3 things I learned in college that I still use every day

When applying for jobs over the years I’ve felt like I couldn’t mention experiences from college despite a few of them being integral to my life as a working professional. To be sure, in the eight years since I graduated I’ve gained invaluable experience in the workforce and I have plenty to discuss! However, there are three very specific things from my college years that formed the basis of my career and still influence me greatly.

1: Editor in Chief

First was being the Editor in Chief of my university newspaper, the Indiana Statesman. Wow. That was a crash course in management if there ever was one – in terms of both people management and project management. In addition to going to class full time and having a job at the local bookstore, I had to spend at least 12 hours a day, three times a week, managing content as well as a team of 30 editors and reporters. That is a heck of a lot of moving parts!

Never in my career since that have I felt more stress and pressure – it was basically work for a year straight with no down time.

Ever since then, I’ve had a lot of respect for my managers’ time! I try to take on extra tasks to help out. I try to be the one who raises my hand when they ask for a volunteer, and I try to anticipate how I can best present information to make it as easy as possible for them to make educated decisions in a hurry.

When someone asks me if I’ve managed people, I still feel like I have to say “no” because it seems like college experience doesn’t or shouldn’t count in the “real world.” I don’t know if this is accurate.

2: Editorial Internship

The second most formative experience that influences me literally every day was my internship at Indianapolis Monthly magazine. I was an editorial intern in charge of fact-checking major articles for the magazine, including headline pieces. My managing editor had us go through every single word in every article and check off the word with a red pen.

By checking every single word you were saying you had looked at that word and both its spelling, meaning and accuracy were 100% correct. For example, is a person named Jon later referred to as John in the same story? Or, is the actual fact correct? In one story I remember a person wrote about running a race through the city, but in fact the map of the race course indicated a different route than what she’d described from her run.

Now, as a web manager of sorts, I have a mental red pen with me – always. I’m always checking for consistency and accuracy, even though my job is rarely to be a copy editor or writer. I’m often hesitant to post anything at all online if I haven’t fact-checked it. The fake news phenomenon is particularly troubling to me because I honestly can’t imagine being the type of person who posts random memes without checking to make sure it’s 100% accurate.

3: Military Training

The third formative experience from my college years was going through Air Force ROTC field training in the summer between my sophomore and junior year. Although I ended up not joining the Air Force, going through that type of boot camp training gave me a confidence I’d never have otherwise found.

Field training challenges you more mentally than physically, but pushes you in both regards to go harder and be stronger than you think you can.

You don’t get to choose what job you do there. My commander decided I was going to be the academic officer, which meant I would be given a news article or encyclopedia article and within 5 minutes I had to read it, try to understand it and then stand up in front of a team of 25 people to educate them about it.

I think of this experience frequently when I’m giving presentations to company stakeholders or explaining technical projects in a meaningful way to a group of non-technical people. I have so much more confidence in these situations because it’s never as stressful as being forced to talk in front of a large group about something for 20 minutes when you have zero knowledge of the topic!

A lesson in productivity

If I remembered the post, I’d link to it, but Chris Coyier posted something somewhere recently about being more productive by handling short tasks as they come up. Essentially, if the task takes less than two minutes to complete, just do it now instead of throwing it on a task list.

This is a huuuuge thing for me. Any “task” goes on my list or in my email to be done later, during a mental productivity sprint. The list gets overwhelming.

Just this morning, I found a large dead bug belly up by my work table in my sun room. I thought, “I should pick that up so I don’t step on it since I can barely see it against the dark rug.”

Then I thought, “I should pick that up … later.”

Then I thought, “Maybe this is one of those 2-minute tasks. It’ll take me a lot longer to scrape the bug pancake off the bottom of my foot when I invariably step on it later, so I should move this off my task list and onto my now list.”

So I did.

Later I found myself stepping in the area where the giant bug had previously been, and I gave myself a huge thank you for not having to scrape bug guts out from between my toes.

I hope this story inspires you to get something done today. Happy Friday!

I cleaned out my digital closet and found time for people and brands who matter.

I generally don’t delete people on Facebook. I don’t feel a “cluttered” friends list is worth a potentially hurtful moment in someone’s life when they discover I couldn’t stand the look of their face hurtling through my news feed to the point where I went out of my way to unfriend them.

However, there was too much clutter in my digital life and I’ve taken steps that have not only brought back a lot of the joy I used to find in online connections but have also given me more time to be present for the connections and brands who matter.

With email, I have long maintained inbox zero. Email is such an integral part of our lives now that I saw 38,000+ unread messages akin to having a disgusting, cluttered home. Sifting through all the digital junk takes a lot time that could be spent learning or having meaningful engagement with real people.

I recently reached a point where I ruthlessly unsubscribed from everything unless it’s something I read the majority of the time. If I’m not gaining any value from the clutter, why allow it to be there and dominate any of my time whatsoever?

With Facebook, I unfollowed (not unfriended) almost everyone except my extended family and circle of friends I engage with even somewhat regularly. I unfollowed every brand and every news source – I get my news from newsletters or visiting the apps, and do I REALLY need to see ads from brands? No. I shut off all notifications on all social media accounts except for direct interactions.

