Category Archives: How to Have a Day Job

The Simplicity of Giving Advice with Neil Himself

This weekend, I got to watch something really cool on Twitter.

As a bit of background because you may be new here, I think Neil Gaiman is a pretty cool guy (and the Award for Understatement of the Year goes tooooo…). His fiction is great, the people in his life are awesome and inspiring (I interviewed Cat Mihos for How to Have a Day Job, and she is a really fantastic lady), and he is a wellspring of cool.

On Sunday, while waiting for his plane to take off, Neil took questions on Twitter. About anything: writing, love, publishing, John Hodgman (well, I think John just showed up to the party), etc. And I found myself really moved by the simplicity of his answers. Not even in that ‘you only have a thimble’s worth of words to use on Twitter’ but just how straight to the point it was. It felt like finding little stones at the bottom of a rushing stream. I found myself moved and inspired.

A few of my favorites included:

“I have a lot of ideas, and even more unfinished stories… How do I pick up the pencil from here?”

“When’s the best time to write?”

“And advice to someone who want to start writing?”

“Advice to self-doubting writers-in-training who got extremely rusty after a long time of not writing?”

Notice a theme?

Always write. Even if (especially if) you don’t know what you’re doing. Make it happen. Let the words come out. Make the art. Your hands will learn what to do, but only if you hush up the brain and let them move.

And remember, whether you’re an artist or a human being:

“How do you get over heartbreak?”

 

How to Have a Day Job is Moving!

So this week, I’m going to be moving new ‘How to Have a Day Job’ posts to my wellness blog, Self Dare. It seems like it will fit in well there, so I hope you will keep on following. I will link again once the first post is up!

[How to Have a Day Job] 5 Ways to Survive Overtime

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Oof, there’s that word. No one wants to hear it, but chances are good you’ve been told that it’s going to be a part of your day job at one point or another. Overtime. Wherein your 40 hour workweek becomes…well, more than that. And that has been the case for me recently, which is why I want to share with you 5 ways you can keep yourself from drowning in the wake of the overtime tsunami:

  1. Take breaks: make time to take breaks throughout the day. Know what you’re entitled to and take advantage to avoid burn-out. When you’re taking those breaks, get up and move away from your desk, out of line of sight of whatever work you have. Don’t answer your phone.
  2. Sleep, eat, drink: it’s the big trifecta of not ruining your body, and probably one of the top reasons that people get so sick during ‘busy seasons’ at work. Go to bed. Eat some damn vegetables. Drink plenty of water and stay hydrated. Have options of healthy snacks and easy meals.
  3. It’s over when it’s over: this one is kind of tricky, but after you clock out – whether that be for lunch or for the end of the day – tell yourself that the work day is done. Don’t think about it. Don’t talk about it. Don’t complain about it (or if you must, set a time limit – allow yourself to only vent for 30 seconds or 1 minute). You aren’t getting paid for the time you’re spending dwelling on it, so you may as well not do it.
  4. Make plans for the rest of the time: when overtime rears its ugly head, it’s easy to just vegetate once the workday is done. It’s been a long day; you deserve several hours in front of the television, right? Make plans to do something else. Start a creative project. Take walks after work. Don’t let these extra hours define you. You are more than these repetitive daily tasks.
  5. Don’t close yourself off (except when you need to): I am a social introvert. I recharge on my own, but I regularly surround myself with friends for fun and shenanigans. It’s easy to just shut down when I’m stressed out and see no one, and ultimately I will suffer for it in the long run. Make sure you schedule time with friends and family with the same regard you would for, say, a doctor’s appointment.

How do you survive overtime? Tell me about it!

[How to Have a Day Job] It’s All About Who You Know

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In terms of work-life balance, this article is going to be more ‘work’ heavy.

So. You have a day job. I define that the same way Cambridge does, if we cut it down to the clinical aspects: it is “a ​job that you do to ​earn ​money so that you can do something ​else that you ​prefer but that does not ​pay you much ​money.” Generally, this is when we are working under someone else.

It is so, so crucial to work under someone who has your best interests at heart. It is also crucial to be able to have open communication with that person. My best day jobs (including my most current one) are thanks to a good rapport with my supervisor. And, likewise, my worst day jobs have been caused by fissures in that foundation. When I’ve felt like I haven’t had someone to go to, everything has fallen apart, ruining my life outside of work as a result.

It has become very, very important to me to maintain a solid relationship with my leadership in my work.

What does that mean exactly? How do you know that you have a winning supervisor? Here are a few prize-winning attributes. A good supervisor:

  • Recognizes your accomplishments and appreciates them.
  • Respects your time and space.
  • Asks for your feedback and thanks you for it, even if it isn’t implemented in some way.
  • Brings issues to you immediately in a courteous manner.
  • Allows you to grow, even if it means it is out of a given area or company.

You can feel the difference between good management and bad management. You can see it in your department and among your teammates. Does poor leadership mean you should leave a given occupation? Not necessarily, if it’s work you really love, but it means that the onus is on you to know where your ducks are so you can keep them in a row.

There are also a few ways you can create a stronger bond with your leadership, including:

  • Engaging them in a friendly manner in passing.
  • Being prepared for interactions and proposing solutions to problems rather than just complaining.
  • Asking questions about what you’ve been doing and how they see your work, including ways they think you may improve.
  • Making your expectations clear about what you want from them.
  • Be honest.

