Not A Solution, But At Least An Answer

Diagnosis, at present, is labyrinthitis.

You know… if I’m going to have a shitty disorder, it might as well have a cool name. Or something.

In any case, it’s nice to see that I’m not crazy, that this really is a thing. It doesn’t make it any more pleasant, but at least it’s real. It also is nice to understand why it feels like there’s a ……radio next to my head. Or something. Sounds are higher pitched right now and everything sounds just a little on the metallic side. Loud noises are really tough to deal with. Randomly it will just feel like someone came up behind me and shoved my head off to the side.

The whole thing is very much like a low grade sort of drunkenness. I’ve got good days and bad days. The good days are where I can function normally and have very minimal nausea or tiredness; no walking into things.

The bad days feel like a constant low key motion sickness, with a lot of brain fog. It’s hard to visually focus on anything and feels like I just stopped spinning around for no apparent reason. I’ll bump into things at random, have trouble with motor skills, and find myself staring into space. Conversations are kind of difficult. My words get mixed up, or I can’t get sentences out properly. My typing goes to hell and lots of things get misspelled if I’m not careful. I really, REALLY want to lie down and take a nap. It’s frustrating because there’s nothing to see – it’s one of those “invisible illnesses”. The bad days have bumped up my depression quite a bit.

The best part is that my job is a front desk job, and on the side I do e-marketing/SEO/web development/social media/etc stuff for the company’s website. Clearly nothing that involves typing or talking with people. :((

It’s really awful. It isn’t permanent though, but can last anywhere from 8 weeks to a year.

What’s not awful is knowing other people are going through this.

Currently awaiting a referral from my doctor for an ENT specialist, so we’ll go from there.

Bright note: I’d much rather my hearing go than my sight. It’s the little things.

Email, Schmemail: Just Give Me A Minute

In my past life, I used to receive nearly a hundred emails per day. Those wouldn’t include support tickets. Sometimes my email would drive me insane, and I would end up hanging out in the break room or at Starbucks.

Things are better now.

These days, my emails are closer to 20 per day. That may not sound like many, but they show up during 8 hours of front desk / customer service work. They aren’t always easy to respond to quickly. They often involve billing, or questions that I don’t have (or want) the authority to answer. Other tasks include answering multiple lines, working with walk-in customers, doing reports, and processing somewhere in the neighborhood of eighty majillion pieces of paper that really need to be in digital format. It’s so much easier to keep track, not to mention it reduces the risk of paper cuts. Not the good kind with the little designer edges, either.

You’d think after nearly five years of being at the same job that I would want to repeatedly bang my face off my keyboard. There are times when that is indeed the exact feeling in my mind, but overall? I still love my job. Not all the time, and not always at the same level, but I can always honestly say that my job and I are still on good terms.

That’s said with the near complete certainty that on Tuesday morning (after my weekend), my desk will be a mess and all 3 of my inboxes will be overflowing. Good news: I’m not bored. Having Sundays & Mondays off (and only seeing the boss 3-4 days a week) is a great schedule to have. I can still say I love my job because I’ve found four things that have increased my productivity, in turn increasing my free time. Hmm, what sounds more fun: researching articles for industry-related content, or processing insurance policies that need to be increased by $200,000? Yeah. Discussing the newest trend of centerpieces is a WAY better conversation than the one resulting in someone ultimately needing to increase their premium if they want to keep their boat here. (Short version: I work at a marina with an attached conference/special events center.)

Speaking of productivity, things still don’t get done because some days are busier than others, but 95% of the time I can now get to a slowing point by 430PM, allowing for time to relax and get my brain (and desk) ready for me to head home at 5. Critical things have been taken care of.

Here are the four things which have helped me cut down on the email craziness and stabilize my workday.

Does email feel like this to you? If you're not sure, just click the photo and then let me know.

1) Email templates.

If there was one thing that has helped me, this is it. Zen Habits & Lifehacker/ are my two regular reads. They get priority because their material makes for good reading and has also truly changed my life. One day an article popped up somewhere saying that if you email the same responses frequently, you’ll save tons of time by using an email template.

It’s true.

I have three templates: two for different application requests, and one for “hey we need this stuff from you”.
EXAMPLE: if someone is requesting a temporary application to bring their boat down for two days, I type their name, email, phone number and boat’s info into Notepad (or a new email) and pop open the corresponding template. There’s a folder on my desktop for Email Templates, and it only takes 1 click to show the desktop and another to open the folder. Sometimes I’ll input the info while talking, but that’s rather distracting, so as soon as we hang up I’ll copy and paste the info into the template and hit send. Close the Notepad file, no save, all done. Easy and it’s just saved me about five minutes of typing.

