Monday, March 18, 2013

The Law of Inertia, or how productivity begets productiveness

[CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 | Flickr user]

Back in my freelancing days, productivity was like a good hair day: sometimes it just came naturally, while other days it seemed like nothing I could do would move a task toward completion. An odd phenomenon did arise, though. On days I was productive, I was really productive. On days I wasn't, I really really wasn't.

According to, inertia is defined as the following:
The property of matter by which it retains its state of rest or its velocity along a straight line so long as it is not acted upon by an external force.
In this case, "matter" = me and "straight line" = productivity.

Why is it so easy to keep moving once you're already grinding away?

Your mind is already moving
Whether it's coffee, exercise or some other type of morning routine, it usually takes a person a little time to get their brain moving in the morning or after lunch. This makes processing information and making good decisions a little slower. But when you're already warmed up, you carry the good mojo on to the next task, making

You get productivity high
How good does it feel to cross items off your list? How about the very last item, the one you've been putting off for so long? So. freakin. good. We crave that good feeling, and it keeps us moving. If you're being physically active while completing your list or laughing it up, it could even be a chemically induced feeling (endorphins...natural chemical, of course).

The operative state, then, would be how you begin your work day (or working session). I find that jumping right in to work, rather than lingering over reading informative (not action-oriented) emails, sets me up for a more productive day. As a freelancer, even taking the time to get dressed in the morning could throw off my rhythm (the best routine I found: jump out of bed, pop in the contacts, brush my teeth, make my coffee and get straight to the computer).

Do you find that the laws of inertia apply to your work habits? What do you do to get off to a good start?

Thursday, February 28, 2013

How to find a cause you love and get involved

[Photo by hobynye]

You probably see my many posts on Facebook and Twitter about Dress for Success Miami - that's my cause. Volunteering and getting involved with a cause is a great way to help others, meet new people and add some life into your work/life balance.

But where do you start? There are thousands of causes out there, all with good intentions. How do you select the one that's right for you? First, think about the following:

Your heartstrings
What pulls at you? It could be injustice, poverty, animal welfare, homelessness or any number of things. But if you are going to spend time and energy in cause, choose one that you feel personally drawn to.

Your experience
What have you done or been through that can help others? Perhaps your days as a food server in college can be channeled in a soup kitchen. It could even be a match of professional skills – I started volunteering with Dress for Success Miami by offering communications, writing and marketing services pro bono (and I still do).

Your time
Be realistic here – how much time can you commit to helping out? Is it once a week? Once a month? For certain events? It could even be taking on administrative projects you can do on your own time or in your own home. Knowing this beforehand will keep you from getting in too deep too fast and not enjoying the experience.

Now that you've picked a cause, ask around or do a search on Volunteer Match or Idealist to find an organization close to you. Contact them to get an overview of the organization and get to know the people running the place. If your gut doesn't feel good about it, it might not be the right organization for you, but don't get discouraged.

Some easy ways to get involved:
  • Volunteer. Most nonprofits, especially local ones, have more demand than capacity. Find out how you can help out as a volunteer, whether it's helping deliver services (like mentoring or tutoring), staffing events (a personal favorite of mine), doing manual labor (think Habitat for Humanity) or helping out in the office (like data entry or answering phones).
  • Donate/Fundraise. Time is valuable, yes, but some things do require money. Can you donate some funds? You can even help organize a fundraiser or 
  • Pro bono services. If their needs fit your professional expertise, consider offering pro bono services. This is common for areas such as public relations, accounting and legal services. It helps to define a scope and set some expectations.
What does it mean to be on a nonprofit board of directors?
To be honest, I knew very little about nonprofit boards before I joined one. First and foremost, board members serve as ambassadors for a cause – representing the organization, spreading word about their good works and building relationships and good will. Most nonprofit boards also provide financial oversight and accountability for the organization. For philanthropic nonprofits, such as charities, arts organizations and those that thrive on donations, a large part of a board member's duties will include fundraising.

Are you involved in a nonprofit or volunteer cause? How did you pick one and how are you involved?

Monday, February 25, 2013

Not your run-of-the-mill office supplies

A few weeks ago, I shared some fun business card cases, many from By far, I find etsy to be the best resource for non-traditional finds. Whether it's handmade or vintage, it will most likely be one of a kind (or at least very few of the same kind).

Here are some of my office supply picks from

Some other great resources for office supplies that aren't run-of-the-mill:

Where do you go for office supplies?

Monday, February 11, 2013

Work Staples: Business card cases

You're rockin' it at a networking event when you meet someone important – a rep from your dream company, a potential BFF or a like-minded entrepreneur – and they hand you a business card.

What do you do?

(a) Stutter, "Oh, I don't have any cards with me now, but I'll email you."
(b) Rummage around the bottom of your bag and pull out a dirty wrinkled card.
(c) Pull out your snazzy business card holder and hand them a crisp clean card with your contact info.

