Big decisions will never stop being hard. Accepting this is the key to making them a little easier.

diamond richardson, productivity If you have not watched Ruth Chang’s Ted Talk about making hard decisions you should go watch it, like now. It is beautiful.

For those of you who won’t watch it now, here is a recap: The reason big decisions are so agonizing for us is because we assume there is a right decision and a wrong decision. We assume that if we do not pick the right one, we will ruin our life’s trajectory. Fortunately, this is one of the biggest lies we tell ourselves. Major life decisions (like which career to choose, who to marry, or where to live) have no clear right or wrong answer, and Dr. Chang does a great job of explaining why in the video. If we have a difficult time choosing in these situations, it means the options in these major decisions are on a par. This means that they are comparable, but it impossible to determine a clear “winner.” The best way to handle this? Start with the realization that big decisions are our opportunities to determine who we are and what we stand for. Decide what you want to be about, and make the decision that supports that. We literally write the stories of our lives through hard choices. People who are not active in this process let others write their stories.

It seems like a simple concept, yet it is a world away from how many 20-somethings make decisions, especially those of us who are career over-acheivers. We agonize over where to move, which graduate degree to get, who to date and which career to embark upon. We leave school, where there are tests with clear answers, and expect the real world to be the same. We are looking for that one right answer that does not exist.

I read a fantastic comment posted anonymously on a chat board recently. The original poster asked for advice about whether or not to move for a job. A responder told her to remember that no matter where she worked and lived, she would still have to wake up early, take the trash out and brave the days that just sucked (not an exact quote; I can’t find the page again, but it is close enough). I thought that was the best response ever. No job is going to take away the days where you hate everyone and everything. No relationship is going to make you feel understood and loved 24/7. We assume all the sleepless nights spent making the “right” choice pardons us from the day-to-day, but it does not. That is life, and there is no right choice to begin with. We spend our 20s chasing a fantasy. This chase is scary. Not only because it is fruitless, but because it also leaves you in a permanent state of second-guessing. Things are not how we imagined them, so we must have made the wrong choice. We must have made a mistake.

But the only mistake we made was waiting for the real answer to fall out of the sky, and forgetting that real life will not cease to exist in the process.

Can an app with 300 million users be bad for us?

The big news headline today is that Instagram has reached 300 million users, officially surpassing Twitter. This news is particularly aligned with some of the notes I have been keeping about social media (and by notes I mean random thoughts that pop into my head).

Managing multiple personal social media accounts is a job. At many companies, it is a six-figure job. So why do we dedicate so much time to social media for free? Many of us check our news feeds every chance we get. The most eloquent writing some people ever achieve is in a strongly-worded Facebook post after seeing something that pisses them off. Some of us spend hours in the mirror, perfecting our hair for an Instagram selfie, to be used no other place but that one post. We trade living in the moment for a life online, as if it is nothing. Or even scarier, as if it is the norm. Why do we care so much about how we look online?

A little research and a lot of observation has showed me that we care because underneath it all, we have an intense desire to be accepted and to feel like we belong. We post the heated political debate-starting statuses not because we want to argue, but because we want someone to verify that the way we are feeling is right. We place more importance on snapping pictures with our friends than actually talking to them, because we want everyone to know that we have a group where we fit.

Not only do we want to hear these affirmations, we want to hear them many times over. We have gotten high on quantity. Who wants to be told you are only pretty once? You can go online and hear it 10 times. Quantity of interactions has become how we measure ourselves and our lives.

What does all of this mean? I don’t know. We are the first generation coming into adulthood with 4 social media profiles in tow, and I think it will be a few generations before some really smart social psychologist can articulate the impact on our personal lives.

My opinion? I don’t think its all bad. I am 24. I was birthed right along with this digital revolution, and I see all of the wonderful benefits. But nothing is perfect, not even a photo sharing app with 300 million users in 4 years.

The Introvert’s Guide to Productivity at Work

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Photo credit: ww.twentyinparis.net

This blog is primarily to share my passion for working smarter and finding a system to life that works for you. Another passion I don’t discuss as much is my passion for learning about how to live an amazing life as an introvert.

I am an introvert. More specifically, I am an INFJ if you are into Myers-Briggs personality typing (which I am such a huge nerd for). Growing up, I always felt a little different from my peers, and could never put my finger on why. I tended to enjoy staying in and reading a good book more than going to a party. On the bus rides home from track meets in high school, I would get called antisocial because I listened to my music instead of talking the whole bus ride back. I never understood why I was that way, but I just always remember feeling drained after being around people for hours on end.

