Be Merry Be Bright

It’s hard to believe there are fewer than four months left to Christmas, right?!? Yikes – no reason to panic!

But it’s a great reason to celebrate the few remaining lazy, hazy days of summer with a retro “Christmas in July(ish)” cocktail party – and you’re all invited! YAY!

PaperlessPost Invite

I found this lovely card at Paperless Post, where they just released a brand new selection of holiday cards. You can either send e-cards or customize and print your own cards through their website – very cool indeed!

Of course it wouldn’t be a real party without some funky music, so I created a swingin’ Xmas-themed playlist just for the occasion:

Now doesn’t that make you want to groove all night? Dean Martin sure thinks so!

Dean Martin RecordAll that dancing will make anyone thirsty…

And since beautiful, fragrant herbs are so plentiful this time of the year – it would be a shame not to use them. I just so happened to find several refreshing cocktail recipes using fresh basil, including Basil Lime Cooler, Basil Smash, Strawberry-Basil Martini, and more. Yum yum!




You want to make your own funky vinyl record snack bowl, you say? You can find the instructions right here. Just remember to line your bowl with wax or parchment paper before adding in the snacks!

And if you’re a little tired from the dancing and drinking, why not grab yourself a seat, put up your feet and admire a lovely little display rack filled with handmade cards. (Why yes, I did make each of these cards myself – thank you for asking!)

Card Rack

I hope you enjoyed yourself at my summer retro cocktail party – I sure had a great time planning it! Maybe we’ll see you around here again soon…Happy holidays!

The Life-Changing Magic of Morning Routines

Morning Routines

In my last post, I talked about how I eventually started getting up at 5 am (most mornings). But it’s not enough to get up earlier even when you have a great reason to – you need structure so that you don’t end up squandering your precious awake time. Hence the importance of having a solid morning routine to keep you on track.

“Morning is an important time of day, because how you spend your morning can often tell you what kind of day you are going to have.”

Lemony Snicket

Books like The Miracle Morning and the 5 AM Miracle go into more detail about how to establish your morning routine, but a few things to consider integrating to it are:

  • Meditation
  • Journaling/Morning Pages/Gratitude Journaling
  • Affirmations
  • Visualization
  • Exercise/Stretching
  • Learning/Reading

When I first started establishing my morning routine, I was so excited that I tried adding all of the above elements into my routine. However within a few days I found that I was rushing around trying to check each item off my list before heading to work. It was becoming too stressful for me, which is the opposite of what a morning routine should be – focused and energizing.

So I started again from square one. I begin by aiming to get up at 5 AM, then only focusing on learning and reading, since those were most important to me at the time and the main reason I had wanted to get up earlier. Once that routine became habit, I started integrating meditation (first 10 minutes, now I’m up to 15 minutes) and affirmations. Then eventually I added in journaling (just one short paragraph on what would make my day great).

This spring, once the weather warms up a bit, I plan to add exercising to the mix – either a brisk walk or a run. But I’m not in a rush with this, since I know that I won’t stick to exercising when it’s still so cold and dark at 5 or 6 am. I want to give myself the best chances of succeeding.

Learning to take tiny baby steps with this process has been so important to building my routine and daily habits. I tend to be a high achiever who wants to do/fix everything at once, and when I fail I’m terribly unforgiving with myself. Be kind. Show compassion toward yourself.

Some of the benefits I’ve noticed since establishing my morning routine are:

  • I love the sense of accomplishment I feel when I do manage to wake up at 5 am (a seemingly impossible feat just a few years ago). It starts the day off on such a positive note. If I can do this, I can do anything!
  • By having a morning routine in place, I get to decide what’s important to me and how I want my day to start. Not spending my early mornings reading emails or on social media means that I am not being reactive to others’ demands and complaints.
  • I’m not rushing around anymore before heading out the door to go to work, whereas I used to sleep in as late a possible then run around like my head was on fire (sound familiar?). I can take my leisurely time getting ready, and it helps me stay calm for the rest of the day. (Meditation may also have something to do with this.)
  • As someone who despises rush-hour crowds on public transit, I can’t say enough how nice it is to take the streetcar or subway downtown with very few other people. It’s quiet and comfy and I always get a seat. Bonus.
  • Once I arrive downtown and make my way to my regular coffee shop, I spend an hour or more sipping my coffee and focusing on my personal development, either through a book or an online course. By the time I get to the office at 9 am for my pesky day job, I’m fully caffeinated, my brain has had a chance to warm up and I feel ready to face whatever comes my way. It’s made a huge difference in how I work.

Do you have a morning routine? What does it look like?

Wakey Wakey, Sleepyhead!

Wakey WakeyAbout 2 1/2 years ago, I switched from working on my personal development mostly in the evenings to early mornings. I had been struggling with staying committed to my goals, in large part due to decision fatigue (which you can read more about in my last post here). As I’ve said before, creating this new morning habit was one of the best things I’ve ever done to improve my life.

For most of my life, being a night owl was such an important part of my identity that I couldn’t even imagine a big enough reason for ever wanting to get up early.

Thankfully, age and experience have changed my outlook. Each day I get older, I have an ever-growing list of things I want to accomplish and a deeper sense of urgency to get them done in my short lifetime.

