Me and my shadow

“How do you start off on a typical day?”

My 13-year-old son was sitting across from me in my office, pencil in hand, anxious to finish filling out his school worksheet so he could go home.

We were finishing up his “job shadow” day. All the seventh-graders get the day off from school to shadow someone of their choice. (It’s not like he has any particular interest in PR – he just procrastinated lining up anyone else so he defaulted to me.)

I turned it around on him: “You watched me all day, what did you see?”

He thought for a minute and said, “Well, first you started off by getting focused . . .” And that’s when I knew the whole experience had been worth it.

Up until then I wasn’t sure. Do you know what most teenagers’ frame of reference is for office jobs? Binge-watching “The Office” reruns on Netflix. I’m not joking – ask a couple and you’ll see what I mean.

But if I could choose only one lesson to sink in, it was the one he’d just verbalized.

We in PR lament being pulled in so many directions, frantically putting out one fire after another, no time to think and be purposeful and make a real difference. I wrote a popular post about this once after having an unorthodox experience.

After years of falling victim to that mentality, I started experimenting with different approaches to starting each day. And eventually hit the jackpot.

When I get to my office every morning, I don’t turn on my computer. I don’t chat with other people in the office. I DON’T check my email. I don’t return calls.

I sit down with a notebook and a pen and I write down what’s in my head. The stuff I feel frantic about. The little one-off things I keep forgetting to do. The big, important things I WANT to do. This all spills onto the page while I journal for a little while. Pretty soon the thoughts bouncing around my head are all on paper, and I can relax mentally and write what’s been going well, what I want to accomplish. Big picture stuff. Then I choose the activities I can do today that will have the biggest impact on achieving those long-term goals.

Once I’ve broken free of the tyranny of the urgent, I open up my calendar on my laptop and block out time for those most meaningful projects. Only then do I fill in the gaps with those one-off to do’s, then brief windows for emails and calls.

I told my son that I don’t care if he remembers the difference between publicity and advertising. Or how to get journalists to open your emails. Or any of the other stuff we talked about during our day together.

But I encouraged him to remember to avoid the temptation to dive into all the digital distractions that surrounds him every day. And instead to stay unplugged until he’s discerned what really matters, and build his day around that.

This article was originally published on April 17, 2019

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