Archive for the ‘work environment’ Category

summertime is great for reflection

Friday, June 13th, 2014

50 waysI found this great tool online around where you are in your job search. The title is a bit misleading, since I think the exercise of thinking about some of these questions isn’t just for people on the market, but for anyone wanting to take a moment to reflect upon where you are and where you’re going. That’s not an easy place for me to go. I’m constantly into self-improvement and thinking about what I want to grow, but not always about fixating on a goal ahead – my tendency is to stay in the day-to-day.

I suggest you explore the site, 50 Ways to Get a Job That Makes Good. It reads like there is a path from starting to happy (who wouldn’t want to get there?)…yet, it’s easy to pick a square and see where it leads you.

I haven’t gone through them all, but some of my favorite rectangles include:

I think Friday’s a good day for you to start playing around with it, so get going!

getting to 45

Friday, February 7th, 2014

45did you miss me, readers? it’s been a few months and the main reason for that is that my area of alumni education has become a priority in our organization, which has the gift of more work. it’s been difficult to do these things that give me energy like blogging, and in the new year i’ve been more focused on trying to get myself to yoga and zumba.

so i just turned 35 last month and when i’m talking about getting to 45, i’m referencing my ideal number of work hours a week, not my age. this fits into the 2014 resolution of working less (quantity, not quality!) i’d like to practice what i preach on work-life balance more and have more time to grow myself outside of work – do more crafts and find time for creativity. so how am i going to accomplish this feat? i think if i put some standards out on the world wide web here, it will make me more accountable.

stop myself before i say yes to everything. whenever there’s a new initiative or project, i almost cannot stop myself from raising my hand. i love to say yes! i’m getting better for a couple of reasons – one to allow other people to step up and gain new experiences and also to give myself a break. for example, i was asked to head up a brown bag series for a group of departments and knowing that it would involve less of my time if i had free reign on topics and took it on my own, i set those terms from the beginning. also, i reluctantly stepped down from our fun force to take on this new responsibility.

plan out vacations far ahead of time. last year, i still planned vacations, but they mostly happened around work trips and organized in a stressful manner at the last minute because i felt like i needed them. we also stayed pretty close by. in 2014, i started the year with a calendar highlighting off-limits dates because of work travel and i’ve proactively put some stakes in the ground (yosemite, pinnacles, grand canyon and new zealand!) having something to look forward to and knowing i’ve carved out this time for myself and my family already makes me happier at work each day.

speak up when projects feel under-resourced. working on this new organizational priority, i’m speaking up a lot when i’m feeling overwhelmed or if i can see the road ahead looks bleak with staffing. it’s just the beginning of the project, and i hope that raising my concerns early on will help relieve late work nights down the road. i’m currently hiring right now, which is a great sign for our team to expand with the work.

make it to evening exercise classes. i feel most productive in the afternoon, which makes exercise tricky. my position requires too many midday meetings for me to exercise at lunch time and so that leaves the evening. having a 6:05, 5:40 and 5:00 class three nights a week can sometimes be challenging to make, yet i’m committed to at least making two per week. i did not take yoga last quarter and my body clearly missed out on the quality of breath and relaxation that guided yoga provides. the physical and mental release helps me come to work the next morning a whole person. thanks to stanford VPN finally working well with linux, i can at least access shared folders.

make sure i preserve the time and well-being of my own staff. as a manager and mentor to others, i must practice what i preach. it’s important that i can protect my own staff from unreasonable demands to keep job happiness factor as high as possible. employees should approach their supervisors when work feels out of control, and it’s just as important for managers to pay attention to these kinds of things.

when it comes down to it, work is work and we have lives outside of our cubes. the work i do at stanford feels incredibly fulfilling to me, yet it is not all i am. who wouldn’t feel amazing putting together amazing experiences such as stanford+connects? in 2014, i’m committing to topping out my work hours at 45 per week when possible and i hope you keep me to it!

focus, focus, focus

Monday, March 25th, 2013

Stanford has a BeWell program here that tries to build healthy physical and emotional behaviors among staff. A huge focus for their efforts is around mindfulness to reduce stress and increase clarity. In fact, I just attended a stress workshop this week around being more present. The facilitator defined stress whenever our minds are out of our body – when we’re doing one thing and thinking about the next task at hand.

