5 Ways I Improved My Freelance Writing Career (That Didn’t Involve Writing)

The best thing you can do to improve yourself as a writer is to write. Like Nike says, “Just do it!”

But over the last year of working from home, there have been a few non-writing related activities that have helped me become a better freelancer and grow my business.

Regularly Stretching

I suffer from intense pain in my right shoulder that, when left untreated, makes working at my computer for longer than 20 minutes unbearable.

Buying a new desk and chair simply wasn’t an option, so I obsessively started following stretching videos on YouTube and eating turmeric to reduce the inflammation.

By taking preventative measures like stretching, exercising, and sitting properly in your chair, you can reduce your chances of damaging your muscles.

Pain will get in the way of a lot of things and growing your business is one of them.

Doing Chores

Writers don’t just deal with writer’s block. Anxiety, self-doubt, stress, and more are all regular houseguests.

When these became a constant thorn in my productivity, I started breaking up my workday with manual chores. I’d work for fifteen minutes, fold a pile of clothes, work for another fifteen minutes, and then wash dishes.

It may sound like an unproductive, interrupted day of work, but it actually makes me more focused.

When my thoughts are racing and I can’t focus on the task at hand because I’m obsessing over something unrelated to the work, I can focus on what I’m doing knowing that at the end of the fifteen minutes I have some time for guilt-free stressing.

What makes it guilt-free? Two things.

One: the fact that it is scheduled time.

Two: the fact that I’m doing manual labour, which makes me feel productive. Since it’s impossible for me to do client work when my mind is elsewhere, I can wash a stack of dishes while stressing. (So long as I snap back to attention while washing the knives.)

Flipping Through a PHYSICAL Thesaurus

Before I started writing professionally, I thought I was one wordy motherfucker. Once I had to produce blog post after blog post I started rolling my eyes at the words I kept repeating.

Clients obviously wouldn’t notice this meta-pattern, but I saw the repetition between pieces.

If I find a word boring while writing I’ll quickly click over to an online thesaurus and look for alternatives. But as part of my general professional development, I’ll take the time to flip through my paperback thesaurus in the morning or before bed.

Pursuing a Specialization

Pursue designations or certifications if you can. Carving out a niche for your writing makes you extra valuable to clients who are desperate for a writer who can make their dense, uninviting topic enticing to readers.

I stumbled into writing content for tech start-ups, but I haven’t taken that fortunate entry point for granted. I’m aggressively reading as much as I can about the industry as well as looking for affordable coding for beginners resources to make myself more knowledgable.

Surrounding Myself With Other Writers

Go to networking events. Talk to friends who are also writers. And if you’re not a fan of networking or you don’t have a lot of friends who are going down the same career path, read the blogs and watch the videos of other freelancers.

I’m sociable, but I find networking exhausting and I always leave those events feeling low, so I’ve started to avoid them. My substitute has been using social media to create a digital network of people who inspire and influence me.

Writing and reading are both vital ways to improve your freelance writing career, but if you’re in the industry, you already knew that. Sometimes, activities totally unrelated to creating can help unlock your potential and boost your motivation.

Happy hustling!

Featured image via Pexels

A Quick Introduction to Buyer Personas

As a kid, I always ate my veggies before the meat and potatoes. In drama class, I insisted on learning the lines before looking for costumes.

Not because I’m disciplined, but because I like to enjoy my steak and my box full of fun outfits without a bunch of boring obligations. I’m still like this as an adult.

Currently, I’m trying to introduce some structure to my piecemeal knowledge of content strategy.

Enter Hubspot Academy.

Their blogs helped me a lot when I started freelance content writing and they have a great blog post that outlines how to create an effective content strategy. The very first item on their list of what to do? Create a buyer persona.

In this scenario, the chance to create a pretty content calendar in a colourful spreadsheet is my meat and potatoes. My vegetable is the buyer persona.

Making one of these doesn’t sound like a lot of fun to me, but I like to do things right and the thought of creating an entire content strategy only to realize I’m targeting the wrong people is exhausting.

I mean, you gotta know whose attention you’re trying to get instead of shouting into a loudspeaker and hoping the right people don’t cover their ears.

This chore makes a lot of sense.

What’s a buyer persona?

A buyer persona identifies who your ideal customer is. Making one is a combination of creative writing and market research where you put together a profile of your ideal customer.

Hubspot helpfully outlines what your buyer persona should look like and what it should include:

  • Semi-fictional character (i.e. small business owner, talent acquisition specialist)
  • Description of a day in their life including everyday challenges
  • Demographic and biographic behaviour
  • Goals and aspirations
  • Pain points and obstacles
  • Preferred method of contact

You can find several buyer persona templates online.

So how do you get the information for your buyer persona?

The best way is to speak to existing customers.