One day during my sophomore year of college would change everything about my perspective. I went to the career counseling office at my university, expecting to come out with a defined career path. That didn’t pan out, but I did come out with some insight into my personality. I learned that I am an INFJ. The “I” means that I am introverted. I also learned that an INFJ is the rarest personality type, which explained why I always felt a little different.

I began reading everything that I could about my newly discovered personality type.  I was blown away by how much the descriptions fit who I was. I finally learned to appreciate all of the good traits that come with my personality, instead of just honing in on the things that made me feel weird.

While I learned that I was not alone, I still had not figured out the best way to manage my energy. I knew that too much extraverting zapped my energy, but I felt like there was not way to get out of that. There are more extraverts than introverts, and I felt like I needed to constantly push myself to be places I did not want to be to advance my career. After extensive research and a little time in the workforce, I have become much better about staying true to who I am. Here is what I have learned about how to stay productive as an introvert in an extravert’s world:

  1. Always give yourself an out. In the workplace, relationships are critical if you want to gain the connections and sponsors you need to advance. However, these relationships are not often developed during meetings. They develop during informal conversations in the hall, and during the dreaded team happy hours/holiday parties. As an introvert, it can be hard to force ourselves to attend these events after an already long day of talking to people at work. If we want to develop those relationships, though, it is worth the time. One way to make the task a little more manageable is by creating an escape plan for yourself. Don’t feel pressured into riding with a co-worker if you know you will want to leave early. Drive alone so you can skip out early, after you have “shown face.” You can also get away with an early escape with another evening plan. People will rarely give you a hard time if you have to be at a workout class, or pick up a friend. With one of these plans, you can network on your own terms.
  2. Get enough rest. Most of us (introverts) cannot fake enthusiasm when we are tired. While all of us should be getting 7+ hours each night, it is even more crucial for introverts, since our energy is drained from being around people. We need to come to work rested up and ready to take on the day.
  3. Know your stimulants. Whether it be coffee, tea or energy drinks, some of us cannot make it through the work day without some type of caffeine. This is bad news for those of us who are introverted. Psychologist Brian Little writes that introverts are less effective after 2 cups of coffee (extraverts become more effective). This is just one man’s opinion, but it makes sense that caffeine would effect introverts and extraverts differently. The bottom line here is to experiment with different amounts of caffeine (and timing of drinks) to discover what allows you to work smarter and still sleep soundly at night.

Being an introvert is not a curse at work! Introverts, what other productivity tips would you add to this list?

Why I care so much about time, money, and how we use it

tomorrow It occurred to me today that even though I have written post after post about managing money and being more productive, I have never explained why I care so much.

I come from a working class background. I was raised by a single mom and, at times, money was very tight. My story is not uncommon; there are millions of kids born into this situation every day. Where the stories start to diverge is when kids grow up and begin to make their own decisions.

For me, that was in high school. I was in a class that required me to get a part time job to get credit for the course. I applied at retail stores and restaurants all over the city, but no one was hiring. I had classmates with uncles or cousins who owned businesses, and they were able to find jobs through those connections. I did not have that luxury. I was discouraged, but I had a revelation that, I believe, set me down a path responsible for many of my successes in college: I had to get creative. I went to Target, walked right up to the receptionist in the break room, and told her that I had applied for a job and not heard anything back. Before she could interject, I told her that I really needed a job to pass my class, and that I would literally do anything, even push carts (a job typically filled by guys). She took down my name and number, and the next week I had a job.

This story was formative to my development because I learned a very important lesson. I learned that in interactions with most people, connections and money do not matter. Perseverance does matter. I could have chosen to spend my time sulking after hearing nothing back from job applications, but I used the time to get creative about alternate ways to get what I wanted.

I continued to use time as a competitive advantage in college. I was a student athlete involved numerous campus organizations. Despite my crazy schedule, I was still able to excel academically. People used to ask me all the time how I did it. That was always such a weird question to me, because it seemed obvious. I put in the time. When other students were scrolling through Instagram or partying, I was studying and training. I understood that you may not get to pick which family you are born into or how much money your parents have, but you do get to choose how you spend your time. I focused on what I cared about. I made my time work for me, both in getting a scholarship to go to college and in making the most of college.

The same can be said for money. I completely believe that we are born wired a certain way – some people are naturally better at math, others at writing (I know some people debate this). Taking into account those skills/interests, certain career paths will emerge, and certain people will make more money at face value. But even within seemingly better fitted career options, there are ranges of ways to earn more money. I know successful journalists who live very comfortable lives because they manage their money well and have side hustles. An investment banker who blows through his or her money on fancy cars and vacations can live paycheck to paycheck. How we spend our time and money is defined by tradeoffs, and only you can decide what is worth giving up.