The Chronicle of Higher Education had an excellent long article today called, You’re Distracted. This Professor Can Help. I was pretty blown away in the first place by his approach. Many instructors have banned laptops in the classroom as a way to combat the distracted nature students bring into the lecture hall. Instead of removing the temptation, Professor David Levy actually teaches students how to build focus through meditation at the beginning of each class.

I’m not a meditator myself (but I’d like to be). This goes beyond the actual practice of meditation and brings up the idea of a ritual to get yourself focused on the work ahead of you. How to you start your morning? If you are good and don’t let e-mail run your day from the get go, what is that gets you “in the mood” for big thinking around work projects?

I schedule out time for projects, which maybe works for me about half the time (I work in a place with many interruptions). Others might put on headphones to block out the world. I know some colleagues that remove themselves from their cube and work in a conference room to plow through work that needs to be interrupted. If you don’t have a work ritual for big work, it’s probably worth thinking of good strategies that might work for you.

Are you a really amazing employee?

Friday, March 8th, 2013

I don’t think everyone should be amazing, since we all come to work each day with different perspectives about what that 40 or more hours means to each of us. That said, a recent post in Inc. on the 10 Things Really Amazing Employees Do got me thinking about the subject.  I like their list and there are 4 standouts for me that I try to exhibit:

  • Enthusiastically Learn All Aspects of Business
  • Demonstrate High Standards, With Low Maintenance
  • Grow Themselves, and Others
  • Stimulate Happiness

Learn it All. When you show up to work, putting in the time is a given, and striving to learn more about the current context and future direction of your industry is very important. For my job in particular, this means staying attuned to what’s happening at Stanford across the board from the student experience, major sports, university priorities and understanding my primary audience, faculty and their world. I regularly read university publications, look for Stanford in the news beyond, pore through every set of Faculty Senate notes and stay current with the makeup of the student and faculty bodies. Beyond Stanford, checking in with colleagues at other Ivy Plus institutions and keeping tabs on the latest in content and online learning is incredibly important. Knowing this background helps inform my work and honestly, it keeps me energized and full of purpose.

High Standards, Low Maintenance. I have incredibly high standards and find myself having to dial it back and pick and choose my battles. In managing staff, it’s very important to hope for the best and motivate others to maintain a similarly high level of excellence so you don’t have to micromanage their efforts. Despite the high standards, the low maintenance part is key. How many times have you been a part of a project where you aren’t the most senior person related to the decision – you do a huge amount of work and it can be derailed when it’s brought to decision makers? For those with certain expectations, especially leaders and decision makers, it’s paramount to articulate must haves from the get go so that others can be on the same page, or build in check-ins before others have gone down the wrong path.

Grow! It’s an expectation in management-level positions to grow others around you, but I’ve found it’s one of my favorite things about work. This doesn’t even have to be a formal mentor relationship, but taking the time to get advice from senior-level staff or peers can be invaluable. Asking for feedback in tough situations can only help your job to better, and let’s face it, people love to be asked for these kinds of things. Don’t devalue the impact of little things, like providing feedback to peers, or just being a listening ear when a colleague needs to vent or work through a difficult situation. Regular readers know from my blog that I am a voracious consumer of all things learning. The more professional and personal development you can do from productivity to technical skills to exercise/nutrition will all make you a better and happier person.

Exude Happiness. We work more than we sleep, more than we spend time with our loved ones…more than anything. In some ways, that means that work is life. I don’t say this in a negative way at all, but when you do the math around your day and factor in your commute, it’s a lot of time. You are valuable and you should enjoy what you do and why you’re doing it. If not, find something else. We all have some level of agency in choosing our careers, so find something you love and show up with a smile and ready to connect with colleagues and tackle projects. This isn’t only important for really amazing employees, but for everyone.

