Paige Doster-Grimes

Reflections and Ramblings from North Carolina


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Reviews as Haikus

best-haiku-ever1-300x165Later this week I’ll be attending the North Carolina Nonprofit Conference and I’m looking forward to sharing what I learn! In the meantime, I was searching for a way to stretch my creativity muscles and decided to write some reviews of things I’ve tried out lately… as haikus.

Being limited to 17 syllables forces you to cut to the chase – good for a quick yay-or-nay ruling. But if you want to try and insert a little personality into the poem, you have to work for it. Honestly, it’s a fun exercise and an easy mental warm-up to get the juices flowing. Here’s what I came up with – if you have a review haiku to share I’d love to hear it! Have other writing exercises you like?  I’d love to hear those too!

terro-ant-baits

Terro Liquid Ant Baits

Marching two by two

Then droves… trickles… solitude.

Am I still vegan?

daves-killer-bread

Dave’s Killer Bread

I won’t buy any

inferior loaf. Killer

bread yields killer toast.

hayes-sofa

Hayes La-Z-Boy Sofa

Marshmallow soft but

less sticky… I can’t get up…

Redact second line.

mr-holmes

Mr. Holmes Movie

Sloth-like pacing: yes

Story’s moral: refreshing

… When’s Sherlock return?

so-bright

SO Bright Peanut Dog Treats

HomeGoods clearance shelf

Flanked by off-season candles

My dog gives five stars

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Selling Limoncello

imagesThis week I sold a piece of my heart. Specifically, the piece that is yellow and shaped liked a 2-door hatchback. It wasn’t my idea. In fact, I’d been engaged in active and passionate defense against the coup on my coupe for a good six months. But my husband’s strategic and persistent assault on my sweet ride began to wear on my resolve, and I finally gave in.

To understand how it got to this point, we have to go back to the beginning. Limoncello came into my life just after college. Between “cash for clunkers” and an already low-priced base model, I became the proud owner of a brand new Hyundai Accent. Her name was swiftly determined – a natural fit given her frosted yellow hue. Sure, she was missing what some might consider “basic features”, but who needs cruise control or vanity mirrors when you’ve got panache?

Her sunny tint always stood out in a sea of drab cars – an important characteristic when you frequently forget where you’ve parked. And her hatchback made moving even large items a breeze. This was especially critical as she saw me through 9 moves in the past 7 years. She braved un-garaged winters and countless feet of snow in New Hampshire and Boston, spent five years on the streets of DC, and bore witness to the mind-boggling amount of road kill that country living in North Carolina brings.

While selling my beloved car was a painful goodbye, it wasn’t the first time I had to accept her mortality.

A few years ago, Limoncello was among the items stolen when a house I shared with three other women was robbed. I can only imagine the glee the burglar felt when he spied the spare key sitting atop my bedroom dresser. Given the layout of the house, my room was likely the last one raided. After scoring four laptops and a pricy road bike (also mine – lest I should have any remaining transportation options), the keys must have been the icing on the cake. I wish I’d seen the look on his face when he activated the key fob, though, to discover that the car he’d be taking off in was the smallest, goofiest ride on the block.

Nevertheless, Limoncello went on a joy ride. When the police recovered her 48 hours later, she was only a little worse for wear – cigarette ashes and some dried blood smears were but temporary reminders of her kidnapping. Did I fail to mention that the robber cut himself on the window he broke to enter the house? He then proceeded to bleed on everything we owned, and Limoncello was not excluded from the primal marking of territory.

In the span of the 48 hours she was gone, I managed to accept that I might not ever see my little lemon again. It was a terrible couple of days for many reasons, but for the first time I had to see my car for what it was… a replaceable object that transported me from one location to another. Despite treating her as if she was another human character in my life, she was just a car. It was just a car.

Limoncello hadn’t actively protected me from that terrible snowstorm on New Year’s Eve in 2009 when it felt like I wasn’t really alone because I was with her. That was just a car being a hollow, mostly-impenetrable object. She wasn’t actually holding me close during the many miserable, crying phone calls I made from the car during a traumatic break-up. That was literally just the narrow seat digging into my frame. And she didn’t actually have the ability to make parking spots open up on the street if I asked nicely. That was probably just lucky timing.

