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I often struggle with maintaining an optimal level of organization throughout my work days. I’m easily distracted — particularly by new e-mail messages — and can lose hours of precious work time reading incoming e-mails and the assortment of accompanying attachments and Web links. Other times, I log into my e-mail network to send a quick message only to feel overwhelmed by the vast quantity of unread or neglected e-mails waiting for me. Next thing I know, it’s quitting time and I haven’t achieved many of my goals for the day.E-mail inbox

Imagine my excitement when, for a work project, I had to read a book addressing online journalism that just happened to dedicate a whole chapter on digital organization. Finally, the answers to my inefficient work methods were being handed right to me — literally! Through this book, I learned of a Web site called Getting Things Done, which was founded by David Allen.

One of Allen’s best suggestions, in my opinion at least, is to spend no more than two minutes on each e-mail, whether replying, filing, or deleting the message. If you can’t respond to the e-mail in two minutes, Allen recommends filing it into a folder. However, this organizational approach only works if you already have established a detailed folder system so you can quickly and efficiently determine which folder is most appropriate and then — here’s the important part — remember to return to that e-mail for the necessary follow-up action.

I have always aimed to respond quickly to messages that require an immediate reply and often succeed at achieving that goal. It’s the follow-up that I struggle to remember, sometimes leaving my messages unanswered for long, inappropriate amounts of time. To remedy such a problem, Allen suggests creating a “waiting on” folder for storing e-mails that you can’t reply to until you receive additional information, and a “read this” folder for storing e-mails that contain attachments or more informa­tion than can be read in two minutes. You can go back to those when you have time or print them out to read later.

Well, I took this concept and ran with it, creating several additional folders for e-mails addressing subject areas about which I write, each freelance project I have worked on, each client I work with, and new ideas for future projects, among others. By setting up all these topic-specific folders, I know exactly where to place all my messages that I want to save – and they don’t clog up my inbox. I can now call up any one of them at a moment’s notice, if needed.

Allen’s overall goal is to look at each e-mail message only once, thus saving time, energy, and productivity. I have implemented this method in my own daily work routine and, so far, it has been working like a charm. I have even started to carve out time in the mornings and late afternoons to read the e-mails I place in various folders throughout the day. Now, I’m able to focus my attention on the required work at hand, while still taking breaks to read all the formerly neglected messages I receive. Hopefully, these tips can help alleviate some disorganization in your daily work days too!

Feeling tired? Need a jolt of energy? Instead of grabbing another cup of coffee, sipping a soft drink, or diving into a bag of candy, enjoy a healthful, homemade energy bar to nGranola baraturally refuel your get-up-and-go tank.

I have a recipe from Health magazine for Nutty Popcorn Bars that’s easy to make, has natural sweeteners, and is a protein- and fiber-rich healthy alternative to typical empty-calorie snacks like chips and candy, or even traditional granola bars. Despite their clever advertisements and food labels, many of the mass-produced granola and energy bars are loaded with sugar, salt, calories, and fat. And they don’t even fill you up.

I’m not saying this recipe is the perfect solution to a snack in a bar, but it’s certainly a more nutritious and healthier alternative to the bars available in the grocery store. Plus, you can tailor the recipe to your own individual tastes, perhaps adding dried fruit, dark chocolate, or whatever ingredient piques your taste buds.

Check them out and see if they rev up your afternoons!

Nutty Popcorn Bars

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups regular oats (such as Quaker)

1 cup salted, dry-roasted peanuts

12 cups popcorn (without salt or fat)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup light brown sugar

5 tablespoons honey

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 1/2 cups raisins

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 350°.

2. Place oats and peanuts on a baking sheet; bake for 12 minutes. Remove sheet from oven and cool oats and peanuts completely. Place popped corn in a very large heatproof bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray.

3. In a medium saucepan, combine butter, sugar, and honey. Place the saucepan over medium heat and stir with a heat-resistant spatula until the mixture comes to a boil. Then boil the mixture for 1 1/2 minutes. Remove the saucepan from the heat and stir in salt and vanilla.

