What I’m working on now

Every Friday afternoon, I try to think through what I’m doing during the next week. It makes me feel more prepared, which helps me enjoy the weekend more. And since it’s a long weekend, that’s extra important!

I’m working on a few pieces for Fast Company that I’d love ideas for (examples, sources, etc.).

How to make fewer decisions. Decision fatigue is real. President Obama famously limits his choices of suits so he can preserve his decision making power. What do you do? Eat the same thing for breakfast? Always choose the chicken salad for lunch at restaurants?

Get promoted working 40 hours/week. While working long hours is one way to stand out, it’s probably not the only way. Strategies for boosting your career without piling on the hours.

Productivity/business books that could be beach reads. So yeah, there aren’t any murders or sex scenes. You also probably go to the beach to get away from work. But which productivity (or business) books are readable enough to deserve a place in your beach bag? I have a few ideas but I’d love others!

We’ve got swim lessons this weekend, and we’ll be hitting a festival at a Maryland winery, and some fireworks. Other than that, I hope to get 2 runs in, and some reading. We might go strawberry picking. And I hope to think through my summer bucket list — the things that I’d love to do that make the season feel like a good one. How about you?

28 thoughts on “What I’m working on now

  1. In my opinion, I’d consider anything by Malcolm Gladwell to be a good business beach read, as well as The Power of Habit by Charles Duhigg. I also find productivity/time management books to be good vacation reads. I find that being away from my usual work habits I am better able to objectively review how I use my time and see how to apply ideas gleaned from my reading before I’m back into the thick of familiar habits.
    I’m interested to see what others suggest and hopefully restock my reading pile!

  2. For business books as beach reads, check out Reinventing You by Dorie Clark. It’s about personal rebranding and is a great read for anyone working toward improving their work or personal life.

    As for the long weekend, my husband and I have been making plans to blog and this is the time we have set aside to actually get our website functioning.

  3. I love Laura Stack’s Leave the Office Earlier. I’ve read it multiple times and I’m getting ready to read it again having started a new job.

    Beach read? I guess you could stick a picture of a hunk on the front to blend in. 🙂

  4. I LOVED “Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less” by Greg McKeown. Very easy to read and just awesome. The first chapter was very hard to get through for some reason, like somehow the editor missed it, but the rest was really easy to read and super helpful and inspiring.

    Decision fatigue – we as a family do MUCH better about eating at home if I plan (very simple) meals in advance and put them on our Google calendar. Having to sort it out each evening and THEN cook it makes me want to lie down. It may be as simple as just grilling frozen burgers and baking tater tots in the oven, but if it’s all written out for me, I’m much more likely to do it.

  5. I haven’t gotten to the beach to read books yet this year, but when I do, my list will include:

    “Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time” by Brigid Schulte.

    and

    “Tweak It: Make What Matters to You Happen Every Day” by Cali Williams Yost

  6. I think the first trick to getting promoted while working less than 40 hrs per week is to be in a workplace that values results over facetime. And then second, produce the results! I know of several people who have been promoted to lead teams/departments while still working 4 day weeks. I’d describe them all as efficient with a good streak of self-promotion that means people know they get things done.

  7. And regarding decision fatigue – my daughter has a set menu for packed school lunches. One of two types of sandwich, one of two types of vegetable, milk OR yoghurt, popcorn or crackers, two pieces of fresh fruit, a box of raisins and a cookie. I do not need to expend energy on thinking about what to feed her!

  8. Routines and schedules are good for combating decision fatigue. I go to the same grocery store and do laundry the same days of the week. I also tend to make and eat the same thing for dinner on the same day of the week–I have about a 2-week rotation. I used to write it out but now I have it memorized. And my kids have the same sort of lunch menu that Zenmoo’s daughter has. I teach two classes per week and I wear the same outfit to both classes and then a different outfit to both classes the next week. That way I don’t have to remember if I wore the same thing to the same class last week. I try to make a point of introducing something new–a new recipe, a new food, a new article of clothing–every week or two, but that’s just often enough to keep it interesting. And often the the kids don’t like the new thing as much as one of the old favorites. I also have some anchors in the weekend schedule that are pretty set–pancakes and church every Sunday morning, for example. So I rarely have to decide whether to go to church or what to have for breakfast. What other people might call a “rut,” to me feels freeing so that I can spend my time and effort thinking creatively and making decisions about parenting, my job, and my hobbies.

  9. It is interesting how many of us streamline our food choices to avoid decision fatigue. Same boat here- my kids eat oatmeal every morning during the work week. If they finish their bowl and are still hungry, then they can choose from cereal. But that lets me stay on autopilot through breakfast, so by the time coffee kicks in I’m ready to actually engage for the day. We also do pancakes every Sunday (followed by church). So 6 days out of the week, our mornings are automatic until 9:00 or so. Easy peasy.

    Also- I list 3 things I want to accomplish on days when my to-do list is too long. A list of 35 things is overwhelming, so I keep that sort of list in a notebook in my purse. But I will choose the three time-sensitive or realistic goals for the following day (I do this before I go to bed) and just aim to knock those three out. Staring at my loooong to-do list creates major decision fatigue and overwhelm.

  10. Thank you for reframing the drive to avoid decision fatigue. I also limit my menu choices – same breakfast and lunch every day, same choices most of the time I eat in the restaurants we go to regularly. We also plan meals for the week so we’re not dithering around when we’re hungry and need to have dinner on the table *now*. That all works well. Unfortunately, we both still suffer from decision fatigue and so we tend not to do as much together as we’d like – it’s too much work to decide what to do!