I really had accepted all of this to be true… but then I got the call. She’d been found! It was a miracle! I quickly brushed away all my doubts and let go of the idea that she would ever be replaced. Limoncello had returned from the dead, fully anthropomorphized.

We would have another 4 blissful years together, Limoncello and I, my partner in adventure and errands. But our life-long union was not meant to be. Ever the pragmatist, my husband began to do some research when we moved to North Carolina. No longer living in the city, we drive more often now and for much longer distances. His concern was primarily for my safety, he said, and had nothing to do with his disdain for driving around in an emasculating toy car. To his credit, vanity mirrors aren’t the only features that 2009 Hyundai Accents are lacking… so are decent safety ratings.

IMG_4153

Maverick riding shotgun.

When the opportunity arose to purchase a relative’s fancy sedan for a steal, we took it. I admitted it was time. Limoncello had been good to me, but Jesse would feel better if I was driving something safe and sturdy, and I would feel better if he stopped bugging me about buying a new car. So, off to CarMax we went for our final ride together.

When it was time for the appraisal, I chatted nervously with the car expert. I needed him to know this wasn’t just any ol’ car. I tried to act cool, but I was saying goodbye to one of the only remaining elements of my life that had been a constant over the past 7 years. She had seen me through a lot. Her bright sunny color symbolized the optimism I felt when I began my adult life. Now, it symbolized my desire to remain positive even though life has dealt some curve balls and my open optimism has been traded for something more like cautious hopefulness. Her small and agile frame had fit my independent personality and singular driving needs for many years. Now, her size had become an impediment to the needs of two tall humans, a dog, and their many accouterments.

So maybe this post isn’t really an ode to my car, but about recognizing that moments like selling a car force us to confront our own reality. That we’re not as young as we once were. That we’ve changed. That we’re human and insecure in our own unique ways and we look to objects for affirmation.

When I got the $4,000 check from CarMax, it did soften the blow. I guess you could put a price tag on Limoncello after all. Or maybe I’d finally accepted that I was selling a car, I wasn’t losing all the memories and change that car represented, no matter how fond or profound they were.


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A Few Thoughts on Grief

Gram

A favorite photo of this beautiful lady.

Yesterday I lost my grandmother. Truly, this world lost her, but the experience of grief has a way of being frustratingly singular. I wish I understood how my father experienced his loss, or my aunt – her devoted caretaker for so many years. But all I can know is my own loss. It’s isolating. Even when loss is shared, it is only ever ours.

We knew it was coming, which changes the grief, but I’m not sure whether it makes it easier or not. A few weeks ago we thought she had reached the end and I grieved for the loss I anticipated – for the loss I had started to feel with the ebb and flow of her memory. But then she fought with a tenacity we all should have expected. When she did pass it was like reopening a wound… one I thought had healed, but when I picked the scab the flesh bled anew.

There are so many things I’ll miss about my Gram. She was quiet and sincere, but with a wry sense of humor you might miss if you weren’t really listening. A seemingly offhanded comment could have my aunt and I laughing for days afterward. She was sincere and truthful, but with a fierce independence. If you doubted her, or tried to tell her what to do, she’d defy you just to prove you wrong. I think my husband might note some similarities in the bloodline. Even when the hospice nurse said she only had a few hours left – or a couple of days at most – Gram couldn’t let someone else dictate that… and she gave us two and a half more months of her company.

When I was young, Gram would make hundreds of springerle cookies each year – a traditional sweet of her native Germany – and send a tin to our house at Christmastime. I LOVED when the springerle cookies arrived. Their tough outer crust and strong anise flavor meant not everyone liked them, but I could eat them by the handful on the couch while our mutt, Mitzie, lapped up the crumbs. Selfishly, I reveled in the fact that few people wanted to eat them. It became a special thing my Gram, Dad and I had in common, and it made me feel closer to her despite the miles. On a side note – if you are vegan and have fond memories of springerle cookies (just me?), these almond anise cookies will bring back the taste of your childhood. I feel Gram would appreciate this PSA as she had a sweet tooth as well and always wanted to be sure we had plenty to eat.

