Five Ways to Improve Productivity

Clock

Like any important skill, becoming better at time management and productivity in the work place requires developing good habits through practice. In some cases, these habits also require a little bit of planning and preparation. However, being more methodical and deliberate in how your time is spent can make a big difference in how productive you are. Below are a few practices I’ve picked up over the past few years that have been helpful in improving my productivity:

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1. Schedule time to schedule

Taking 15-20 minutes every morning to block out your day is one of the best ways to set the goals you want to meet and the results you want to see by the end of the day. Hold yourself accountable by placing your day’s tasks on your calendar along with events like meetings, and set goals for what you want to accomplish with each task. Furthermore, this is a great way to get a sense of the amount of responsibilities you will have for the day and identify opportunities to get the annoying things out of the way.

2. Put the pressure on with personal deadlines

We can all remember a time during college in which a strict deadline forced us to accomplish a ridiculous academic feat in a very short amount of time. Sometimes working under the duress of a deadline can push us to work more efficiently. A sense of urgency can be a great way to push your creative boundaries, and it forces you to cut corners to focus on results.  I often do this by using my calendar to schedule deadlines for very specific tasks. For example, try setting aside two hours to work on that presentation and add reminders when you’re getting close to your deadline. When your boss sets a deadline for a week, set your personal deadline for 5 days. You’ll find that you’ll get work done more effectively and you’ll have time to actually assess and refine your final product.

3. Archive your thoughts

Always have something to write with and something to write on. There are so many productivity tools for collecting notes, but at the end of the day, nothing beats a blank sheet of paper to collect ideas.  A simple composition notebook on your desk and a smaller notepad for your pocket are great tools for sketching flowcharts, bullet pointing ideas, and designing creative diversions as soon as they pop up in your head. Write those thoughts down immediately with a date and time stamp to add some semblance of organization to them when you need to revisit them.  Time spent away from the desk is often when the best ideas strike us, and having even a rough sketch of a thought process from notebook scribbles makes implementation and execution much easier.

4. Create the work environment that makes you productive

The environment in which you work is a very powerful influence on the quality of the work you produce and the speed at which you produce it. That’s why it’s important to identify the elements of your ideal environment and see how you can bring them with you to the office. For example, if you find coffee houses to be great working places for you, try using Coffitivity to recreate that environment when it’s not available. Look to YouTube for some great soundtracks to create that sonic environment that gets you into your zone of productivity (just avoid wandering down the YouTube rabbit hole ). Finding the context that gets you focused is a valuable asset to working faster and efficiently, especially when performing rote tasks.

5. Don’t be afraid to shut everything down when looking for creativity

The office can sometimes be the worst place to be creative and productive in your thinking. While productivity aids like music and sonic environments may be useful when you actually have a task at hand, they may not that helpful when you’re looking for creative inspiration. Before starting that new task, take a proactive measure by going for a walk, eating lunch outside of your work setting, or talking to people outside of your work environment about the problem that you’re attempting to solve. Sometimes removing yourself from the rigidity of the office environment is exactly what you need to creatively flex your thinking.

I’m by no means an expert in productivity (I still have way too many silly videos in my internet history), but these practices have worked for me. I’d love to hear what you do to stay productive and focused when your nose is to the grindstone. Sound off in the comments below!

The Best Soul Food In The Boston Area: The Coast Cafe

The best soul food in the Boston area

The best soul food in the Boston area

“Boston is known for having tons of great soul food spots,” said no one ever.

When I first moved here for college, I distinctly remember the disappointing realization that I was going to have very few options for authentic, homemade soul food. After several experiences at Harvard student organization events with Red Bones, a place which does a decent job of masquerading as a soul food spot, I was even hungrier for the real thing.

Then, one fateful day in 2008, my inbox was gifted with a message that set my fears at ease. One trailblazing pioneer, Ms. Natasha Alford, had done what seemed impossible, and discovered an amazing soul food restaurant mere blocks away from my dorm:

The Coast Cafe

How could I have been so lost? What dark haze of ignorance and complacency had kept this gem from my sight? Within hours of reading the email, I was on my way over with a few roommates, eager to cast our eyes upon this legend. After that day, Coast Cafe became a part of the weekend activity canon. Do some reading, grab a haircut, destroy the fried chicken plate. Sweet candied yams, wholesome collard greens, cozy mac and cheese, and chicken wings fried to perfection. Rinse. Repeat.

