My Annual Retrospective – 2016 Edition

I like thinking about my life.

I’m deliberate, thoughtful, and very calculating about where my life is headed.

Being intentional makes me very reflective, sometimes to my own detriment.

For example, if I felt like I had offended you no matter how slightly, I would brood on it for the rest of the day… Maybe even for the rest of the week, if we’re particularly close.

I might apologize (after a long, long time because I was mustering up the courage to tell you) but by then, you’ll probably have forgotten it and I had felt bad for nothing. (Oh well.)

I’m also slow. Not slow, in a way that I pick up on jokes way after the fact, (though I sometimes do, especially if it’s about some TV show I’ve never watched, like… Oh, like, I don’t know… Friends.) but slow in a way that I like taking my time.

I’m the kind of person who enjoys reading every single sign in museums – which can be incredibly exasperating for my friends and family. Sorry, mom.

However, one good thing about being intentional, reflective and slow is that it makes me pre-disposed to looking into the past and trying to learn from it. And I wanted to take you with me and make it official this year!

So I’ve decided to take a page from Scrum (again) and do a Retrospective.

This is how Scrum defines a Retrospective:

“It is a moment for the team to stop, breathe, and take a break from the day-to-day. It’s a chance to step back and reflect on the past iteration. To find things that worked well, things that need improvement, and what the team has the energy to improve.”

So with that definition in hand, let’s take a step back and look at…

What Went Well

A Year of Learning

This year I read 36 books (14 short of my goal of 50, but still good!) and listened to 120 hours of podcasts.

There were some points when I just had to stop consuming, reading and listening because I was tired, but for the most part, learning as much as I can as quickly as I can has worked well.

I’m not aiming to read 50 books in 2017. And I’m not going to try and listen to 200 hours of podcasts. But I will try to read at least 10 pages every day. For me, it’s about the process and the knowledge, learning to enjoy the quiet focus in reading.

Certified Scrum Master

You got that right – I’m a Certified ScrumMaster now! For those of you who don’t know, the ScrumMaster is a kind of project manager, but not really. You can read more about Scrum here.

In any case, it’s a great in-demand designation to have.

School and Co-op

I didn’t get the GPA I wanted… But this past fall term was the hardest I’d ever worked in school, bar none. Here are a couple of highlights:

  • I learned to work every day. I used to operate based on whether I felt motivated to study that day or not, so I had to spent the past 4 months in school re-wiring my brain and learning about what it really means to be a diligent, consistent worker.
  • I landed my fourth co-op term. I’m working at the Project Management Office of one of the biggest insurance companies in the world now… And so far, the work has been challenging and rewarding!

Ultimate Frisbee

I fell in love with the sport when a friend of mine invited me to join her Monday team.

I had always wanted to try Ultimate and when I did… It was like I was born for the sport.

Playing Ultimate really gets my blood pumping and being on the field with my teammates helps me relax and re-energize – a key thing for performing at a high mental level.

Side Hustles

I’m a huge believer in working on a big project outside of school.

I believe that doing this expands your thinking and gives clarity on your path in life. Plus, it also gives you something to talk about in job interviews!

One of the side hustles I tried out was a dropshipping business. Ultimately, I committed to two projects that I will continue to work on in 2017.

  • Freelancing.
    The starting salary for a new grad is not much, even with 16 – 20 months of work experience under my belt. And I don’t want to be forced to take a part-time job during the school year that isn’t directly related to my goals, either.

So this year, I started cashing in on all the marketing books I’ve read by becoming a freelance copywriter on Upwork. (I’ll be writing more about this experience in the future!)

Last October, I landed my first two clients after trying and failing earlier in the year.

I’m so happy that I finally got things off the ground after trying for so long! I’m now working with a couple of great business owners but I’m putting any new clients on hold until after my ACL surgery (more on this later).

  • This Blog.

I paused the blog during the summer because I was stressed out and really busy. I had also run out of things to say. Taking that break allowed me to have better clarity on what I want to write about.

I also published my first guest post in a long time. Thanks, Stefano!

Fun Stuff

  • Favorite Album of 2016: Unbreakable Smile, Tori Kelly. (This got me through exams and general drama.)
  • Favorite Song of 2016: Closer, Chainsmokers (especially this cover)
  • Non-fiction Book of 2016: Deep Work, Cal Newport
  • Favourite Biography of 2016: Toss up between Open by Andre Agassi and Shoe Dog by Nike’s founder, Phil Knight.
  • Thing I’m Glad I Started Doing in 2016: Cold Showers. (More about this in other posts)
  • Thing I Did in 2015 That I Wish I Kept Doing in 2016: Memorizing (most) of the book of Ephesians.
  • New Favourite Person/Podcast I Followed in 2016: Web designer and content creator, Paul Jarvis

What Didn’t Go Well

Summer at The Firm

It was a lot of fun and I still keep in touch with other co-op’s and interns (you can read more about it here) but bottomline, the accounting industry isn’t for me. Glad I figured that out now and farther down the road!

ACL injury

I tore my ACL last August playing Ultimate so I’m getting surgery before summer. I’m strengthening my knee now to prepare for surgery and the rehab after the operation will be brutal. It sucks but life goes on.

Lack of Focus

  • Had to drop a course. I took on too much last fall and something had to give. After my knee gave up on me, my mind did, too. So I dropped the 6th course I had added to my schedule. The relief I felt after hitting that “Drop” button was unbelievable.
  • GPA is not where I want it to be. Again, I took on too much, my attention was spread too thin and I ended doing just OK. But I learned a lot and I can apply it to my last year in school.

What I Want To Work on Next Year

In 2017, I want to really hone in on focus – learning to reduce errors before I add new functions and processes.

This especially comes into play with habits. I want to focus on only 1 habit at a time for 3-4 months and use forcing functions, and not just relying on my own willpower, to cement the habit into my routine.

Right now my year is basically broken down into two parts – pre-surgery and post-surgery.

For the first 4 months, I want to focus on prepping my body for surgery by doing Coach Sommer’s Gymnastic Bodies program.

The big habit for this season will be to sleep at 9:30 PM for 5 out of 7 nights every week. To do just that one thing requires me to rigorously plan my day and overhaul my systems. Even with doing that, so far, I’ve only succeeded in being semi-consistent in sleeping at 11 PM. I’ve got a long, long way to go.

Post-operation, I want to rehab aggressively, maybe training up to twice a day. Again, I need to build up to that even now if I want it to be a sustainable practice (which I want it to be).

I also plan on putting more time into my freelancing business and writing for this blog more consistently.

Finally, a big goal this year, I want to save enough money to pay off my student debts and travel since I graduate in 2018. It’s not really as crazy as it seems since I’m living at home and don’t really have that much debt (about $8,000) but it’s still a hard thing I want to achieve. 🙂

That’s it! I hope reading my annual retrospective inspires to think hard and reflect about your own year.

What I Learned in 4 Months that Took My Professor 15 Years

This post is part of my journals series where I write about topics that I feel strongly about… Even if it may not necessarily be in line with the blog series I’m doing.

If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m in my school’s co-op program.

The co-op program intersperses my academic semesters with full-time work terms.

I graduate in 5 years instead of 4… But I also finish school with 20 months of work experience – a worthy trade-off, in my opinion!

Anyways after every work term, co-op students have to write and submit a pass/fail work term report.

I wrote mine up, submitted it…

And got this feedback from my advising professor:

Interesting report. Very candid. Kudos to you for the courage to express such personal reflections.

I certainly relate to your experience and conclusions.

I had 15 years of a very successful career in the corporate world before I reached the same conclusion as you.

Without any real plan I was extremely fortunate to end up here at Ryerson. I sacrificed a lot of income but just like you, apart from class time I am free to plan my own day…

Good luck with your journey.

You see that?

I had 15 years of a very successful career in the corporate world before I reached the same conclusion as you.

Daaamn. Am I ever glad I did co-op!

Now, if you’re wondering what my conclusions were, keep reading because I’m featuring some excerpts from that report here today.

On My Biggest Accomplishment Last Summer

I learned what it meant to learn to love tasks that I don’t like.

There were many things that I did not like doing at my position that I simply had to do, like doing business testing, for example.

But seeing the attitude my colleagues had as they did the work, I learned to forced myself to approach it head on as cheerfully as I could, too.

And now, although I don’t always succeed, I can say that when faced with any task, I can cajole myself into giving it a good try.

On My Biggest Realizations

Through rushed 30-minute lunch breaks, missed family events and the inability to say yes to certain important events [throughout the duration of] my 12 short months of work, I realize that I value my freedom and flexibility of time more than any compensation a company could give me.

I value my family and my relationships more than my job.

I love being able to set my own hours (working less when I need to and more when I want to), to work from wherever I want and to be compensated in direct proportion to how much work I put in.

Given, many companies have flexible working hours…

But I still feel guilty, like I have to pay them back somewhat.

And I don’t like that.

I am not willing to make the tradeoff between a high-paying position and the time I spend with my relationships.

On What I Learned That Summer

This work term at [accounting firm] stretched me and revealed gaps in my professional development.

I now see the connection between how well I work in school and in the workplace.

For example, if I leave my schoolwork till the last minute, then that is how I will perform at work, too.

Another example is not working as hard on courses that I am not interested in. I learned that if I do that, then I will take the same negative attitude towards menial tasks when I am at work.

I am happy to say that I have seen the connection between school and work and now I am learning to translate these learnings from the workplace to school:

  • I now try to arrive at meetings and classes 5 minutes before the start time.
  • I now aim to get at least 8 hours of sleep every night so that I have the capacity to work long and hard during the day.
  • I now give a concerted effort to submit projects and assignments well before the schedule time and to work hard on courses, even if it might not be something that interests me.
  • I plan more now and will myself to work every day to accomplish all the tasks I set out to do. (I still procrastinate, but it has decreased considerably since my work term.)
  • I take the time to train my ability to focus.

This work term was a revelation for me and I’m glad I reached these conclusions before I had spent 15 years of my life working.

I’ve always had a feeling that I was meant for big things… And if you’re reading this, you probably do, too.

If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.

– Jessie Potter

That quote constantly reminds me to learn and pursue unconventional and counter-intuitive wisdom.

And that is the over-arching theme of this blog – to document unconventional strategies that can help you succeed in school, work and life.

If you want to receive those strategies, in addition to books, resources and tools that can help you live a radically successful life, then sign up for my newsletter below!

The Product Owner Mindset – How to Be Your Own Boss Today

This is part of Scrum for Students – a series of posts on using Scrum project management for rocking your student life. If you want to learn more about why this is about, check out this post: Scrum for Students – A Brief Manifesto.


Ever seen this Tumblr post?