Gram was a great listener. Her quiet, unassuming nature invited it. That’s part of why I enjoyed writing letters to her so much. I could open up and reflect about my life and she would respond with a spot-on observation or perspective that I’d never considered. I don’t think she ever realized how much our letters meant to me. It wasn’t an act of charity – it was a lifeline for me.

The Girls

The girls in Vegas.

She also loved animals and treated her Vegas-based grandkitties and grandbirds with much admiration. I wish she had the chance to meet Maverick, though I fear his enthusiastic greeting ritual (jumping on you with his talon-embedded paws for five minutes straight) may have been too much for Gram’s aging body. Instead, she’d ask about him and all the other family canines when we talked on the phone.

I wish I knew more about my Gram… a woman who navigated the latter third of her life solo after her husband passed… who brought five children into this world and had to say goodbye to one much too early… who left Germany as a child but never in spirit. The instant I can’t ask her any more questions is when they all come flooding to mind.

Right now the only question that seems to matter is, “What are we supposed to do without you, Gram?” I miss you so much already and my heart is heavy. I hope it’s ok if I still write to you.


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Motivation, Two Ways

82126956Last week I had the pleasure of attending the Washington Nonprofit Conference. While there were countless takeaways from the conference and many great speakers, there is one quote that keeps playing on repeat in my head; “Your donor can’t write a check while they’re applauding”.

This adage has me thinking a lot about what motivates us: in both fundraising – and in life.

First, let me take a step back to explain the fundraising context. The speaker of these words was Tom Gaffny of Tom Gaffny Consulting – a long-time fundraising professional and a fantastic speaker. In this particular session Tom was speaking about the importance of “the offer” in fundraising: how are you asking for a donor’s contribution and what are you offering them in return?

He went on to explain that in countless tests he’s found that focusing on the need (People are hungry. Animals are homeless. Children are suffering.) rather than your own success (We fed people! We housed animals! We saved children!) motivates more donors and raises more money. Hence his pithy and wonderfully visual observation: “Your donor can’t write a check while they’re applauding [your success]”.

I’ve found this to be equally true for the organizations I work with. Our testing over the years has shown that focusing on the need and what has to be done is more effective than focusing on what has been done. Donors want to take action themselves to solve a problem – not donate because you did something.

It’s the same reason why special anniversary logos tend to suppress results. Donors typically don’t care that your organization is celebrating its 25th anniversary. That doesn’t have anything to do with them. On the other hand, acknowledging when a donor has a giving anniversary themselves (such as “Joe Smith, you’ve been saving animals from the streets for 5 years!”) is much more motivating. It speaks to what the donor has done and makes them feel great and want to do more.

So, what’s the application of this idea outside of fundraising?

I think Tom’s maxim gets at a central truth: we need to listen to what motivates others and accept that it might not be what we expected or wanted to hear. This goes for pretty much any aspect of our lives where we interact with others… and even ourselves. Here are a few examples.

If we want to motivate our employees, that means listening to them and realizing that what motivates them may be different than what motivates us.

For example, I’m motivated to double-check the accuracy of my work because I know that mistakes could ultimately cost money. This is because I manage a budget and costs are critically important in my role. But for someone I supervise, the financial cost may not be that motivating. I could make a perfectly reasonable argument about why the financial cost should be motivating to my supervisees… but at the end of the day they may find their main motivation for double-checking their work is so they don’t have to spend more time fixing mistakes later. That makes total sense, and once I understand that I can encourage them to complete their work error-free in a way that resonates with them.

If we want to help our partner achieve their goals, we can be better cheerleaders if we’re in tune with what their motivations are rather than assuming we know.

