Moments

The awesome thing about being a grown-up, if you didn’t know, is being able to do whatever you want. Some days that means eating half a bag of Oreos for dinner, and some days that means Swiffering your kitchen.  Mostly for me it means working until 5, sitting in traffic for 30 to 60 minutes, going grocery shopping, coming home to feed and corral three cats, making dinner for myself and someone else, trying to clean up aforementioned dinner preparations and any messes that aforementioned cats have made, and then realizing I’ve got about two hours of “free time” before bed.

Could I stay awake until 1AM? Sure. Will that make me a happy camper when my alarm goes off at 630AM? Absolutely not.  I require – yes, REQUIRE – a minimum of seven hours of sleep.  These aren’t the days of tech support, hidden away in a NOC, forwarding calls up from the second tier.  My job is in customer service, running the front office for a rather busy and large marina/conference center.  I need to be functional… and friendly.  You know who cares if my vertigo is acting up?  You know who cares if I’m randomly nauseous because my inner ear hates me?  You know who wants to hear that my cramps are bad, or my bipolar disorder is on the down side, or if there is no creamer for the coffee, or if my throat itches with allergies, or if I couldn’t get parking at that restaurant last night and had to circle for half an hour and was late today because I forgot that my car was low on gas?  NO ONE.  Nobody wants to hear that!  Not one single person.  Not even my friends and family, to tell you the truth, which is why I try to keep that stuff to a minimum online in general.  It’s also why things around here have been quiet: most of what I want to talk about comes out in a rather whinging* fashion, so it doesn’t get said.  Just keeping it clean.

However if someone out there requests me to post – regardless of good content or not – they are more than welcome to hear me venting.

What I’m really trying to say though, is that the truly awesome thing about being a grown-up is being able to do (essentially and within reason) whatever you want.  What *I* want to do is make art, and that means I’m doing it.  It’s happening in very small bites, because (see above) the two-ish free hours between the work-sleep cycle are usually for decompressing with a book or by playing WoW or by crocheting something.  Those things are all enjoyable and relaxing, and then all of a sudden it’s time for sleep.  Which, by the way, I need even more of lately because inner ear issues (and the accompanying medications) tend to really up my fatigue levels.  It’s a glorious cycle.

I’ve got some things in the hopper though.  The one taking the most precedence because of the time limit is a piece for a charity art auction.  There is no theme, there’s total freedom to paint whatever you want, which (as most artists know) means that too many choices results in a stalemate.  They’ve provided me with a 12”x12” canvas, and it took me over a week of solid creative block to think up an idea to paint.  I figured out what I wanted to do this past Thursday, did up a quick computer-generated draft, and hope to knock out the first phase today.  With luck it’ll be completed by tomorrow and then I can get it back to them this upcoming Thursday.  Local peeps can go check it out – for charity!! – on Saturday, April 6, 2013, from 6pm to 11pm.  Bonus round: they can hang out with me. Woot!

So anyway, that’s been fun.  A very short list of the other things going on in my non-office-job hours are:

–          Finally got a proper system setup at home, complete with all the programs I need to get back on the track of digital art that was put on hold waaaay back in 2009ish when a) my computer died and b) we were house-hunting.

–          Crafted up some business cards for drunkbunny
dbbizcards

–          Crafted up some business cards for Say It With Style

–          Got the website up and running for SayItWithStyle.biz but still working on content and social media

–          Crafted up some business cards and promo cards for Praise Pittsburgh

–          Got the website up and running for PraisePittsburgh.com but still working on content and social media. Planning for an end-of-March launch date.

–          Archiving the stuff on my old hosting account and switching to a new hosting company so that I can stop wasting money on an account I don’t use

–          Getting all things drunkbunny ready for prints and web portfolios

–          Getting web portfolios for Young Enterprises (parent company) and Say It With Style (subsidiary) split up appropriately

–          Doing some new sketches for drunkbunny based on the daily emails I receive from Dictionary.com’s “Word of the Day”

Somewhere in there I’m supposed to find time to work out, have a social life, and stand tall when this inimitable blasted depression shows up, but I’m not gonna lie: it is WAY easier to just go to sleep.  Ain’t nobody got time for that indeed.  The problem is I want to curl up in my home library with tea and a good book, but there’s no library without a house, and there’s no house without a foundation.  So that’s what I’m doing now – building the foundation.  This is on top of all the stuff I’ve got going on at work, which usually involves cramming sixty hours of work into forty hours of pay.

You’ll excuse me, then, if I go into hibernation for a couple weeks here and there. This is also why I enjoy going to all J’s hockey games: it gives me an opportunity to go out of the house but with much less social responsibility than if I were to go to a bar or a club or a party.  People call me, text me, email me, hit me up on Facebook, and I see it, but I either forget about it or am too busy to respond, and then just don’t have it in me to respond at all.  But anyway, that’s where I’m at, and you know where to find me.  (If you don’t:  Facebook or email.  That’s the quickest and best way.)

Stay classy; I’m still here.  Just quieter.
*MAN I don’t get to use that word enough. It’s one of my favorites. 🙂

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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!

The Door Has Opened

It’s been a weird summer for me.