I love this post because it talks about how you are in control of your future. Not your parents, not your friends, not your significant other.

Or how about this:

This is Habit #2 from Stephen Covey’s classic book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. This habit is probably the one I use the most – from leading group projects to writing this post!

Now, both of these relate to the Product Owner role in the Scrum project management framework and what I’d like to call The Product Owner Mindset.

Here is what Jeff Sutherland, author of Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time, has to say about the Product Owner:

“This person is the one with the vision of what you are going to do, make or accomplish. They take into account risks, rewards, what is possible, what can be done and what they are passionate about.”

If you want to take charge of your life, you have to adopt the product owner mindset and have a vision and a goal. Otherwise…

But don’t worry!

By the end of this post, you’ll know what exactly the PO mindset is and just why it’s so crucial to being successful.

Finally, I’ll cover five steps you can take to start putting this mindset into practice.

The Product Owner Mindset (and How it Relates to Being Productive)

There are three roles in a Scrum team:

  • The Scrum Master. They’re in charge of getting rid of obstacles that are bogging the team down.
  • The Product Owner. The vision guy or gal who decides what the work will be, what’s on the backlog and what order it’s in.
  • The Team. They’re in charge of doing the actual work needed to complete the project.

Today we’ll be focusing on the Product Owner. And before we get into the Why, here’s a few quick things about what the PO does.

The PO in a team needs to:

  • Fill, organize and prioritize the backlog (list of all the things the team has to do).
  • Balance what the team can build, with what makes the team or company money and with what the PO (and the team) is passionate about doing.
  • Connect deeply with the customer and knows exactly what he/she wants the end product to look like.

To be a good PO, they have to:

  • Know a lot about the domain the team is working in.
  • Constantly remind the team of the vision and why they are doing what they do.
  • Keep the team accountable to value – being able to show something for their work.

You may be thinking, I’m not gonna be a project manager…. Why do you need to know this?!

You’re right.

As students, most of us don’t have a team of people who will get to work if we say, “Start research for my essay. I want it to be about the Mongol Empire.” (Although most of the time I wish I did!)

But we have to understand every role, because we have fill all three!

And I would even argue that the most important role we must learn is that of the Product Owner’s.

Why?

Because while the team executes, and the Scrum Master lightens the load, it is the Product Owner’s job to make sure that the team is going in the right direction.

It doesn’t matter how hard the team works or how quickly they burn through the tasks…

If the Product Owner steers the team in the wrong direction, they’re screwed.

Effectiveness over efficiency, remember? 🙂

So aside from the fact that Scrum project management is used in a lot of companies right now and that dropping the lingo can probably help you land a job…

You have to know this because you are the Product Owner of your life.

Think about it:

  • If you want to be successful in all areas of your life, there are certain things you must do, certain items that must be in your personal backlog that you need to prioritize and get done.

Things like: calling your Mom, reading your textbook and starting to apply for jobs. No one else is responsible for any of these but you.

  • It is up to you to strike the balance in your life:
    • Do you want to be more career-oriented?
    • Do you want to focus more on student groups and extra-curriculars over your school work?
    • Or, do you run your own business on the side and want to prioritize that over going out with friends?

    Whatever it is, it is up to you to decide where to spend your time on (though it is possible to “have it all” – school, sleep and a social life ).

  • And finally, to be able to do well on tests, you have to know your customer, a.k.a. Your professor.Sounds kinda odd when I put it that way but think about it: they are the ones who create tests and grade assignments, teach the material and help you out when you’re stuck on a problem.Whether we like it or not, we need to keep our professors happy or, at least, know them well enough to be able to predict what comes out on the midterm.

There are some of the things you have to think about to do well as the Product Owner of your life because, really, no one else wants to be.

(Unless you’re Asian and have tiger parents… But then that’s a different story.)

And of course, the skills needed to succeed as a PO are similar to what you need to succeed in life:

  • You have to be self-aware. This is about knowing how you work, what makes you tick, what just kills of your motivation, etc.Gary Vaynerchuk (millionaire investor, speaker, NYT bestselling author) speaks a lot about how he thinks that the two determining factors for his success are his self-awareness and emotional intelligence.
  • You have to keep reminding yourself why you do what you do. And if you can’t answer the Why to your What… Then you either you figure it out or stop doing it.
  • You keep yourself accountable to value. Don’t deceive yourself into thinking that it was a productive day because you got a few emails out.
    • Value is reading a chapter of your textbook.
    • Value is writing 500 words for your history essay.
    • Value is getting the formulas for your finance midterm all on one page.
    • Value is about having something to show for your time and effort at the end of the day.

Listen, be honest about how much value your produced today, because if you can’t be honest with yourself, how can you expect other people to be honest with you?

3 Rocking Reasons Why It’s Awesome to Be Your Own Product Owner (a.k.a. Boss)

Now that you know what it takes to be a PO, let’s look at the some reasons why it’s great to have that power.

1. You’re the captain of the ship.

We’ve talked about how being a Product Owner means that you get to decide on the “what”.

This means that you decide…

  • What you want to do each week,
  • What you want do when you graduate, and
  • Who you want to become in 10 years’ time.

This is scary and exciting because you can either be Christopher Columbus and discover America…

Or the captain of the Titanic who sinks the ship and takes everyone with him.

Your choice.

2. You decide what’s most important to you and when you do it.

If you seriously apply the Product Owner Mindset and take ownership of your schoolwork (and your life), you won’t have to worry about meeting deadlines and cramming for exams.

When you’re in Product Owner mode, you’re thinking big picture:

  • Where am I at this particular course?
  • How is my group doing on that project?
  • Am I falling behind on readings?
  • Have I started working on that side hustle that will let me graduate with no debt?
  • How am I on the job hunt?

By the end of a planning session as a PO, you will have a clear, mental map of where you are at every project in your life.

3. You can be confident that you are constantly progressing towards most or all of your  goals every day.

Let’s be honest.

Adopting the Product Owner Mindset is hard.

It’s very overwhelming, especially in the beginning, because if you’re like me, you’ll realize that you want to do everything:

  • You want to be in a thriving relationship with someone…
  • While lining up a job before you graduate. And…
  • It’d also be cool if you could work part-time and save up for that spring break trip in Europe. Then…
  • You want to aim for a straight A semester, too.
  • And, of course, don’t forget to save up to pay off your student debt.

And you want to do works towards them all at the same time.

 

So basically, you have a lot to do in a short time frame (4-8 months)

Hwooh! Tall orders.

The good news is…

It is possible to work on all of them at once.

Sure, you’ll go slower than if you focused one thing at a time… But it can be done.

The bad news is: Juggling all of those is a surefire a recipe for disaster if you’re not organized.

Having the PO mindset helps you set priorities and learn about what are the most important things to you.

Knowing that each task you do and each productive day is a direct step towards achieving your goals and your dreams is a powerful, powerful motivator.

A 5-Step Plan to Implement the Product Owner Mindset

Now I’m not just going to leave you with a great mindset but no steps to take! That’s not me.

Knowledge heard but not applied is not learned.

So, here are 5 incremental steps you can take to adopt The Product Owner Mindset:

1. Spend time dreaming and thinking about who you want to be and what you want your life to look like 5- to 10-years down the road.

2. Lay out everything you are working on right now. For each one, ask yourself: is this taking me to where I want to go?

3. Reduce your personal “projects” so you can focus on the 2-3 that really matter to you. Ideally, you should only have 1 personal project outside of school.

4. Add in any projects that you have to start working on to make small, incremental progress on your goals.

5. Schedule a weekly check-in, either at the end or in the beginning of your week, to review your progress on your goals and dreams.

Again, the best thing about being the PO is that you get to decide who you want to be after you graduate and even 5-, 10- years down the road.

Don’t wait. Scrum is all about speed and taking action.

Start taking small, incremental steps towards your goals, today.


If you like this post and want to learn more about prioritizing work and achieving the dreams and goals you have then subscribe to the blog in the box below! Looking forward to journeying with you. 🙂

Credits to Everything’s Coming Up Rosie, HaikuDeck and Gary V for the photos!

How to Stand Out to Employers, Ace Interviews and Land Your First Job: The Ultimate Student’s Guide

Hi there. I’m Roxine. A little bit about me: I’m currently in my 4th year, heading into my fourth and fifth co-op terms at Ryerson University’s Business Technology Management co-op program.

Throughout my past 3 terms, I’ve used unconventional strategies and tactics to land my positions and now, after teaching friends about it, I’m here to teach it to you! If you want to learn more about mindset before diving into this guide you can check out this post: 6 Essential Mindsets You Need to Land Your First Job (Without Sending out 100+ Resumes).

I’ve been blogging for a bit now and initially, this guide was a request from a reader (Another Ryerson BTM student who just got into co-op program. Congrats, Saad!) to repost an old post I wrote about how I landed my first co-op job last year.

I couldn’t find the old one, so I decided to re-write the whole damn thing and started outlining my job hunting process… But realized there were just too many moving parts involved that I thought, Screw this. I’m writing the dream job guide to DEMOLISH every other job/career article out there.

And that’s how the idea for this post came to be.

Anyhow, I am SUPER pumped that you’re reading this guide right now.

Whether you’re a first-time co-op who has never had a full-time job or a more seasoned co-op vet with a couple (or all!) terms under your belt, I’m confident that you can learn more than a thing or two from this.

And so, after over 15 hours, outlining, writing and editing this guide (plus the 100+ hours I spent figuring out the whole process as a co-op student!), here it is: How to Stand out to Employers, Ace Interviews and Land your First Job: The Ultimate Student’s Guide.

Enjoy!

How to Land Your First Co-op Job, Step-by-Step


 

First off, I’m writing all of this with a few assumptions of your situation:

  • You are a Canadian co-op student The Canadian education and co-op system is different from the US and many parts of the world, though the principles I teach are applicable to finding any job, anywhere!
  • You’re going for a summer co-op. Work terms start and end throughout the whole school year but, generally, there are two rules of thumb with regards to full-time student job applications:
    1. Start applying for jobs 4-5 months before your starting date.
    2. Start building relationships and preparing for the job hunt at least one month before you start applying (so at least 6 months before your start date. I started mine 7 months before.)

Week 1: Figure out the position you want to go for.


Before you even do ANY resume and cover letter stuff, DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST.

See, job-hunting and dating are very similar.

Before you even think about dating someone, you have to know yourself first. You have to know your need-to-have’s and nice-to-have’s. You have to at least have an idea of what your deal breakers and your I-can-live-with-that’s are. Pursuing a relationship with someone… But not knowing what you want, is a recipe for disaster.

It’s exactly the same thing with jobs: Most students simply go on to company job boards and blast out their applications to any position they see, as long as they’re qualified for it without taking into consideration if they’d actually be a good fit for the position once they land it.

