Tag Archives: Features

My “Pick-Me-Ups” and Rewards

Reading Philofaxy today, I saw a comment from Butanben, requesting people share lists of ideas about “pick me ups / rewards / good to self” activities. As it happens, I have been using one for quite some time! This list stems from a time when I was trying to think of ways to reward myself that weren’t necessarily decadent desserts or expensive splurges. After all, I realized — about 20 pounds too late ::cough::cough — that a “treat” isn’t really a treat if you have them once or twice a day! Nor is it very fun to buy a special goodie only to face the stress of a credit card bill at the end of the month.

Here’s my list:

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I keep this in a section that also houses some other helpful reminders. Maybe I’ll share those tomorrow.

New Section to my Filofax: Trying a Special Diet

My 14-year-old son has been experiencing some gastrointestinal issues, so we have been advised to try eliminating gluten and dairy from his diet for several weeks. This is a daunting experiment, especially during the holiday season. We were advised that it is particularly helpful when the whole family tries this at the same time to make it easier on our son. He’s willing to try anything to see if it helps him feel better, but my 9-year-old daughter is a picky eater. This means we have several things to consider:

  1. How to avoid a sense of “deprivation” to a family that loves cheese (and gluten, but the dairy-free part will be the trickiest, I think)
  2. How to make our teenager’s lunch appealing enough that he doesn’t “cheat” by getting non-GF/DF food from his friends’ lunches
  3. How to appease the palate of a child who is not very adventurous about food
  4. How to track our son’s symptoms to see if this effort is worth continuing
  5. How to make this manageable, given our busy schedule

Enter my Filofax. It will take a fair amount of planning to launch this special diet, and my Malden is the perfect home for all of it. I set up my work space with everything I need.


I’d like to keep an informal overview of my son’s treatment and tests so that I have the dates and notes to help refresh my memory when I speak with different doctors (below).

To help with the transition, I’ve been scouring the Internet for sites that post gluten- and dairy-free recipes our family will enjoy. I’m sure I’ve missed several, but I will keep this Post-it pasted on the back of the divider for his health section so that it’s the first thing I see. It can easily be changed or updated.



My other research — something I’m just starting — is a list of foods that don’t have hidden dairy or gluten in the ingredients. Thank goodness for the Internet, because many groups and bloggers have posted which brands/foods are “safe” for people with food sensitivities. They all caution that manufacturers can change ingredients without warning, so I know I’ll have to keep looking at labels, but this should help me generate my grocery list. I like the idea of keeping this in a binder, because I’m sure we’ll discover new items to add, as well as which items to remove if they are flops.

I plan to keep a food diary when we start next week. We’ll use this to track what my son eats and how he feels.

Food Diary

I’m starting to compile a short list of meal ideas so that when I do my weekly overview on Sunday, I’ll be able to plan our meals. I’ll use the page to track which ones are worth cooking again and which ones are flops. It’s clear not all GF/DF meals are created equal.

Tonight I plan to show my son and daughter lists of fruits and vegetables so that they can name which ones they would like to eat more often. I have a sense of their likes and dislikes, but this diet will be much heavier in fresh fruits and veggies. It will help to make a list for my Filofax so that our meals are as varied as possible. I know we’ll be cooking a lot more “from scratch,” so I don’t want to expend too much energy staring at a blank grocery list.

My A5 Malden is a great place to plan a major diet change. I’m not sure if this will make a noticeable difference for my son’s health, but it will certainly be easier because I have organized key resources to support our efforts.

Using My Filo to Make the Most of Online Shopping

Our family just returned from Disneyland, and it reminded me of one of my Filofax features, one that I’m using a lot as we prepare for Christmas.

Traveling with kids can be expensive, and I try to make the most of savings and loyalty programs when I can. While we were at Disneyland, we stayed at an Embassy Suites, owned by Hilton. We used rewards points to pay for our 2-night stay. I opt for the Embassy Suites because they include a hot breakfast and family-friendly afternoon snacks and beverages in the afternoon. While not a “bargain” hotel, they offer lots of space and amenities at a reasonable cost for the area. We belong to the Hilton Honors program, and I earn free points by visiting merchants that work with them.

I keep a list of these merchants posted in the front of the finances section of my Malden. These are some of the stores that work with the Hilton Honors program to provide rewards points if you enter their websites through the Hilton Honors “Shop-to-Earn” site. I bookmarked the page on my browser, and now it takes about 30 seconds to get to some of my favorite stores’ websites.

The list below represents a small portion of all their affiliates, but I only wrote down merchants I already order from or would consider using.

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I also belong to some stores’ rewards programs (e.g., Nordstrom, Petco), and I marked those merchants with an asterisk. That way I earn points for hotel stays AND the stores’ rewards programs. If I am going to buy from them anyway, why not maximize my purchases? Sometimes I use a Visa card that earns rewards, too…

Here’s an example: I have a 75 pound labrador/American bulldog mix named Scout. He eats almost as much as my 14-year-old boy! We also have two cats (Shaman and Coco), so we go through a lot of pet food and kitty litter. We belong to the pet store’s rewards program, so we earn 5% back on purchases. They send me coupon codes all the time (15-40% discounts), and they offer free shipping if you spend over $50 or $75 (remember, I have a big dog). Around the time food starts to run low, I find a coupon and enter their website through the Hilton Honors portal so I simultaneously earn points toward free stays. I save money, earn rewards, and avoid an extra errand to the pet store by adding about 30 seconds to my online shopping. When I pay with my GAP Visa, I earn points towards clothes at GAP, Banana Republic, and Old Navy.

