TIME advice

7 Holiday Office Party Sins You Didn’t Even Know You Were Committing (and How to Fix Them)

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Holding your drink in your right hand

It’s December, which means it is officially holiday office party time. For some people, this is a joyous time of relaxing with coworkers, eating good food, and adding a little extra sparkle to their outfits. But for others, the office holiday party is one big cesspool of awkward moments and screw ups that could potentially damage your career. We don’t want to scare you, but the office holiday party is not your run of a mill party. It’s intricate and full of politics–in addition to delicious crab cakes.

Now if you’ve been on the Internet in the last week, there are tons of articles stating the obvious advice i.e. don’t get wasted, wear a completely see-through dress, just eat cheese all night at the food table (it’s not good for you!), but we know you’re too smart for that. So we’ve come up with a list of more subtle mistakes you can make–with the help of Jacqueline Whitmore, an internationally-recognized etiquette expert–for some hacks.

1. Criticizing another coworker in front of a coworker or manager.

Commenting on someone’s dancing skills or choice of outfit may seem like just a little fun for you, but someone else could interpret it differently. Every office has a Dwight Schrute, but you don’t need to point it out. Even if the person is doing something totally stupid and absurd, keep your mouth shut. It makes you look like a bitter and angry person. You want everyone to think you’re super nice–kind of like Blaire Waldorf.

Easy fix: Follow your mom’s advice: If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. And if someone is really bothering you, then go get another drink.

2. Giving a gag gift.

You may think a funny gift is hilarious, but not everyone shares your (possibly very dirty) sense of humor.

Easy fix: Play it safe and get a very PC gift, like a candle or a pair of socks.

3. Exiting early or staying too late.

You don’t pull an Irish exit at the office holiday party and you don’t leave after 10 minutes. This is your job people! Spend some time there, a little small talk won’t kill you. But you also don’t want to stay too late. When the crowds start leaving, you can head out.

Easy fix: Stay for at least two hours and then have a solid excuse, like you have an early morning spin class or something. Whitmore says, “When you make an effort to attend the office holiday party, even for just a half hour, you show interest in and support for your colleagues, organization, and supervisor. ”

(MORE: Your Guide to Dressing for the Holiday Office Party)

4. Only talking to the people you talk to every single day.

We get it. You’re BFFs with your coworker, but this is the time to mingle with other people in the company. Yes, it would be easy to just stick with your friends, but they most likely won’t lead to your next job.

Easy fix: Talk to at least two people you wouldn’t normally talk to at work. You never know what it could do for you on both a personal and professional basis. Whitmore says, “Reach out and introduce yourself to people you don’t know rather than sticking with only those you do know. An office party is a chance to shine and mingle with those you don’t see very often. Have some conversation starters available. Most people love to talk about travel, food, and hobbies.”

5. Not being totally present.

Yes, you can go for the whole party from start to finish, but are you actually being present? Be in the moment when you are there. Whitmore says, “A holiday party is a great time to get to know others on a personal level. Be engaged and don’t spend a majority of the evening texting, talking on your cell phone, or posting photos on Facebook. Put people first and put your phone on silent.”

Easy fix: Leave your phone in your coat pocket then you’ll be forced to talk to people.

6. Holding your drink in your right hand.

This is a rookie move. You may be right handed, but you have to keep that drink in your left hand (or whichever is your dominant hand), so you can keep the other strong hand free for some good handshakes. Whitmore says, “No one likes to shake a cold, wet hand. Avoid juggling your food and drink, and don’t talk with your mouth full of food.”

Easy fix: Whitmore suggests leaving your big bag that could comfortably hold a small litter of cats at home. It will just get in the way (and your coworkers most likely won’t rob you). Opt for a wristlet or a small cross body bag if you insist on having a purse.

7. Not showing your appreciation.

So it’s not like you received an actual present, but if you want to get some brownie points then be sure to thank whoever was responsible for the party. Not every company has a holiday party, so it is pretty nice if you get to attend one. Whitmore says, “Saying thank you is not only cordial behavior, but it’ll make you stand out from those who don’t express their gratitude.”

Easy fix: If you want some major extra credit, then send a thank-you note to key persons who helped organize the event and to those who made the event possible.

(MORE: How to Use the Holidays to Advance Your Career)

This article originally appeared on Levo.com.

TIME advice

How to Dress for Your Body

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Beginnier, intermediate, and advanced levels of style moves are available whatever shape you may be

It seems simple to classify clothing as either straight- or plus-size. One refers to styles available in sizes below a 16, as plus-size clothing designer and pattern-maker Trudy Hanson explains, and the other covers those above. It’s placing actual women under those umbrella terms that just doesn’t work for us, and with the plus-purchasing population dominating 67% of the market in 2013, according to Business Insider, there’s no way that group can be defined by a single physical descriptor.

So, we’re tossing it aside, in favor of full-figure style tips that take women’s unique sets of curves into account.

The task of dressing for your body type — pear or hourglass, for example — requires a slightly different approach when it comes to styling from the plus-size department. “For us, it is about choice,” Evans’ head of design Rebecca Vann Reicher says. “If you are plus-size you still want to follow trends.” With her help, doing so is as easy as finding flattering silhouettes and styling tricks tailored to your type.

In the spirit of offering as many sartorial choices as possible, we’ve also plotted out three different approaches for every curvy shape. “It’s fine and dandy to know and use the classic dressing tricks, which are all really designed to give the wearer a more traditional hourglass silhouette,” Hanson adds, “but the 21st-century girl often wants to dress in a more directional, high-fashion, or personal way.” With this in mind, we separated style moves into beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels — creating more daring choices along with a few easy and personalized ways to flaunt your shape.