I got sick often. Sometimes from the heat, sometimes from the humidity, mostly from the evil that is my periodontal issues. Summers are tough for me, and I tend to forget to hydrate when I’m at home. So on a day like today, all the windows are open, fans are going, and my slow moving-ness is topped off by iced tea*, more tea, and water. I’m sweating, and while that’s kind of funky, it’s also a good thing because at one point it just wasn’t happening. There was no sweat. That is BAD.

Side note: 99 Ranch, my local (and favorite) Asian Market has canned green & black tea. Not always, but sometimes… and it is YUM. Is it healthy? Well, it’s not soda, but I can’t recall the brand to look up ingredients. 99 Ranch is also a bit out of my way, which meant that I needed to find a way to recreate the flavor. Short version – Microwave a cup of water for a minute. Get a teabag (Yamamoto jasmine or Lipton’s black are my standbys), put it in the cup, put the cup in the freezer for 20 minutes. Go get your cup, drink. Awesome, cheap, delicious, and free of any monosodiumpotasichlorate flavoring #5.

I digress. I get sick when my body overheats, and it overheats often because I’m about 30 pounds overweight. 150+ does not suit a 5’0″ frame well, even if it’s all spread out proportionately. The majority of that weight is in my …chestal region, but a good portion is in the lower area between knees and belly button. You know what’s the last thing I want to do? Cardio. You know what needs to happen for me to lose the weight? Cardio. So I’ve been trying really hard to A) get up early and B) exercise. We’re talking going to the beach at 630AM for a walk or a yoga session, hitting the gym at 6AM for a twenty minute walk on the treadmill. All the things.

Coast Boulevard – the only beach I really, truly love. Is it Windansea? La Jolla? Scripps? Who knows. I only know that when I go there, I can do yoga or sit or meditate or draw and it’s all okay. So that’s been my morning spot for a few days.

Beyond that – Ginseng Yoga is my newest thing. It was a yoga studio (my very first Actual Yoga Studio) that presented itself as an opportunity, and so far it’s seemed pretty good. Here’s my Yelp review. I’ve been meaning to make a post about my yoga in detail, but I’ve been too busy with actually doing the yoga and also working like a fiend on launching the newest version of my work’s website. Which has turned out nicely, FYI. But between work and working on work outside of work, the last thing on my mind was sitting down in front of the computer even more.

Today however I had a bit of a respite and wanted to tell you guys about it, how I really do feel like yoga is doing something for me. No physical changes yet on the outside, but there are some inside ones and also some lovely periods of mental clarity and general relaxation. Step one.

As I sat down today to blog about all this and share photos, Freshly Pressed caught my eye – there was someone’s 31-day challenge about yoga. I was just starting to think that a month-long challenge would be just what I needed: whether it’s an hour of sun salutations, ten minutes of inversion practice, or merely standing meditation when the checkout line is taking WAY. TOO. EFFING. LONG. for no real reason at all. With today being the 1st, there is no better time.

Oh! And in other news: Harold is growing roots. 😀

Overall, life is really really good (except I can’t figure out why the pictures are auto-rotating to the side, and will work on that). Honestly, life right now is probably the best it’s ever been for me. Which gives me a little sour taste along with the sweet, because some of my friends don’t have it so well right now, but that’s the thing about being happy. You won’t be, always, you can only try.

And that’s what I’m doing.

This Makes Me Sad

As I read it, I thought of all the times I’ve heard coworkers talk WAAAAAAAAAAY too much about their personal lives, who they’re dating, what they’re doing with those people they’re dating, the “OMG lemme tell you what happened this weekend” etc. All the stuff I’ve heard in breakrooms, smoke breaks, parking lots. The drama, the craziness.

I’ve thought of all the times I’ve gone to a Starbucks – or any fast food / coffee house / retail shop – and heard stuff that the employees are discussing. When my goal is just to get my drink, my cup of ice cream, my new set of pants, my #3 with no cheese, I DON’T CARE ABOUT YOUR WEEKEND DRAMA or that bullshit customer you just had to deal with on the phone or your friend’s kids daycare issues. Clearly I am not the only one in line, and am willing to bet that the others in line also don’t care.

This isn’t me touting my perfection, either. Many – sometimes too many – are the times where I’ve crossed the line and shared stuff with other employees that they didn’t need to know, or became Bar Buddies with them, and you all know that when you’re at the bar you’re not just sitting quietly, enjoying your beverage. Lots of my coworkers (past and present) are definitely in the “friend range”, and that’s just how it is for me. The majority of us know that we are still supposed to keep it professional, and any time there’s drama, you figure it out behind emails and closed doors. You are still an employee of whatever company you work for, so you still put that face on.

But this is the first time I’ve heard of a “manager” just pulling something like this out in public in front of everyone. I can’t even imagine how awful that guy feels. Yes, maybe he was one of those people who was always a little too loud when it came to personal conversations, or maybe he was always on his phone, or whatever, but I can’t say that for sure because I wasn’t there. You probably weren’t there either, so all we have to go on is the fact that this “manager” humiliated him in front of customers and THEN went on to talk about him (in front of customers) when he was off the floor.

And that’s crap.

http://lilfamilyblog.wordpress.com/2011/06/13/i-know-starbucks-is-not-an-anti-gay-homophobic-company-by-policy-but/