4. Pour hot syrup over popped corn and stir with spatula until corn is well coated. Stir in reserved oats and peanuts, plus raisins. Spread evenly into jelly roll pan or cookie sheet. Allow to cool completely, about 30 minutes.

5. Turn out the cooled mixture onto a large cutting board; cut into 24 squares. Store in an airtight container for several days.

Happy eating!

During a recent day of traveling, I found myself exhausted on the morning flight. It didn’t make any sense though — I awoke at the same time I always do and I wasn’t rushed to get ready, yet I couldn’t wait to close the plane’s window shade, shut my eyes, and nap for the duration of the flight.

I was stirred awake a few hours later and began reviewing the morning’s schedule for clues that might explain my exhaustion. That’s when I struck gold. To arrive timely for my flight, I had to get out of bed right away and immediately get ready to head out the door, whereas normally I Morning in bedam able to slowly wake, watch the news, read a few pages of my book, snuggle with my dog, and close my eyes off and on for a few minutes before actually rising out of bed and starting my day.

This relaxing routine of mine usually takes about 30 minutes, though sometimes it can extend to an hour. I recognize this is a luxury of being a self-employed writer who works at home. Regardless, this morning routine is exactly what I need to function properly each day. My body just can’t handle “abrupt wakeups,” as I call typical morning alarm-driven routines.

We all probably have some routine that calms and relaxes us, and we should take the time to acknowledge those needs and set aside time to achieve them. Maybe you relish the idea of reading the paper while savoring a cup of coffee, going for a run as soon as you arise, or listening to your favorite talk radio show. Whatever morning routine gives you peace of mind — and establishes a positive and happy vibe all day long — I urge you to allot enough time to realize it every day.

Next time necessity dictates my morning routine vary from the norm, I’ll be sure to respect my idiosyncrasies by adding enough time to slowly wake up in bed — and feel more balanced throughout the day.

It’s official: I have become one of those people. Or at least that’s what my husband repeatedly tells me, with obvious disdain in his voice.  The annoying thing is that he’s right. I am constantly checking my smart phone for missed calls and e-mails. When I’m bored forCrackberry longer than three minutes (know how we supposedly live in an “ADD nation”? I could often be the posterwoman!), I whip out my phone to read the latest news headlines, check in with friends on Facebook, or play a game of solitaire. I must fess up — my name is Dina and I am addicted to the technology of a smart phone.

It all started so innocently. I promised myself when I purchased the phone (for work purposes, primarily) that I would not become dependent, engrossed, or driven by its advantages. I merely wanted to check e-mail as needed so that I was not tied down to my computer during the day. I envisioned the smart phone as freeing, granting me even more mobility with my freelance work.

But know the first thing I do when I wake up each morning? Check my phone for e-mail. First thing I do before bed? You got it, check my phone for e-mail. In fact, when the phone blinks an orange light to notify a new e-mail, voice mail, text message, or missed call, I check it every time — immediately. Sometimes I try to ignore the blinking, but it somehow tempts me with every blink of bright orange light: Message! Message! Message! I just can’t resist it.

I suspect that some may wonder whether this phone-checking habit of mine is of any real consequence. Our society readily embraces the idea of accessibility as an asset, and I am merely one more person taking advantage of our ever-ready communication abilities. Indeed, technology can be helpful, even life-saving at times.

However, I think the explosion of technology begs the question: Where is the balance? I’m not suggesting that we all toss our smart phones out the window, but rather, perhaps we should consider whether we could actually benefit from turning it off every now and then. Take some time just for you, your family, and friends. Allow yourself to be in the moment, be bored in the store checkout line, relax at a red light while driving.

One of my primary goals in life is to maintain a calm, balanced, and peaceful existence. However, if I am completely honest with myself, my recently excessive use of technology is incongruous with that goal. So I’ve decided to take a few steps to avoid becoming a slave to my smart phone, including placing it out of eyesight while working so that enticing little device of a phone can no longer bait and trap me into procrastinating. I also am creating a personal ban of any e-mailing or texting while engaging in other activities, such as conversations, walks, and drives.