And if you don’t yet have any customers to speak to, Trent over at Bright Ideas shares a method called “audience jacking” where you do a little sleuthing to analyze your competitor’s customers. Trent’s not playing around.

At present, this audience jacking method is what I’m going to focus on because I don’t have access to the content information of customers anywhere.

Down the road it’ll be interesting to take a look at how you develop customer surveys and which questions are important to ask.

Currently, I’m practicing by creating buyer personas for companies that I’ve written content for.

If it helps me come up with on-point blog ideas to present to them, that’s more writing projects.

And if they’re like, “That’s cute, but we have someone making these for us already” it’s just more practice for me.

Featured image via Pexels

From Student to Content Writer to (Hopefully) Content Strategist

It was only in my last year of university that I finally realized I wouldn’t be happy unless I was writing.

Fuck being practical. I’d avoided pursuing English, writing, or marketing because like some kind of masochist I thought pursuing what I wanted was self-indulgent.

I eventually realized that I’d be happier writing take-out menus for crappy pay instead of earning six figures elsewhere so long as I was writing.

(This is a hypothetical. I have never earned six figures, so there’s a possibility I would have liked that better. But I digress.)

So there I was in my final year of International Studies at York University and I had come to three key conclusions:

  • I was not gonna be a diplomat
  • I hate bureaucracy, so there’s no way I was going to work in government despite the benefits and security (suuuuuuuure) and blah blah blah
  • A law school would “looooool” for days at my transcript

I didn’t really feel like writing a novel, so I explored content writing and sponsored content jobs. I started applying to stuff: no luck. But some noteworthy things happened that got me started:

  • A fantastic woman who worked in the office where I was a work/study told me to grow a spine (in more professional terms) and start putting my writing out there
  • I enrolled in a phenomenal professional development program at Ryerson University called Adapt that was geared towards helping university students acquire the skills they need for the workforce (i.e. coding, Excel)
  • I couldn’t get a job anywhere, even as an admin assistant, despite my over 5 years working in offices and call centres

So I went on Upwork, starting pitching to prospective clients, and thanks to the business writing skills I learned at Adapt improved my pitches and instantly saw a spike in my response rates.

A year later, I’ve significantly increased my freelance rates, but I’m ready for a transition. You see, I started off willing to take anything so long as the client seemed like they would respect my time and communicate effectively. My first gig? 800 word articles for $7 a pop.

But I’m far from stable and I have definitely hit a wall. Right now, I refuse to enroll in any graduate programs, certificate programs — anything with tuition!!! – until I have paid off my current student debt.

My mind may change, but right now the thought of paying for school feels stupid.

Now I’d like to have a better understanding of how to develop successful content strategies. I believe I have the intuition for it, but not the skill.

So last April was about landing any writing gig that would pay me. Now that some people are paying me, here’s the new goal:

BECOME THE MOST KICKASS CONTENT STRATEGIST POSSIBLE

How do I do that? Well, I’m not really sure. And I hate diving into things without a plan. I’m the type of person who looks up what things you’re allowed to bring in to Canada’s Wonderland before even packing a bottled water.

So I’m currently at the present stage:

  • Identify the skills required to be a fantastic content strategist
  • Gain a high level understanding of digital marketing and content strategy
  • Improve my writing and analytical skills
  • Figure out how colour schemes work because my Instagram game is weak and content is becoming more and more visual
  • Develop at least a basic understanding of the world of tech and how it intersects with content

Are you trying to develop your career in digital marketing and content strategy? I’m a firm believer that you learn a lot through conversation so please share any tips, comments, or resources below!

Featured image via Pexels

Student using ruler to plan out their productive study schedule.

5 Unproductive Things Students Do During Exams (That Don’t Involve Netflix)

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

Ah exam season. That time of year when students everywhere teach themselves a semester’s worth of material in two weeks. It’s a testament to laziness and resourcefulness all at the same time. But there are a few especially unproductive activities students participate in while studying for exams that don’t get them anywhere. This exam season, take a good look at some of the behaviours listed below, consider the solutions, and then cut them out!

1. Obsessively Calculating What Mark You Need To Pass

It makes sense to do this – once! If you had a less than admirable semester, and you are relying on the final to turn things around it makes sense to crunch the numbers quickly to figure out if it’s even worth showing up to the exam. But once you’ve received that confirmation, ditch the calculator. (Unless you’re studying for calculus or something.)

Solution: Why do students spend so much of their study time calculating their possible marks? It’s because when they do it the first time, they calculate the best possible scenario. For example a student may think, If I get 100% on the exam, I can get an 80% in the course. While it’s great to set your sights high, it can be counter-productive this late in the game. Once the sheer magnitude of the work you have to catch up on sinks in you will keep minimizing your expectations by intervals and turning to your calculator to see how low you can go.