Saying Yes and No in Your Life

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

What better time than elections to focus on what kind of agency we all have in our lives. More and more it seems like everyone feels inundated with work and overwhelmed by all of the details that go into living our daily lives. On some level, I think this is true. On another level, it’s a mix of first world problems and the inability to gain perspective about how much control we actually have over our own existence. We all make choices and those decisions lead into what makes our days what they are. I urge you all to recognize that you have power over your life and you can make changes…pretty easily, actually.

It starts with saying no to some things. Just take quick stock of some of the regular time sucks in your life that you aren’t getting rewards from and figure out a solution to getting your time back. I recently came across a short piece in The Chronicle of Higher Education on Saying Goodbye to What’s No Longer Working, even when it seems like a fun or regular thing.  As my job has moved over to alumni education responsibilities, I felt this anxiety about how some of my previous duties don’t really have coverage at this moment while we’re staffing up. When I decided to just stop attending those meetings, it was a relief. Although someone will need to make sure those areas get covered, ultimately, it’s not my responsibility, and letting go of that weight on my shoulders felt like a relief.

It’s not really fun to say no, but often it’s necessary. Your time is valuable and so are you!

It feels amazing to say yes. I love being able to help out co-workers and now that I’ve been here for awhile, many colleagues across the university still reach out to me as a resource or for advice on various things. Although this can be seen as a burden or time suck, I carve out time for it, because it feels like such a reward to me.

Check out The Huffington Posts’s piece on Be Loved: How to Get More Love in Your Life. The short synopsis is to do the following to get more love coming your way:

  • Sleep!
  • Stay inspired and creative
  • Find calmness in yourself
  • Let go and indulge in play

I think these suggestions ring pretty true. I’m hit or miss on the sleep part. I definitely stay inspired and creative. I feed my brain by reading so many books and always keep the arts in my life with dance performances and museums. Yoga helps with the calmness. Yesterday, my instructor and friend noted that it’s simple to find calmness in a dark room, wearing comfortable clothes on a mat, but we should stretch to bring that regularly into our day. And I could probably play more…who couldn’t?

I’ll leave you on that note and hope you take some time to empower yourself with agency in your life. If you’re not feeling fulfilled, make some changes!

This is your brain on vacation

Thursday, July 19th, 2012

I have 2 more days in the office until I’m on vacation. 4 days off and 6 days of fun in total.

I’m glad before I left, this article on Vacation Sabotage got my attention with the line, “Before I go on vacation, even for a week, I prepare as though I’m headed to the coroner. I empty the in-box, clean the piles on the desk, put away all the laundry, dust.” Matt Richtel notes that we arm ourselves for vacation as if we’re preparing to die.

Of course, this is an exaggeration, but I’ve always found that the language co-workers use around vacation is a bit troubling. You hear about how stressed the week beforehand is as the person gets her affairs in order. The week of it, there’s talk about checking e-mail and the mounting load of work. Upon return, more than the memories of the trip, it’s all about the 100s of e-mails to pore through.

Why do we allow ourselves to get into this mental trap? I certainly argue that’s what it is. I like how this article identifies that we do it to ourselves. When you’re gone for 3 days, it’s not such a big deal, but adding a couple more seems to change that for some reason. I think the magical thing about vacation is when you return, processing e-mail is 10x faster than normal. Many requests have already been handled by colleagues and others are just pointless or past relevance.

So starting Saturday during my time off, I’ll take my own advice and truly get away. There will be no “cubicle in my pocket” and I won’t be thinking about my desk or my projects. Thinking from afar is never productive; it doesn’t get things done.

Even when not on vacation, I challenge you all to change your relationship with your device and not let your smartphones tempt you into working whenever you have a spare moment in line or standing around. Instead take a deep breath and remember what it was like to be bored. Remember those days, when we didn’t feel like we had to be doing something every second of the day?

