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6 Apps That Drive Daily Creativity and Productivity

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6 Apps That Drive Creativity and Productivity

I am constantly fascinated by technological evolving nature. You blink for a second and a brand new technology has become obsolete! If you take several years off from being involved in the industry, you may not even recognize some of the tech (have any of you seen an iPod lately??).

I remember very clearly when smartphones burst onto the market, and as a young twenty something, I insisted I would never get one. Well, come 2010 I had purchased a Droid X and was hooked on having the internet and access to a bazillion websites, videos, and wikis from the palm of my hand. Plus, who wouldn’t enjoy an operating system named after desserts!?

My love for technology grew throughout my younger years and blossomed in college, where I pursued a degree in Information Systems, took on a part time job filming and recording classes for distance education, and finally post college where I was charged with managing the technology for the student government at the University of Nevada, and then onto grad school where I first began blogging and delving into the world of social media during my MBA courses.

Both my degree and blog quickly led me to a new position at an insurance company. It was National Pancake Day (a blog topic) the day before my interview, and one of my interviewees had done their homework on my site and asked me if I liked pancakes as much as I enjoyed writing about them – I was quite surprised to hear that they perused my site. Don’t forget that people WILL Google your name. It’s only a matter of time…

My favorite applications, while relatively mainstream, are critical to my day-to-day personal and professional pursuits.  I didn’t include any of the social media apps under the assumption that people are at least aware of what is offered. Granted, there are TONS!

Favorite Fun Apps pushbullet

  • Dropbox – This is the pervasive, all-in-one content sharing app. I backup photos, post shared documents for friends and family, and organize a very large portion of my online presence through this wonderful app. It was recently integrated with Microsoft Office so that I can edit directly from my phone and upload straight back to the cloud. Awesome! Also, it plays well with any device and syncing is a cinch.
  • Shazam – Everyone’s favorite song identification app! Not only is this helpful in figuring out what song is playing, but they’ve also got a solid revenue stream from me when I click “Buy Now.” Easy! I currently use this in conjunction with Amazon MP3 (I don’t really care for iTunes since they won’t allow me to stream from any connected device) and that just makes it easy – kaching!
  • PushBullet – A friend referred me to this nifty little app. It allows the “pushing” of content between PC and phone, phone and PC, etc. Have a hyperlink open in Chrome on your desktop but need to read as you go? Push it to your phone! You can also exchange files between multiple devices very, very easily, and they pop up on your screen right away so you don’t have to dig through the Download folder. However, my favorite feature is being able to send text messages! As long as my phone is powered on, I can send and receive texts from my PC, almost like I was texting from my phone. Makes it nice being able to fire off a few without even checking my device.

Favorite Productivity Apps

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  • Balsamiq – In the world of computer software design, mockups and prototypes are incredibly critical. This nifty and (literally) fun to use software allows for wire framing and mocking up of customer portals, websites, mobile apps – pretty much anything you can imagine. It is truly a joy to get the creative juices flowing, it’s easy to manage the wide variety of project files, and the output has driven productivity and the rate of making business decisions through the roof. It’s about as good as work can get – drawing a comic book to help drive business system functionality.
  • SnagIt – The ultimate in workplace productivity software, this neat little package helps put together screenshots from your PC in ways you never imagined. You can clip, cut, rotate, add text, arrows, diagrams, etc. all with the purpose of making it clear to your audience what you’re trying to convey. I’ve used it for tech support, training manuals, troubleshooting with clients, and as always, a healthy dose of humor. Don’t be deceived that it is just a simple screen capture platform – it is far much more. If there is one piece of software I require at a company, this is it!
  • WuFoo – This is perhaps one of the easiest and most intuitive form creation platforms I’ve ever used. While it lacks advanced (read: hardcore) form features, it makes creation, sharing, editing, and collecting results an absolute breeze. This software was the core functionality that I used at the University of Nevada to help create a system for data collection and analysis. Solid platform with reasonable pricing, and the flexibility and ease of use made it a fun experience to administer!

