Stay Sane When You’re Really, Really Busy

At some point, it will happen to you. Work will be so busy that your life feels like an endless cycle of: (1) wake, (2) work, and (3) sleep (aka, dream about work).

Having worked in a high-pressure, demanding field, I have much more experience in the art of being busy than I would prefer. The good news is I learned a lot about how to handle it over the years! Today I’m going to focus on one trick I employ to stay sane during busy weeks, months, and even years:

I carve out “me” time.

I know what you’re thinking: yeah, right! It’s true, when you’re so busy that you only see the inside of your home long enough to grab a couple of hours of sleep and a shower, the thought of seeing friends, your significant other, or even a 30-minute TV show is laughable, and the idea of carving out “me” time seems like a mean joke. But if you want to retain your sanity when pulling insane hours, you need to do it.

It doesn’t have to be hard, and it should not add to your stress levels. Carving out “me” time is really just a way to keep a little bit of control over your schedule and step away from work when that feels like an impossibility.

The key to making it effective is to carve out time in a way that fits your personal needs within the confines of your work schedule. So what does that mean? Well…

  • Are you fine working consistently through the week with late nights but you really need Friday night to yourself to unwind? Block out a few hours every Friday night and put it in your calendar.
  • Do you feel better having a little down time each day? Pick a 30-minute window each work day to go for a walk , sign up for a morning exercise class, read a book, or do whatever relaxes you. Put it in your calendar.
  • Is making it home for dinner with your family, significant other, or just your pet a must do for you? Block out time for your commute and dinner. Put it in your calendar.

Sensing a theme here? No matter what you decide to do to carve out “me” time, you must put it in your calendar. Treat that time as an important meeting in your schedule.

At this point, I need to add a vital caveat: you need to know your office and your supervisors. If you’re truly without a minute to spare one day, you may need to cancel your time out.  Or if you work for someone who tends to pop by your office at 7pm every day with an assignment, planning to leave regularly at 6pm for dinner with your family at home is not going to work. But maybe you can do that one day a week. Or switch things up and make breakfast your family meal.

Above all, keep in mind that when you’re in the weeds, it will feel impossible, but there are truly very few times in your work life when taking 30 minutes out of your day is going to lead to actual catastrophe. (And for some good news, generally, as you gain more seniority, you will have greater control over your schedule and can see the busy times coming and plan for them.)

Bounce Back from a Mistake at Work

An uncomfortable truth of life as a junior employee (really, any employee) is that you will make mistakes. Over time, they will lessen in significance and number.  Whether big or small, the way you address and bounce back from making a mistake will matter a lot to your career. Here’s what you need to do:

Own up to it.

  • I’m assuming here that this is a mistake that needs to be addressed – if you make and correct a mistake with no broader repercussions, there is no need to raise it.
  • When you own up, should you apologize? Some say you should never say you’re sorry at work. I disagree. If you make a big enough mistake or error in judgment, you will look bad if you don’t apologize.
  • For example, let’s say a report was due to a client yesterday and you blew the deadline. When you let your supervisor know, it is appropriate to apologize. There’s no need to make it a long, drawn out affair. Keep it short and move on. This shows that you recognize that a deadline was blown and that this was an error – YOUR error. Not apologizing can make you look completely tone deaf.

Propose a solution.

  • Ideally, you do this at the same time you own up to the mistake. Your supervisor will think better of you if you admit to the mistake and either propose a solution or advise how you already fixed it.
  • In the example above, at the time you alert your supervisor to the missed deadline, you could let them know when you plan to send the report or send the report and then let your supervisor know that you were a bit late.
  • If you’re not sure which option to pick, present both to your supervisor and ask how they want to proceed.
  • If you have no idea how to fix an error, tell your supervisor ASAP and offer to come up with a plan together.
  • Whether you propose a solution or not, you should also think about how you can avoid similar mistakes going forward (and tell your supervisor). It does not need to be a complex solution. In our client report example, it may be as simple as putting reminders in your calendar for upcoming deadlines.

Move On.

  • This is usually easier said than done. Try not to dwell on your mistake. Instead, take a short amount of time to feel bad about it. Then put it out of your mind and focus on doing good work going forward.
  • If you follow the above advice, the people you work with will also get over it – probably faster than you do. Doing good work and getting your relationships back to normal will help that process along.

In sum: fess up, fix it, and explain what you’re doing to ensure it does not happen again. Then forgive yourself and move on. Don’t let one mistake impact the rest of your work.

