Podcast: Work hacks

Best of Both World podcast with Laura Vanderkam

Today’s episode of Best of Both Worlds — after some banter about my upcoming 40th birthday (not today, bit of a mix-up in the show notes, but soon!) — covers work hacks. Part of achieving the “best of both worlds” is using the time we do spend at work well. So how can we do that? Some of our best tips:

Plan your weeks ahead of time. I like to plan on Friday afternoons. I think about my priorities for the upcoming week, and think about where these things can go. Just like that, I’m making progress on my most important goals. This strategy is especially important during weeks where everything goes to hell. When I identify my top 3 work priorities, I know I *will* get to them. I might not get to anything else in between emergency plumber consultations and ER visits. BUT I will do those three things.

Check email later. When you get the urge to look at your inbox, try putting it off. I’m not saying to the end of the day (though if you can do that, more power to you!) But maybe wait an hour. Creating bigger blocks of time where you choose the inputs (which you don’t choose with email — it comes in according to other people’s schedules) allows you to focus and get in the flow. Email was originally supposed to be asynchronous. Deal with it at a time that works for you, not just because it’s there.

Create templates. When you do something, ask yourself if you’ll ever do it again. If so, is there some way to make it easier or more automatic the next time? Some work does not lend itself to this. Sarah has conversations multiple times per week with families whose children have just been diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes. She knows almost exactly what they will ask and the responses that are most helpful and encouraging. BUT this is such an emotionally fraught conversation that this can’t be turned into a video of Sarah answering your FAQs. But other work isn’t like this. I’m asked at least once a week for a headshot and bio. So I have those files somewhere very accessible where it is easy to just do a quick few clicks.

Meet better. Collaboration is great. It also produces a lot of meetings, many of which are not great. I recommend Priya Parker’s book, The Art of Gathering, which is about how to bring people together in more effective ways. This could mean parties, or conferences, or even just a Tuesday morning staff meeting. But all gatherings need a purpose. If your meeting changes nothing in the world beyond rendering everyone in the room 90 minutes older, then it’s not clear it needs to happen.

Take breaks. People are not machines. And even machines get scheduled downtime for repairs! Pro-actively schedule in real breaks so you can manage your energy and get more done. We talk about the strange phenomenon of people leaving jobs because of burnout, even though they still have lots of untaken paid time off. Work can always keep taking. You need to look out for yourself.

Speaking of breaks, today’s question covers how to fit in time for fitness. Our suggestions: Try mornings. Be OK with a little bit. Incorporate the kids (e.g. a running stroller, or run while an older kid bikes). Remind yourself of your ‘why’ — because focusing on the benefits can nudge you to do it. Get outer accountability if you need it. Gamify it or train for something. And find something you like! We challenge people to try a 2019 streak of doing something (7 minute app? Walking 10 minutes?) every day. It’s not about finding a time, it’s about designating a time. Find a cue and run (ha!) with it.

As for my birthday plans? I’m going out to eat with my husband and parents on the actual day. I have tickets with some of the kids for the Nutcracker next weekend, and my husband and I are getting a couples massage and going to an art museum. Should be fun!



9 thoughts on “Podcast: Work hacks

  1. Can’t wait to listen to this one, since I’m just returning to the world of full-time employment after years of freelancing! I’m not a runner, but I at least try to squeeze in a 30 minute walk most days of the week – if it doesn’t happen by the time my husband gets home from work, I’m trying to get more comfortable with just saying “here, the baby is your responsibility for the next half hour” and doing it then.

  2. For the “take breaks”, I really like using the Pomodoro method, which is basically chunks of work with short breaks (and a longer one every 3-4 cycles). It works really well for me when I need to knock something out!

  3. Born in 1984, but still played Oregon Trail in elementary school. I apparently am an “old millenial.”

    “Millenial” doesn’t quite feel like the right label for my generation!

    1. Same here! I agree—I feel like many of the attributes of millennials don’t apply to me. (Also, most of them seem to negative, even though I’ve met plenty of entitled Baby Boomers…) It was a great time to grow up, though—all the benefits of an analog childhood but also learning about the internet as it grew so we had an easier entry to it than kids today.

  4. Would love to hear how you and Sara juggle life’s annoying todos, car maintainance, passports, taxes, kid specific speciality MD appointments, your own routine MD/ self care related appointments, do you try to batch schedule these types of tasks or any other tips or tricks?

    1. Based on something Laura wrote in her blog ages ago, I tried a new strategy with these. I have a running list of them and each week when I sit down to plan, I select 3-5 of them to work on that week. That sort of compartmentalizes them so that when they’re done for the week, they’re done. I don’t add any more. Otherwise, I could literally fill up all of my free time with these sorts of things.

  5. For me, the hardest is to manage interruptions. Not just e-mails coming in but people walking over to me to pop a question or a phone call, etc. Those, in addition to meetings and scheduled conference calls, makes it very difficult for me to have 2-3 hours free to do deep work. When I have control of the schedule, I try to batch all appointments in the same day / half day. But I often do not have control of most meeting schedules as they involve many people and we can’t all be consulted on when it would suit us best. Any ideas on how to handle interruptions?

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