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How to Have a Day Job: It’s Dangerous to Go Alone!

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That’s a line from 1986 Nintendo video game, The Legend of Zelda. Before you go off to try to save the Princess, as a character was wont to do in 80s video games, an old man bestowed upon you a sword for your quest. And off you went!

So too do I make sure that my adventuring pack is full when I am facing the forces of timesheets and reporting in my 40 hour work week. No matter how much I want to pack light at my job, there are a certain key things that I always make sure to have to fill my breaks and lunch time with productivity (as well as fun).

Whenever I go to work, I carry with me:

  • My phone and a charger or spare battery pack.
  • A notebook and pen (as well as a spare pen). There is something very satisfying to using a “good” pen as opposed to the ballpoint garbage sticks you get from the supplies drawer.
  • A book. If possible, I prefer a physical book to really take me out of my element (the element being the electric screen in front of my face for 8 hours per day).
  • Headphones. When I don’t have music to listen to during the quiet periods of work or while walking outside, I feel completely and utterly lost.
  • My tablet and bluetooth keyboard. As a writer, sometimes I get ideas for projects I’m working on that I simply need to type out before it disappears. I always make sure my tablet is charged and that I have access to offline files so if inspiration strikes in the parking lot, I am so on it.
  • A pencil. Sketchbook is optional. Recently, I’ll grab post-it notes and envelopes and doodle when I am feeling like my hands are growing restless.

So why do I carry all this? It ultimately comes down to knowing that the key to surviving your day job is balancing your Job Self with your Real Self. It means being able to seamlessly shift perspective so you are doing things you love while you’re doing things that you have to do (to get a paycheck and do more things you love!).

What do you carry on you to work each day? How do you spend your breaks and lunches? Do you think that Ganon is just grossly misunderstood and needs to learn to love himself before he lets any princess into his heart? Tell me about it!

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How to Have a Day Job: On Multitasking

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This week, I’m in an extensive training at my day job. It’s essentially eight hours of training, although we still have to keep up with our normal tasks. The topic is expansive and very mentally consuming, and I’ve found myself having to really focus in on understanding what I’m learning to do.

At the end of the day yesterday, we got done with about an hour to spare. I’m rocking the equivalent of mental bed head, and the trainer goes, “Okay, I’m going to set you all loose to go back to work so you can finish whatever you need to for the day. But you were probably working on it during the training too, but that’s alright! That’s what power users do!”

I stopped and sort of squinted my eyes because I was a bit thrown off that this guy – whose entire role at this point was to teach us a job – was essentially accepting if not encouraging us to give half of our attention.

As I’ve given more thought to it, though, this seems to be a talent that is fostered in the corporate workplace. You should be able to juggle tasks. You should be able to split your attention. You should be able to work and work and work and if you aren’t getting it all done, there is a problem. It essentially becomes a new evolution to ‘quantity over quality,’ even though the ‘quantity’ is a number of tasks rather than a massive amount of a single one.

And as I gave it some thought, I realized that this mindset has seeped its way into my every day life. I am constantly thinking how I can get multiple things done at once, dividing my focus so at the end of the day I have a grandiose list of all the things I’ve done (even though they’ve been half-assed). And when I can’t get all those things done? I get discouraged.

And all of this after I had made a determination some time ago to be more ‘present.’ News flash: hard to be present when you’re being present in five different things at once.

So here are some brainstorming ideas I have put together for kicking the habit of having too many habits:

  • Create a list of priorities daily: it’s easy to go ‘here are the things that are the priorities in my life right now’ but how often does one go ‘here are the things that are a priority today’? This is different from a to-do list, though. It is not a questionable list of fifty things that you swear you are going to get done today. Pick three. For example, my priorities today were my writing, my art and my day job. Once I accepted those priorities, I felt much more focused. Likewise, once I accepted what was not a priority, I found what was really important.
  • Portion out time for specific tasks, even if there isn’t anything to get done: this is something I am really trying to do at my job. Instead of having a huge group of items that need done all in a pile, I’m setting different piles of what I know I need to do on a day to day basis. For example, checking my voicemails. If I have any voicemails, they are being done at a specific time. If I don’t have any voicemails? Cool. Time to move on to the next pile. The point, however, is that I am stopping to acknowledge that this is the time I am doing this thing.
  • Keep notes: recently I’ve been trying out the bullet journal method, which has been very helpful, but when you’re sitting and working and suddenly go, “Oh man, I wanted to do this other thing!” don’t stop and try to figure out how to do that thing. Jot it down. Something simple that you can remember later. Then, at the end of the day, look at this list and think when you can schedule these things to be a priority. Plan accordingly.

How do you feel about multitasking? Am I the only one who is tired of this madness? Is there anything wrong with being, say, a rechargeable user? Tell me about it on Twitter or Facebook!

 

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How to Have a Day Job

Next week, I’m going to be moving my series How to Have a Day Job to Self Dare!

For those of you not aware of H2HaDJ, it began as a mailing list and then a blog series on my writing blog, bohemian.on.rye. I feel that it will be more relevant here, as this blog more heavily focuses on taking care of one’s self, which is the core of the series’ aim: teaching how to maintain your creative spirit while paying the bills. And I’m telling you not from some lofty cloud of complete self-reliance, but from the trenches, in my own day job.