For example, if our partner expresses that they want to start exercising more often, we might assume it’s because they want to look fit for us – how sweet! We might make comments that we think are encouraging about how good they’re starting to look or how soon they won’t be carrying around those few extra pounds. But if their motivation to work out is because they are concerned about their heart health, our comments may not have the intended effect and some could even be perceived as un-motivating (“She only seems to care about how I look, not about how I feel. What’s the point?”). By asking questions and understanding what motivates our partner, we can be better cheerleaders and encourage them to achieve their goals more effectively.

If we’re struggling with a challenge personally and feel stuck, we need to get clear with ourselves about our own motivations.

For example, if you’re trying to develop a new habit – such as reading more – but can’t seem to make it happen, have a frank conversation with yourself about what your motivation is. Is it because other people in your office are always talking about what they’re reading? Or is it something you want to do for your own personal enjoyment but can’t find the time?

Whatever the answer, you can use that information to jumpstart yourself into action, and not waste time on strategies for motivating yourself that won’t work. For example, if you want to read more to keep pace with well-read colleagues, enlisting an accountability partner or challenging a friend to see who can read more industry articles in a month may be a good method for making it happen. If you want to read more for pleasure, something as formal as an accountability buddy may be stressful and un-motivating. Instead you might consider sticking a post-it on your remote control that says, “How about reading instead?” or making a date with yourself at a coffee shop you like once a week to enjoy a few chapters. You get the idea – once we’re clear on our own motivations we can better encourage ourselves when we’re struggling to complete a task or master a new habit.

I hope some of these thoughts about motivation are helpful to you.

What motivates others may not always be what we want to hear – like if an appeal about our organization’s success doesn’t motivate our donors to give, or finding out our spouse doesn’t want to sculpt a six-pack just to look good in a swimsuit. But if we ask the right questions and are willing to listen, we can benefit from learning what does motivate them – such as a fundraising appeal that clearly communicates an urgent need and raises buckets of money, or realizing that our spouse only cares about exercising so they can be around to love us for many years to come.


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Season of Giving

gift-in-hand-artWreathes and trees are sprucing up our neighborhood. Christmas lights shine out from apartment windows. The Hanukkah candles have been lit and extinguished, and Salvation Army bell ringers seem to be following us wherever we go. Yes, December is upon us.

For many, this month marks the season of giving – and not just because of the holidays. With the close of the calendar year comes our last chance to make tax-deductible charitable contributions in 2015.

By now, you’ve probably been inundated with mailings and emails from organizations vying for your attention. They’re hoping you’ll make one more gift before the ball drops, and, if they’re lucky, upgrade your gift amount since the last time you gave. Organizations you’ve never heard of are coming out of the woodwork too, including you in their year-end efforts to scoop up some new donors while everyone’s in the giving spirit.

If you’re philanthropically inclined, you’re probably ready to whip out your credit card… but also wondering how you can make the biggest impact. Some people might think there’s no “wrong” way to make a contribution… just like there’s no “wrong” way to give a holiday gift. It’s the thought that counts! Right?

Well, for every faked, “Wow! Thank you!” directed towards a well meaning but terribly misguided relative wielding Donald Trump’s autobiography, I say, “No, Virginia. Not all charitable gifts are created equal.”

So how can you be sure to give your best gift this year?

First things first, before you make your year-end contributions, double check with your employer as to whether they match contributions to 501(c)(3) organizations. You may be surprised, because not all businesses boast about this fantastic perk. Some may require a bit of paperwork to be filled out, while others just require you to submit proof of your contribution so they can match it up to a designated dollar amount. This step will literally allow you to do twice as much good this holiday season!

Next, choose wisely. There are thousands of deserving organizations out there and countless dedicated individuals working tirelessly towards their missions. No matter what you’re passionate about, there’s a nonprofit advancing that cause. But it can be hard to pick just the right organization to support. Here are a few tips to keep in mind:

If you don’t know where to begin, consider supporting organizations close by. Depending on the issues closest to your heart, you’re likely to find organizations of regional, national, and even international scope doing great work. One of the benefits of supporting local organizations is that you’re physically closer to their work and are more likely to have the opportunity to see the difference your support is making up close.

