Tag Archives: review

“Fries, eh?” – Trying poutine (Canadian fries)

Poutine, photo credit Guilhem Vellut via Flickr, used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 Attribution license

Photo credit: Guilhem Vellut via Flickr, used unmodified under CC BY 2.0 license

I love French fries, so I’m pretty excited about trying poutine, which people tell me is fries with gravy and cheese. Sort of like the concept of nachos, but with fries, and from Canada. That’s what I hear anyway.

We’re at a bar at a ski resort in Idaho (but not to ski, story for another time). The Winter Olympics (hosted in Canada) are playing on the TV, and we sit with it in view. The server comes by and tells us they’re having some specials in honor of the Olympics, and hands us a piece of paper with several items, including poutine.

Okay, the description doesn’t sound that great (because I prefer ketchup or Ranch on my fries, not gravy and cheese), but it’s unique and something that I haven’t tried yet. So… one order of poutine for the table, please!

When it arrives, I pull out one of the fries hanging over the edge, and it comes out with a bit of gravy and some melted cheese. That looks promising, I think, because it reminds me of other melty-cheese foods I like.

But, when I taste it, I’m not sure if I like it.

I’m not sure why it’s weirding me out so much. Mashed potatoes have gravy, and baked potatoes have cheese. I love both. But this is different somehow. Maybe the fried taste with the gravy?

The second fry has more gravy and I like it much less. This poutine adventure isn’t as great as I’d thought it would be. That’s sort of disappointing.

But with the three of us, we eat most of them, until the rest are a soggy mess at the bottom, wallowing in the gravy (actually, those aren’t that bad, they’re more like mashed potatoes, but by now I’m pretty full, and this is a very salty food).

Still, the most memorable thing about poutine is yet to come:

When we get the bill, the poutine is listed as, “Fries, eh?” 

Makes me smile every time I think of it! 🙂

So, while I’m grateful for the opportunity to try a new (to me) food, it’s probably the top way to ruin good French fries. But maybe it’s because I didn’t eat them in Canada. Either way, I’d be open to trying again, at least once. At least the receipt made it worth this first experience!

Have you eaten poutine? Do you like it? 

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5 Steps for effective life reviews

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Many of us enjoy the excitement of setting a new goal or working on a new habit, but it’s a good idea to take time to review your current situation before rushing to create new goals. An effective review helps you realign your progress with your priorities, identify barriers, create solutions, and document success and lessons learned so you can be more effective in the future.

Although it’s common to review our lives at certain points, like at the end of a project, the end of a life phase (like graduation, job transition, etc), and around birthdays or New Year’s, I’d recommend also doing a review in the middle of a year or a project. This way, you can change anything you discover that’s preventing you from making progress, before too much time has passed.

Here are the steps and questions I’ve found work well for me when I do any review.

5 Steps for effective life reviews

Refresh yourself on goals and priorities

What do you want? What’s important to you?

Sometimes, no matter how much we want something, we get off track because it’s hard to stay focused on the goal. Having a regular habit of reviewing goals for a project or for the year is a good way to stay motivated and focused. Reviewing your priorities is just as important, because that will help you create better goals and give you a reminder of what to say “yes” and “no” to.

I review my bucket list a few times throughout the year, along with my goals for my business and personal life, so that I don’t lose track of the direction I want to go. Reviewing my priorities makes it easier to make decisions about how to spend my time, and who to spend it with. In a job situation, this helps me use my time to do the things that matter most to my business and the people I work for/with (because there’s always more work that can be done than there is time).

Status report

Where are you in relation to your goals?

You won’t know unless you periodically check in with yourself (and whoever else is involved). Once you remind yourself of what you want to accomplish, figure out how far away you are from those goals. If you’re really far away from the goal, or haven’t made any progress since your last review, you may also want to ask yourself if you actually want to pursue this goal, or if your priorities have changed (and then so should your goals).

When I see that I’m still on track to achieve a goal, for example: to post something every week on this blog for a year, it gives me more motivation to continue. When I notice that I’m far from a goal, for example: exercising the recommended 150 min per week, then I know there’s a problem.

Identify problems

What are the barriers keeping you from crossing that finish line?

It’s one thing to nebulously say there’s a problem, but it’s hard to do something about it if you never discover what’s causing it. Or, if you’re having success so far, but can see that there may be trouble on the horizon, take this opportunity to identify potential pitfalls so you can maintain your progress.

Continuing with the example of exercise, one of my barriers is my approach to it. I’ve been trying to get it done in 30-60 min chunks of time, because then I only have to do it a few times a week, but that means I have to block out larger chunks of time. While health is a priority, exercise hasn’t been (although I know it affects other areas of wellness). This means that every time something unexpectedly comes up in my schedule, and I don’t have 30 min to exercise anymore, I decide that it’s not going to happen.

Make changes

What’s the plan? What will you do to make progress despite challenges?

When you figure out what’s making progress difficult, you can start to come up with plans to work around those barriers and push through the challenges you experience. Identify specific actions you can do to change the situation or your reaction to it.

For me, this usually involves thinking about the situation in a new way. Sometimes I have to ask other people for help and advice (outside perspectives can give fresh eyes), and other times I just need to try a new strategy (or an old one that’s worked for me in the past). To do more regular exercise, I did a few things: layer exercise on activities I’m already doing (making it a part of my normal life, for example, a walk around a lake with a friend instead of talking at a coffee shop), and breaking it down to smaller, more realistic chunks of time (10 min twice a day is much easier for me to schedule than a 20 min session). Now I do one session as part of my morning routine and one in the afternoon as a break.