In this day and age, it’s entirely possible to be just as productive from home (or the coffee shop), as it is from a desk. Laptops, secure VPN connections into the enterprise, mobile apps, and a whole other slew of technology allow me to be constantly connected to the office, if the need arises, which makes managing work tasks and projects as easy as logging in and managing the fires when they break out. These applications promoting the pervasive nature of enterprise data only further the cause of productivity “outside of the office.” Welcome to the 21st century!

Technology and the Blogosphere

For whatever reason, people get a kick out of reading this blog. They don’t come in droves, and they don’t come by the thousands, but I have a pretty reasonable base of people who at least acknowledge that my content exists. I religiously share my personal experiences and put a fun twist on them. Technology, business experiences, my IRONMAN triathlon training – it all gets smashed into one shared story with lessons learned, mistakes I never thought I would make, and the occasional success that I feel is worth sharing.

I use my social media accounts to share out to the world that my content is alive and well. I always pick very vivid pictures, ideally, pictures that I have taken or that have my favorite superhero Iron Man in them, to sell the story that I’m telling. I share the blog link out through Facebook, Twitter, and Google +, although most views are primarily driven through Facebook, but I have picked up followers and re-tweeters from Twitter. I also share my more professionally orientated posts on LinkedIn. You’ll never know whom you’ll meet (hint: I got hired through a LinkedIn connection I went to school with).

As a final point, I have had great success leveraging my blog, in combination with Twitter, to fix customer service disasters that I’ve experienced. Have a look if you’re interested!

Good software, like what I use on a daily basis, should be friendly and easy to use. Another great piece of software I’ve recently discovered is FreshBooks Cloud Accounting. It’s easy to use, intuitive, and desires to meet the customer’s need. Billing, timesheets, invoicing, receiving payments, and business growth are all things that any business needs to focus on, and FreshBooks makes sure the emphasis is in the correct place – not filling out paperwork but in growing opportunities and productivity. That, combined with stellar customer service is truly the recipe for success with many of the companies that I’ve worked with, for, or purchased products and services from. It needs to be enjoyable, mutually beneficial, and well, fresh! :-)

That’s all for now! If there’s one takeaway I have it’s this: share content about things in life that you have fun doing! Your readers will pick up on that very quickly.

 

Thanks for reading. You can find me in all of these places!

Russell

 

www.russellaaron.com

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@russell__aaron

Facebook/Russell.M.Aaron

https://500px.com/russellaaron

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How I Survived Two Years of 140.6

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Happy Thursday from the Biggest Little City in the World!

On Tuesday this week, I celebrated two years since I took the IRONMAN plunge and showed up bushy tailed and bright eyed at Coeur d’Alene – posse in tow and blissful ignorance surrounding my soon to be (very) sore body. It’s really quite insane that 730 days have gone flying by since then. An event in my life that felt so important, monumental, and lent so much to defining who I was in 2013 that it’s almost dream-like.

You would think something as basic as swimming, riding a bike, or running hundreds of miles a year wouldn’t have such a strong impact on your life’s outlook, but it really does. I remember the moment I completed my first 70.3 and a) how much freaking time it felt like I spent getting ready and b) how completely incomprehensible and impossible doubling the distance sounded. And now, here I am, and I could do a 70.3 off the couch with very little training.

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So let’s apply this to the business world…

You start out of college, young, naive, and with a larger than life opinion of yourself and an acute ability to not digest the word “no” very well. The world is your oyster, a ripe, juicy pearl primed for the taking.  And then reality hits, you realize what working a full 40 means, and you long for the days when summer break actually meant you did just that – break. Instead, you beg, scrape, plead,

If you’re like me, you changed jobs a time or two in between your first one, and now you rest at a place where it takes you an hour to do what once took you a day, and you find yourself thinking more about strategy, big picture, and how your place is set in the world rather than in daily tasks being your primary worry. Hopefully you’ve traveled to other countries where you see how different and yet how incredibly small the globe can be. You look back on younger years and think how silly you were, and yet how you occasionally miss your blissful ignorance that got you where you are today.

All in all, you probably remember some rather ridiculous if not downright preposterous mistakes that you made along the way, but you find ways in which to appreciate and value what you learned from them too. Good leaders aren’t born overnight, and training for an IRONMAN shouldn’t be done in a year. It’s a cumulative collection of all our experiences that bring us to moments like these. I used to fear a 25 mile ride around Reno and now I feel like I haven’t gotten my moneys worth if I don’t crush an 80 miler out in the Nevada scenery. All about perspective!