I care because we have the say in how we spend our time and money. Just think about how powerful that is. Those two items alone can literally transform our lives. I am not rich, nor do I have more time in the day than anyone else, but I live a good life. I spend my time and money on things that matter to me instead of passively wasting them. My wish is that everyone can find the discipline to do the same.

Google and the Productive Life

I have this theory that a person’s Google searches will tell you a lot about them. Here are a few of my most recent searches:

  • “At what age should you have your career figured out”
  • “Best age to have your first child”
  • “Consulting careers”
  • “Amanda Bynes”
  • “Should I live in NYC or San Francisco”
  • “How much job hopping is too much”
  • “North West pictures”
  • “Is it bad to delete your Facebook”

Many of these were embarrassing to put on here, and not just because it shows that I have a thing for trashy celebrity gossip. Reading over them listed out like this makes me look like a frantic person who is trying to figure everything out via Google.

As a disclaimer, I am not thinking about having a child anytime soon, I live in Dallas, I am not in consulting, but I did recently delete my Facebook account. I say that to illuminate the fact that some of those searches are things that I probably should not even be thinking about right now. But I have this fear always lingering in the back of my mind that I am not off to a fast start in the real world. I worry that I made a mistake by leaving a job after only a year. I worry that I won’t make enough money to afford kids by the time my eggs dry up. I worry that I don’t measure up to my peers, who are off in law school, and medical school and already getting promotions.

Today I realized that all of this worrying is the most unproductive thing I can do in my life. I am a slave to my to-do list and I am constantly told by my peers/bosses that I am a person who just knows how to get stuff done. But none of that matters if I am so irrationally scared that I am doing something wrong in life, that I have to conduct 10 Google searches a night to calm my nerves.

I wish I could be more confident in my life decisions and be OK with my mistakes. I have already made some missteps in my career, but instead of learning and moving on, I hem and haw over what I should have done. Instead of praising myself for taking risks, I worry that I will look sporadic to everyone else. These feelings are not productive, because it pulls my focus away from taking calculated risks and learning about myself.

To live a productive life, yes you have to plan, but after that you have to just let life unfold the way it will and adjust accordingly. To live a productive life, you have to try stuff, take risks, learn from your mistakes and move on. I learn this more and more every day.

Writing this has encouraged me to stay away from Google-ing my life away, except when I need a healthy doses of celebrity gossip ;).

It Had to be Done: A Plated Review

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I have heard a lot about ingredient delivery services like Plated and Blue Apron lately. I shunned them for awhile because the cost was simply a little to steep for me.

For those of you who may not have heard about this new trend, let me back up. Plated and Blue Apron (among other competitors) deliver fresh, pre-portioned ingredients and corresponding recipes directly to your doorstep. New meal ideas and convenience are two of the major selling points. But this convenience will cost you. Plated meals run $15 per plate, and Blue Apron meals run $10 per plate. If you are cooking for one like me, I am almost certain that when most of us grocery shop and cook at home, we are not spending $10-$15 each meal (maybe only when cooking something special).

Because of this, I had almost pushed Plated completely into the abyss of “maybe a few more raises down the line” until I saw the Facebook ad for a special the company was running. I could order 4 plates and pay only the shipping and handling ($20). I immediately signed up. I am in a major cooking phase right now, so I figured why not. If nothing else, it would make for a great blog post. So I placed my order and waited to see if I truly would save some time with a meal roadmap.

When my delivery finally did arrive, I was impressed right from the beginning with the packaging. The food is tucked safely inside of a box with insulating materials and ice packs. I was also impressed with how each ingredient is packaged separately and clearly labeled. The recipes are also very easy to understand, and include photos to follow along. Major points for organization.

Here are the fast facts on the meals I recieved, including prep time and my overall rating on their taste:

  • Beef and Eggplant Moussaka (about an hour prep time, 6/10)
  • West Indian Curried Redfish Roti (about 30 minutes prep time, 9/10)

I was crazy about the redfish. It was delicious – so flavorful and so different from anything I ever had. The Moussaka was good, but for some odd reason, I had no desire to eat the leftovers.

Overall notes on ease of use (or ease to cook in this case):

  • The Moussaka took way too long to make for a weeknight dinner
  • The redfish prep time of 30 minutes was just about right – it felt quick and the meal was still delicious
  • I loved the pre-portioned ingredients. Buying a full bottle of some random ingredient you will only use once sucks, so this service definitely gets a plus in this area

Overall, I wouldn’t say that Plated or other ingredient delivery services will make your life a lot easier. You are still cooking completely from scratch (chopping vegetables, baking, making sauces, etc.). And while cooking is fun when you have time, it is not so fun after a long day of work, after sitting in traffic and on an empty stomach. While I don’t think it is the answer for weekdays, I loved the unique dinner ideas and easy delivery, and think it could be my go-to plan for random weekend meals hands down (not every weekend though, I still think its pricey!).

