On the eve of the first Creator Awards in Shanghai, WeWork talked with the finalists in each category about their work, their plans should they win, and what being a creator means to them. For some, creation necessitates social impact; for others, it means forging a new path in life. For all, however, creation has been a matter of hard work and dedicated passion.

Category: Business Venture

Turning Surfaces into a Canvas for the Imagination

Justin Cheng of Hipaint: ‘I think I should thank my daughter’

Company: Hipaint
Founded by: Justin Cheng, 33
Founded in: 2014
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 40

Mission: Our mission is to be the generator of new ideas for mankind.

What is Hipaint? Our main product is a paint that turns surfaces into whiteboards. Unlike a board, Hipaint is limitless, with no boundaries. We also sell board accessories, markers, etc. And we’ve been adding paints with additional functions, [like] magnetic paint [and] projector paint.

Why did you start the company? I remember when my daughter was around two (she is now six). She just grabbed a marker and drew on the wall. Other parents may have stopped her. But when I saw that, I joined. We drew giant monsters, jumped around, [and] had a great time. I thought, paper fills up so quickly. An entire wall can hold a totally new world for kids. Back then, I was working in one of the largest paint companies in Britain. Shortly thereafter, when I met a doctorate from Oxford, we started Hipaint. I think I should thank my daughter.

How many customers have you served? Currently we have 1,000-plus office customers (including Apple, Tencent, and Alibaba), 100-plus school customers, and about 10,000 individual users. In 2017 our sales revenue was about 12 million rmb. We have passed our break-even point.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? When I worked in a Fortune 400 company I had a good life, [a] good salary. But I was not creating things, just following the path where I could clearly see the future. The thing I’m doing now, it’s totally new. I’ve created something that never existed. From zero to one. I just want to create something different that can make people’s lives better.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? I’m wondering what the event will be like.

What will you do with the money if you win? There are many children in faraway villages, in the mountains in China. I visited their schools; they are in a terrible situation. Our paint is small, and cheaper and easier to transport than boards. Though we are a startup, we want to do something for society, to help kids in poor regions get better education. If we have this money, we will donate whiteboard paint to 100-200 schools in poor regions without any charge.

Tracking a Baby’s Heartbeat from Your Couch

Jiliang Ma of ExtantFuture: ‘A creator is a problem solver’

Company: ExtantFuture, which produces the Modoo fetus monitoring device
Founded by: Jiliang Ma, 29; William Zhou, 46; Rambo Du, 31; and Nicky Shi, 34
Founded in: 2015
Where: Beijing
Number of employees: 30-plus

Mission: We want to create a consumer health product for mothers who want to know their baby more. Also, we want to create a closed circle with medical service within our app to reduce anxiety and frequent travel to the hospital. Finally, as we collect data, we want to gather the world’s largest dataset about the developing baby, which may present a massive opportunity for AI technology to predict more issues and save more lives.

What is the Modoo? Modoo is a wearable device that can stick on a pregnant mother’s belly to track heartbeats and kicks in the comfort of the home.

Why did you create it? When I started this company, I hadn’t even married. A lot of people laughed at me. But in 2014, a lot of friends and classmates started to get married and pregnant. I discovered that if you get pregnant, you receive hospital check-ups just once a month. That’s not enough, both from the consumer and medical side[s].

How many customers have you served? We have sold more than 15,000 units in 12 months, with a 12 to 15 percent monthly increase rate.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? A creator is a problem solver who uses developing tech or a smart business model to solve the problem. A qualified creator is also a businessman. A creator should spread the service/tech to as many people as possible.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Actually, not too much. I was busy negotiating some business in Shanghai and doing clinical trials in the hospital.

What will you do with the money if you win? We are applying for the CFDA [China Food and Drug Administration] and FDA; these certificates have really high barriers and are expensive. We need to have a professional team, make our platform better, hire more physicians, etc.

