How To Be Professional, Part 2

How to be professional part 2Being professional doesn’t come easily to everyone. Colleagues aren’t necessarily good models, and there are many “professional” behaviors that no one tells you! Whether starting your first job, a new job, or your own thing, consider the following to keep it professional:

Create Systems:
It’s likely that your work involves doing similar tasks. Use checklists and templates to catch your mistakes and deliver consistent, high-quality work. Attention to detail, thoroughness, and consistency are important at work, but everyone makes human errors: catch yourself. (I discovered a day late that my original image for Part 1 had a typo. I am creating a system to catch myself.)

Figure It Out On Your Own:
There’s a line between asking how to do something, and figuring it out yourself. A professional tries to find the answers on her own – it shows that she’s diligent about learning as much as she can before asking for help. However, don’t waste time and money by spending hours on something that another professional could do in five minutes.

Note When You’re Afraid:
Sometimes I put off tasks that scare me. If it’s something I’ve never done before or don’t understand, I’ll sit on the task for weeks, mulling it over until I have the courage to take action or get so close to the deadline that I have no choice. In one of my jobs, this gave the impression that I was lazy. Pay attention when a task intimidates you. Is there someone you can ask for guidance? Can you research it before forging ahead? Put time on your schedule to get it done, and tell a friend or colleague to hold you accountable.

Dress Appropriately: 
A friend had a boss who wore threadbare shorts to the office. They didn’t have an office dress code, but it makes everyone uncomfortable to see a coworker’s thong underwear. Even if your company’s dress policy is relaxed, clothes give an impression and influence the way you conduct yourself. I usually get more business-y things done in a pencil skirt than cut-off shorts. Also, my posture is better. Neat, put-together clothes convey I am here to work, rather than see you at the gym.

Arrive On Time:
Another friend confessed that once she’s comfortable in a job, she doesn’t always arrive on time. She reasons that if she works hard and makes few mistakes, it’s no big deal to show up a little after 9:00. If your workplace has a flexible schedule, that’s fine. If not, it gives a certain impression to be chronically tardy – and not a professional one.

Be Polite:
Some people are rude. Be courteous because you’re a professional, while taking appropriate measures (HR) to handle people who are inappropriate. Be kind, as a policy. Be careful what you say to coworkers, especially while in the workplace (maybe the rules are different during happy hour). For great advice on how to communicate at work, see “A Case Against ‘I’ Statements.”

How To Ask For Feedback:
This is one merits its own post. Stay tuned!

For more on how to be professional, see Part 1. What have you learned about being professional? Add to the list!

(photo by Amanuel Awoke)


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How To Be Professional, Part 1

How to be professional, part 1
When I started working, I thought that being professional would be easy. How hard could it be? I was surprised by how many silent expectations and unspoken strategies there ae in the workplace. Whether starting your first job, a new job, or striking out on your own, being professional is an ongoing project that takes time and attention.

Not sure where to start? Consider the following:

Daily Check-in:*
Touch base with yourself (or a colleague, or your supervisor) on these three points: What did you accomplish today? What’s your biggest priority tomorrow? Do you have any roadblocks to getting things done? These questions provide a structure for monitoring your work and priorities, assessing your progress, and indicating if you need guidance or support to accomplish a task.

Tailor Your Communication:
People communicate differently, and it’s important to have a feel for how your supervisor or clients like to communicate. Do they want regular, detailed updates on your projects?  Do they prefer biweekly meetings? Ask how they like it, rather than waiting to be given instructions. And if you’re only checking in every other week, make sure to keep a list of ongoing projects so you can provide status updates at any time. Which brings us to….

Capture Tasks:
There are a million things coming at you from all sides. Try to have one place (hello, David Allen) for all tasks to be captured and organized. For years I kept track of my work in a notebook, using a system of columns, colors, and symbols for organization. Eventually I replaced paper with a digital system so I could keyword search and schedule tasks in advance. Sometimes things slip, but a professional has a system to capture all tasks so that when asked, she can report on the status of everything from big projects to small to-do’s.

