Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.
Sometimes, you read a big-ass life-improvement article and realize that, in order to enact its dictates, you’re going to have to write a business plan, or exercise every day, or manifest your dreams. (Every time you try to “manifest your dreams”, a smarter and less superstitious woman beats you at something! And also angels cry. Logic angels.)
So today, let’s take it easy a bit! Here are 5 ways to improve your life in 5 minutes. If you did them all in 25 minutes, you would have spent no more time than you once spent in third-period biology, considering the nematode while surreptitiously drinking bourbon from a Snapple bottle (oh, if only I had been swanktastic enough that that were my real experience of third-period bio).
Okay, on to business…
1. Pitch something that someone will probably say no to.
But that, of course, it would be awesome if they said yes to.
Many of us have the erroneous idea that we need permission to achieve things. We do not, and in fact it is generally much easier to achieve things you’ve devised yourself than it is to achieve things you have to apply for. It’s easier to be an author than a Rhodes Scholar; easier to be a fetish model than get an internship at Microsoft; easier to start an Internet empire than to get into grad school.
Think of something totally awesome that you wish someone would say yes to, but they’ll probably say no to. If you’re pitching your boss, okay, don’t get ridiculous, but if you’re pitching a stranger, go for it: ask your favorite author to meet up with you. Ask some organization whether they’ll let you come speak, or whether you can attend some conference you have no right to be at, or whether you can interview someone really important. Ask a prestigious publication whether they’d be interested in the story of something crazy that happened to you. Ask Bill Gates’ secretary whether you can get his opinion on the software you’ve designed. Ask a male model to accompany you to a boring family wedding.
These things are sort of high-stress, but only take five minutes. Five minutes of high stress is totally worth it for the small chance of an unexpected yes.
2. Update your resume, jot down your accomplishments.
A resume won’t get you that far these days — see Bullish: Basing Your Career on a Resume is Like Competing in a Brothel Lineup. But that’s all the more reason to refresh your resume regularly, to make sure you have the basics covered.
You might just open the file and take a look over things, seeing if you can swap out something mediocre for something more fabulous. But if your spelling and grammar are a bit questionable, just jot down a list of proposed changes for later, when you can have someone look over the file with you.
If you have any plans to ask for a raise or a recommendation at any point, you actually want to jot down a lot more detailed than can fit in a resume. Take 5 minutes to make a list of your accomplishments for the month. This is quick and easy, doesn’t have to be grammatical, and generally makes you feel pretty good about yourself as well.
Quantify anything you can. (Did you manage something? How many people did you manage and how many widgets did you make, send, sell? Pageviews? Visitors to the office? Etc.)
3. Do a mini 360 evaluation.
The Harvard Business Review blog today published an article about the high accuracy of 360 evaluations, in which your coworkers, bosses, and employees give feedback on your performance.
Spend thirty seconds jotting off an email asking a trusted source how she thinks you’re doing (or maybe it’s best to ask in person). You could ask a manager, but you might get a surprising answer from a receptionist or intern (they see all things!) This doesn’t have to be work-related; it could also be a “How am I doing as a friend/daughter/writing partner/etc.?”
4. Quit one thing.
It’s Corporate Detox Week over at sister site TheGrindstone. Are you overworked? Really overworked? Quit one thing. Vote something off the island! It feels fucking fantastic. You need a reason to quit? You’ve grown! You’re not a quitter, you’ve just moved on. [tagbox tag="bullish"]
If you were doing something pretty much “for the experience” or for your resume, keep in mind that there is a law of diminishing returns. Have you already done enough to get the experience or put it on your resume? End your commitment on good terms, thank everyone involved, and take a siesta.
Or, is quitting too much? There are a lot of things that you could do only half as often, and no one would really mind. (Other people don’t think about you as often as you’d think.) I first noticed this when I was doing standup comedy, but then stopped for nearly six months due to a personal crisis. People didn’t think I was a loser or a quitter — they actually tended to assume that I had gotten really successful and no longer had time for tiny shows in bars. If you’ve been volunteering or contributing articles to an alumni newsletter or hosting dinner parties, you could probably do half as much and get 80% of the benefits.
5. Write a mission statement — at least a first draft of one
Feeling burned-out, stressed-out, or underappreciated? Bummed out about living with mom and dad? Slogging through an awful courseload? (See Bullish: How to Avoid Burnout and Not Become a Brain-Eating Zombie.)
Write a mission statement. It’s not going to a committee, so you don’t have to word it perfectly. It can be a bullet list, or a mind map, or an ee cummings style musing. But why the fuck are you doing all this fucking shit every goddamn day?
To write a mission statement, it might help to define your values, a process I talk about in Bullish: Maybe Youâ€™re Not Actually a Lazy Procrastinator and Bullish Life: Getting Bullish in Practice as Well as in Theory. (I admit, that’ll take at least another 5 minutes.)
My vision statement looks like a well-balanced investment portfolio. There’s my work here on TheGloss, and my work in education. (Today, I am off to teach a bunch of girls who say things like, “Miss! MISS! You didn’t tell us there was going to be a quiz!” And I say, “Life will quiz you all the time! I’m not grading you! I am giving you free knowledge and this quiz is to make sure the time you invest actually benefits you!”) There is certainly the part where I make a lot of money and use it to drink scotch and buy shoes and go to India anytime I want and also to support political candidates and ideally to make terrible people like Herman Cain and Rick Perry terrified of people like me (see Bullish Life: Actually, Weâ€™re All Kind of the 1%). And of course there are all the personal bits, like the part where I make sure my mom sees enough of me. Life is overwhelming unless you tie all that together.
How do I, personally, sum that up? My mission to help the world — and people — function better through clear thinking, competence, and compassion.
Having a mission makes it easier to wait in the design-your-own-salad line at 12:15 on a weekday, crunch through another healthy lunch, type in a fucking spreadsheet, and work towards days in which you can live out that mission more directly and awesomely.