Jennifer Dziura writes life coaching advice weekly here on TheGloss, and career coaching advice Fridays on TheGrindstone.
As I mentioned in my birthday column, I received a question recently from a reader that asked, “What does your day look like? What is a day in the life of Bullish actually like?”
I was putting on my pinstripe catsuit and preparing to do battle with my enemies when this also came in:
Jen, I really admire your energy and ability to be so prolific and efficient! I also really admire your no-holds-barred attitude. Any advice on how to maintain high energy levels and be productive on a daily (okay, mostly daily) basis?
Hi there, and thanks for the questions! I am happy to oblige. So, here’s how I do what I do, and how some other successful ladies I polled make things happen.
(For those of you new to Bullish Life and Bullish, what I do is pretty much write these columns, write educational books and teach test prep classes, visit colleges as a speaker and educational humorist, orchestrate adult spelling bees, start a whole bunch of companies while increasing my income 30-40% a year and try to help others remake their lives and careers to their liking. Oh, and I occasionally hold male beauty pageants in bars, because OMG I can.)
I get up around 8:30 and head straight to my espresso machine.
I try to ignore email, or even ignore the computer entirely, until I have a plan in place and a sense of focus. Sometimes, I put the laptop in a cabinet at night to remind myself only to use the computer deliberately, rather than letting it commandeer my day.
I write and work on various projects until I need a break, at which point I go work out, come back, shower, make more coffee. I try not to waste good thinking-time on things like exercise or physically getting ready to go out; if I can lift weights and shower when my brain is half-dead, then I’m not wasting prime mental performance hours on them. (This is yet another reason I’m against offices and commuting.)
My phone ringer has been off for years. No one gets to ring a bell in my fucking house when they want to talk to me. I don’t have nuclear launch codes; the urgent is rarely that urgent; anyone who dies will still be dead when I check my voicemail. I am frequently inaccessible.
I usually leave around 3 to tutor someone, or sometimes they come to me (I have a cafe-sized dining room table that I remove the candlesticks from and turn sideways, and it’s the tutoring center, complete with TI-73 and a box of blank flashcards just waiting to be filled with knowledge). I usually teach class from 6:30 to 9:30pm.
I find that my brain isn’t that useful once I get home at 10:15pm. I have a drink, and at some point switch to reading things on the Internet like everyone else, but then I try to switch to reading actual (paper!) books, because bright lights are bad for you at night.
I recently discovered some excellent free software that adjusts the light coming from your monitor to match the time of day — so, in the evening, your screen takes on a rosy glow!
Because my main profession (teaching the GMAT) requires a great deal of brainpower, I really believe in sleep. Sleep-deprived people perform as badly as drunk people on standardized tests. People sleep best in very dark, relatively chilly rooms, with heavy blankets, and especially their feet kept very warm. Lately, I am into turning all the lights down half an hour before bed and listening to Brian Eno.
A Gentlewomanly Workspace
In Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work, I shared a photo of the outdoor desk on my 25th-floor balcony. (A reader, in response, sent a picture of the outdoor desk he set up on his deck in Vermont! It had a beach umbrella jury-rigged into the side of a lawn chair.)
I’ve also recently set up a standing desk in my apartment. It was actually a cabinet I’d always had up against the wall; I cleared all the books from the top and discovered that it was the perfect height. Thus, I didn’t actually replace my regular desk, but rather have many options. When I get tired, I just move, with the computer, to the couch or back to the regular desk — however, since I keep the power supply plugged in behind the standing desk, I can only sit and work as long as my battery supply lasts, which is an hour and a half at best.
It also pleases my retro sensibilities to have a beautiful espresso-wood desk WITH NO COMPUTER ON IT. It’s a place for actual thinking!
I read somewhere that some kind of spine doctor said, “The best position is the next position.” (I’ll bet that guy’s a really annoying lay.)
Here’s a post about standing desks. I did find, after setting one up, that my heel-bones started to hurt. One will generally want to wear shoes, or stand on some kind of padding. But my back feels great, my calves feel firmer, and — although we now live in a world in which virtually none of us make physical objects for a living and thus we all live in a sort of ennui of rushing to produce intangibles — it’s good to have a satisfying feeling of physical tiredness by the end of the day.
Overall, in case I didn’t make this clear: I typically spend about seven hours a day not seeing or speaking to anyone, which is how I’m able to form meaningful thoughts and string them together in useful ways.
I believe in concentration, solitude, and going into The Cave to build expertise and gain clarity.
Information is now free, and there is so much of it; clarity is actually very expensive in terms of the effort it takes to obtain. I will do anything for it.