And guess what – I don’t miss anything I threw out. Not a single thing.

I now enjoy checking my email and looking at my Facebook news feed. It’s 100% people I truly care about and all of my attention is on them now. I actually feel lighter. I don’t have the mental strain of deleting tons of emails I don’t care about or scrolling past Facebook posts I don’t care about. It’s easy to look past these things because it seemingly takes so little time to simply scroll past or delete, but add those moments up and it’s a lot of wasted time and mental energy that could be redirected to becoming a better version of yourself.

Beyond wasted personal time and energy, I had another motivating factor in cleaning up the clutter. As long as I’ve been in the workforce I’ve struggled to deal with people who are so overwhelmed by digital clutter that they don’t have time to properly read important emails or completely focus on any one thing at a time.

How many times have you sent an email to someone only for them to reply back with a question you already answered in the previous email? Or they didn’t even see your email because they have 23,000 unread messages, so you get an email from them asking for information you sent them three days ago? Ironically, their lack of organization and attention causes even more digital traffic for themselves and everyone around them!

On my end, I’ve worked to try to make emails as concise as possible. Before I hit “send” I try to delete a couple more sentences. If it truly needs to be on the longer side, I highlight headers in a different color and put bullet points for skimming. For the most part I cut out salutations and get straight to the point. As with everything in life, it’s a work in progress and always will be. At least now I’ll have the space to think about it!

Say Hello to Someone on Their First Day: Why Employee Onboarding Matters

As you progress in your career, it’s funny to look back on your first job and think about your old hopes, dreams and flat out desperation. You show up for your first day and don’t initially notice how depressing it is that not a single person looked up from their desk when a shiny new hire was introduced. You had a job! Money! Someone thought YOU were worth paying and it officially wasn’t a case of mistaken identity that you got hired.

When I graduated in late 2008 the job market was non-existent. All of 2009 passed and I’d been diligent about tracking my applications, which totaled more than 500 by the end of the year. When I got hired for my first job in March of 2010 I was so desperate that I actually told them I’d take less than they offered me. What?! I didn’t even know what I was saying! I think it was some kind of desperate plea, still in shock that I’d been hired. A kind of, “Please don’t change your mind, and if you do, I’ll take less money!!”

When I started, exactly one person spoke to me and tried to make me feel welcome on my first day. I’d been so excited to start working that I naturally assumed people would be equally excited to have me on board, so I was fairly disappointed to find out I was just another dust bunny in the basement. Eight years later and I have never forgotten her or how she made me feel welcome, simply by introducing herself and talking to me like she was happy to have me there. Eventually I made several excellent friends at the company and had a great three years of employment there, but in the beginning, it was fairly quiet and pretty scary for a person brand new to the workforce!

It’s not my intention to dog on my first company – they are the norm when it comes to employee onboarding. Most jobs I’ve had, it’s been up to me to introduce myself, try to remember faces and associate them with names, job titles and teams while also trying to simply remember where my desk is.

My last company, Midmark, was the shining star of employee onboarding. I can’t say enough fabulous things about this company and how much they truly care about their employees. (No, they aren’t paying me to say this and I haven’t been employed there for more than a year!)

On my first day, one of my teammates took me out to a nice lunch and made me feel like Midmark was a place where I’d have colleagues who cared about me as a person. The week I was hired, Midmark actually sent a box to my house filled with welcome materials – a nice water bottle with the company’s logo, a shirt, a gift card to a local restaurant they owned, etc. They also gave me a booklet that contained everyone’s names and titles, and how everyone’s teams were connected, as well as a book they’d created about the company so I completely understood the history of the company from day one. EXCELLENT.

Contrast that to another company I was at who literally dropped me off at my new workspace and it was disgusting. Push pins all over the floor, dead bugs belly up, no one talked to me for days. The culture didn’t improve from there, so it was a fairly solid indication of the company’s focus on culture.

Beginnings are so important. As I’ve been reading through Daniel Pink’s latest book, “When”, I’ve realized even more how much beginnings set the tone for everything – from first days on the job, project kickoffs, first dates, etc. As the years pass, your memory fades. I’ve been working only 8 years and already a lot of days from past jobs are fading. But I remember those first days and how they directly affected my outlook of the company and my motivation to achieve my greatest work for the mission of the company.

There has always been a clear distinction in my motivation for work, depending on my view of the company. For a company like Midmark, I thought and still believe they are one of the few corporations that actually lives up to its motto: Because We Care. When I worked, I cared about doing a good job for the company as well as myself. With other companies that put zero effort into employee culture and onboarding, my motivation was more often about doing a great job so that I could make myself a more skilled, valuable person in the workforce for the future. (I am also passionate about making the web a more accessible place, so much of my motivation rests in that more than anything else!)

Of course, there is much more to being a good company than proactively creating a happy employee onboarding experience. But it sets the tone and it goes a long way toward starting your employees off running with your mission. If you’re not a company and just a regular person, say hello to a new person. Take them to lunch. It means more than you know. If you’re the company, show your employees you care because I guarantee they’ll care about you, too.