My Favorite Books of 2016

As a kid, I would often hide under my covers with a flashlight so I could read books all night long. I don't have to do that anymore, but books do still keep me up at night. On my old blog, I used to write a lot about the books I was reading and often recapped my favorites from the previous year.

I've read a lot of terrific ones lately and that made me want to revive the practice here. These aren't all books that came out in 2016, in fact, many of them aren't new at all. But they were all new to me and I loved them dearly.

The MaddAddam Trilogy: Oryx & Crake, The Year of the Flood and MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood: I am a HUGE Margaret Atwood fan. And her books have never felt more relevant to me than right now. I devoured The MaddAddam Trilogy last winter. It was utterly absorbing and I was truly sad when the books were over because I loved the world she created so very much.

Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates: This book was so powerful that it stopped me in my tracks. Between the World and Me is a searing account of what it's like to be black in America told through a love letter to the author's son. Ta Nehisi-Coates speaks truth to power and we should all be listening.

The Lost Landscape by Joyce Carol Oates: One of my other favorite authors is Joyce Carol Oates and I absolutely loved getting to know her better through this memoir. I found her story of growing up in Upstate New York very relatable. It was fascinating to get a glimpse at the person behind her incredible books.

 The Water is Wide by Pat Conroy: I've been a Pat Conroy fan for a long time and after his death last year, I wanted to read more of his books. The Water is Wide is a memoir Conroy wrote based on his time teaching on Daufuskie Island in South Carolina. The book's sharp honesty makes Conroy's words sing. And reading it made me long for the Low Country.

When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi: Paul Kalanithi is a 36-year-old neurosurgeon on the brink of a brilliant career when he's diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. This is a powerful reflection on the end of his life that forces the reader to confront hard truths. A reminder that life is largely out of our control, but that we should still strive to lead full, true lives.

A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman: My friend Meg got me this book for my birthday and I was so glad she did. I absolutely loved the main character, Ove, and the way the other characters fit into his story. The book's strength is Fredrik Backman's adeptness at revealing each twist and turn of the plot at just the right moment.

Barkskins by Annie Proulx: This might have been my very favorite book that I read in 2016. I love Annie Proulx and her latest work, Barkskins, was a true masterpiece. I couldn't get enough of the sprawling yet tightly crafted story and the way it lurched through time connecting the various plot lines and characters.

Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld: If you're looking for a fun, silly, girly book to take your mind off the current political climate, this book is for you. I read Eligible in only three days and laughed out loud a lot during that time. The book is a modern retelling of Pride and Prejudice that was the perfect beach read last summer.

Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson: Not only was Just Mercy one the best books I read in 2016, it was one of the most powerful books I've read, ever. Bryan Stevenson takes what could be a dull subject, the legal system, and makes it spellbinding. His stories of fighting for justice for the neediest members of our society are utterly compelling.

The Neapolitan Novels: My Brilliant Friend, The Story of a New Name, Those Who Leave & Those Who Stay, The Story of the Lost Child by Elena Ferrante: These books have gotten a lot of attention because of their popularity and mystery surrounding the author (Elena Ferrante is a pen name). The first book didn't totally hook me, but I stuck with it and I was completely absorbed in the story by books two, three and four. I found the story of Elena and Lila captivating and couldn't put the books down.

Razor Girl by Carl Hiaasen: I've been devouring everything Carl Hiaasen has written ever since I discovered him when I was in high school in Florida. I've read most (maybe all?) of his books and loved each and every one. The latest is a Hiaasen classic, full of deft satire about our modern society and his home state of Florida, where there is never a shortage of characters and stories to write about.

Nobody's Fool by Richard Russo: My father-in-law gave me this book and it was such a treat to read it. The characters and descriptions of the town reminded me so much of my time spent in Upstate New York. Russo creates an engrossing world that's hard to leave after the last page. Luckily he's revisiting the characters in a new book, Everybody's Fool, which I'm about to read.

Commonwealth by Ann Patchett: This was my first Ann Patchett book, but won't be my last. I flew through the book in only three days, which says more than I can with words about how much I enjoyed it. I loved the way the story unfolded and connected over time. The characters were complex and interesting yet totally relatable.

If you're wondering how I remembered each of these books so well, it's because I keep a book journal where I jot down some details about everything I read. It helps me remember when I read a certain book and why I loved it so much (or didn't love it in some cases). Now it's your turn, what are some of the best books you read in 2016?