The hourglass woman’s hips and bust are full, and her waist is naturally slimmer. Along with pear, this is one of the most common plus-size body types, Vann Reicher tells us.

  • Beginner
    As Hanson explains, hourglass-shaped women “tend to go for a retro look,” which makes perfect sense. As with a fit-and-flare dress, the silhouette exactly mimics yours. There is full coverage for your curves, and a subtle accent at the waist for definition.
  • Intermediate
    Further emphasize your curves in a peplum top. The flared waistline will enhance the proportions between your slim waist and more ample hips.
  • Advanced
    For the most enhanced version of your shape, go for a sexy, body-hugging option. “If you are an hourglass shape you can totally wear body-con this party season,” Vann Reicher says. “It accentuates the hips and bust.” We love the hourglass shape of this design; it will take your own to epic proportions.

MORE Beyond The Pear: Dressing For Your Tricky Body Type

Just like the straight-size version, a plus-size busty woman’s largest measurement is across her chest. Her hips and midsection may be curvy, but on a smaller scale.

  • The Beginner
    The V-neck top can be daring or demure, depending on how low you dip. Either way, it’s a busty girl’s staple. At its most extreme it can be a cleavage-boosting cut, but a small V can also help elongate your neckline and actually minimize your top.
  • The Intermediate
    Busty women often have to deal with the sack-of-potatoes problem (clothing that fits in the bust and hangs loose everywhere else). This waist-cinching dress will help highlight your upper body by slimming the middle with its knotted detail.
  • The Advanced
    Vann Reicher suggests that high necklines will draw the attention upward on a busty frame, so take it to the extreme and opt for a turtleneck. In general, this style will emphasize your top; this specific one does that double-time with the V-shaped zipper detail.

The Apple
Like its namesake fruit, the apple body type’s widest measurement is in the middle. Her shoulders, hips, and legs are slimmer in proportion.

  • The Beginner
    The tunic top is an easy choice for anyone who wants something that won’t cling to her middle. For the apple-shaped who prefer to minimize, it’s an essential.
  • The Intermediate
    Short sheath dresses work amazingly for a figure like yours. While the straight-lined cut plays down the proportions of your middle, the short (like, short) hemline also brings the spotlight to your great legs.
  • The Advanced
    If you’re looking to truly emphasize your apple shape, go with a slim pant. Pair it with an extremely oversized tunic — one even more dramatic than the beginner move. This kind of dramatic juxtaposition plays up your proportions in a more editorial way, Hanson recommends.

MORE Date-Night Essentials For Every Body Type

The Pear
“The pear shape is a classic plus-size shape,” Hanson tells us. As your most prominent physical attributes are your hips and butt, you have the option to balance your derrière with the rest of your bod or truly flaunt what ya got. Both options, ahead.

  • The Beginner
    “Jeans can be tricky, as a true Pear could be a U.S. size 12 on the waist but a 14 on the hip,” explains Evans’ head designer. While she recommends her own brand of denim that “sits higher on the waist and are more generous around the hips and thighs,” keep your eyes open for similar styles that provide support and stretch around your largest measurements.
  • The Intermediate
    Sometimes dressing for your body type is not about minimizing your largest proportion, but playing up your smallest one. In this case, the boxy top will give your smaller upper body a bit of a boost without minimizing the appearance of your bottom.
  • The Advanced
    “You could go A-line,” Hanson says in terms of skirt shapes, “or screw that and go for a HUGE skirt.” In this case, we choose the latter.

The Rectangle
Similar to The Ruler in our straight-size body-type guides, the rectangle has no obviously defined curves. In other words, there is not much distinction between her bust, waist, and hips.

  • The Beginner
    For creating more dimension along the body, Vann Reicher recommends the shift dress. “[They’re] really great at creating a fuller silhouette,” she says, “and statement necklaces or clever accessories draw the attention up.” Here, we opted for a high neck to do the same.
  • The Intermediate
    The boxy top of this jumpsuit plays up your natural, angular shape. But, with its layered waist and colorblocking, it will also create some subtle definition at your waistline.
  • The Advanced
    If you’d rather play up your straight-lined frame, choose a silhouette that’s shaped the same way. Namely, the boyfriend jean. On most figures, these bottoms would hide curve definition — on you, it’s next-level. Pair with a tighter top for a balanced look, or an oversized bomber to match boxy with boxy.

MORE 3 Perfect Party Dresses For Your Body Type

“The terms apple, pear, busty, and hourglass have been in the public consciousness for a while now, but we are seeing some other shapes emerge. In particular, carrot,” says Vann Reicher. She describes this shape as one characterized by “wider shoulders and slimmer legs.”

  • The Beginner
    For this figure,Vann Reicher recommends a full skirt, for starters. The flared hem will automatically give your lower body more volume, creating balance head to toe.
  • The Intermediate
    If you’re not into drawing attention away from your upper half, bring some flash to it. A statement bomber will highlight your torso, while the soft, raglan sleeves will downplay the width of your shoulders.
  • The Advanced
    Finally, here’s a moment for your power-shoulders to shine. Hanson boldly recommends an embellished shoulder that will play up your own. “[Keep] everything else really skinny,” she says of skirts and pants, if you want to create the most drama.

This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com

TIME advice

How to Handle Your Annual Performance Review

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Be proactive and prepare a list of objectives for the new year

As we prepare for 2015′s goals at work and next year’s performance report, we need to consider OUR needs along with the company’s. True story: I was so fed up with my performance report goals (are those tasks anything I can actually control anyway???) that I took control and created my own.