Here’s the general idea:
20 emails @ 5 minutes each = 100 minutes of your time. With templates, 20 emails @ 1 minute each = 20 minutes of your time. YOU JUST ACQUIRED ALMOST AN HOUR AND A HALF OF EXTRA TIME DURING YOUR SHIFT.

It’s not hard. You write your email, you save it as a “.oft” file, and save it to your Email Templates folder. Like you were making an Out Of Office autoresponder. Create a shortcut to that folder on your desktop and voila – whenever you want, just pop open that folder and then an email template. Fill in whatever info you need and send. Quick and easy. 🙂

(For ideas on how to use email templates, check at MichaelHyatt.)

2) Doing one thing at a time.

From Zen Habits: One thing at a time. This is the simplest and best way to start reducing your stress, and you can start today. Right now. Focus as much as possible on doing one thing at a time. Clear your desk of distractions. Pick something to work on. Need to write a report? Do only that. Remove distractions such as phones and email notifications while you’re working on that report. If you’re going to do email, do ONLY that. This takes practice, and you’ll get urges to do other things. Just keep practicing and you’ll get better at it.

As sensible as that sounds, it is the hardest thing in the world to do, but if you can do it… it works. You’ll really start to notice that you’re done with things more quickly and you yet again have free time.
Take the phone call, welcome the customer, check the email, do the report – but not all at once. Whatever you are doing, do it. Complete it and move on to the next thing. Don’t try and log two receipts and notate three new keys and a parking tag and pull another file all at once. Log the receipts. Notate the parking info. Pull the other file. 99% of the time, people can wait (unless you’re in the fire/medical professions). Do one thing, and then the next.

3) Outlook task reminders.

I keep Outlook open because of reminders for when various people are arriving or vacating (or collecting the money they owe for that), but they pop up without having Outlook maximized. I can snooze them if needed, but I try not to unless it’s necessary, like if you have to call someone back in two hours and you know you won’t remember. They help me remember things, and I try never to have more than five per day.

The greatest thing I’ve found is that you can drag an email from an inbox or folder and set it as a task all by itself. Saves time with typing and making notes because the whole email thread essentially pokes you in a few days and says “Hey! You know the stuff you were emailing about? Go do something about it.”
EXAMPLE: Jane Doe emails me to request something for the week of 9/3/11. I respond to that (with a template email) by sending her a link to our application and some general info. I then pull that sent email into the Tasks tab and set a reminder to follow up via phone with her in 2 days at 10AM to make sure she got the application and is sending it back. All done? Delete the task.

4) Checklists.

My boss is one of those people who needs the answer before he asks the question. Do you remember Radar from MASH? That’s who he wants me to be. Some days I wish I was.

But this IS my "Good Morning" face.

It’s customary for him to bombard me with questions he needs answered right that very second… as I’m walking in the door. Before I’ve had coffee, before I’ve put my purse down, before I’ve even clocked in. He asks me many many series of probing questions all day, to get the answer he wants, and things have to be done a certain way. I hate it but I’m used to it, the way you get used to having lower back pain. You learn to cope, because that’s what you do when your boss is a retired Naval Officer who wants the Very Small Office to run like a Very Small Naval Command.

Anyway.

My strategy now is to have a small notepad where I write down what he’s saying. He sees me doing this, and I respond to him at my own pace. After things are written, I say: “Okay – let me research all of this and get back to you.” I’m not ignoring him but it’s impossible to answer questions as to what happened on my day off when I’ve JUST WALKED IN. Nor can I do the three things he’s just asked me to do while doing three other things that just occurred.

The plan here (which has been working) is to use the notepad throughout my day and cross off each item as it gets done, because at my job multiple things happen simultaneously all the time. For example, the phone rings, someone walks in, someone else hands me a stack of faxes, and my boss asks me a question that needs a three-part answer (with some research). I take care of the first thing closest or first to occur, and then write down the others. A typical scenario:

Take call while swapping keys for ID (vendors get daily keys to borrow from 8a-4p). Person on hold wants to rent a boat slip for three days. Boss asks where Joe Smith’s file is, if they have cleared out their locker, and if the buyer signed a lease. Joe Smith sold his boat yesterday. A second call comes in, they go on hold as I swap more keys for more IDs, because the original keys aren’t programmed properly. Boss asks if I’ve responded to the email he sent me this morning even though he saw me walk into the office about four minutes ago, after being off for my weekend. Checklist looks like this:

-call jane doe, 555-555-5555, 31′ LOA @ 30/day 8/27-9/5
-joe smith out 8/25, new buyer john smith. process joe for moveout, set john up as a temporary file. call joe at 555-555-1212. add to tasks.
-email jane smith guest application, add followup to tasks.
-call maintenance to see if storage locker B is empty

This stuff all gets written down as I go, and crossed off when it’s complete. It works for me, maybe it will work for you.