Project Launch: Adding Words to Visuals

Like most people navigating our modern communications landscape, I have a love-hate relationship with social media. I’ve used it heavily for work for years and seen its power firsthand, but I also get twitchy when I’m on it for too long.

So I was intrigued when I got a Facebook message over the summer from someone I went to high school with in Orlando who wanted to work together. I hadn’t spoken to Joshua Zika in a while, but I knew he had started his own business and he knew about my shift into communications consulting.

Josh started and runs INPRNT, which has crafted gallery quality art prints since 2006. INPRNT has thousands of curated artist members and had mostly grown through word of mouth for 10 years. But Josh wanted to create a more active voice for INPRNT and he called on me to help.

I started by learning more about INPRNT through a thorough audit of all the current website content. Then I created some new pages and tweaked some of the existing pages to lay the groundwork for what would become the INPRNT voice.

INPRNT is a very visual website. The majority of the content is art in a crazy amount of genres, styles, subjects and mediums. My job was to figure out how to add words to that. On an image-heavy site like INPRNT, it’s not always obvious how, why or where to add written content. But words can be a very powerful storytelling tool when paired with the existing visuals on such a site. So we set out to combine them on a new INPRNT blog.

We launched the blog with some seasonal art posts, highlighting prints for summer and Halloween. We also introduced a new INPRNT product, art cards. And Josh’s wife, Mary Zika, who also works at INPRNT, wrote an inspired post on how to add color to your home through art.

We decided early on that we would all contribute to the blog in our own voices, which would in turn make up the INPRNT voice. This works much the same way as the visuals on the site, which are primarily made up of work by the artist members and together create a varied yet cohesive aesthetic.

This week we launched my favorite post yet, the first INPRNT Artist Spotlight. These posts evolved a lot from when we first conceived of them as basic Q&As with the INPRNT artist members. Instead of doing that, I used my journalistic skills to interview an artist to really delve into the story behind his work. Then I synthesized our conversation into a piece that was paired with incredible photos so the finished product feels rich and rounded.

I’m so proud of how the first Artist Spotlight turned out and I can’t wait to share the next one, which is already in the works!

The Write Life

I was at a party recently where people were asking me what I'm up to now, career-wise. They knew about my work with Rachel Estapa of More to Love since she was on TV and has been popping up in lots of local media outlets. But they were curious about what else is going on post-Beat.

In addition to communications consulting, I've also been doing freelance writing for a few local websites. I love the consulting work, but I don't think I could ever completely give up writing, in whatever form it takes. Since last fall I've been writing for Mommy Poppins Boston, an incredible resource for local parents about what to do with kids in and around the city. And since early this year, I've been writing for Fitt Boston, a website all about health, fitness and fun, which just launched this week!

With the Beat retired for many months now, I've had a lot of time to reflect on my experience with it. While running the Beat was incredibly rewarding, fulfilling and fun, it was also all-consuming as it grew more and more popular (a good problem to have, I know). For now, it feels good to let others worry about ad sales and editorial schedules. I've been enjoying the return to just focusing on writing and building my business alongside that.

I'm also taking a class on memoir and personal essay writing. It's been really challenging and fun to write in a different style and I hope to have some of that work to share at some point. For now, you can keep up with me here or on Mommy Poppins and Fitt. 

More to Love: A Client's Dream Come True

When I announced I was retiring the Somerville Beat and launching a communications consulting business last summer, I had no idea what would happen. One unexpectedly great thing that occurred was getting a few clients right away from the relationships I'd built during the three-plus years that I ran the Beat.

I've been working with one client in particular for about six months and I'm so proud of what we've done in that time. I first met Rachel Estapa, the founder of More to Love, a couple of years ago when I wrote about her for the Beat. We hit it off at our first meeting and stayed in touch over the years. When I announced my new business plans, Rachel reached out to let me know that she was in the market for someone to help her grow her business through better communications. I've always admired and respected Rachel's work through More to Love, so it seemed like serendipity.

My client Rachel Estapta, founder of More to Love, recently appeared on WCVB's Chronicle.

My client Rachel Estapta, founder of More to Love, recently appeared on WCVB's Chronicle.

Recently much of the hard work we've done has really begun to pay off. When I first sat down with Rachel she told me her dream was to be on WCVB's Chronicle. I was on it a few years ago and knew the show was a fun and effective way to spread the word about your business. I'm so happy to say that on March 17 Rachel's dream came true! You can watch More to Love on Chronicle here (Rachel's segment starts at 3:00 minutes). More to Love has also been featured in Scout Somerville, on the Boston Magazine Health Blog, in The Somerville Times, in The Boston Globe and on Boston.com.

