.”

THAT IS NOT HOW SEARCH WORKS.

You should also try multiple search terms. Why? Because as my friend, Dots, says, “Just because one search term failed does not absolve you of the responsibility to try some more.”

Also? I get that Facebook’s search function can be wonky and that depending on the device you’re using or day or whatever algorithm is in place, the search results will vary.

Guess what?

GOOGLE SEARCH RESULTS VARY, TOO.

Google results ALSO vary from Bing or Yahoo! or Altavista (wait – is Altavista even still around?). The search results are STILL useful.

Speaking of Google – FFS, people. Use it. Facebook groups are not your personal AskJeeves or Yahoo! Answers.

What’s the big deal? Why am I such a meanie? Why do I relentlessly delete people’s repeat posts or comment and tell people to do a search already?

Several reasons:

a) You look like a jerk and possibly, really stupid.

I mean, just for self-preservation and wanting other people to help you, this should be minimized.

b) You are not entitled to other people’s time.

To not even bother searching or going through previous posts is incredibly rude. What you’re essentially saying is that your time is more important than other people’s time.

You’re telling people that the effort they made to answer this question before is worthless and that they should cater to your inability to do anything useful whatsoever. Not only that, you are expecting them to make this effort again. Just for you.

In one of the groups I admin, some folks have compiled very thorough and helpful posts/files that answer some frequently asked questions.

And guess what?

I shit you not, the VERY FIRST COMMENT on one of these posts is a question that would be answered had the commenter read one of the first few links IN that post.

That is NOT cool.

Other people are not your personal Google.

You are rude. You are being a jerk. Everyone wants you to die. Preferably in a large, explody BOOM.

This pisses people off. Members stop participating. Then the group dies.

Please don’t be that person.

c) It dilutes the usefulness of the group.

All the repeat questions clutter the feed of the group. As a result, members see that the group only discusses the same 3-4 topics repeatedly and the stuff that is actually interesting to them gets pushed down and never gets read or gets engagement.

Thus, people get bored and no longer participate. The group dies.

In addition, repeat questions clutter up the search results for people who actually use the search function. This makes it harder to find the answers to their questions.

And then, people find the group useless. And then the group dies.

d) It pisses people off and then groups die.

Sense a theme here?

Unless a group has a never ending supply of new members to both ask and answer questions, (confer the Instant Pot recipes group where people ask the same three questions over and over again), most groups have a finite number of people who are interested in a topic AND participate.

This is why admins bring down the hammer and insist members read and implement the group guidelines.

It’s not because they’re on a power trip and want to lord their authority over people. (Ok, it’s not ONLY because they’re on a power trip and want to lord their authority over people.)

Don’t be a group killer.

Don’t make the admins (and other members) hate you or use passive aggressive techniques to make you feel as stupid as you actually are being.

3) Explore and read.

Does the group have files? Are there archives? Pinned posts? Group descriptions?

Read them.

They’re there for a reason. People spent time to compile or write them. Show them the respect it deserves (even if the actual files might not be as useful as you hope).

Yes, I know it takes time. But it’s YOUR time. To do otherwise wastes OTHER people’s time.

I also browse through the photos, check out other recommended groups, FB stalk fellow members, and in general, click as many of the clicky parts of the group as possible.

This gives me a good idea of the tenor of the group and allows me to see if it’s a place I want to hang out virtually.

4) Follow directions.

Does the group require you to answer questions before you join? ANSWER THEM.

Personally, I deny all requests that do not answer group questions within the first 2-3 days.

Why? Because if they can’t be bothered to read and follow the very simple directions BEFORE they join a group, they can’t be bothered to read and follow directions AFTER they join the group.

No, thanks.

I don’t have time (despite living on Facebook) to deal with people who don’t respect my time or the time of group members.

5) Participate.

Yes, I get that not everyone has the luxury (or quite frankly, desire) to live on Facebook like I do.

I’m not saying you have to participate in EVERY single group. Or even in ANY.

But the likelihood of other people extending grace for missteps (and trust me, I have made many!) or taking time to answer your questions increases if you are a useful, active participant.

No one like takers. Be a giver.

Oh, and participate thoughtfully.

Don’t be that entitled mansplainer who has never once contributed anything useful or helpful but then, jumps in to tell the admins what they should be doing to make your life easier and then, when the admins thank you for volunteering to do the job because FUCK YOU for being such an entitled twat, you say that it’s too much for one person to do (but it seemed just FINE to have the admins do it by themselves) and then tell the group it should be crowd-sourced and then reap the rewards of other peoples’ work while you disappear again, all smug in your asshole-ishness.

To quote my friend, Irish Twins, “Think of it as a community. If you wouldn’t say it to a bunch of people in person, don’t say it in the group. Maybe a community pool. It’s great for swimming and socializing, but don’t take a dump in it. Help keep it clean. It’s ok to just sit on the sidelines.”

6) Don’t spam. Don’t post ads. 

I mean, unless the group is specifically for spamming and ads, don’t do it. Oh, and don’t do thinly disguised spam/ads, either.

People aren’t stupid. We can tell if it’s an actual helpful or useful post that benefits the group or is off topic.

Don’t be an asshole.

7) Make life easier for admins and moderators.

The admins and moderators do a lot of behind the scenes work and most of it is extremely tedious.

Honestly, sometimes it may seem as if an admin or moderator is on some power trip (and maybe they are). But in general, admins and moderators really don’t have the time to do so.

They have to read almost every single post and comment to make sure nothing is offensive or violates the community standards. They have to contact the members who do break the group guidelines and occasionally are on the receiving end of abuse as a result.

For instance, I give you this:

Here’s a protip: DON’T BE A RACIST SHITHEAD TO THE ADMIN.

Admins and moderators aren’t paid. They are volunteering their time to make sure no one is the drunk guy breaking things at a party. They just want to have a good time and eat and chat with their friends but inevitably, someone has to ruin it for everyone.

Don’t be that person.

Alternatively, if you end up being on good terms with the admins or moderators, they’ll likely cut you some slack on stuff and be more likely to be on your side if there is FB drama. (But please, don’t cause drama!)

8) The measure you give is the measure you receive.

Like all things in life, you get what you give.

Pick one group you particularly like and start participating – even if it’s just “likes.” It may feel weird to you at first, but you may find that the more you invest in the group, the more it will feel like your local watering hole.

9) Adjust your notification and feed settings accordingly.

There are some groups that I really don’t care to know about every single post. I don’t need to know of every single new Instant Pot recipe or repeat newbie question about rubber gaskets, but I definitely want to know the instant my friends post in our secret group.

So, depending on how much you enjoy (or hate) Facebook notifications or the clutter in your feed, you can change the specifications to what works for you.

Remember: Facebook groups are for YOUR benefit. You are not ruled by them!

Hmmmm. I feel as if this entire post could just be summed up by saying, “Don’t be a dick.”

But that would be a really short post.

Oooh! Ooooh! Also? “Don’t make other people think for you. Use your gorram brain.”

That’s it! I’m sure there are other more technical things that you can do to maximize your FB Group mojo, but like I said before, I’m not the most tech of persons. I’m just here for your emotional edification. (And FB Groups definitely can engage all your emotions.)

What did I miss? Let me know in the comments.