Smart phones interrupt face-to-face conversations, quiet time, vacations, and relaxing weekends. We should use technology to enhance the balance and calmness in our lives — not infiltrate our lives with stress and less connection with other humans. I hope my new personal parameters bring about peace, or at least more balance, in a technologically-advanced, hurried world. And I can avoid the Crackberry Addict label, to boot.

The sweltering days of summer are here again and that means it’s time to start eWatermelon salad3njoying foods that cool us down and quench our thirst. My favorite summer food is watermelon, which conjures up plenty of fun warm-weather memories from my youth. I still enjoy a good watermelon in the summer, but now that I have a more mature palate, I like to create new and unique-tasting dishes in which watermelon’s flavor shines. My current favorite dish is a salad with watermelon, sweet onions, and feta cheese. Although it might sound oxymoronic to combine these ingredients together, the end result is simply scrumptious!

Watermelon isn’t just a fun fruit to eat; it also boasts multiple health benefits. Its Vitamin A and lycopene help reduce inflammation that contributes to such conditions as asthma, atherosclerosis, diabetes, colon cancer, and arthritis. Plus, just one cup of watermelon provides almost a quarter of the recommended daily value for Vitamin C.

So in addition to reminding you of a simpler time during summer vacations, eating watermelon pleases your senses and provides healthful nutrients for your body. Whatever the occasion — whether it’s a picnic, pool party, or any lazy summer day — this recipe from Paula Deen is a refreshing side dish perfect to help combat the heat of summer.

Watermelon Salad

Ingredients:

1 5-pound watermelon

1 Vidalia or other sweet onion

1/4 cup red wine vinegar

Salt and pepper

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

Directions:

Cut the flesh from the watermelon and cut into bite-size pieces, removing and discarding the seeds, and set aside. Peel and slice the onion into thin rings.

In a small bowl, combine the vinegar, salt, and pepper and whisk until salt is dissolved. Slowly whisk in the olive oil, a few drops at a time. Taste and adjust seasonings, as appropriate.

In a large bowl, combine the watermelon, onion and feta. Pour the dressing over the mixture and toss gently until everything is coated and evenly mixed.

Enjoy!

Menu planning2

Ever come home from a long day of work feeling tired and hungry, scan your cookbooks for something – anything – you can serve to your family for dinner, finally settle on a recipe, only to realize that you don’t have the needed ingredients in your house? Finding yourself back at square one, you reluctantly order pizza or other fast food, sabotaging your healthy diet efforts and feeling guilty for doing so.

This was a routine scenario in my household several years ago. My stomach growled louder and louder with each turn of the cookbook page; oftentimes, I gave up on the search effort before even choosing a recipe. I was just too fatigued and hungry to muster up the energy required to eat smartly. The idea of spending time selecting a recipe, gathering the ingredients, and cooking the meal was too much for my tired and food-deprived brain to handle.

All that has changed now that I plan a week’s worth of recipes at a time and grocery shop specifically for the necessary ingredients. This technique ensures my husband and I eat a variety of healthful foods, guarantees I have all ingredients on stock, and prevents desperate, last-minute hunts for dinner. I save money and avoid wasting food by not buying unnecessary ingredients, to boot.

My menu planning routine usually begins on Sunday, when I sit down for about 10 to 15 minutes with my cookbooks and other recipes I have collected, browsing them for appealing meals. I make certain the week’s dinners provide an assortment of nutrients and a variety of foods, including brown rice, whole wheat pasta, vegetables, and protein. Then I make an accompanying grocery list and head to the grocery store for the week’s foods.

Since this process can be a bit rigid, I try to inject flexibility wherever I can. If, for example, I am busy all Sunday, I allot another time to menu plan and grocery shop. If social plans arise mid-week, I save one of my planned recipes to cook at a later time. For just this purpose, I have learned to always include at least one recipe in the weekly list that does not require fresh ingredients, and I prepare the meals that do include fresh ingredients early in the week.

