How to Work Your Best: Step 3

bizladies_how_you_work Step 3 of figuring out how you work your best means taking all the information from steps 1 and 2, and turning it into a plan.

Here are the tips offered by Design*Sponge (paraphrased by yours truly):

  • Block out your most productive, creative times on your calendar, and plot out priorities.
    • I'm literally blocking out my calendar for 9 a.m. - 3 p.m. every day to focus on my top priority, most creative projects. At the end of every day, I'm going to try to write my top 3 priorities for the next day, too. Often I'm rushing around and then arrive to work unfocused, then get distracted by email and "this must be done now!" stuff, and things get out of whack. Same with weekends -- I still want to relax and rejuvenate on the weekends, but I also want to set aside 1-2 hours for priorities I can't get to during the week. Like, free/creative writing and blog stuff, basically.
  • Work ahead of schedule.
    • This is really hard. But it feels oh-so-good to be on top of things.... so I'll try.
  • Create energizing space in your day.
    • I accidentally make this some sort of New Year's resolution every year, I've realized. Creating space can easily mean "doing absolutely nothing with a glass of wine in hand while watching Scandal because wine helps me relate to Olivia Pope better." That's okay, but I need to create energizing space. I usually do that through yoga but I want to include daily reading/writing space as well.
  • Let go of expectations.
    • Soooo pretty much a life practice in all areas, over and over.
  • Plan for the next day, energy-wise: what fills you up v. what sucks your energy away.
    • Sometimes I just set my schedule and agree to things without really thinking it through. For instance, I keep making plans on Monday nights when I know by 5 p.m. Monday I want nothing more than to go to yoga, do laundry and hang around the apartment. I never want to be social on a Monday night; I want to be a homebody to the max. Anything else steals my energy, whereas planning to be social on Wednesdays-Saturdays feels much more fulfilling and fun and I actually follow through on it. Same idea with work -- if I notice my tomorrow is full of meetings, I need to proactively think about how I can avoid momentary burnout throughout the day.
  • Know how you work best (because now you do!) and don't apologize for it.
    • I actually just had a performance review and got feedback about being a "quiet leader." I've struggled with this over the years, but honestly, I'm tired of apologizing for it and trying to be somebody I'm not. I'm a naturally quiet person; I'm a natural listener and thinker before a speaker and actor. It's good for me to push against this, but I also know that it's simply who I am. And I've done quite well thus far being that person!

In a week or so, I'll be back with an update on how this effort is going. If you're participating in this exercise, share your plan going forward!

How to Work Your Best: Step 2

bizladies_how_you_work Update on Step 1: I did not get enough sleep. Sue me. I'm on vacation in San Francisco the next four days (expect a fun trip recap soon!) and had to catch a plane by 5:45 a.m. today Which meant waking up at... 4 a.m. And I went to bed way too late because I was trying to do all those last minute things that I originally intended to do like, a week ago. WHATEVER, West Coast, I'm on my way to you.

Onto step 2 of discovering how I best work: finding patterns.

What times of day do you do your most creative or brain-taxing work?

Between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m., and then between 7 p.m. and 11 p.m. (depending on the day). So, mornings and early afternoons. Mondays are usually a crapshoot; I prefer to do lots of life tasks at the start of a week. Fridays and weekends, I try to devote to creativity projects and recharging needs... which is hard since I tend to travel/schedule a ton of stuff on those days.

When do you feel like your energy is waning?

Late afternoon and evening, early mornings. Sundays and Mondays. Thursday nights.

What sorts of activities fill you with lots of energy and which ones leave you feeling flat?

This was pretty obvious.

I feel energetic when I am creating in solid chunks of time, reading or watching something for fun or inspiration, connecting with at least one friend or family member or doing something new. When I am able to switch it up throughout my day, include some physical exercise (fresh air, woo woo!), help someone with something.

I feel flat when I am receiving too much information in scattered bits, working on too many things at once, having too many tools at my disposal (a million Feedly tabs, my phone, Gmail), trying to give to too many relationships at once (in person or on the phone, like trying to call several friends and family members on a single night, or saying yes to a social obligation every night of the week). If I wake up and immediately look at my phone, my mind pounces to all the million things I need and want to do, and I immediately feel low energy and like I want to procrastinate. If I say yes to everything, I inevitably cancel something because I just can't deal with it the day-of, and I end up bailing on people or not getting things done, which I don't like. Ugh, and I feel flat when I spend too much time on social media instead of, you know, living my actual life.

Who fills you with lots of energy, and who leaves you dry? This could just be clients, or it could be other relationships. What’s common about the people who fill you up?

Hmm. For me, it's the same on a personal and professional level. People who leave me dry tend to complain, only talk about themselves (one-sided conversations don't do it for me), avoid asking questions or carrying out a conversation, aren't interested in exploring new things or their community/world. I don't like people who bitch about coworkers or leadership or their own lives repeatedly (everyone is entitled to bad days, of course), who note problems instead of offering solutions, and who are focused on praise and approval rather than teamwork toward a joint goal. I don't care for people who are jaded or rude or dishonest.