When I first started rising earlier, I went from waking at 7 am to 6 am. As I settled into this new routine, I enjoyed my new levels of learning and productivity so much that I wondered if I might be able to start waking even earlier. So I tried getting up at 5:45 am, then 5:30 am…and now I rise at 5 am most weekdays. 5 AM PEOPLE!!!

If you had told me even just a few years ago that I’d one day become a crazy early riser, I would have fallen off my chair laughing hysterically. Really. But I am telling you – if I was able to do it, anyone can.

You just need an amazing reason to get out of bed in the morning. Find that one project or goal that lights you on fire – whether it’s writing a book, starting your own business or getting healthier – and make a commitment to work on it as soon as you get up.

“It is well to be up before daybreak, for such habits contribute to health, wealth, and wisdom.”


The key to waking earlier is to be gentle and forgiving with yourself (something I really struggle with). If you’re too rigid and unforgiving, you’re much more likely to give up the first time you miss your target waking time. It’s not going to be easy (especially for night owls), so you have to be persistent and just keep at it. I went from waking from 6 am to eventually 5 am over a period of about one year. And I will admit – it’s been damn hard getting up at 5 am during the dark, cold winter months. I’ve hit the snooze button way too many times, but most days I’m out of bed by 5:45 am.

A few tips that may help you as you transition to becoming an early riser:

  • Do it gradually. Don’t go from waking at 9 am to 5 am overnight. Get up 15 minutes earlier tomorrow morning, and once your body adjusts to this new time over the next few days or weeks, get up 15 minutes earlier after that, until you reach your target waking time. Give yourself as long as you need to reach that target.
  • Go to bed earlier. You can’t expect to get up earlier if you’re going to bed at the same old time. This was a hard one for me, because I was so stuck on my “night owl” identity. When I finally accepted that I needed to get to bed earlier (i.e., 9:30 pm versus midnight) in order to get enough sleep, I started having the best sleep of my life. Like, wow. This was a totally unexpected benefit.
  • If you’re a snooze-button addict like me, place your phone or alarm clock across the room so you’ll have to get out of bed to turn it off. Then don’t go back to bed.
  • Find an accountability partner. Ask a friend, colleague or someone in one of your social networking groups to take the challenge. Take turns texting or messaging each other as soon as you wake up in the morning.

A few resources that can help you on your path to becoming an early riser:

  • The Morning Miracle: Hal Elrod has a great podcast and has written a book on this topic. I haven’t read the book yet, but will be reading it this month for a book club I’ve just co-created with one of my meetup groups.
  • The 5 AM Miracle: Jeff Sanders also has a great podcast and book (which I’ve read and recommend).
  • seanwes: Sean McCabe has an amazing business podcast, and he has discussed becoming an early riser in several episodes. Like me, he was a hard-core night owl who became a hard-core early riser once he saw his productivity go through the roof. Listen to episodes #207 and #75 or read the show notes – they’re chock-full of information.
  • A Year of Productivity: A great article and tips for waking early from Chris Bailey.

Are you currently making or have you made the transition from night owl to early riser? Has it improved your life? Do you have tips to share? I’ve love to hear your story!

Learning and Willpower

Learning and WillpowerI love learning. I’ve always loved learning. And so I was frustrated with myself when time and time again, I would sign up for various online classes (paid or free), watch one or two video lectures, then give up on the classes because I never had the time or energy to complete them.

I couldn’t understand why I was never able to stick to my personal learning goals, whereas I was super disciplined at work and a productive, high-achieving employee.

It was all a mystery to me, until I read about willpower and how it works. It turns out that we only have a finite store of willpower each day. We start out in the morning, (hopefully) refreshed from a good night’s sleep. But every decision we make, no matter how big or small, contributes to depleting our mental energy throughout the day, so that by the end of the day we are often completely drained and suffer from “decision fatigue“.

This decision fatigue makes us much more likely to make bad decisions – such as skipping our workout at the gym or eating junk food for dinner – because our mental capacity is simply too depleted to make any more important decisions. We just go with what’s fastest and easiest.

This knowledge completely transformed my learning process. I finally understood that I needed focus on my most important work early in the day, when my willpower and energy were at their strongest.

This was a huge issue for me because I am not a morning person. At all. And I really, really dreaded the thought of having to wake up earlier.

But when upon further reflection, I dreaded the thought of not following through on my learning goals even more. I truly wanted to be a life-long learner.

So I made the decision to start waking up an hour earlier each morning (I went from 7 am to 6 am). I’d take a shower and quickly get ready, then head downtown to a coffee shop where I could focus on my personal development for an hour before heading to my pesky day job each day.

I have to say, implementing this new habit has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made toward improving my life. Since making the switch from evenings to mornings, I’ve been able to complete numerous classes on subjects as diverse as sketching, social psychology, happiness, behavioural economics, the French Revolution, emotional intelligence, business, and more. If I have to skip a day, I honestly feel a bit lost – that’s when you know you’ve built a strong habit!

When most individuals or most companies are talking about trying to create healthy habits, the key is to identify which habit or habits seem most important.

Charles Duhigg

If you’re struggling with implementing a goal, try focusing on your goal earlier in the day (ideally in the morning) and see if it helps. I’d love to hear your stories (good and bad) on this topic!

In my next post, I’ll talk about my path to becoming an early riser.