I wish I could say it was always (c), but for me, the answer is usually (a) or (b). I have a few cards (for work, freelancing, my volunteer work and the blog), so it's hard to keep them all straight or in stock in my purse. I use a Coach coin purse that was a gift back in grad school to tote some around, but I have to admit I usually forget to switch it when I switch purses. For that reason, I usually keep 1 or 2 cards in my wallet, too.

Card cases keep your cards handy, clean and crisp. They're also a fun accessory, so let your personality come through!  Check out these sweet options.

How many cards do you have, and what do you use to hold them? 

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

New job checklist: part II (or part I)

Now that you know what to update and what to do once you're in the job, let's backtrack a bit. Technically this part precedes that part (and technically this post preceded that post, it just got lost in my drafts), so I'm not sure whether this is Part II or Part I.

So here is the rest of the checklist (the beginning of the checklist?) for your shiny new job.

What to know
  • Daily schedule and hours of business, including lunch hours
  • Dress code
  • Vacation/sick day procedures
  • Holiday schedule
  • Pay schedule and how to report time
  • Performance review schedule and procedures
  • Parking arrangements and permits needed (if any)
  • Best rush hour route (and how long it takes)
  • Available amenities (kitchenette, refrigerator, microwave, water cooler, etc.)

Who to know, aside from your superviser and coworkers
  • HR representative
  • IT person
  • Payroll 
  • Administrative staff in your department

Did I miss anything?

Monday, February 4, 2013

How to talk about dieting in the office

The cubicle life is sedentary, and it can be unhealthy. I know this all too well – since finishing grad school and entering the work force six years ago, and with irregular and unsustained bursts of activity, I've gained a good 25 pounds.

As I struggle to get back in shape, I've talked about my efforts with my coworkers. We spend 40 hours a week together and yes, we talk about things other than work. Sometimes (much of the time?) it falls into a common trap – bashing our own bodies. This is generally a social activity, but can seep into the workplace easily. Haven't seen it? You've probably missed it.

"You look great, but I'd never be able to wear that."

"I remember when I was young and my metabolism was quick."

"I need to go work out."

I'm sure you've heard similar things in your workplaces, and And it goes on and on. From normal, healthy, beautiful women.

Don't get me wrong - sometimes the comments above are actually true. Not every style works for every shape, metabolism does slow down, and working out is a good thing. But saying, and hearing, those types of comments can be hurtful, to both ourselves and others. At the very least, they can be annoying.

It's a hard habit to break, but there are two things we can do.

Stop tearing ourselves down. 
If you're giving a compliment, let it stand on its own merit; don't feel like you need to bring yourself down in the process.

Work together.
Offer a solution, like walking together during lunch or splitting meals when eating out. Or start an informal office challenge among coworkers with similar goals – see who can stick to their plan the best and celebrate milestones together.

So what do you say...who's with me in trying to change the dialogue on diets?

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

From the archives | Shoes, belts and unmentionables

I've published nearly 600 posts on this blog in almost three years (eek), with some of my most prolific blogging days back near the beginning. Enjoy some of these oldies but goodies from the archives!

Underneath it all - A good fit starts with a good foundation, so check out these tips for picking the right daytime underoos.

How to accessorize with belts - From the fun to the frightful, a little walk through my discovery of belts.

How high is too high?  I love a good heel as much as the next gal, but there office appropriate heels and there are non-office appropriate heels. Do you know the difference?

Walking the halls, not the streets - How to wear knee-high boots without looking like a hooker.

How to wear jeans to the office - No elaboration needed.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

New job checklist

You've got the job.  You've transitioned smoothly out of your old position. Now what?

The whirlwind of starting a new job can be overwhelming. Time is a-ticking, though, so make sure you do a few things before the new job becomes old hat.

To help you out, here is a new job checklist (also a downloadable PDF). Some of these should be done immediately (like benefits enrollment) while others are just nice to do eventually (like updating your Facebook).

Update these
  • Resume. The best time to add in a new job to your resume is right at the beginning, when the job   description is handy. Though your initial entry may be a near cut-and-paste, it will be much easier to change it as your job evolves than trying to hunt it down later. 
  • Emergency contacts. If you have listed a daytime contact number anywhere (for example, kids' schools or childcare, condo associations, etc.), you'll have to swap out your old job's phone number. I usually put in my cell number for personal reasons, but if you're comfortable with it, you can put your new job number, too.
  • LinkedIn and other professional and/or social media sites. If you have any personal memberships to professional organizations, or just Facebook, don't forget to update those, too. LinkedIn is especially important to keep up to date – it lets your professional network know where you've moved on to.

