Friday, August 29, 2014

Regain a bit of privacy at work

I rely on my iPhone to keep me organized. Pop-up reminders of upcoming appointments, meetings, and tasks keep me on track each day. I've chosen to integrate, rather than separate, my personal and professional lives. So my appointments for doctor's visits and jogs in the Arboretum go into my Outlook calendar, and my phone reminds me of them all. I've cracked the corny joke a few times that if my iPhone told me to jump off a bridge, I'd probably look around for the nearest one.

If you're choosing this work-life integration strategy, you might not want to disclose your upcoming podiatry appointment to your colleagues. Here's a quick tip to ensure that you are keeping your personal stuff out of work. From the File tab, open your Outlook Options and select Calendar. Click on Free/Busy Options ... and set your Permission Level to Free/Busy time. This will allow your colleagues to see when you are available without the details of what you might be working on at that time.

Colleagues in a previous job made fun of me for entering "take vitamins" as a reminder in my calendar. I agree it's a bit obsessive, but you wouldn't believe the streak I'm on taking my vitamins thanks to the alert. So go ahead, fill your calendar up with little reminders, and enjoy your organization transformation.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Time-saving conference call tip

If you're like me, you spend a lot of time on conference calls. Inevitably, some of these are conducted on the go, often with 1 minute or less to spare between hanging up from one call and dialing into the next.

I have found that I save a lot of hassle, time, and frustration by saving conference call numbers in my phone ahead of time. It works like this:

1. Create a new contact. Add the bridge/dial in number.

2. Press the symbol button in the lower left-hand corner. Add either a pause, which displays as a comma, or wait, which displays as a semicolon. According to this blog, a pause stops the dialing for 2 seconds, and the wait does not proceed until you enter more numbers. They both seem to work, but I use pause.

3. Type the PIN or attendee ID of the conference call number. Add the pound sign (or hash key for my British friends) if needed for your call. Save the contact.

That's it! I have saved a contact for my conference call number as chairperson, attendee. I have saved dozens of other contacts for anyone I regularly chat with on conference calls.

Now for some fun. Here are my two favorite comedy bits on conference calls: David Grady's the conference call and If a conference call happened in real life. Enjoy!

Friday, August 8, 2014

How to make the perfect pot of cold brewed iced coffee

I am a huge fan of caffeine, especially coffee. If I had given a speech after finishing my MBA, I would have thanked my family, friends, classmates, colleagues, and coffee. I really enjoy my morning mug of coffee throughout all of the seasons. I strongly prefer cold brewed iced coffee, but will occasionally opt for a hot coffee in the dead of winter.

What is the difference between cold brewed and regular coffee, you might wonder. Using cold water rather than hot makes the end product less bitter. I usually only add a splash of almond, soy, or cow's milk to my cold brewed coffee, and no sweetener. I enjoy the taste the way it is. I also love lattes, but they are full of calories, upwards of 300+ for a large cup. That's almost as many calories as one might eat for breakfast, so I prefer to stick to coffee and save a latte as a very rare treat.

I've been drinking expensive cold brewed iced coffee from my local coffee shop. By expensive I mean $3-4 per large cup. That really adds up, so I thought I'd see if I could figure out how to cold brew at home. I tried and failed several years ago, and only thought to revisit it this year. I asked my local barista at Fazenda how they cold brewed their coffee, since it was my favorite. She gave me some helpful tips, so I will include them here so you can cold brew your own coffee at home.

Cold brewed iced coffee instructions

Ratio of coffee to water: 3-4 tsp. coffee per 6 oz. water
Coarsely grind the beans, and pre-soak them for 5 minutes in 10-20% of the water. Add the rest of the water to the grinds and let sit 8-12 hours. Then strain with a coffee filter or cheesecloth. This concentrated liquid might need to be diluted a bit to suit your taste.

I found this quite messy, so I found this cold brewed contraption on Amazon. It works great and I don't need to measure the coffee. I just fill to the top of the basket and add water.

Another option if you also like hot coffee is the Toddy.

With so many choices out there, put a dent in Dunkin Donuts' and Starbucks' profits and make your own. Happy brewing!

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Hey, Mickey, you're so fine!

We just returned from a week at Disney World. It was hot, exhausting, and so much fun to see the magic on Lu's face as she met her idols, the princesses.

"Look, Elsa!"

As you can imagine, I read a lot about tips and tricks to use on our trip leading up to it. I'd like to post our best-of here so that you can use this list for your next trip to see the mouse.

1. Rent, or bring, a stroller. There is so much walking that even our 5 year old who hasn't used one in years spent most of her time here. It doubled as a handy napping area and backpack carrier. We rented one at the parks, which was cheaper to do across multiple days. Also bring a backpack with sunblock, a mini first aid kit, water and snacks, ponchos, misting fans, and extra camera battery and clothes.

2. Buy your souvenirs at home. I went to the Wrentham Disney Store and spending $65 on a Frozen beach towel, Mulan hat, Sleeping Beauty sleep mask, Tinkerbell dress, Rapunzel sunglasses, t-shirt, and Disney water bottles and canvas bag. I called the gifts her special surprise each day and it was a huge deal. Extra bonus if you can also use these at the end of the day to reward good behavior. We still ended up with a $12 Frozen balloon and $25 mouse headband on this trip, but that was what we might have spent daily without the special surprises.

3. Get a guidebook. We used The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2014. This book was so helpful! We booked the recommended car service, Tiffany's, which exceeded our expectations. They dropped us off for groceries on the way to our hotel. We saved a ton of money bringing our own bottled water and PB&J sandwiches. We also found our favorite restaurant Raglan Road here.

Lu with her step dancing friend Emma

4. Take rest days. We relaxed at the hotel for part of Sunday, all day Tuesday, and all day Saturday. It was at least 90 degrees with torrential rain in the evening, so it was a huge relief to have some down time amid the hectic pace of the rest of the trip.

5. Other advice. A friend recommended the cinnamon buns at Gaston's pub, which were really good. She also suggested bringing a Sharpie if your kid likes to get autographs from the characters. Luckily we missed out on that particular experience since Lu wasn't interested. 

I doubt that this will become an annual trip for our family, but I'm so glad we got the opportunity to go when Lu was the perfect age to embrace the magic!