The list in the front of my finance section is for times like now…I have Christmas shopping to do, and I prefer to do much of it online. It reminds me of merchants I visit less often, such as Land’s End, where I shop about 2-3 times per year. My husband also wants some new shoes, so I can suggest that we can earn points by ordering them through East Bay, his favorite athletic supply store. Wedding gifts, back-to-school shopping, ink cartridges…all can be ordered online at no additional cost (if you can find ways to not pay for shipping).

I wonder if other people keep lists of favorite merchants in their Filofaxes…

*Disclosure: I do not have any connection with Hilton or any of the other merchants mentioned in this post, other than as a paying customer. I wrote this post to describe one way I use my Filofax, as well as outline a way I try to maximize my online shopping. It could be done with other rewards programs as well. These brands are not necessarily bargain brands, and therefore this isn’t meant as cost-saving measures like extreme couponing. Please note it would take a very long time to earn free stays if you just use the shopping portal. We combine those points with points earned during business or personal travel to get to free stays faster.

Using My Filofax to Create My Academic Writing Schedule

I keep my writing schedule on a separate "Month on Two Pages" calendar. The only things on the calendar are my writing goals and any significant events that might mean I won't have time to write that day.

I keep my writing schedule on a separate “Month on Two Pages” calendar. The only things on the calendar are my writing goals and any significant events that might mean I won’t have time to write that day.

I use a planner because my life has a lot of moving pieces right now, and it helps me make the best use of my time. A few years ago, I left my job as an elementary school teacher and entered graduate school. I have completed my coursework, and it’s now time to write my dissertation proposal and prepare for my qualifying exams.

When I was a teacher, my day was very structured. My day was dictated by a bell schedule and lesson plans. As a graduate student, I work the same number of hours, but there is no bell to tell me when to sit at the computer. No curriculum dictates how I move forward…My first two years, I struggled to use that flexibility wisely. Somehow, I conflated “more flexibility” with “more time to do other things.”

I know. Trust me, I know. It was a naïve mistake. I have done well in school, but I would have liked to have started my dissertation by now. Something had to change, and like the Type A person I am, I just knew that lists and a schedule could get me back on track!

I learned — through trial and error, along with some helpful reading — that I need a writing schedule if I’m going to get my own grad school work done. Family and my employer’s work tend to come first. When I shuffled pieces around, I deferred work on my own research and writing. No more! Now I use the Pomodoro technique (funny name, I know) to help me get in a minimum of two hours per day on my own writing. I often get in more, but the minimum helps me stay consistent and write every weekday. I read (part of my research, naturally), go to meetings and seminars, and work on paid research for my adviser the rest of the time. Well, that and the whole raising two children, managing a household with my husband, and living a life thing 🙂 But that goes in my other calendar!

My Dissertation Proposal Task List

OmniFocus on my phone – My dissertation proposal task list

Putting Together My Weekly Writing Schedule  

  1. Every Sunday, when I do my weekly review, I put two hours (minimum) of writing time onto the schedule for each day of the week. It goes into my weekly agenda simply as “Writing.”
  2. Next, I think about what writing tasks I hope to accomplish during the week ahead. I use the OmniFocus app to store specific tasks (e.g., “Write about sample selection.”). Yes, I’m a Filo girl at heart, but I love to mix it up with a few digital helpers. The plan is only for one week. It’s best to be flexible in case something happens. My son, for instance, had some unplanned doctors visits and medical tests yesterday, so I fell a bit behind schedule. I’m going to try and catch up, but if I need to, I can move tasks to next week once Sunday comes around.
  3. I enter daily goals for my writing time onto a dedicated “Month on Two Pages” (MO2P) calendar. This has its own section in my Malden, and it speaks to how important this aspect of my work is to my life as a graduate student. I’m sure this system could work for people tackling other large projects.
  4. Each day, when it’s time to start writing, I open up my binder and review my goals are for the day. No time wasted on wondering what I should be doing; that was decided on Sunday. Just dive right in! Since I’m easily distracted, I should also add that I disable my internet during these sessions. It’s the only way for me to get the work done!
Each writing task goes into the square for the day I plan to complete it.

Each writing task goes into the square for the day I plan to complete it. The notes may not make sense to others, but I know, for instance that today I need to plot out different options for my research design. I also need to write my research questions and read an article by Judith Warren Little, one of the members of my dissertation committee!

My goal now is to use the list on the side to record my total writing time each day. The two hours is a minimum, and I want to be accountable for meeting that goal. Perhaps I’ll identify patterns of when I’m most (and least) productive.

Some might wonder why I dedicate an entire A5 MO2P calendar just to tasks related to one part of my life. First, my research is an important part of my life. Before I gave it its own “space,” I found myself putting it to the side when family or work tasks demanded my attention. I probably added an extra year on to my doctoral program because of overcommitments in other areas.

It also helps take a big project and break it down into manageable pieces, all while allowing me to see the bigger picture. Adding family or other work events would be visually distracting, and it would be difficult to quickly gauge if I’m making appropriate progress toward my qualifying exams. It doesn’t clutter up my family calendar with tasks. The tactile and visual nature of writing in on the MO2P format helps orient my work for the week.

I’ve been a lot more productive since starting this system. The 2 hour minimum is a big factor, and the calendar allows me to avoid getting bogged down in planning what to write each day I sit down in front of the computer. This mix of paper and digital works well for me. Navigating between the two formats allows me to do the real “thinking” about what I want to accomplish before the start of the week, and it sets a productive tone for my writing sessions.

I add my writing schedule one week at a time. This is part of my weekly review each Sunday, so I have an idea about what my week looks like.

I add my writing schedule one week at a time. This is part of my weekly review each Sunday, so I have an idea about what my week looks like. Disregard the pink and blue stickers. I repurposed this calendar, and I struggled to cover some old entries.