Pic Credit: Pixabay

Ten Ways to Improve your Work Emails

If you work in an office, you probably spend much of your day reading and replying to emails. We all have different styles, some of which leave significant room for improvement. They range from the cryptic email writer, who skips the subject line and sends vague emails requiring the reader to decode their meaning, to the wordy writer, who drones on and on for pages, boring the reader and muddling their message. You probably fall somewhere in the middle, but we can all remember a few tips to improve our email game. Keep reading for ten simple things you can do to send clear emails sure to get the response you need.

1. Include the project name in the subject line.

  • Receiving an email with an unhelpful subject line is almost as annoying as receiving an email with no subject. I like to use the name of the project I’m working on plus a word or two describing the reason for the email (e.g., “Brady – research question”).  It will help you keep your emails organized and provide a frame of reference for your reader.

2. Follow office norms.

  • Do your colleagues skip email greetings and just get to the point? You should too. Is everyone very polite, prefacing each request with a please and closing with a thank you? You should too.  Pay attention and follow suit. If there don’t seem to be many dos or don’ts in your office, follow these: avoid overuse of exclamation points and never use weird fonts or backgrounds.

3. Skip read receipts.

  • Unless, of course, they’re the norm in your office (in which case: ugh).  Personally I hate getting emails with read receipts. It makes me feel like a clock has started on my response. Generally, assume that your intended recipient got your message.

4. Acknowledge receipt when appropriate.

  • This goes hand-in-hand with number three. If you receive an important email from a client or an assignment from a supervisor, or another email to which the sender can reasonably expect a response, send one.  Even if it’s just to say “Will do” in response to an assignment.

5. Use the “important” flag sparingly.

  • We have all worked with somebody who cannot resist adding that little red flag to all or almost all of their emails, rendering it essentially worthless. If something is truly urgent, try picking up the phone.

6. Be aware of email archiving rules.

  • You may receive dozens if not 100+ emails a day. Make sure you know how your office handles old emails – are they deleted after a year or two? If so, put some kind of foldering system into place.  Deletion or archiving rules may also apply to your sent box. For this reason, you may notice that some people CC themselves on key emails so they can then folder them for the future.

7. Keep it short and sweet.

  • Get to the point quickly and clearly. Occasionally, long emails are necessary. If so, break them up with paragraphs or even headers. Just avoid a wall of text.

8. Proofread

  • This seems obvious, but make sure your email program is set up to spell check the body of your email AND the subject line.

9. Fill in the “to” field LAST, after drafting and proofing your email.

  • This lowers the chance that you will accidentally hit send on a draft or before adding an attachment.

10. Always include an email signature.

  • Do this for reply emails too, even if it is just your name and direct phone number. Make it easy for people to reach you.

Pic Credit: Thomas Lefebvre (via Unsplash)

Reminder: You are Responsible for Your Own Career

During the first few years of your career, a lot of your time is going to be focused on figuring out how to make it through the day. You’ll be in the weeds, so to speak. And it will probably take a couple of years for you to feel like you have a clue about what you’re doing in your chosen profession and several months to settle into a new job.  Putting your head down and focusing on the day-to-day job is necessary, but make sure you act strategically when you can so that when you do pop up for air, you like where your career is headed.

It is so normal to feel aimless at the start of your career!  For the first time in your life, you might not have a concrete goal.  You had been on a clear trajectory: graduate high school…get a degree or other qualification…get a job…and then…what?

You might not be able to answer that question, and that’s okay.  But don’t let the total newness of life upon entry to the full-time working world stop you from taking control where you can.  Because nobody cares about your career as much as you do. And it’s up to you to take it where you want to go.

So, even when you have little to no autonomy in your daily work life, here are a few things to try:

  • Take on new work strategically
    • Obviously, you need to do the work assigned to you. But keep an eye and ear out for opportunities beyond your current daily grind. Get to know colleagues on your team and speak with your formal and informal mentors and supervisor about what they’re doing and where your department is headed.
    • Want to work with a particular person? If you see a gap in your schedule coming up, reach out to them and ask if they have any opportunities.
    • Interested in a particular area project? Figure out who in your office works on it and ask to get involved.
    • Just remember to get your supervisor’s OK before taking on new work that’s outside of your normal duties.
  • Get involved outside of your job.
    • Join a networking group for young professionals or an organization dedicated to your career.  These can provide leadership opportunities for you before you get those chances at work, and they help you make connections for the future.
  • Attend office events.
    • Join your colleagues at the weekly happy hour. Attend the lunchtime lecture series. Sign up to attend the fundraiser where your company bought a table. You don’t need to go to everything, but you should go to some things in order to stay engaged in your company, make connections, hear about new and interesting matters, or at the least, just enjoy some free food and drink!