This media coverage has brought a new and growing group of people to Rachel's yoga classes and online community. We've got a few more articles and videos forthcoming, plus events and more big plans in store. I'm so excited about everything we've been able to to together so far and can't wait to see what the future holds.

Are you looking to grow your small business through better communications and media coverage? Check out my consulting services or shoot me an email.

Why I Went Back to a Paper Planner

Sorry for the radio silence the last couple of months. I've actually drafted a few posts but haven't finished them and today I want to tackle a completely different topic. 

In high school and college I could not be without my planner. I used it to store addresses and phone numbers (this was way before smart phones), keep track of my school assignments, work hours and other tasks. I loved writing everything down in one place, especially my ever-expanding to-do lists.

When I got hooked on the Google train, I started using its Calendar function exclusively and dropped my paper planner. It was a great way to keep track of my many appointments and tasks, especially as I embarked on a freelance/work for myself career four years ago. But the to-do lists were another story. I would often scribble them on whatever scraps of paper were around and sometimes they would get forgotten or misplaced.

Between the end of last year and the beginning of this one, two people who I admire and respect so much (my client Rachel from More to Love and my dear friend Carly from A La Mode Wardrobe Consulting) recommended that I check out the Passion Planner. They've both started amazing businesses and have a lot going on in their lives, so I had a feeling that if they liked this tool I would too. I checked it out online and after looking at the website multiple times in the course of a few days, I ordered mine. (I got the compact one and love the size.)

It arrived not too long ago but I'm already reaping so many benefits from it. I love that unlike a lot of planners that just focus on to-do lists and calendars, the Passion Planner has a focus on big picture goals and dreams and helps you figure out how to accomplish them through small, every day tasks. I'm still inputting appointments in my Google Calendar, but my Passion Planner now holds all of those plus my daily task list, my weekly to-dos, monthly outlook as well as space for reflection. As a longtime journal-keeper, I'd say it's almost a hybrid planner/journal. 

As our world gets ever-more digital, it's helpful to remember that not everything is better on screens. I'm so glad I took the leap back to a paper planner and I don't think I'll ever be without one again.

Do you use digital calendars exclusively or do you still love paper planners? Or do you do a mix of both?

My Current Inspirations: A Book and Two Podcasts

As a writer, I tend to be drawn to media that it's in my medium: words. I love tucking into the Sunday New York Times and devouring The New Yorker (can't wait to read this week's Food Issue) and we have the radio in our kitchen permanently set to NPR. So when a friend turned me on to a podcast she'd been loving earlier this year, I knew I had to check it out. Podcasts seem to be having a huge resurgence right now and I'm loving it. They're perfect for putting on while attending to more rote tasks in my day or while taking a walk through crunchy fall leaves. So today I wanted to share two that I've been absolutely loving.

The first one is the aforementioned podcast that my friend shared with me. It's called The Lively Show and since learning about it several months ago, I've listened to every episode (some twice). It's hosted by Jess Lively, who runs an online course about living a life of intention. Her message appeals to me so much and no matter who her guests are, I always learn something and have a lot to ponder after each episode. I'd recommend to this to anyone, but I think it has a special appeal for women, women my age, entrepreneurs and creatives.

The second is Elizabeth Gilbert's Magic Lessons. I've been a fan of Gilbert since her Eat, Pray, Love days (and really loved The Signature of All Things), though I actually haven't even gotten my hands on her new book, Big Magic, yet. In the meantime, I've been loving her Magic Lessons podcast! It's been really great for me as I continue to evolve my career and make moves for what's next. I think anyone who enjoys creative pursuits, whether they're for work or play, will love her bite-sized bits of wisdom. They've given me a lot to think about lately. If you listen, I recommend starting with the first episode because they go in a specific order.

In addition to those two podcasts, I've been reading and enjoying Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. The book is a sort-of how to manual for writing a book and being a writer. I find so much of it to ring true, even though I've never written a book, and think it will really help me as I experiment with some other types of writing that I've only dabbled in before. It's helpful, poignant and downright funny.

What's been inspiring you lately, a podcast, article or book? I'd love to know!

Changing the Way I Think About Saying 'No'

Like many people, I struggle with saying no. It's part of my brand of perfectionism, which includes people pleasing, and can wreak havoc when not checked. In the last few months though, I've started saying no more. My schedule and obligations were piling up as a result of my not being able to say no enough and I feared they'd topple over and bury me. 