Flash forward 5 years…

I’m back in Cambridge and supposedly wizened beyond my years. However, caught in the hustle of work and moving around the city, I’ve missed something. It’s not until January, when I’m looking through a “Best Of Boston” list, that I realize something is amiss.  Some misguided heathen had declared the #1 soul food spot to be something other than Coast Cafe!

My eye twitched.

The next day, I cleansed myself of the transgression of omission and finally grabbed a fried chicken plate with candied yams, collard greens, and corn bread. The food was even better than I remembered.

I encourage everyone in the Boston/Cambridge region to please visit this place! Owner and chef Anthony Brooks and his staff have built an institution of great homemade southern food (against all odds in a place like Boston), and you absolutely must sample it. They also cater and have great lunch specials! It’s a tiny place  just a few blocks away from the Central Square T-stop, but with its great food and good people, Coast Cafe truly embodies the definition of a hidden gem.

Three Ways Kendrick Lamar Has Changed The Rules Of Hip-hop

I’ve been listening to Kendrick Lamar for almost three years now… and I still don’t get it. His rise from Cali underground rap gem to guest star in a SNL Lonely Island music video continues to astonish and impress me. Who gets away with turning a song that denounces the ills of alcohol into a club anthem?! It’s absurd to the point of being hilarious. However, after a few hours of listening through my Kendrick discography, I think I’ve finally stumbled on a few answers. Below are three reasons why Kendrick has managed to create and maintain such widespread appeal, and fundamentally changed some of the rules of hip-hop:

DRANK

1. Emotional Vulnerability

Kendrick is one of the few rappers who exposes his character in a way that is both authentic and disarming. His most recent album, good kid, m.A.A.d city, probably best exemplifies his ability to express his desires, fears, and frustrations with his upbringing and where his music has brought him. It’s a very wide emotional spectrum that captures everything from desperation in “m.A.A.d city” to the self doubt that plagues “Sing About Me.” Yes, there are other rappers who are also known for being emotionally vulnerable (i.e. Drake and J. Cole). However, Drake’s music emotionally wavers between the diametric opposites of either love that has been won or lost. Not much else. The emotions that Kendrick delivers through his music are couched in a wide variety of experiences that he uses vivid storytelling to describe. His song “H.O.C.” from Overly Dedicated describes reasons why he avoids smoking weed, while “Cut You Off” describes three situations with people whose negative energy distracts him from achieving his potential. It’s all artfully done, without being preachy, and it resonates with a much larger group of people.

BARS

2. His Voice Is An Instrument

This kid’s flow is so ridiculous, it’s almost disrespectful. Sometimes I think I’m hearing Bone Thugs triplets, Curren$y’s nonchalant delivery, or Q-Tip’s high pitch voice, and yet Kendrick still sounds like no one else in hip-hop. As if that isn’t enough, he often makes the decision to sing hooks or bridges in ways that are odd, yet infectious. The first time I heard “Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe,” I was puzzled by the nasally space-age sounding hook. However, it works so well with both the intent and the delivery of a song that describes the desire to be detached from the noise of other people’s opinions and agendas. I cited “m.A.A.d city” earlier for its lyrics, but another reason why I think it’s amazing is because of the anxiety and desperation in Kendrick’s voice. He sounds fraught with fear, and the delivery of his warnings reveals a cautionary tale of avoiding colors and behaviors that could guarantee your demise. In the age of popular ad libs that announce a rapper’s familiar flow (TRUE), it’s refreshing to hear someone who will literally flip the script on every song with a unique flow and delivery.