As someone who works with more than 40 different regional nonprofits, I can tell you that the impact of local charities can be incredibly powerful. Another benefit? It’s simpler to get to know the folks in charge and the people/animals/environment/etc. that are being served by the organization. This makes it easier to see if the organization is achieving the kind of impact you had hoped for – and get more involved if you wish.

Don’t fall prey to the overhead myth. For a while now, many people have been caught up in the idea that a “high” overhead percentage (note – this is a very subjective amount) means a nonprofit isn’t doing a good job. After all, it’s a charity! What do they need all that money for?

Well, lots of things. They can’t very well work long hours without paying the electricity bill, or create an effective workplace without paying a decent amount in rent, or retain the talent it takes to create lasting change without compensating people appropriately. One of my favorites is when people get outraged that a nonprofit CEO is making six figures. It’s as if some people assume that this work should be done for free, and the C-level executives entrusted with solving some of the most challenging issues of our day (homelessness, feeding the hungry, ending animal abuse…) can survive off the feeling of “doing good” alone.

There is so much more to say about this particular topic, but as you’re deciding where to make your year-end gifts, please don’t opt for the organizations with the lowest overhead based on that criteria alone. Know that doing important work is also costly, and if you have concerns about a nonprofit’s expenses ask questions to better understand whether their investment is facilitating change or not.

Look for organizations that make a habit of reporting back. Whether it’s a small local group or a massive international nonprofit, it’s important to find an organization that has made reporting back to their supporters a priority. Scope out the organization’s websites and social media presence to see how often they talk about their latest work and achievements. Not only will this give you a sense of their latest mission-related priorities, but it can indicate how critical it is to them to update their supporters.

Once you’ve decided where to make your gift, make your contribution in the way you’d ideally like the organization to communicate with you. If you’re more a digital donor than a snail mail supporter, make your gift online. But if you really look forward to your daily USPS delivery, mail in a check. Nonprofits that have the ability are going to take note of your donation preferences and communicate with you via the media channel you prefer.

When you’re making that gift, make it an unrestricted one if you can. If you’ve read this much, it’s clear you’re committed to doing good. You’re not any old donor swayed by just an emotional appeal for support or a sheet of personalized address labels. You want to bolster the efforts of nonprofits who need dedicated supporters to do that work… and that means you trust them to put your donation toward the areas that need the funding the most.

Many organizations will allow you to specify which program or initiative you want your gift to go towards when you make a contribution. But the holy grail of donations is unrestricted gifts that nonprofits can use on whatever they decide. This is because oftentimes when organizations receive large gifts or grants, they come with strings attached. Often that money can only be used in specific ways or for particular initiatives… which can leave other critical areas of work underfunded. Now, by all means, if you feel very strongly about a particular program and it’s the only work you want to support – make a restricted gift. But if you can, give the gift of flexible funding and check the box that says, “Use my gift wherever it’s needed most”.

Finally, when the holidays are over and the dust settles, consider making a New Year’s resolution that will make a difference… by becoming a monthly donor.

Monthly donors are the type of supporters nonprofits work desperately to attract. Why? Just like we all enjoy the predictability of a regular paycheck to cover our costs, nonprofits long for the steady flow of contributions that monthly donors provide. Even small gifts of $10 a month add up over the course of the year, and they enable nonprofits to plan ahead better by knowing they can count on your continued support.

And there are benefits for you, too. When you start making monthly gifts, the organization will take you out of most solicitation mailings and emails where they ask for contributions (note – every nonprofit has different procedures but this is a best practice most organizations follow). They will keep you on the list to receive things like newsletters, informational updates, and the occasional appeal for a special one-time gift, though, so you can stay abreast of their work and celebrate the achievements you helped to make possible.

