There is nothing I love more than staying in touch with my Alchimie Forever interns long after they have graduated and / or moved in to full time jobs.
Recently, my lovely former intern Ting, whom you might recognize as she is the face of our Asian-facing marketing (not only is she the face, she also translated our merchandising materials in Mandarin!), reached out to me to share that she had received a promotion at her job, and wanted some advice about the work / life balance. I began composing a long email to her and then thought that perhaps others would benefit from some of my tips.
I have written about rituals and productivity tips in the past, but this subject is never old, and forever changing. In this post, I will focus on three aspects of productivity – goals, calendaring / scheduling, and lists.
Balance versus Harmony
Let me begin by admitting that I do not believe in balance. To me, the work/life balance goal sets me up for failure. It’s like asking a see-saw to stay in balance – it is almost impossible, requires so much effort, and in the end goes against the reason for being of the see-saw. I think instead of harmony. At some moments, I will have to give my all to work – as long as those actions are in harmony with my goals, then I am ok. Likewise, sometimes I am 100% focused on a personal goal or project, and works goes by the wayside. And that is fine too.
If you don’t know where you want to go, you won’t get there, no matter how “productive” you are. For me, productivity starts with goals. I set goals for the calendar year, for the quarter, for the month, for the week – both personal and professional. I write them all down, and then look at my goals weekly, it helps me to see them to remember them. The most useful tool I have found for goal-setting are 9-grids.
Calendaring & scheduling
I calendar and schedule everything. If you look at my Google Calendar, you see my life. Of course, I schedule meetings, calls, trips, all things related to work. But I I also schedule SoulCycle. I schedule my runs, I schedule time with friends. I schedule book club. I am as strict about my “personal” meetings (including those with myself) as I am about my work meetings.
In Google Calendar, I color code my meetings. This was one of my favorite things about a paper calendar, to be able to use pens of different colors, highlighters, etc. Google Calendar is not quite as versatile, but almost. I always have it on Weekly View – so that I look at my weeks, not my individual days.
I share my Google Calendar with my team members, and with my husband. Given the amount of travel that I do, this helps with co-scheduling things and visibility into my availability.
Usually around the start of the 4th Quarter, my husband and I will do a very high-level “next year calendaring.” We decide (tentatively of course) which conferences and tradeshows we will attend. We black out dates we know we have commitments for (Mardi Gras, for example!). We share important family events we would like each other to attend (for example my sister Roxane’s medical school graduation in February next year). We share, we discuss, we compromise. This helps guide calendaring every month moving forward.
One of most useful Harvard Business Review’s Management Tip of the Day I read is to schedule a meeting-free day every week. I can’t do it every week, but I do it every month, and it is incredibly productive as it allows me to catch up on various projects in the office. I highly recommend this strategy in particular if your typical day is filled with meetings.
Finally, when I feel truly overwhelmed and like I am about to lose my mind, I cancel two meetings / calls for that week. They can be personal or professional – it doesn’t matter. Just the act of cancelling makes my blood pressure go down. (And sometimes, I don’t even reschedule, realizing that that was an un-necessary meeting).
I have lists for everything. I live by lists. The most important list I have is my Weekly Gameplan. This lives in Evernote (you must get Evernote), and I look at it many times per day. I have an Evernote Notebook called Gameplans, and a Note for every week. At the very top, in bold, I put three priorities – these are my three main goals for that week. Then I break my week down into the five weekdays, plus “weekend”. And I list everything I will do every day. I use the check boxes, so that I can check things off as I do them.
Here is an example of the list from Tuesday this week:
✓New business calls
✓SF calls existing clients
✓SF calls potential clients
✓Call RAH Stephanie
✓Call RAH Kristin
✓NF: call EHP; text Caitlyn; call Tiffany
✓Jrink delivery – juicing
✓LB: followup signage store 356
✓LB: all recaps
✓LB: November schedule
✓LB: followup on pick up of signage for 14123
✓LB: contract update
✓LB: followup basket building strategies
✓Pay CC perso
✓Call Megan re: her dad’s doctor’s appointment
✓Tayller: (list of all Tayller’s tasks)
✓Emily: (list of all of Emily’s tasks)
✓Relook at beauty boxes
✓Review customer sales YTD
✓Review budget / actual YTD
As you can see, I list calls, work responsibilities, personal reminders, as well as an item for each of my team members I will connect with that day.
Many days, some items get moved to the following day, sometimes to the following week.
I also have a “Parking lot” Note for the things I know I need to do, but I have not yet scheduled or found time to do. An example would be working on next year’s budget. It helps me empty my brain to write everything down, so that I know it is somewhere and I won’t be worried about forgetting it.
I hope these tips help you (Ting especially you!) be and feel productive. I have many more, involving email strategies, self care strategies (it is impossible to be productive if you don’t take care of yourself), and tracking strategies (I track everything from what I eat and drink to how I spend my time.). We can continue this conversation in a future post.
Thank you Ting for inspiring this post!