Friend, just like with dating, you have to know what you want first, before you can go after it.

(Caveat: I’m not saying that you have to know exactly what you want, but having a little bit of an idea of what a position entails, such as how long a typical workday is, whether a designation would be helpful, or how much compensation you can expect, can reveal if a position could be a good fit for you or not.)

So. Here are a couple of solid strategies to get you started on learning about a position you’re interested in:

1. LinkedIn. Go up to the search bar and type in the specific job title you’re considering or are interested in. Take a look at 4-5 profiles of professionals. Take note of which companies have that roles, the kind of work these people are doing (in the job descriptions from each person’s online resume), how these people’s careers progressed, etc.
2. Job-specific resources. Search for forums or blogs where these professionals congregate. The key is to read the exact stuff that these professionals are reading. This is how you get into their heads and figure out how they think and what they think about their jobs. More importantly, you get a feel for what kind of people would do well at this job.
Here are some resources I’ve used in my own research:

Tips:

  • You’re trying to complete this sentence: “I want to be a (job) because (reason 1) , (reason 2) , and (reason 3).”
  • Start picking up on industry language. What words do you see often in people’s job description? What are some buzzwords you notice in the blogs? This is a little trick that reaps big rewards down the road when you start on your application and do your interviews.
  • Take note of companies that offer the job you’re interested in. This is helpful when you get started on Week 2 and also to see the breadth of opportunities that this position has to offer, if you choose to pursue it once you graduate.
  • Remember: This is only the first step. Your research doesn’t have to be perfect. This is simply an exercise to pique your interest so you know what questions to ask down the road.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes with your job research or even to land the “wrong” job. That’s what you’re in co-op for – to test things out.

Estimated Time: 3 hours.

Week 2: Figure out the company.


Now that you have a bit of an idea on what jobs you want to try out, it’s time to form the second half of the question: The company.

Start checking out LinkedIn again and categorizing companies into 3 Groups:

  • First Choice. These are your dream companies. Companies that you would consider working for when you graduate or companies that you’ve always thought were cool to work for.
  • Second Choice. Companies you’re kind of meh on – not super excited but also not a NO. These are places that you kind of feel that you wouldn’t want to work for but want to try out none the less because, hey, why not?
  • Last Choice. These are places that you’re 90% sure you wouldn’t want to work in… But they offer the role you’re into. This category is here just so you’re aware of as many workplaces as possible.

For your first co-op job, aim to do research and apply for 2-3 Second choice firms and maybe 1-2 First choice firms.

The reason for this is because you’d want to do some practice – both in applying for jobs and at working in a professional environment.

After you’ve picked your firms, do some preliminary research:

  • What’s their vision?
  • What industry are they in?
  • Who are their competitors?
  • How do they set themselves apart from their competitors?

Company websites and a Google News search helps with this.

One of my first mistakes was that I categorized a bunch of smaller, lesser-known companies into my second choice firms and bigger, more established companies to my first choice. My rationale was that, it’s easier to go from big to small, than small to big.

Tips

  • You’re trying to complete this sentence: “I want to be a (job) in (specific company or type of company).”
  • Looking back, I wish I didn’t because bigger doesn’t equal better… But hey, like I said, it’s ok to make mistakes.

Estimated Time: 3 hours.


Before you go on: Do NOT, I repeat, do NOT skip weeks 1 and 2 even if they seem “easy”.

They provide some essential foundation for Week 3 because, how can you make a good impression on a busy professional when you ask them out to coffee to “pick their brain”… And ask them a question that can be easily found be 20 to 30 minutes of googling?

If you do this, you’re wasting their time and yours!

To make sure you make a good impression, do a thorough job at online research before moving on to this step.

Go on, I’ll wait.


Week 3: Do Informational Interviews


This is my favourite step because now your really start getting into the weeds and putting yourself out there.

Take note thought, that this the scariest and most time-consuming step that most people skip. This is when you actually (shudder) have to talk to people.

But DON’T SKIP THIS because this step is the most crucial one. Why? Well because,

  • This is how you get your foot in the door and immediately stand out to employers, without being sleazy.
  • This is when you can confirm or debunk your research and get the inside scoop if a job or a company is a good fit or not.
  • BONUS: This is a research step can also be called Networking 101. Plus, practicing with informational interviews is also good practice for when start being interviewed for jobs. This is a great way to get your feet wet without getting too disappointed by rejection.

Let’s be clear, though: These interviews are purely informational.

DO NOT ASK FOR A JOB.

Do not go into these interviews expecting to get a job. If they offer to pass on your resume, get on your knees and thank the heavens, but don’t walk in expecting this because you have a higher goal to reach in this interview – you’re essentially talking to them to help you figure your life out… So don’t mess it up.

Seriously.

Now that that’s clear, start by gathering a list of 15-20 professionals from LinkedIn, networking nights or mixers at school, personal contacts, etc. The only criteria is that they must…

A. Have or used to have the job you want.
B. Work for the company or used to work for the company you want to be in.

Once you have your list… Take the following 3-step approach to netting informational interviews.

1. The Outreach Email.
Email is an art form in itself and I can probably write another 5, 000 words on how not to be a douche or an egghead when you send emails… But I don’t have space for that. Instead, here are some tips on sending out emails for interviews:

  • Make it easy for them to say YES to you by…
    • Proposing a short time frame to meet, like 15-20 minutes.
    • Giving 3 time slots that you are free. Try to include 1 all-day option.
    • Offering to meet wherever is convenient for them. Give an option to do the interview over email or the phone, too, whatever’s convenient for them.
  • Keep it conversational, while being professional.
  • Keep it short and sweet. 5 sentences max if it is a cold outreach (as in, you found them on LinkedIn and were not referred to them by a mutual contact).
  • Send out emails on Monday or Tuesday. This is when most people’s inboxes are still relatively clear.

Below is a sample email I’ve sent (names and details changed) to reach out to a warm contact. It incorporates all my tips from above:pasted_graphic

2. The Meet up.

To repeat what I mentioned before, this is a time for you to see if the job and company would be something you would be interested in. As with Weeks 1-2, look out for key company, industry-related or job-related phrases you can learn and drop in your interviews.

Also, prepare smart questions beforehand. My favourite interview questions are:

  • What qualities does a successful [insert job title] look like?
  • What is the biggest thing you are working right now? (Ask them to explain any unfamiliar terms or acronyms if they use them.)
  • What’s your favourite/least favourite part of the job?
  • Do you think you’ll still be a [job title]/at [company] in 5 years’ time? (Ask this only if they are closer in age to you, or you have a close enough relationship to them that you feel comfortable asking this question.)

Don’t hesitate to bring a notebook with your questions and to take notes with. Don’t take notes on your laptop or worse, your phone.

And be early, like 5-10 minutes early.

3. The Follow Up.
One of my favourite bloggers, Ramit, calls this The Closing the Loop Technique. It goes something like this:

  1. Same Day: Short thank you email. Say something like, “I really liked what you said about XYZ…”
  2. 1-2 weeks after meeting: Send them an email with a tidbit that adds value to them, like a blog article or an insight that relates to something you talked about.
  3. 3-4 weeks after meeting. Send them a quick update on your job hunt, ideally with an action you took as a result of your conversation. End off with, “If you think of anyone who might be able to help, please let me know!”

Tips:

  • Don’t just keep this to Week 3 – keep connecting with people and continue to set up 1-2 interviews a week until you start applying. Aim to have between 5-10 informational interviews with different people before the job board opens in January.
  • Don’t be discouraged if it didn’t seem like you didn’t do as well as you wanted. This takes practice! It took me at least 2-3 initial interviews with people I knew well before I felt confident doing it with acquaintances and strangers.

I even had a notebook with my questions in the earlier ones! Talk about nerdy. But I believed in genuine relationships, trusted the system and stuck with it. By the end of December (the month before I started applying), I had spoken to (and followed up with!) about 10-15 different people. That was the time period that really grew my current network.

  • Being an introvert is not an excuse. Heck, I’m an introvert. It’s hard… But ya just gotta put yourself out there and do it.
  • I save all the outreach and follow up emails I’ve sent so it’s more efficient to reach out. But I triple check an edited email before I send it so that it’s still uniquely tailored to each professional.
  • As students, we actually have an easier time getting meet ups than professionals because we seem harmless and innocent. Just like little bunnies, when industry professionals see us, in their mind they go, Aww, they’re so cute and eager. Let me help them. Take advantage of your lowly status. Plus there are SO many school-sanctioned, networking events that most people skip out on or totally bomb. Take advantage of these, too!
  • Finally, just like with dating, rejection is part of the game. If someone says no to you, thank them politely for their time and move on. You are not entitled to a meet up; no one is expected to say yes to you unequivocally. Harsh but true.

Estimated Time:

  • 3 hours to search for people and set up interviews.
  • 15 min to 1 hour per interview.
  • 1 hour to setup follow up sequence.

(Yes, this step is the most work. But it pays off!)

Week 4. NOW, you write your resume and cover letter.


Let’s step back a bit.

As you can see this is a pretty counter-intuitive thing – to do your resume and cover letter last, rather than first. But remember disproportionate results?

By now, if you’ve done everything step-by step, you will have completed 80% of the work up front… And the benefits are already on their way.

With that word of encouragement, let’s jump into…

Your Cover Letter

Here’s a little tidbit that my co-op advisor shared with my co-op class:

The goal of cover letter is NOT to land a job – it’s to get an interview.

With that in mind, here are some cover letter tips to help you write yours:

  • Make sure it paints a unified and clear picture – what you want your prospective employer to have of you. (“Amazing co-op student who is flexible and eager to learn!”)
  • Think of this as a one-page ad of your services, so the key question is, What do you bring to the job or company? (“Insanely good at Excel! Thinks fast on their feet! Can interact well with clients!”)
  • Make this is as interesting and intriguing as you can, that they would want to pick up the phone and call you! (“For a limited time only, you can hire me for a position, starting date in the first Monday May. Pick up the phone now and call me at 1-800-JOBLESS. Hurry before somebody else does!”)

Now, here is a concept many applicants get wrong:

Your cover letter is NOT the same as your resume because it is NOT chronological!

Instead, use the TMAY Framework with the Storyteller Strategy.

TMAY stands for Tell Me About Yourself – one of the most common (and banal) interview questions ever asked.

The wrong (but most common) response is a verbal-vomiting of your entire life story in the order they they happened (which, tbh, can get long and rambling and is probably banal, too).

Instead of this approach, for your cover letter, use the TMAY Framework where you pick 2-3 qualities you possess that show that you are the best-suited candidate for the job. Use these qualities as the building blocks for your cover letter.