Learning to Say No

Saying no is hard because it makes us uncomfortable. Whether it's declining an invitation to a party because you're exhausted and would rather relax at home or refusing additional volunteer responsibilities at an organization you're involved with, saying no is tough. But when we don't say no enough, our obligations threaten our well-being. We become stressed, can't sleep, get burnt out and rush around all day feeling overwhelmed. We can become resentful of our many responsibilities and that overburdened state can lead to more stress and anger.

I know when I can't say no it's often because I'm not listening to my intuition and I'm placing everyone else's needs above my own. My mom used to have a sign in our kitchen when I was little that said, "Stress is what happens when your gut says 'no' but your mouth says 'of course, I'd be glad to.'" But recently, I've been trying to align my gut with my mouth by saying no when I feel it's the right thing to do.

While it hasn't been easy, the results have been positive. I'm less stressed, less overburdened, less harried and frazzled and "busy" (a word I have a lot more to say about, but that will have to wait). Saying no hasn't really gotten easier, but as I do it more, it becomes less fraught. And one shift in my thinking has really helped me feel good about it.

Focus on Feelings

When I first started getting into eating healthier about five years ago, it was because I shifted my focus to how food made me feel, not just how it tasted in the moment. Don't get me wrong, I love food and always want it to taste good, but sometimes what we eat makes us feel terrible for a long time after. It can make us sluggish or fatigued, unable to perform our best at work or life in general. But food can also make us feel energized, awake and alive, ready to take on whatever comes our way. By focusing on how your food makes you feel, you're more likely to make better choices.

That's how I now think of saying no. Instead of focusing on the uncomfortable sensations that crop up in the moment of saying no, I focus on how I feel later. I nearly always feel lighter, less overwhelmed, less resentful, calmer and more relaxed. I especially try to tune into these feelings when the thing I refused comes up, like an event I declined, so I can recall them more easily in those tough moments. I'm usually always so happy not to be heading out to whatever it is, instead able to complete the tasks on my to-do list or just relax for a little while, on my terms.

 This small shift in my thinking has led to big changes in my life. The more I exercise my no muscle, the better I get at it, and being able to call up these feelings in tough moments makes them come more easily and frequently.

Do you have trouble saying no? What tricks have helped you set boundaries?

Project Launch: Telling the EHChocolatier Story

When I announced that I was retiring the Somerville Beat and launching my career as a communications consultant, I was fortunate enough to get a few clients that I knew from the work I'd been doing in Somerville. One of those was artisan confection maker EHChocolatier, who I've known since I first wrote about the company in early 2012. They were gearing up for a website design refresh and wanted new website content to complement it.

I worked them over the course of a few weeks this summer to delve into what they felt was missing from the current content and what they truly wanted to convey to their customers. We identified a few key areas of the site that needed significant re-writing and after interviewing the company's principals, I got to work.

What resulted is fresh, new content that tells the EHChocolatier story throughout the site. I'm most proud of the About page, which reveals how EHChocolatier came to be and where it's gone in its first five years of business. It's difficult to write about yourself, and nothing makes me happier than when I'm able to delve into people's stories and translate them into something that can help them grow their businesses.

Does your website content need a refresh? Does social media make you want to pull your hair out? I can help.

 

How to Quit a Job When You're the Boss

In the work-for-yourself world people are super focused on starting things and getting work. It makes sense, right? If you're self-employed you better get your butt in gear so you have some work to do and income to, you know, eat and stay sheltered. But what happens when you've started something, done it for a while but are ready for something new? There's no blueprint on how to quit a job you created for yourself and while it may seem obvious (stop doing it), it's not as simple as all that. I recently quit (or as I like to say, retired) my blog, the Somerville Beat, and I learned a lot along the way. Here are the things that helped the most with this challenging process.

Have a heart-to-heart with yourself. I know a lot of people who work for themselves and still more who want to, so it's easy to get caught up in the glamour (haha) of it all and feel guilty when you're unhappy with your situation. It took me a long time to shut out the noise and truly get honest with myself about how unfulfilled and overwhelmed I felt by my work life. Even after I admitted to myself and a few others that I needed to make some changes, it was difficult to actually make them. Letting go of what I'd built and starting to imagine what was next was hard. And because my gig was very public, it meant doing all of this with a lot of people watching. But once I got real with myself I was able to truly tap into what I wanted deep down.

Get a sounding board. While I work with a lot of people, I don't have any actual co-workers, so I don't have an automatic sounding board for career-related stuff. Luckily I have Mike, a successful entrepreneur who also happens to be my husband. He and a few others were able to help me sort out the difference between a few bad days at work and an ongoing cycle that was dragging me down. Saying that I wanted to change paths out loud also made it easier to start taking the actions I needed to make it happen. And once I started looking around at and talking to other self-employed people who had shifted gears, I realized I was far from the only one who'd done this, which made me feel a lot less alone.