Here are a few photos of the Redfish meal prep:

diamond richardson, productivity, plated plated2 plated3 plated4 plated5 plated6

If you have ever tried Plated or Blue Apron, did you keep using the service? Why or why not?

– Diamond

Movie Review: Men, Women and Children

Men, Women and Children is in theaters now.

Men, Women and Children is in theaters now.

Tonight, I saw Men, Women and Children.

If you haven’t heard of it, you have not been under a rock. The movie premiered at a film festival, came out in limited release earlier this month and has finally achieved a nation-wide release. Even still, it has not gotten very much publicity. I heard about it during the preview of another movie. It promised some vague insight into how technology is changing our close relationships, and causing you to know very little about those closest to you. I was intrigued. Beyond the story line, the movie also has some great actors, including ben Affleck, Judy Greer and Jennifer Garner.

My review can be summed up in 3 words: I loved it. I think everyone with a smartphone should see it. It was unlike any other move I have ever seen. The pace is a little slow and it has multiple story lines. But I highly recommend it if you are open to a unique story format and open to a movie that will make you think. For me, it made me think specifically about social media in my own life.

The teenagers in the movie (without giving too much away) basically live their lives online. They are dealing with the same problems most some of us dealt with in high school: body image issues, dysfunctional families, popularity contests and the confusion that is love when you are so young. However, instead of dealing with these problems in the real world that created them, they turn to social media, message boards and online games. They use the digital world as a reference for how to act in real life, and as you will see if you see the film, it causes them even more heartache and disappointment.

This message was very timely for me. All of my friends are undergoing major changes in their lives – we are just at that age where change is the norm. It seems like everyday, someone is moving across the country, getting a new job, entering grad school or getting engaged. Outside of my small circle of friends, I see all of this play out on social media. So many great things are happening for people, some people seemingly all the time. When you couple that with the fact that I still feel unsure about where my life is headed, surfing Twitter or Facebook can be a little self-defeating. But this movie reminded me that everyone goes through their own struggles. It reminded me that the digital world is merely a veil over over the real world, and our real lives. I wish I could add filters to ugly situations, delete mistakes and always only put the best me out there. And on social media I can. But in the real world I can’t. And spending my free time aimlessly scrolling through other people’s veiled lives makes it hard for me to appreciate my successes and stay hopeful for the future.

I hope the movie is as throughout provoking for you as it is for me! If you see it, let me know what you think.

Transitions

I know, I know. It has been forever since I have posted. But let me explain. In the past few months, I have:

  • Realized that I needed to move home for the time being
  • Dealt with a terrible possible roommate situation
  • Embarked on a serious job search
  • Sold all of my furniture and moved back to Dallas
  • Found a new apartment
  • Furnished above mentioned apartment from scratch
  • Started a new job outside of the marketing/communications field

To say this has not been an overwhelming time would be a lie. I have experienced a lot of emotions over the past few months but the one that lingers is uncertainty. I know uncertainty is a hallmark of our 20s. I would estimate that about 10% of college grads know what they want to do the minute they get out of college, and take off with it. The rest of us figure it out as we go. And figuring it looks different for everyone.

For me, figuring it out is learning where I am happiest and most productive. I am not sure if it is Dallas, but I am here now, trying it out as a working professional. Who knows where I will be in a year. Who knows anything, really? A year ago, I was so convinced I had the next 5 years of my life planned out. Leaving a corporate development program and moving into a new field where I have no experience has marred that vision. At first, that was very scary. But every day, I learn to become more and more OK with it. My plan? To keep refining my skills, discovering my interests and plotting the next move as I go, and as opportunities come up.

What I want to focus on are the things that make me me. Writing is one. Reading about entrepreneurship is another, as I move toward my goal of one day owning my own business. I think the key to happiness in the midst of overwhelming amounts of change is focusing on what you know is you, and letting the rest follow suit. Accept the detours. Accept that things may not work out like you expected. Keep your eyes peeled for new opportunities. A major change may be the right choice, it may be the wrong choice. Who knows? Chicago, for me, ended up not being the right choice. But I’d rather make wrong choices than to avoid choosing anything.

Your To-Do List Can Hurt You

“My to-do list is so long today!”

How many times a day do you hear that? If you work in any business/corporate setting, probably a lot. People with long, neat to-do lists are important. They are on top of it. They are who you want to be.