    1. @Jenni Levy- I’m trying to figure out how to construct a tip for figuring out weekend plans and the like without exhausting the decision muscle. When there are multiple people involved it’s always complicated. But yes, I like the idea of ordering the same thing in restaurants. Especially if it’s a business lunch, dithering over what to order wastes valuable time that can be spent conducting whatever business it is you’re trying to conduct. I usually order the chicken Caesar salad. Most places that serve lunch have that. Also, you don’t have to eat it with your hands (which sometimes gets messy).

  11. These were fun to think about! I have done pretty well as an academic psychologist working 35 hours per week for quite some time. I think the trick is to decide what hours you will work, and then do the the most important stuff you can in those hours. That is, the commitment to the hours has to come first, and then the to-do list must fit, rather than the other way around. I also find that it is worth being really intentional about everything I do. I know that there are many folks around me who do things that I don’t bother to do at all, and it makes no difference. I have also run little mini experiments where I do something like limit the amount of time I allow myself to grade exams, and then check whether accuracy decreases. It’s easy to spend longer doing things for no added benefit.

    Fewer decisions. The one I do that is pretty extreme is clothing. The one and only thing I enjoyed about pregnancy (except for the baby at the end of it) was the limited wardrobe. I found that I adored having a severely limited choice. So I now buy a few things for winter, and a few things for summer, wear them out, throw them out, and start again. This past winter I had two pairs of trousers, one pair of boots, and maybe 5 tops. That’s it. Seriously. It’s hard-core liberating.

    1. @Alison – I just did an interview with a career coach and she mentioned the sheer quantity of time many people spend on things that just do not matter. Re-editing an internal memo three times. Stressing over fonts. That sort of thing. Shockingly, these things do not help you get promoted. Helping other people figure out how to do their jobs better and more efficiently, on the other hand, makes you look like management material (with the added tip of asking people you’ve helped to, you know, mention it to people).

      1. I realize that I often re-read things I’ve written–such as internal memos and emails–several times. By the logic presented here, this activity is a complete waste of time, but I don’t see it that way. I re-read my own writing often both because I like what I wrote and because it helps me remember what I said. Then, if I get a reply that surprises me–which often happens–I will re-read what I sent again so I can understand better why the person replied the way they did. I find that doing this avoids a lot of misunderstandings and long, frustrating, time-wasting repetitive email trails. I also find that re-reading with a day or two’s perspective shows me where I went off-track and helps me send a better email or memo the next time. I wish more people would re-read and re-edit their own emails and memos, rather than simply responding quickly off the top of their heads.

    2. Alison, I love that you admit that you’re an academic who strives for a 35 hr week. I think a ton of academic work can be done in that time if you’re focused. That’s about what I shoot for, as that’s how much childcare I have…

  12. Beach read for the Fast Company article (especially since the magazine is mentioned in it!): RETAIL SCHMETAIL: ONE Hundred Years, TWO Immigrants, THREE Generations, FOUR Hundred Projects by Sanford Stein. It’s a memoir woven through a book about how all the great iconic stores started (most as a brave idea or family business, so anyone entrepreneurial will enjoy the book as much as anyone who loves to shop!) and the last chapter is a forecast for what retailing will look like in the future. Will we still go to the mall? Or just buy whatever the movie star is wearing by pointing our phones at the screen? Sanford Stein will be at BEA New Title Showcase signing books on May 30 (Javitz Center, NYC). Here is his contact info: cell 612.418.2276, [email protected],
    retailschmetail.com, Twitter @schmetail.

  13. I read 168 hours on the beach (or more technically in the evenings after everyone else went to sleep during my beach vacation).

  14. Hey Laura–these were indeed fun to think about! My boss would be a great candidate for the fewer decisions piece: He has a work uniform of sorts (we all recently wore the same uniform of black v-neck, shorts, flip flops, snazzy glasses to work on his birthday); he eats the same lunch every day, and he outsources certain, which I think is key, too—make fewer decisions by trusting other people to make them for you! Feel free to email me if you’d like to chat w/ him and good luck on the piece!

  15. Laura – one thing I’ve recently started doing (regarding decision fatigue) is to keep my workouts for the week planned ahead of time. I like to mix it up and do a lot of different kinds of exercise, but having to making a decision which one to choose every day wasn’t proving to be the best strategy, so now I think ahead of time and every Monday lay it out for the week ahead. I also do the same for my social engagements for the week every week outside of work – I decide every Sunday what events in town I’d be visiting. They’ve proved to be good decisions.

  16. I am super late to this one- but I have lots of thoughts on how to get promoted on 40 hours/week. This is perhaps not surprising, given that I wrote a book that was sort of about that! In a nutshell, my strategy was to use periodic bouts of time-tracking to keep myself very efficient in my time use at work, be careful about small things like making sure my boss always heard any bad news about my projects from me first, and to put in the extra hours in crunch times- but also make sure this was noticed (subtly, of course). It worked reasonably well, in that I was able to continue to advance. In fact I would have gotten another promotion this year if I’d stayed at my company. I’d be happy to chat more about this if you think it would help. You could even use my real name!

    1. @Cloud- you can use your real name now? Excellent! This piece is turned in but I have all sorts of future ones that I will need your perspective on. Salivating at the thought…

      1. Yes! Now that I am independent, I’m the only person I have to consult before agreeing to associate opinions with my real name. I am in fact considering starting a website associated with my real name for musings on management, productivity, and the like. I’d keep Wandering Scientist for my parenting, ranting against the patriarchy, and things like that. Once I get past the crunch of things to do to get the business started, I’ll think more about what I want to write about and where.

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