It may be a balmy 57 degrees in DC today, but there’s no denying that the most wonderful time of the year is here. This year, I hope you’re able to support a nonprofit whose mission you care about. There are many things we can do over the course of the year to make this world a better place (here’s a wonderful list from the Washington Post if you need inspiration!) but capping off 2015 by making a contribution to a charity working on positive change will leave you feeling like a million bucks. ‘Tis the season!


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Productivity Apps for Luddites

Luddite-main_FullI’m not exactly a Luddite. Yes, I often prefer to do things the old fashioned way. Yes, the only reason I got my first smart phone was because my mother – 36 years my senior – forced me into it. But hey, I’m fine with letting the early adopters take the risk and endure the bugs that untested technology brings.

I’ve come a long way, though, and have discovered a few productivity apps that I can’t imagine living – or working – without now. The good news? They’re totally Luddite friendly, easy to use and quick to learn. Full disclosure – no one paid me to say any of this (ha! if only).

The three apps I’m recommending you give a try? Workflowy for easily-nested to do lists, Evernote for creating a digital filing cabinet, and OurGroceries for making grocery shopping faster and easier. Here’s the rundown:

App: Workflowy

Site: workflowy.com

Cost: Free (premium version available for fee)

What it is: Digital to do list

The story: Everyone in my office is pretty attached to their paper to do lists. I was too. I’d spend all kinds of time editing it, scratching things off, rewriting it… and I had to because it’s paper and it’d get messy and not everything fit and I had to look at the whole dang thing every day and figure out ways to make my most pressing tasks stick out. My to do list required about 4 different colors of highlighter and a numeric AND alpha coding system for prioritization purposes. The other thing? If I left it at home, I was hopeless. Completely at a loss for where to focus my energy next. And that happens to other people I work with – all the time.

Then I discovered Workflowy and I’m really happy with it. It’s quite simple – just like a paper to do  but digital so I can access it at work and at home or from the coffee shop I’m writing from right now. It lets me:

  • Easily search though my tasks
  • Use sub-bullets to track each step of a long-term project (they’re nested so you don’t have to look at all that detail all the time)
  • Prioritize my tasks so I just look at the things I need to worry about today, or next week, or next month
  • Remove the items I’ve completed so I don’t need to see them anymore
  • Quickly reorganize the items however I want
  • Reference my work history via daily emails of my completed tasks
  • Save a lot of time
Workflowy Screenshot

Some of my Workflowy page – hashtags make filtering your list easy.

Downsides: This app is pretty limited. It does what it promises and nothing more.

Verdict: There are lots of to do list aps out there. Workflowy wins my heart because it’s so clean and simple. If you’re happy with a paper to do list but find it inconvenient, time consuming, and that it limits the amount of detail you can write down – try Workflowy. It gives you so much more flexibility than paper and takes about 30 seconds to learn.

App: Evernote

Site: evernote.com

Cost: Free (premium version available for fee)

What it is: A complete organization system – I consider it my digital filing cabinet

The story: Evernote was mentioned on a couple of podcasts I listen to so I looked it up out of curiosity. I was immediately intrigued by this app that lets you create digital “notes” out of just about anything – a photo, an email, a website, a to do list… you name it. Then you can file those notes into different notebooks to keep everything nicely organized and easy to find. It’s also totally searchable so you never have to rummage around trying to remember where you put something.

Disclaimer alert: Living up to my Luddite ways, I’ve likely used less than half of Evernote’s functionality. There’s a LOT you can do with this app. I’ve heard some folks say to really benefit from Evernote you need to bite the bullet and learn everything you can do with it and use if for everything. But for me, the basics alone have really benefited my work process and were easy to learn.

Similar to Workflowy, I love having Evernote on my work computer, laptop, and phone. I can update notes or add new notes from anywhere without any fuss. What do I find Evernote useful for?