Make a plan. I love planning and I knew letting go of the Beat and starting something new would require a good one. I started laying out the practical steps that it would take to put the Beat into retirement mode while laying the groundwork for my new gig as a communications consultant. Doing this simultaneously made me feel less like I was jumping off a cliff than simply taking a different path. Part of this step was deciding what I didn't want to do anymore and what I wanted to do instead. I made a lot of lists of what I liked doing and what I didn't, including hours I wanted to be working and skills I wanted to be using. Clarifying what wasn't working and what was helped me let go of the old and welcome the new. 

Take action. I agonized a lot over what to say in my good-bye post on the Beat and was really nervous about announcing the end of the site. But when I finally did, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of support from the community. All this love made me feel even better about my choice and allowed me to parlay many business contacts into my new career path. And because I laid the groundwork for my consulting business while wrapping up the Beat, I was able to jump right into that when the time came.

Don't burn bridges. One the biggest pieces of advice I have for anyone making a big career transition, whether you're self-employed or not, is to be careful not to burn any bridges and to fulfill all of your obligations. Make sure important people hear about the change first directly from you, take responsibility for any work you need to complete and leave the door open for future collaboration. Doing this will not only help with your peace of mind but will also give you a large network of people to tap when embarking on your new career path. 

Take a break. Saying good-bye to the Beat was bittersweet and while I was eager to get started on my new project, I also needed time to rest. One of the reasons I wanted to make such a big change was getting some time and energy back. I needed to refuel and relax before diving into a new endeavor, so that's what I did. A vacation, time spent reflecting and catching up on some sleep were all integral to creating space between the old gig and the new one.

Move on. Before my break I had said good-bye to the Beat, but I hadn't totally let go. After I came back, I was ready to dive into my consulting business. And while I miss some things about the Beat, I can say now, with a little perspective, that I'm so glad I decided to make the changes I did. I'm less stressed out, more fulfilled by my work and excited to see what the future brings.

If you've made a big career change, especially if you're self-employed, I'd love for you to share your story in the comments. What was the hardest part? The easiest? What helped the most? What advice would you give to someone embarking on a similar journey?

How to Work from Home Without Losing Your Mind, Part II

In Part I of this series, I talked about the way your physical space makes such a big difference in the productivity and enjoyability of working from home. Over the years I've learned that while having a home office is essential for me, there are a few other things that contribute to success in this area too.

Create a schedule/routine and stick to it. It's rare that I have two days in a row that are the same, which is really awesome, but can also be really draining. When you have to figure out all of the pieces of the puzzle that make up your work day, it can be helpful to have set routines on either side of it to give your brain a break. I have a general morning and evening routine that I stick to nearly every day no matter what else is going on. This helps me feel stable and grounded while giving me freedom during my work time. It also allows me to set a schedule with hours that work for me so clients and colleagues know when I'm available.

Classic work-from-home lunch of a huge salad.

Classic work-from-home lunch of a huge salad.

Set boundaries. This goes along with setting a schedule and having a routine, but setting boundaries is super important in the work-from-home world. Whether they are boundaries between your home and work life or boundaries about when you answer phone calls or emails or have meetings, it's so important to set some you feel comfortable with and stick to them. Boundaries can and will change over time, but getting some in place that work for right now has helped me immensely.

Get dressed. This may seem obvious, but I know a lot of people who work from home in their PJs or think it would be fun to do so. I do so only on sick or snow days, preferring to get up, shower and put clothes on before starting my work day. I don't dress like I did when I worked in an office, but I look presentable and can come and go as I please without having to change my outfit 10 times a day. Figure out what type of clothes work for you when you work from home and put them to good use when you leave your PJs behind each morning.

Eat well and not at your computer. I'm a meal person, so I like to sit down to a decent lunch during my workday. It doesn't have to be anything elaborate (I eat the same few meals on rotation to make it easy), but I like the break it gives me in the day to step away from the computer and refuel for what's next. I often pair my mid-day meal with a walk, which is really refreshing. I like having a well-stocked kitchen while I'm working so that I can just eat lunch and snacks at home without having to go out and fetch food, and this makes getting lunch out a true treat. If you're prone to mindless eating, stay away from your kitchen during the workday, and make sure you have lots of healthy snacks on hand when hunger does strike. I also drink lots of water during the day and stock the fridge with iced tea and coffee and seltzer so I have easy grab-and-go options that are appealing. A little prep work in this area can go a long way.