Genetic Testing Makes Individualized Skin Care a Reality

Le Duc of Uniskin: ‘We want to see what is beneath the surface’

Company: Shanghai Inertia Biotechnology, which produces Uniskin
Founded by: Le Duc, 30
Founded in: 2017
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 34

Mission: We want to help skincare customers understand the uniqueness of their individual skin and how each skin should be treated differently.

What is Uniskin? Skin genetic testing in the form of a kit that customers use at home. It includes a swab for saliva and a couple skin patches. Then we offer a series of skincare product lines based on analysis results.

Why did you start the company? I used to be a resident physician in the U.S. and noticed genetic testing and tech was increasing dramatically. Testing is getting more affordable. I wanted to bring it into real life. We picked skin care because that is one thing we deal with every day.

Furthermore, the capability of a doctor is not complete. Sometimes recovery is out of our hands; life is so complex. Technology like genetic testing can help us uncover more information that gives us more control than we previously had. Hopefully we plan to use our genetic data to expand to other areas of medical and clinical use.

How many customers have you served? We’ve served over 2,000 people. Our revenue so far is 2 million rmb received; 5 million rmb in accounts receivable by mid-year.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? A creator must do something innovative, something people haven’t seen before. It then has to be beneficial to a scalable target. If you create something but it cannot be used by people, it’s not creation or innovation.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? I’ll just try to relax. Get good sleep. Run the company as usual.

What will you do with the money if you win? Probably we will put most of the money into research and development. We need more analysis people, and we’ll trying to build a new lab to process more samples, more data.

Category: Nonprofit

Helping Children with Cerebral Palsy Integrate into Society

Kate Wang of AngelHouse: ‘I have been preparing for this moment for 16 years’

Nonprofit: AngelHouse
Founded by: Kate Wang, 50, and Lvjiang Li, 57
Founded in: 2002
Where: Nanning, Guangxi
Number of employees: 44

Mission: Angel House is a charity organization that helps individuals with cerebral palsy (CP) integrate into society.

What does AngelHouse do? We provide children with CP housing and rehabilitation, academic courses, [and] opportunities to attend normal school, as well as social adaptation activities, such as visits to the supermarket. Additionally, we provide training and counseling for families and partner organizations in the CP network (currently AngelHouse has 55 partner organizations throughout China).

Why did you start the organization? I have twin daughters, and one of them has CP. Most schools don’t adapt for these kinds of children, and she was not accepted by normal schools.

I am solving a problem with two sides. One is awareness from society: People consider this group to be an in-patient group. But actually, CP cannot be solved simply [with] medical treatment. Secondly, those with CP don’t have their own disability association and representation.

How many people have you served? [On] any given day, we serve about 90 kids.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? A creator is one who can impact and improve history, and in this way, create history.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? We are diligently preparing. It feels like I have been preparing for this moment for 16 years.

What will you do with the money if you win? We want to bolster our support system of physical training, education, and social work. Also, we want to support 80 children with CP for one year with full tuition scholarships.

Second-hand Items Fuel Work Opportunities for People with Disabilities

Shujie Jiang of Buy 42: ‘I want to leave something beautiful in the world’

Nonprofit: Buy 42 Charity Store
Founded by: Shujie Jiang, 31
Founded in: 2010
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 20 full time, 100-plus involved in various degrees

Mission: Our mission is to have a charity store in every community. Our vision is to change people’s attitude toward used items and recycling, as well as toward disabled people.

What is Buy 42 Charity Store? We started offline stores because the experience is better than an online store. Customers can see disabled people working in our store [and] can touch the products. Sometimes they can dig through the merchandise and discover a hidden treasure.

Why did you start the organization? We encourage people to donate idle resources, as well as corporations to donate samples and overstock to us, which they would abandon anyway. We also resell gently used items: books, wheelchair, toys, etc. As we generate revenue, we use it to support people with disabilities to work. We use idle products and idle human resources to build up our sustainable business.

How many people have you served? We have eight stores in operation [and] nine stores [under] construction. Our biggest store on Jiangning lu has 150-200 customers everyday. Every month our cash flow is more than 200,000rmb.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? For me, a creator has more responsibility on her shoulders, social responsibility. We live only 80-90 years; we’re nothing in this universe. A creator can leave something in the world; I want to leave something beautiful in the world, for my daughter and for the future.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? I hope to just enjoy myself and let people see and feel our team’s passion.