  • Keeping my personal to do list.
  • Holding all my frequently referenced documents in one place – a photo of my landlord’s bank number for paying rent, business cards for doctors I’ve seen, a list of birthday gift ideas for loved ones, a photo of my eyeglass and glasses prescription… easily referenced anywhere.
  • Jotting down items I want to remember to address in upcoming meetings with clients or coworkers.
    • I keep a running “note” for each recurring meeting I have. I add thoughts to each note as they pop into my head and have seriously minimized the amount of meeting prep time I need as a result.
  • Taking meeting notes. Often these are just for my personal reference so I don’t need anything more formal, and Evernote makes it easy to file the notes for future reference.
  • Saving copies of emails I don’t want to look at in my inbox, but will need to reference at an upcoming time. I like to keep my inbox as sparse as possible following the “touch it once” philosophy, so I like using Evernote as a place to hold onto things I can’t completely file away just yet.
Screen Shot 2015-07-03 at 12.00.06 PM

A handful of notebooks in Evernote.

Downsides: Learning the app doesn’t take that long, but figuring out a notebook system that enhances your work process can be time consuming. Rarely I’ll run into syncing issues – I updated a note on my phone and it didn’t come over exactly right on my computer so I’ll get an error that I have “conflicting changes”. It’s a minor annoyance and can be avoided by always making sure you’ve synced Evernote on the device you’re using before making new changes.

Verdict: Evernote is one of the most popular productivity apps out there and I can understand why. I tried a couple different approaches to using this app before I settled on my method of notebook organization, but now I don’t know how I managed without it. It is well worth the relatively small time investment to get up and running.

App: Our Groceries

Site: ourgroceries.com

Cost: Free

What it is: A shopping list app that multiple people can update

The story: Like many households, my husband and I have different grocery store desires. He needs 8 different cereal options – I require a back-up bottle of maple syrup always on hand. Then there are the items we have on our list every single week (bananas, kale, frozen fruit – green smoothies for all!). Plus, there are certain things we always get from one store (any other Trader Joe’s big roll toilet paper fans out there?) and others we can only find elsewhere (Whole Foods organic almond milk, I’m looking at you). What’s a family to do?

IMG_1861OurGroceries has been the solution for us. Jesse and I both have the app on our phones so we can add items to our grocery list exactly when we realize we’re out of something. The app saves your items so entry is super fast. What’s more? You can categorize each item in any way you like. For example, when I put in “bananas” it automatically goes into the “TJ Produce” category – the first category on my list, since I start our shopping at Trader Joes and the produce section is the first spot I hit up.

We use the app for groceries mainly, but we have other lists saved in there like fun things we want to do or items we need to ask our landlord about. You can also access the app online from your computer, so if you wanted to add a whole bunch of items or categorize things more easily you can do so.

Downsides: If you want to get really specific with your categorization like I did, it takes a little time to customize that. But it’s ultimately worth it if you prefer to get in and out of the grocery store really quickly since you’re not running all over the place. Also, there are advertisements for sketchy looking dating sites. But hey, it’s a free app so it comes with the territory.

Verdict: Paper grocery lists need not apply. This app makes household collaboration easy and I’ve found my grocery trips are so much faster and easier because of it.


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Complementary Practices: Thinking Outside the Box

soil-hands-webWhen you think about developing habits to support your career, your mind might immediately go to those old standbys: joining an industry association, subscribing to a trade journal, volunteering to do some pro-bono work for a good cause.

All of these are certainly great ways to develop your career and are worthy pursuits. But I’ve recently been thinking about how less-obvious habits and hobbies (and those that are more fun!) can play an equally vital role in developing our careers and keeping us happy, well-rounded humans too. Let me back up a second to explain.

Currently I’m reading a couple of non-poetry books written by poets. It’s not my usual go-to text, but the prose of rhymesters has proven to be a very enjoyable genre for even those with only a basic understanding of literature (like me).

At one point, both books – Blue Pastures by Mary Oliver and some selected writings by Thich Nhat Han – dive deeply into the same notion: how important down-time and deep observation of the natural world is to their art. Oliver talks about her daily walks, her escapes into the nature, and her process for capturing fleeting moments of beauty, rawness, power, and inspiration on paper. Only once she’s seized them in this way might they plant a seed and perhaps, someday, bloom into verse. Han speaks to his gardening – the nurturing and watching and waiting and wonderment it entails – and how without his gardening he wouldn’t be able to write.