Photo from Unplash.

How to Prepare for Your New Job

Congratulations! You’ve been hired and start your new job soon. This is an exciting time, and I encourage you to enjoy your last bit of freedom before entering or re-entering the workforce full-time.  

Entering the working world can be a scary transition for junior-level employees. Here are a few tips to smooth your transition from student to full-time employee.

1. Get your home in order

Are you moving to start your new job? If so, make sure you unpack completely before you start work.  You do not want to come home to rooms full of empty boxes after a long day at the office.  You may find it hard to get into the 9-to-5 groove after a few years of a flexible schedule, especially if your new groove is actually closer to 9-to-whenever the work is done.

2. Automate everything

This may seem extreme, but you should simplify your everyday life as much as possible before you start your job. You can set up automatic bill payment, housecleaning, laundry pick-up, DVR recording, and on – whatever makes sense for your life, schedule, and budget. Prepare for the worst case scenario: lots of work, all the time.  Even if you are not super busy from the start, you may find yourself exhausted at the end of the work day from the stress of learning a new job. Save your brainpower for work and fun, not chores.

3. Shop within reason

Dress codes vary widely by office, so I suggest you hold off on any major clothes shopping until after you’ve been at work for a couple of weeks to get a sense for your office norms.  But at a minimum (and obviously), you need to make sure you are neat and presentable starting on day one.  A good rule of thumb for many offices erring on the formal side (like law firms or banks) is to wear a suit your first day.  Over time, you will probably dress more casually, as very few offices actually require formal business dress these days.  And don’t be afraid to show your personality through your clothing if it makes you happy!

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

Three Things You Must Do Before Your Summer Internship Ends

The new job jitters have subsided, you’ve completed a few projects, and the summer is well underway. Before you know it, it will be time to wrap up your summer internship and head back to school.

Before the summer ends, here are three key things you should do to finish your internship on a high note:

1. ASK FOR FEEDBACK

Have you been emailing assignments into a black hole all summer? Now’s the time to seek out feedback. An internship is an opportunity for you to learn, but it’s also a chance to get a stellar reference for your future job hunts. Getting and applying feedback is necessary to doing that.

So, if you turn in an assignment and hear nothing back, check in with your supervisor after a few days and ask if they have any questions or follow up from the assignment.

If you turn in a draft of a document and have an opportunity to see the final version, edited by a senior member of the team, run a comparison to see the edits and take note for the future – this can be so helpful to improving your writing. If you have questions about some of the edits, ask for a meeting to discuss them.

If you do a few assignments for one person and the feedback you receive never goes beyond a vague “Good job, thanks,” ask to set up a brief meeting or grab coffee to talk about how you’re doing. Come prepared with specific questions in case you receive another vague comment like, “You’re doing fine.”

2. CHECK IN WITH YOUR MENTOR AND/OR PERSONAL GOALS

Were you assigned a mentor at your office? About halfway through the summer, check in with them generally. Are there any big picture issues they can help with? For example, do you really want to try a particular kind of assignment but have been stuck doing something else? Your mentor might be able to help.

If you don’t have a formal mentorship program, take a few minutes to think about what you wanted to get out of the internship and how to make that happen. Ask (nicely!) for the opportunities you would like to get and the work you would like to do.

3. WRAP UP ALL MAJOR PROJECTS A COUPLE OF DAYS BEFORE YOU LEAVE

This gives your supervisor time to review your work product and follow up with questions and gives you a chance to enjoy your last couple of days and ensure there are no loose ends. Do NOT be the summer intern forced to skip the last day lunch or happy hour in order to frantically finish a project or even worse, the one who leaves work undone, meaning your supervisor has to finish it in your absence.

