February 27, 2013

Lifetime Student

No, I'm not referring that acquaintance we all have that is always signing up for a new graduate degree. (How will they ever pay down their school loans?!) I like to think that a lifetime student is anyone who enjoys and appreciates diversifying their expertise, adding to a skill set or applying new approaches to solve problems. (There's always clown college.)   

I really love these "Rules for Students", written by Sister Corita Kent of Immaculate Heart College in Los Angeles. Sister Corita strikes me as a left-brain-right-brain thinker: someone talented at applying logic into creative, artistic forms.  I especially love Rule 9 and the Helpful Hints.


"Always be around." Pretty awesome advice.

You can learn more about Sister Corita's wisdom and art here.

February 26, 2013

Rat Race

Yesterday, I alluded to the fact that I spend an inordinate amount of time putting out make-believe fires,  i.e. scrambling to accomplish tasks on tight timelines that are entirely preventable or do not actually exist. I cannot speak for other industries, but this is a common thing in the non-profit world: a philosophy that equates being busy to producing good work and vice-versa. It kind of reminds me of this bumper sticker:


It is exasperating and everyone is in on it: from CEO's to mid-level employees to interns. It is easy to become an enabler for this phenomenon too. I certainly fall into it when I stop eating dinner to return an "important" e-mail or when I pick up the phone after hours... waaaay after hours. None of these bad habits lead to productivity. For me, they lead to quite the opposite: spinning my wheels until I am exhausted and left hating my job and/or feeling bad about myself. In a great piece for the Harvard Business Review, entrepreneur and productivity expert Tony Schwartz offers great advice on slowing the wheels down and re-centering your focus on the personal qualities that make you a great worker in the first place. He writes that there is a sweet spot of productivity that lasts about 90 minutes.  Breaking your projects or day up into 90 minute chunks can go a long way to achieving your goals and objectives. Pushing it much longer than that without a break to decompress does more harm than good. Instead, get up and leave your desk! Even if it's to take the dog on a walk, get a snack or chat with a coworker, it will break up the intensity of the day and you'll return to your desk with fresh perspectives and added capacity to tackle the project at hand. Another great piece of advice was to spend a few minutes giving thanks: to colleagues, a client, the UPS guy, whomever is around. Too many times we notice or critique outcomes we don't like, instead of being grateful for what works. Even if it's a small compliment, it will go a long way for both you and the recipient.  

There are tons of other great tips in the article, all of which will help get us off the hamster wheel, slow down and start feeling better about the great work we really do!

February 25, 2013

Career Development

It's too bad that most of us only evaluate our professional development when updating a resume during a job search. At those times, we invest tons of time thinking of clever descriptors, transferable skill sets and personal goals, but rarely do we do so on a day-to-day basis. Yet, it is the daily grind of work where we spend 80% of our waking life! On any given day, I spend more time assessing the efficacy of my deodorant than cultivating the qualities I need to succeed in my current position and beyond. Instead, I punch the virtual clock, scramble from one "emergency" to the next (NB: these are not true emergencies, but a complicated system of smoke and mirrors that makes it seem so) and lie awake at night formulating mental checklists for the next day. What a better employee I would be if I devoted some of the mad dash to practicing the habits and characteristics that would better serve my employer and my own career development!

Here are a few virtues that come to mind when I think of constructive redevelopment:

- Identify the root of problems: those unproductive patterns and trends that reoccur in the workplace. How many times have I smoothed over the results of a larger, more difficult challenge lying in wait? More importantly, how many times have I been an enabler to the problem itself?

- Build empathy skills. It is so easy to write someone off if they speak, think or react to a situation differently that I would. It's a rare thing to admit that my way of dealing with something is not the best way to deal with it.

- Seek complementary personalities. I spend a lot of time negotiating with troublesome personalities, a skill that I actually take some pride in. However, it's not all about dealing with difficult people. Do I actively seek out coworkers and colleagues that bring out the best in me?

These are just a few dimensions that I would love to brag about in a performance evaluation or interview. This week I'll be looking for ways to beef-up those personal qualities that better serve myself and others in the workplace. I have an inkling that all have some bearing on creating Sanity with a Side of Paycheck.

February 13, 2013

Office Lust: Work Pod

If you're really over your current workspace, perhaps you should consider a work pod. 



Archipod makes eco-friendly offices that look a heck of a lot better than an everyday cubical.  Check out their models here.