The morale of the story is this – try, fail, and press on again! And make sure to enjoy looking back down the mountains as you climb them.

Picture credit.

The Unwavering Power of Yet

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Happy Friday! I don’t think there’s much room to doubt summer’s arrival… it’s going to be 90 degrees today!

 

Today is short and sweet. IRONMAN is nearly upon me and the final four hardcore weeks have begun followed by three torturous taper weeks, where you let your body recover but you drive your emotional state of mind into a tizzy! LET’S GET THIS OVER WITH ALREADY.

 

I love summer and I love race season – both always provide ample opportunities outside of the cold of winter or the football-packed fall season. I do much better in life when I have a few (or a few too many) goals and forward-thinking plans or escapades that give me guidance, direction, and a long-term view of the future. Sure, things change, but it’s more relaxing to me to know that I am utilizing my time than for me to wonder what’s next with a very empty calendar staring back at me.

 

Yet is a word, whose power and meaning may oft be overlooked, but it is a very important often conveying progress, forward motion, a desire of completeness, and many other positive connotations.

This isn't the Yet(i) you're looking for.

This isn’t the Yet(i) you’re looking for.

Use #1: Convey Progressiveness

 

“Have you passed your certification test?” No, not yet, but I’m doing X, Y, Z to prepare for it. I am taking the appropriate steps to pass the test and the end is in sight.

 

“Have you qualified for the IRONMAN World Championships?” Not yet! :-) But I’m laying the foundational work…

 

Use #2: Convey Annoyance and Urgency

 

“Are you done yet??” “No, I’m not done.” No one really likes when someone burns them with this question, especially when it is asked out of line and in an impatient manner. There are much better ways to ask the status of something…

 

Use case #1 allows the speaker the benefit of the doubt and gives them the ability to speak to what they are doing to finish the process, goal, etc.  Use case #2 only conveys negativity, annoyance, and a need for an update. Granted, proactive people should already have an update put together… B-)

 

The idea of yet provides far more motivation and leeway than the thought of no, not yet. Yet allows for hope, challenge, success, and constant improvement. Not yet just creates dwelling on things that haven’t been completed, an idea of failure or lack of success, and quite often paints a misrepresented picture of incompleteness, sometimes unfairly. That, or you’re caught red handed in a very unprepared state. The caveat being that, of course, there are times when someone needs to ask if something is done yet :D

 

So on this glorious Friday, I bid that you all cavort about your offices with glee and merriment – the weekend is yet upon us! Convey your progress with your dreams and goals, enjoy the weather, and eat delicious food. Success depends upon it!

Picture credit. Picture credit 2.

Give Them a Mountain to Climb

Flaming Bunnies of Doom

I’m thoroughly embarrassed as to the paltry state that my blog is in… Other than looking it up, I couldn’t remember the title of the last post. I’ve been busy – I don’t know what else to tell you. The great news is that Friday is, yet again, upon us!

I recently participated in my 4th Reno Tahoe Odyssey, the ridiculously long, 178 mile relay where no one gets any sleep and by the time you run your third (or fourth) leg of the journey, you’re delirious and exhausted. Never a dull moment.  It was fun and everyone crushed their legs (literally and figuratively) over the 19 hours we were trapped in a van.

The great thing about being on a team with a unified goal is that you work together to crush the opposition, in this case, gnarly mountains and scorching calf and quad muscles. Every time one of our team (The Flaming Bunnies of Doom) blazed past a blinking headlamp of an opposing team in the dark of the night, the van went nuts. We passed so many people that we lost count and that simple fact gave us more energy to press on!

It’s amazing what can happen when you rally at the base of a mountain…

A friend recently participated in a company event attempting to determine their future in an ever reddening ocean (read Blue Ocean Strategy if you don’t know what I’m talking about. I’m all about making competition irrelevant). The greatest inspiration that she took away from the event wasn’t a great idea from an executive, and it wasn’t the next iPhone drawn on the back of a napkin, it was something as simple as having a unified, aligned vision of how to tackle the next great mountain in front of them, departmentally and as a company. For some, going to work and having “things” to do is all they need to stay motivated to do a menial job.