Pic by Pixabay

Day in the Life: Veterinary Nurse

 Job Title: Registered Veterinary Nurse

Industry: Veterinary Medicine

Location: London, UK

Age: 23

Gender: Female

Salary/Benefits: £23,500 before tax, reduced cost pet vaccinations and treatment if not covered by insurance

Employer Type: Private company

Employer Size: 6 staff

How Long in Current Position: Over a year

Highest Level of Education: University Diploma

Path to This Job: Passion for working to help sick and injured animals

A typical day at work:

I work a 9-hour shift with a 1 hr lunch (where possible), and I have an hour commute. General tasks at work Iinclude:

  • receptionist work
  • insurance processing
  • hospitalization/medication of animals
  • blood/sample taking
  • laboratory work
  • pharmacy dispensing
  • general anesthetic monitoring
  • minor surgery (including stitch ups, minor dental work)
  • nurse consults (preventative medication, weight clinics, senior health checks, nail clips, post-operative checks, admits for procedures)
  • cleaning the hospital
  • disinfection of surgery and surgery kits and most importantly…
  • tea and coffee maker

READERS, SUBMIT YOUR DAY:The Career Files Submission Form

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Day in the Life: Electrical Engineer

 

Job Title: Electrical Engineer / Project Engineer

Industry: Engineering Consulting

Location: Brighton, MI

Age: 29

Gender: Male

Salary/Benefits: $72k plus overtime

Employer Type: Private company

Employer Size: 80 employees

How Long in Current Position: 3 years

Highest Level of Education: B.S. Electrical Engineering (Certificate in Power Engineering)

Path to This Job: I’ve always been interested in the construction industry. I was working for an electrical contractor during college while I was pursuing my engineering degree. After college, I had moved to Wisconsin to work for a different electrical contractor for several years. I decided to move back to my home area in Metro-Detroit, MI. I started working for another electrical contractor and was offered a position at a consulting firm in which the company designs manufacturing plants.

A typical day at work:

4:00am: Alarm goes off, I get up and get ready for the day.

5:00am: Start my commute to work (sometimes I work at the office, other times I work remotely at the job site, depends on the job).

6:00am – 11:00am: Arrive at work. Startup my computer, check emails I may have gotten throughout the night as I have a few projects that are being worked on during 3rd shift. I work throughout the morning performing my tasks as required for the project I’m working on. This includes writing scope of works, design specifications, CAD work. It varies.

Due to my background being electrical infrastructure, most of my design work is electrical (power distribution centers, end use distribution layout, etc.). Due to the size of my company though, often times I wear many hats. I’ve worked on designing mechanical systems and HVAC solutions. I will design a solution to one of those problems and then review with a senior engineer whose specialty is mechanical. This is done as those individuals may have a significant work load and may not have the time to sit down and fully design a system. I will discuss with them the solution I implemented and discuss any assumptions I made for the project with the pros/cons of the solution to determine if there’s another approach I should take.

Scattered into these times, I will have meetings with either customers (project status meetings, engineering meetings, construction meetings, etc.) or internal meetings with team members on other projects that need input on electrical systems.

If my day takes me to the field as a project engineer, I will oversee construction focusing on the electrical side as we will have mechanical engineers to oversee the mechanical side of things. These projects are often in the scale of several hundred million dollars, so we will have a staff of engineers to oversee the construction to ensure that what is being built in the field is what was designed/spec’d and more importantly, to modify the design if required because the solution we may have come up with in the office may not be able to be implemented in the field for various reasons.

11:00am: Break for lunch if time allows. If I’m in the office, I eat at my desk, so I continue working as described above.

11:00am – ???: After lunch I continue working as described above. If I’m working 8 hour days, I will head home around 2:30 PM, but often times my days carry me till 6 or 7 at night. It all depends on the project.

READERS, SUBMIT YOUR DAY: The Career Files Submission Form

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Day in the Life: Registered Nurse

Job Title: Registered Nurse

Industry: Healthcare

Location: Spokane, WA

Age: 58

Gender: Female

Salary/Benefits: $80K, earned PTO, sick days, Medical, Dental and Vision

Employer Type: Private company

Employer Size: Large.  Hundreds of skilled nursing facilities in the Western US.

How Long in Current Position: 7 years

Highest Level of Education: Associates Degree in Nursing

Path to This Job: I worked in a large hospital for many years and needed a change of pace.  Started working for a skilled nursing facility doing MDS nursing.

A typical day at work:

5:00am: Wake up.

6:15-6:30am: Arrive at work.

During the Day:

My nursing job requires resident assessments for Medicare and Medicaid compliance.  Arriving early allows me to interact with the night shift staff.  I usually do not stop for lunch but will eat at my desk while working. 

3:00-3:30pm: Most days, I leave work by this time.

