Don't Be Lazy; Go Do It Right Now

Monday, April 27, 2009

I am a lazy person. Seriously. I am pretty lazy.

The problem is that I am also a high achiever. I am very driven and have become even more driven in the last few years of college. The way I see it, the value of self-awareness is to:
  1. Figure out my goals – what I value in life, both professionally and personally.
  2. Become aware of my character flaws that stand in the way of reaching my goals.
  3. Come up with tricks and fixes to counteract those character flaws.
I got away with laziness all throughout high school and college. In high school, my only extracurricular activity was being a news co-editor of the high school newspaper during senior year (what Stanford saw in me in 2004, I have no idea). In college, I spent the first few years in laziness and fear of committing my time. Only by the end of junior and beginning of senior years did I realize that I should have done anything and everything that interested me.

So I went lightning speed and in my last quarter at Stanford, I took a full graduate unit load, TA-ed a microeconomics course and wrote an undergraduate thesis. Good times.

In January 2009, I suddenly found myself on my first job, sitting in an office for 8 hours a day and performing magic tricks with Excel. I went from being busy with 100% control of my time to being busy with only 30% control of my time. How do you get any of your personal goals or life errands accomplished when you are working nine to done? Here was an opportunity to let my laziness take over.

But I did not let it. And I do not let it every day. I have been putting in operational life rules by which I live so that my laziness does not take over. So what are they?

1. Lunch breaks are not only for eating lunch, but running errands. Whether it is a quick trip to the shoe cobbler, Walgreens, Safeway or a quick call to the bank, doctor's, etc, I make it a rule to run at least one errand or take care of at least one thing during the weekday lunch hour. It does not matter how small it is. It is all about baby steps. Chipping away at my to-do list one errand per lunch makes a huge difference at the end of the week.

2. Why put something off for tomorrow if you can finish it in the next 15 minutes? This one I borrowed from my advisor who quoted my former office mate. If you can write up a quick note, quickly call the bank to take care of an issue, open a Roth IRA, etc. in the next 15 minutes, just do it. Seriously, stop reading and go do it right now (and then come back to finish the post). This rule works well for both work and personal projects.

3. If you are not feeling efficient and feel like you are wasting time, immediately take care of two tasks on your to-do list. Just like inspiration breeds more inspiration, productivity breeds more productivity. The more you accomplish and cross off your to-do list, the more inspiration you will feel to keep going. The 10th task will feel like a breeze and you will not be able to stop yourself from crossing off more and more tasks. Each task will become easier and easier.

4. When you get home at night, clean the room and the kitchen before your brain figures out what you're doing. I usually fly into the apartment, throw my jacket and purse on my bed, run into the kitchen and start furiously doing the dishes. Before I know it, the dishes are done. I'm still pumped up, so I clean up my room, put all my clothes in the closet and take out the trash. The routine takes 20 minutes, but by the time I realize how much cleaning sucks, everything is done! Simple as that.

5. Accomplish at least one thing a day that is just for your own personal development. I call these "personal projects." A personal project can be the smallest thing, such as writing an email that you have been putting off (like the one I wrote to Ramit Sethi last was so funny, but he still blew me off...whatever). It can be a blog post. It can be sewing up a torn piece of clothing (yes, I do sew up my opaque tights...those suckers tear after like one wear and it would be too annoying to throw them away).
The importance of this one project per day is to feel that you are not only your work and that you are taking proactive steps to grow personally outside of it. The most important investment you will make is investing in yourself.

The common thread in all the rules? Be spontaneous, do before you have time to think of all the obstacles and just keep going.

By following these rules for the past three months, I have managed to set up a dynamic spreadsheet tracking all my spending, write some blog posts, connect in person with a few awesome bloggers like Penelope Trunk and Jenny Blake and become a personal finance mini-expert.

Many more projects are in store, but I have forgotten what it is like to be lazy. Because when I get home at night, I cannot wait to work on my personal project of the day.

How I Failed at Networking

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Last Thursday, I decided to go to Ramit Sethi's book launch of I Will Teach You to Be Rich for three reasons:

  1. The topic of personal finance is currently one of my biggest interests.
  2. It was a great opportunity to practice networking.
  3. I had a very productive week at work, which made me feel confident, which made me want to conquer the world.
And what better place to start the conquering than a personal finance party?

Well, I failed. Completely.

In my journey of career self-discovery in the last few months, I have voraciously devoured any career-oriented blogs I could come across. Additionally, as I have been trying to get my finances in order, I attentively read blogs such as Get Rich Slowly, No Debt Plan and I Will Teach You to Be Rich.

I really enjoy Ramit's writing and his raw sense of humor (I had a great couple of days of reading when I discovered Things I Hate. I even went as far as buying Ramit's book, after many of my Twitter followees twot its praises.

Another thought on my mind for a few weeks now has been my desire and readiness to expand my network. I moved to the city and started working in January and only in the last few weeks started feeling my life settling down in a comforting routine. Now all I needed is more people around me who share my passions.

Naturally, when Facebook reminded me of Ramit's book launch in a Union Square bar in San Francisco, I printed out a few of business cards and off I went.

At 7 p.m. sharp, I excitedly pranced into the bar.

Happy Hour was still winding down, so there were a few people there who did not have anything to do with the book launch. I ordered a glass of wine and waited. I was all alone and knew no one there, so I started doing what every Gen Y-er does in a similar situation. I sat down on a bench in the hallway between the bar and the entrance, flipped through a magazine, texted my friend (who was spinning at the gym) about how awkward this is and pretended I was waiting to meet up with someone.

At 7:20, I had made no progress. I saw Ramit walking around, but he looked busy talking to people. Besides, I had absolutely no opening line and anything I could think of sounded too awkward in my head. So I sent for reinforcements.

At 7:45, I met my friend at a bus stop and we decided to return to the battlefield. The bar got fairly busy, so we ordered wine and pretended to be catching up with each other (side note: she works in the same company and on the same floor as I do). We still did not know anyone at the bar, while everyone seemed to know each other. I just could not think of a way to strike up a conversation, nor could I bring myself to do it cold turkey.

At 8 p.m. I gave up and we left.

Total failure. I was not proud of myself. Lessons?

  1. If you are going to a professionally-minded event where you anticipate meeting people, shoot a quick email to someone who you might see there in advance to tell them that you want to chat. That way, when you approach them, it is definitely less awkward (i.e. not "Hi Ramit, remember that time I tweeted you and you tweeted back?").

  2. It is always helpful to bring a friend to such an event. The advantages are numerous. One: it is for some reason easier to strike up a conversation with someone if there is two of you than if there is one. I think it just seems to be less intense. Two (selfish): it does not look as bad when the two of you are monopolizing someone's time as when there is one. You can always fight people off more easily together than by yourself. Three: if you find yourself in between conversations, you can talk to your friend and then you will not look like such a loser.

  3. And finally, be gutsy. Networking is hard, but it is fun to learn. And the best networking experience is when you are genuinely interested in what people tell you. So go do it as much as you can. I know I will be trying.

P.S. Ramit, if you are reading this -  your book better teach me how to be rich...