What will you do with the money if you win? This year we are building many stores in Shanghai and later in other cities. We will invest the award to speed up the [construction of the] stores, and to build the team’s operation and team capabilities.

Walking 31 Miles to Raise Money for Children’s Charities

Jie Xiao of E.G.G. Walkathon: ‘Young people want to challenge themselves’

Nonprofit: E.G.G. Walkathon
Founded by: Jie Xiao, 33
Founded in: 2011
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 5

Mission: E.G.G. Walkathon (Enjoy Give Go) is a fundraising campaign held to support small projects for children’s charities related to nutrition, education, social education, and child protection.

What is E.G.G. Walkathon? E.G.G. is an annual event where teams and individuals walk 50 kilometers over one day to raise funds for charities. Young people want to challenge themselves, do something difficult but that can make a difference for others. You don’t have to be super-rich to be a philanthropist.

Why did you start the organization? E.G.G. was originally conceived to fund a project to donate one boiled egg each day to a number of children in rural western China. We’ve since expanded the usage of the money to funding for library projects, child protection, left behind children, etc. We now have about 4,000 walkers each year.

We fund private-sector organizations because in China, there are many nonprofits, but most are very dependent on government funding. They don’t have enough independent financial resources. And legally there are many barriers for newcomers to grow and register.

How many people have you served? More than 260 charity projects have been supported over seven years. We raise up to 10 million rmb per year.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? For me, a creator could be someone who creates something concrete. A creator can make a vague idea into something real.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Luckily enough, we had a three-day public holiday just last weekend. I spent the days at a temple retreat and had time to think through how I want to present.

What will you do with the money if you win? We don’t have the bandwidth to do public promotion or media purchases. If we win, one thing we’d like to do is help more people know about E.G.G. We’d also like to help fund our research.

Category: Community Giver

Recycling Clothing to Help Kids and Companies

Nick Lim of Baosquared: ‘I feel physical pain when I see nature destroyed’

Organization: Baosquared
Founded by: Nick Lim, 46
Founded in: 2013
Where: Shanghai
Number of employees: 4.5

Mission: Our mission is to minimize environmental damage as a result of the lifestyle we’re all caught up in and to raise public awareness. Every one of the decisions we make every day has an impact on the environment.

What does Baosquared do? We provide people with an avenue to recycle old clothes, and we provide companies [with] an avenue to dispose of excess inventory –– shoes, school bags, toys, equipment, etc. In doing so, we help kids in poor communities, and we help retail brands save money.

Why did you start the organization? I love nature; I feel physical pain when I see nature being destroyed. When I see people running the tap, not paying attention, it pains me. There are people who see something wrong and move on. They think, “It’s not my business.” For me, it’s everyone’s business. There are more intelligent ways to handle products rather than recycling because a lot of clothing is new and clean.

How many people have you served? We’ve sent clothing to 4,596 children.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? Someone who creates something tangible out of an idea. A lot of us have ideas and fantasies about how we want to change and improve the world; not many people roll up their sleeves and get things done.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Nothing really, because I’m trying to launch the project in a few other places. But I’m very grateful.

What will you do with the money if you win? Hire people to make the clothing selection and sorting process better. Sorting clothes for hundreds of kids is time- and labor-consuming, but we can’t compromise that because it’s our goal to make kids feel better about themselves, not to feel as though they’re being handed someone’s trash. We’ll also use the money to expand to different cities.

Connecting Young Women to Create Professional Opportunities

Samantha Kwok of Beijing Women’s Network: ‘Twelve women turned into 4,000’

Organization: Beijing Women’s Network
Founded by: Jessie Wang, 26, and Oma Lee, 26, who are no longer with the organization; currently managed by Samantha Kwok, 26, and Leslie Dong, 26
Founded in: 2015
Where: Beijing
Number of employees: 7

Mission: Young professional women of all different backgrounds, countries, and languages help each other through peer-to-peer mentorship, connections, and resource sharing.