It’s really easy to want to slip under the radar, but that really doesn’t work for me, I’ve found. Over time, when crisis has arisen, I’ve felt better knowing that there’s someone in my corner who I can talk to.

What are things that you’ve noticed about your superiors in day jobs? What have been your best experiences? Worst?

[How to Have a Day Job] On the Importance of Spiral Notepads

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As I was unpacking paperwork from our move last summer, I came across a small, spiral-bound notebook. I had had it for notes about the new house and little scribbles about mortgage figures, etc. However, without thinking, I put it into my pocket. It fit perfectly.

I started carrying it around with me. I put it on my desk, in my purse, in my pants. I started taking all kinds of notes in it: blog post ideas, lists, grains of story sand, reminders of things to do.

It has been a godsend.

No matter what you do – whether you’re a desk jockey, a janitor, a veterinarian, or a vacuum cleaner salesman (if you are, tell me, I want to know if this is still a thing) – always have a simple, nondescript spiral notebook.

The best ones are:

  • Thick
  • Have enough room to fit a pen into the side
  • Sturdy
  • Have nothing printed on the cover or any inference that it is anything other than a plain notebook
  • Perforated pages

Keep it on you at all times. Here are ten rapid fire things you can do with it to achieve ultimate work-life mastery:

  1. Write a poem.
  2. Rant about something that is bothering you.
  3. Make a list of places you want to visit before you die.
  4. Keep track of hilarious quotes you hear in the lunch room.
  5. Write down your favorite songs of all time.
  6. Imagine what the world would be like if you were king/president/high chancellor.
  7. Create doodle animals.
  8. Sketch out an editorial calendar for your blog.
  9. Complete a self portrait.
  10. Make a list of bizarre character names.

So do it now. Go to the drug store and get a spiral notebook. It will save your soul.

[How to Have a Day Job] On the First Monday of the Year

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This week is always rough. Every year, without fail, the Monday of the week after the last day off until MLK Day feels like…the End of the World.

In Pittsburgh, it hasn’t snowed more than a few flurries this year. This morning, my husband and I were out in twenty-some degrees, huge bunches of dandruff-y snow coming down at our car. There was traffic. It was dark. Everyone had left their warm cozy spot in the bottom of their stockings and gone back to work or school. Or both.

I know that not everyone is lucky enough to get holidays off, but I can’t help feeling like the first full week of the year is long. The winter is so very, very present – short days, long nights, cold hours. The expectation and happy buzz of the holidays comes to a screeching halt, and you’re just left trying not to think too much about how long or much or badly it’s going to snow. That last bit may be a yankee problem, but it’s definitely in my head.

So here are some tips of how to stay sane after the holidays are over and you’re facing nothing but grind ahead:

  • Stay well-stocked: I know few people who have said, sincerely, “I love grocery shopping.” It’s very tempting to just stay in bed on the weekends or order food for dinner on the sly. But you’ll actually find it much, much less stressful to have extra food and household stuff on hand during these horrible months, especially when the work day is draining.
  • Sleep. Eat well. Exercise. Even if it’s just running up and down your stairs a few times, or doing calisthenic exercises in-doors. Anything to get your blood pumping.
  • Plan ahead: take this time to really decide how you’d like the year to go. The winter will be over before you know it.
  • Take a look at your current job and decide if you want to develop certain skills or work on goals. During this time of year, my day job is really, really big on career development. Is yours? Is there anything you can do to try something different? You’re stuck there for a large portion of your time – make it happen on your terms.
  • Start new projects, especially ones that are just for you: try painting. Journal. Create collages. Take photos (B&W is so in this time of year). Expand your imagination.
  • Get really, really into things you enjoy. Recently, for me, that has been anime, movies and really good television series. I do make sure to monitor my time, though, so I know I am being productive as well as recharging.

[How to Have a Day Job] Six Things!

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So in the midst of a lot of different things going on right now, I looked up and realized that a special day had passed. September 28. On this day six years ago, I entered the company I currently work for. It shall continue to remain nameless, but the lessons I have learned…those I will share.

Here we go: 6 things I would not have learned without my day job.

  1. Finances: money can’t buy me love, but it does pay the bills. And there’s a whole other world of insurance, retirement, stocks…all those words that get thrown around that would not have made sense to me if it weren’t drilled in year after benefit year. And I feel much more comfortable being able to budget and handle finances in my personal life now that I can put those things together.
  2. How to present information: I used to sing in front of my school and church growing up, but it’s different when you actually need to instruct human beings. I have become very eloquent and comfortable working in front of people, and there is no way I would even be able to make that happen if not for the trainings and presentations I’ve held.
  3. Dealing with mean people: despite what anyone tells you, there comes a time when you have to work alongside folks who are not your favorite crowd. Is it fun? No. Will it kill you? Also no. Do you learn how to deal with it and get things done? Unfortunately, yes.
  4. Why bad habits are bad: skipping breakfast, not washing your hands, drinking a lot of soda…it just builds up.
  5. The importance of working hard and playing hard: being present means knowing when to get deep into your job and when to really enjoy life. That means being able to go to bed each night knowing you did your best. That means taking risks, using your sick time, traveling, planning weekends, having parties. By living with joy and adventure, you stop counting down to Friday. And on that note…
  6. How to let go: my day job gets 40 hours of my week and not a minute more. It took a long time to get that skill honed, and now it’s more than my nine-to-five. It’s releasing regrets, anxiety and fear. It’s not always easy, but it’s way better than holding onto things that try to push me down.

What have you learned from your day job?