Do these
  • Reevaluate your retirement plan. Whether you have a plan through your previous employer or a personal account you contribute to (or both!), now is the time to assess your retirement planning and saving. Take into account the benefits, if any, offered at your new job. Things you may consider - rolling over your 401k, increasing or decreasing your annual contributions, or the balance of investments in your portfolio.
  • Revisit your budget. Your new job probably comes with a new salary, so make sure you can meet your budget. Or just look at how much more savings you'll be able to squirrel away – that's always good, too.
  • Update your references. You've probably already thanked your references and let them know the outcome of the search, but it's always good to keep the lines of communication open. Now is also a great time to reach back out to any new references you approached at your most recent position (if they weren't references already).
  • Benefits enrollment. Most employers give about 30 days for initial enrollment in benefits programs, and many will give you a packet of information before you start to begin musing over. Take inventory of what's being offered and find the plans that work best for you.

    Once you're in the office
    • Get set up. Make sure you have (or will be getting) all the things you need for your new job, such as a computer, keyboard, phone, etc. 
    • Meet and greet. Who will you be working with and what will your priorities be? Sometimes your boss will have it all ready for you, but if not, it's a good idea to identify those you'll be working with closely and get to know them and what expectations they may have. 
    • Set a regular schedule. Your new job may have different hours than your old one, and though the difference may be small, it could throw a hitch into your regular routine. Try a few things during your first few weeks on the job and find your rhythm again. If your employer is flexible, it may mean customizing your work schedule to your other obligations.
    • Set goals. You probably know what you'll be doing, but now that you're there it's time to set some tangible goals. This is how you'll be evaluated at your first review. Be realistic but don't be afraid to aim high.
    • Jump on in! The best way to get acclimated to something new is to just jump on in. Your employer has already shown they're confident in your abilities, now shine!

    What do you think are must-dos when you get to your new job?

    Monday, January 14, 2013

    BYOL (Bring Your Own Lunch)

    Last fall, I took on a challenge, tracked on The Daily Muse. I brought my lunch for the entire month of October. Along the way, I learned a few things.

    1. My brought-from-home lunches averaged approximately $4.00 per meal. This gives me a good baseline when I go out to dinner, too: if I stick to an $8-10 dinner and save half for lunch, it's almost the same price as a homemade lunch.
    2. Large dinners (more than 4 servings) had the lowest per-serving cost. Making a box of pasta with meat and veggies was still around $4 a serving, but a large home-made lasagna (some passed out to friends and eaten over a few days) was closer to $2.50.
    3. Having the right equipment made planning – and packing – lunch a breeze.
    The equipment in this case falls into three categories:

    Storage: Glass containers are great for food that needs to be reheated in the microwave – it doesn't stain or warp as easily as plastic. If you don't need to heat things up, any ol' container will do.

    Transport: Depending on the length of your commute, an insulated lunchbag can make sure your food doesn't get into the "danger zone." If your work doesn't have a communal refrigerator, this is even more imperative. Since my work fridge fills up fast, I usually transport my lunch in a small cooler with one ice pack, and then take the container out and put just that in the fridge.

    Liquids: Make sure you don't confuse thirst for hunger by staying hydrated during the day. I like a screw-top water bottle for water, but if you prefer ice tea or sugary drinks, try a double-walled travel cup with straw (much easier to clean).

    Clockwise from top left: Pyrex 18-piece storage set, snack sacks, Klip-it sandwich box, Built NY BYO Rambler lunch bag, Nalgene Tritan wide-mouth water bottle, double-wall water bottle, Packit personal cooler lunch bag

    Are you a lunch toter or do you prefer to eat out? What do you use to bring your lunch?

    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    The busy excuse

    If you're like me, you have a running list of want-to-dos. My list runs the gamut from "make a dress" to "finish a 5,000 piece jigsaw puzzle." Often, these lists sit untouched for months and years. Why? Because we're busy. Haven't talked to your old friend in months? We're busy.

    The truth is, for most, busy is a glorified excuse, one that has been pervasive in American workplaces for decades. It makes one feel important, as if they're just in too much demand.

    The harder truth is...we're not that important. And acting busy, and saying we're busy, doesn't mean we're getting more work done. In fact, putting up a wall and pushing people away can actually stymie productivity.

    Yes, we can be genuinely, truly, too busy for some things. Things we should be saying no to. But overusing the busyness excuse, like overuse of most other things, dilutes its meaning, so here are a few things to think about before you pull out the busy excuse next time.

    Relationships matter.
    Sometimes an ask is small. And sometimes taking 2 minutes out of your day to help someone can strengthen a business relationship.

    Goal or goof?
    We all have a role to play in our workplaces and goals to meet for each review period. You should make time for those things that help you meet your goals, and perhaps edit out some of the things that don't.

    Be honest, but helpful.
    There will be times where you really can't help with what is being asked, whether by necessity (there really just isn't time) or by preference (it's not a priority). If you're truly busy, be one likes to be brushed off. But if you can point someone in the right direction to find the help they need, do so.

    It's not about you.
    Like I said before, we're not all that important. Before you go all "how dare she ask me to help!" take a step off your high horse and think about whether you're helping or hindering the bigger cause.

    Being busy has been the de rigueur humble-brag in offices for far too long. Let's be honest with ourselves—and others—and we can get rid of it once and for all.

    What do you think about busy for busyness sake? Do you see this in your office, too?