2014 Conference

Human at Work; Or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and and Get Better at My Job

We’re going to move fast, but don’t worry. Everything’s online at It has a great number of resources in book form and app form to help with productivity, and ways to be 100% Human.

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Dave did what many presenters do. Talk about a case study. But, this study is of himself. Disclaimer. This is not a talk about “life hacks” or “work hacks.”

We’re all imperfect, and that’s ok. Let’s remember that. Dave reminded us with a stunning photo of him from from when he attended Ithaca College. We all have those photos buried somewhere deep deep in the archives…

Dave understood websites, but not necessarily MarCom departments in Higher Education. Stuff like shifting responsibilities, turnovers, changes in priorities, and preparing for the unexpected were not things that he was ready for once he started working at Ithaca College. He felt lost – drowning – and looked around at task managers, books, and other resources to help swim to the surface.

Then, he remembered High Ed Web in Austin. Goals before tools. Establish your goals, and then determine what tools you need to achieve those goals, not the other way around.

Humans want to be busy, we multitask and do ALL THE THINGS, but that’s not how our brains function. We constantly have tasks coming our way, but how do we sort them in to manageable, prioritized tasks?

Dave looks at goals, tools, and also our habits.

  • Goal: wake up in the morning
  • Tool: alarm clock
  • Habit: Set alarm for 6am

Dave set five goals for being a productive human. If you find some of these goals obvious, you’re pretty awesome, because that means your on your way to being productive.

Goal #1: Be Honest.

Start by being honest with yourself. Most times, there are things we don’t want to admit to ourselves, so we use subjective honesty (what you know in your gut to be true), and objective honesty (measuring data, and maintaining a record) to start that honesty. Dave uses (also, was suggested) to analyze his productivity on the computer.

When being honest with others, it’s important to not exaggerate your abilities, and admit your mistakes or when you don’t understand something. Dave also touched on feedback, and how all feedback should be delivered in a way that you would want to hear it. Being constructive, polite, and considerate with feedback is important for positive communication.

Goal #2: Be Unafraid.

Mistakes are how we learn. “You don’t know how to walk until you keep falling differently,” Dave said. It’s all about confidence. Yes, you may have made a mistake, yes you may fall down, but once you have the confidence, you won’t be intimidated by the “rock stars” on the team, and you’ll become a rock star.

Letting go of your irrational fears (including, but not limited to Ebola) remove the overwhelming feeling that we all often experience.

Goal #3: Be Mindful.

Focus your time and attention. It’s the tools and habits for using those tools that allow us to manage the time and attention we need to complete tasks. Use your tools, don’t let the tools use you. I’t so simple to pull out our phones a number of times throughout the day, so much so that we don’t even realize we’re doing it anymore. Forming a habit of removing ourselves from our phones is one small step towards mindfulness.

Dave names our four tools that we have at work:

Email. The average office worker spends 28% of their day using email. It’s important to remember that email is awesome for a few reasons. It documents and archives information, works as a communication method to an individual or group, and sends files. Email is not a phone, it is not an instant messenger, it is not a project management system, and it is not the boss of you.

Dave does not use push notifications for email, he uses the “fetch” option (and yes, he’ll make fetch happen), and turns off notifications. Dave’s habit for email starts with him deciding if it should be read now or later. If it takes less than two minutes, then do it now. He gets what he needs for other work, and sends what he needs. He is quick but thorough, and quits the app (no, not closes. Quits.) to reduce temptation to go back right away.

Dave set up a filter on his email for newsletters. That information will sit in that folder until he’s ready to read it. He also set up shortcuts to quickly send emails into folders (his folders include “personal,” “today,” and the days of the week. Check out for a way of organizing shortcuts on Mac.

In emails, be thoughtful. Be concise, CC the appropriate person, and remove your signature on the reply. “Your signature is like your business card,” David explained. “You don’t need to keep giving it to someone every time you have a conversation with them.”

Tasks. Capture them and get them out of your head, and organize them with project management system. Dave also explained that he established Social Media as a task. It’s too distracting if it’s always there, so he will use apps such as Buffer to store information to read later.

Calendars. A calendar should allow for scheduled focused work periods. Dave showcased his “No Meeting Mondays,” to be productive all day and “Fix it Fridays,” to do all the little things that can quickly be done from the previous week to keep him organized.

Meetings. Be in the meeting, not on your phone. In meetings, you should capture decisions and next actions, then report and share that information. Tasks will come from meetings, so use checklists to organize them, but keep them separate from your meeting notes.

Goal #4: Be Active. 

Our bodies like routine, and we can’t forget that our brain does too. Let’s go back to our alarm clock example. The habits we form become a series. Not only do we set the alarm, but we wake up, we eat a good breakfast, we go on a run. Our bodies like routine, and we do it.

Dave then spoke about “Mise en place” (pronounced mese en plah-ce), meaning everything’s in place. At 5pm during the work week, Dave has “MISE EN PLACE” scheduled.

Goal #5: Be Nice. 

Be human (see the theme here?), and support your co-workers by giving a quick heads-up to them when you can, and be social. Leaving a note on your door saying that you went to a meeting and will be back in an hour can go a long way. Communication is key amongst your co-workers.

It was obvious that David had more to say on the topic – more than can fit in a 45 minute session. He closed with a simple note.

Take a real vacation, get some sleep (unless you’re at High Ed Web)

Be 100% Human: Honest, Unafraid, Mindful, Active, and Nice. HUMAN.

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By Jackie Vetrano

Jackie Vetrano is the assistant director of MBA prospect management & marketing at UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. She manages and implements the lead-nurture strategy using email as well as other important touchpoints to encourage prospective students to apply to the top-ranked MBA program. Outside of work, you’ll find Jackie participating in hot yoga, out on a run, or watching reality television. She also enjoys traveling, petting her cat, and spending time with her partner trying new foods and experiences.