Finally, to further illustrate just how right you are for the role, use The Storyteller Strategy . Basically, tell one story per quality to show (not tell!) that you know what you are talking about.

(More on both techniques later in the interviews section.)

Again, keep in mind that this is NOT about your life story. This is about what YOU can do for THEM.

This is what The TMAY Framework + The Storyteller Strategy looks like in practice:

Quality 1: I can work well in a team. OR I am a team player.
Story: It was my swim coach’s birthday and our club had a tradition of throwing the birthday celebrant into the pool after practice. Problem was he was a really heavy dude, like 300 lbs.

(R: Kon, if you’re reading this, you know I’m making this up… You are the fittest old man I know.)


Now, as a girl, I don’t usually participate in these; it is the boys who do the tossing. But it just so happened that day that not a lot of guys were at practice. And so in the end, to help them out, I helped the guys lift him by the arms and legs, swing him once and toss him into the pool.


I was the only girl in the history of my club to every do it and it also was one of our club’s most successful birthday tosses.

What’s in it for the company: I work well in a team and bring great people skills to the table. I can take one for the team if need be.

And that’s one paragraph in your cover letter.

You can probably think of a better example than that (and make it more professional and not use “dude”) but you get my point. Add a couple more and you’ll be done!

Finally, if you have a contact in the company (which you should, after all the work you did in Week 3), ask for their permission to mention them in the cover letter. If they agree, mention them in the intro paragraph.

Your Resume

Now there are A LOT of great resources out there on how to write a great resume so I won’t be covering that here. Instead, I’ll go over some resume essentials and then a few pointers as your create your resume.

The Resume Need-to-Have’s:

  • Contact Info (Name, Address, Email Address, Phone Number). I usually put this in the header and have my resume + cover letter in one document. This way, my contact info shows up on every page.
  • Relevant Experiences. Assuming that you’ve never had a full-time job before (i.e. 40 hours a week) this includes any part-time work, volunteering and extra-curriculars you do.Put in the position, company and/or department, time period that you were there for, plus 2-3 bullet points on what you achieved in that position (NOT a rehashing of what you did there).
  • Education. Which school you go to, the time period and your program. Don’t abbreviate the program name because people won’t know what those 3 letters stand for! For example, write “BComm. In Business Technology Management” versus “BComm. In BTM”.

No need to put in the high school you went to, unless maybe you went to a school that had some sort of prestigious program (like the IB program).

 

A word of encouragement with regards to the relevant experience section: Don’t worry about not having work experience as a first-time co-op.

Before my first co-op position, I had never worked for pay in my entire life, not even in retail or as a cashier in No Frills!  My experiences section was so bare that I had to include my achievements and “relevant experience” as a competitive swimmer.

(Putting my swimming actually produced some surprisingly good results: One lady who interviewed me had a son who swam, too. We bonded over the horrors of waking up at 4:30am to go to practice… And she ended up offering me the job!)

With regards to length, technically, resumes (and cover letters) should be no more than two pages… But that rule also applies to industry professionals that have 40+ years of work experience! Since you are just starting out, keep your resume to one page.

If you have some more space in your one-page resume you can include these Nice-to-Have’s :

  • Your GPA. Put this under your program name but only if it’s at least a 3.5 (or if you are particularly proud of your GPA). In my experience, most employers don’t care about the GPA on the resume, although a copy of your transcript is usually required for co-op applications.
  • Relevant Courses Taken. If you’ve taken any job-specific courses, this is another good way to make yourself stand out. Put in the course names, not the course codes.

For example, “Database Management and Design” vs “ITM 500” (because, just like your program name, no one outside of people who are in your school would know what that jumble of letters and numbers means).

  • Achievements. Try not to put any high school achievements if you can help it, although special awards with big names are great here (like DECA, the Duke of Edinburgh award, etc.).

For example, my resume contains an entry for an award I received in high school from the University of New South Wales in Australia, and that has raised more than a few interviewers’ eyebrows.

And some overall tips:

  • Use strong, active words to start off each point. Some examples include: organized, executed, planned, grew, produced, implemented, impacted etc.
  • Using numbers is a great way to get people’s attention.  In my first internship, I grew the company’s Twitter account from 56 followers to 150. I included that in my resume even though I felt that it’s not all that great.
  • Use The Storyteller Strategy here, too. Just make it more concise by trimming each story down to 1-3 sentences and talking about…
    • The action you did (“Proactively gave out fliers from the street corner…”)’
    • The results you achieved (“And consistently brought in 3 clients for the company…”)’
    • Plus the time frame you did it in, if applicable (“every day one afternoon”).

Finally, no need for objectives, related skills, hobbies and any other extras some Elite Daily or Buzzfeed article may tell you. Simply focus on using your resume to continue painting the picture so that the HR person will be interested enough to schedule an interview.

Tips:

  • Write out everything in plain English before you make it sound more polished. If you can’t say it in plain English, this means you don’t understand it well enough to explain it simply in an interview. Don’t put it in.
  • In the beginning, use The Masters Technique for efficient applications: Create a master resume with all your internships, volunteering, achievements, courses in it etc. Don’t worry about length. Same thing with your master cover letter: feel free to include 5 or more qualities + stories. Again, don’t worry about how long it is.

Then when you need certain entries and qualities for a specific job, just copy and paste as needed from your master file before tailoring the content to the job posting. Easy-peasy.

  • Try to include industry or job-specific jargon or keywords that you understand. This little tip shows that you know more than the average candidate and are ready to hit the ground running when hired.
  • Use simple formatting. 1-inch margin all around. PLEASE don’t use Comic Sans or Wingdings. Go with safe fonts like Time New Romans, Cambria or Calibri, with font size 12-14.

Estimated Time: 2 hours each for resume and cover letter. 4 hours total.

Then, once you’ve done all this…

Keep Doing Weeks 3 and 4 until the jobs get posted and you start applying online.


Once you start applying…

Tailor your cover letter and resume to each company and each position. If you use the Masters Technique, this shouldn’t be too hard.

And remember, focus: Apply only to positions that you have done online or in-person research on. And, preferably, in companies that you have a contact in.


Congratulations, you got an interview!

If you’ve come this far, then you don’t have to worry about this step… Because all of the previous work you’ve done researching and interviewing was already part of the preparation for this interview.

All you have to do now is show all that research – that you know about the company, that you’re familiar with the job (enough to know their company or industry buzzwords!) and that you ARE the right candidate for the job.

For this step I’ll be focusing on the last point: You need to show that you are the candidate with all the qualities that are on the job posting (mostly hard skills), including all the qualities that are NOT on the job posting (soft skills)!

Sound impossible?

It’s not as hard as you think.

If you’ve done your research correctly, you should be familiar with all the hard skills and at least a couple soft skills. All you have to do, is SHOW IT.

But before I get into this, here is…

What You WILL NOT Do

  • Come to the interview cold, i.e. “I’ll just wing it. YOLO.” (No. Bad. Not. Professional.)
  • Talk about your whole life, including when you were cast to be Tree #2 in the school play back in 5th grade. (Boring. Not relevant.)
  • Talk about random strengths (“I’m good at math.”) and weaknesses (“I work too hard.”). (Just… UGH.)

If you come unprepared and start rambling, this is what will happen:

The interviewer leans back. “So, tell me about yourself.”

No smile.
Cue your face locked in a frozen smile as your life flashes before your eyes. You start telling your life story from fetus days.
The interviewer’s eyes glaze over and he falls forward on his desk in sheer boredom.
GAME OVER

 

To avoid this, you need to pull out The TMAY Framework, The Storyteller Strategy and my KO punch – The Backpocket Question

The Tell Me About Yourself (TMAY) Framework

To elaborate on the previous section’s description, the TMAY Technique uses the Tell Me About Yourself interview question as a springboard for the rest of your interview.

You can also use your TMAY answers to help you think of answers to other common interview questions, like “Tell me about a time when you worked in a team.” and “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake.”

Instead of listing out your achievements chronologically, you carefully select the three qualities that you know the employer is looking for and rehearse those.

Some examples of good TMAY qualities are:

  • I am unafraid to ask questions.
  • I think analytically and logically.
  • I learn quickly and hit the ground running.

This technique is great because it continues to build on the picture that your cover letter and resume helped create in the beginning and, hopefully, cement your place as the ideal candidate for the job.

Then compound the TMAY Framework (how to structure your interview responses) with The Storyteller Strategy below (how to keep the interviewer engaged) for a one-two punch!

The Storyteller Strategy

One word to keep in mind as you prepare to do your interview: STORIES.

Tell story upon story to illustrate and back up every point you make, because you are not their only interview of the day.

Even if they are already tired from interviewing previous candidates or they are still dreading the long day of interview, use stories to arrest their attention and make it fun and easy for them to listen to you.

BOOM.

As humans, we also naturally gravitate towards people who tell stories, because they seem more interesting, charismatic and confident. (That’s you.)

DOUBLE BOOM.

When I focused on stories in my first (albeit, mock) interview, the guy interviewing me was so engaged that he told me afterwards, “Oh, wow. I didn’t even notice the time. I was so interested in what you had to say!”

(I should also mention that he helped me get my first co-op term at the biggest bank in Canada where he worked. Needless to say, all the hard work to prep for that “mock” interview, that probably no one else paid serious attention to, paid off. Thanks, Matt!)

So here is how you do The Storyteller Strategy:

  • Before the interview, think about stories that best showcase your three TMAY qualities. Again, this is your response to the initial “Tell me about yourself” question.
  • Then, pick one of the three to use as your “What’s your biggest strength?” response. Ideally, use a different, but more compelling story. (You’ve lived what, 18, 19 or 20 years on this planet? You gotta have more than one story of your biggest strength.) Even more ideally, think of a story that shows you displaying this quality in a team environment.
  • Pick an honest weakness that you have been trying hard to fix. Please don’t say “I work too hard”, “I care too much” or something like that. That is not honest. Some 100% authentic answers I’ve given to this question (which, is another thing that will make you stand out):
    • “I don’t take enough initiative.” (But here’s a story of me working on it.(
    • “I’ve never had a job before so I might be unprofessional.” (But HERE’S A STORY OF HOW I’VE BEEN LEARNING ABOUT STUFF TO HELP ME FIX THAT.)
    • “I’m not very good at communicating.” (But HERE’S A STORY OF HOW I’M FIXING IT AND LOOKIT, I’VE GOTTEN BETTER.)

I can’t stress this enough: You want to show your personality, likeability and and your competence.

To sum up, The Storyteller Strategy requires that you have some understanding of the other person. Just like in the emails, you have to make it a no-brainer for them to say yes to you by showing them that you have what they want.