Cut to the chase. If you’re in a tight marks situation like this, calculate the MINIMUM mark you need in order to pass the course and then forget the number crunching entirely. Dedicate the rest of your energy to studying. You’ve already got an idea of how much work you need to put in to pass and hopefully will study enough that you earn a higher grade than that.

2. Doing Something Else While a Textbook is Open and Convincing Yourself That That’s Studying

Since we’re on the topic of exams, here’s a quick test for you.

Which of the following is an effective way to study?

a) Texting your friends that you can’t come out to study and then texting them throughout the evening about how much you have to study (with a textbook nearby)

b) Refreshing Facebook every fifteen minutes to check how many people liked your status about how you’re just gonna drop out and open a dog petting shop (with your lecture slides minimized)

c) Meeting up with a classmate at Starbucks to make study notes, post a picture on Instagram, and then decide it’s too noisy in there and postpone

d) None of the above

Answer: d) None of the above

Ditch the picture-perfect notions of studying and do not fall into the trap of thinking you’re studying just because you didn’t go out.

Solution: If you know that you will spend twelve hours at home to study on Saturday only to focus for ten minutes each hour, then be realistic. Work rewards into your study routine, and enjoy ten minutes of scrolling through Instagram guilt-free. Even if it’s mindless, it’s scheduled in and is not eating into your study time.

3. Studying With Friends Before Obtaining a Basic Understanding of the Material

Students forming a study group.
Study groups can be useful, but be careful that they don’t become an excuse to socialize with open textbooks. (Image via Pexels)

Studying with classmates is a fantastic way to discuss the material so that it is learned instead of memorized. But studying in a group can be a disaster, especially with friends. It won’t feel like a disaster at first, because you’re having so much fun. But once it’s 9pm, and you’re all tired the panic will start to set in when you think of how little you’ve absorbed for your 8am exam.

Solution: Do not assign a disproportionate amount of your study prep to a meet-up. Familiarize yourself with readings and concepts beforehand. That way, you won’t feel the temptation to get distracted during the group study session. You’ll be eager to discuss what you’ve learned and have an intelligent conversation about the material.

Bonus solution: If you really want a study session where you actually learn the material as a group – for bio or history majors that are memorizing a lot of dates or Latin names – assign chapters and come up with an activity. It could be as simple as each person coming up with 20 questions for a specific topic. As a result, each individual becomes familiar with one area and the rest can quickly learn through a quiz bowl style study session.

4. Waiting Until You Feel Like Studying

Here’s the thing: you’re never gonna feel like studying. Studying sucks. Reading’s fantastic; absorbing materials on a deadline is a pain in the ass. If you don’t feel like studying, buying nicer supplies or toting your laptop to Starbucks won’t make you feel any more disciplined. Simply recognize that it’s gonna be hard work and remember the goals that put you on this path of academia in the first place.

Solution: Commit to making notes for fifteen minutes. Just fifteen. Tell yourself you can do whatever you want after fifteen minutes – go shopping, get drunk, watch a movie – and put your phone in a drawer. Guarantee you that after the first fifteen minutes are up you won’t care to get up. And if after an hour of work you start feeling restless again, make the same “I can do whatever I want in fifteen minutes” deal. This has helped me with cleaning, exercise, dull freelance assignments, and everything in between.

5. Missing Out On Sleep

Student sleeping after studying for exam.
Get some rest. Your brain and your body will thank you. (Image via Pexels)

We live in a society that admires exhaustion. How tired you are is an indication of how hard working you are and the number of coffees you throw back is a sign that you’re busy and have shit to do. But sleep is unbelievably valuable, and like many simple solutions people just don’t want to hear, it solves A LOT of problems.

Mild anxiety about all the studying you have to do? An earsplitting headache? Hell, feeling nauseous? These are all possibly exam-related symptoms that can be addressed by getting eight hours of sleep or fitting in a quick cat nap.

Solution: If you do not usually get eight hours of sleep, you’re likely the kind of person who will go all the way down to no hours of sleep during exam season. So implement a habit of getting those full eight hours at the beginning of the exam season, instead of staying up to watch TV or go out. That way it’s a habit when things really start to pick up towards the middle and the end of exam season.

Tip: If you have trouble falling asleep, try avoiding all screens (yes, that includes your phone) a half hour to an hour before you plan to go to sleep. Make some chamomile tea to get calm and drowsy, and read a book, preferably one not related to your studies.

Here’s to a healthy and productive exam season!

To keep up with the latest articles and stories on student life, like our Facebook page or follow @todiscursive on Twitter & Instagram

Featured image via Pexels

 

Student sits on bed and makes a budget on her laptop.