Too bad this is such a facade.

The to-do list has become more of a symbol for being organized and productive than an actual tool to aid in productivity. People write long lists and take care of a bunch of the little, lower-level tasks that are quick to handle, because it looks “cool” to have a lot of the boxes checked or tasks marked through.

But at the end of the day, the important tasks are often left unattended to. Sure, you may have updated your email signature, nominated a co-worker for an appreciation award and updated your profile on LinkedIn. However, the PowerPoint for your presentation needs to be ready tomorrow. The baby tasks are done, yet the most important presentation of your week has been relegated to being finished in panic mode.

The issue here is not laziness (for most). It is a lack of prioritizing. You may think that simply by making a to-do list, that you are prioritizing. But you are not. Just having stuff to do does not make you a master of your time. If you are a living, breathing human with a job and any resemblance of a family and/or social life, you have stuff to do. Join the club. The people who are productive at doing that “stuff” are the ones who prioritize. A great place to start practicing prioritization is with your to-do lists.

1) Bucket your list 

If you are not assigning some sort of importance values to items on your list to indicate their importance, the to-do list has become a laundry list of maybes. I like to write out a do list and highlight the most important, highest value-add items for the day. Other people but an “A” “B” OR “C” next to tasks to indicate which ones are most important. Find the method that works for you. Just make sure you have clearly identified what is truly most important. Time is finite, especially time for work, and your goal should be to always be completing the tasks that add the most value at that point in time.

2) Be open to change and shifting priorities

Just because something was the most important task yesterday does not mean it is the most important task today. Even though one purpose of a to-do list is to help your focus in, you still must retain the ability to zoom out and look at the bigger picture. What is the long term goal for this project? What is the strategic direction for the company? To some people, especially entry-level employees like many of us, this may seem silly. I mean, regardless of the strategic direction of the company for the next year, my boss, who writes my review, still needs this report today. That may be true, but being so zoomed in on the day-to-day tasks means that you will never be aware enough of the big picture to contribute when the discussion is surrounding the larger strategy. Anyone can be an excel king or queen. You can add the most value by handling those “smaller” tasks well AND being able to gleam clear take-aways for yourself from larger-picture discussions. Be ready to change the priorities on your list as major shifts occur in the larger scope of work.

3) Do it

This seems stupid, but has to be said. You can have the perfect to-do list: prioritized and full of  tasks that relate directly to major projects or initiatives. But if you don’t buckle down and do it, and do it in a timely manner, you have wasted your effort in even creating a list. Figure out what you need to do to block distractions. Do you need music? Do you need to hide your iPod? Do you need to install software that blocks Facebook, Twitter or Instagram ? Do you need to close your e-mail for an hour, to get a block of uninterrupted work in? Test and learn, figure it out, and watch your productivity go through the roof.

How do you prioritize your to-do lists?

Happier and More Productive Business Trips

The picture to the right is a supposedly a photo of the pool at the Wynn hotel in Vegas. Not that I could confirm– I was recently in Vegas for a week on a business trip and saw only my room and a conference hall.

The trip was very successful but incredibly busy. Being new to corporate life and business trips, I learned a lot about packing, being present during the trip, and not letting important tasks slip when people back at the office need my support. Hopefully these tips will save you some stress!

1) Ladies, bring more shoes than you think you need.

Overpacking is not usually recommended advice, but if you are a woman going on a business trip, I recommend coming prepared for anything. Suits and pumps are obvious. If you are going to be standing or walking a lot, I recommend packing multiple pairs of heels and flats. Nothing is worse not being able to focus on your job because your feet hurt. If one pair does not work, you can switch them out the next day.

2) Ask someone to take point for you back at the office. 

Trying to sort through hundreds of emails in between conference sessions  and dinners is hard and not the most productive use of your time. Before you leave for your trip, set calendar reminders for anything that absolutely must still get done, even while you are gone. You can handle these when you get back to your hotel room in the evenings.

If you know you regularly get emails from someone who asks for something ASAP, set an email rule to forward these to someone back at the office who is familiar with your work/projects. Tell them that if they think it actually is very important, to text you with the details so you can go back to that email in the evening. Anything else can wait.

3) Meet people.

I am not a huge fan of the word network- but if you are in to the buzz word thing, that would be header for this section. On business trips, I found that you are so busy, that at night it is so tempting to go to your hotel room and shower and go to sleep. Try your hardest to stick around after all of the formal events end. Many times, people will make informal plans to catch up or grab a late dinner if they have not eaten already. This is a great time to meet new people, learn more about their jobs, and make a good impression.

Here’s to successful business trips!