“Saver’s Remorse?” Try Reader’s Remorse, NY Times.

I have minimal expectations of the NY Times.  The bar is low.  And this article didn’t even come close to clearing it.  The point of Susan Saulny’s Even to Save Cash, Don’t Try This Stuff at Home seems to be “If at first you don’t succeed, give up forever and pay someone else $1,000.”

It’s not just that I disagree with what’s said.  It’s that I think even the author would disagree if she’d spent a moment of thought on it.

Yes, I know, when you’ve inadvertently flooded your house, you don’t have a lot of choice but to call a plumber.  But since when is having ugly hair an emergency that requires $1,000 to fix?  And you’re telling me you don’t have even one friend who could help you change your car battery?  Come on, people.

No mention was made of actually learning how to do things yourself through research and tapping your network for help.  There’s no acknowledgment, explicit or tacit, that there’s any value in to trying to do something for yourself.  There’s no link to actual DIY resources.  There’s no reference to “best practices” (read: common sense) such as starting small.  There’s no mention of honestly evaluating the necessity of the project and the worst-case impact of your utter failure before you begin.  I didn’t even get a good laugh out of it.  There’s basically nothing of value in this article.

I guess you could argue that adding value to the world wasn’t the point.  And I guess someone very clever could argue that that’s ok.  Who am I to say that the NY Times can’t print shallow drivel if it wants to?

I guess it falls to bloggers like Trent at TheSimpleDollar.com to put thought into written pieces.  Check out a home repair gone awry as told by Trent, and a few other related articles of his that might also be useful to you.

On Doing Things “Well”

An ironic title for a 1AM post – I doubt this will be an exemplary piece of writing.

Yesterday I wrote about doing “good” things. The other side of my blog is doing good things “well.”

I’ll just say it: I’m a pretty smart person, pretty quick to learn and pretty quick to improvise. In my opinion, I do things pretty well.

But I think I could do better.

Moreover, I think I could make a ton of headway with just a bit of effort, so why not do it?  Seems like it’d be a great time investment.

The Project

5 by svenwerk on Flickr
5 by svenwerk on Flickr

I’ve decided take five weeks to focus on a given topic: reading, writing, and talking about it with the basic purpose of knowing more about it than when I started. Week 1 will be devoted to making a syllabus for the remaining four weeks.

The idea is that I would do several of these “courses.”  Five weeks will allow me to do some pretty decent reading but won’t leave me married to a topic I have only cursory interest in.

Leaving the Shoulds At the Door

I have no intention of pursuing courses I “should” pursue; this is for topics I’m actually interested in.  I’m also not interested in hearing (even from myself) that I “should” pursue a longer course.  I do better with short-term projects.  Why set myself up for failure, especially to start out?

I also have no intention of doing more than one course if the first one drives me nuts.  The point is to give myself some structure to foster learning and growing, not to make it an unbearable chore.  If this format doesn’t work for me, I’ll drop this project and think of something else.

But maybe it’ll resonate for someone reading about it?

The Pilot

My pilot 5-week course is based on my goal to become a better teacher. Not ‘The 5-Week Miracle.’  Just better.   Let’s define “better” as more effective and more aware of what other good teachers do than I am now.

The start of my syllabus is here.  Feel free to take a look at it.   I’m extremely open to suggestions, but please don’t be offended if I have to put them on hold for a different 5-week unit.

What would your 5-week courses be about?

What I learned on my last day

Yesterday was my last day at my old job!

The #1 thing I learned was that I could have led a much less cluttered existence months and months ago if I’d taken 2 hours to throw out old papers.  Seriously, it would’ve been a great investment.

The new job starts on Wednesday.  I’ll be with the same organization.  The difference is that I’ll be working directly with adult learners and volunteers, and that I won’t be at the main office.

In the time between, I’ll be out of town for the second half of my summer vacation.  I will not be blogging during this break.  Enjoy the long weekend!

Investing Time in the Process

Sometimes we still think like the small program we were just a few years ago.

Our program has seen exponential growth in the past few years.  We have accomplished amazing things.  Our trajectory is to double again in two years, which is both daunting and exciting.  One way to smooth this is to focus on processes: you need them, you need to be able to share / replicate them easily, and they need to be as streamlined as possible.  In other words, you should take the time to write them down.

I think we could have been much more efficient even just in these past couple of months by simply writing down everything we taught a temp how to do, or even having our temps keep up the lists.  It would have taken slightly longer to do the first time, but would have left us with an easy-to-replicate process.  Simple time-investment.  Instead, with every new temp and new employee, we’ve had to reinvent the wheel, racking our brains to figure out what to teach them when and how.  It’s a waste of time.  It happens because we go into it in a one-time mentality when it’s really a piece of a pattern that will repeat.