Students Can Create a Budget In Less Than 10 Minutes

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi 

Budgeting is the simplest proactive measure we can take to guarantee our financial security, but we don’t take it as seriously as we should.

A big reason for this is the lack of personal financial education in schools. Many of us simply aren’t taught how to handle our money by our parents. Unfortunately, our parents may not know what they’re doing either – the average Canadian has $21,348 in consumer debt, according to TransUnion. And about 56 percent of Canadians say they have less than $10,000 stored away in an emergency fund. Forty-four percent have less than $5,000 and 21 percent have less than a grand. Financial experts recommend having at least three months of expenses (the ideal is six months) tucked away to touch only in an emergency.

Making a budget doesn’t just allow you to save up for a trip; it allows you to save up for the unexpected as well. So why are a lot of us hesitant to create one?

It’s Not As Complicated As You Think

For people I’ve spoken to, the biggest reason they don’t make a budget is because they simply don’t know where to start. They don’t know whether they should be aggressively paying down their debt, stockpiling money to paying off their student loans, or living on only bread and water. So they abandon the process before they’ve even started. If you’re just starting out, here are two key pieces of advice:

  1. Don’t be extreme.
  2. Just get started.

Your budget is a flexible tool that you can adjust periodically to meet your financial changes. Create a budget that gives you room to buy the things you like and do what you enjoy. Your budget shouldn’t be a financial straitjacket. Prioritize so that you are giving up things you care less about in order to spend on the things that you enjoy.

On that note, just get started! Your first budget will not be perfect, and it will likely be a reflection of how idealistic and ambitious you are about saving money. Following a budget takes practice, so just start off simple.

Implement the 50/30/20 Rule to Quickly Make Your Budget

Uncertain about:

  • What to start saving for?
  • Whether you should tackle your debt first?
  • How much you should put towards discretionary expenses or “fun money”?

Start off with the 50/30/20 rule. It’s the budgeting rule of thumb. Only 50 percent of your income should be spent on needs (this includes rent, hydro, metropass), 30 percent on your wants, and 20 percent should go towards savings and debt repayment.

If you do not have to worry about rent because you live at home, then throw a couple of fixed “wants” in there like your phone bill. If you have the extra money, maybe start contributing a couple hundred dollars a month to your parents just to get into the habit of paying “rent”. But try not to consider your fortunate situation a free for all to allocate 80% towards wants instead of just 30%. You can even put some of that leftover money towards your savings.

It’s as simple as striking two lines across your paper and making three categories: Wants, Needs, Future. And then fill in the sectons accordingly. It’s a quick and simple process.

If you are spending too much on your needs, moving may not be an immediate option, so see where else you can shift your budget. The 50/30/20 rule serves as a no-brainer starting point that you can organically adjust to fit your personal situation.

Should I Pay Down My Debt or Build Up An Emergency Savings?

This depends on your current situation.

If you can only depend on yourself in case of an emergency (you can’t pay rent one month, you need a repair) work on building your emergency fund up first and once you have about three months, start chipping away at your debt.

If your basic needs are met and you don’t have to worry about your food or shelter, prioritize paying off your credit card debt. Interest rates on credit cards are very high and whatever interest you earn in a savings account will never outpace the money you lose paying interest on your credit card. Beat that down as soon as you can, and allocate a smaller portion towards savings.

Whichever option you choose make sure you ALWAYS MAKE YOUR CREDIT CARD MINIMUM PAYMENTS ON TIME!!! You can live with carrying a balance, but missing your minimum payments can very negatively impact your credit score.

Respect the Effort It Took To Make Your Money – You Earned It!

Setting aside a specific amount of money for eating out or shopping quickly teaches you the value of a dollar. You’ll quickly learn the price of that pre-made salad you casually buy and wonder whether it’s worth it when you can put a bit towards that dress you wanted to buy. And you’ll become much more aware of the hard work that went into earning that cash and be less willing to give it away.

To keep up with the latest articles about budgeting and personal finance, like our Facebook page or follow @todiscursive on Twitter & Instagram

Networking in the City: It’s About Who You Are, Not Who You Know

Every post-secondary program is served with a side of advice to network aggressively.

“It’s about who you know, not what you know,” we’re told, “so you’d better start marathon shaking hands”.

Well, not so fast. Sure, people with an extensive network boast a unique advantage when it comes to landing jobs. They can save time by sending resumes to people they know will look at them. But for the most part, if a hiring manager or executive doesn’t believe you’ll vibe with their company, chances are you’re not getting the job.

Don’t believe me? Consider this: according to 67 percent of consultants surveyed by Workopolis, the top reason people don’t get the jobs they want is because they fail to set themselves apart from the competition. 

Let that sink in for a moment. The top reason isn’t lack of experience or a company insider’s referral: it’s a compatibility problem.

