Category Archives: Productivity

How to make your summer internship a success

IMG_1888-e1496689718596-986x1315A few weeks ago, TransLoc’s interns started work. Each year, TransLoc hires a handful of interns across departments to help us tackle projects and help them gain work experience. We take onboarding seriously here at TransLoc, even for our interns. They are welcomed with balloons, company swag, and approximately five pounds of their favorite candy. With all the Reese’s Cups, Kit-Kats, and Sour Patch Kids we have floating around, it’s a good thing walking trails surround our office and a gym sits right across the road.

In addition to the copious amounts of sugar, one of our other onboarding practices is a one on one with each department head to share how their department advances TransLoc’s mission, introduce the other people on the team, and share any other TransLoc wisdom worth sharing.

This past week, during my meeting with our new interns Kayleigh, Joyce, Nancy, and Jess and our new salesperson Dustin, I introduced them to my department and also provided some advice on how to make the most of their experience at TransLoc. Beyond their usefulness in the short term, these tools can also help them identify compatible organizations to work for, wherever they end up later in their career.

Here’s the advice I shared:

Turn your inexperience into an asset

It’s easy for someone new to an organization to question their ability to contribute, especially those just starting out in internships or entry-level positions. What do you know about the industry? Or the products? Or even the company culture? Probably not much. And while this lack of knowledge undermines many newbies’ confidence to contribute, that’s a mistake. Your very inexperience is what makes you so valuable.

You possess a perspective that is free from the assumptions or blind spots that those of us who have been neck deep in the business for years have missed. So how do you turn this inexperience into an asset? Ask good, hard questions. Listen carefully. Apply logic to what you hear and politely ask for clarification if things don’t make sense. Bad organizations will be threatened by this questioning and it’s better you learn that quickly. Good organizations will welcome this approach and your contribution to the “marketplace of ideas.”

Make your teammates look good

In any organization, there is always more work to be done than can be possibly be done. Only the most effective “Essentialists” will ruthlessly prioritize the most important things and clear the decks of the extraneous fluff that doesn’t move the needle. For the rest of us, we’re in a constant battle between the urgent, the important, and the “Holy Crap.”

Recognizing that your boss and your colleagues likely exist in this world is the first step towards using this reality to your and the organization’s benefit. The more you can anticipate their needs, ask for work, or just jump in and start identifying problems you can tackle, the more they will appreciate you. Another benefit: it allows you to practice a critical skill that will be necessary as you grow in your career: making a recommendation. Many times, your boss will take your recommendation and implement your ideas. Other times will be opportunities to get great feedback on what your recommendation may be missing. It can be scary to open yourself up in this way, but great managers appreciate this initiative.

Begin with the end in mind

You won’t work here forever. Whatever job you’re in, it will be for a finite time, even if you do not always know the specific length of time that will be. So it’s important to begin with the end in mind. As Yogi Berra so eloquently stated: “If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.”

So think about what those bullet points are that you want on your resume when you finish your internship or job. Is there a specific skill or software you’d like to learn or a specific type of project you want to gain experience in? Share that with your manager so that they can help figure out a way to make that happen, which is easier if the skills you want to learn are something your team needs.

A caveat: beginning with the end in the mind doesn’t mean that you run as a one-man wolfpack, pursuing projects that benefit only you. It simply ensures that both your interests and the organization’s interests align so that you both receive value, which is how any good relationship works. The motivation sweet spot is where your interests and career goals intersect with the needs of your team and manager.

What other advice would you share with our newest employees as they begin their TransLoc careers?

P.S. If you would like to work at TransLoc–either as a full-time employee or as intern–please let us know!

(Crossposted from the TransLoc Blog)

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A reading/writing ritual

I love to read books.  And yet I’m often distracted by the siren song of my iPad and its candy-coated delivery of snarky sports websites and boring email.

And I love to write.  And yet I’m often paralyzed by my ability to develop an idea fully or what others may think of it, so it just festers like a half-eaten croissant in a dumpster.

If I want to do these things more, I need to habituate myself.  I’ve been getting up early in the morning to exercise–when the house is quiet and distractions are few- so I’ve got a roadmap on how to successfully add another habit.  For me, the hardest part is not the habit itself–I’ve got plenty of willpower–it’s the decision to create the habit.

I had set aside some time in my morning routine for reading and writing before, but I was finding that the amorphous and large amount of time I set aside for it made it harder for me to stick to it. I’ve learned from my own experience and others that it makes sense to start with small goals.