What is the Beijing Women’s Network? We offer panels, workshops, and casual dinners.

Why did you start the organization? A lot of younger women professionals based in Beijing were finding it hard to find mentors, especially those working in smaller companies, entrepreneurs, etc. An initial group of 12 women started to get together regularly to discuss different challenges and issues they were facing within professional settings. Those original 12 women turned into 4,000. Now the committee organizes events every month, [like] panel discussions and professional development opportunities.

When BWN was founded, existing professional organizations for women were a bit older. The founders wanted to find a more relatable group for young professionals. Lean In, which is a similar organization with similar goals, produces events in China only in Chinese. BWN wanted a more expat-friendly organization; our events often have interpreters and translations.

How many people have you served? We have 4,000 members. Proceeds from events go toward one women-focused charity. In the past two years, we’ve raised 70,000rmb for Wheels for Life and Rural Women.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? Someone who makes something out of nothing.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Not much, actually. We’re just really excited.

What will you do with the money if you win? We will hold more professional events. With the funds, we’d be able to continue to drive the growing force that has been volunteer-driven for the past few years. We’d hire an administrator to take care of the logistics, event management, and curation. We’d like to invest in a space, as well as develop a WeChat mini-program, to foster online engagement more efficiently.

Category: Performing Arts

From a College Campus, A Cappella Goes Global  

Zhiyao He of Calculasian: ‘We think this genre is really magical’

Troupe: Calculasian
Founded by: Zhiyao He, 25; Chen Chen, 26; Ziming Li, 26; Xu Chen, 27; Tianyi Wang, 27; and Ye Lu, 27
Founded in: 2013
Where: California (Bay Area), Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou
Number of members: 6  

Mission: We have two goals: to introduce the a cappella genre to China, and to introduce Chinese pop culture to the world.

What is Calculasian? We sing and record a cappella music in Chinese and English. Our debut album consists of 10 covers and two original songs, all with original a cappella arrangements of mostly pop songs.

Why did you start the group? We enjoyed singing together in college, at UC Berkeley. We think this genre is really magical because when you sing harmony together, the brain releases a “trust” chemical, the same that is released when you trust other people. We are attracted to this trusting environment and want others to experience this as well.

For how many people have you performed? We did a crowdfunding scheme when we produced our first album; we’ve used the funds to produce the album, fund our travel and reunions, rehearsals, and marketing.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? It’s something based on your past experience and your passion. You have a passion; you have a goal; you have a mission. And then you use your experiences and your skills and works to achieve that mission. In the process, you create something inspiring and great.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? We were really intensively rehearsing, selecting outfits, and making sure we put on our best performance for the night.  

What will you do with the money if you win? We will have the funds to create, produce, and market our new album, which has a strong focus on Chinese musical heritage. Part of the funds will be used to hire world-class producers and engineers in order to achieve the best quality of music, and the rest of the funds will be used for marketing the material on a global scale.

Spreading Joy and Good Health with Jump Rope

Shengxi Li of Yuedong Jumprope: ‘Don’t drink, don’t smoke – just jump’

Troupe: Yuedong Jumprope
Founded by: Shengxi Li, 35
Founded in: 2009
Where: Shanghai
Number of members: 70 full and part time

Mission: We hope we can use jump rope to change people’s lifestyle and to instill a love of sports and health in young children. Don’t drink, don’t smoke –– just jump. Jumping rope is proven to be beneficial for heart health. Our dream is to turn jump rope into an Olympic sport.

What is Yuedong Jumprope? We do jump rope performance, as well as teach jump rope courses. We also make jump rope equipment. Our three studios in Shanghai are in Baoshan and Minghan.

Why did you start the group? When I was a student at university, our professor showed our class a jump rope video, and we thought it was so cool, so interesting, and so funny. So, we began to learn their style. Now, when we perform, other people also say, “Ah, jumping rope can be like this.” We began this group with the joy of jump rope, and we want to spread that joy.