K Dot and Jeezy

3. Avoids The Pitfalls Of Labels

Many rappers who could be described as “socially conscious” like Kendrick, don’t break into the mainstream from a crippling fear of compromising or tainting the brand that they’ve created for themselves. Kendrick’s ascension has occurred because he’s consistently grounded himself simply in being a good kid from Compton who can run laps around a beat. That’s it. Despite the “HiiiPowers” and the “Vanity Slaves,” Kendrick refuses to confine himself to these types of songs. His braggadocio ebbs and flows as he moves from feature to feature, yet he remains authentic, and there are fewer “psssh yeah ok, son” moments with Kendrick than you’ll find with a rapper like Drake (see guilty pleasure: “Stay Scheming”). As a result, you’ll find Kendrick’s discography sprinkled with collaborations with Jeezy, Talib, Smoke DZA, Ace Hood, and a variety of other rappers who occupy every niche in hip-hop from coke rap to inspirational anthems.

At the end of the day, regardless of his legacy, Kendrick has sent ripples through hip-hop by redefining the formula for what it takes to “make it.” He’s a rare example of how potent lyricism and authenticity can still change the tide of hip-hop, even in a market that has been dominated by machismo and inflated characters. Here’s hoping that it continues…ya bish.

Five Cooking Tips for the Inexperienced, Amateur Cook

different vegetable cuts

I grew up with a mother who consistently pulled off amazing stunts in the kitchen. My mother dabbled in every type of cuisine, creating foods that were delicious and still make my current imitations look like slop. Unfortunately, I rarely ever spent any time actually learning or practicing any of these techniques and recipes. It was not until I walked off the college graduation stage and into my row house kitchen, that I realized I would have to dig deep and work hard to have a culinary experience close to the one of my childhood. After three years of frantic phone conversations and failed experiments, here are a few things I’ve learned that have helped me become a better cook:

1. Plan weekend cooking projects
This is huge. It was always hard to find time during the week to really nail down my cooking skills. Instead, I used my weekends to plan entire meals that would help me practice a variety of different skills. For example, I was dedicated to mastering a traditional Haitian meal of rice and red beans, chicken stew, and fried plantains. Unfortunately, this is a meal that takes approximately 2.5 hours to make and requires a variety of different skills. By setting aside Saturdays and Sundays to cook, I was able to fine tune every aspect of the meal and  simultaneously cook enough food for the rest of the week. Which leads me to the next tip…

Griot and fried plantains

Haitian food spread with a special guest appearance by green bean casserole

2. Cook in bulk
The feeling of making a big pot of chili or a large, baked pasta dish is awesome. Cooking in bulk is great for your confidence as an amateur cook, and it also guarantees that you’ll have something to eat for the next few days. In addition, there are so many great tasting and simple recipes for dishes like chili and stew that are easy to follow for anyone in the middle of their first culinary foray.

Haitian rice and beans

Haitian rice and beans aka diri kole ak pwa

3. Stock and know your spice cabinet
Sorry, but salt and pepper are not going to cut it anymore. Investing in about 10-15 spices and herbs is an important step towards moving away from microwave food to flavorful and exciting ethnic dishes. Knowing the “spice palette” for different types of cuisine also lets you experiment. It can be what separates a basic chicken stir fry from a chicken curry or chicken teriyaki dish.

Indian goat curry spices

Mad spices and herbs for Indian goat curry

4. Avoid cutting corners often
Yeah, using a rice cooker is easy and painless. However, it’s also important to break out the pots and pans at some point and make rice without the help of KitchenAid. There are many skills that are transferable across types of cuisine and recipe difficulty and you just HAVE to learn them. For starters, learn how to properly cut veggies. I only learned how to cut kale a few weeks ago. Yes, it was annoying and took longer than I expected, but I picked up skills that make me a problem for the next leafy greens I run into.

different vegetable cuts

Different vegetable cuts

5. Don’t buy pre-packaged produce all the time
Do the math. That little plastic cup with peeled carrots is much pricier than what you’ll pay for the equivalent mass in raw carrot. Just buy the peeler and whatever other utensils you might ever need once, learn the techniques, and then bathe in the stacks of cash you’ll save.

sliced vegetables for a stir fry

Sliced vegetables for a stir fry

There are many other things you can do that will help you succeed in the kitchen. Sound off in the comments below with your tips and tricks!

Thanks Mom!

Thanks Mom!