You also understand that everything you do and say from the moment the interviewer sees you is fair game. So you tell stories to keep them engaged while carefully tailoring EVERY ANSWER you give to the image you want them to have of you when you leave.

Then, after use The TMAY Framework and The Storyteller Strategy on every question and you the interview starts winding down, here’s where you really deliver.

This is the icing on the cake.

This is the secret sauce.

Pure interview magic.

I call this one…

The Backpocket Question

Now without this technique, this is what usually happens after the behavioural questions:

Interviewer: “So, do you have any questions for me?”

This is when everyone thinks the interview is over.
This is when every other candidate relaxes and says, “Nope, thanks for the interview!”
But this is when you…

Hit that freakin’ baseball out of the ballpark like Joey Bats himself.

You, figuratively pulling out your Backpocket Question, ask:

“If I were to get the job, what should I do to prepare so I can hit the ground running?”

BOOM. BOOM. BOOM.

Instead of saying no, you ask a question…

One that is specially designed to show the interviewer that you are thoughtful and knowledgeable and that you are already think far ahead of anyone else.

Here are some Backpocket Questions I’ve used in the past:

  • Historically, what are the qualities of someone who has done well in this position?
  • What is the difference between COBIT and COSO? (For an accounting firm.)
  • What is the difference between IT architecture and infrastructure? (For a business systems analyst position.)

Try to think of your Backpocket Questions beforehand. Industry-specific questions, preferably from the job description or about something you talked about in the interview, are great choices.

If you can’t think of anything on the spot, turn the tables and ask about the interviewer – how they got to where they are, what they do, etc. Use those informational interview skills!

Now, with The TMAY Framework, The Storyteller Strategy and The Backpocket Question, this is what almost all of your interviews will look like:

The interviewer looks down at your resume and leans back. “So,” No smile. “Tell me about yourself.”
You smile at them, and talk about the three qualities you possess (complete with funny stories!) that make you absolutely perfect for the job.
Interviewer’s eyes widen and they start nodding and agreeing to everything you say.

You know that they are (mentally) salivating over you as a candidate. Man, they are LISTENING now.
They ask some more behavioural questions… As they wrap up the interview, they ask, “So, do you have any questions for me?”


You say, “Yes, actually. I was wondering, what are some qualities that successful co-op’s in this position have had in the past?”

Their eyebrow goes up. They’re a bit taken aback, pleasantly surprised by the question. But then they start talking about someone’s who’s not afraid to questions and someone who is a team player, etcetera, etcetera. You start taking mental notes and nod along.
When you get up to leave, the interviewer shakes your hand with a huge smile on their face. You smile back.
As you walk out of their office, you turn to the audience, raise your chin, and…

Tips:

  • Remember the 80/20 principle: 80% of your results will come from 20% of the effort. Focus on The Storyteller Strategy and your Backpocket Questions.
  • Plan to arrive 20 minutes early. Don’t be late. If you’re late, you are late.  Leave home two hours earlier if you have to, especially if you’ve never been to the interview location. No one cares about interruptions to the subway service.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask the person you’re emailing about dress code and other details. Apart from the confidence knowing that you’ll be dressed appropriately, this shows that you’re not afraid to ask questions (a PLUS in any co-op employer’s handbook). If in doubt…
  • Dress in business formal (except if it’s a startup). What’s business formal? That’s a topic for another post but there’s lots of example on Pinterest: Search “business formal for men/women” and go from there.
  • No need to bring a resume (unless you know for sure that it’s going to be a panel or group interview). The interviewer should already have your resume. In all my co-op interviews, I’ve never been asked for it once. (Remember the 80/20 rule? Don’t sweat the details. You have bigger things to worry about.)
  • Practice your interview at home if you’ve never had experience in public speaking. This is pretty key if you getting up to speak in public scares the heck out of you. You’ll also be able to adjust some body language issues you may have. For example, most girls smile too much while most guys don’t smile enough.
  • Try to make the interviewer laugh or, at least, make a connection. Contrary to what you may believe, interviewers are human, too. They’re not just looking for someone who knows their stuff but someone they can spend 8 hours a day with. So be cool, relaxed and engaging.

What do you do after an interview?

Make sure to send out a thank-you email within the day, preferably 2-3 hours after the interview. This shows that you value the interview opportunity, that you are thoughtful and that you know how to finish things well.

This is one of those little things that can help you stand out because most people don’t do it.

Once you hit Send on that email, consider this the end point for this particular job application… CONGRATULATIONS!

Lean back and take a breath.

You’ve done absolutely everything in your power to increase your chances of getting that job.

The outcome isn’t in your hands.

Whatever happens past this point isn’t in your power anymore. So don’t fret about it.

Though you’re probably going to do this whole process on more than one interview (and you should apply to more than one position, especially if this is your first term!), let yourself feel a bit of relief and pride because you finished the application.

Again, congratulations. 🙂

Dear New Co-op’s – What We Wish We Knew When We First Started

This EPIC post is almost done… You’re almost to the end!

Before I send you off, though, I wanted to feature some advice from some of my friends – current, senior co-op students who may have just started on their journey OR who have done at least a couple co-op terms already.

I’m doing this because we want you to know that you’re not alone… We’re here for you!

If we can get through that tough first term, then you can, too.

I wish someone told me how much of a commitment 8-month work terms are. They are a significant amount of time to invest and can feel like a decade If you’re not interested or challenged by the work you’re doing. Try and aim for 4-month work terms while you’re still dipping your toes in the water. – Rhyan


You should prepare for the mock interview, because you can actually get a job out of it. I thought it was just practice. – Ryan


An interview is a two way street, it’s an opportunity for you to get to know the employer much as it is for the employer get to know you. – Oleanne


Apply as early as possible for positions where you are responsible for directly applying to the employer e.g. On their website. Often, the deadline date for those positions are the just the [PlacePro] unposting date. Hiring managers may start looking at applications and selecting interviewees much earlier than that date. Waiting till the last minute could result in missed opportunities. – Teresa


(1) Wish I figured out earlier to abandon the 1990s job application methods (searching through job boards, submitting resume applications) and started early on guerilla-job-search methods (targeting hiring managers and reaching out to them directly).
(2) Joined professional associations that are in my target careers early on in year 1-2 instead of now in [my] last year. I’m a member of the 32 Signal Regiment and Toronto Amateur Radio Club but those [are] closer to my old career. Now I’m just starting to get into volunteering for the Project Management Institute Toronto chapter and looking for associations for analysts and developers that I want to get into. – Bil


Don’t be afraid to be picky (if you can). Instead of shooting of resumes everywhere to land whatever you can, create a spreadsheet and add specific jobs that you’re interested in. The sheet could be used as a schedule as well, so you know which deadlines are coming up instead of just going to PlacePro [R: That’s Ryerson’s co-op job board.].

Also be ready to track your progress (how many places you applied to vs how many interviews you got). – Saljoq


Landing your first coop position can be challenging since many students have very limited work experience. As a result I highly encourage new coop students to attend many information sessions, and join varies student groups to obtain the valuable work experience necessary to obtain your first co-op placement. – Ejaz


What I wish I was more aware of [when I first got into] coop was how much work and dedication was required… I think being more aware of the stresses prior to the application would have helped.  I would say do not overthink on offers. Don’t pay too much attention to what other people have said if you take certain jobs… I would still encourage people to continually keep an open mind because what you originally had in mind for work can change. – Dennis

Oh, and one last thing…

Most of the time here at Defy Gravity, I write about time management and productivity for students.

(In fact, I’m currently doing a series on using the Scrum project management framework to help run your life better and produce better quality work in less time.)

So if you’ve been following the blog, you’re probably wondering:

So what does a post about landing your first “real” job have to do with productivity?

Apart from teaching you about landing your first “real” job (which is HUGE springboard for landing a full-time position after graduation), my other aim with this post is to show you what it really means to be effective over efficient.

Think of this whole dream job process as a real-life case study that you can do to learn this principle, and the long-term thinking required to achieve disproportionate results.

Think about it: Being able to send out 100 resumes within the span of two weeks is a HIGHLY EFFICIENT process… But is it EFFECTIVE?

It may be incredibly gratifying to hit that Submit button when you finish the application on a company’s website, but is this the best way to make yourself stand out, get noticed and, ultimately, get booked for an interview?

I wouldn’t say so.

On the other hand, taking the time to do your research and interviewing people before you even look at your resume is, admittedly, very unconventional.

Like most of the stuff in this guide, most people just don’t do it.

But that’s precisely why the students who take the time to actually learn about a position and a company, before they even think about applying, are the ones that end up succeeding and rocking their co-op terms.

So, when you’re going through this process, you may feel like you’re not getting enough stuff done.

You may not get the initial results that you’re looking for (i.e. Being able to say (or brag!) that you sent out 70+ applications.)

But if you do the right things before you think about doing less work , you’ll achieve disproportionate results and win.

I guarantee it.

Good luck!

6 Essential Mindsets You Need to Land Your First Job (Without Sending out 100+ Resumes)

Hi there. I’m Roxine, a 4th year student at Ryerson University’s Business Technology Management co-op program, and I’m heading into my fourth and fifth co-op terms.

Throughout my past 3 terms, I’ve uncovered these six ways of thinking that have served me very well in the whole job-hunting process. It’s more than about being positive, confident and self-aware…

Landing a great co-op job requires a new way of thinking, a willingness to focus on the right things and a courage to do things differently.

Now I usually write about productivity and success but I also believe that the skill of finding a great first job and the mindset to get there are highly transferable.

Furthermore, working a challenging job is a great field test of how well your organization and real-world skills are coming along. I’m setting you up so you can get a job for your resume or for your co-op program and get ahead of everyone else.

What’s This Post All About?

First off, I am SUPER pumped that you’re reading this post right now.

This blog post is a prep-post for my next one this post, which will be  is a HUGE, step-by-step, 7,000-plus-word post on how to stand out to prospective employers and land your first real job!

(7, 000 words. DAYUUUUM.)

I’m separating this post out from the rest because tomorrow’s guide will sound scary, unconventional and downright risky if you read it without context. But if you understand and take the following mindsets to heart, you’ll see that my strategies actually make a ton of sense… And that they may actually be less risky than sending out 100+ resumes.

Think of this post as the appetizer before the main course. 😉

So, here are…

The 6 Essential Mindsets of a Successful Co-op Student

1. Disproportionate results are the reward.

What results can you look forward to if you follow my guide? Most first-time co-op students have a hard time landing just one interview… So the disproportionate results of following my strategies will come in the form of multiple, early job offers, in addition to having a more relaxed, but successful, interview.

