Published on TheMuse: 5 Strategies Introverts Can Use to Boost Their Energy Levels When They Need it Most

Do you ever feel sapped of the energy you need to get through an important meeting at work? Or wish you could postpone that networking event because you need a chance to gather your strength and wit at home?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone in feeling like this!

As an introvert in the communications field, I enjoy speaking in front of an audience and forging new relationships just as much as my more extroverted peers. But I’m often in awe of people who go from multiple meetings during the workday to an after-hours networking event with the same lively charm and gusto they had at the beginning of the day. The energy I have for such activities is limited—and I usually need a good break to recharge between engagements.

Continue reading.

How to Stick to Your Writing Plan Under Any Circumstance

coffee and writing

I am writing from my favorite neighborhood coffee shop. When I arrived there was one open workspace left—the lopsided table next to the window, where it’s too hot to savor a cup of coffee (iced coffee is not my thing). I was hoping to grab a seat at the bar, where it’s cooler and easier to concentrate with an elevated view of others in the shop hard at work coding and penning poetry.

Sitting next to the window, the sun washed out my lap-top screen, so I pulled out my notebook and put pen to paper. I will not be deterred.

I don’t know about you, but I get discouraged when I run into even the slightest hint of adversity, and am much more likely to veer off course, away from my original intention, when conditions aren’t just right.

It’s a bad habit that affects my life in big and small ways. I’m trying to change it.

For me, the first step is reminding myself of what my priorities are. I came to this coffee shop to write a blog post. I did not come to be comfortable, to get the perfect spot, or for the coffee (well, not entirely).

The second step is giving myself permission to take as much time as I need. Sometimes the thing that is making it difficult to do the thing I set out to do is overwhelming. It requires a not-easy-to-come-by solution that I need IMMEDIATELY so I can move on to the Very Important Task at Hand. So, I just can’t even.

But if I have no competing obligations—if there are no external commitments for which I need to wrap up, pick up and go by a certain time, then there’s no reason why I can’t take as long as I need to to find a solution that allows me to move on to the real work.

The third step is getting a little egotistical. Or perhaps more appropriately, asking what type of person I want to be. Do I want to be a person who doesn’t get anything done because life is challenging and full of less than ideal circumstances? Do I want to be the type of person who keeps laziness, fear and lack of conviction as life partners?

Frankly, the idea of that type of person disgusts me.

I want to be seen as someone with ambition, vision and a record of success—someone who has her shit together. In order to achieve that, I can’t forsake productivity because of imperfect conditions. If I let every little thing get in the way of my work, I can’t applaud myself for having great conviction, or much passion for my projects.

In the time since I started writing this, I forgot the uneven surface of my table, and how hot it feels next to the window with the July afternoon sun pouring onto my workspace. I actually ran out of pen ink, so I switched back to writing on my lap-top. But I have a finished blog post.

Design A Productive, Meaningful Work Week: 8 Tips

Planning The Week

How do you structure your week to get the most out of it?

What does time spent meaningfully mean to you, and how do you guarantee an entire week full of meaningful work and leisure?

These questions have been on my mind a lot lately. In balancing blogging projects with a contract position that currently has me in an office three days out of the week, I have to stick to the work schedule I set for myself, otherwise projects fall through the cracks. For me, a week full of meaningful work and leisure entails producing my best work and meeting all of my professional goals and deadlines, then maintaining a social life, getting out for a run at least three days a week and making semi-regular trips to the yoga studio. All this is non-negotiable, which is why I’ve been especially interested in figuring out how I can continue to operate at this capacity without burning out.

So I began to experiment. And while I’m still learning as I go along, I can share what I know works:

1. Wake up earlier than necessary. If you’re anything like me, your morning sets the tone for the rest of your day. If I sleep in and wake up to a sense of urgency and disorganization, I carry that chaos with me all day. But if my morning is leisurely and productive, I’m unstoppable for the next 15 hours. I find it much easier to kick ass in numerous, impressive ways on days when I give myself enough time to 1) take pleasure in my morning and 2) knock something off my to-do list before 6:30 a.m.