Now that I menu plan on a weekly basis, I am less stressed in the evenings – not to mention less hungry and, therefore, grouchy – which allows me to enjoy a healthful meal with my husband each night.Menu planning!

eyestrain2Intense eye aches used to invade my workday. I took breaks, but by that time, my eyes were so strained and fatigued that I couldn’t focus on anything. All I wanted to do was close my eyes and shut out the world. Nothing short of the complete darkness and comfort of a cold compress over my eyes eased my pain. And at that point, it usually took several hours to feel better. That’s not how I wanted to spend my workdays.

 

As it turns out, I have “computer vision syndrome” — eyestrain caused by staring at a computer screen for long periods. According to various studies, this syndrome is responsible for 50 to 90 percent of all eye trouble among people who work all day at a computer screen. Although I had already taken a key first step toward easing the symptoms of this syndrome by wearing glasses when I work on the computer to enlarge the text and reduce the glare, these horrific eye aches continued to invade my work space.

 

To avoid popping pain pills on a daily basis and risking addiction or building resistance to them, I pursued holistic options to help my eye problems.

 

Chrysanthemum Tea

First, I sought the advice of my acupuncturist, who recommended that I take frequent breaks from the computer, including at least one a day to drink chrysanthemum tea. Traditional Chinese Medicine has been using this flower, which is naturally beneficial for eyes, for centuries. The tea break is soothing and relaxing, to boot, which helps intersperse balance throughout a hectic work day.

 

I admit that I don’t take routine breaks to drink the tea, as advised, but when I sense the slightest signs of impending eyestrain — including dryness, blurred vision, eye irritation or headaches — I stop working, step away from the computer, and make myself a cup of chrysanthemum tea. Within the hour, I feel better and can get back to my regular work schedule.

 

Eye-friendly Workspace

Since my work requires sitting at a desk and using a computer for long stretches of time, I have taken steps to create an eye-friendly office. Here are some steps you can take to ease the strain on your eyes:

·         Adjust the monitor: Position your monitor directly in front of you at about 20 to 28 inches from your eyes (generally speaking, as long as the monitor is an arm’s length distance away, you should be fine). Keep the top of your screen at eye level or below so that you look down slightly at your work.

·         Reduce the glare: Bright lighting and too much glare can make it difficult to see objects on the screen, which strains the eyes. Place your monitor so that the brightest light sources are off to the side, at a right angle to your monitor. Consider turning off some or all of the overhead lights and use an adjustable desk lamp instead. Close blinds and shades and avoid placing your monitor directly in front of a window or white wall. Use a glare-reducing screen to minimize glare from overhead lighting. Adjust the contrast and brightness on the monitor to a level that’s comfortable for you and ensure the font is large enough to easily read.

·         Clean the monitor: Wipe the dust from your computer screen regularly. Dust on the screen cuts down on contrast and may contribute to glare and reflection problems.

·         Position your keyboard properly: Place your keyboard directly in front of your monitor. If you place it at an angle or to the side, your eyes have to focus at different distances from the screen, which tires the eyes unnecessarily.

·         Keep reading materials close: Place reading and reference materials on a document holder beside the monitor. They should at the same level, angle and distance from your eyes as the monitor to prevent your eyes from constantly refocusing.

 

Eye Exercises

I also have adopted some eye exercises and meditation routines to help decrease my eye aches. Experts recommend taking the following steps:

·         Exercise your eyes: Every 20 to 30 minutes, look away from the computer screen and focus on a distant object for five to 10 seconds. Or, look at a far away object for 10 to 15 seconds and then a nearby object for 10 to 15 seconds. Go back and forth between the two objects 10 times.

·         Meditate: Rub your palms quickly together until they feel warm. Cup them over your eyes, feeling the heat emanating from your palms. Slow your breathing and sit quietly in this position for five to 10 minutes.

·         Blink: Every 30 minutes, blink 10 times, closing your eyelids very slowly as if falling asleep. Blinking produces tears that can help moisten and lubricate your eyes, thereby preventing eye dryness and aches.

·         Take breaks: Try to give yourself a five-minute rest from the computer screen every hour. Do other work, such as phone calls or filing, during this time. Try to stand up and move around at least once every hour or so.

 

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