The Importance of Values in the Startup Scene

But what exactly does this mean? Differentiating yourself isn’t about standing out by any means necessary. If this were the case, we’d all be showing up to interviews drunk, toting a karaoke machine with every intention of using it in the name of making an impression. Clearly, companies are looking for something specific. And that something specific is:

Whether your values are aligned with theirs.

Nowhere is the urgency about values stronger than in the startup scene, particularly in Toronto’s flourishing tech ecosystem. Ninety percent of startups are expected to fail. With a fun statistic like that, startup founders are more interested in working towards their vision than convincing new recruits that their vision is great. Teaching you company policy takes the work of a week. Teaching you to share a company’s convictions, while not impossible, can take forever and even after that investment there’s no guarantee you’ll care. Consequently, who you are and what you value is very important to companies.

Companies Are On the Lookout for People Who “Get It”

The recent TechToronto Meetup powerfully drove this point home. The beauty of this monthly meetup hosted by TechToronto is the mini-presentations given by members of the tech community – just enough variety to leave you satisfied, but short enough to keep you engaged. The most recent event was a veritable smorgasbord of speakers ranging from a marketing manager in a biotech company to the married co-founders of a beauty review site to the hilariously straight-talking, potty mouthed CEO of a healthcare tech startup. While on the surface they could not be more different, what they all shared in common was a strong belief in the importance of people with shared values for the success of an organization. In each presentation, the speakers emphasized the importance of company culture and building solid teams.

Of course, a shared passion for eating is not going to overcome the fact that you don’t know how to code if you are applying for a developer position at a food delivery startup. On the other hand, if you have the necessary hard skills and demonstrate a commitment to creativity, user experience, and healthy eating, it’s clear to the person doing the hiring that you get what the organization is trying to accomplish.

At the end of the day, everyone’s just looking for people who “get it”. It’s why couples with seemingly opposite interests can work so well: they likely share core values about communication and personal growth. And it’s why an organization with teammates who fill different roles – technical, public relations, sales – can come together to make something greater than the sum of its parts.

The TechToronto Meetup and afterparty takes place every month for those looking for a job, those looking to hire, and those who just love learning about tech. The next event takes place December 5. Early bird tickets are $12, regular tickets are $20, and you can buy them at the door for $25.

To keep up with the latest articles on networking and student life, like our Facebook page or follow @todiscursive on Twitter & Instagram

Featured image via Pexels

The Power of Positive Affirmations for a Happy, Successful Week

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi 

It pays to be positive. It’s been said that positive thoughts lead to positive outcomes, and a large part of changing your circumstances is about changing your attitude towards those circumstances.

Instead of waiting for productive change to happen overnight or for a supportive somebody to fall into your life, you can act as your own catalyst and your own cheerleader. Say affirmations out loud to yourself while you’re getting dressed in the morning or repeat them in your mind if you’re in a social situation where you feel less than adequate.

The great thing about affirmations is that they are unapologetic. They make no qualifications. We have a tendency to tack on exceptions to all of our positive thoughts or statements.

“I’m a great, funny person even though I’m a little annoying…”

“I’m gonna get a lot done this week, unless I wind up being lazy as usual and do nothing.”

Thanks in large part to their simplicity and straightforwardness, positive affirmations can be terrific for:

Boosting self-confidence.

Repeat as needed: “My high self esteem enables me to respect others and beget respect in turn.

We would never let others speak to us the way we sometimes speak to ourselves. If anyone ever told us we were a fraud, not beautiful, or not good enough, we would instantly become defensive.

If there is truth to a negative statement, repeatedly telling yourself that “you’re not good enough” is not doing anything to make you better. Identifying where you think you’re lacking and actively working towards bettering yourself (whether it’s as a student, friend, or employee) is the proactive (and preferred) approach to take. The beauty of affirmations about self-confidence is that you eventually try to live up to the positive things you’re saying about yourself.

Improving your work ethic and self-discipline.

Repeat as needed: “I’m the kind of person who just doesn’t stop until I reach my goal.

Student have a terrible habit of repeatedly saying that they are lazy, that they procrastinate, and that they are full of shit. I have been guilty of this, too. What’s the result? You end up in a situation where you constantly allow yourself to be lazy, a procrastinator, and full of shit.

Start telling yourself that you’re a hard worker, that you get things done, and that you follow through by finishing what you’ve started. Eventually, you’ll be compelled to make reality match your thoughts.

Letting go of debilitating emotions like jealousy and resentment. 

Repeat as needed: “I release and remove my envious thoughts.

You’ve heard the expression, “Resentment is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die.” Resentment, jealousy, and all their relatives are not helpful emotions. They hold us back and convince us there’s something to make us upset even when we’re feeling mostly satisfied and fulfilled. Most people know this, and want to shake this, but find it difficult to let go of injustices they feel they’ve suffered or disadvantages they’ve had to contend with.