18 Minutes: Find Your Focus, Master Distraction, and Get the Right Things Done

Thursday, July 12th, 2012

Recently, I read a stellar book on finding daily focus in 18 minutes. I read a fair share of business books (mostly around working more productively), and you can always check out my Working Smart list in Goodreads to see my other recommendations. Following is not exactly a summary, but rather it represents my main takeaways.

Overall, Bregman provides the following work/life advice, which does help find focus with your time:

  • Leverage your strengths.
  • Embrace your weaknesses.
  • Assert your differences.
  • Pursue your passions.

Considering these different paths help you stand out in the workplace. If you aren’t doing these things, you’re probably not as happy or you’re doing something wrong.

Working with People

“When you shorten transition time, you create a boundary that helps you and others adjust to a new reality.” From going through a couple of reorganizations at the Alumni Association, I wholeheartedly agree. Often there is so much preparation for a transition that it ends up making the whole process seem longer and more painful. Jumping into cold water is always better than easing your way in.

“I’ve noticed something three times and I want to discuss it with you…Don’t wait too long to bring something up. People can only respect boundaries they know are there.” Coaching and feedback in the workplace is very important to creating strong, growing relationships. I think this is a nice approach without having to list out specific instances. It says that you’ve waited and allowed time for mistakes.

“Why won’t this work for you? That’s a good point. So how can you change it to make it work?” We all do things differently on the job. I’m completely process-oriented, and in alumni relations, there are a lot of fuzzier people people. We should feel comfortable doing things in our own way, and part of letting people work happy is to agree upon a similar outcome, evening if getting there means taking different paths.

Productivity

“You need to be motivated for only a few seconds. Know when you’re vulnerable and you’ll know when you need to turn it on.” This was my favorite takeaway from the book. You don’t have to be motivated 8 hours a day, but a minute of motivation can launch you into a task or project that ends up carrying you forward. We’ve got to recognize our slumps and figure out what gets us in the mode.

  • Do it immediately.
  • Schedule it.
  • Let it go.
  • Someday/maybe.

You’ve probably seen these different routes for tasks if you’ve ever look at David Allen’s Get Things Done model. My favorite one is to let it go. We really don’t do that often and especially during busy times, it’s necessary triage.

“The right kind of interruption can help you master your time and yourself. Keep yourself focused and steady by interrupting yourself hourly.” I like the idea of thinking about distraction as a way to counter distraction. I’m not sure that it works for me exactly, but Bregman suggests stopping every hour to see if you’re actually accomplishing what you need to accomplish or if you’re totally off track.

  • Am I the right person?
  • Is this the right time?
  • Do I have enough information?
  • If any of these is a no – then don’t do it.
We get requests from all directions. Using the above criteria can sometimes help you delegate work or let the requestor know it’s not the right time or you need more information. Sometimes we take on more than we really can or we really should.

“Create an environment that naturally compels you to do the things you want to do.”I do this with a ridiculous amount of photos and inspirational materials in my cube, but also having file folders in reach and a number of calendars at my fingertips helps put me in the right mindset.

Benchmarking and the Long Term

Bregman asserts that anyone can do anything as long as three conditions exist:

  • You want to achieve it.
  • You believe you can achieve it.
  • You enjoy trying to achieve it.

The key part of this statement is that you enjoy trying. It’s all about the motivation, and if that is missing, it’s really difficult to move forward on your goals.

The author takes a wide view and suggests we all set a few business and personal goals that are very broad to frame the way we spend out time. Here are his that he focuses on in the book:

  • Do great work with current clients
  • Attract future clients
  • Write and speak about my ideas
  • Be present with family and friends
  • Have fun and take care of myself

I’m drawn to their simplicity. Even having these posted somewhere to look at daily help trigger you to consider whether or not you’re spending any time on long-term goal achievement. This is the concrete part of the 18 minutes, where Bregman actually diagrams out how to spend those 18 minutes each day, allocating some time to examine how you’re faring in the long-term bucket. I love his personal goal about being present and especially in this technologically distracting time, it resonates with me. A small piece of advice that he took as well, was around vacations. If you know you have to be dialed into work while you’re supposed to be getting R&R, set aside a specific 15-30 minutes to be undisturbed and checking e-mail. This allows you to compartmentalize that work time so you can enjoy the rest of your day work and worry free.