For the first post, I was hoping that you all might have some questions or thoughts regarding your own career history. Is there some particular insight you have been looking for? What do you struggle with? What is the worst job you’ve ever done and how did you survive?

Tell me about it in the comments!

Creative Advice, Writing challenge, Writing Tips

Trying (All the) Times

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It’s a big HOT TIP for writers: find out when you work best. Experiment and find out that secret segment of time when you are the most productive, when the creative juices are absolutely at their gushiest (ew).

I know every single of one of you probably went, “Sure! But…morning time isn’t happening. For obvious reasons*.”

*obvious reasons = warm blankets, constant zzz’s, Mr. Sandman.

Or, as a variation, “Okay! But…night is not going to work. That just isn’t for me*.”

*because the house is creaky or my wife gets cranky if I stay up or…

Look. You have to try everything.

Recently, we’ve headed into the busy time of my day job. We’re in the middle of the season where we get most of the workload. We are required to do overtime. We work on weekends sometimes. And at this point, there have been many days where I’ve gotten done, wandered downstairs and melted my butt into the couch. I’m not too proud to admit that.

Over the past week, however, I’ve started getting up an extra 30 minutes. That’s all. 30 minutes. That’s not even a whole episode of “Cutthroat Kitchen.” I’ve made myself stay at at least an upright sitting position and I have gotten shit done.

It works. Try it. Or, if you’re on the opposite end of the scale, try staying up a half hour later. It’s not much, and if it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. But you will have tried.

Is there a time of day that you have avoided because it just seems utterly impossible? Have you tried a different one and been shocked and awed by the results? Tell me about it in the comments or on my Facebook page!

How to Have a Day Job

[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

[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?

Creative Advice, How to Have a Day Job

[How to Have a Day Job] On Kindness and Magic

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This week, I’ve been listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic. This was a Christmas morning surprise of a book – I was browsing Audible with my monthly credit in hand, and it popped up in the new releases. A book on creativity by the Ted-talking, globetrotting, smooth-talking (not in the sleazy sense, but in the read-me-my-library sense) authoress with the mostest? Yes, please!

In the midst of her discussions on being kind to your creative spirit, I hit a chapter called “Day Jobs.” My throat tightened just a bit. I was a little nervous, because I was afraid that this was going to completely take the wind out of my sails. Was the world’s foremost authority on eating, praying and loving going to take over what I had started?

Okay, I’m being a little dramatic. I was actually really excited about hearing what she had to say.

I did not expect that she would so perfectly summarize what I’ve been trying to convey with How to Have a Day Job from day 1.

To yell at your creativity, saying, “You must earn money for me!” is sort of like yelling at a cat; it has no idea what you’re talking about, and all you’re doing is scaring it away. Because you’re making really loud noises, and your face looks weird when you do that.

She also talked about how she kept up her day jobs through three book publications before she quit to write full time. Three books. And admitted that if the third book hadn’t been such a success she would still be working day jobs so she didn’t have to put that pressure on herself, her craft and her finances.

So if you’re wondering why I keep talking about this, about all of this, about balancing your life and your paycheck, about managing your sanity while you clock in and out, this is it. It isn’t fair or nice to say to your vocation, “Hey, pick up the slack, buddy.” Who would stick around for that kind of abuse? Feed yourself, pay your bills, and give your muse the time it deserves to flourish comfortably.

5 Things, How to Have a Day Job

[How to Have a Day Job] 5 Things I Never Would Have Learned Without One

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Some days, it’s hard to have perspective about your day job. Suddenly, something happens and you’re all 1) crying, 2) stressed out beyond all sanity, or 3) gassy. Hell, sometimes it’s all three. And you get those Lifetime movie moments where you think, “I could just get in my car and drive. Drive away from all this.”

That’s why it’s good, when there’s a pause between the bombshells going off, to think what experiences you would lose if not for your job. And as much as I’m sure you’re going, “I could live without those experiences, let me tell you,” I think that is wrong.

Here are five of mine.

  1. Resumes: yeah, I know, I got the stickiest one out of the way first. But this has actually come up surprisingly often. Because of my business writing experience, I have a resume for my writing career. It helps me to focus and see where I want to flesh out my abilities.
  2. Appreciation for customer service: I’ve heard it said that everyone should have to work retail or food service at least once. I’d like to add to that that everyone should have to take inbound calls in a call center for a day, minimum. You have no idea what the other end of that feels like until you’ve been in that seat, sweating and being screamed at and then having to come right back with a big smile and a “Thank you for calling Such and Such, how can I help you?”
  3. Being an adult: I was grappling with how to word this one, and I’m not trying to sound condescending. If you can make it through life without ever having to deal with the crowded fish tank that is the corporate life, you are fortunate. But when you are exposed to drama, cliques, gossip and catty crap for 40 hours a week, you really do walk away with a lesson or two about how to fight clean, be the bigger person, and deal with having no control over the people around you.
  4. Balance: Life. Work. Commute. Car problems. Illness. Finances. There’s no HOLD button for any of those things. By having this constant movement of live, work, eat, sleep, rest, rise, I’ve learned where, when and how to insert the things that are really important to me.
  5. Microsoft Excel: Man, spreadsheets are so useful for real life stuff. I wish I was being sarcastic. Being organized makes things so much easier.

What have you learned from your day job? Any hard lessons? Convenient truths? Helpful computer programs?