In cases like this, affirmations are like a salve you can apply to an irritating rash. Whenever you feel the green-eyed monster creeping up behind you or the burning fire of resentment, repeat a few positive affirmations to push them out of your mind.

Helps You Recognize Your Self-Worth and Right To Be Present.

Repeat as needed: “I am a well loved and well respected person.

How many times have you been in a class where you were convinced everyone was smarter than you? At a conference or networking event where it seemed everyone was more interesting and more outgoing? These are not helpful attitudes, and they can prevent you from demonstrating your worth and brilliance.

In instances like this, whenever the cold grip of anxiety starts grabbing hold inside your chest or you feel yourself tempted to run away out of fear that you are a fraud, take a deep breath and repeat a few of these affirmations in your mind.

And if you just need an affirmation to get you though this week you can always go for the all-inclusive:

“This week I will work hard, be happy, and forgive myself for any shortcomings.”

To keep up with the latest lifestyle articles and stories, like our Facebook page or follow @todiscursive on Twitter & Instagram

Featured image via Pexels

10 Acts of Self-Care For Your Extra Hour on Sunday

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi 

We often put jobs, school, and even friends ahead of taking care of ourselves. Presumably under the assumption that those other things will pay off towards our happiness in the end. But small personal sacrifices in the name of a happy boss or a perfect grade can add up, and even have a detrimental effect on our life goals. Embracing your Sunday by performing these ten acts of self-care can help set the tone for a relaxed, healthy, and fulfilling week.

1. Prepare Healthy, Delicious Meals for the Week

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Eating healthy is so much easier when you cook your meals in advance. Do all of your shopping and cooking Sunday afternoon to prepare simple, grab-and-go meals during the week. In fact, you can limit the amount of energy you put into meal prep and planning. Think about which foods you enjoy eating most and then decide to eat the same meals every day. You’d be surprised how much time this saves, and the amount of energy it allows you to put towards things you care more about.

2. Put on a Hair Mask or Conditioner (Especially If You Have Curly Hair!)

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It’s not the case for everyone, but Sundays are traditionally the laziest day of the week. Put either a store bought or homemade conditioning mask in your hair so it can soak up some essential moisture. Leave it in for as long as you think your hair needs while you do other things like prep meals or clean your room. Making sure your hair is moisturized and conditioned is especially important for keeping your locks shiny and luscious if you have curly hair.

3. Read a Non-School Related Book to Unwind

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When you’re a student and you have hundreds of pages of dense academic articles to read each week, it can be easy to forget that once upon a time you adored books. Find a book that you enjoy simply for the sake of the story and dedicate an hour to reading it. Even if it takes you a month of Sundays to finish one book, you have a weekly reminder that books don’t have to be a stressful word count you’re obligated to plow through, but an enjoyable afternoon as well.

4. Get Your Nails Done

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Nails are an underserved part of our personal appearance that others often judge us by. You could have an entire outfit perfectly pulled together, but if there is dirt under your nails or they are chipped and peeling you run the risk of failing to make a good impression on that date or interviewer. Quality nail care doesn’t require a trip to the salon and a tip. Simply keep them neat, trimmed, and filed. If you don’t care for coloured polish, put on some nail strengthening formula or a clear topcoat.

5. Do Some Stream of Consciousness Writing

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We can get so caught up in our day-to-day responsibilities that it can be easy to lose sight of the bigger picture. You may be stressing over an assignment that is worth 10 percent when there are bigger academic fish to fry. And at times we carry around a lot of anxiety without getting to the root problem of what is causing our distress. Dedicating a few minutes at the start of your week to writing your thoughts without worrying about sense, sentence structure, or punctuation, can help you get all your plans and worries down on paper where you can tackle each issue head on.

6. Take a Walk Around the Block

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Fresh air plus physical exercise is a terrific combo and a tremendous way to clear your mind. It’s also a fantastic way to explore your neighbourhood. You’d be surprised at how little you know about your community, especially if you often zoom in and out of the area to work or school. A half hour walk around the block can help you discover little local treasures and maybe even say hello to a neighbour for some much needed community connection.

7. Remind Yourself of Your Goals and Dreams

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You may have gone into Environmental Science with a dream to change the world by starting an NGO, but now you’re up to your ears in course work that it’s grown difficult to see the forest for the trees. Each Sunday, take a moment to reflect on your higher level macro goals. Taking a step back to remind yourself of what fuels your curiosity can help re-motivate you to tackle your week of part time jobs and essay writing.