February 12, 2013

Don't Worry, Be Happy

Yesterday was all about success, but today let's think about happiness. In my obsession with making lists, I like to jot down a few words of current things that make me happy.
                Travel daydreaming
                                                Yoga workshops
                                                                            Date nights
                                                                                               Glass of wine
It's the small things, right? Well, positivity psychologist (what a job title!) Sonja Lyubomirsky has a good list of her own: 12 Things Happy People Do Differently. Here's a quick run-through: Happy people express gratitude, cultivate optimism, avoid over-thinking and social comparison(*guilty), practice acts of kindness, nurture their relationships, develop strategies for coping, learn to forgive, increase flow experiences (that state where everything slows down and you are solely focused on a task), savor joys, commit to goals, practice spirituality and take care of oneself.

What I like about Sonja's list is that each suggestion is DOABLE, i.e. not something that requires a particular situation to arise before achieving happiness is possible.

What are the small things that make you happy?  

February 11, 2013

Success Through the Ages

If I had to make a list detailing the ingredients that make a successful career, it might look something like this:
- Feeling I've made difference at the end of the day;
- Gaining respect from my peers;
- Receiving recognition from my boss;
- Controlling my to-do lists and e-mail inbox;
- Living a life outside of work with time for family, friends and fun.

Recently, I read another such list written by Amelia Barr, a British-cum-American novelist who lived at the turn of the last century. It's interesting to compare/contrast our lists, written over 100 years apart. Amelia's list is grandiose and inspirational, while mine is practical and focused on the here and now.

Here is an abbreviated version of her Rules for Success, taken from a great book entitled "How They Succeeded":
  1. Men and women succeed because they take pains to succeed. Industry and patience are almost genius; and successful people are more distinguished for resolution and perseverance than for unusual gifts.  
  2. Success is the reward of those who "spurn delights and live laborious days." We learn to do things by doing them.
  3. No opposition must be taken to heart. Our enemies often help us more than our friends.
  4. A fatal mistake is to imagine that success is some stroke of luck. This world is run with far too tight a rein for luck to interfere.
  5. We have been told, for centuries, to watch for opportunities, and to strike while the iron is hot. Very good; but I think better of Oliver Cromwell's amendment - "make the iron hot by striking it."
  6. Everything good needs time. Don't do work in a hurry. Go into details; it pays in every way. Time means power for your work. Mediocrity is always in a rush; but whatever is worth doing at all is worth doing with consideration.
  7. Be orderly. Slatternly work is never good work.
  8. Never be above your profession.
  9. Don't fail through defects of temper and over-sensitiveness at moments of trial. One of the great helps to success is to be cheerful; to go to work with a full sense of life; to be determined to put hindrances out of the way; to prevail over them and to get the mastery.
The last one really speaks to me, as someone with an "oversensitive" temper. A smile really does go a long way... then or now.

February 5, 2013

Journaling for Work

Do you keep a journal or daily work log? I know a few managers who are required to do so, but there is a heap of benefit that comes from setting a little time aside each day to the practice as an employee. 

Journaling encourages resiliency, something I posted about last month. A daily (or near daily) practice of self-reflection helps in a multitude of ways, including balancing your priorities with those of others, processing challenging situations after they occur, tracking patterns in your behavior, managing stress and maintaining a sense of control in a crazy work environment. 

Ultimate Youth Worker provides a great template for the first-time journaler:
  1. Identify and describe the experience/issue/decision/incident
  2. Identify your strengths as a practitioner
  3. Identify your feelings and values, then the feelings and values of others involved
  4. Identify external and internal factors, including structural and oppressive factors
  5. Identify factors you have influence or control over and those you don't
  6. Identify knowledge used, including factual, theoretical and practice
  7. Develop an action plan: what do I need to do first, second, third and so on
  8. Implement your action plan, then do it all over again. 
Don't worry about writing for an audience and certainly don't write for posterity. I think I would be horrified to go back and re-read the diaries of my youth, but that doesn't stop me from continuing the habit today. In her book, A Writer's Diary, Virginia Wolfe wrote that "[T]he habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Nevermind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink." 

Interested in a peak at some famous journals?  Flip through the pages here. Frida Kahlo's is my favorite.  Charlotte Bronte's is intense!

February 4, 2013

Forget Idealist.com

Thinking of making a career change? Have I got some options for you! Check out this list of quirky professions to see if you're right for the job!  

Personally, I'm shooting for Professional Mattress Jumper. What a great way to earn a paycheck, plus meet your daily cardio goals!

Photo: Siana Hristova, The Chronicle