This month, I wanted to write about how I work, both from an ideological perspective and a practical one. Work, in my mind, can be loosely defined as carrying out a series of tasks in order to accomplish a desired goal. Under this definition, many circumstances apply–from cooking a meal for your family to selling a car or building a cell phone app. Work is work. It can be thrilling and inspiring or tedious and soul-crushing. Either way, most of us have to work for different reasons.
In my life at the moment, I am primarily a college student, among various other roles. As such, I have figured out a lot about what works for me in terms of maximizing my learning and getting assignments done well.
Every week, I like to read a section of posts from lifehacker.com called How I Work. It includes interviews from a working professional that asks questions about how they get their work done. They’ve had corporate CEO’s, writers, filmmakers, chefs, and people engaged in all walks of life answer a specific set of questions. I thoroughly enjoy reading these interviews, and this week, I am going to answer the same questions myself. So, here goes . . .
Location: Liberty, TN
Current Gig: College Student at Middle Tennessee State University
Current mobile device:LG Stylo 3 Plus
Current computer: 13″ Macbook Pro
One word that best describes how you work: Obsessively
First of all, tell us a little about your background and how you got to where you are today.
I am a musician and singer/songwriter, and I spent the last few years as a performer in Nashville, TN. I was also employed in the non-profit sector when I lived in Charlotte, NC, directing programs for an LGBT youth support and advocacy organization called Time Out Youth. In Nashville, I worked for the Metro Public Health Department developing a program called Welcome Baby in which families with high-risk newborn infants were given information and assistance to help their babies thrive.
In 2016, I was needing a change. I relocated to a rural town southeast of Nashville, TN to live with my partner, and I went back to college to finish my degree. I am majoring in Video and Film Production at Middle Tennessee State University and will be graduating some time in 2019.
Take us through a recent workday.
My school days are by far my busiest. I usually get up by 6:00 AM. I do a morning meditation at my electric piano/keyboard. This is usually just a few minutes of fingering dexterity exercises and a small bit of noodling around. Playing the piano relaxes and grounds me. When I focus on the physical act of playing, I achieve a sense of calm and comfort that few other activities in my life provide.
Then, I shower, eat breakfast, and gather all of my materials (books, paperwork, laptop, DSLR camera, etc.) that I need for the day. I obsessively make sure that I have everything. Forgetting even one important element makes me mad. Sigh.
Between 7:45am and 8am, I am in my car and heading out of my really long driveway. My commute to school is 35 minutes. I rarely hit any traffic and the route I take is quite scenic. I get to campus at by 8:30am, and this arrival time assures me a good spot at the parking deck. Any later than this gets me a parking spot a quarter of a mile away on a gravel lot on the outskirts of campus.
I have an hour before class to review notes for a quiz or test, work on an assignment, or message classmates about group projects. My first class starts at 9:40am. From there, I have a midday break in which I drink more coffee, eat lunch, take a long walk, and do school work. I have another break in the late afternoon for more school work and a possible nap. My last class is done by 9:00pm at the latest. I drive the 35 minutes back home after that. I cuddle with my cat, and I finally go back to bed.
What apps, gadgets, or tools can’t you live without?
This year, I decided to cut myself off from the google/gmail universe. Giving one entity that much access and power over my life felt too unsettling. I do not need a corporate big brother’s grubby hands all over my stuff. I use a secure service called Proton Mail for all of my personal email needs as well as for creative projects. My LG Stylus 3 is not the fanciest cell phone in the world, but I use it for the basic functionality it offers. I can text and call family and friends via wifi, post on instagram, and stay in contact with my class work groups. I do not need more from a cell phone than this.
I am relatively new to the Apple universe. I switched to a Macbook Pro from a regular PC because my coursework demanded it. I was not a fan of the price tag, but honestly, my Macbook is incredibly robust. The built-in functionality and interface are smooth, simple, and oh so elegantly designed. I may be a Mac user for life.
The camera I use for filming and photography is a Nikon D5600 DSLR. It is super easy to use and offers the capabilities I need for my courses. I will upgrade to something more grandiose someday, but this machine checks all the boxes for now.