8. Take a Free Class at Your Gym

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If you have a gym membership at a place like GoodLife there are a number of classes that come included in your membership. If you’re someone who doesn’t like directing their own workouts or has no clue how to use any of the equipment, find a Zumba class or a group cycling workout to get those endorphins flowing.

9. Prepare a Weekly Budget

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This is especially important if you just got paid. Decide how much you are going to spend that week before the week really starts. If you are at a complete loss as to how to allocate your money, use the budgeting rule of thumb: the 50-30-20 rule.

50 percent of your income goes to fixed, necessary expenses like rent, utilities, and groceries (although groceries can be a variable, necessary expense)

30 percent of your income goes to variable expenses like unnecessary groceries, eating out, entertainment, your cell phone

20 percent goes towards saving for your future or towards debt repayment

Doing this on Sunday can help ensure you go into the week with a more mindful, purposeful approach to your money that honours the hard work you put in to earning it.

10. Spend Some Time With Your Family

Whether we live at home or on our own, it’s amazing how little time we actually get to spend time with our families. They may drive us crazy, make us laugh, or give us a hard time, but at the end of the day they are the people we come home to (even if we don’t live with them). You can even combine quality time with your family with some of the other items on this list. Do a deep conditioning treatment with your mom. Some meal prep with your dad. Or even choose something as simple as watching a show on Netflix. It may seem small, but these cumulative moments of bonding will mean a lot later on.

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How to Organize Your Shit Before You Lose Your Shit

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

When I was in high school there were times I’d look at the disaster I called my room and think, “I would rather set everything on fire and be forced to start from scratch than organize this mess”.

As a procrastinating student and bookworm there were loose papers, crumpled notes, and books everywhere. In the last few years, my collection of shit has been considerably reduced – I find throwing things out therapeutic – but I still struggle with keeping an organized space.

I know exactly where all my important day-to-day items are, like my keys and debit card and my non-everyday important items like my birth certificate and my passport. But challenge me to hang my clothes up when I get home, for five days in a row, and I’d fail even with my life on the line.

Keeping a somewhat neat space is something I’ve had to work extremely hard to do. But I’ve developed five key strategies that keep me (relatively) organized. You know…so that I don’t have to turn to arson.

1. Survey the Scene of the Crime and Make a Spot for Everything

As with most valuable life lessons such as “be nice to others” and “keep your hands to yourself”, the most important cleaning lesson I learned was in kindergarten.

“Everything in its place and a place for everything.”

For instance, deeming your desk “the space for only school related items” is the simplest, but most helpful step you can take towards gaining some semblance of order in your bedroom or apartment. Do this for every spot and category of belongings. And by the way, the classification “school-related items” does not extend to your keys, hat, and wallet. Keep it tight.

In fact, if your living space has reached an almost tragic level of disarray, this can be a great way to start actively tackling your mess without feeling overwhelmed by the amount of work you have to do.

Sit cross-legged in the middle of the room with chips, chocolate, or whatever semi-legal substance makes this activity easier for you and start surveying your space. Mentally decide where everything will go. This way, when you start physically cleaning, you will think less about where everything should go and put things away in a semi-automated manner.

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2. Clear All Your Surfaces and Start Sorting

If your entire space is a catastrophe and you simply don’t know where to start, clear every surface and put everything on the floor.

If everything is already on the floor, you can skip right to the next step which is to start making obsessive piles. Clothes, school supplies (textbooks, crumpled syllabi), clothes, toiletries. Make general piles. Don’t worry about throwing things out or hanging anything up just yet. Make sure you desk, dresser, and bed are clear.

(Especially your bed. If you decide you’d rather die than continue cleaning, your bed will be there to help you make the less tragic choice and take a nap in between making piles.)

After this is done, grab a garbage bag and start thinning out the piles one by one. Don’t think about the next one until you have removed the unnecessary crap from one. Tackle the entire collection of piles in circuits, starting with only removing obvious garbage before moving on to making more difficult decisions. Seeing your progress with each rotation will help you gain momentum and feel encouraged.

Once they are all in manageable groups, put them in the assigned places you decided on earlier.

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3. Put Up All Your Clothes with the Hangers Backwards

Most of us are unwilling to let things go: grudges, old souvenirs…clothes we’ll never wear again. When we try to purge our closets we convince ourselves that one day we’ll need that item and decide to keep it, and so on and so forth until the entire purging exercise becomes pointless.

Maybe what you need is a little verification that you will never ever return to that “Betty White Is My Homegirl” shirt you bought six years ago. Go to that pile of clothes you made earlier and hang them all up with the hangers backwards (whatever you consider “backwards” for a hanger). Each time you wear something, when you hang it back up, turn the hanger forwards. After six months, any clothes that are still on a backwards hanger go to people who really need them.