For me, I need that peak. McKinley, Whitney, and Rainier are all massive testaments to a challenge worthy of pursuit. They dwarf mankind and contentiously remind us how puny and insignificant we are. They dare us to tackle them!

Living without a mountain to climb is like life without tacos – soooooo depressing! Mountains are nothing new to me. I climb them literally. I plow through them with my IRONMAN training. I even trek onwards over them in my personal life. Mountains are as integral to my life as my dog is. I just don’t know how I would find motivation or reach moments of fulfillment without them…

Sure, mountains are scary, but all the more reason to do homework. Prepare, prepare, prepare, and then prepare some more! Get the right equipment, gather your tools, and take that first big step out the door.

Wayna Picchu

A lack of mountains in one’s life leads to tedium, which leads to staleness, lack of adventure, and overall dissatisfaction with life. I’d rather be on the edge of my seat constantly than laying back in a comfy lounge chair. If we are what we eat, then we definitely are what our goals make us. Goals that were impossible five years ago should be common place now, and goals or experiences that seem dreadful now can be achieved in the next decade.

President John F. Kennedy said it best: “Do not pray for easy lives. Pray to be stronger men.”

Stronger we shall be.

The Parable of the Punctual, Eager, Swift, Timely, Considerate Bird

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Good morning, and a very happy Friday. WHOOHOO!

So everyone has heard that the early bird gets the worm… well, today’s story isn’t about the “early” bird. Frankly, it isn’t about the bird who squeaks in under the buzzer, or even about the bird that might have thought about being early but really just showed up accidentally on time. It’s about the bird that intentionally does what they say they will do. GASP. You mean that there are people in the world who don’t do what they say?! Great Scott…

Yes, friends, it’s true. The world is full of unreliable, flakey, undependable, selfish people who place their own interests above everyone else, which isn’t in and of itself a horrible thing, but when you’re in business, you better get your priorities straight. There is no room for selfishness when your customers depend on you and how you interact with them. Customer service and dependability is truly the straw that broke the camel’s back.

If you say you’re going to call (after an appointment was made) at 2 PM and my phone rings at 3:59 with no prior notice, no apology, and not even the decency of letting me know a conflict came up, my business is going elsewhere. If I make an appointment to look at tuxes at 1 PM and you don’t acknowledge our presence until 1:10 – I’m out. Common courtesy is sorely missing in our culture. Truly, it’s not that hard to say “We are slammed at the moment but will be with you in a minute” or better yet “I know we have an appointment scheduled but let me finish this customer” or the greatest, “I’m so sorry to have made you wait, how can I help solve XX problem?” AMAZING! If people just did that, I’m convinced that the average blood pressure in America would be lower by 30%. OK, maybe that’s a bit far, but you get the idea.

Let me be very clear – I am dealing with several huge events this year, none of which I’ve experienced before. I don’t have time to tolerate your crappy customer service because I barely have time for the things I need to accomplish! All I need is one micro, itty bitty, seemingly unimportant reason to not work with you, and that’s exactly what will happen.

On the flip side, there have been three shining examples of birds (read: businesses) that do exactly what they said they will, exactly when they said they would do it, and don’t stop assisting me until it’s exactly what I was expecting the outcome to be! HOW REFRESHING!

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Shining Customer Service Examples

  • USAA @usaa – This insurance company primarily serves military families, and those fortunate to be grandfathered in. There’s a reason that 12/10 (see what I did there) customers are 95% likely to stay with them for life. They do what they say! Granted, I do pay a slight premium, but for absolutely stellar customer service, it’s worth every penny. I have auto and renter’s insurance through them, perform all my banking, and am soon going to have a home mortgage as well. They absolutely kick ass! Each phone representative is thoughtful, considerate, and genuinely interested in helping me out. Bravo!
  • Zappos @zappos – This Las Vegas based “shoe store” (which has now grown into a huge clothing/accessory conglomerate) is known for zany, funky customer service. Clearly, their employees have fun! Seriously, call them sometime. Awesome. It’s easy to purchase products, they have shopping assistants who are more than willing to offer up opinions, and again, top notch customer service. They even sent me a refund for shoes that I accidentally mailed back to them. Catch was, I hadn’t purchased those shoes from them either. Yes, I was that dumb.
  • Home Depot @thehomedepot – Everyone knows this bright and vivacious orange company, and for good reason. They’re the best at home improvement products, services, and assistance. They hire bright and cheerful associates who, frankly, can be somewhat intimidating based on their breadth of knowledge, they’re great at walking you to the product aisle that you need, and make sure that you get exactly what you need (not always the same as what you’re looking for). Even something as simple as exchanging products that I don’t need even when I can’t find my receipt is refreshing. LET’S DO THIS!