Performance reviews are a necessary evil in the modern workplace. Necessary? Yes, indeed. They exist to keep you on track with the company’s objectives, as well as to plan for next year’s strategy. Evil? Only if you don’t put any effort into them. The good news is that these are short-term data points. This puts YOU in the power seat. Here’s how to make a big impact on your own future when you take control of this annual exercise.

Consider Co-Goals

Make a plan that’s good for you and the company. Be proactive. Show up to the meeting with your supervisor with a prepared list of objectives for 2015. Your plan should include personal and professional development, such as attending one industry conference annually. This would be something beneficial to you (new contacts!) and the company (expanding your professional network).

MORE 10 Questions to Ask During Your Next Performance Review

Think About Yourself: Personally and Professionally

You want to get the most out of this assignment, and it’s important to propel yourself. Plus, work should be fun! Individualize your plan as much as possible. Think about goals that you would enjoy, like subscribing to news feeds, reading books about your industry, forming a business resource group, writing articles for your company’s newsletter, or mentoring a new-hire.

Here are the top 5 subjects you should include in every performance plan and review checklist. Don’t forget to make them SMART.

1. Educational: Outside sources include TED talks, MOOCs, industry magazines, email feeds, books, and iTunes University. Inside sources include your company’s educational platform, media press releases, industry news on their website, or mentoring from a senior manager.

2. Financial: If you work at a for-profit business, you were hired to help contribute to the bottom line. In non-profits or governmental agencies, controlling costs is very important. Have a plan for how you can contribute.

3. Customer: Making connections, contributing business leads, and speaking positively about your company have great impact and show you know why your job has purpose. Don’t forget about your internal customers as well as you external customers.

MORE ‘Tis The Season: How to Prepare for the Year End Review

4. Community: Your company has a philanthropic side as well. Volunteer, do service within your company, and build relationships within your building. Just because it’s not in your job description doesn’t mean it’s not your job.

5. Connections: What’s more important to your professional development than company networking, participating in professional groups, and peer mentoring? These are the key ways to ensure your best professional development.

Finally, don’t forget to do your research, so you can justify everything you’ve brought to the table. You want to build off last year’s review, and help you’re boss’s review look better, too!

This article originally appeared on Levo.com

TIME advice

7 Tips for Managing Holiday Stress

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Keep calm, carry on, and let go

It’s that time of year again. Between the endless parties and obligations, visiting with friends and family (and sometimes avoiding certain friends and family), not to mention navigating decadent table spreads and endless office baked goods, it’s no wonder we sometimes dread the holiday season. Rest assured, there is a way you can manage the inevitable holiday stress and glide to a new year with balance, poise, and at least most of your sanity in tact.

The key thing for managing holiday stress is to realize that we often can’t change the situations around us, but that we can change how we interact and respond in these situations. Which means, proper stress management starts with you…

1. Take care of yourself.

Know your limits. Make sure to get enough sleep, drink water, balance your eating (which of course includes a cookie or two!) and most important, keep your sense of humor handy. This is supposed to be a joyful season, full of good times and many laughs. Sometimes that means laughing at yourself.

2. Say no.

Thank you so much for the invitation, but we have another engagement.”

Now isn’t that a nice way of saying no? It’s likely that you won’t be able to–or want to–attend every party or engagement that you’re invited to, so here’s a chance to prioritize which ones you’d like to attend and politely decline (with appropriate notice) the rest.

MORE Merry Stress-mess: How to Not Go Crazy During the Holidays

3. Keep calm, carry on, and let go.

You’ve likely seen these “Keep Calm, Carry On” signs everywhere. As simple as they might seem, they’re such a good reminder. One of the best tactics for holiday stress management is to learn what you can control and let go of the rest. Don’t let the hustle and bustle of the holidays overwhelm you. Keep calm in the moment by taking a deep breath, thinking before you speak, and remembering that whatever’s stressing you right this moment is not likely going to matter in one hour, or even one year. Keep your focus on the joy of the season and have fun.

4. Have a little grace.

As women, we put so much focus on small details and often lose track of the overall picture. I can bet you a nicely frosted gingerbread cookie that no one’s going to be focusing on those little details half as much as you are. Let go of control and have grace with yourself. Everyone forgets to serve a dish, or perfectly wrap some gift. Repeat mantra from above: “Keep calm, carry on.

5. Accept help.

Just like you don’t have to control everything, you don’t have to do it on your own. Let someone bring a dish to the dinner party, and then let your friends help you do the dishes when they meal’s over.

6. Get rid of useless worry.

There’s a difference between worry and planning. Trust that you’ll handle situations that might come up and focus on what’s truly in your control. Perhaps you could mentally walk through a situation that could be stressful and practice your response. Plan ahead what you can to minimize stress.

The last step for stress management ends with you…

MORE How to Prepare for the Holiday Vacation

7. Choose.

Everyone finds themselves in situations that aren’t preferable. Cue the awkward family dinner or significant other’s office Christmas party. In those uncomfortable moments, you choose your memories. How much fun you have is entirely up to you. You can focus on all the reasons why you’d rather be at home with some spiked eggnog in pajamas, or you can be present in the moment and make the choice to put forth an effort and find the good in your current situation.

So when you start to feel overwhelmed by too much family pressure or obligation, all the little details or overwhelming stress of presents and parties, remember that this is the season of joy. Trust that you can and will navigate holiday stress by taking care of yourself, setting and knowing your boundaries, and choosing how you respond.