Sometimes my breaks from work include a run to the local farmers market.

Sometimes my breaks from work include a run to the local farmers market.

Take a break. When you work in an office there's often some down time, like chatting with co-workers while getting an afternoon snack or reading your book with your sandwich at lunch. When you work from home, it's easy to just work, work, work all the time, stopping only to switch the laundry, go to the grocery store or clean the bathroom. But having little breaks, whether it's a short walk, phone call with a family member or friend or just a leisurely lunch outside, can make a big difference in your day. Don't forget that just because you can work all the time doesn't mean you should. 

Be flexible. One of the best parts of working from home is that you can be flexible with your schedule on a day-to-day and longer-term basis. I sometimes pile a lot of work into a few days so I can take an extra day off to go away for the weekend or work on a project around the house that's been on my list for a while. I also like to get the bulk of my writing done in the morning and try to schedule meetings, calls and appointments (or run errands) in the afternoon. The key is to embrace the flexibility that comes from being the boss of your schedule and make it work for your life.

What are your top work from home tips? My last post got some great ones in the comments and on Facebook and I'd love to hear yours!

How to Work from Home Without Losing Your Mind, Part I

When I tell people I work from home, I often hear about how lucky I am and how they wish they could figure out how to do the same. While I feel fortunate to be able to work from home and for myself, it took me a while to get to a really good place with it. After working out of the house in an office for my whole career until three-plus ago, working from home was definitely an adjustment. Now that I've been doing it for a while, I think I've finally got it down.

Today I'm going to share some of the things that helped me go from liking my work-from-home life to loving it. These concern the physical aspects of working from home and next time, I'll cover other tips and tricks that can improve it. And if you're a work-from-homer, please share your advice for doing it successfully in the comments!

Getting a separate office space. In our apartment, my workspace was also our guest bedroom, extra closet area, music and hobby room and in view of the living room. I didn't like being able to see my work space while at play and my play space while at work because it made me feel like I should always be working. In our house, I have a separate office upstairs, which has been a total game-changer. I still do other stuff in there, like use my sewing machine, but it's visually separate from the rest of the house and when I go up there every day, it's work time. I try to rarely visit it on the weekends to keep the distinction between work and home life as much as possible.

Making your office a place you want to be. Working from home means you probably have more say in what your office looks and feels like than if you spent your days in cubicle-land. I have a sitting and standing option at my desk, plants to bring in some greenery and lots of photos and special trinkets around to remind me of loved ones, vacations and things that inspire me while I work. Having an office you love will make you want to work in it and enjoy your time there a lot more, so spend time personalizing it. I also keep my office neat and clean so when I go to work there, I can focus on the task at hand without getting distracted by piles of papers or yesterday's water glass. Keeping your office well-stocked with printer paper, pens you like and other tools of the trade will help keep you on track too.

Leaving the house. Working from home can be great, but sometimes it can make you feel a little stir-crazy. I try to schedule at least one thing per day that gives me a reason to leave the house. This could be a meeting or event, errands or appointment, it doesn't really matter. The point is to get out, interact with other people and change up your environment. Some people like to take their work with them and post up in cafes, which can be a good way to keep working while getting out (I used to do this a lot before I had a designated home workspace). And if you're looking for a way to get a nice break from work and get outside, I highly recommend taking a walk to relax, refresh and get the creative juices flowing.

Work-from-homers, what are your top tips, tricks and advice for successfully working from home without losing your mind?

Beethoven, Darwin & Me: Why Walking Works

I love finding out how people spend their days, from the routines they set for themselves to what they eat for breakfast, I'm eternally curious about what goes on in the day-to-day lives of others. This is especially true for fellow entrepreneurs/work-from-homers/people who have unconventional schedules. So when I saw this graphic last year detailing the days of some of history's greatest thinkers, I gobbled it right up.

Beyond noticing the copious amount of cigars and coffee consumed by some, the activity that stood out most to me was all the walking these people did. From Beethoven and Freud to Milton and Dickens, nearly every one of these big thinkers took at least one walk per day. Having long been a huge fan of walks, I was pretty pleased to see so many of history's great minds were too.

One of my favorite local walking spots, Somerville's Community Path.

One of my favorite local walking spots, Somerville's Community Path.