For myself, since co-op students are only given 48 hours or less to accept or reject job offers, I structured my interviews as close to each other as possible so the offers would come at approximately the same time. This way, I was able to make the best decision without being FOMO that I was missing out on a better opportunity.

If you follow my guide to the T, you’ll also be calm and relaxed during an interview. This is because by the time you get in the interview room, you can be confident that you will have already put in more work than any other candidate (except if that other candidate is me or my friends Sal or Ryan. Then you’re in for a rough fight, pal. But I digress!)

2. Focus on the 80/20 Principle.

This simply refers to the fact that 80% of your results will come from 20% of the work. In tomorrow’s guide, I will be focusing on that 20%… And not worrying about whether you should bring a resume to the interview or not.

Think of yourself as a newbie soccer player… Focus on the basic skills for now and don’t spend your time deciding between $150 or $80 cleats. Using the same pair of cleats that Messi wears won’t make a difference in a match if you can’t even dribble and shoot the ball well.

I will teach you how to focus on the things that make the biggest differences and what to focus on.

3. Prepare smarter and harder, than everyone else.

Sure, if you follow this guide, you won’t need to send 70 resumes and bite your nails hoping someone… But that doesn’t mean that we won’t go into beast mode and hustle hard.

Here at Defy Gravity, we make sure that we’re solving the right problem and doing the right things first. Only THEN do we go out and crush it.

4. Choose yourself first.

If you don’t believe in yourself – that you can get the job and that you’re just as good as (or even better) than the guy or gal next to you – then the interviewer won’t either. Choose yourself for the job first before you try to get other people to pick you.

5. This whole thing is about bringing out the best in you.

If you’re a boring, negative person, I’m sorry to say this but… There’s nothing I nor my guide can do for ya. Whatever you do with the information in this guide will only bring out what’s already inside of you.

So clean the house before you start opening it up for parties. Get your mental and emotional life together as well as you can before you even think about looking for a job.

6. Successful people know the value of being mentored.

This thinking will come into play once we get going and you start talking to successful people in your field of choice. When you start doubting yourself and start asking, Why will they want to meet me, a dumb student?

Say this, as my adviser for Ryerson’s TRS Top 200 program counselled my peers and I,

Because successful people know how important it is to have a mentor, a guide to show them the way. And they would want to mentor you, too.

(Thanks, Andre!)

Let these mindsets sink in and ruminate on them. Pick out one that you haven’t heard about before and think about what this means for you.

I’ll be referring to these six mindsets throughout the guide tomorrow. Watch out for my next post soon!


UPDATE: The Ultimate Student’s Guide – How to Stand Out to Employers, Ace Interviews and Land Your First Job is HERE. 😀

Scrum for Students – A Brief Manifesto

 

Today I want to tell you about a framework I stumbled upon in the past few months, taken directly from my business project management textbooks! (YAY!!)

But Roxine, I don’t want to read about some boring business management method-thing!

Oh, am I the only who gets excited about project management?

Oops.. But it’s better than accounting, right? RIGHT.

Now, that’s settled, on to the framework!

This project management framework I’m talking about is called Scrum and it can help solve some common student problems:

  • Getting your work done when there are so many interruptions throughout the day,
  • Planning out a group project from start to finish and, when the deadline’s looming and you’re 90% done, realizing that what you’ve done wasn’t what the professor wanted at all,
  • Signing up for a liberal in a subject that you have never taken (“But the Industrial Revolution sounds so interesting!”) and you have absolutely no idea how to study or how to take notes for it.

Now I know what you’re thinking… No way can this Scrum thing do so much!

Hear me out.

Scrum can do all this because it was built to handle uncertainty in software development.

But its principles are directly applicable to the uncertainty in student life!

Specifically, applying Scrum to your schoolwork will teach you:

  • How to prioritize your work the right way,
  • How to create and gain momentum as you study day after day,
  • How to identify and address red flags early (especially in those darned group projects),
  • How to study effectively, not just efficiently.

And most importantly, applying the Scrum framework will teach you how to capitalize on the abundant freedom that we take for granted as students. Freedom? Yeah, man. Think about it: Apart from deadlines, we choose when to do the work (freedom of time) and how we do it (autonomy). In short, Scrum gives you a framework so you stop procrastinating procrastinate less. I’m not trying to sell snake oil here… Because it really does work. If it’s worked for the FBI and for flailing software startups Scrum will most certainly work for your academic career.

How I Stumbled on Scrum

Around July, I read this post by Cal Newport. In it, Cal relates the story of a newly hired software engineer who didn’t have an email account setup yet. In the workplace, an email address is the key to life. Just ask anyone you know who works in corporate! An email address gives you access to the tools you need to work. Your email address is who you are in the working world. So when Cal mentioned that this new employee who didn’t know how to access anything in the company and didn’t have an email address was still able to be a valuable and productive contributor to the company’s project, I was really intrigued. And that was when I saw my first Scrum Board.

Photo Courtesy of Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction
Photo Courtesy of Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction

And let me tell ya: It was love at first sight.

If you know me, you know that I am a huge fan of learning about principles and frameworks that can be applied to many areas of life. And when I saw that Scrum board, I knew instantly that this was something I could use, not just for school, but for many aspects of my life.

I HAD to learn more about Scrum.

So I picked up the shortest book in Cal’s list: Scrum: A Breathtakingly Brief and Agile Introduction.

And HOLY COW did I go down a wonderful rabbit hole!

In Scrum I learned a dead-simple and counter-intuitive framework for keeping track of projects and executing them as painlessly as possible.

From the book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time by Jeff Sutherland, the creator of Scrum, I learned six key Scrum principles that now guide me as I work on just about anything (including this blog!):

1. Speed. Scrum is all about starting things now, doing things fast and failing fast… So I can fix things ASAP and keep going.

2. Flow. Just as a ball rolls down more smoothly down a paved sidewalk than a rocky hill, managers of Scrum teams (called Scrum Masters) are tasked to remove obstacles standing in the team’s way. As a student, this means learning to identify and remove obstacles that stand in the way of you doing great work.

3. Acceleration. As impediments are removed, the ball picks up momentum and accelerates at an ever increasing rate. It’s like using the same lever on a lighter load. As you remove waste and impediments from your workflow, you realize that you are producing 2-3x more output than before with the same amount of effort.

4. Tangible Results. As Jeff Johnson, a Scrum master who worked with the FBI, said, “Showing the actual product was the most powerful part [of Scrum].” At the end of the day, the short-term goal is to have a finished product that can stand by itself. And even if this is something only you will ever see (like a first draft of an essay), you will have a working “prototype” that you can evaluate and improve on the next time you sit down to work.

5. Clarity. One of the biggest benefits of working with Scrum is being able to know exactly where I am on a project at any point in time. To take the previous example, because you have a written record of where you are in the essay (the first draft), you know for sure what you next step is to improve on the first draft, either by rewriting the draft to create a second one or by moving paragraphs around to make the parts flow together and strengthen your arguments.

6. Effectiveness. During every period of work (called a Sprint), you can only select a certain number of tasks to work on. By doing this, Scrum forces you to provide as much value in as short a time frame as possible. And the only way to do this is by focusing on effectiveness (doing the right things) over efficiency (doing things right). I mean, think about it. If the question that you are trying to solve is the wrong one, you will never get the right answer no matter how hard you work! But before we keep going… Let’s clear something up first.

What Scrum is Not

If you’ve been reading this blog for any amount of time, you’ll know that I love planning:

  • I love having all my dominoes in a line, my duckies in a row and my schedule blocked off into nice little bricks of time.
  • I love knowing exactly how long I’ll be working on a task for.

But let’s get one thing clear though: > As much as it pains me to say it, Scrum is NOT about thorough planning. Rather, Scrum focuses on execution over planning. Working the Scrum way does not mean that you don’t plan but instead, the goal is to plan just enough to be able execute… Because more often than not, the plan doesn’t get followed anyway! You’ve probably seen this yourself:

  • Your groupmate gets sick and can’t deliver their part of the project.
  • You have a midterm that you forgot to study for and you have to use up some of the study time that you’ve scheduled for another course to prep for it.

To paraphrase the poet Robert Burns,

“The best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.”

This effect of this over-focus on planning leads to wasted effort and time because, as our friend Jeff says, “Trying to know the unknowable is wasted.” And if there’s one thing that Scrum people hate.. It’s waste.

So what does all of this have to do with being more productive and managing my time as student?

As I mentioned before, because there is so much uncertainty and wasteful work in life as a student, we need a framework to help us cut through the noise. But don’t take my word for it, here is what our FBI Scrum Master friend Jeff has to say on the matter:

Scrum embraces uncertainty and creativity. It places a structure around the learning process, enabling teams to assess both what they’ve created and, just as important, how they created it. The Scrum framework harnesses how teams actually work and gives them the tools to self-organize and rapidly improve both speed and quality of work.

Let’s break down his quote part-by-part:

“It places a structure around the learning process.”

Don’t you wish you had a step-by-step guide on how to study for Statistics? Or Chemistry? Or Economics? The problem with these courses is that they are so different from each other and each requires a different way of thinking and studying. If you apply Scrum to school, you will be constantly learning and assessing how you learn so you can rapidly test note-taking systems and studying techniques and hit on the right formula… Before the semester is over.

“Enabling teams to assess both what they’ve created… And how they created it.”

Simply put, using Scrum for your academics teaches you how to assess feedback from your professors (I.e. Tests, assignments, essays, etc) and how you worked on them.

“The Scrum framework… Gives them the tools to self-organize and rapidly improve both speed and quality of work.”

Let’s face it. No matter how much we complain about not having enough time to do everything we have to do, the truth is, we do have enough time. Scrum teaches you the tools to prioritize, manage yourself and, ultimately, do better work in less time!

My Scrum Story So Far

Since I’ve only started using Scrum seriously in the past couple of month, I am still a certified Scrum n00b. But despite this, I’ve already used it for a number of projects with good success:

  • A family trip I planned over Thanksgiving weekend,
  • My church fellowship’s Thanksgiving dinner,
  • My school schedule.

Thanks to Scrum, planning for the family trip took less than 10 hours total.

The best part was that on the day we were leaving, for once, there was no yelling of “I thought you were doing that?!” and screams of “DANGIT. WE FORGOT TO DO THIS, TOO.”

If you’ve ever planned a trip of any sort, you know that even short, overnight trips can take weeks to plan… And if you’ve ever gone on a trip with your family, you know how much of a relief it is to not have to be at the receiving end of the yelling. 😉

For my fellowship’s thanksgiving dinner, my friends and I had to get food and set up a program for 50 people… Surprisingly, no one was pulling out their hair and frantically running about for once.

Part of the reason was because the scrum board listed out all the tasks that had to be done, and each person simply had to check things off once they were done their assigned tasks.