This article originally appeared on Levo.com

TIME advice

The Dos and Don’ts of Giving Gifts at Work

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As long as your gifts stay professional and thoughtful, they'll be good to go

Should you or shouldn’t you? That’s the real question going through everyone’s mind at work, and we’re talking about gifts here, not whether or not you should have another cocktail at your holiday party. And if you decide to give your boss, coworker, guy friend, assistant, or book lover a gift, here are some tips so you do it the right way.

Do: Make a list, and check it twice.

Unless you’re working for a small start-up, chances are you probably don’t know everyone in your company; especially those who are in different departments. Even at work, purchasing a gift is a personal gesture. Don’t feel obligated to buy the girl in finance whose name you barely know a holiday gift. Consider getting gifts for people within your department that you interact with on a daily basis, people who you make small talk with in your cube area, and those co-workers-turned-friends who you vent to about office frustrations during after work happy hours. Many companies prohibit buying gifts for your boss or department head because it’s seen as trying to buy your way into a promotion. Depending on your work environment and relationship with your supervisor, feel free to purchase a gift for your boss, but make sure it’s on the less extravagant side.

Don’t: Exchange gifts in front of other coworkers who didn’t make your list.

Remember that girl in your 2nd grade class who only handed out Valentine’s Day cards and candy to select students? Don’t be her. While distributing your gifts, avoid broadcasting it in front of other coworkers that didn’t make your list. Although you only made purchases for a select few, you still want to keep the sense of inclusivity in your workplace and you don’t want to be labeled as the “clicky” girl in the office. Consider coming into work early and leaving gifts on people’s desks, or putting them in their office mailboxes if they’re small enough. You can also organize a holiday lunch or after work gathering to exchange gifts in a comfortable setting.

MORE How to Win and Have Fun at the Holiday Party

Do: Stick to a budget.

Before you go gift shopping for your coworkers, make sure that you set a reasonable budget. Your budget will not only steer you away from buying excessively expensive gifts for your colleagues, but it will also keep your finances in order so you won’t go broke and have to eat PB & J sandwiches for lunch for the first half of the New Year. Try setting a $10 budget for gifts. You’d be surprised what you can find; especially in that $1 isle in near the entrance of Target. Small and cheap gifts make for great stocking stuffers.

Don’t: Spend more money than you can afford.

Let’s face it; many of us aren’t on Oprah’s level, yet. Don’t feel obligated to go out and buy something that isn’t within your means just for shock factor among your coworkers. Chances are after buying gifts for your loved ones your bank account has taken a toll. You don’t want your coworkers to expect you to be the person to buy lavish gifts every year. Just because you’re not working with Oprah’s bank account doesn’t mean you can’t be in the Oprah-spirt; so for now, “You get a stationary set! You get a stationary set! Everyone gets stationary sets!”

Do: Buy a gift that shows thought.

Getting thoughtful gifts goes a long way. Take into consideration the things that your coworkers would truly appreciate. Making a small donation to a charity that they support is a great way to pay it forward by giving back. Also, keep in mind things that your coworkers need. Have a coworker who’s always complaining about how frigid the office is? Buy him or her stylish scarf. Have another coworker who’s always getting caught out in the lunch time rain showers. Buy them an umbrella. The options are endless.

Don’t: Purchase a gift that’s too personal.

Although you might look at some of your coworkers as friends, beware of buying gifts that are too intimate. Any Valentine’s Day-esk gifts are off limits; that includes perfume, flowers, and undergarments *clutches pearls*. Also, be sure to stay away from gifts that make your colleagues feel like they need to work on changing their looks. Gift certificates for hair salons suggest that they need a new style. Body wash and lotions might make them question their hygiene. Even though you’re purchasing a gift for someone else, it’s a clear reflection of who you are and what you think of others.

MORE How to Use the Holidays to Advance Your Career

Do: Include a gift receipt.

Although we might think our gift idea is epic, there are instances where someone has already beaten you to the punch and the person already has the item, it doesn’t fit, or they’re simply not feeling your gift. Make sure that you include a gift receipt so that you give the person the option of returning what you purchased.

Don’t: Be negligent of other people’s beliefs.

Although you might be in the holiday spirit and want to spread some cheer throughout your office, keep in mind that others don’t celebrate certain holidays. Avoid making your coworkers who choose not to celebrate these holidays uncomfortable or obligated to join in on the gift giving.

This article originally appeared on Levo.com

TIME toxins

4 Easy Ways to Cut Down on a Nasty Chemical That’s Everywhere

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Don't heat up plastic, for one

The thing I hate most about shopping is not navigating a crowded store or staring at my pasty reflection under the dressing room’s harsh lighting. Nope, that stuff doesn’t bother me. If you ask me, the most dreaded store moment is watching the machine spit out a footlong receipt, and then swimming in awkwardness because no way am I touching that thing.

“Um, can you just toss that for me?” I always ask—as I back away in horror.

“Sure,” the cashier replies, frowning at my apparent paper phobia.

HEALTH.COM: Which Internet Food Rumors Are True?

OK, so that’s a slight dramatization, but it does accurately represent my feelings regarding receipts. My reason: they’re coated with bisphenol A (BPA), a chemical that the National Toxicology Program deemed worthy of “some concern for effects on the brain, behavior, and prostate gland in fetuses, infants, and children at current human exposures” after reviewing the research in 2008. Two studies just this year linked handling receipts to elevated levels of BPA in the body.

Previous research has shown an association between BPA and heart problems, as well as asthma and obesity risk in children. And now, in a recent study published in the journal Hypertension, South Korean researchers found that drinking from cans lined with the chemical may raise blood pressure immediately.

The issue with BPA isn’t just that it’s linked to health issues—it’s that it’s so widely used in a variety of consumer products like car seats, food packaging, dental sealants, and electronics, to name a few, explains Laura Vandenberg, PhD, an assistant professor of environmental health science at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. “Everyone is exposed to this chemical every day.”