I’m really not a person who’s all about standardizing and formalizing, but when you have a big program, it’s the only effective way to do it.

How do you go about transitioning your thinking from small-scale to large-scale?  What are best practices for understanding what should be a process and creating and using said process?

Management Suggestions: Communicating

One of my organization’s biggest strengths and biggest challenges is that we have a main office and several satellite sites.  This week I got a chance to talk to some satellite coworkers I rarely see, and it was fantastic to get to reconnect.  I spoke with one coworker in particular, largely about communicating with supervisors.

What I Realized:

  • When people work really really hard, they need to know that the people above them do also.
  • The wheels that aren’t squeaking still need you.
  • It’s easy to assume the worst in lieu of facts.
  • Face time, with people and at places, makes people feel better.

Management Suggestions:

  • Face time.  Make time for it.
  • Make sure that at least some of your hard work is visible.
    • If you’re at work at 10pm, make sure to send some emails then.  Time stamps are subtle and say a lot.
    • Share your to-do lists, projects, and finished products.
    • Take a moment (not an hour) at check-in meetings to report on what you’ve been up to too.
    • Make at least some piddling tasks a priority.  Fix that water cooler, address the lighting in that parking lot, help with that crazy landlord.
  • The line between trusting an employee and ignoring an employee has a lot to do with the employee’s perception.
    • Send a quick thank-you to the people doing a great job.  Acknowledge that you’re being very hands-off, and that you’re still there when they do need anything.
    • Have regular meetings and switch up the location.
    • Publicly recognize accomplishments, and not just the momentous ones.

What are some other suggestions or lessons that come to mind?  How else can management communicate effectively?

Old Advice

The tortoise and the hare.  I’m definitely guilty of being the hare, trying to sprint through a long race and coming out worse off than the plodders.

Slowing down in order to with the race wasn’t on my mind back when I was ruminating upon time investment in April.  It seems like a sound strategy though.  A little insurance that I’ll still be going strong in 10 years rather than selling out, because ultimately that’s how to make a bigger difference.

Tonight I was home by 6pm.  I reached a natural stopping point at work and decided to leave rather than starting something else.  It was great!  I chatted with my mother, blogged, made some blog notes for tomorrow, threw in some laundry, and am now going to relax over a simple yet delicious supper and read Guns Germs and Steel.

I would love to hear how other people find time to slow down.  If you’re a sprinting hare, how’s it going for you, and what motivates you?

EDIT: Ok, I’ll write another quick post I meant to write earlier today, and then I’ll go relax.  Seriously!  I’m going now!

Time Investment –> Working Smarter

I think it’s important to identify some multipliers and exponents and using them effectively.  


  • organization
  • data tracking
  • effective ongoing communication


  • volunteers/interns/helpers
  • teamwork
  • planning
  • purpose

I think it’s worth it to think about the subtracters too and try to limit them.


  • long meetings with results that disappear into the ether
  • emergencies
  • unnecessary data entry, confusion, complicated procedures, reporting, redundancy
  • feeling overwhelmed, panicked, or otherwise out of control
Now, how to translate this into working smarter?  How can I implement this insight given what I’m actually able to control?

Time Investment

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “working smart.”  Nonprofits are characterized (to my mind at least) with limited budgets, staff who believe in what they’re doing, both in a relatively non-confrontational atmosphere.   This is a combination that attracted me, but one of its down sides is that workload does not always remain under control.  

Let me be clear: I love my job.  This is why I’m thinking about what I can do to manage my “40” hours per week in a sustainable way.

I vaguely remember hearing about a framework for thinking about the relationships in your life in terms of basic math functions.  Who subtracts?  Who adds?  Who multiplies?  This morning while sipping my tea, I wondered about work.  What about my job subtracts productivity?  Adds it?  Multiplies it?  And to take it to another level, are there any actions I can perform that cause exponential returns?

This kind of jargon brings to mind the concept of investment.  Thinking about it this way, I’m seeing things a little differently, and I think more clearly.  Timesheets feel like a time-drain while I’m going through them and emailing about errors or concerns, but they are actually an investment in the end of the year.  Since the end of the year is characterized by an intense spike in things to do, timesheet vigilance throughout the year is indeed a sound investment.  

Seeing my job as a series of time investments makes everything I need to do have renewed purpose, and further inspires me to be incredible sure it all gets done.  It also makes me really want to be there, and as more than a burnt-out zombie; I want to be fully present.