Setting yourself apart in the world isn’t terribly difficult. You need to be punctual, work with integrity, show enthusiasm, don’t lie, and be considerate of other’s time more than your own. Do that and you will stand as a shining star. Don’t do that, and your name is sure to be tainted faster than you can say supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!

[P.S. that word is officially in spell checker! AWESOME.]

 

Picture credit 1. Picture credit 2.

Finding Solace in the Pain

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Happy Thursday to everyone. Who’s ready for spring tomorrow!??! Oh my gosh – dust off the athletic clothing – it’s time to crush it outdoors! YESSSSSS!

I just cleaned house on a brutal treadmill workout – and let’s be clear – I HATE running on the treadmill… but in my gasping, after workout state I realized how freaking great I feel! I don’t know that I put as much stock in a “runner’s high” as some people, just because I much prefer a swim or cycle dash, but man I felt great. It’s so nice letting the stress flow out of your pores along with the sweat, body heat, and other chemical ooze. Granted, the sweat was pooling in my eyes and my legs were covered in a slimy layer but I felt energized as well as exhausted. Perfect excuse to chow down on a huge lunch. And I love lunch!

Painful things in life are what gives us our juice, our will to live, our drive. Go plow a 50 mile bike ride, a 10 mile run or a 90 minute swim session and let me know if you don’t feel like you could just take the world head on. I’ve been to the brink of my sanity and my endurance. It’s not so much that it feels like “the end” but rather it’s just a very puzzling experience where your body says no and your mind says yes because it knows how disappointed you will be in yourself. I still remember the last 13 miles of IM Coeur d’Alene… pff, even the last 4 miles. It’s all a big fuzz really – scorched legs that don’t feel like walking, let alone running. I don’t remember the battle being physical, except for the dull pains shooting through legs that were drained of life hours before. Instead, it was a constant conversation with myself. I value alone time but that was wayyyyy too much time listening to my thoughts! The conversation/emotional aspect was far more exhausting in my opinion than stumbling along mile after mile. Only until I reached mile 25 did everything come into a laser focus and I realized where I was and that I only had 8 minutes left in a very long day.

I’ve made plenty of mistakes in my life. Tons, really. They can’t be counted. I have, however, learned from each of them. Perhaps the most personal racing mistake was blowing out on the run at Coeur d’Alene. Feeling “great” after 112 mile bike ride meant I ran a 1:45 half marathon only to blow a gasket at mile 14 and not recover until mile 20. Sure, I was new at ultra-long distance racing and it was my first time, but still… don’t be an idiot! *head smack*

ironman3

We’ve all experienced unpleasant events: painful ones, uncomfortable ones, brutally awfully ones. The ones that make your insides creak and groan, and that cause you to beg for it to be nighttime so you can flee the days’ torments. Some pains leave scar tissues, broken hearts, or tear stained faces; others leave you crushed, callused, and broken. However, all pains provide us with growth. Like the sun shining on freshly planted crops, pain is the catalyst for us springing forward into new and wonderful things, sometimes we just need to pass through the briar patch to get there. The truly disastrous can turn into the amazingly wonderful – we just need to embrace our situation for what it is, and find our own coping mechanisms for surviving. It can’t always be Friday and we can’t always have a phenomenal day. But that doesn’t mean we just sit idly by waiting. Moments and opportunities are meant to be seized, just like REI’s 75% off garage sale! You never know what you’ll find :D

For me, there is too much going on causing negative stress, and I don’t have a choice but to seek coping mechanisms outside myself. For me, I will keep embracing the painful treadmill workouts, the 5 hour bike rides, and the swim sessions that leave my lungs and capillaries screaming for more oxygen. For me, I’m looking forward to my next workout and the great meal to follow. For me, I find quiet, comfort, and strength in the pain.