HEALTH.COM: 10 Natural Ways to Lower Blood Pressure

Though the U.S. Food and Drug Administration contends that BPA “is safe at the current levels occurring in foods,” that doesn’t necessarily mean that the levels we’re exposed to from all our daily contact with it are “entirely safe,” Vandenberg says. “Pregnant or breastfeeding women, babies, and small children are especially vulnerable. The new study about blood pressure is a big deal because it shows for the first time that there are measurable health effects in human adults.”

All of this means that perhaps my over-the-top receipt anxiety isn’t misplaced. If you’re concerned about BPA, here are a few changes to make that really can put a dent in your exposure.

Skip canned goods when possible

The plastic that lines the inside of your can of beans or soup serves a very important purpose: without it, the can would corrode over time, allowing metals to leach in your food. The problem? The lining is made with BPA which can get into your food, too. “The majority of the exposure is thought to happen this way,” Vandenberg says. Some companies, like Amy’s, Eden Organics, and Muir Glen use BPA-free cans, but very few follow their lead because it’s so much more expensive. Outside of those companies, this leaves you with few options other than choosing fresh whenever possible and looking for soups, broths, and tomato products packaged in glass jars or Tetra Paks (aka those paperboard cartons).

HEALTH.COM: 15 Ways to Be a Natural Beauty

Don’t microwave plastics

BPA helps make plastic materials hard and strong, so they keep their shape and don’t break. “A lot of plastics say on them ‘microwave-safe’, but that only means it won’t totally ruin the plastic,” Vandenberg says. “It doesn’t mean it’s safe for you or your food.” When microwaved, plastic food containers can break down from high temperatures, allowing more BPA or other chemicals into your food, according to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Put your leftovers in ceramic or glass before heating. (It’s also a good idea to wait for food to cool before putting it in plastic containers.)

Say no to receipts

This is one of the easiest ways to limit BPA in your life: ask the cashier if she can skip printing one (this saves her the exposure, too) and press “No” at the ATM or gas station. Simply touching a receipt allows your skin to absorb the BPA, and “so many people don’t realize how much they’re actually handling receipts. I’ve seen women use it to blot their lipstick or put it in their mouths while they go through their wallets,” Vandenberg says. For those times you absolutely need a receipt, store it in an envelope away from the rest of the things in your purse, and be sure to wash your hands after touching it. This may help reduce the amount that ends up in your system.

HEALTH.COM: DIY Non-Toxic Home Cleaners

Buy a BPA-free water bottle

The FDA banned BPA in baby bottles and sippy cups back in 2012 because of the known risks to children, and BPA-free water bottles became all the rage. But if you still haven’t picked one up, here are some options:

Lifefactory Glass Bottle with Silicone Sleeve ($15, amazon.com)

Klean Kanteen Wide Mouth Bottle With Stainless Loop Cap ($17, amazon.com)

This article originally appeared on Health.com

TIME psychology

How to Eat Healthy: 5 Easy New Tips From Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

You know you should eat healthier. But it’s not easy. Temptation is all around and willpower, well, isn’t.

The solution is in making better choices. Psychology. But most of the answers we hear aren’t legit.

So I called a guy who knows the real deal: Brian Wansink.

He leads food psychology research at Cornell University and the White House chose him to revise US dietary guidelines.

He has a great website and is author of two smart books on the subject of tricking yourself into eating better:

Mindless Eating: Why We Eat More Than We Think

Slim by Design: Mindless Eating Solutions for Everyday Life

I posted about his work before but this time I wanted answers straight from the man himself. And, man, did he ever deliver.

What you’re going to learn in this post:

  • The easy thing to do while shopping that prevents you from buying junk food.
  • How to not fall for the tricks and traps of restaurants.
  • The 2 secrets to not snacking too much at the office.
  • How to stay disciplined at events and holiday gatherings — without making the host feel bad.
  • How superheroes can help you make better food choices.

Yeah, I said superheroes can help you eat better. Seriously. In fact, let’s start there…

Ask “What Would Batman Eat?”

Cookies calling your name? Ask yourself “What would Batman eat?”

Brian’s research showed this got kids to pick apple slices over french fries. Here’s Brian:

We found we could get kids to choose the healthier food much more often if we simply asked what their favorite superhero or their favorite princess would do. Even if they responded “french fries”, half the time they took the apple slices. It simply causes an interruption in their thinking that causes them to pause, hit the reset button inside their head and think again.

Sound crazy? Research really does show that thinking about fictional characters we love can help us make better decisions.

In fact, thinking about superheroes can even make you physically stronger. (I’ll be asking “What would Batman lift?” at the gym tomorrow.)

But some of you might be thinking, “He said that works for kids, Eric.”

Doesn’t matter. It’ll work for you too. Here’s Brian:

The same thing works for adults. If you’re faced with a decision like, “Should I eat dessert?” think of an admired person in your life. Say to yourself, “What would my cool friend Steve do?” You’ll find that about a third of the time it will be easier for you to make healthier decisions.

Ladies, feel free to envision Wonder Woman — unless you’re more the Catwoman type. (Hey, I don’t judge.)

(For plenty more awesome tips from Brian’s books click here.)

Okay, so you’re thinking about Batman when you eat. (I’ll bet you look dashing in a cape.) But the food war is often won or lost at the supermarket.

So what can you do to make sure you’re buying the right food in the first place?