Track progress and lessons learned

Is what you’re doing working? Compared with the last review, did you make progress?

Seeing a string of successes, no matter how small, can be helpful for those times when it seems like there’s no forward movement. Also be sure to record the lessons you’re learning so that you don’t have to relearn them (because let’s be honest- lessons are mostly learned from uncomfortable situations, and who wants to repeat that?). Recording lessons learned can also be helpful for the times when you feel like you’re a total failure (it happens) because then you can see that it’s not wasted time–you’re learning from what you’re experiencing now so you’ll be one step closer to success on the next attempt.

I know that 10 min chunks are more realistic for me to schedule because I’ve done it successfully in the past and been able to maintain the habit for a long time (lesson learned, but why did I stop? I lost track of my goals. Another lesson learned). Now I’m restarting, and so far I’m a few days in (yes, only days – every accomplished goal has to start somewhere). I’m keeping track of every 10 min, because monitoring these small successes really works for me (yet another lesson learned from accomplishing goals like posting weekly to this blog, or writing 50,000 words on a story in a month, or any number of other goals). It also gives me a record of the process of accomplishing a big goal, which is more challenging to value while I’m experiencing it, but is always the part I learn the most from in retrospect.

So… do you do regular reviews? Leave a comment with your methods, and share something you’ve learned from your most recent review.

Or… Are you a person who never stops to do a review, because – why live in the past? Let me know that too, and share what you do instead to learn from your experience. If there’s enough people who comment on it, I’ll write a post about it.

Resource: Get more done with Focusmate

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The light next to my laptop camera reminds me that for the next 75 minutes, I’m focusing on my one priority task: writing this post. I can hear the sound of a keyboard coming from my headphones so I know that U., my match for this Focusmate session, is also working diligently on her task.

From time to time, one of us will type another task in the chat box, signaling our progress (completed the first task, on to the next) and giving ourselves some accountability.

At the end of the session, we quickly check in with each other: How’d it go for you? Some sessions are better than others, but all are better than zero accountability and no focus.

Trying to make progress on your projects can be difficult with the scream of social media and that constant to-do list. No matter how much you want to do something, sometimes it’s just hard to stay on track.

What if you could have a virtual coworker, sitting across the desk from you, while you each work on your own projects? They’d be a reminder that you’re supposed to be working on your one priority for that session, while they’d be working on their own task.

Focusmate.com is an online coworking community for just that. I joined at the beginning of the week and it’s really helped me do more than I would’ve without it. That means I’ll have fewer things I have to get done during the holidays, so I have more time to spend with family and on whatever I want.

You can either create your own listing for your available dates/times (always listed on the board in Eastern time, but able to be created in any time zone), or book one that someone else created.

You get email confirmation and it gets added to your calendar. At the designated time, you hop on a video call with the other person via the link given in the email calendar reminder. The session starts with briefly telling each other what the project or task is that you’ll be working on, and then typing it in the chat box. Then you leave the camera and mic on (unless it’s noisy in your background) and just work.

Sounds creepy. I get it, why would you want to have someone watch while you work?

It’s not like that. They’re working too. If you’re both doing it right, the only thing you’re doing is working. And typing in the chat box to tell your partner what one task you’re working on. And then your next task. Because you’ll get more done when working like this. Trust me, I’ve tried it.

Sound good, but aren’t sure if it will work for you? What if this isn’t enough accountability? I wondered about that too. Despite agreeing to follow the code of conduct, which includes, among other things, “Consciously set aside distractions (e.g. close Facebook, put your phone away),” there’s nothing actually preventing you from going on social media.

Here are some ideas of what you can do to give yourself additional accountability and motivation to focus:

  • Combine it with a program or app like Cold Turkey for PC or Self Control for Mac, which you can program to not allow you to access whatever sites you don’t want to access for a certain time.
  • Remember that the other person is expecting you to be working, and at the end of the session you’ll probably do a check in, and it would really be embarrassing if you didn’t have any progress to report.
  • Think of it as a competition. Try to get more tasks done than the other person.

Focusmate could work for almost anything on your to-do list (more than work/employment-based tasks). In addition to expected tasks, people have used it for getting ready/packing for trips, planning, finishing frustrating things like paying bills or making customer service calls (if there’s noise in the background or you’re on a call, let the other person know in the chat box that you’re going to mute your computer microphone so you don’t distract them).

Here are some things I can think of to use it for:

  • Planning bucket list adventures
  • Planning trips/Researching things to do or see
  • Finding the cheapest plane tickets
  • Paying bills/taxes or getting caught up on emails
  • Writing those thank you notes or postcards that you keep meaning to send
  • Writing blog posts
  • Making a scrapbook or photo album of those pictures from that one trip
  • Packing for an upcoming trip
  • Getting more done at work so you can go home early and do the things you want to do
  • Studying a language (mute your mic to practice, this isn’t a language exchange)
  • Doing homework for that really cool online class that you signed up for but rarely make time to participate in
  • Creating a budget to save money for your adventures…

The list is never ending!

Give Focusmate.com a try and find out if you like it. Right now it’s free to join. Maybe we’ll end up having a chance to be coworkers!