Two other things I’m going to try (that may help you as well), are:
Only Checking Email Between Tasks
and
Saying No

Chris Inch says:
Along the same lines as not checking your email before completing one task, you should not let email interrupt your work. I’ve gotten into some pretty heated debates about this in the past, but I think the easiest solution for this is to set your email client to check for new emails no more than once every hour. I know that this will sound absolutely insane to someone who has a blackberry strapped to their hip, but you have to trust me.
Most people I know will argue, “My work counts on me to respond to emails in a timely manner.” If it’s your boss telling you this, just let him know why you’ve set your email client to only check once an hour. You’re trying to be more productive at your job. If it’s a coworker, just let them know that if they need to get a hold of you for a quick question, that talking in person, on the phone or by instant message is the quickest way to get in touch with you.
Now I should be clear that I’m not saying to only check your emails once an hour. I’m saying that your email client should not bother you more frequently than once an hour when you are concentrating on something more important. There is a difference here. If you complete a given task in 30 minutes, then feel free to hit “Send/Receive” on your email client and catch up on everything that’s been happening around you. The important thing is that you did it between tasks, when your brain can switch tasks into email mode. This also helps because usually in this time, you’ll receive several emails in the same thread, so you’re only disturbed once, rather than each time a new email arrives.
If you’re still afraid, then try it for one day. It’s going to be scary, I know. If you get really scared, then hit the “Send/Receive” button more frequently at first. Eventually you’ll fall into a project or task and realize you weren’t disturbed for an entire hour (imagine that). You’ll never go back.

LifeHacker says:
No one’s suggesting that the next time your boss walks up and asks you to take on a new project that you outright say “I’m too busy.” Instead, it’s more helpful to point out to your manager exactly how heavy your current workload is. Let them know that if you take on new work, something you’re managing now could possibly fail. Ask for their help deciding which task is more important so you can fit it in to your workload, if at all.

—- IN SHORT —-
Use email templates.
Do one thing at a time.
Use Outlook task reminders.
Use as-you-go checklists.
Change the timing on (or disable) your auto send/receive.
Learn when (and how) to say no or ask for help.
Breathe.
——————

So that’s my story. It’s helped me and now I feel like my work life in general is really not so overwhelming. If it helps you, good. If it doesn’t, well… pass it along to someone else.

Best of luck!

Of Hurricanes and Graphite

My social networks are a huge conglomeration of everyone I’ve ever met, and some I haven’t. Primarily it’s a West Coast feed, as most East Coast people I – for some unknown reason – have kept on to pseudo relate with. Excluding a select handful, any East Coast peeps still in my periphery are there for entertainment value or to remind me of how far I’ve come. The majority of their feeds are hidden from my daily view not just because of terrible grammar but because of their extreme lack of giving a fuck.

LIEK, OMG! SOMETHING! IS! IMPORTANT!!!!

I don’t care about your new purse. I don’t care about your drama. I do care about why you’re still a waitress (not a manager) at the same diner you worked at 15 years ago, and why you’re going on 30 with your priorities being more “Which club should I go to next and what bus will still run after 11pm” instead of “Will I ever get a driver’s license” or “Will I ever move out of my mom’s house”.

Their feeds are hidden because of stuff like this, copied verbatim (edited for names/addresses):

——————————

“It cud always b worst.”

“I’m face book how lol comment me back”

“Lol!!! A drunk aint shit”

“Ok cuzzo…squad up….lol…”

“Is blessed…bout to start my Sunday Din din…sauteed in C.Of.M. bone/skinless chkn breast..mac and cheese..green beans…stuffing and yams..yummy:)!!”

“Im gna say this once!! ANYONE WHO WANTS TO SAY SMTG ABOUT ME OR WANTS TO KEEP LYN TO PPL ABOUT ME U CAN CALL ME OR SEE ME IT GOES FOR EVERYONE!! DONT BITCH UP NOW BITCHES…”

“Hey its me XXXXX’s niece i had to log on for him but i wanted to put the word out on his profile for everone he said if anyones waiting or trying to get in touch with him can write him at THIS ADDRESS XXXXX XXXXX ###### Depart of corrections Green Rock Correctional Center [edited address]”

“Yoo….to all my yurp squad n yace squad members we will be performing at the XXXX XXX in the city in july….hit me up or XXXX n let us know if u tryna perform…..”