Chew Gum While You Shop

Crazy, right? Believe it or not, a stick of gum in your mouth prevents junk food from entering your shopping cart. Here’s Brian:

We found that when people popped sugarless gum in their mouth it made them less hungry. It soothed cravings and some people even reduced how many snack foods they bought by about 90%.

Here’s the important thing to remember: not all gum is created equal. Go for sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Other kinds can actually increase appetite. Here’s Brian:

But one of the things we also found is that it can’t be sugared gum or even flavored gum because that can work in the opposite direction. The stuff that works best is sugar-free bubble gum or sugar-free mint gum. Those are the two craving killers.

(For more on how the magic of gum can change your life — including make you smarter — click here.)

With superheroes on your mind and gum in your mouth you’re well on your way. But what about when you’re in a restaurant?

Now you need to think like a real estate agent: location, location, location.

Navigating The Treacherous World Of Restaurants

Watch where you sit. Did you choose a booth? You’re 80% more likely to order dessert and 80% less likely to order salad.

Sitting by the TV? You’re much more likely to order BBQ. Sitting closer to the bar? Guess who’s going to be drinking more than they thought?

Where are you safe? Head for a window seat. Here’s Brian:

People who sat in booths were about 80% more likely to order dessert than people sitting in a normal table and you’re about 80% less likely to order salad. People sitting near windows were much more likely to order salads. People sitting at tall tables were almost two to three times as likely to order chicken or fish. If you’re sitting within ten feet of a TV set you’re much, much more likely to order barbecue than not. If you are seated at a table close to the bar, on average, your table’s going to be ordering three more beers than the table that’s farther from the bar.

And those menus aren’t haphazardly thrown together. They are often marvels of psychological trickery.

Anything highlighted, in a box or a different font is going to catch your eye and you’ll be more likely to order it.

Be careful when reading the descriptions. Clever names and appealing adjectives make you 28% more likely to pick something. Here’s Brian:

Anything that’s in the corners or in a box or highlighted or in a different font or has an icon next to it has a huge leg up in its likelihood of being chosen. The description of a menu item has a tremendous impact not only on whether we’re going to order the item but also on how much we’re going to like it. In our research we found a real difference between calling something “Succulent Italian Seafood Fillet” instead of just “seafood fillet.” People are about 28% more likely to take it. And they’re also willing to pay about fifteen to twenty percent more for it.

So how do you find something that’s healthy and tasty? Ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” Here’s Brian:

If you want to get something a little bit healthier ask the server, “What are three of your lighter items that are most popular?” You don’t want to say “What are your healthiest things?” because all she’s going to do is point at salads.

(For more of Brian’s advice on how to eat smart at restaurants, click here.)

So you’re good in the supermarket and at restaurants. But what about all that eating you do at work?

How To Stop Snacking At The Office

Keep two words in mind: distance and happiness.

As we’ve talked about before, distance is a big, big deal. You eat less when food is farther away and more when it’s closer. Here’s Brian:

People ate half as much if we simply moved the candy dish off their desk and placed it six feet away.

Simple barriers have the same effect.

As Dan Ariely said in my interview with him, when Google’s New York office put M&M’s in containers people ate 3 million less of them in one month:

Here’s an experiment that Google did recently. The M&Ms in their New York office used to be in baskets. So instead they put them in bowls with lids. The lid doesn’t require a lot of effort to lift but it reduced the number of M&Ms consumed in their New York office by 3 million a month.

So that’s distance. What about happiness? It’s important to understand the psychology of workplace eating.

When you aren’t having fun at work you often tell yourself you deserve to eat more because you’re working hard.

If you enjoy your job more (or have fun going out to eat with colleagues at lunch) you’ll find this happens less. Here’s Brian:

You see food as a reward you deserve because you’re doing something you don’t want to do. “I’ve been working all day so I deserve a snack” or “I deserve more to eat tonight at dinner.”

(For more on how to be happier at work, click here.)

And now we come to the most sinister and dangerous of all the scenarios: get-togethers, dinner parties and holiday gatherings.

Say “no” to food and you could insult the host… and that often turns into an excuse to binge. What to do? Brian has answers.

How To Avoid Gorging At Events And Holiday Gatherings

Here are the two tricks:

  1. Only eat the food the host prepared themselves. No chips, pretzels or stuff out of a box or bag.
  2. Take a tiny amount of what they prepared — but make sure to ask for seconds. You don’t eat much, but the host knows you liked it.

Here’s Brian:

Our research found that people ate 11% of their calories at Thanksgiving before they even eat dinner. The peanuts, the Chex Mix and stuff like that. One of the biggest reasons that people say they overeat at Thanksgiving is they don’t want to offend their host. So the easiest way to not offend your host and eat 10% less is just don’t eat the stuff that she bought at the store. And the second thing is that nobody remembers how much you take of something but they do remember whether you asked for seconds. So just take a little bit the first time but make sure you ask for seconds and that she hears you. All she’s going to remember is that you really appreciated what she made and asked for more.

(For more tips on how to handle eating at gatherings, click here.)

Armed with these tips you should be ready for anything. Let’s round them up and get more insight from Brian.

Sum Up

Brian’s great tips for healthy eating are:

  1. Ask “What would Batman do?” (Fill in the name of anyone you admire… though Batman is an excellent choice, in my utterly biased opinion.)
  2. Chew sugarless bubble gum or mint gum while you shop for groceries.
  3. At restaurants, be careful where you sit and watch out for menu tricks. Ask the server for popular lighter options.
  4. Enjoying your work and distance from food can prevent you from overeating at the office.
  5. At get-togethers only eat what your host actually prepared. Eat a small amount but ask for seconds.

Research shows we have a crazy relationship with food sometimes. But you can overcome a lot of this with simple deceit and trickery.

