Notes From an Off Day

I have to say, being productive was extraordinarily difficult today.  It was just kind of an “off” day.

It was sort of disappointing.  Last week I was on and outrageously happy and nothing could stop me.  Today… I guess I felt like everything was stopping me.  A couple of emails I just didn’t know how to respond to felt like a huge derailment.  I also had a borderline bizarre phone conversation with someone who didn’t want to register his wife for our classes but did want to tell me all about his own parochial education and the Franciscan nuns who administered it.  And then a library patron decided it might be cute, welcome, or in some way complimentary to hit on me while I was walking by.  Not exactly exchanges that helped me get back on my A-game.

The day was still a success in the end.  My students were served, my teachers were supported, and my other projects were addressed.

The only reason anything got done today was because I’d made a plan and a rough schedule last week when I was feeling like a superstar.  Today I just blindly, doggedly followed it as best I could.  And it was all ok.

May I always remember to use my “on” days in part to prepare for the “off” days.

De-Cluttering My Office: Best Decision Ever

Yesterday was my first work day in the office I had roughly de-cluttered over the weekend.  It was awesome.

It’s like taking some flotsam out of the office has cleared it out of my mind too.  Working was just so much easier without unconsciously fighting the resistance of Stuff.

I’m also glad to say that I’m about halfway done with my follow-up lists and have hope of finishing this evening.

Here’s to making your work environment work for you!

Unofficial Office Clean-Up

I popped into the office this weekend for some uninterrupted office maintenance time.

A Messy Office by Beth77 on Flickr
A Messy Office by Beth77 on Flickr

Basically, it’s a medium-small office that lots of people use throughout the week, and I’m in charge of it.  I do a pretty good job of keeping the day-to-day stuff under control, but it was feeling cluttered.  And why organize what I could just toss?

I decided to attack the stuff that had no discernible use but still took up space.  It was a single-minded stuff-reduction rampage.  And it was beautiful.

The rampaging actually only took an hour and half.  I spent another uninterrupted hour and a half dealing with statistics (learner hours, etc.) and am proud to report that they’re soundly under control.

The Desk!  Its...neat! by Rae Whitlock on Flickr
The Desk! It's...neat! by Rae Whitlock on Flickr

How I made the most of clean-up time:

  • I made sure there were no distractions.
  • I went for a huge, noticeable impact, inspired by the 80/20 rule and my mother.
  • I only set two goals.
  • My follow-up plan is written down: a list and a few neatly labeled piles.

Successful and satisfying.

It would be great to hear about other successes in office wrangling!

From Godin’s Tribe Building: Surprise Them

Item #21: Go Somewhere Different – e.g. Surprise the heck out of them!

This leaped off the page at me for learning centers.  I love my learning center, and one of the things I love about it is its unpredictability.  What with our student population facing transportation and childcare barriers, our entirely unpaid teaching staff, and our geographic propensity for extreme weather conditions (last Thursday it was -10 outside), there’s a whole lot of unpredictability.  Unfortunately, many of the surprises end up being challenges: absences of people or materials; having planning take longer than you thought (doesn’t it always?);  feeling more tired than you thought you would.

It’s kind of a forehead-smacker that a coordinator can (partially) take control by making a few surprises, and making them positive ones.  A card, a balloon, a tasty treat, a “congratulations” for x number of hours spent at the learning center.  Duh – but I’m not sure it would’ve occurred to me in those terms.  Thanks, Seth!

I guess the catch is that lack of time tends to be one of the challenging surprises that comes up repeatedly for me, and contriving positive surprises takes time.  Yet another matter of achieving a delicate balance.

How do you balance the need to control/fix unpleasant surprises and to create pleasant ones?

Bridesmaids and Best Practices

I’ve been extremely distracted with personal things for the past week plus, and one of those distractions was being a bridesmaid in a good friend’s wedding.

The Story

Several of us visited the site of the wedding a few weeks ago.  It’s a gorgeous outdoor site about 45 minutes from the Twin Cities.  We talked about the general plan for the audience and the general direction of the procession.  We talked about meeting in a different place and processing from an unexpected direction.  We had the rehearsal in the Twin Cities the day before the wedding.  We weren’t at the actual site because of the commute.  We talked about spacing and order and meeting times all of those good rehearsal things.

Bridesmaids, 1949 by JIGGS on Flickr
Bridesmaids, 1949 by JIGGS IMAGES on Flickr

The day of the wedding, we were dealing with unexpected and unexperienced things.  We were putting up a few decorations, enlisting the help of friends who had arrived early, and navigating effective communication with important people we didn’t really know, such as the parents of the bride and groom. There were nerves and deadlines and uncomfortable shoes – it was just totally different to be there than it was to plan it.

While in the thick of this reality, I completely lost any sense of those plans we had made weeks ago and even the day before.  I remembered most of them, but they somehow didn’t seem relevant anymore.  Everything around me was totally different than it was when we had made those plans, so my instinct was to improvise.

Looking back on that instinct is frustrating.  I knew exactly what I was supposed to do, but I felt compelled to go against it and start from scratch .  It’s kind of ridiculous.

The Point

The point of this is that I see parallels in nonprofits.  Most of us have a great idea of what the best practices are, from communication to filing to education.  We have a plan.  But then we come to deadlines or audits or budget cuts and there is a definite instinct to toss the plans out and start from scratch.

How can we not only share best practices, but do so in a way that acknowledges that they’ll feel way different in the midst of actual reality?

Has anyone else noticed this instinct?

My Real Job

After about a week at my new job, I think I now see what my job really is.

On paper, I’m supposed to coordinate an adult basic education learning center.  Recruit and support our learners and volunteer teachers, make sure we have space, maintain paperwork.  No problem.

I realized yesterday that the real underlying nature of what I do in my day to day is much simpler: make sure everyone gets along.  Please note that I did not say it was easier, just simpler.

It made me wonder – do a lot of jobs boil down to just that?  Or perhaps most aspects of life in general?

Need… tabbed… browsing…

First day on the new job!  It was awesome.  I’m getting all situated, getting to know my new on- and off-site coworkers, and figuring out what all is in my office.

The only thing I have to say that’s not glowing is about the security on my office computer.  I do not have the authority to change my toolbars or to download a new web browser.  Not having a quick-launch toolbar and being without tabbed browsing are already driving me nuts!

Secure, photo on Flickr by Wysz
Secure, photo on Flickr by Wysz

I guess my rhetorical question is why we bother imposing this type of limitation on people’s computers.  How does it benefit anyone to have me on an outdated browser and unable to customize my desktop?  I feel like I’m back at airport security, taking off my shoes and separating my baggie of liquids and gels for closer inspection; I’m going through a security charade that makes no impact on anyone’s actual safety.

I’m hoping I can request a couple of work-arounds – everyone over at the library I’ve met so far has been amazing.

Also, I think the fact that my only complaints are so minor and specific is a great sign for how awesome it’s going to be to work there!