For young children, if they have a good experience with sports earlier, they may become more capable, healthy adults.

For how many people have you performed? More than 600 schools have worked with Yuedong for teacher training, performance, or workshop.

What does the word “creator” mean to you? We say at Yuedong: Jump your style. That means: Be unique, be yourself. In other words, it means: Live your passion.

What are you doing to get ready for the Creator Awards? Our group now practices every day and discuss[es] what we want to let the audience know. We are working very hard.

What will you do with the money if you win? Help our team promote the sport, especially to young children in primary schools. We want to let them have a positive sports experience. We hope to reach out to and work with 1,000 more schools.

The role of executive assistant has been horrifyingly characterized in dozens of books and movies. Who can forget the terror Andy Sachs suffered at the hands of her impossible-to-please boss, Miranda Priestly, in The Devil Wears Prada?

But there’s more to the role than pop culture lets on. At “The Power Job,” a recent panel hosted by Conductor, speakers Katrina Conte, executive assistant to the CFO, The We Company; Morgan Sandoval, executive assistant to the COO of Firstmark Capital; Alexis Soper, chief of staff, Luntz Global Partners; and Melissa Crespo, executive assistant to the CEO of Conductor, discussed what being an EA really entails in the modern workplace, and how to succeed.

“I started at Time Inc. when I was 18. I was part of the secretarial pool, and every day was like secretary roulette—you never knew which man you were going to work for that day,” said Katrina Conte, recalling the start of her career more than 35 years ago. These days, Conte works directly for one person, and during her six years at WeWork, learning every aspect of her boss’s role has allowed her to excel in her own right.

The thing is, an EA job isn’t just an entry-level position anymore. In fact, the longer you’re in this high-pressure spot, the more valuable you are. As a virtual extension of the executive you support, you give her more hours in the day and twice as much brain power to complete tasks. The panelists agreed it can take a good six months to start really becoming adept at anticipating your boss’s every move.

“There is a lot of power in this role,” Conte told the audience. “Be wise with it.” With access to the people at the very top, there are plenty of opportunities to learn, make connections—and even get your own ideas and opinions heard.

The speakers shared the most important qualities of a power EA.

Hyperorganization. Details matter. “Never assume, and always confirm,” said Luntz’s Alexis Soper, who has been in her role for 13 years. She recalled one instance when she realized her boss, who was traveling through Asia, was without a visa for China. After a momentary panic and some quick research, she discovered that travelers going through China to another country can enter without a visa for 144 hours. Crisis averted—and lesson learned.

Ability to solve problems. Even the best executives are only human. When mistakes happen—files are lost, meeting rooms are incorrect—the panelists agreed it’s best to acknowledge it and be prepared with at least one solution. In the long run, being able to think on your feet is what really matters.

A thick skin. You know how you’re more honest and argumentative with your closest friends and family—emotionally or sometimes simply geographically—than with acquaintances? Prepare for a little of that from your boss. Throughout her career, Soper has reminded herself, “I’m the closest person to him, so he’s taking it out on me.” Unless it feels abusive, don’t take it personally. And if you do feel like you’re being mistreated, move on. “Don’t stick around with someone who doesn’t value you,” Sandoval said.

An acute sense of timing. This is another skill that improves the longer you work with someone. For example, consider the best time deliver certain news; if they’re running for a train, maybe it can wait. “Pay attention to their mind-set,” said Firstmark’s Sandoval. “I am very deliberate with my approach.” Also, learn how your boss likes to receive info: If she understands things better when they’re presented visually, don’t waste time typing up a summary that won’t hold her attention.

A love of the job. Being an executive assistant can be a fulfilling lifelong career, not just a stepping stone to somewhere else. “Get up every day and be proud of what you do,” said Conte of The We Company. “We face a different challenge every day: One day we’re their therapist, sometimes we’re a seamstress—at other times, even the dentist.”