What makes this so much fun is that the person you need to trick is you.

Brian and I talked for a while so there are a number of other great tips that I’ll be including in my weekly email (including the one sentence that helps people stop overeating immediately.) Join now to learn more.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Careers & Workplace

Here’s What Needs to Go on Your ‘Stop Doing’ List Immediately

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Just don't even

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

Most business owners think about creating a “start doing” list, with its endless recitations of things they could be doing more of in order for the company to be bigger, better or more profitable.

But there’s just as much value in asking yourself, “What needs to go on my ‘stop doing’ list?” When you create such a list, you detach yourself from the tasks that take up time without improving your bottom line.

For busy entrepreneurs, here are the top four habits that need to go on your “stop doing” list if you want to see more productivity, innovation and success:

Related: The Only 2 Good Reasons to Work for Free

1. Working for free.

It all adds up — those little favors, those “quick” phone calls with a potential client who wants to “pick your brain” without hiring you. Pick and choose when you give of your time, without forgetting that for every item you complete when you say yes to someone else, you’re saying “no” to yourself and your business.

2. Comparing.

The energy that’s taken up by looking at what other businesses are doing and worrying about why your business isn’t further along could be better spent innovating and exploring the issues not being addressed in your industry and how you could provide solutions for them.

3. Letting administrative tasks slide.

Are you forgetting to invoice clients, letting clients to pay late, restocking supplies at the last minute or not answering emails? When these administrative tasks pile up, you’re less likely to want to do them.

Decide on systems that can handle these tasks, outsource them entirely or determine that you’re going to find a way to run your business that doesn’t require them. For example, perhaps you’ll start using auto-delivery from Amazon Prime for critical office supplies or you’ll finally create that frequently asked questions (or FAQ) page that will reduce the number of emails you need to respond to.

Related: How Busy Entrepreneurs Deal With Mundane Tasks

4. Rushing.

When you book sessions back to back or overload your day with things to do, you end up multitasking, becoming sloppy and not putting enough time into self-care. It’s impossible to effectively run a business when you’re rushing. What’s most embarrassing is when the harried nature of your business starts to become noticeable to clients and colleagues.

When a company owner decides what he or she is going to stop doing, the results quickly become apparent. There’s more time and energy for the things that grow the business and inspire workers and leaders and less time spent on those things that are old, stagnant habits. Start with just one thing that you’re going to stop doing and work your way from there to create an even better business in the new year.

Related: Learning to Say No to Interruptions to Foster Creativity in Business

TIME Careers & Workplace

How to Build a Million-Dollar Business in 1 Year (Yes, Really)

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You have to think about one thing—and one thing only—from the start

This article originally appeared on Entrepreneur.com.

Some people go their entire lives without earning a million dollars, so it sounds crazy that some businesses might be able to achieve this milestone within their first year. But it is possible. Plenty of businesses have achieved this goal, and you can too!

Pay attention to the following tips and use them to help power up your revenue growth:

1. Find a growing market

One of the easiest ways to build a million-dollar company in such a short period of time is to find a growing trend and ride it to the top. Take the example of Micah Adler, CEO of mobile app developer Fiksu, which grew from less than $1 million to $100 million in just three and a half years — with only $17.6 million in venture capital — following its 2010 launch.

Related: Looking for Stable Business Ideas? Here Are 12 Types of Companies With Healthy Cash Flow.

Certainly, Adler’s success comes in part from building great products, but it also comes from his timing. In 2012, just two years after Fiksu’s launch, mobile-app development represented $19 billion in revenue and was experiencing annual growth of more than 60 percent a year. Finding a growing market of your own like this can put you on the fast track to massive revenue growth.

2. Think monetization from the start

It seems strange to think about objectively, but some startups start without any obvious monetization strategies. Twitter is one example of this phenomenon, but there are countless other companies out there building up their free user bases, hoping that inspiration — and, consequently, financial stability — will strike along the way.

If you want to grow a million-dollar company in your first year, you can’t afford to think that way!

Most profitable companies operate from one of two models: either they sell a lot of inexpensive products to a lot of people or they sell a few big-ticket items to a more limited buyer list. Neither model is easier or inherently better than the other. What’s more important than choosing is having a defined plan for monetization. Knowing how you’ll make money from the start will prevent wasted time spent hoping that something profitable will come together for you.

3. Be the best

There are plenty of mediocre products out there, but the odds are good that these companies aren’t making a million dollars or more during their first years. If you want to hit these big potential profits, you’ve got to bring something to the table that wows customers and generates buzz within your marketplace.

Related: Field a Team of ‘A’ Players at Your Startup

How can you tell if you’ve got a “best in breed” product? Look to your current customers. If you aren’t getting rave reviews online or positive comments sent to your inbox, chances are your clients aren’t as ecstatic about your product as they need to be to hit your target sales. Ask your existing customers what you can do to make your product better and then put their recommendations into place. They’ll appreciate your efforts and will go on to refer further sales to you in the future.

4. Hire all-stars

Hitting $1 million in revenue during your first year is no small feat, and you certainly aren’t going to achieve this goal with a team of underperformers. Yes, hiring these people will be cheaper and easier, but you’ll pay for this convenience when your end-of-the-year sales numbers come up short.

Instead, you need to hire all-stars, and the fastest way to do this is to ask around for referrals. Pay particular attention to the sales hires you make, as these key employees stand to make the biggest difference in your business’s bottom line. Get them on the bus and then encourage them to do whatever is necessary to close deals (pro tip: a good series of incentives won’t hurt!).