If you’re wondering what exactly one does with mornings if not sleep in until the last possible second, I recommend any of the following:

  • Get a quick work-out in. Half an hour is all you need to go for a run, lift weights, practice yoga, or see how many push ups you can do.
  • Make an awesome breakfast. Even if all you can stomach at this hour is a cup of tea, sit down somewhere with it, slow down and savor.
  • Plan your day: What business-related items are you going to accomplish today? What will you achieve in your personal life? How will you make the day meaningful?
  • Write a to-do list and cross one item off of it in the early a.m.–before whatever hour you typically start making things happen.
  • Gather inspiration: read, journal, check the news. Whatever gets you excited to start the day and tasks at hand.

2. Get enough sleep. I find this one the most challenging because it almost always involves sacrifice. It is the choice between staying out late with friends and waking up at 5 a.m. to run. While it’s tempting to prioritize both over sleep for one night, I’ve made this mistake enough times to know I’ll start falling behind on work the next day and may not catch up for days. It’s the threat of this pattern that gets me in bed with a book and a cup of tea at a reasonable hour, even when I feel capable of working well into the night.

3. Make time to work-out. I know I could work through a work-out or a yoga class I had planned for my day, but I rarely do unless I’m incredibly pressed for time. When I take time away from business and personal commitments to focus on my body and release built up tension I feel more energized, more motivated, and more capable. It is the next best thing to sleeping–sometimes even better than sleep–when I feel like I need to re-charge.

4. Set deadlines. Before I’d worked with any editors or found my first client, I was accountable to no one but myself for producing my work, which made it really difficult to get things done in a timely manner. Now, whenever I have a task that needs doing and affects no one but myself, I set a due date and put it in my calendar.

5. Go off the map. Unless the task at hand is marketing, I’ve started to make myself completely unreachable while I’m working: I turn my phone notifications off, log out of Facebook, Twitter and Gmail, and head somewhere I can’t even access the internet if I’m writing and know it won’t be necessary. Eliminating distraction is crucial with all the miscellaneous bits of life crowding around and threatening to spill into prime work hours. Yes, I would like to tweet a link to that article and then maybe do a load of laundry, but first I am going to work without distraction for a few hours.

6. Write out daily to-do lists. My relationship with lists goes far beyond grocery shopping; I think, dream and imagine by lists. I also work by them. If I’m seriously concerned about the likelihood of accomplishing a set of tasks in a day, I write them down in my little blue notebook and cross them off as I go. The commitment of pen on paper is like a sacred pact that I wouldn’t dare break.

7. Plan the next day ahead of time. Planning leads to getting more done. If I think about what I want to accomplish before jumping to action, I can structure my day so it’s easier to transition from one priority to the next. One of my favorite things to do is work in a bar or coffee shop and invite friends to join me for a drink after I’ve finished my projects for the day. Or, a friend will join me for work and together we’ll do instant happy hour.

8. Organize the day around peek times of productivity.  I work best in the morning, and I know that if I put off writing until the afternoon it’s probably never going to happen. So mornings are for work. The dishes in the sink, the run to the dry cleaners, the sending of the weekend brunch plans email–all of that must wait until I’ve used up my prime concentration hours. I don’t need to be brilliant and focused to take the trash out.

What does a productive and meaningful work week look like for you, and how do you make it happen?

 

Motivation Monday: On Writing

How to be a professional writer“Write like a motherfucker.” – Cheryl Strayed

Write all the time, every day, in every possible mood.

Write when you’re so excited to write that you could throw up because you can’t get it all down on paper fast enough.

Write when you have nothing to say.