What’s your workspace set-up like?
At home, I connected two desks to make a large L-shaped desk that allows me to spread out my work. I have a large flat screen tv that I connect to my Macbook through an HDMI cable. This makes video editing work so much better. I have a power strip on my desk to make charging my laptop, cell phone, and camera batteries more convenient. I also light up my space with multiple lamps so that I get sufficient light for reading. I must have good light.
What’s your best shortcut or life hack?
I give myself earlier deadlines. For school assignments, for example, I have a rule that I get them completely done and turned in by the day before it is due, if not sooner. My life is so much less stressful when I am not facing a dire last-minute scenario. This also gives me time to face any technology snaffoos that can occur. Extra time for downloads, uploads, and back-ups is a good idea for any and all gadgets and online portals. Early deadlines are essential to all of my work.
Take us through an interesting, unusual, or finicky process you have in place at work.
Working in groups with other college students can be quite challenging. No two students are alike, and we are all super busy. Some folks handle their time and workload better than others. What I do is to always make sure that everyone has an easy way to stay in contact, and that everyone is aware of upcoming deadlines. Strong lines of communication are vital.
Who are the people who help you get things done, and how do you rely on them?
As a student, I absolutely rely on myself, but otherwise, my partner MaxZine is incredibly helpful. Despite my school life, our pets, garden, and household still need much tender loving care. He cooks delicious meals for me every day and is a champion on the home front.
How do you keep track of what you have to do?
I use a paper calendar for school-related deadlines. After trying out every to-do-list app ever invented, I decided to go with Trello for my school work. It lets me make separate lists for each class, and the interface is easy and intuitive. I can access it on my laptop and phone. I’ll be using this for multiple projects from now on.
How do you recharge or take a break?
Playing piano never feels like work to me. That recharges me more than anything. I love taking naps, but otherwise, I read lots of books that are not school-related. I love to take walks and cuddle with my cat.
What’s your favorite side project?
I actually have lots of side projects, but the one that gives me the giggles is Where Pianos Roam. I’m on a break from it right now, but it is basically a photography project in which I follow the exploits of a traveling miniature grand piano and her rowdy bench. I migrated the project from a blog format to Instagram. It’s a lot of fun.
What are your own reading habits like? What are you currently reading, or what do you recommend?
Ever since I became a student again, I am much more of a voracious reader. It is the distraction from school work that I fight against the most. I like to read to give myself a break from studying. I generally love to read in bed (especially on rainy days). Falling asleep to a book and waking up to one are the best bookends. I mostly read through the kindle app on my mac, cell phone, or Kindle e-reader; however, I still read actual books too whenever possible.
There are so many wonderful books out there. This morning, I just finished reading Daily Rituals by Mason Currey. It chronicles the daily work habits of some of the most important creative people in history such as Einstein, Matisse, Beethoven, and many more. The book is broken up into small chapters that discuss each person. The information is well researched and well written. I’m bummed that I finished it. I would highly recommend this book for anyone who is deeply engrossed in creative work and interested in personalizing their own work habits.
I am also reading The Subtle Art of Not Giving a Fuck for my book club.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
Follow your intuition. This is advice I’ve been given from multiple people, and it took several times of not following my inner voice to learn the value of this practice. There are intangible and inexplicable aspects of life that connect more with impressions, feelings, and varying sensibilities. These require paying attention beyond the constraints of language and traditional logic. When you practice following your intuition and go with your gut, you get better at it. It means that you are intentionally heading in the direction that you deeply desire the most and is fully aligned with your values and goals. This degree of honestly with oneself is vital to our personal well being and success.
What’s a problem you’re still trying to solve?
I am becoming progressively obsessed with plastic. It is a massive problem created by humans that threatens our natural environment. It bothers me, and there are no easy solutions. At least, not yet.
Well, that’s all folks. In a nutshell, this is how I work these days. I modify and tweak my habits over time, but I stay as diligent and meticulous as possible overall.
How do you work?