App Recommendations: Productivity

Ironically, I waste a lot of time searching for the perfect productivity apps. Today, however, I am happy to report the fruits of my labor. What’s more, they’re FREE!

Any.DO made my post-it notes obsolete. This is, without contest, the best app for managing your to-do’s. With a clean, minimalistic layout, Any.DO does everything from setting deadlines for your tasks to categorizing them into a limitless number of folders. Any.DO also syncs to all your devices so you’re never at a lost for what’s to do next. Perhaps the best feature of all is the ability to sync to your Google calendar. With just one glimpse, I get to see the events I have scheduled as well as all the tasks I have ahead. This gives me a really good idea of whether I’d have enough time on any given day to finish my tasks. If I don’t, I can re-prioritize and move tasks to later days with a swipe of my finger.

AnyList echoes the minimalistic layout of Any.DO and simplifies the task of organizing grocery lists, project breakdowns, etc. Simply type in an item and AnyList will do the rest. It automatically categorizes, i.e. asparagus is listed under “Produce”. AnyList allows you to share your lists, any list, with anyone on your Contacts. Since our new home is not situated near oriental grocery stores, Thanh and I share a grocery list. He adds items, they automatically sync to my phone, I cross off items as I get them from State College, and he gets notified that modifications were made to our shared list. Everything is in real time! As alluded to above, AnyList is not just for your grocery needs. Thanh and I also share a list of blog topics for Consult the Couple. :) I plan on creating several project-based lists and share them with my research assistants to facilitate my supervisory role from home.

We Say
These apps are absolutely necessary for those who like to keep organized in a chaotic and hectic world. They’re free and take very little space on your device. Really, you have no excuse but to download them!

Travels: Northern Michigan

When summer comes, people hit the coast. States in the Midwest are usually not in the radar of most minds when thinking of a vacation destination… which is a shame because there is certainly more to see in the US than the hustle and bustle of NYC or LA and the sunny beaches of FL. Northern Michigan is a prime example of the “overlooked” and “hidden” natural beauty that can be found in the heartland of the US.

Traverse City

Arguably the “big city capital” in northern MI, Traverse City is probably the busiest and most commercially active town you will find in your travels. It is home to Traverse Bay, close to many vineyards, and offers many great dining experiences – including the best ice cream we’ve ever tasted (Moomers is a must try!).

Sleeping Bear Dunes

In 2011, Good Morning America viewers voted this spot the “Most Beautiful Place in America” – a very worthy title. The “Scenic Drive” and “Dune Climb” are probably the most popular attractions of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. Miles upon miles of grand sand dunes overlooking beautiful Lake Michigan with its lovely blue/green waters… it is a breathtaking view that pictures do not do justice. It must be experienced. It is an extremely picturesque and relaxing experience as you feel the smooth sand beneath your feet and breathe in the pure, brisk air.

Mackinac Island

This island is just 8 miles in circumference. With no cars allowed, the primary mode of transportation is by horse. Consequently, Mackinac Island is probably one of the least pleasant smelling islands in the world. The ferry ride to the island offers a gorgeous view of the 5-miles long Mackinac Bridge. The views on the island are pretty nice, but honestly there’s not that much to do. I have to admit I was disappointed. Mackinac is famous for its fudge, but we found it too sickeningly sweet to swallow. My favorite part is probably Mary’s Bistro, which served the best-tasting chicken I ever had. The majority of their chicken dishes are made from “spitfire roasting” their birds, which produces melt-in-your-mouth, tender, and juicy chicken!

Pictured Rocks

Located in the Upper Peninsula, the Pictured Rocks is enjoyed best by cruise. A 3-hour round trip offers gorgeous views of the vibrant colors that coat the side of the rocks like paint strokes. The vast Lake Superior is also not bad to look at. Unfortunately, Nhi found the views short of awe-inspiring. Pictured Rocks doesn’t screamed to be experienced (like Sleeping Bear Dunes). Nhi would be content cruising on Google Images.

We Say
Take a break from the stress of daily life and the busy “big city” and come to Northern Michigan to enjoy a truly pure and extremely scenic trip. A rental car is a must-have to easily get around. We also strongly recommend booking hotels at various cities (based on your itinerary) to save traveling time. Besides all of the beautiful sights to see, the small city charms and fresh, locally-grown foods are also superb!