It's pretty obvious that walking is a good form of exercise, which can have myriad health implications, but I think the benefits go way beyond that. The New York Times agrees, as you can see here, here, here and here. From lowering your stress levels to helping you ease into aging, walking is probably one of the most positive activities you can incorporate into your day. And if you sit at a computer for hours on end, walking can reduce some of the deleterious effects that come along with that.

Personally, I've been taking walks as part of my workday for about as long as I've been in the working world. I always find it a nice way to escape the office, get some fresh air and re-charge for another round of tasks. Over the years, I've used my walks to brainstorm, clear my mind and have even had some eureka! moments while walking.

An evening walk to Prospect Hill yielded a beautiful view of Boston.

An evening walk to Prospect Hill yielded a beautiful view of Boston.

During different seasons of the year or in life, I've done my walking at different times of the day and for different lengths of time. I'm a morning person, so walking then helps me wake up, savor peaceful mornings and have some time to myself before diving into the day. I've often found lunchtime to be a wonderful time to take a walk, especially when working in an office. It helps me digest my meal, relax my mind and review the morning's work before jumping into afternoon activities. In the evening, I enjoy walking with my husband Mike or by myself if he's not around to wind down, get some fresh air after being inside most of the day and connect about what's going on. 

I walk pretty much year-round, Boston's bitterly cold winters included (properly bundled, of course), and tend to enjoy longer walks. But you needn't get caught up in how often or how long you walk. The key is to get out there and make it a positive part of your day as often as works for you.

I love walking near my parents' house in New Hampshire—it's gorgeous, quiet and smells great.

I love walking near my parents' house in New Hampshireit's gorgeous, quiet and smells great.

Sometimes I listen to a podcast or chat on the phone or with my walking companion, but I also enjoy taking solo walks with no distractions when I want to think things out or just be for a little while. I've recently started taking mindful walks and it's wonderful to just enjoy the moment you're in without worrying about what's been or what will be. I find this especially helpful when I'm extra busy and have a lot on my plate. While it may be more challenging to find the time to walk then, I know it's important to make it a priority to help me me get and stay centered and grounded. 

We live in an age when everyone's trying to optimize and hack and disrupt, but sometimes it's worth looking to an activity that people have been engaging in since always to improve our lives. Walking probably won't help me become one of the greatest minds of our time, but it definitely makes my life better and that's good enough for me.

SellingTelling Your Story

As a small business owner or creative entrepreneur, a big focus of your work life is likely creating an audience around your brand, getting that audience to become customers and retaining those buyers. Whether you're selling sandwiches or website design services or books, you need people to care about what you're doing and support your business. One of the best ways to do this is by selling telling your story.

Many people create a website, start blogging or use social media as a way to create an audience and get new customers, which is terrific. I'm a huge proponent of using essentially free tools to do those things and think they can be extremely effective at meeting those goals. But you have to do it right. Instead of selling your story, you need to tell your story.

Unlike traditional advertising, where the hard sell often works best, generating business online is frequently most effective through a soft sell. People online are savvy and if your tone is too promotional or self-focused, they'll likely seek out another business in your space that they feel a connection with.

But everyone has a genuine, authentic story to tell. And by telling it well, you can bypass the hard sell and get people interested in you and your business on a very personal level. This is hugely important online (and in the real world), where connecting with an actual person has a deeply humanizing effect. A compelling story can influence people to pick your product or service over someone else's that seems very similar. 

In my own career, I've used my story to attract a large audience to my website, the Somerville Beat. By weaving a structured narrative in combination with developing a tone that fit my content, I was able to turn my blog into a very popular, easily identifiable local website.

The same was true when I worked at a financial publishing company. During the recent market crash and financial crisis, we used the company's long and trusted reputation in our editorial content to capture an audience in a non-sales-y way. We were able to position our well-respected editors as level-headed, cautious and forward-thinking to get and keep customers during a very trying time for the industry. And when the crisis was over, we had already earned their trust and were able to parlay that into several effective marketing campaigns.

You can do the same thing for your business by crafting a narrative that tells your story in a genuine, authentic way that helps you create an audience, gets them to become customers and retains them over time. 

It can be really tough to write about yourself or even know what your story is and where to begin. As a journalist, I've written hundreds of stories about small businesses, entrepreneurs and nonprofits, and used my own story to build a successful website. And if you're looking for help telling your own story, I can help

Which social media channels are right for your business or organization?

Technology is changing faster than ever and it can be really difficult to keep up, even for someone like me, who spends a lot of time on the Internet for work (and play). Add in owning a small business or running an organization, perhaps on a limited budget and definitely with limited free time, and it's no wonder people are overwhelmed when it comes to deciding where to focus their energy. But not spending any time on social media could be hurting your venture. 