READERS, SUBMIT YOUR DAY: The Career Files Submission Form

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Day in the Life: Director of Product Management (Startup)

 

Job Title: Director, Product Management

Industry: Advertising Technology

Location: New York, NY

Age: 30

Gender: Female

Salary/Benefits: $200k plus $20k bonus per year paid out quarterly. It’s based on both personal & company performance. Health benefits (vision & Dental), pre tax FSA, pre tax metro card purchases and 401k no match. I pay for health ($30 / mo).

Employer Type: Startup (private company)

Employer Size: 80 employees

How Long in Current Position: 1 year

Highest Level of Education: BS in Economics plus lots of industry certifications

Path to This Job: I was in an operations role and naturally took on a lot of product responsibilities because the role didn’t exist. I eventually moved over full time and never looked back. I’ve always been interested in marketing and advertising and been technical – I almost went to school for engineering but decided against it. I love product because it’s challenging, you get to speak to so many different teams and types of personalities and really bridge the gap between technical and business. It’s also a lot of problem solving and critical thinking, and I love that challenge.

A typical day at work:

6:00am: Alarm goes off. Lie in bed in the dark mentally going through my schedule and priorities for the day and willing myself to get up. Throw workout clothes on, down a glass of water and check emails and slack while brushing my teeth. Reply to urgent ones if needed.

6:30-7:30am: Gym time

8:30am: Arrive at work. I have a 20 min commute where I check email and slack  throughout to catch my  offshore team if needed before they leave the office.

8:30am-10:00am:  Eat oatmeal at my desk with an office coffee while catching up on urgent JIRA (Ed. note: an issue and tracking software) tickets that need my comments, responding to emails and doing my top priorities for the day. This typically includes writing tickets for engineers of things they should work on, testing or reviewing their latest work before marking it as complete in JIRA, creating agenda items or presentations for meetings I’m leading that day, or writing emails to several team leads asking for input on decisions we have made or need to be made.

10:00am-10:45am: I have several team stand ups back to back. I oversee three separate teams and attend all their daily stands ups.  In these meetings we review each engineer’s progress on items, and discuss roadblocks or items that need to be discussed. I jot down notes for anything that needs a follow-up meeting.

Refill my water and use the bathroom before my next slew of meetings.

11:00am-1:00pm: I’ll typically have back to back meetings during this time with various departments. These meetings are typically either with our Sales leads to talk about market feedback and any blockers to hitting their revenue goals, (and how the product or tech team can help solve them ), with my direct reports having 1:1s, or having meetings with engineers to discuss how we want to handle or approach a problem. Though I have lots of meetings the ones with my engineers are my favorite because we problem solve and often brainstorm several solutions. We will discuss all options and hopefully come to a group decision. We then leave the meeting with lots of action items to turn what we discussed into JIRA tickets outlining each task required to complete it.

1:00-1:30pm: Eat lunch at my desk (it’s typically a salad with grilled chicken, hard boiled egg or smoked salmon) while answering emails, or questions on slack. I receive a ton of questions from all team members and try to leave them to one session.

1:30-3:30pm: More meetings. These will often be continuations to the ones earlier in the day or external calls or in person meetings with our vendors. Since we are a small company, I also handle a lot of our business relationships with vendors or partners we use to support our business (some of them are software tools, some of them data partners). These calls will typically review action items for both parties and discuss issues or mutual clients.

3:30-4:30pm: Hour break to work on anything I haven’t gotten to yet today. I’ll answer more slacks and emails, work on a presentation for an upcoming meeting, or review performance for some of our live campaigns. Once a week I check in on the status of our projects and if we are on track to the goals we promised the business we would hit. Part of this time is also typically spent running around to coworkers’ desks trying to put out fires or discuss an issue really quick. I’ll make mental notes to update documentation later if there’s something that can be written for future reference.

4:30-5:30pm: I typically have meetings with our west coast team around this time, which could be a 1:1 with my boss, going over product updates or upcoming releases with the operations team in California, or discussing reporting needs with our analytics team.

5:30-7:00pm: Tie up loose ends. This is more emails, last minute JIRA tickets or slacks so my offshore team can come in to the office to new tasks, clean up my desk and write my to do list for the next day. I’ll also use this quiet time (most people leave around 6) to update documentation with anything new or FAQs. I try and keep this updated constantly so I get less questions!

7:00-7:30pm: Commute home. I try and spend 1-2 hours with my husband without phone time but will often check it and respond to urgent items right before bed. It helps me sleep! I have to check to sleep easily.

READERS, SUBMIT YOUR DAY: The Career Files Submission Form

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