O, [IRONMAN] Canada… how I long to meet you on the field of battle!  A warrior poet cut from the granite of my own failures with no one to share the blame – but none share the successes either. For me… that is my coping.

In Triathlon and Life – It’s All About the Pacing

pacing

Well, I’ve gone from a regular biweekly, blogger to something only heard of in lore and myth… :(

Life is incredibly busy. Well, it usually is for us all anyways, but this spring has been insane. INSANE!! Work is crazy, the personal life is crazy, and IRONMAN training is crazy. CRAZY CRAZY CRAZY. Everyone is going crazy!

Ahhh… deep breath. Woooosaaaaa…

As the air warms up and the sun stays out longer and longer each day, it brings a renewed hope and energy to the world. I trade in my flannel sheets for open windows at night, and my mugs of hot chocolate are switched out for cycling spandex and running shoes. The dog, however, stays firmly planted at the foot of my bed.

It’s a time of a clashing between personal, professional, and triathlon interests that are resulting in the Perfect Storm. It is perfectly chaotic, stressful, crushing, exciting, and adrenaline packed time to be me. I remember thinking I was stressed back in 2013 when I was wrapping up my MBA and getting ready for IRONMAN Coeur d’Alene. Oh, how times seem so much easier then. There isn’t really anything easy about my day-to-day routines. Limited sleep, multiple workouts, a minimum of five work meetings spread throughout the day, lunch at my desk just because I spent my lunch at the gym, and then off and away to take care of this, that, and the other thing, before landing in bed with a thump around 9:30, 10, or 11 at night. Talk about inconsistent.

“You would know pacing better than anyone.”

Pacing is an interesting subject, and one which I’ve written very little about. When you think of pacing you may think of a pace car in NASCAR events or the time it takes you to run a mile. Really, pacing is the combination of your ability to move forward while dealing with obstacles, hurdles, unexpected detours, and adapting to what is thrown into your path. Sometimes you may clumber along slowly, with scraped shins from your mountain bike pedals, and others you may zoom through life at a blistering pace aboard a jet airplane. However, you are always moving at “a pace.”

A pace is more than just a time, a goal, or something you set and just leave. It’s the overall balance of one’s life. Maybe you’re buried at work and now you have 3 hours of errands to run after so you take off 30 minutes early. Or perhaps you have 17 social events on the calendar for the week so you scrap them in favor of staying home with your dog watching Netflix. Maybe even it’s a matter of staying calm in a meeting because if you lose your cool, you’ll not only ruin the project but then you’ll just feel lousy the rest of the day. Other times you’re waist deep in an IRONMAN and you know that to survive a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and a marathon that you can’t just go all-out. You need pacing, in both physical exertion and calorie intake. Let’s be clear, there is nothing “cool” about mile 127 and beyond in a 140.6 mile race…

Triathlon has taught me far more about my life than one may imagine. I look back to 2011 when a 70 mile race was far and it’s almost laughable. However, for that phase in my life, my “pace” was set to get me through the 70 mile race. Things evolve and change and now I’m at the point where I have to pace through a 10.5 + hour monstrosity. Perhaps one day I will do two IRONMAN events in one year… why not?

Some people have a pace that is crippling. They don’t sleep, they don’t take care of themselves, and the burn the midnight oil day after day. That is called being “American.” In all my years of reading, studying, and traveling in other cultures, Americans always come out as the ones who take care of themselves the least and don’t enjoy life for what it’s worth – living! The American pace is not a good one.

My pacing for 2015 is … intriguing. IRONMAN Canada beckons with a mocking call, one of the largest project priorities at work hammering with its expectations and energy needed, and oh yeah I’m helping my fiancé with a wedding. Whew. Good luck.

It’s Friday and I’m relieved and yet stressed. The weekends mean that I’m not at my desk for 40 hours but it also means that all that free time will be gobbled up with training, social things, chores (OMG MY PILE OF LAUNDRY), more training, and a sad attempt at catching up on sleep. What a great time to practice pacing!

Picture credit.

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