The best way to determine which social media channels are right for your business or organization is to find out where your customers are hanging out. Are they on Twitter all day sharing the latest news? Or do they mostly interact on Facebook, perhaps even in specific groups? Are they photo junkies, sharing and liking Instagram photos of food, vacation spots and cute animals?

Some industries and topics work better on some social media channels more than others. When I worked in the financial services industry, people were hesitant to publicly share specific information about individual stock holdings. But they were eager to stay on top of the news and how it was affecting financial markets worldwide. It was just a matter of testing a variety of networks and subjects before hitting on the right one for our target audience.

In addition to which social media channels you want to focus on, you'll need to decide how many deserve your attention. It seems a new social network pops up every day, but you don't need to be on them all. In fact, I think it's a waste of time to focus on more than a couple unless you're a very large company with an audience spread across many demographics and geographies. Most small businesses can and should only focus their attention on a few social media channels to keep them manageable, maximize their impact and use them effectively.

Once you determine where the people you want to reach are, you can go there too.

Still don't have time to find your audience and harness the power of social media to grow your business? I can help.

What's the best time to Tweet?

Back in my email newsletter days, one of the key metrics I focused on was when we got the best responses from our campaigns. We tested days and times until we hit on a formula that seemed to work best for our goals. It turns out that we got the most orders on a day and time that was actually quite counterintuitive, which illustrates the importance of testing when you're doing anything related to online marketing, blogging and social media.

The same formula can be applied to Twitter (and other social media) when you're deciding when to send out messages. I recently came across a thorough and fascinating article about the best time to Tweet (and kudos to the author for going back to refine the data when commenters questioned some of the results). Some of the times are quite counterintuitive (which the author discusses) and having that information might be very beneficial when you're deciding when to Tweet (or use other social media).

If you're just starting out, scheduling Tweets around the times suggested in the post might be helpful to start learning how and when your audience interacts with them. It's a good jumping off point to find out what works for you. Then you can tweak your scheduling based on the results to gain even more traction. Personally, I've tweaked my social media posting times for the Somerville Beat a lot over the years based on what content I'm pushing out, what my goals are with it and past results from Tweeting at those times.

So when should you Tweet? The short answer is when you have time and will do it consistently. The long answer is to test a variety of days and times based on your goals and see what works best. Every industry is very different and you might find you get the best results at completely different days and times than someone else. The awesome thing about the Internet in general and social media in particular is that it's always evolving and you can change things on the fly to try something new. And then do it again and again until you find what works best.

Don't have time to test, test and test again? Or do you need help setting up social media accounts for your business and learning to use them to maximize results? I can help.

Welcome to ElyseAndrews.com!

Welcome to ElyseAndrews.com! I'm so glad you're here, and want to share what I'm doing and why with you.

I started The Somerville Beat, a local online magazine in 2012 to cover the burgeoning creative, cultural scene in my city. I built it from the ground up by telling stories, building relationships and engaging with the community. Through my work I began to see a need among small businesses and organizations for guidance with crafting their stories and spreading the word about what they were doing.

They knew how to bake the most delicious pastries, design the most innovative solutions and craft the most exquisite jewelry, but many didn't know how to share those skills with the world. Their websites were lacking photos, their social media accounts were dormant and they had no idea how to start a blog. Without these tools, they were unable to share their craft with the right audiences, limiting their reach and leaving money on the table.

That's where I come in.

What I Do

Help businesses, organizations and individuals craft their stories and strategies for sharing them to engage customers. This includes:

  • Developing a website and media relations strategy
  • Writing and editing website copy, media releases and media kits
  • Creating and executing social media and blogging plans
  • Online and offline networking
  • Event planning, coordination and management
  • Speaking to small or large groups

Who I Am

My passion for language started at nine months when I said my first word and it's only grown since. Long nights spent with a flashlight under the covers reading books as a kid turned into late nights at my college newspaper, where I honed my craft. Journalism allowed me to combine my love of language with my insatiable curiosity, providing a voice for those who weren't being listened to, but very much deserved to be heard.

I live in Somerville, Mass., with my husband Mike Swartz, founder and partner of Upstatement. We met at the aforementioned college newspaper and have been working together ever since, including on my biggest project to date, The Somerville Beat. I'm the Vice President of the Somerville Local First Board of Directors, co-curate the Creative Somerville Series and make meals for Community Cooks. I'm a passionate home cook, avid reader and believer in the curative powers of long walks in fresh air.