Workshop: Create the Work Life You Want

I am really thrilled to announce Create The Work Life You Want, a workshop for entrepreneurs I'm co-leading in NYC on December 16th January 27th.  This workshop is the product of months of inspired collaboration with Liz Dahmen of Make Space. Below is the workshop description, and you can register online here. Please spread the word!

[box] Create the Work Life You Want invites you to discover how to manage your time and workspace in service to your unique entrepreneurial vision.

Over the course of this 4-hour workshop, you will assess your current time management practices & workspace set-up, explore strategies for improvement, and craft an action plan for change.

This workshop is for you if you:

  • Are an entrepreneur, freelancer, independent worker, or otherwise work for yourself
  • Are overwhelmed by your to-do list, email inbox, messy desk, or just how much you have to do
  • Want to find better systems & strategies for organizing your time and your workspace

This workshop, the first in a developing series, is being offered for the introductory price of $55.[/box]




7 Strategies for Less Stressful Work Travel

A busy work travel schedule can throw even the most balanced of us out of whack.  Forget jet-lag -- just being away from the office, our families and our own beds can be seriously disorienting. And then when we return, we face an avalanche of work left behind.  Good news: you can take action to prevent travel hell before you even leave for the airport. Here's how you can set yourself up to take a more sane, less disruptive work trip:

1.  Schedule smartly It can be tempting to book yourself solid while you're on the road.  Don't do this.  Leave yourself some breathing room to take care of business (answering emails, returning calls, etc.) back on the homefront during your away-workday.  A solid hour a day of attention devoted to your home-work will make life a lot easier when you return.

2.  Plan for recovery Schedule your post-trip recovery time ahead of time.  Depending on the length of your trip and what happens at home while you're gone, you'll likely need some time to process all the new information you got while you were away and catch up on what you missed.  Block off between a couple hours a full day within the first couple days of your return.

3.  Manage expectations Let key colleagues know you'll be on the road and less available than usual.  Set your "out of office" message on email to say that you will return emails on the day AFTER you return to the office, not the day-of, to give yourself a little breathing room.

4.  Pack healthy snacks Between the airport food court and the conference buffet, it can be hard to eat well on the road.  Play defense against Danishes by packing portable and healthy alternatives like instant oatmeal, almonds, dried fruit, and energy bars.

5.  Plan to maintain healthy rituals If you exercise regularly at home, research the hotel's gym situation (or load up some fitness podcasts) and bring your workout clothes so you can exercise while you're away.  If you enjoy a cup of herbal tea before bed at home, make sure you bring your stash for your hotel room.

6.  Research the sights Plan to allow yourself at least half a day to be a tourist, wherever you are.  After all, you haven't really been to Georgia unless you've seen the world's largest peanut, right?

7.  Get clear about why you're traveling Like, really clear.  Why are you taking this trip anyway?  And how will you know if you & your organization have gotten your money's worth?  Before you go anywhere, make sure that you know the purpose, outcomes, and process of your trip.  Let this guide your decisions about how you focus your time and attention while you're gone.

What do you do to make travel less of an ordeal?  Share your tips in the comments.

Golden Guidelines for Working from Home

Note: Student of Change is now Do Your Best Work.  Welcome! For seven years I had a full time office job -- and then I had none.  In making the transition from office worker to full time student/part time consultant, I had to learn a new way of working. Gone were the opportunities for casual interaction with coworkers, the sense that others noticed whether or not I was busy, and the pre-defined work hours.   Full days stretched out in front of me, and it was up to me to fill them productively.

Working from home -- whether it's your full-time gig, a once-a-week thing or a special arrangement with your boss to get that report done -- requires adopting a new set of behaviors.  Of course, having increased flexibility and the option to see a friend, bake a cake or go to yoga in the middle of the day is one of the reasons we choose to work from home.  Still, I find it useful to keep these guidelines in mind to make sure that I'm on track and as productive as I want to be:

  1. Get dressed in the morning. It really makes a difference.  Also: make your bed.
  2. Protect your time from others. It can be tempting, especially at first, to set up a lot of lunch dates with friends across town - just because you can.  But with that lunch date goes half of your day.  Schedule social engagements during work time sparingly.
  3. Protect your time from yourself. This is about setting boundaries between work and non-work.  Don't let household projects, non-work email or heaven forbid, TV, become procrastination devices.  On the flip-side, don't let work encroach on non-work relaxation & renewal.
  4. Worst/best first. Two ways to approach this: get the worst thing you have to do all day out of the way first.  OR, start your day with the best thing you have to do -- usually the most creative and thus most energy-consuming but also energizing.  I vary my approach depending on what's on my plate.
  5. Create colleagues.  Find at least one other person who is also a solo-worker and make a regular date to check in.  Gaining additional perspectives and support from others in your field is essential to your sanity and your growth.  And, your partner will appreciate not having to play the role of coworker at the end of his/her own long day.

Do you work from home?  What are your Golden Guidelines?

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Will You Be Doing What You Love At 99?

Fifteen years ago, my high school photography teacher Mr. Stamoulis -- a man of many witty quips -- put a saying in my head that I've remembered ever since:  "Love what you do, and you'll never work a day in your life." Mr. Stamoulis was talking about himself of course, explaining to a room of teenagers why anyone would want to be in his shoes, teaching first-period photography at 7:25 AM to a bunch of teens.

Mr. Stamoulis taught because he loved it.  He retired last year after decades at the school. His perspective on work left a lasting impression on me, and it was on my mind when I saw an article about another long career fueled by enjoyment.