How to Get Up in the Morning and Have a Brilliant Day

Never hit that snooze button again. Never wake up groggy or lethargic. Instead, feel energized and excited to start your day, your brilliant day!

The secret to having a good day starts the night before.
Don’t underestimate the power of a good night sleep. That’s the time when the brain strengthens important neural connections, puts your memories into long-term storage, and solidifies new knowledge. Consider sleep food for the brain. It is essential. So how to improve sleep? First, turn off all electronics, including your mobile phone. Not only are they distracting, but the light from these electronics reset your melatonin (which controls your circadian rhythm) into thinking it’s not yet time for bed. Do not engage in any strenuous mental exercise an hour before bedtime. Your brain needs to feel relaxed in order to sleep. A glass of warm milk may help. I also love playing relaxing tunes to unwind. My favorite app (FREE!) for this is Deep Calm.

Keep your sleeping time consistent. It is okay to sleep in a little during the weekends, but don’t make it a drastic difference. If you typically sleep 7 hours a night, don’t sleep 10 hours on Saturday and Sunday. Your body will get confused and Monday will be a pain in the neck.

Establish a simple morning routine.
1. Stop your alarm.
2. Slowly get into a sitting position and take several deep breaths.
3. Stretch out your body from neck to toe. Focus on where there is most tension and stretch and relax your muscles.
4. While in your comfortable sitting position, commence your positive thinking. Start with indulgent thoughts – I can’t wait to get up and have my cup of chai latte or make French press coffee. Then, mentally go through your to-do’s with a grateful attitude. Don’t think of them as chores. Think of them as opportunities.
5. Hop off the bed.

When I get ready in the morning (i.e. brushing teeth, getting dressed, etc.), I enjoy blasting upbeat music (i.e. The Voice radio) to get myself energized and excited to begin the day. You can also create a playlist that lasts as long as you want your morning routine to be – 15 minutes, 30 minutes, etc. Perhaps personalize a playlist for each day of the week. Whatever you do, do not check your email or social media feeds. Your day begins with you, not the chaos of the world. Emails and texts can wait until your morning commute (unless you drive) or until you get to your office/school.

If you have 15 minutes to spare, grab a notebook and pen. Then, jot down your vision of what an ideal day would be like. This consists of making sure you are fully aware of your meetings/appointments and errands, but also allows you a chance to visualize that perfect day. It’s a good exercise to get you to recognize a good day when you have one. Moreover, it gets you motivated and completely prepared for the day’s events.

If you have another 15 minutes to spare, turn on some soothing sounds and start meditating. Focus on your deep breaths. Allow distractions to pass by. Don’t purposely ignore them, but don’t indulge in them either. Always bring your attention back to your breathing. Make sure your posture is upright and dignified. Several minutes of meditation in the morning can help you better concentrate throughout the day.

We Say
Don’t start your day with the stress of rushing to places because you pressed the snooze button one time too many. Don’t be late to meetings as habitual lateness is very frowned upon – it shows you’re less committed and less motivated. Instead, start your day on a note of excitement and gratitude. Respecting your brain’s need for sleep and establishing a simple morning routine make all the difference in the world.

For tips on how to stay focused throughout your day, read How to Declutter Your Mind.

9 Books to Read this Summer

Looking to be inspired?
The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
The Alchemist
The Little Prince

Want to learn history, uncensored (and engaging)?
Building a Better Race
Einstein: His Life and Universe

These books will tug your heartstrings:
Flowers For Algernon
The Kite Runner
Oliver Twist
The Tapestries

Do you have book recommendations for us? We love to curl up to a good book!

Our Wedding

Originally posted on TkN Portrait:

When I first visualized our wedding, I saw myself in a light-weight, chiffon dress and perhaps adorning a flower crown. We would exchange vows under a tree that is rich with years of history. Perhaps it would be on a private island or a remote, golden field, on a breezy day. Our families and closest friends would be there to celebrate with us. As the planning process deepened, I saw less of myself in the wedding and the day became more about what my loved ones would appreciate. While this sounds almost counter-intuitive and naive, it made sense to us. Thanh and I don’t need a wedding day to solidify our commitment to one another. The wedding day is, essentially, a fulfillment toward our families. It isn’t about us, the couple, but about reflecting the happiness and love we share with our dearests.