Thanksgiving Dinner Scrum Board
Thanksgiving Dinner Scrum Board

Finally, for school, I’ve learned to enjoy every moment of whatever it is I am doing, instead of feeling upset when my perfect fixed schedule is interrupted time and time again.

Oh, and One Last Thing…

Forgive me if I sound new age-y for saying this… But Scrum has changed the way I view the world.

What started as simple quest to learn more about project management as a career has turned into a quest into applying Scrum as part of my life.

Before Scrum I would be hesitant to take on big projects because I hated the feeling of overwhelm. I used to dread group projects because I hated how one person (usually me) was stuck with all the work. I used to feel frustrated amidst all the goals I had for my life because, although I knew I had the capacity and the time to achieve them, I could never seem to have a clear picture of what I wanted to do.

Now, I treat my life as one big project made up of smaller sub-areas (school, career, fitness, church, sports). I treat each sub-area as a mini-project with Scrum as the framework.

Next Steps

For the next few months, I plan on studying and writing about Scrum and how it can help students like you and me achieve better results with less or the same amount of effort! And of course, you’re invited along for the ride! So if you haven’t yet, make sure to subscribe to my email newsletter below to make sure that you never miss a single post! Finally, if you’re interested in learning more about Scrum and want to jump ahead, I recommend checking out the Scrum website and Jeff Sutherland’s book Scrum: The Art of Doing Twice the Work in Half the Time.

18 Books I Read in the Past 2 Years that Have Changed My Life for the Better

One of the ongoing projects I’ve pursued the past couple of years is to read 50 books a year – that’s about a book a week. I didn’t hit my target last year and I’m on target to only hit 40 this year. But I did read a lot of books from a wide range of topics: Christianity, craftsmanship, success, marketing, productivity and performance psychology, among others.

Some rocked my worldview, some were *meh and some were just downright boring – I only finished those so I could add them to the list.*

But for this post, I’ve curated a list of 17 books that made me go, Wow. I’m really, REALLY glad I read that.

And for your reading pleasure, I’ve categorized my book recommendations based into five categories based on what you can get out of the set of books because who wants to read about boring classifications like business, self-help, careers and biographies, anyways?

Enjoy!

18 Books from the Past Two Years that Have Changed My Life for the Better

Craft your Dream Job

This is probably my favourite category of the five. Ever since I started working, I’ve been obsessed with figuring out what it takes to be a master of a craft. These four books have all changed my life and my thinking on what it takes to have a successful career.

Make Money (Mostly) Online

Despite my obsession with career craftsmanship, I mentioned in a previous post that I don’t think I’ll be sticking with a career for very long. TL;DR the corporate just doesn’t suit my temperament and my priorities and there is no real, long-term path for me but entrepreneurship. Here are three books that have helped me with this blog and with my online business experiment.

Stand on the Shoulders of Giants

If someone’s already done it, why should we reinvent the wheel? Don’t read biographies for the sake of trying to replicate their journey to the T; we all have our own path to walk. Rather, biographies are a great way to learn from other people’s mistakes, triumphs and life journeys in a sitting or two.

Build a Better Version of Yourself

I’m always looking for ways to improve and build Me 2.0. These books helped.

Learn About It Means to Be A Christian

It may seem off to include “religious” books in a list for a blog about success. But apart from the fact that I am a Christian, I believe that reading books about God or theology (the study of God) is a great exercise in learning how to think critically and to see things from a big perspective. And, particularly in the case of the last book, it helps to have an informed opinion on religious views as Christians (and Muslims!) are oftentimes misrepresented in the news.

Invest In Yourself

With regards to buying and reading books, here’s a quote one of my favourite authors Ryan Holiday: “I promised myself a long time ago that if I saw a book that interested me I’d never let time or money or anything else prevent me from having it.”

Given, we’re students and we don’t exactly have a lot of spare cash lying around to buy books. But there are many, many ways to get a hold of great books for next to nothing. Cough The library cough

Finally, though these may not necessarily be the best books I’d ever read (though some are!), these are books that I will be reading and re-reading again some time in the future (love how redundant that was).

So pick a book, grab a cup of dark roast, and start changing your life.

Two Proven Strategies that Solve the School-Sleep-Social Equation

Do you know about the School-Sleep-Social Life Equation?

It’s a saying that you can’t do well in school, have enough sleep and cultivate a great social life, all at the same time. Article after article talk about how you can only have two out of the three.

And I hate that.

If you’re like me, being told that you can’t do something…

Just makes you want to do it more.

Just like Adele killed it in 2012, I want to have it all.

Adele Meme
Adele is what we all want to be.

This first thing I did was to decide on a goal.

I wanted to get all of my work done on weekdays between 9 and 5, so that I was free to spend my evenings however I wanted. (Which, for me, is still spent working, reading non-fiction books or writing blog posts.)

Next, I did a ton of planning and scheduling. This step, when done right, will allow you to have a 4.0 GPA while being super fit, getting 8 hours of sleep every night and saying Yes when your friends want to go out. This post is a guide on how I did just that. Let’s dig in.

The Two Kinds of Scheduling Techniques to Help You Keep Your Sanity

As I think about time management more, I realize that two of the main competing elements in time management are effectiveness and efficiency. Here is how I define them, with respect to time management:

  • Effectiveness values flexibility and getting the right things done, while
  • Efficiency values structure, simplicity and speed.

Let’s talk about these two kinds of scheduling and see how they stack up:

A Fixed Schedule

You do the same recurring task on the same time on the same day each week. This is a good route to take when your days are pretty predictable and you have tasks that need to be repeated or delivered every week. Finally, this is a great way to learn how to break down big things into little chunks so you can schedule it week-to-week.

For example, I am taking an online programming course. In my weekly schedule, I’ve slotted this course and its related coursework into Mondays from 9 AM – 11 AM.

Pros

  • More efficient than effective so it frees up a lot of your processing power for more cognitively-demanding tasks.
  • You don’t have to think about what you will do day-to-day. Go from waking up to working/studying/reading faster.
  • You don’t have to worry about missing weekly assignments.

Cons

  • Not very flexible, i.e.

Friend: “Hey, Shay Mitchell’s in town for TIFF! She’s seeing the premiere for Iron Man 10. LET’S GO!!”

Me (checks schedule): “DANGIT I CAN’T. I have to study now. Or else I’d be behind for the rest of the semester.”

Friend: “K bye. Pce.”

  • It can get disappointing if you don’t finish all the stuff you have to do, even if it’s not your fault. (Like how it’s the fault of TIFF’s organizers for holding it in the first week of class. BOO.)

(Side note: If you don’t know Shay Mitchell, here. This is TIFF.)

 

A Daily Schedule.

You plan out your schedule, day-to-day. Especially useful because there are days when you’ve overbooked yourself and you just can’t get everything done.

Pros:

  • This is more effective than efficient so it makes sure you get everything done.
  • Paints a realistic portrait of how much you can get done that day.
  • Forces you to look at your planner every day and be more organized.

Cons:

  • You have to set aside 15-20 minutes to plan every day, when you just want to sit down and get to work.
  • You have to keep rescheduling recurring tasks – a lot more administrative and planning time needed.

TL;DR

  • Fixed scheduling is more efficient, while daily scheduling is more effective.
  • A fixed schedule allows you to get started on your day faster, while freeing up brainpower by giving you a set routine to follow.
  • A daily schedule, on the other hand, makes sure you that you can actually get everything done and forces you to cut back on tasks to do if they don’t fit.
  • Ideally, you want to gain the benefits of both a fixed schedule and a daily schedule – be effective and efficient.

So what do you do now? Well, my friend, you have to figure out the strategy that works best for you!

But How Do I Know Which One is Right for Me?

Well that depends on a number of factors, including your personal preferences and your situation.

If…

  • Having a set routine is something that helps you work,
  • You like the freedom of not having to think about your schedule, day-to-day, or
  • Most of your tasks are regular, i.e. they consist of things that you have to do weekly or daily,

Then a fixed schedule would work better for you.

But if…

  • Routine bores you and you need to keep things fresh every day,
  • You are OK with taking a bit more time every day to plot out your day, or
  • There is someone else who gives you work to do (like in a job) or you’re not sure what you will be working on day-to-day,

Then I would recommend that you use a daily schedule.

 

OK, cool. But what do you do, Roxine?

I’ve started using a mix of both, after some experimentation.

During the school year, 90% of the time I rely on fixed scheduling with 10% of the time on daily scheduling. This is because most school-related tasks during the week are generally repetitive – readings before class, the lecture itself, weekly group meetings, studying my lecture notes, doing weekly assignments, etc.

I still have to-do’s that pop out once or twice during the day that I have to schedule in (and this is why I still glance at my planner at the beginning of every day), but generally, it takes a huge load off of my mind to not have to plan day-to-day. Like I said before, one of the biggest benefits is that I don’t have to worry about forgetting to do a reading before class or forgetting to submit a weekly assignment… This strategy lets me rest easy at night.

When I am at work I tend to rely on daily scheduling 80% of the time and 20% of the time on fixed scheduling. This is key, especially as a co-op student or an intern, because I am not familiar enough with the business to be able to set my schedule and prioritize the tasks I have to work on. In addition, as people give me work throughout the day, having a daily schedule helps me control my workflow and pipeline. It’s also an easy way to answer to the question, “So, what did you work on today?” and “Can you do this for me?”

I rely on fixed scheduling for spending my out-of-work hours, running personal errands and working on side hustles.

Cool… So, Now What?

As you read this blog, you’ll soon realize that I am a huge, huge fan of test-driving strategies before giving them a permanent place in your life. So here are my recommended action steps for you:

  1. Pick one strategy.
  2. Test drive it for a week.
  3. Add it to your toolkit.
  4. Make changes as you see fit.

Finally, If you’re a part of a Facebook group with folks who NEED to read this advice, please do them (and me!) a favor and SHARE this post there!

How I Lost $400 this Summer and Learned about Life

I had an incredibly stressful but fruitful 2016 summer. I…

  • Took a course for school (5-6 hour per week)
  • Worked at a Big 4 accounting firm (40-50 hours per week), and
  • Helped lead my church’s university fellowship on Friday nights (3-6 hours per week.)

That’s a total of around 50 hours of work every week… And that’s not counting my commute times!

But whether it’s because I’m really ambitious or really hard-headed (probably a bit of both), I still took on one more project last summer: a dropshipping business.

What’s Dropshipping?

Dropshipping is when you put up a product for sale on your site, take orders from the customer and then place the order with the supplier. The supplier then ships the product to the customer. You get paid, the supplier gets paid and the customer gets their product. Everyone’s happy.

