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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, Self Dare

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

[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

[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.

Creative Advice, Writing Tips

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

[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.
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?