Most importantly, write when it’s the very last thing you feel like doing—when you’d rather go lick gum off someone’s shoe than write. Write when you’re curled up in a ball and crying, because when you feel that terrible and you’re able to make yourself do it anyway, you’ve already won. It may be the worst writing you’ve ever done, but you’re doing it, and that’s far better than the alternative of not doing it. And as you continue you may realize that you’re not forcing yourself to work anymore. That you are in fact on a roll. That you are on your way to someplace grand and exciting and triumphant, when moments before you were dying.

 

Why a Month Without Alcohol is Actually Something You Should Consider

No alcohol in barAt the beginning of September 2013 I started a new life that was different and better than the one I had been living. I moved into an apartment in Chicago with two roommates I met on Craigslist, determined to start entirely from scratch. I was not a pioneering risk-taker moving without the security of gainful employment, but I did move without owning a bed, or any furniture for that matter. I didn’t have bath towels, or kitchen knives, or a vacuum. I did have wine glasses and a cocktail shaker.

I started thinking about how to cut other costs while I was spending what is to me an alarming amount of money on apartment furnishings, and the solution I devised was to give up alcohol for the entire month of September.

I am a person who typically has at least one drink three to five nights out of the week. This venture in no way seemed like fun. Instead, it became a challenge.

More Room for Productivity and Health

The first mistake I made was assuming I’d go out with friends and simply not order anything. This is incorrect. If I hadn’t forgone most social engagements revolving around drinks, I never would have made it. Instead I kept to myself most weekends, finding solace in all the new neighborhood coffee shops at my disposal and all the caffeinated work I could accomplish, because it wasn’t like I had anywhere else to be on a Friday night at 8pm when I was decidedly NOT drinking.

It was rainbow-magic productivity time and a giant fuck you to my social life—I saw almost no friends for the entire month. But I was getting enough sleep and waking up at incredibly early hours for the weekend, which is how I got back into my running routine, and how I was able to kick-start this blog into existence.

A Lesson in Moderation

Even though I was purposely avoiding situations in which I’d be tempted to have a drink, I couldn’t avoid them entirely. I can mostly thank my job for this. I work at a boutique PR agency and September happened to be a busy month full of events and parties to work. So I had plenty of practice saying no not only to champagne but to champagne that was free. The benefits being 1) that you can focus on doing your job and not on how many glasses to consume before you verge on unprofessional, and 2) abstaining from complimentary booze in the same proximity as your boss will at the very least absolutely not get you into trouble and at the very most make you slightly impressive.

Save Your Money

You know what adds up?

Fancy cocktails.

Beer.

Wine.

All the booze.

The fries you order with your whiskey, the pizza delivered to the apartment party, the cab ride home after a night of drunken cavorting.

These are all expenses that vanish when you opt to stay in on a Friday or Saturday night and, say, fix a nice dinner and catch up on your reading or get ahead on some work (see Jen Dziura’s advice on using hours/times of year most people aren’t working to get ahead here and here).

I’m not suggesting that going out is a not-so-great thing to do. When you’re young and vibrant and single especially, please do go out often and with purpose. Make it about socializing, meeting new people, enjoying good drinks and killing it on a dance floor; a night out can be just as productive as a day of work. If we didn’t make our social lives somewhat of a priority we’d be missing a grand piece of the puzzle, as it were. But for most of us, it’s financially impractical to go out every Friday and Saturday night, so I find it worthwhile to practice re-framing a night in as another kind of opportunity for productivity. Take to a relaxed night of reading, catch up on lower priority work-related tasks that have been on the back-burner for days, or do some mindless cleaning around the apartment if your brain power is exhausted. Whatever you do, get to bed early and tackle the next morning with panache because you got a good night’s sleep and didn’t wake up hung-over. If I can get a four-mile run, a shower and a trip to the farmer’s market out of the way before 10:30am on a Sunday, the world is mine for the taking, and I feel pretty excellent whether I end up writing at a coffee shop or at home reading and napping for the rest of the day.