Our wedding day was almost the opposite…

View original 1,210 more words

How to Date After College

This entry is a direct response to our reader’s question:

A newly college graduate who is inexperienced with dating and needs advice.

When I was a freshman in college, my sister warned me against dating – that school is for education and nothing else. When I was a senior in college, my sister asked if I’m seeing anyone yet and warned me that the workforce essentially has a dating pool of zero (as being involved with a colleague is frowned upon). Fortunately for me, the stars aligned and Cupid shot a straight arrow. Had that not been the case, my choices/options would be:

Take a class/Join a Club:
It’s good to find someone with a common interest. Learning something new together is conductive to falling in love. Furthermore, the environment of a classroom should feel fairly familiar to you. Always wanted to learn that second language but never got a chance to in college? Pottery classes? Dance lessons? All these environments are catalytic to dating. And if nothing works out, at least you have a new skill to add to your resume!

Volunteer:
Spend your free time giving back to the community. If you find someone who also has a heart of gold, then that’s a huge bonus. Volunteer for the humane society, for an ESL class, or various other community organizations. To find a list of organizations that need a hand with current projects, go to CatchAFire.org.

Online Dating:
Don’t shy away. Today’s mobile world makes online dating easier than ever. It essentially opens up our dating pool internationally. But the highest success rate often comes with a partner nearby. Instead of match.com, try a dating site that caters to your local community or a specific area of interest. My friends in Minnesota love okcupid.com and many found their life partner via the site.

Network among existing friends:
Don’t neglect your current friends. They know people who know people who know people. Spread the word. Let them know you’re looking. (Good friends typically don’t start matchmaking you unless you have given specific hints or explicitly told them that you are looking.) Trustworthy friends will introduce you to people who are at least in the ballpark of what you’re looking for.

We say
Be comfortable with yourself first and foremost. Nothing good will come out of desperation. Be okay with the idea that you can live alone. You do not need anyone to complete your life. Someone to complement you is great, but isn’t necessary. Enjoy life. Be confident. Your love will come unexpectedly.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective Marriage

Some people go through marriage blindly. Some go through couple counseling as part of their church’s requirements for matrimony. We took a completely different route. We… consulted a book.

Having read and loved Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, I knew I would one day read his series on Effective Marriage and Effective Families when I’m ready to walk those milestones. With our wedding fast approaching (June 28!), Thanh and I went through the 7 habits:

1. Be Proactive: We cannot choose the events that occur, but we have the freedom to choose our response. In marriage, we cannot control our spouse’s thinking or actions, but our reactions to theirs are completely independent. Therefore, we do not blame our spouse for the feelings we have or how we interpret outcomes.

2. Begin with the End in Mind: Envision your marriage five years from now. Ten years from now. How should your children describe your marriage. Write a mission statement. Here’s our marriage mission statement:

We promise to nurture each other’s goals and ambitions; to support each other through misfortune and celebrate triumphs.

We promise to keep our lives exciting, adventurous, and full of passion.

We promise to persevere when times get tough, knowing that any challenges we might face, we will conquer them together.

3. Put First Things First: Don’t always act on urgent matters for they may be unimportant (i.e. interruptions). Assess activities and pursue those that align with your values first. Define your roles in life (i.e. student, wife, mother, CEO, etc.) and set three important goals under each role to fulfill on a weekly basis.

4. Think Win/Win: Seek mutual benefits. Your values matter and so do your spouse’s. When your interests or values don’t align, try a rating system. For example, if you want to go to the movies but your spouse prefers watching the games at home, ask each other to rate how sad you would be if you miss the activity. Then, yield to the person who would be more affected if the event would not occur.

5. Seek First to Understand, Then to Be Understood: In other words, listen before you talk. Listen more than you talk. Listen with the intent to understand, not to reply.

6. Synergize: Don’t compromise. Don’t settle on a solution that would make one party unhappy. Seek a third alternative through synergism. It’s not your way. It’s not my way. It’s the better way.

7. Sharpen the Saw: Make sure you are healthy: physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Before we could help someone fulfill their dreams and aspirations, we must first be in a healthy position to meet our own.

We Say
The 7 habits for a successful marriage are rather common knowledge, as they should be. There is no real secret to having a blissful marriage. As with any other domains, success comes only after hard work and genuine effort. While we don’t view marriage as an uphill battle, we know not to expect rainbows and unicorns everyday. :)