A desire to learn. Yes, there are schedules to maintain and errands to run, but in between those moments, the executive assistant role is like a crash-course MBA. You have access to every department of an organization. The more you recognize how everyone works and what you can do to fill in the gaps, the better the company will run as a whole. And if you ultimately decide that you’re not a career executive assistant you’ll be better poised to reach for a role that is.

Photographs by Stocksy

“When I told people I had a new book, they said, “Is it about cyber wars or foreign policy?” says Jared Cohen. It’s a natural assumption—Cohen, founder and CEO of Jigsaw (a technology incubator created by Google), worked in the office of Condoleeza Rice as one of the youngest foreign-policy planners in American history; served as chief adviser to Google’s Eric Schmidt; and is a New York Times bestselling author, having written two books on the intersection of technology and foreign policy.

His new book, as it turns out, is a little different. “It’s about dead presidents,” Cohen laughed at WeWork 500 7th Ave in New York. Cohen, along with MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan, was there to discuss Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America, a book he’s been waiting to write his whole life. As a child, Cohen was captivated by American history, and as an adult, his focus narrowed to the eight vice presidents who ascended to the top spot after assassinations and illnesses claimed the men elected to the job.

Far from being fated, according to Cohen, the rise of men like John Tyler (vice president to William Henry Harrison), Theodore Roosevelt (who became president after the assassination of William McKinley), and Harry Truman (successor to Franklin Delano Roosevelt) could have been cataclysmic for the nation, and it’s clear not all of the accidental presidents on Cohen’s list were cut out for the job. There was Andrew Johnson, whose biggest claim to fame as Abraham Lincoln’s second-in-command was getting so drunk at Lincoln’s second inaugural that, says Cohen, “he slobbered all over the ceremonial Bible,” or Chester A. Arthur, who spent more time redecorating the White House than he did governing.

Others, though, Cohen holds up as examples of leaders who triumphed over the odds and more than rose to meet the demands of their new positions. “In 82 days as vice president,” he says of Harry Truman, “he only meets FDR twice. Doesn’t get a single intelligence briefing, doesn’t meet a single world leader, isn’t briefed on the new patent project. He was an awestruck provincial politician from Missouri.” And yet with the help of key advisers who understood the importance of Truman’s success, he effectively ended World War II.

(Top) Author Jared Cohen with MSNBC political analyst Elise Jordan. (Above) “Accidental Presidents: Eight Men Who Changed America,” out now.

While the stakes of modern-day business might not be quite as high, Cohen does see a correlation between presidents like Harry Truman and contemporary CEOs. “The ones that succeeded were the ones who had a combination of two things happen. The advisers they inherited wanted them to be successful and worked with them to help make them successful. And two, they had the judgment to figure out where to listen to them and where not to listen to them.”

It’s this balance of strategy and vision that Cohen frames as universal. “In many respects, the story of accidental presidents, it’s like CEOs taking over for founders: finding that balance between leaving your own mark and continuing the legacy of your predecessor.”

It’s clear that for Cohen, what we can learn from the men who weren’t supposed to be president goes beyond shock at how many times we’ve come perilously close to political chaos, but that their stories offer a glimpse into what we might do if suddenly faced with daunting new responsibilities.  “Every business leader should get a nice dose of history,” he says, “and I think biographies are good for the soul. If you can find time to go to the gym and meditate, you should find the time to read about Harry Truman.”

Photographs by Lori Gutman

From established entrepreneurs to those just starting out in their career, everyone is familiar with the perils of being driven to distraction. Now that technology makes us more connected than ever, “the office” follows you wherever you go. These blurred boundaries may help us be more flexible than ever, but it can also lead to burnout.

For years, experts have recommended that it’s vital for today’s worker to find meaningful ways to detach and recharge. But what about when it’s time to plug back in? A study published in the Journal of Management found that “reattaching” to work might be just as important as detaching from the grind.

“Through reattachment, employees are able to activate work-related goals, which then further creates positive experiences which allow people to be more engaged at work,” writes study co-author Charlotte Fritz. “They’re more satisfied with work, more committed to work, enjoy work tasks more, perform better, and help out more with extra tasks.” Through the study, Fritz concluded that reattachment practices led to positive performance results for employees and the companies for which they worked.

