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How I Get It Done (a.k.a. Lessons Learned in Productivity)

Guarding my mornings

It takes my mind and body some time to warm up, so I always hit snooze (15-60 minutes, depending on what I need to do). I try to guard mornings for “me time” - I read, journal, send/reply to messages from friends and family, have breakfast, and make coffee. When I was in 4th grade, I read that students who ate breakfast had higher grades, so I developed the habit of eating breakfast everyday. My breakfast is either overnight oats or a protein smoothie (frozen bananas, soy milk, Wheyl protein) so it’s easy to prepare and clean.

Staying fit and healthy

Having an active lifestyle is integral to my happiness and well-being. Every year, I try a new workout to challenge my body and mind. In 2018, I got a personal trainer, Nica, who I work out with over Facetime so we can have sessions wherever I am. (It’s weird to call her my personal trainer because she’s become one of my close friends.) I try to schedule a session with her twice a week if possible, and if not, I’ll work out on my own. Working out regularly helps me appreciate what my body can do instead of what it looks like — or what I think it looks like. It also gives me non-work goals to work towards.

Productivity tools

I have a Macbook, iPad Pro with Apple Pencil, and iPhone 11. I had a Samsung phone for almost eight years but switched to an iPhone when my S9 died in early February. I had been waiting for the dual SIM capability of the iPhone too. All my documents are saved and synced on Google Drive because of previous external hard drive issues. Apps I can’t live without apart from the usual MS Office / Apple programs: Evernote and Canva. I’ve been a premium Evernote user since 2011. It pretty much holds my life, from my list of frequent flier miles to my apartment’s floor plan to notebooks per SPS project. I love its Web Clipper, Evernote email, Stacks... I can be an Evernote Ambassador, I swear. SPS recently acquired a non-profit Canva account which gives us access to Pro features. Gab, our Creative Director, and I no longer work on Photoshop files individually - we’ve moved most of our collaterals on Canva.

Meetings that could be an email

As much as possible, I avoid meetings IRL. My default ask is to schedule a call (Skype, Zoom, Whatsapp - ang daming options.) I will only agree to meet someone if (i) I really like that person and (ii) the agenda and outcome of the meeting are clear and mutually beneficial.

In my home office. Photo from the Female Network shoot.

Constant conversations

I’m ridiculously co-dependent with my best friends (I have about 5,372). I like knowing what they’re up to, what their thoughts are on a specific issue, where they are (Lynn calls it “friend GPS.”). I send them voice notes, selfies, book recommendations, and links to things I’m thinking of buying. My relationships with them keep me sane and grounded.

Being a goal digger

Since I was a kid, I’d write down my goals for the year. Now I’m more systematic: I have yearly and monthly goals, and I have a calendar reminder every last day of the month to review my goals for that month and set goals for the coming month. Examples of my goals are “eat more home-cooked meals,” “do an unassisted pull-up,” or “find new funders.” I don’t always reach all the goals I identified in the timeline I set, but I’ve learned to view them more like a direction than a destination.

On starting early

I’ve always been a multi-tasker. You know that high school stereotype of the girl who was in the honors class, student paper, school play, cheering squad, and student council? It me. I was obsessed with excelling in everything I joined (bordering on unhealthy levels). In college, I majored in English and worked as a freelance writer, theatre actor, and performer. I was very grade conscious, so I’d always start my assignments on the day they were assigned, even if the deadline was the end of the semester, or I'd start studying for an exam weeks before and make reviewers. Now my calendar has alerts at least one month before a deadline so I can start chipping away at tasks early on. Before I sleep, I prepare my to-do list, things to bring, and what to wear for the next day. I start packing for a trip days or weeks before, depending on what type of trip it will be.

On lack of sleep and burnout

I used to sleep an average of four hours a night because I thought sleeping was a waste of my potential. In grad school, I was studying, working on multiple projects, training for a half-marathon, and adjusting to life in a new country. This exploding calendar paired with little sleep led to a year-long burnout from 2015-2016, which was a very dark and unhappy place that I crawled out of. It had to happen for me to redefine self-care and productivity; to learn to work better, not work more; and to assess every opportunity's ROE (Return on Energy). QUALITY SLEEP IS NECESSARY FOR RECOVERY. REST IS NECESSARY FOR CREATIVITY AND WELL-BEING. All caps para intense. Now I average between 5:30-6:20 hours of sleep a night, but I’m still working on sleeping longer and better. It’s really hard to outgrow a self-inflicted shitty body clock. I have an 11:30PM alert on my FitBit to remind me to stop working and get ready for bed.

(Damn. Writing this all out makes me sound like such an intense, type A crazy person but I'm being honest here.)

On hope and optimism

I always get asked how I stay “hopeful” and “optimistic.” My easy answer is that I limit my news intake and focus on my work. The more complicated answer is shifting how I see my place in the world and choosing to act as my antidote to hopelessness and helplessness. Rebecca Solnit said it best with her essay “Protest and persist: why giving up hope is not an option," a piece I reread and quote often:

You do what you can. What you’ve done may do more than you can imagine for generations to come. You plant a seed and a tree grows from it; will there be fruit, shade, habitat for birds, more seeds, a forest, wood to build a cradle or a house? You don’t know. A tree can live much longer than you. So will an idea, and sometimes the changes that result from accepting that new idea about what is true, right, just remake the world. You do what you can do; you do your best; what what you do does is not up to you.

This format was inspired by The Cut's "How I Get It Done" series


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