In a more specific way, he has you ask questions to review the end of your work day. A colleague does a plus/delta review after meetings that’s a bit similar – being reflective about what happened and how that compared to your expectations.

  • What is this day about?
  • How did the day go? What success did I experience? What challenges did I endure?
  • What did I learn today? About myself? About others? What do I plan to do – differently or the same – tomorrow?
  • Whom did I interact with? Anyone I need to update? Thank? Ask a question of? Share feedback with?

Only have 10 minutes?

If you only have 10 minutes a day to organize yourself, check out this Lifehack post on Getting Your Head Together in 10 Minutes a Day.  My favorte item (and not just because of my good friend with the same name) is to think in “victor” language and not victim language. Taking on the day knowing you have control over your attitude and many of the outcomes makes a huge difference.

A Lesson from Improv: Accept All Offers

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

I haven’t been taking my own advice of breaking seemingly big things into smaller pieces. In the last month, I’ve gone to several influential trainings and talks ready to be blogged about. I had this lofty idea to combine them into one post, but I think that feat seemed so big I’ve never gotten around to it, so today I’ll just review one of the them.

In May, I went to a workshop by Dan Klein at Stanford entitled, Improvisation: Collaborative Creativity and the Art of Making Stuff Up. The experience was a bit of a game changer for me in that it’s shifted the ways I’m approaching my every day life. He reviewed some basic improv principles.

Our first exercises caused us to think about how often we say “no” or “yes, but,” which turns out to be a no in reality. This thinking made me reflect upon how many times I’ve heard “yes, but” in the workplace, especially right after someone brings up an issue or idea. We practiced some exercises where our job was not to be inspired, but to inspire our partner through building sentences. The message really resonated with me on being an active follower.

Around coming up with ideas and tackling problems, Dan had many catch phrases and words of wisdom including:

  • imagination is as easy as perception
  • raise the stakes. allow it to be important
  • don’t fight against the cat (when you’re trying not to think about something in particular and it’s all you can think about)
  • every exercise is a good excuse for a debrief
  • be average, be obvious
  • how do you signal status in your interactions

When he noted that this is where you end up:

Yes = adventure

No = safety

It makes the choice pretty clear that Yes is the way to go. It doesn’t mean you are always committing to the idea, but that you’re open to dialogue and newness. One of my favorite exercises we did was one designed for a group to constantly make mistakes when you’re ‘on stage.’ The idea was for us to go through messing up over and over again, failing cheerfully, and taking a bow. It was pretty fun to go through the motions and actually raise your voice with a “ta da!” for my actions. Improvisers love mistakes and think about how they can use them to their advantage. Of course, this also has implications for our daily work life.

Most impactful for me about the workshop was saying yes more often and accepting all offers from the world. When something falls into your lap personally or professionally, why not give it a chance and see what happens? Opening doors can only show you the possibilities life has to offer you. I challenge you all to think about accepting offers that come your way.

If you prefer a video recap of improv, watch Jane Lynch’s commencement address to Smith College.

On Procrastination and Letting Go

Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

PROCRASTINATION

Believe it or not, I’ve had procrastination as my next blog topic for awhile, not only because this post is long overdue. Fast Company had a great article, Get to Work by Meeting Procrastination Head-On, with some quick tips to consider. Basically, to do the following:

  • declutter and do any tasks immediately that take less than 2 minutes
  • avoid busy work – stop organizing your to do lists and just do it!
  • do the heavy stuff instead of pushing that to the bottom of your list
  • avoid priority dilution (don’t just respond to incoming e-mail!)
This feels like great advice, especially since they are around clever tactics we employ to procrastinate. I often wonder why inboxes are the way they are. Gmail has created a priority inbox to try to help. I flag my e-mails to process them better, moving less urgent e-mails to a “later” folder and highlighting urgent items.