Distinguish Between Urgency and Importance:
At any given time you have a lot to do, but not everything is important and urgent. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the quantity of work and forget to prioritize time-sensitive tasks or plan out long, multi-step ones. Rather than doing small things so you can cross them off, or working long hours on a project that isn’t due for a month, a professional has a hierarchy of important and urgent tasks and does those first. If she’s unsure, she finds out.

Take Notes:*
Use a notebook, Google doc, or similar to record any questions, suggestions, or concerns you have about work. Ideally, this is something you can review with your supervisor or a colleague. Not only does this show that you are engaged in the workplace, it also shows that you’re looking for ways to improve yourself and and the company.

Structure Your Time:
Some workdays I dive in with no plan, haphazardly doing various tasks, checking email, and distracting myself by texting. No bueno. My most productive days come from planning: dividing my time into 1-2 hour chunks for specific tasks; batching tasks like phone calls, emails, or social media scheduling; structuring breaks to refresh my mind and body. When are you most productive – is it morning? Use that time to work on creative projects and reserve email and phone meetings for after lunch. Do rote tasks while listening to TED Talks or music so your mind can take a break.

What have you learned about being professional? Add to the list!

*A fellow Bullicorn had the opportunity to mentor an intern in her company, and asked the community how to be helpful. Some of these suggestions come from that conversation. 

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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Why You Do It (Your Job)

why-you-do-your-job-simply-putWhat is a career? Why do you do what you do?

Penelope Trunk recently wrote about work-life balance, referencing the recent New York Times article about how Amazon treats employees. Explaining her own experience launching startups, Penelope says, “What I’m telling you is that I have been one of those people who worked insane hours and put my company before my life. And I’m here to tell you that there are people who really do want to do that. We should let them.” Some companies expect employees to work all the time. They are for people willing to give everything to their careers – not just forty hours.

Do these employees enjoy giving so much without respite? Or is it the prestige, paycheck, intensity, and reward that makes such work worthwhile? Or the thrill of climbing that career ladder? On the other end of the spectrum, some people hate their jobs, or feel ambivalent towards them. Maybe they are stuck in the job because of debt, or the job is a means to the end of traveling or reaching financial goals.

Whatever the reason or motivation, we all have careers, and by career I mean things you spend a lot of time doing for decades (not necessarily for pay). There are people who have a clear career visions: they want to do a specific thing, and they have certainty around it. Yet most people’s professional lives are not straightforward. We move from thing to thing as opportunities arise and our interests and circumstances change. This can be done with intention and planning, but often seems to just… happen. Have you stopped to think, why am I doing what I’m doing? What careers am I experiencing now?

My cousin is starting a new job today. After discussing the lifestyle that goes with 9-to-5 work, I shared Penelope’s post with her. She said,

“My values are radically different than hers. I can’t put any value on the concept of a “career” because to me it’s invented. What are you actually driven by when you’re a “career-driven” person? What intrinsic value is there in a career? To me a job is a means to many different ends.”

Of course, there’s a lot of space between work as a means to an end, and putting your career before everything. Work is meaningful. It can come with identity, community, reward, recognition, and pride. Even if you don’t love what you do, you probably love what your job enables you to do: eat and drink well, live where you want, save money for future goals. And if we didn’t work, what would we do? …. Something, right? Some sort of occupation.

Think of “work” or “career” expansively: it’s about contributing, helping people, and creating community, whether or not you’re climbing a ladder. My cousin clarified her qualms, saying, “what I have a hard time understanding is people being ‘career-driven’ OUTSIDE OF being passionate about the actual work they’re doing, and having that be an end in itself. There are people who hate their jobs and are miserable every day but love the idea of climbing to the top of this mythical (in my opinion) career ladder. It’s much more important to me to do work that I think is interesting/helpful regardless of the paycheck or title.”

Sure, sometimes you have to work just for pay. But your career is never one thing; it’s a combination, a collection of all you do, and it changes all the time. You do it for many reasons, and those change, too. If you feel stuck, try asking yourself “why do I do these things? Do they align with my values or help me achieve my goals? Do they enable me to do what I want? Is it time for a change?

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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Live on < $20k: July


July was a good money month.  I was back in the green on savings, and made few unplanned purchases.  I like viewing the July column on my spreadsheet compared to June and August.  June was travel month, and August is car month….

CategoryThis Month: JulyLast Month: June
Year to Date
Bills & Utilities$91.96$113.53
Coffee Shops$21.45$0$62.44
Public Transit$42.69$9.23$181.74
Personal Care$171$71.62$533.51
Home stuff$37$0$70.47
Qapital Savings$129.87$80$209.87
% of $20k6.1%6.5%40.6%

I want to do another No Spend Month, but it’s unappealing while the weather is good, daylight hours are long, and there’s lots to do.  Perhaps I’ll have No Spend Weeks instead.  How was your July?

Want more? Check out Live on Less Than $20k and recaps for JanuaryFebruary, MarchApril, May, and June

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Choose a Focus (For Your Blog)

How to focus - Simply Put StrategiesIn July I attended a blog design webinar hosted by Sarah (XOSarah) and Mariah (Femtrepreneur). It made me realize the benefits of working with blogging entrepreneurs and a learning community. It’s time to invest in making my blog better: I signed up for Sarah’s Badass Babes Blogs Club + E-Course.

Lesson 2 of the course is choose a focus – one of the great hurdles in creating a good blog. Rather than writing about everything under the sun, finding a niche develops your expertise, clarifies themes that readers can identify, and determines what to write. The homework for Lesson 2 was straightforward: “narrow your list of topics to 10 items or less and feature your new list of categories in your sidebar.”

But what if you’re passionate about many disparate topics?  I posed this and other questions to the badass Babes community.

When You’re Passionate about 164,743,765 things: 

Sarah’s lesson asks us to consider which topics we enjoy writing most, our readers enjoy reading most, we have the most ideas for, and are shared most on social media. These are great questions to ask and ask again. But if you don’t have many readers or social shares, or if you have lots of ideas on lots of topics, you may need more help.

The Badass Babes recommended “What to Do When You Have ‘Too Many’ Topics to Blog About or Teach” by Regina. It’s an excellent video. Regina says, “sometimes we’re only passionate about our ideas in theory–it’s like that guy/gal you have a crush on that you don’t even know.” Her advice on how to niche down is practical and effective.

Categories vs. Tags: 

I’ve been using categories for organization and navigation (with categories such as “Me,” “I’m Reading,” and “Videos”) even though I don’t write often on these topics. As a result I have 19 (YIKES) categories to pare down. Should I switch some categories to tags? Combine categories? Take some out all together?

The Badass Babes community suggested switching to tags as second-tier organization for topics I don’t blog about often but still want to group. WP Site Care agrees: WordPress categories are used to create groups of content that fit the primary topics of your site…. tags are best used to create groups of content that apply to multiple categories.”

Back-end Category Organization:

I’m hesitant to eliminate categories and lose the organized post groups I’ve created. I asked the Babes: is there a way to hide categories so they don’t display on my sidebar, but I can still access them on the backend for archive/organization purposes?

The Babes said, “yes!” and recommend using a text box in my sidebar to manually link the categories I want to display (rather than use the “Categories” widget which draws on all categories).

Next steps:  Tackle those categories and think hard about what to keep writing. Lesson 3 is in my inbox!

Do you struggle to narrow your focus?

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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How Do You Define Success?

Do more of what makes you happy!Everyone pictures “success” as something different. Perhaps it’s a certain amount of money. Or a house and car. A family. Or some sort of recognition – being published, getting a certain number of unique website visits per month, being on the news, being quoted. Or a particular job.