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4. Clean At Night – Especially At The Beginning

You’ve likely heard people refer to the “harsh, cold light of day”. It is a hella accurate expression. Once you leave the flattering light of your bathroom and head out into the street, you get real verification of whether you’re looking fabulous that day. Natural light can be the best light, but it’s also the most brutally honest light and it’s unforgiving of flaws. So when you’re in the first hour of tackling your mess, don’t throw open the curtains or blinds.

This may sound counterintuitive, but natural light will make your pigsty of an apartment look ten times more hopeless. Every speck of dirt, crumb, or ball of hair will be exposed. You want to be able to see those things so you can tackle them, but not until later when you’ve already cleared the larger debris. While you’re organizing everything clean at night with the lights on and then once it’s time to do a deep clean get to dusting and polishing in the day when you’ve made enough progress to stay motivated.

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5. Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed, Make Your Bed

This one’s a cliché, but only because it’s so so so so necessary.

Making your bed gives you an instant sense of accomplishment and as the focal point of your bedroom – even if it’s not in the middle – it will determine the direction of your cleaning efforts by setting a standard. And if you’re cleaning at night you get the (almost) immediate satisfaction of falling into a beautifully made bed after your day of cleaning.

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Should I Take a Second Language as an Elective?

By: Neya Abdi | @neyaabdi

Most discussions about electives revolve around two main questions:

  1. Is it easy?
  2. Will it make me more attractive to employers?

To be honest, the best approach to electives is taking courses you are interested in. You are more likely to show up, do the work, and find practical applications for the course material when you care about it. But I digress.

Conversations around electives routinely involve a discussion on the value of the elective. It’s a course you don’t have to take, so if you’re going to take it it should either boost up your CGPA or help you win jobs post-graduation.

Learning another language satisfies two of the most worthy considerations we’ve mentioned: it’s both lucrative and it’s a course that can be enjoyable. While learning a second (or third or fourth) language requires work, it can also be rewarding and impressive giving students more incentive to pursue it.

There are Thousands of Languages in the World – Which One Should I Learn First?

There are more than 6,500 spoken languages in the world, but roughly 2000 of those languages have no more than 1000 speakers. Of the remaining languages, only a few are offered at the university level.

French is one of the most popular languages for native English speakers to learn. Before English took over the global scene, French was the superstar. Today, it is still one of the official languages of a number of prominent international institutions (the United Nations being one of them). It also holds the cute title as the “language of love”.

For Canadians, learning French carries special importance. As one of our two official languages there is much to be gained from learning French in terms of employability. Those interested in a career in public service likely already know that the federal government is the largest employer in the country. And many other industries are increasingly interested in landing candidates who are English/French bilingual.

Look to Your Desired Industry and Your Interests When Choosing a Language To Learn

Of course, there may be some readers who are uninterested in the french language or who have no intentions of finding work in a field that requires French/English bilingualism. In that case, what are the best languages to learn?

There are several factors you should take into consideration in this case. Interested in pursuing a career in international affairs, global security, or energy? Arabic may be the language you want to pick up. There are numerous non-commercial reasons to learn Arabic, including its beautiful script and rich history. From an economic perspective it can also be a very lucrative language to learn considering our contemporary geopolitical climate.

But sometimes it is not just about the commercial benefits of a language. For instance, there has been growing conversation about the benefits of learning Mandarin. Some parents are rushing to put their children into schools that teach Mandarin to make them more competitive in a world that is witnessing China’s growth as a superpower. Other observers caution that parents (and students) shouldn’t be so hasty.

While there is some disagreement, the consensus is that Mandarin is a notoriously difficult language for native English speakers to learn to speak (and even more difficult to learn how to write). In an article for the Harvard Crimson, Jorge A. Araya talks about how the cost of learning Mandarin will likely lead to a global situation where native Mandarin speakers are more likely to pick up English. While the actual difficulty of learning Mandarin could be argued back and forth (difficult for whom, exactly?) sinologist David Moser confirms how tough the language is in his hilarious, slightly bitter article “Why Chinese is so Damn Hard” that tackles the linguistic and cultural gap between East and West. In the case of Mandarin, students must have a distinct interest in learning the language because purely monetary motivation will only get them so far.

Languages Are Fun and Rewarding to Learn, Whatever the Motivation

Then again if ease is what you are looking for, consider learning how to habla espanol. For English speakers, it is considered an extremely easy language to learn. The shared cognates and the relatively simple grammatical rules make the language accessible. And Spanish just sounds sexy, even when you can barely speak it, so the motivation to become fluent will be extra strong.

Whichever language you choose to take, selecting any language as an elective is a great choice to make. Learning how to communicate with a million (or in the case of Mandarin, a billion) more people than you could with only your mother tongue is a beautiful thing. And a nice way to supplement a well-rounded, global education.