How to Have a Day Job: On Multitasking

howtohaveadayjobsnow

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!

 

5 Affirmations (For Me and For You)

  1. This crisis you’re facing is only cracker-thin. You’re going to crush it, almost on accident, and then wonder why you were so worried.
  2. Everything is temporary. Love it because it is so. Let it go because it is so. Say hello and goodbye in the same breath.
  3. There is a swarm of gnats in your head, and even though they feel like a hundred warring soldiers, it’s just because there is so little space for your thoughts to breath. Let them out.
  4. Spend as little time as possible thinking about what you should or shouldn’t do and let your hands do the talking.
  5. Shine the spotlight in your mind at what you love and focus on those things instead of all the things moving around in the surrounding dark.

Managing Writing Goals

My office is filled with the sound of constant tapping, and I am aware that I have been at this for hours now. I check my word count. So proud. I scroll through the pages. It’s good. Very good.

And then I think of another project.

And another.

And two blogs.

That have been untouched.

I fizzle. My writing heart deflates like a cartoon balloon, pbbt-ing into nothingness.

Sometimes I can keep writing despite this sudden paperweight of anxiety and uncertainty, but it is hard. So, I took some time out to start piecing apart my goals and projects, and I would encourage you to do the same if you find yourself going, “This is all well and good but what about [other project]? Should I be doing that?”

  • Stop and ask, “Who am I right now? What is important to me?” If the answer is, “I am a person with a very hectic day job and I need the escapism that writing can afford me,” then maybe it means that you should manage your time more around pleasure writing than searching for marketing ideas.
  • Pick three flavors. Your writing life is an ice cream store. You get up to three scoops. No more. So which ones do you want to try right now? If you want to edit your book, manage your blog and finish that short story, maybe you could wait to start that parody zine.
  • Ask yourself if the problem is you or the clock. Do you actually not want to be doing a given task, or are you just poorly managing your time and energy? Step back with a spreadsheet that has your day broken down by 15 minute increments. Color-code everything that you have to do, and then break up the rest into what you want to do. Stick to that.
  • Always keep a sticky note of “Do Unto Others.” It’s one thing to lose sight of your own projects, but if you have a commitment to someone else, be sure that you are factoring that in.

What sort of tactics do you use to manage your time? Are you good at keeping track of everything or do you get easily distracted by the squirrels?

[How to Have a Day Job] Bad Days and Announcements (Not in That Order)

Hi, hello, and good evening!

So I’ve ranted and raved about my newsletter series How to Have a Day Job ever since it started. It’s only become more and more important to me as time has gone on. And that is why I have decided to move it from the email-only format to right here. On the blog. In front of you. Not constantly in short sentences, but it’s what I’m doing right now so…boom.

For those of you who are new, as I said in my H2HaDJ (Ech-too-ha-DJ? Hitoohadge?) the basic goal of these posts is this:

I am here to tell you that you don’t have to be defined by the money that keeps a roof over your head, food in your mouth and a few extra sketchbooks and pencils in your bag. I’m right here in the trenches with you. We’re going to get through this together. In this weekly newsletter, I will give you activities and ideas of how to keep your soul fiery when you walk in the door from the office soaking wet. We’re going to talk to people who have gotten to the other side of the river. And we’re going to thrive together.

The first topic in the New and Improved How to Have a Day Job Series is a topic near and dear to our hearts: bad days. You know them. They’re the ones that start in traffic, wind up in awkward bad meetings, find themselves sitting next to the lunch you left on the kitchen table. They’re the days that wind up crying in the bathroom or standing at the coffee pot, imagining exactly what could be said to that so-and-so right before full-blown “you can’t fire me! I quit!” mode.

And worst of all, they’re the days that end on the couch in front of a marathon of Modern Family, a pizza, and zero sense of priorities. Priorities being the book you’re working on writing, the scrapbook gathering dust, or the sewing machine rusting away from lack of use.

Fie, I say! Fie on bad days! Fie on their ability to ruin our productivity. Fie on their screwing up our streak. Fie, fie, fie!

And thus, here I provide, 5 ways to get the better of your bad day.

1. Make the decision that it is over — Once you’ve gotten off work, stop. Close your eyes. Take 5 calming, deep breaths. And say, out loud, “This bad day is over.” Make it final. Smile. Drive home and, on your way, imagine that you aren’t leaving a bunch of bad garbage but you are coming to a wonderful evening.

2. Take a shower — Sometimes, if I really feel like I’ve been wrecked and ruined by my job, the first thing I do when I finish is take a shower. I put on clean clothes, slip on some soft socks, and immediately I feel better. It’s like a nice, hot shower can was away the muck that gets kicked up on you in every way: physically, mentally, spiritually. Get that off.

3. Don’t sit — The couch is sitting there. Or your favorite chair. They call out to you in their siren song…just a few minutes. Maybe an episode of that show you have recorded. Maybe a few rounds of that video game. You deserve it. No. No, no, no. There is time enough for that once you’re done with what you should be doing. Which brings us to our next item…

4. Arrive — Have a section of your house that is dedicated only to your craft. It doesn’t have to be much. Maybe a table in the corner. Maybe a studio (lucky you). Maybe it’s a roller cart you can take into the bathroom. Go there. Say hello. It’s been waiting for you. Sit down. Do something there. Don’t think about it too much. Just…be there.

5. Channel that energy — I know. You’ve gotten to this point in the list where you’re all, “Yeah, you know what, Katie? All this hippy crap is well and good, but we can’t all just let it go, like a Disney princess in the snow. I had a really, really bad day!” And to that, I say…okay. That is alright. Just don’t let that stew inside you. Can’t let it go? Then let it explode. Recently, I made a fantastic purchase: a punching bag and a set of gloves. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve gotten done with work, walked over to it, and just kicked the ever-loving shit out of it for about ten minutes. Use that energy, y’all. Take all that bad and turn it into something awesome. Write about it. Sketch about it. Scream about it. But try to give yourself an end to it. Say to yourself, “I am going to let myself freak out for about 10 minutes. Then that’s it.”

Decide you are better than your worse days, and your good days are going to quickly outnumber them.