5. Consume data

Finally, if you want to shoot for the revenue moon, you need to be absolutely militant about gathering data and acting on it. When I approach a new marketing project, I prefer to work in short sprints of a few weeks or less where we’ll try something new, check the statistics to see how the changes impacted revenue and then either commit the changes or try a new test.

Do the same with your growing company. You have a veritable gold mine of information just hanging out in your Google Analytics account, so put it to good use by identifying your company’s key performance indicators (KPIs) and running tests designed to push these metrics even higher. If you aren’t able to carry out these tests on your own, bring on a rock-star analyst who can help you make sense of your numbers. When every penny counts towards reaching your $1-million-a-year goal, you’ll find these employees to be worth their weight in gold.

Growing a company to $1 million in revenue in your first year isn’t easy, but it is possible. Stick to the tips above and be ruthless about profitability — even if you don’t hit this particular goal, you’ll earn the strongest sales results possible for your unique company.

Related: The Ultimate Guide to Metrics for Business Leaders

TIME psychology

Here’s the Secret to Communicating With Irrational, Angry or Crazy People

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

We all have to deal with our share of hotheads and crazies. What does research say works with them?

First off, you can’t get angry too. Because then there are two crazy people arguing. While very entertaining to onlookers, this doesn’t accomplish much.

Tell yourself they are having a bad day and that it’s not about you:

Telling yourself that an angry person is just having a bad day and that it’s not about you can help take the sting out of their ire, a new study suggests… the researchers monitored participants’ brain activity and found that reappraising another person’s anger eliminated the electrical signals associated with negative emotions when seeing angry faces.

They’re being crazy. You’ll want to shut them up or talk over them. Don’t. It’s a natural reaction but it doesn’t work.

They don’t think they’re wrong. They’ll just interpret it as a status game where you’re trying to win. Stop being so sure you’re right and listen.

But here’s the important part: just shutting up is not enough.

Listening isn’t just listening. It’s letting the other person know you’re listening.

This is “active listening.”

Keep in mind that good listening is “non-evaluative.” Don’t judge or analyze what the person is saying at first. Just focus on trying to understand their perspective.

It has three components: paraphrasing, inquiry and acknowledgment:

• Paraphrase: “It sounds as if you’re satisfied with our component overall. But if I understand correctly, you need me to assure you that we can increase production if large orders come in. You’re also concerned about our proposed per-unit price and our willingness to work with you to create an acceptable arrangement. Have I captured your main points?”

• Inquire: “You mentioned that you found our proposed price to be unacceptable. Help me understand how you came to this conclusion. Let’s also talk about how we might set up a pricing structure that you find more reasonable.”

• Acknowledge: “It sounds as if you’re quite disappointed with various elements of our proposal, so much so that you have serious concerns about whether we’ll be able to work together over the long haul.”

Active listening is the first thing FBI hostage negotiators use to de-escalate incidents and save lives.

BCSM consists of five stages: active listening, empathy, rapport, influence, and behavioral change. Progression through these stages occurs sequentially and cumulatively. Specifically, the negotiator proceeds in sequence from Stage 1 (active listening) to Stage 5 (behavioral change). However,in order to establish rapport (Stage 3) with the subject, active listening skills (Stage 1) and empathy (Stage 2) must first be demonstrated (and maintained throughout) by the negotiator. As this process continues, influence (Stage 4) and behavioral change (Stage 5) follow. The latter stage refers to the successful resolution of the crisis that can only occur when, and only when, the previous stages have been carried out successfully.

It’s not all in your words. Body language is vital.

Via The Most Human Human: What Artificial Intelligence Teaches Us About Being Alive:

Language is an odd thing. We hear communication experts telling us time and again about things like the “7-38-55 rule,” first posited in 1971 by UCLA psychology professor Albert Mehrabian: 55 percent of what you convey when you speak comes from your body language, 38 percent from your tone of voice, and a paltry 7 percent from the words you choose.

You don’t want to have serious arguments via email or phone. Communicating via email makes you more likely to act like a jerk. You lie more via text message.

Steven Johnson suggests that by stripping away the emotional information in faces and intonation, email and text messaging might be simulating autism.

Via Mind Wide Open: Your Brain and the Neuroscience of Everyday Life:

…when you look at most electronic communication through the lens of neuroscience, it’s hard not to think that autism might be a more appropriate “poster condition” for the digital society. (The cultural critic Harvey Blume made this argument nearly a decade ago.) When we interact with other humans via communication channels that are stripped of facial expressions and gestures and laughter, we are unwittingly simulating the blank emotional radar of the mindblind.

If you can’t just listen and need to reply to a direct question, what should you say?

You have to make sure you get out of your head and see where they’re coming from if you don’t want them to just blow up again.

In Words That Work political expert Frank Luntz gives a pithy but powerful line:

It’s not what you say, it’s what people hear.

You may have to deal with someone who does this on a regular basis. What’s important to remember is you need to ignore the anger and hysterics. Don’t reward them. Give positive reinforcement only when they calm down.

In Karen Pryor’s book Don’t Shoot the Dog!: The New Art of Teaching and Training she explains the fundamentals of behavior change. And these methods are effective whether the subject is a dog, a dolphin or your neighbor, Larry.

A good strategy she uses is to positively reinforce anything and everything that is not the undesired behavior. In fact, she used this technique to get her mom to stop complaining:

The conversations were usually, and sometimes excessively concerned with my mother’s problems… I deliberately let her complaints and tears extinguish …I then reinforced anything and everything that was not a complaint… within two months the proportion of tears and distress to chat and laughter in our weekly phone calls became reversed.

(If it can stop a mom from complaining, it’s pretty powerful.)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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