On the cusp of 99, Anthony Mancinelli is the world's oldest barber.  He was profiled in yesterday's New York Times and expressed an outlook on work similar to Mr. Stamoulis'.  Mr. Mancinelli, who began cutting hair when Calvin Coolidge was president, told a reporter, "I'm not even considering retirement, because coming to work is what keeps me going."

What started as a way to make a few extra dollars became a nine-decade career.  What does Mr. Mancinelli like about what he does?  "I enjoy talking to people, it's the best part of the job."

How many of us are lucky enough to be doing work that will make us feel young at 99?

What Mr. Mancinelli and Mr. Stamoulis are both expressing is the power of purpose.  Purpose answers the questions:

  • What am I meant to be doing with my time here on Earth?
  • What contribution is uniquely mine to make?

Finding work that allows you to live out your answers those questions every day is an incredibly fulfilling way to earn a paycheck.

Have you found work that reflects your purpose?  How did you get there?

Using the Warmer/Colder Test to Stay Aligned With Your Purpose

Remember that childhood game, warmer/colder?  You'd search for a hidden object while your friend who'd hidden the object told you if you were getting "warmer" or "colder" with each step.  "Warmer" meant you were getting closer, and "colder" meant you were edging farther away.  To succeed at the game, you had to follow the "warmer" prompts until you were right where you were supposed to be. My friend and I were discussing a career decision I had to make, and he asked me if either choice felt "warmer" or "colder" in relation to where I ultimately wanted to be.  When I thought about it, one option clearly felt "warmer" -- that was where I needed to focus my attention.  The other felt "colder" --  not the direction I wanted to be headed.  That's when it clicked for me: warmer/colder is a great everyday gut-check for alignment with purpose.

I began to test out the warmer/colder question in little and big ways.  Staying up late reading blogs? Colder, zapping my energy to focus on things that are really important to me.  Reading a book on brain science?  Warmer, exploring a new area of interest.  Taking a consulting gig to do work unrelated to my studies?  Colder, dragging me back into a way of working that doesn't work for me.  Seeking out connections with new people and organizations?  Warmer, though it feels risky and unknown.

This can be especially helpful in times of career transition and personal growth.  You may feel like you have no clue of where you are going, but doing a warmer/colder check can provide you with some quick gut-level data as you move forward.

Time Management Writ Large

Just a quick post to pass along a truly inspiring TED talk.  Designer Stefan Sagmeister closes his studio every seven years to take a one-year creative sabbatical.  Amazing things happen. I love the way that Sagmeister engages in a kind of time management writ large, thinking about time use over the course of his entire life.  He figures he can take these sabbaticals by reducing his retirement by 5 years and interspersing that time into his working years.

While we all don’t have the resources or flexibility to do what Sagmeister does, it is interesting to think about what possibilities could emerge if we were to think of time management on such a grand scale. [ted id=649] I originally saw this talk referenced in this Harvard Business blog post.

When You are Lucky Enough to Have, and Hate, Your Job

Most of us can relate to the experience of holding down a job that is no longer working for us.   Whether it's the boss from hell or a vague sense that there is more to life, at some point we all feel the urge to move on.  In flusher times, maybe you would search out greener pastures, but in the Great Recession, that option may not exist.  So, how do you cope?

Harvard Business' Management Tip of the Day offers three strategies to help you survive:

1.  Connect with people (build relationships among those you work with)

2.  Use humor  (don't be so grim about it all!)

3.  Don't be complacent  (Use your free time to look for other jobs and update your LinkedIn profile)

These are great tips for making it through the 9 to 5, but as anyone in a less-than-ideal job situation knows, the stress and worry follow you home.  Here are three things you can do when you're NOT at work to make sure the job that's bringing you down doesn't zap the energy out of your entire life:

1.  Reconnect with purpose -- and go deep.  Many of us were doing  what we loved at one point, and then somehow get lost along the way.  The job changed, we changed, or both.  What is it you really want to be doing?  Two ways you might think about this:  First, what are the times you have felt the happiest in your life, and what made that so? And second, envisioning your own funeral, what do you want your friends, family, and colleagues to say about you?  In other words, why are you on this planet?  Start with that picture in mind, and allow it to steer you on the right course when you are ready to make your next move.  

2.  Begin a 5-minute daily mindfulness practice.  The stress and anxiety of being out-of-sync or miserable at the place you spend 40+ hours a week can be overwhelming.  If there ever was a time to create some quiet head-space for yourself, it is now.  If you are new to mindfulness practice, start with three to five minutes a day of quiet sitting (basic instructions here).  Building a mindfulness practice will do several things when you are out-of-sync with your job:  it will strengthen your ability to be in the present moment, nipping those anxiety spirals in the bud; it will give your over-active mind a rest from stressful thinking; and it will return your attention to your human-ness, by focusing your attention on the simple wonder of the breath.

3.  Start a fulfilling side project -- and earn extra income.  What is it you love to do? I mean really, really love to do?  For me it is painting, cooking, and crafting of all sorts.  (It's also thinking and writing about ideas, which is why I started this blog!) If you hate your job, now is the time to put some off-hours energy into things that bring you joy. Two reasons for this.  First, you could use some extra joy right now.  And second, if you can monetize your passion that extra cash will diversify your income, which down the road could give you that extra wiggle room you need to break free from your job.  Trent at The Simple Dollar has written a lot about how to tackle side-businesses.  

If this economy has taught us anything, it's that nothing lasts forever.  The most stable job, the biggest bank, even the beloved morning paper -- the things we thought would always be around -- are no longer safe bets.   If you are stuck in a job you hate (perhaps feeling guilty for hating it in this economy --anyone?) now is the time to reconnect with what fulfills you and what grounds you.  That is the space you want to be prepared to fully step into as things, inevitably, change.