I'm energized by people who are storytellers and visionaries, talkative about anything and everything, thoughtful about all kinds of subjects (ones I'm familiar with and ones I'm not), curious about big questions and small decisions and life in general.  I prefer interacting with people who are good at what they do, care about relationships, and seem to genuinely want to make a difference for others somehow. I want to be around people who tell the truth, even when it's hard, who believe in creativity and a meaningful life and being dorky-level excited about things.

Your turn!

How to Work Your Best: Step 1

bizladies_how_you_work As part of writing my previous post about figuring out a career versus a calling, I came across this awesome exercise for discovering how you work best, courtesy of Design*Sponge.

It involves three steps:

  1. Think about what gives you energy, and what doesn't.
  2. Look for patterns related to time of day, day of the week, type of activity, people involved, etc.
  3. Make a plan.

I decided to turn mine into a blog post, naturally, starting with step one.

Describe 3 activities you undertook today that left you feeling recharged and energized.

  • Getting enough sleep the night before. I often think I'm fine on five or less hours of sleep, but I notice a huge difference when it's more like 6-8 hours.
  • Working on my own timeline, at my desk, based on my own to-do list of deadlines and priorities.
  • Making time to read and write on a personal level.
  • Teaching yoga or at least getting to my own mat. (Okay, that's four, but still.)

Describe 3 activities you undertook today that left you feeling depleted, flat and like you need to retreat.

  • Meetings and conference calls. Oh my god. I hate meetings. I feel antsy and tired and annoyed in most of them. I just want to go work and move on.
  • Multitasking too much. I'm getting a little better at this, though. I turned off email notifications and I'm better about not leaving Gchat or my phone up and running at all times. I get easily distracted and that depletes my creative energy really fast, even though I like switching gears. I always think I'm more productive doing lots of things at once, and sometimes I am, but energy-wise, it's a killer.
  • Small talk with coworkers. I know, I'm awful. As an introvert, sometimes I come off as standoffish or unwelcoming or rude, but really I'm just in my own head listening and thinking. I've realized with other jobs how negatively this can impact the vibe of a work family, though, and so I try really hard to set aside time to chatting and getting to know colleagues (energy-building!) as opposed to the ambushed, run-away feeling I get when someone wants to chat by the copier or my cubicle.
  • Sitting for too long. (I had to do four to match the first list.)

List 3 things you can do tomorrow to bring more of the list that fills you up into your day.

  • Easy. Go to bed instead of staying up to watch another episode of something on Hulu. Set my own priorities proactively instead of reactively making choices based on email. Make time to read and write, even for 15-30 minutes each (I always fail to do this; even though it is a top priority, I always think I can push it to the back burner). Practice or teach yoga.

List 3 things you can do tomorrow to bring less of the list that depletes you into your day.

  • Cancel meetings and conference calls whenever possible. (Not in a "I'm bailing on this sense," but asking, "Is it productive for me to be in this meeting? Do I have to be in it? Do I have anything to contribute? Do I need to be on this call?") Focus on one thing at a time by setting aside calendar time, shutting down distractions. Focus on the positive aspects of talking with coworkers (I don't think I should bring less of this into my day, just shift my mentality a bit). Move around by switching environments or just walking around the office.

Prioritize the list above – what’s the number 1 thing you can do tomorrow to feel more energized?

Put down the Hulu/Kindle/iPhone. GET ENOUGH SLEEP. 

Join me for Step 2 tomorrow!

Career v. Calling: What's the difference?

career-vs-calling Lately I've been talking and thinking a great deal about my career -- where I am now, where I'd like to be in a year or five years, and what kind of work best suits my interests and skills. I've explored several different paths in the marketing, communications, development and design worlds, at a variety of nonprofits, and it's becoming hard to figure out where I should and want to go next. It's also continually challenging to navigate the ever-changing job market, where introductions now trump resumes and job applications feel like like they're drops of water disappearing in the online abyss.

I've also noticed I've gotten in a habit of consuming instead of creating, of being busy in a way that feels a little depleting rather than energizing, of checking things off my to-do list rather than cultivating time for what inspires me. My friend Laura calls this the hamster wheel of the Internet, and writes about it eloquently here, and I could not agree more. It's like I have my job, and then I have all the other things I'm doing and thinking about doing and having all the feels about doing. The former is a given for me; the latter emphasis on vocation seems a bit like a luxury.

Here's what I'm wondering: what's the difference between a career and a calling?

passion calling

In your twenties, there's this weird dichotomy. You're essentially given a permission slip to try it all on: jobs, cities, lovers, friends, activities. I can't tell you how many times someone has said to me, "Well, it's early in your career, you'll figure it out." Or, "Well, you've got plenty of time to get married and have kids, don't sweat it." (HAHA JUST KIDDING, if you're a woman between ages 20-30 and you're not dying to pop out a baby/buy a house/get a ring on that finger, people think you're weird. It's fucking annoying, but more on that another time.)

You're also expected to know what you want in all of those arenas, and to be actively moving toward it. As you get older, society is less and less forgiving of those who aren't sure, and that journey of "figuring it out" can feel really stressful and fraught with anxiety. I often find myself asking, "Am I trying on the right things? Did I miss a step? Should I say yes to this opportunity? If I keep feeling a No in this area, does that mean I should leave it alone? What should I leave behind and what should I return to?" And so on.