LETTING GO

Another interesting post I ran across focused on the things we hold onto that prevent us from being happier and better. Perhaps it’s appropriate it comes from a site called the Purpose Fairy: 15 Things You Should Give Up to Be Happy. My favorites to think about around the workplace include:

  • give up your need for control (aren’t all project managers control freaks on some level?)
  • give up complaining (it’s infectious in a team environment)
  • give up the luxury of criticism (some times your feedback is more valuable than others. it’s not always necessary to weigh in.)

While you’re letting all of these other things go, what you should hold onto the most is a deep seated feeling of expecting the best out of your colleagues. Especially in matrix organizations, it’s easy to point fingers, place blame or just group co-workers in categories. When things go wrong (or right!) the best course of action is always to expect the best – that person didn’t mean to drop the ball – maybe I forgot to send a reminder – he or she probably has another huge priority project. When you expect your peers have the best intentions, it really creates a more supportive and friendly atmosphere. If you put out that good energy, hopefully the universe (and your co-workers) return it back to you.

Making Your Desk Work for You

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2012

This week’s post is brought to you by special request, since several people at the Alumni Center will be moving around in the next couple of weeks.

Creating a great workspace can be one of the best ways to get your work done.

PAPER FILES

Pictured here are my paper files and kanban, located to my left when I turn from the computer. The kanban (post-its on the top) is how I track what’s in the hopper, no more than 7 projects I’m working on, and what’s done already. I’ve set aside 15 minutes every Tuesday to review where I am to make sure it’s all current.

Also, I revamped my paper files in the last few months so they are color coded. Here’s my system:

  • Yellow: Alumni Education
  • Red: regular check-in meetings
  • Purple: Events
  • Blue: regular administrative meetings/forms/finances

When my project is over, I recycle the files. I use the paper during an event or program, but once it’s over, I go through to make sure everything’s on the office shared drives and get rid of the accumulating paper. I’m even regularly dragging MS Office e-mails into the shared folders for invitations or important correspondence that colleagues might want to reference one day.

PRODUCTIVITY HELPERS

Here’s a list of important elements at your desk to help you work more productively – consider what should be at your fingertips on a regular basis:

  • calendar (I need a lot of calendars for my project management so I have a crafty 1 month one right under my monitor, a large 3 month view, and a small 2012 one)
  • staff directory with important phone numbers (highlight frequent contacts)
  • pens, post-its or other FREQUENTLY used supplies
  • voicemail message pad to log phone calls
  • large monitor. It’s a proven fact that more screen space makes you productive, especially if you’re coding, designing or working in spreadsheets often.
  • goal statements, organizational motivators

INSPIRATION

I’m a firm believer that we spend a lot of time in our cubes/offices and the space should reflect you, making you feel inspired and happy. You can tell I have a lot of stuff on my walls from the photo and the whole ambiance of my cube makes me smile every time. Consider having the following around to keep you grounded:

  • some of your favorite things
  • preferred lighting (I don’t have this, but many other co-workers bring in something so it’s not all fluorescent.)
  • plants/flowers
  • favorite pieces from successful projects
  • toys/stress relievers (I have a shaking starfish that never fails to make me laugh)
  • photos
  • a ball or comfortable seat. I switch out between my aeron chair and the ball for a chance of pace and some core work.
  • if you can, think about a stand up desk. I don’t have one, but my husband swears by his adjustable desk, which you can get for about $750 with very easy assembly.

ARCHIVE FILES

I do keep some paper on file, but don’t spend a lot of time organizing them chronologically. Since I’m totally into professional development and learning from peers, I took the time last year to get my overhead cabinet in order by buying some cheap magazine files pictured here. Categories include:

  • training materials – tech
  • training materials – people
  • materials from peer institutions
  • Stanford materials (samples of invitations, programs, etc)
  • professional conferences
  • Reunion registration materials
  • Reunion weekend schedules
  • special paper and random labels

For more inspiration, check out the following: