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April 04, 2011

Being A Night Owl In The Corporate World

As you might realize, this blog is being written sometime around 3:00AM Pacific Time... for my friends on the East Coast, you might be awaking (hopefully to some delicious medium roast blend, as I will be in a few short hours) to start your work week. It is at this time that I am thinking about my rate of productivity, and the studies I've read about learning styles.

For quite some time, I wanted to be a school teacher, and spend a lot of time studying learning styles - the way a each child understands new concepts, learns material, and can reproduce that knowledge is not cookie cutter. Common science tells us that there are three processing types: kinetic, visual and auditory. This is somewhat standard classroom knowledge today, and I've found that teachers today do a great job of incorporating all of these aspects into their lessons to give their students the best chance to understand what they are learning. However, there are also learning environment conditions that effect the capability of students to focus and understand the lesson, like room temperature (warm vs. cold), noise level (background noise vs. silence) and seating arrangements (comfort vs. structure, like sitting at a desk vs. in a bean-bag chair).

As a child, I was fortunate enough to have a mother who understood that everyone has a distinct combination of these learning styles that best allow them to focus when studying, doing homework, or being intellectually productive. For me, my ideal creative learning space involves sitting on my bed wrapped under my covers with my laptop, a large hot cup of coffee, some music streaming from Pandora, and watching a lecture while taking copious notes, writing emails (or blogs) or just getting work done. 

I want to be warm, comfortable, have background noise (hence my absolute love of coffee shops) and learn best by doing (kinetic learning). If I can use it, I can understand it, and if I'm warm and comfortable, I can focus on what I'm doing and be intellectually productive. My mom, on the other hand, needs a chilled room, desk, and absolute silence to do her best studying.

This brings me to my most recent self-study: time of day. When I work for myself, I consistently find myself awake at 3AM (no, it's not just because I love coffee and probably drank some a little bit too late in the evening!). At 3AM, and often until 5AM, not only am I wide awake, but my creative juices are pumping through my brain at white-water-rapid-like speeds. I keep a notebook and light inches away from my bed to document all of the ideas I have throughout the nights where I do head in early by force, having to get up for a 7AM meeting.

Here is the question I'd like to pose to the public: Would companies in Corporate America be better off letting employees work in their ideal work conditions (like from 9PM-5AM, instead of 9AM to 5PM), in order to allow their natural ability to be productive go to work?

Many Silicon Valley companies, take Google for example, have recognized the importance of giving employees exactly what they need to excel at their work - a larger flexibility of hours, comfort, and the ability to put your best learning style forward. Google is a campus - much like a college - where employees can eat, do their laundry, bring their dog, work flexible hours and in comfortable/casual clothes, ride their bike, and practically live. It is ranked as one of the best places to work - and the happiness of the average employee there, I believe, is largely based on their individual needs being recognized and fulfilled.

So I'd like to know... why aren't more companies embracing this knowledge of employee potential productivity? At this point, I have to force myself to get some rest, because I have a job that requires me to be awake in just a few hours. Once again, I praise the ever consistent coffee machine that I know will wake me up and keep me flourishing through the day...and perhaps I will wake up soon with a brilliant idea on how to bring this knowledge to light for more companies so that people can be truly happy with their work.

Is this the answer to Having Your Cake and Eating it Too: The Job Search Version?

Having Your Cake and Eating It Too: The Job Search Version

As I sip my Don Francisco's Cinnamon Hazelnut coffee blend - my usual at-home go-to - I am thinking about a particularly interesting article I read this a while back by Ruth Mantell for MarketWatch. The article, titled "Job-hunting tips for new college grads" went over questions that about-to-graduate college students might have as they enter the job market, and how experts respond. She starts the article with this hook:
"The job hunt is on for college seniors set to graduate in the next few months, and the competition is intense — there are about five unemployed people for each job opening, and most young workers have comparatively little experience."

This got me thinking...while I consider myself a "freelancer," I am also one of the people competing in that statistic. I referred back to a conversation I had with a friend about the dilemma this generation/economy is in - finding a job (having your cake) and finding a job that you are passionate about (and eating it too). 

This friend said to me, "Lindsay - I don't do enough of what I love or enjoy doing - but I have to pay the bills somehow. At 31, that just isn't good enough anymore." 
As a 24-year old, I wonder how much of an idealist I am to believe - and require for myself - that I have the ability to pursue a career that I adore and have passion for...that also pays the bills and allows me to live comfortably, reach my goals and dreams, and ultimately allows me to be happy.

How many others are there who have an unaltered passion for their career, pursuing what they believe in? Is the happiness in doing what we love only a novelty, only enjoyed when it's a hobby? Is true happiness found in moderation of all aspects of what we enjoy, or can one truly strive for excellence and invest serious amounts of time in a field they are passionate about without burning out on the love that they have for it?

I have to seek the wisdom of those older and wiser - with more life experience than myself - to answer those questions. Until then, I am going to continue to pursue things I am passionate about - like drinking this coffee!

More Than Coffee: Connecting

As Starbucks' Chairman, President & CEO Howard Schultz so eloquently writes, one of the core values of Starbucks is to provide "a unique retail experience that creates a Third Place for our customers between their homes and places of work."

I've often mused over the power of coffee shops as a "Third Place" - not only to get my day going with the right caffeine buzz, but also as a fantastic place to meet new people, enjoy friendly conversation and be creatively productive. I enjoy the buzz of conversation, creativity, and of course the caffeine, and the wonderful concoction of that energy, combined with the livening smell of freshly ground roasted coffee beans and the sounds of espresso brewing and steamed milk frothing is just what I order every time I step into my favorite shops or explore new 'grounds.' 

As a naturally social, friendly person with a passion for networking, coffee shops and I are great companions. Instead of working from home, I take my computer to a variety of coffee shops, supporting the local economy (see: Green is Great), and entering my "creative space." More than coffee, being at a coffee shop is about connecting to the energy of the place and people around me. 

Here is a brief review of my recent connections:

I've spent the majority of my day twice now at Mission Creek Cafe in San Francisco, and it was there that I realized that some of my best connections have been formed in coffee shops with people who I met that day. It seems to me that such interesting, creative people gather around the stimulating comfort of fresh brewed coffee and the companionship of those who share their addiction (myself included!) The atmosphere of Mission Creek  
My latest drink indulgence is a Chai latte with hazelnut, which I first enjoyed at Canyon Coffee Roastery in Redwood City with a new friend/business colleague, and found myself truly appreciating the excitement of having a great place to go. Neither her or I had been to Canyon before, but thanks to Yelp!, other people's recommendations of this quaint cash-only "roastery" was just what we needed for a peaceful yet engaging conversation about new business ventures. I think it was the hazelnut that inspired some satiable thoughts about taking connections between communities to a higher level. 

I also think I must have a sign on my forehead that reads, "Will provide airport rides for coffee!". Tuesday morning was an early one for me, dropping a friend off at the airport first thing in the morning, and of course, we swung by my ever-satisfying local Starbucks on the way. My venti/seven pump/non fat/no water/ light foam chai latte tasted like heaven. At the moment of my first sip, I thought about how grateful I am to have a coffee shop with baristas who know me and my to-go order for mornings like that!

My conclusion - for me, it's not just coffee shops that provide a "third place" between home and work. It's the coffee itself that provides the connection between home and work in my mental space as well! Cheers, coffee. Just when I thought my brain had run out of space...there you are, caffeinating my every thought into a brilliant idea.