Where did you learn about success? From your parents, teachers, friends? The Internet? By comparing yourself to others?

Historically we had peers, our community, perhaps people on TV or in newspapers as metrics for gauging success. Now everyone on the Internet, ever, is a potential comparison point. It’s a big pond. With the myriad personalities, work styles, and circumstances out there, we see many people our age with the appearance of success in jobs, roles, or lifestyles we desire.

But compare and you’ll despair. When is enough, enough? What does success mean for YOU? What are your goals and values?

In “Go with your Gut Feeling,” Magnus Walker calls success “the freedom to do whatever you want to do.” I love the title of the TED Talk, but I don’t quite agree with his definition. There will always been things we don’t want to do, and there are always opportunities to do what we want, even if it’s part time. I think success is a combination of contentment with what you have, eagerness to keep reaching goals, and the flexibility to do so with integrity.

From Michelle Obama, “success isn’t about how much money you make; it’s about the difference you make in people’s lives.” I won’t argue with that.

(photo by Eva Jannotta)

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Are You Obsessed With Money?

fatjoelilwayneA few weeks ago, my sister accused me of being “obsessed with money.” She was teasing, but it got me thinking: is she right?

I think about money often. It started after reading about Mr Money Mustache in the Washington Post (thanks, Dad!). I started paying attention – a lot of attention – to money. I joined I began tracking my spending and saving on a spreadsheet. I invested in Vanguard. I signed up for a 401(k). Early retirement is an exciting goal, but these were lifestyle changes that suited me regardless: attention to detail, a low environmental impact, and experiences over things.

Sometimes I wonder if I overdo it. Am I too fixated on building my stash? If I go out, is it worth having only one beer to save $10? Will those ten dollars really make a difference?

I write about values (here and here) and goals (here, here and here) and how important it is to align your lifestyle and spending with your values and goals. As I work part time and build my business, I want to be judicious about where and what I spend. To do that, I’m tuning in to my goals and values.


Me and my cousin Liz at the Piazza Venezia in Rome. The plaque reads, “Italians abroad to the mother country.”

That’s why I traveled to Italy in June. I value experiencing places and cultures and spending time with family. I’ve had the goal of traveling to Italy since I was a kid. Though Italy was a big expenditure, I had zero buyer’s remorse. I never felt anxious because the trip was exactly how I wanted to spend my money.

Friends sometimes get annoyed that I don’t want to go to happy hour. But the thing is, I want to go out and drink margaritas less than I want to travel where I want, when I want. I’d just as soon take a walk with my friends and have a drink at my house, and put margarita money towards my next transatlantic flight.

I don’t think I’m obsessed with money. I think I have clear and perhaps uncompromising view on what money is worth to me. What I earn buys what I value and helps me achieve my goals.

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So Money: Generosity, Values, & Opportunity

SoMoney_podcast_FarnooshTorabiWhat’s your favorite thing to listen to while commuting? I listen to the So Money podcast with Farnoosh Torabi. For 30 minutes every day, Farnoosh interviews entrepreneurs, thinkers, and people of all walks of life about their financial philosophies, triumphs, and fails. Farnoosh also answers listener questions and shares money suggestions herself.

Money is more than dollars and cents. It impacts our daily lives, yet many people feel paralyzed when it comes to managing it. It’s a concept and a system that emotionally and psychologically affects all of us, yet many people are uncomfortable talking about it. It’s a taboo topic, and there is a dearth of good financial education.

Enter So Money. A daily dose of financial not-awkwardness, frank advice, and humor. My favorite parts of the podcast:

Everyone makes mistakes. We know this so well it’s a cliche, but the space between knowing it and knowing it is wide. So Money guests share their own financial fails and what they learned, reminding us that even successful, money-savvy people have struggled with consumer debt, missed opportunities, fear, or greed.