So how do you put this into practice? Whether you spend most of your day at a desk or work on the go, we found several ways to get your head in the game and make this habit work for you.

Get motivated. Using the first part of your day to engage in a little strategic planning, like making a to-do list, is a perfect way to reattach. Try and focus on three realistic accomplishments you can finish by the end of the day that combine tasks that both need immediate attention and move projects forward.

“Getting to the end of the day having answered a thousand emails but not feeling like you have accomplished anything is the worst feeling,” says Courtney Brand, founder of career-support network The Lighthouse, a member at WeWork 368 9th Ave in New York. “As an entrepreneur, there are a million things I have to do, but setting my top three at the beginning of the day helps me feel successful and hyperfocused.”

Block also sets aside an hour at the beginning of each week to review short- and long-term plans and company feedback so she can feel equipped to work more strategically in the future. For Block, this time of reflection is an important component of “future-proofing” her career.

Engage your brain. Think of reattaching to work like stretching before a race–your mind is like a muscle, after all, and you wouldn’t sprint before you warm up. Tapping back into a different, but complementary mental activity is a good way to engage your brain before you begin work.

Podcasts that take a deep dive into the trends and news of your industry are a useful way to reattach (and make the most of that daily commute). You may want to try How I Built This, where NPR’s Guy Raz speaks with business leaders about how they built their career, or Cntl Alt Delete with Emma Gannon, which focuses on internet culture. If podcasts aren’t your thing, subscribe to trade journals or magazines in your field—either way, you’ll be staying up to date so you can be informed when tackling the projects on your plate. Bonus: You’ll become the go-to person in the office for industry news, which will undoubtedly come in handy at your next networking event.

Energize your body and mind. Who says self-care can’t be productive? While you’re probably used to cooking a comforting meal or tucking into a good book when it’s time to unwind, you can also dip into your grooming arsenal to help you reattach.

Janice Buu, founder of CBD-focused skin-care company Kana Skincare, takes an organic approach to getting her mind in the right place. Buu uses lavender essential oils at night to wind down, but during the day replaces perfume with a citrus-scented oil for an energizing aromatherapy effect. For Buu, who runs two companies and is always on the go, a five-minute stretching and meditation with CBD is the perfect way to switch gears and get ready for her next project. “If I wasn’t using CBD, I wouldn’t be able to handle work as well,” she says, noting that CBD can provide a sense of calm and focus.

Meditation can also be a powerful tool to help you reattach. Studies have shown benefits to include a sharper focus, more creative inspiration, and decreased stress—all powerful parts of a productive workday. If you’re not used to the practice yourself, download a guided meditation—look for one with the keywords “stress” or “productivity”—and zen out at your desk. If you’re in a rut, meditation can also be a great tool to help with problem-solving. Ten minutes before you begin your day or as part of your afternoon coffee break is not only energizing but could provide the creative breakthrough for which you’ve been waiting—and with your new practice of reattaching, that breakthrough could last all day.

Illustrations by Alana Peters / The We Company

 

As the space between work and not-work becomes ever more blurred, questions about how to do this thing we plug away at for 30 or 40 or 70 hours a week become all the more expansive. In this column, Work Flow, we delve into the novel dilemmas created by the new ways we work, as well as timeless questions about ethics, gender assumptions, and toxic work situations (and how to escape them). How we work is an important component of how we live—and we’re here to help you do better at both.

Something messing with your flow? Unload your work problems here, and you’ll not only feel heard, but you’ll also get unbiased, real-world advice. (That’s something your work sibling/spouse just can’t offer.) Tell us everything: creator@wework.com.

I’ve been job-searching for a while. Typically, when I get an offer, I ask for a reasonable or even large sum for my salary—then the employer counters with radically less than that. At this point, I’m not really in the position to say no. Is there a way to say yes that might a) set up a path for better compensation, b) acknowledge that we both know I should get more, which might help if/when I either bounce for a better-paying job or inform them I’ve got a better offer in, like, a couple of months, and c) maintain my dignity?