The illusion of perfection and confident set forth via social media doesn't help. Other people's lives look shiny and together and like they make sense. I know that isn't always true, but it's hard to remember that fact when you're struggling to articulate your own vision. I don't think these people have it all figured out, whatever that means, but what I don't hear is conversation about the not knowing, the not being sure. I hear about goals and successes and wins and confident elevator speeches, but I wonder about the process behind it all, the getting there, wherever "there" is for someone.

LinkedIn is kind of cool for this reason, because if I notice someone in a role I'd potentially like to have, I can sometimes see a little bit about where they came from. Nowadays, people don't "find" a career and arrive at it to stay forever fulfilled. There are new versions of this model -- people who have taken an entry level job someplace and worked their way up, or people who stay in roles longer than 1-3 years for various reasons -- but that's less of the norm and more of the exception. More and more, I encounter people who are indeed jumping from job to job, either for money or experience or excitement or just because.

I've done the same. At 28, I'm in my fourth "real" job. I don't advocate this approach to others, but it's also been very realistic for me. I graduated college with what some might call super useful, lucrative degrees -- english and political science -- and then I went on to get a master's in an even MORE useful, lucrative field -- religion and literature. Along the way, I worked at an urban church, a chamber of commerce, a foundation and a healthcare organization. I picked up side gigs teaching yoga, teaching writing at a community college, freelance writing about technology and entrepreneurs and more. I'm proficient in graphic design, event marketing, fundraising communications, project management, social media marketing, and I'm excellent at writing and editing and content strategy.

But I'm not just one of those things. This is a little bit of a problem, because I keep feeling like I need to pick a track and stick with it for my "career," as well as absolutely LOVE whatever it is I've picked. And I don't really know what I should pick, if I should pick something in general, yet I have the nagging sense that I'm not in the right place doing the right work.

You've heard these common threads in career advice. "Follow your passion." "Think about what you liked to do as a kid; that's probably what you should be doing with your life." "Your work shouldn't feel like work."

career v calling 2

I take real issue with these sentiments for a few reasons and pretty much want to call bullshit every time I read or hear about it, because:

  1. Passions change.
  2. Kids don't have the same constraints and responsibilities as adults.
  3. Work is called work for a reason.

I know, I sound super jaded. I get what people are trying to say with these phrases: don't waste your life in a job that you hate, do something that interests you and makes a difference in the world, bring your unique voice to the table.

I mean, as a kid I made up entire lives (pre-Facebook profiles, really) for my Beanie Babies, and then developed mini soap opera storylines for them. I read voraciously and felt a ridiculous sense of pride at spelling words correctly and winning free mini pizzas at Pizza Hut for checking books off my to-read list. My best friend and I spent all of recess every day in fifth grade playing a game called Twins, where we pretended we were twins (surprise!) and essentially talked about what we looked like, what we wore, who our friends were, what our families were like, etc. We honestly spent more time setting up this Twin story than actually being the Twins, but no matter...

In no particular order, I wanted to be a ballet dancer, a book publisher, singer, a writer, a nurse, a lawyer, a teacher. I never wanted to be just one thing, but I also see the key threads that still exist today -- the desire to tell and make up stories for entertainment, the inkling to orchestrate communication for other people, the perfectionist tendencies to know as much as possible and get everything right. These qualities have inspired and benefited my career thus far, but I still think this emphasis on following one's passion is problematic.

Its problematic because it underscores the old model that posits the question, "What do you want to be when you grow up?" I mean, do cleaning ladies and janitors grow up wanting to be cleaning ladies and janitors? Did truck drivers play with trucks as kids? Are CEOs passionate about change or making money? Does everyone who genuinely feels like they're on the right career path wake up feeling sunshine-y every morning? (This gets into a political/economic discussion about the job industry in general, but you get what I mean.)

For example, my dad just retired as a police officer and detective after 27 years of work in the same city at the same department. He was excellent at his job, but he didn't grow up wanting to be a cop; it's just how it worked out. He was newly married with a baby and needed a job, so he got his associate's degree in law enforcement, heard about a job in southern Illinois, applied, took it, and they moved. There was no debate about whether or not police work would "fulfill" him, or if it was his "passion," or if it was the "right" thing to explore. Some of those things came along the way, but that's not where he started. And I think that's true for a lot of people.

So why do those terms dominate today's conversation about work? Is this a good thing? What's the difference between a career and a calling?

To me, career so far is what I've been doing -- accepting jobs at various organizations to strengthen skills and get experience. Calling feels like something different, something much harder to land on. I feel called to write my own stories and help others write their stories, but those things don't pay for my student loans, you know? I'm passionate about writing, but some days, it totally sucks and it's hard and I think I should probably never write another word again; aka, it's work.

Lots of questions, lots of words on this topic today. I'd love to know what you think -- what's your current career, and does it align with your calling? Do you even believe in feeling "called" to something, and if so, what is it? Is a career different from a calling in your mind, or are these just semantics?