“Now its time to take care of me!! Not everyone else excpt my kids.. So every one else can kick rocks and fuck off!!!”

“just lettn it be known to certain ppl… im actn up today!!! Past week…lol”

“Its not what we do that defines us, but how we rise above every situtation tht may be thrown are way!!!!!”

“dont blame me for what u cant acheive im jus me and do me ill slap a b*****””

“I’m 30… N still sh*tin on u! I am me… Lol somethin u’ll never b so hate on haters! ;D” (Seriously, that is the title of one of her photo albums. All bathroom mirror angle shots.)

“MY HATERS ARE MY MOTIVATION. YOU CAN SAY WHAT YOU WANNA SAY ABOUT ME BUT ONE THING THAT YOU CANT SAY IS THAT IM A BAD MOM. BEEN DOING IT FOR ALMOST NINE YEARS NOW AND MINES DOESNT WANT OR NEED FOR A DAMN THING. SHE WILL HAVE BY ANY MEANS. BELIEVE THAT. SO GET YOUR INFO STRAIGHT BEFORE YOU TRY AND TALK ABOUT ONE OF THE WORLDS GREATEST MOTHERS. PEACE AND BLESSINGS HATERS”

“FUCK ALL OF YOU HATIN ASS BITCHES AND NIGGAS. NOW RUN TELL THAT”

“washing clothes today and spending time w/ donna i enjoy coming up here its relaxing….cant wait to go to grams tonight and spend time w/ my family miss u dad and sissy hope u guys are doing well…”

“on our way to gram and paps for dinner our favorite day of the week sure wish u were there mama. on our way to stop and see u at the cemetary love u our angel”

“JESUS IS ALWAYS A FRIEND FOREVER, ITS THOSE DEVIL FRIENDS WHO WILL KILL YOU AND FORSAKE YOU…JESUS COMFORT FEELS IN FOR HUMAN ABANDONMENT….JESUS”

“Each & Every Saturdays ALL NEW! #1 SPOT CLUB BABE’LON A.T.L (MNL) & DEM RADIO BOYZ OF THE JUICE WILL BE IN THE BUILDING HOSTED BY: JROC & KAJ BOOGIE (NO SWEATS NO TEES 1$ SHOTS FREE DRINKS @12 IN VIP FOR LADIES VIP IS AVAILABLE! *POWER HOUR 1030-1130 DON’T BE LEFT OUT FOR VIP SATURDAYS!”

——————————

Anyway. The short version is that A) Facebook is turning into Myspace and B) reading all that hurt my brain. If you’re updating your status via phone, just take a minute to give a shit, that’s all. It’s not hard.

Before that rant, the point I wanted to say is that all my East Coast peeps are up in arms about the hurricane a-comin’ and I’m having a really hard time even considering telling people (individually) to stay safe, because it’s 90 degrees in my house and I’ve been sick for like, a month.

Growing up, storms – mild and bad – were a part of life. You batten down the hatches, you put things away, you have your flashlights in working order, and you sit on the porch to watch the storm roll in. When it’s rolled close enough thankyouverymuch, you head inside. If it’s really bad, you head down to the fruit cellar. You wait, you read, you go to bed when the last hint of daylight goes away. You get through it. Trees fall, basements flood, roofs get torn off. Glass breaks. It’s scary – for real – but it stops eventually. There’s something to be said for the smell of rain, before and after a storm.

Not saying that people shouldn’t prepare, or be cautious, or worried. They should do and be all of those things. But I don’t have the mental energy right now to do what so many others are doing and start the whole “OMG BE SAFE BE CAREFUL” on everyone’s Facebook or Twitter or where have you. I’m just drained. The media is playing up all the fear. So if everyone could just take a step back and realize that they don’t need to start a riot, that would be nice.

Consider this your mass “Hope you guys get through it alright and there is little to no damage. Best of luck.” post.

Speaking of getting through it, my illness relapsed today, which was lame. That whole no sugar or alcohol thing is tougher than I thought, because a beer sounds AWESOME right now.

Actually, Oreos with a glass of cold milk sounds even MORE awesome, so there’s that.

Then I found Oreo Cupcakes With Built In Milk Cups and almost died.

Rabbits Are Creepy

Do you guys remember the Skittles commercial with the singing rabbit? No? Because every time I’ve posed that question prior to now, no one remembers, everyone says I’ve lost my mind, and the internet turns up nothing.