On the surface, it seems like a good way to make a quick buck, and to me, it seemed like the perfect way to practice what I learn in school and get my hands dirty with my first business. Plus, from reading articles online, I sort-of knew how much it would cost, how much time it would take and how to look for good suppliers.

So I went ahead and took the leap.

I decided to open a Shopify store and sell some merchandise online.

Starting was easy and I made some initial sales, which were incredibly encouraging. But in the end, it took too much work (I still have some inventory that I haven’t received) and I decided to close the store.

By then I had lost upwards of $400 but I don’t consider this a failure.

Why? Let’s backtrack to 12 years ago when I was just a weird little kid.

 

How A Japanese Guy from Hawaii Changes My Life

As a 9-year-old I already had big dreams of “making it”.

One day I picked up a book called Rich Dad Poor Dad by some Japanese guy from Hawaii and read it cover to cover. (I guess it’s a little odd for a 9-year-old kid to be reading a personal finance book… But hey, like I said, I was a weird kid.)

That book totally changed the trajectory of my life. It was then that I knew I wanted to be an “entrepreneur” (whatever that meant). And as I grew older, I slowly learned what being an entrepreneur meant for me.

I realized what I did and didn’t want early on.

  • I didn’t want to be a startup founder who built up the next Facebook, Twitter or Snapchat. Too much headache.
  • I didn’t want to be a CEO of a big company. Too much bureaucracy.
  • I did want to have a business I could run from anywhere in the world (because I loved travelling).
  • I did want something that could generate sales even if I wasn’t physically doing work or trading time for dollars (because I believed that there are more important things in life than work).

Now you may be thinking,

That’s great, Roxine! But you’re a business student and I’m not really into starting my own company. So I’m gonna stop reading right now!

HOOOOLD UP. Keep reading because although this has little to do with school and time management, it has everything to do with winning at life.

Whatever you may be studying in school, whether it be:

  • Law,
  • Math,
  • Medicine,
  • Engineering,
  • Neuroscience, or
  • Early Childhood Engineering Education

I hate to break it to ya but..

Real life is harder than that.

See, contrary to what we want, neither you nor I will get anything handed to us on a silver platter. Just because we graduate from school doesn’t mean we “should” be at a certain pay scale or position.

And here’s even more truth:

We have to be ready to fight for the life we want to live. Putting our life in cruise control is not going to get us far. Doing well in school is not enough to stand out, because there will always be someone smarter, better-looking, more athletic and just generally cooler than you or me. (Sorry.)

I mean,

  • If you want to be a millionaire by age 30, working and earning $50,000 a year is not going to cut it.
  • If you want to work at a prestigious consulting/law/accounting firm when you graduate, simply getting a 4.0 is not enough.
  • If you want to be the next Mark Zuckerberg, acing your programming class is not enough (though admittedly, that is very helpful).

 

So what do we do? How do we make sure that we’re different?

One great way is to start reading, learning and working beyond what school is teaching us. Because whatever head knowledge we get from school, it isn’t enough.

I learned this simple concept over the years as I read dozens and dozens of books and listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, which helped me figure out my life more than school ever did.

To paraphrase Mark Twain,

Never let your schooling interfere with your education.

So, this post is a call to shake off the shackles of mediocrity and complacence that school has forced on us.

Start reading, interacting and learning about the world around you. Have a project that stirs you to action, excites you and speaks to your heart. Take risks. Make mistakes then learn from them.

Do well in school, yes, but commit to working even harder on your own dreams.

And with that pep talk, let’s fast forward to this summer.

I don’t see losing $400 as a failure because I see it as tuition for a business boot camp, tailored-fit for my needs.

I don’t see the dropshipping business as a failure because, I see it as one of my trials by fire. I see it as the first failed startup in a series of 10 businesses down the road… Where the 10th business will be wildly successful.

In short,

  • It’s not a failure because it made me smarter.
  • It’s not a failure because I took action after reading and learning.
  • It’s not a failure because, in the future, I know that my next venture will better.

I learned outside of what I would learn from school. I put my school to use and converted it into education. I made progress towards my dreams. I took my life and my future into my own hands.

And it feels good.


So now you’re ready to regain control of your life, too… Great! But what if you don’t have something that excites you yet? Maybe school has sucked all the fun out of learning and “learning for fun” just makes you want to run and hide.

If so, here are two tips that you can try right now:

1. Read a non-fiction book that you wouldn’t normally pick up. In addition to the book mentioned above, I also recommend Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell and So Good They Can’t Ignore You by Cal Newport. Both dive deep into unconventional wisdom with regards to success, work and passion. Both have changed my outlook in life for the better.

2. If you’re not a big reader, listen to a Tim Ferriss podcast episode. Tim interviews top performers from a variety of different fields. His podcast is a great way to expand your thinking and gain an overview of of fields you may have never encountered. My favorites are his interviews with Nicholas McCarthy (one-handed concert pianist) and Jimmy Chin (big wall climber, photographer and filmmaker).

Take a read or a listen and let me know how it goes!

How to Build a Productivity System and Get Your Life Together

I have a confession to make.

I forgot how to be organized. I grew complacent about my productivity and lost all my skills.

How?

Well, my pride and my ego became my downfall. I thought time management was like riding a bike, that once you know how to do it, you always know how. I thought that I could never lose my time management skills.

It turns out I was wrong. Being able to manage time, productivity and focus are more like muscles – they need to be practiced. Just like how my muscles atrophy and get weaker when I stop exercising, I lost a system I spent 6 years building because I stopped using the habits.

It all started about a year ago when I interned full-time for a total of 8 months. Since I wasn’t juggling as many tasks and projects at work and I was followed a routine schedule day in and day out, I thought that I didn’t need a rigorous time management practice. So I promptly stopped managing my time altogether.

Huge, dumb mistake.

Instead of dropping time management just I didn’t need it at the time, I should have just adopted a different system, one that was more catered towards the workplace than school. Because I stopped working out my habits, things started to slide.

At first, it was just the little things – small tasks that I could put off with no major consequences. I promptly got used to the notion of putting things off and ignoring tasks until the last minute. As a result, I started missing deadlines and life became hectic. By the end of my 8 months of work, my procrastination had snowballed so much so that when school started, I couldn’t implement my systems even when I wanted to! I felt that my life was a mess. I was up to my neck in urgent deadlines and urgent tasks, I finished one thing, another deadline would loom. I felt so overwhelmed that at times I would dread waking up to go to school because somehow, I felt that I had forgotten to do something that was due that day.

But thank goodness that after a while, my type A personality trumped my ego. I admitted to myself that I needed help and that my self-discipline needed work… Ok, a lot of work. So a couple of months into the school term, I had to get back to basics.

The 3 Building Blocks of Effective Time Management

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From my experience, time management is simple in theory, but frustratingly hard to do. Honestly, there are just 3 parts to any productivity or time management system – Capture, Plan, Do – but the devil is in the details. I want to add that the devil is also lurking in the execution. There can be a lot of detail and little logistics involved in each step, so let’s talk about what each step means.

1. Capture. This means that you take note of everything you have to do, not just your school-related tasks. This includes personal stuff, errands, exams, events and family reunions. To capture my to-do’s, I’ve tried a handful of list apps but I’ve found that paper and pen, in its simplicity, is still the best. And if those simple tools aren’t handy, I use Google Tasks – the simplest task-list application I’ve used.

 

2. Plan. This is when you take whatever you have captured in your sheet and schedule them into your calendar.

  • If the task is a project with multiple parts, like an essay, put it down on the date when it’s due and schedule the work leading up to it.
  • If it is a one-off task, like buying pen refills, then schedule it to be done on a date that works for you.
  • The key to planning is to be flexible and to have enough leeway to move things around.

 

3. Do. This is when you buckle down and actually do the tasks for the day! Now, there are a ton of apps, methods and tricks that focus on this one step so here are two tactics to cut through the noise and get you going:

  • The 2-Minute Rule. If a task takes about 2 minutes or less, do it now. This can apply for tasks that are scheduled to be done today or for tasks that are in your capture list, before you put it into your calendar.
  • The Pomodoro Technique. This is like interval training for your brain. Repeat the steps below 2-3 times during the day:
    • 25 minutes of focused, undistracted work. (25 minutes = 1 Pomodoro).
    • Then take a 5-minute break after every Pomodoro.
    • After 3-4 times of the above, take a 20-30 minute break after.

 

I usually cycle through Capture, Plan and Do as I go about my day. For example:

  • In class, when my professor mentions that essays are due on October 3rd, I capture the due date by making a note on Google Tasks from my phone.
  • At the end of the day, I look at my capture list, add the essay due date to my planner, and plan out the essay. I break down the work it takes to finish the essay and assign dates to do researching, writing and editing. I like to set my personal deadline a day or two before the actual due date to give myself wiggle room.
  • Finally, I do the work required, focusing on just the part that I’ve scheduled for the day and trusting the plan I made.

(I’ll be covering more strategies and tactics for the Do step in a follow-up post.)

And finally, some pieces of advice as you craft your own productivity system:

1. The perfect system does not come overnight. Remember, it took me 6 years the build the system I had. Hopefully, with my tips, it won’t take you as long but still, be patient with yourself!

2. Tools drive the process and not the other way around. It’s easy to get caught up in all the productivity apps, systems and planners out there and it’s even easier to chase every shiny object that promises to 2x or 10x your output. But resist this and choose instead to focus on tools that help refine a step in the process instead of creating a new step.

Don’t take on nifty apps or tools just because they look cool – this is additional clutter you don’t need as you try to re-organize your life.

3. Don’t ever feel trapped into rigidly following one system. Remember that there are no one-size-fits-all time management systems, just as there are no one-size-fits-all jeans.

Don’t think that once you commit to a tactic, that you have to follow it to the T, or else you wouldn’t be reaping the full benefits. Initially following to the T is fine, but once you have been doing it for a while, making little changes to the initial steps transforms the tactic to better-suit your situation.

Take the what’s best for you and make it your own.

TL;DR

This blog post is meant to be a primer to productivity systems and to supplement what you already have or to start you off if you’ve never had such a system before. Now that I’ve given you the fundamentals to play with, go ahead: try and integrate it into your life.

Take what’s useful for you and throw out what’s not. Then when everything is humming along, stop chasing after shiny tactical objects and stick with the system that works for you.

A final word: yes, this 3-part system is meant to help you organize your life… But keep in mind that just as it took time to get into whatever organizational mess you are currently in, it will take just as much time (or even more!) to sort things out!

Personally it has taken me about 4-5 months to get my life back in order and even then, there are still broken pieces I have yet to fix. So again, I can’t stress this enough: trust the system you are building and above all, be patient with yourself!

Your Action Item

Take stock: What time management/productivity system do you use right now?