So, my goal for January is simple:  write and read for just 9 minutes a day each.  I’ll add a minute a month so that by the end of the year, I’ll be up to 20 minutes a day of writing and 20 minutes of reading.  That doesn’t sound like much, but that’ll be over 85 hours each of reading and writing in a year.  That would be like taking a month off of work to just read and write.

You may wonder where this desire to devote this much time to reading and writing came from.  I’m a big consumer of other people’s talents (TV, sports, books, websites, good food).  High-speed internet access, digital cable, iPads, and Amazon have made it easier than ever to consume these items.  And this ease obscures the thousands of hours of hard work and practice that goes into making something of quality, whether that is a page-turner book, an exciting football game, or a grits souffle umami bomb (RIP, Magnolia Grill). It is only by consuming quality books mindfully and then finding my own voice by writing will I truly appreciate the work of those creators.

Follow along as I track my progress and let me know what you think.

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Adventures at 5 am: An Exercise/Writing Routine

I dubbed my previous attempt at focusing on reading, writing, and exercise as the “me hour.”  I woke at 6 am–an hour before anyone else in the house–in order to give myself uninterrupted reading, writing, and exercise time. And after some fits and starts, I can say that I have honored that hour almost every weekday this year.

But it’s turned out a little differently than I imagined. Because of our family’s commitment to get at least 10,000 steps a day, I’ve found I use the me hour exclusively for exercise. With a desk job, I won’t get anywhere near 10,000 steps unless I make a concerted effort to exercise.  Certainly not a bad thing (I’m averaging over 11,000 steps), but its not giving me the writing and thinking time that I’d like to devote to this blog and other projects.

So, what did I do? Expand the me hour to 2 hours starting at 5 am. I exercise from 5-6 am and then think/write from 6-7 am.

With a few drawbacks, I’m finding this new schedule helpful to start out my day on the right foot. First, the benefits:

  • It gets me out of bed. I tried to write prior to exercising, but I found that it was too easy for me to reach for the snooze button. Because I’ve already trained myself to get up and exercise, doing that first ensures I get out of bed.

  • I get writing ideas. As I start my exercise, my mind starts to unravel from the sleepiness. Ideas start swirling around in my head. If I focus on a problem, I’ve now convinced myself that I’ll figure out an answer–though not necessarily the best one–for it by the time I finish my walk.

  • It forces me to prioritize better. Getting up at 5 am forces me to be in bed by 10 pm at the latest. That means I don’t allow myself to be distracted (too much) by late-night, low-value internet wanderings.

  • I see unexpected things. This week, I saw some large white rodent of some sort scurry across the outside steps as I was tying my shoes. Yesterday, I saw a raccoon dart up a tree and ran into a friend that I don’t make nearly enough time for.  Beyond the unexpected, the quietness of that time a day is priceless.

  • I don’t feel rushed. With only one hour, I often found myself rushing back to start the day. Now, with two hours, I can exercise and still have time to do some push ups or a 7-minute workout.   And since I hate taking a shower while I’m still sweating from a run, this schedule allows me to cool down and shower before the kids wake up and things get hectic.

There are some drawbacks though:

  • Impact on others. My wife does not like the 5 am alarm. I often wake up before the alarm but not always. And in the rare case one of the kids needs something that early, I’m not available to help.

  • Meeting my energy needs. I haven’t yet figured out the right balance of food, water, and coffee during this two hour stretch to maximize my productivity and comfort.

  • The pull to stay up late. Whether its a work project or some must-see sports event on TV, having the discipline to be in bed by 10 is challenging.

I owe a debt of gratitude to Paul Dryden for inspiring me to take some of the same discipline I’ve honed for exercise and apply it to thinking and writing. Both Paul and I are constantly on the lookout for how productive creative people learn and practice their craft. What do you do?

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The Me Hour

I remember meeting someone a couple years ago who had a great tradition with his wife. They got up early every morning, made a pot of coffee, and sat together watching the sunrise.  I don’t know what they discussed, if anything, but that investment in yourself or your relationship can’t be a bad thing.

The switch back to standard time is a good time to start a new tradition: the me hour.  Get up on weekdays at 6 am and do something that is healthy: workout, write, think, or meditate.

I’ve always enjoyed the mornings, before anyone else is awake.  I find the world peaceful at this time of day and enjoy watching the day come alive, with the sun rising and the birds beginning to sing.

With work and household obligations keeping me up late and the same obligations often getting me up early, investing the needed time in myself gets more and more difficult with every passing day.  And the only way to ensure that I actually get it done is to get up earlier than everyone else.

A few ground rules ensure that I’m spending time on my priorities and not other people’s priorities for me::

  • No email
  • No Internet
  • No Twitter
  • No work

How do you ensure you get your me time?

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