You know what I’ve found?

THE SINGING RABBIT SKITTLES COMMERCIAL.

So there!!!!! THERE IT IS. Skittles also put out a Sheep Boys commercial, which is still a little off, but not bad. Kudos to you, Skittles, for being mildly creepy and managing to make me want to buy your product. Who do you have directing your shoots – Guillermo del Toro? Mark Ryden? Creepy bastards. Good job!

Oh, and in other news, you know how bunnies are all cute and adorable?

That’s cool.

You know what their mouths look like?

Not cool, that’s what. Rabbit mouth. You’re welcome, Nightmare Machine.

Monday Musings

I check my snail mail once a week. Sometimes more if an item is expected, but usually once a week. Generally it is full of circulars and ads that immediately go into the recycle bin after being sorted to make sure nothing of importance to me is in there. You know what ads I mean – the flimsy paper ones for nearby grocery stores, or the Pennysaver.

Please tell me how to NOT get this stuff in the mail.

I felt like it was about time for the mailbox to cough up something good. After sorting through today’s mail – at least 30 circulars and various bills – my hunch was right. Score! Officially renewed zoo passes, September’s Juxtapoz issue, and a postcard from La Familia de Carley. AWESOME.


Ding ding ding!

Who loves non-standard postcards? I do, I do! 😀

It really is the little things. Anyway, after that thumbs up, I headed to the Tax Assessor’s office to get some files assessed, and then off to Balboa Park. Mmmm, Balboa Park. I’d forgotten how much it reminds me of a labyrinth.

Today wasn’t crowded, but it was fairly warm, so that gave me an excuse to walk very slowly and take lots of photos for future painting references. At some point next month I hope to start work on a mural, so I’ve been collecting resources and references. The biggest of my projects currently is 2.5′ x 3′, so the side of a house (about 25′ x 20′) is going to be a serious challenge. Not to mention stucco has a way different texture than canvas, so things will get interesting quickly. My friend has offered to cook me some gourmet dinners in exchange for artsying up her wall, which is a nice bonus.

The park was quiet and provided me with about 50 photos – just snapped them with my phone, so the quality (depending on if I remembered to change the setting) is sort of everywhere. Here are six of the shots.

Overall, it was a nice day. Things were all gravy, until I saw the girl in the wheelchair.

She was having some sort of fit; some sort of breakdown. Not the kind where you’re pissed off because someone took your parking spot or the shoes you thought were on sale actually stopped being on sale *last* weekend, but the kind with huge eyes and the hysterical weeping just about to happen. She was mumbling something and shaking. There was a man in front of her, bending down to put his face close to hers and holding onto the front arms of her chair so she couldn’t get out. I’d like to think he was trying to comfort her or talk her through whatever, but a horrible feeling crept up my spine and made me think he was hurting her. Maybe he met her while she was alone, having some episode and was trying to help. There was a clinic and also a police station nearby, so maybe she was having a panic attack just before going in or leaving. Maybe he knows her really well, and she throws fits just to get attention. I don’t know.

I do know that a close friend of mine very recently had a uh, technical difficulty involving a psychotic episode, and I know that after researching what the hell that even is, there are no words to describe how awful it must be. Said friend isn’t able to be visited or contacted quite yet so there is still a lot of sitting here feeling sad, frustrated, worried.

I hope both the girl and my friend are okay. I hope I can do something.

Right now though I can’t do much of anything except make art, so that’s what I’m going to do.

One Step Forward, Two Steps Back

My discovery for the week is as follows: that phrase about leading a horse to water is around for a reason.

Today’s goals include: paying some bills, going to the tax assessor’s office, going to the zoo, and working on a sketch/painting. Nothing exciting, but it *is* nice out, so I’m going to take advantage of that.

On the art note – I’m so inspired by Craola’s stuff but am not sure how those whole underpainting or glazing or washing techniques are done. He’s got a feel to his work that I really want to recreate – not that I want to rip him off verbatim by any means, but I want to take the inspiration his work gave me and incorporate it into my own things. If anybody has links to good resources, I’d appreciate it.

18 ways to educate yourself every day (because nerds are sexy) (via Malavika’s Blog)

Reblogging this, because it’s thoughtful and inspiring.

"Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at 20 or 80. Anyone who keeps learning stays young. The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young." Henry Ford At the start of this year I made a decision that I want to commit to myself to a pursuit of intellect. I’m already a bit of a nerd, so this wasn’t really an alien concept for me, however I quickly realized that in order for me to make educating myself a priority in my life – I would have … Read More

via Malavika's Blog