Guest Post By Mei Burgin
Thank you to the amazing Heather Kelly for inviting me to be a guest contributor to Noteabler!
I’m a busy mother of two young kids, with a fast-paced career in the tech startup world. I do my best to live a healthy and more sustainable lifestyle. I strive to be a good spouse, parent and business leader. I have steadily built my career over the past 20 years and have always sought ways to better balance work and life. And although I will always have room to improve and grow, I have learned a few tips along the way which I hope others will find useful.
"No one gets out of this world alive, so the time to live, learn, care, share, celebrate, and love is now."
- Leo Buscaglia, American author, speaker and professor
Tip #1: Know your values
As humans, we are most fulfilled when we enact our values. Weeks and months fly by and you may feel as though you haven’t accomplished anything meaningful. The key is to better understand your drivers, and be more purposeful about how you spend your time. Here is a great Mindtools article to help you identify your values. My top 10 values are below. Do any of them resonate with you?
- Positive Attitude
- Connecting & Bonding
- Concern for Others
- Forward Action
- Personal Growth/Learning
A second helpful exercise is to reflect on a few activities or experiences in your life (both personal and professional) that have been high or low energy for you.
Key reflection questions:
- What was high (or low) about it?
- How did this experience relate to your values?
- How did your choices or actions contribute to creating the experience?
- What did you truly desire in this experience?
Getting to know your values and drivers comes in handy when making key decisions in life and career.
Experiment: Spend 60 minutes reflecting on your Personal Values and Experiences (refer to the Mindtools article).
Tip #2: Learn to be Idle
We live in a culture of busy. We are constantly (and proudly) telling each other how very busy we are. How often do you say “I’ve been doing nothing” or “I’m totally bored”? According to writer and academic Eva Hoffman, there could actually be health and creativity benefits and to being more idle. Here is an interesting article about this topic called “Bring on the Boredom”.
Mindfulness is another beneficial practice to calm the mind and body. While idleness denotes a lack of activity or focus, mindfulness focuses on being present. They are different, and both are beneficial. I have been practicing mindfulness, and am newer to idleness.
Experiment: Turn off your devices for 15 minutes and let yourself be idle. Just see where your mind goes.
Tip #3: Better manage your time
Time is the one truly limited resource. If you spend your time more purposefully, then how can you also accomplish more every day? Personally, my goal has been to free up more time for strategy and thinking, and spend less time in meetings. Other common goals include setting aside more time for: a new business idea, creative hobbies, fun time with kids, working out, etc. Here’s a process I’ve been using to improve my productivity:
Step 1: Establish Your Ideal Week
- Document how you are spending your week. Break down 168 hours into activities sleeping – e.g. classes, work meetings, reading, gym, etc.
- Establish your “ideal” week – e.g. set aside 2 hours for working out, 8 hours for sleeping (see this research on the importance of sleeping 7-8 hours per night which improves reasoning and could also reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s and dementia).
- Make sure to create blocks of time for idleness (see Tip #2).
- Drop activities that are not high priority or aligned to values (see Tip #1).
- Every week, compare how you did versus your ideal, and reflect on how you can adjust for the next week.
Step 2: Prioritize Tasks
- At the start of each week, write down all your tasks or to-do’s.
- Label tasks by: priority (high, low); amount of time needed (short vs. long); due date.
- Start each day with your high priority tasks which are due sooner.
- Complete tasks based on your time available; for example, if you have 30 minutes free, focus on completing a couple of short tasks, and if you have 1 hour free, choose a longer task.
- Note: SaaS tools such as Asana make this type of task management easy. But obviously this also works with pen and paper!
Experiment: Spend 30 minutes reflecting on your current vs. ideal week, and write down your task list for this week.
Tip #4: Reflect and seek feedback
It’s incredibly important to take time each day and week to reflect on what is working and not working. This helps you recognize how to improve, and commit to action.
- What went well? What didn’t go well?
- What would you like to do differently?
- What are your limiting beliefs?
- How might you overcome obstacles?
Experiment: Spend 5 minutes each day (or 15 minutes each week) reflecting on what is working and not working, and your commitments to improve. Block time for this in your calendar, or do this just before bedtime.
While self-reflection is important, you should also seek feedback from others. Watch this enlightening video on “How We Get Feedback Wrong”. As Dr. David Rock points out, we are wired to think of feedback as threatening. The key is to ask for feedback more often, and with curiosity and appreciation. Asking for feedback quickly becomes a habit.
- What do you think went well (in the meeting, my cooking, etc)?
- What are two things I could have done differently?
- What do you see me doing or failing to do that is getting in my own way?
Experiment: Ask someone you know for feedback, and think of their feedback as a gift.
Tip #5: Always be networking
Humans are social beings, and we cannot be happy or achieve great things without connecting with each other. So, my last tip is to always be networking and building relationships. The goal is to be curious, learn, and help others. Often, networking can lead to new ideas, new partnerships, and new opportunities in both life and career.
To actively network:
- Keep track of your current relationships (create a simple list in Excel, or use more sophisticated relationship management tools like https://nudge.ai/).
- Connect with contacts for coffee or via e-mail (at least once per year, if not more often).
- Ask contacts to refer you to 1-2 others in their network (ask “who do think I should meet?).
- Make yourself available for random coffees
Experiment: Set aside 60 minutes in your “ideal week” to networking (See Tip #3).
My five tips for being more purposeful and productive are:
1. Know your values
2. Learn to be idle
3. Manage your time
4. Reflect and seek feedback
5. Always be networking
I hope you find these helpful. I would love your feedback! - Mei