Not being a poet, I can still appreciate the necessity of this practice. Poetry depends on the author’s ability to experience and observe life so fully that with the use of only minimal words they can convey the most magnificent details of the natural world and the most gleeful and heartbreaking sensations of our human existence. The depth of thought and consideration required to produce such moving work is… well… really deep. I’m clearly no poet.

So all of this got me thinking about what we do that supports our efforts in our own work.

Downtime and communing with nature is important for all humans, certainly, but for poets it’s an absolute necessity. The quality of their work – perhaps their ability to even write at all – depends on it. But this idea of having complementary practices that enhance one’s work shouldn’t just be reserved for artists and dreamers.

So what about the rest of us? What are the complementary practices we can undertake that will improve our performance on the job? The yin to our usual career development yang.

Here is one such practice I’ve noticed is complimentary to my career:

As a professional fundraiser, the quality and effectiveness of my work depends on my ability to motivate donors to give – which requires me to really understand the donors of the organization I’m working with and what moves them. I also happen to love documentaries about niche groups of people. Films like Somm, which follows a group of sommeliers about to take the most difficult and comprehensive exam in their field. Or films that showcase individuals accomplishing incredibly creative and astounding works, such as Cavedigger and Marina Abromovich: The Artist is Present.

Why do I like these films so much? They help me to understand people who, in many ways, are so unlike myself. I start to appreciate what drives them, what motivates them, and how they see the world in a completely different light than I do. And it turns out those skills come in very helpful in my job. It’s a lot easier to put myself into the shoes of a donor who’s passionate about a cause and figure out how to motivate them to give when I’ve spent some of my free time learning about what motivates people to do seemingly impossible things.

Now, I could develop this skill of understanding donors in many ways. I could read biographies about interesting people who are driven to do incredible things or work for a particular cause. That would achieve a similar end; but I enjoy watching films more.

Or, instead of watching documentaries, I could just spend that time reading more books about donors and fundraising. But at the end of the day, I know I’d get really tired of that – it just feels like more work! That’s the thing about finding a complimentary practice – it should be something you enjoy that enriches your life in many different ways, including having a positive impact on your career path.

Just like Oliver and Han have identified that time spent in nature is a critical complimentary practice to their poetry, we too can identify the practices that compliment and enhance our work – whatever it may be.

And perhaps the most important thing we can do is to acknowledge that these complementary habits are worthy of our time. In our busy day-to-day lives, it can be hard to find the time to cultivate habits that have a less direct, more long-term impact on our work performance and overall wellbeing. We may feel like it’s not worth it, and others may not understand. Han recounts being told, “You could be a more prolific poet if you stopped gardening and spent that time working on more poetry.” But as he explained, without his gardening he would cease to be a poet at all.

So what are your complementary practices or hobbies? Are you making time to enjoy them? Unsure you have any at all? Here are a few thoughts to get you started:

  • Taking computer coding courses through Codeacademy and looking at them as a game can be a fun, no pressure way to learn a new skill. When I worked in software implementation, I tried it out and found I was a better problem solver in my 9-5 because I finally started to understand how the programmers saw the world. If you like mental puzzles and especially if you work with lots of data, learning coding can be a lot of fun and help you develop great problem solving skills.
  • Spending time with a pet, and trying to teach them a new trick or skill, can really up your own communication skills. I found this to be true from working with our dog, Maverick. They help to humble us, force us to learn new ways to get our point across, and to keep our cool when we get frustrated – skills that can really help in professions where communication is critical, especially customer-facing roles.
  • Dance and yoga can quickly reconnect us with our bodies, helping to develop spatial awareness and balance, not to mention strength. Work on your feet, or in a setting where there are lots of people (I’m looking at you, restaurateurs) or machinery around? Practicing these art forms can help you to be more mindful of your body and keep you safe and effective on the job.

No matter what your profession, there are all kinds of unique, complimentary hobbies and practices that can help you achieve more on the job. Don’t just let the poets have all the fun!