What’s your Money Mantra? Farnoosh asks guests if they have a money philosophy, a keystone phrase or habit they use to keep their financial life in line. The mantras show the sheer variety of ways to think well about money.

Highlights from my So Money listening:

“Generous people have more to give.” – Danielle LaPorte

“Money is a stand in for what we value. If I get off track, I come back to what are my values? What’s important to me? What matters to me, and how can I get my financial life in alignment with that? ” – Kate Northrup

“There’s nothing wrong with saying, ‘I want to do something different,’ or ‘Hey, this isn’t working, I’m going to pivot and I’m going to try something new.” – Laura Adams

“I wish that I had known there was so much opportunity. I think that as a child I was very focused on ‘what’s my career going to be, what’s the one thing that I’m going to do?’ and it stressed me out. I wasn’t one of those people who said ‘I want to be XYZ” as soon as I was seven or eight years old…. I think if I had realized back then that it was okay to do a lot of different things, and it was okay not to have one specific career, I didn’t have to be a doctor or a dentist, that it was okay just to not know and see where things go, I would have felt a little more at peace.” – Laura Adams

(This last one’s my favorite!)

Check out Farnoosh’s podcast to make every day #SoMoney.

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Live on < $20k: June


June was an amazing month, because Italy! However, that meant spending more and making less than usual. Though the June total was lower than in May, my savings rate is in the negatives. Two words though: worth it.

CategoryThis Month: JuneLast Month: May
Year to Date
Coffee Shops$0$15.44$40.99
Public Transit$9.23$28.46
Personal Care$71.62$180$362.51
Qapital Savings$80$80
% of $20k6.5%7.0%36.6%

Remainder to spend: $13,105.41 of $20k

Our utilities were the lowest they’ve been all year. #thanksmildweather

I’ve started using the Qapital app to track money goals, including saving enough to purchase a laptop.  Every week Qapital withdraws $20 from my checking account toward my goal. This way I stash cash for the goal slowly, rather than making one big purchase.

Want more? Check out Live on Less Than $20k and recaps for JanuaryFebruary, MarchApril, and May

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Should You? No, You Shouldn’t


Definition of SHOULD (past of shall) – used in auxiliary function to express obligation, propriety, or expediency: “’tis commanded I should do so” — Shakespeare, “this is as it should be” — H. L. Savage, “you should brush your teeth after each meal.”

Should is a weird word. The way I hear it used most means you are doing the wrong thing, and it would be better/smarter/more worth your time to do a different thing. But how does anyone know what the right thing to do is? Right according to whom?

I first thought critically about should with my aunt. She pointed out that, “whenever you think or say should, it’s someone else’s voice.” That is, should comes from what you were taught is correct to do. It comes from your socialization and upbringing, sense of responsibility, of justice, manners, culture, and trying to please people. It’s the voice of your parents, boss, partner, or God. It’s the lessons you learned about punctuality, debt, obligation, social rules and expectations, and appropriate reactions. At its best, it encourages you to do things that are important. At its worst, it gives the sense that you could always be doing something more than you are, which leads to feelings of inadequacy and guilt.

But when you speak and think in your own voice, there is nothing to should. In a universe without should, aren’t you always doing fine? If you can tune out the voice in your head yammering about obligations and ideas on the right and wrong ways to be, you’re just doing you on your own time. Maybe you shouldn’t be doing anything else.

It can be extremely frustrating when things don’t go the way they should – the way we expect, or the way we were taught is right (the door should be unlocked). But reality bends to no will or expectation.

Many shoulds come down to time. Time is a nonrenewable resource, and we want to do a lot in our lives. Many things compete for our time, and as we grew up we learned that some things are expected: “I should go out more. I should be meeting more people. I should make more money while I’m young. I should perform better at work.” They’re not bad things, per se, but they may not be you things, either. Next time you hear a should, think about whose voice is speaking. It probably isn’t yours.

(photo from Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh)

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