Salary strategizing is worse than dating. Everyone’s keeping their cards close, trying to guess what the other person will say or do, and you’re supposed to somehow meet in the middle on the basis of being indirect. What a mess! But you’re doing things right here: Go in with a sense of what you think you deserve, whether that’s “reasonable” or “large.” Many of us have a hard time asking for something other than too little (I have made it a goal to always ask for a little more, just for practice, and I’ve found I get it more often than not). Don’t go in uninformed; do plenty of research, on the internet and among friends, into what the market rate is for compensation—and have a practiced speech making the case for why you deserve more than the average.

Also, spend some time thinking about what you really want with this job. It’s not wholly about money, generally, though, of course, work is always about money. Go beyond the realm of salary. There are ways to get “more” that don’t involve compensation: vacation days, work flexibility, office perks or benefits (phone credit? gym credit? educational subsidies?), or future opportunities to expand the role. You may be able to request a salary renegotiation after, say, six months, or bonuses for work well done (make sure this is quantitative, like selling 10,000 picnic tables in a year). The more strategic and thorough negotiation you are willing and able to do, the better sense the company has of how much you’re worth, because YOU know what you’re worth, and are willing to fight for it. A recent study found that almost 40 percent of people didn’t negotiate at all. You’re never going to get more money if you don’t ask for it.

As for bouncing for a better offer, your answer is in the question itself. That’s often the easiest and fastest way to get a company to up your initial salary, particularly if you’ve proven your worth in your time with them. If something better comes in, definitely bring it to the attention of your boss.

Dignity-wise, the best thing is to truly know thyself. If you feel in your gut a job is not going to be worth it, if you know you’re going to resent every single moment (and if you can afford to do so): Keep looking. According to the numbers, employment is up. Sure, a lot of that depends on your industry and your particular job needs—but you’re always worth more than what you do for a living, even when American society tries to make you feel differently.

In a culture that assigns social cachet to being “busy,” how do you avoid falling into the trap of chasing busyness as a badge of honor?

Sometimes I look at people around me who are accomplishing a lot, and I wonder how they possibly do it. So-and-so has written a third book before her second is even out? Does that successful person not sleep at all? Why is everyone else so good at what they do, and why I am achieving so little in comparison? I must be lazy, or bad, or bad and lazy.

It’s enough to make you waste an entire hour on Instagram, spiraling out as you view another’s portrayal of go-go-go success, feeling like crap all the while. But the thing is, we know very little about what others are truly giving up to get where they are, or how they’re doing it at all. We only know what they put forward for us to see, which is often a depiction of this “busyness” thing, whether it’s posting up a storm or being always available on Slack or constantly taking meetings or seemingly writing six books in the time it takes the rest of us to write one.  

This is the trap: the perception, the presumption. Tune out the busyness. It doesn’t matter. Tune out the sense of competition around you, of life being a race that you can never give up or back down on, and for which you have to keep running faster. Stop trying to keep up, to seem like you’re keeping up, because it’s a losing game. Instead, go somewhere quiet, somewhere away from the busyness noise, and look at the thing you want to do, and start to tackle it bit by bit by bit. You’ll actually be busy, then, but it will be real, and when you’re done, you’ll feel great about it rather than spent and thwarted and confused about what your purpose was in the first place. Chase the thing, not the busyness.

Also, spend more time away from social media. You’ll find you don’t miss it, and your life is oddly fuller. You’ll spend less time being “busy” and more time being happy, and isn’t that the point, really?

My whole office is moving to a new building, and my friend has a plan to take over a spare empty desk with her plants. Our other co-worker is vehemently against it. What should my friend do? What kind of person hates plants?!

Alas, unless you have permission from the boss/human resources/Mother Earth herself, it’s poor form to co-opt another desk, no matter how nice one’s plants (or portraits of clowns, or Rubik’s Cube collection, or ant farm) might be. Plant-haters might be allergic, they might be jerks, they might have prasinophobia (fear of green!), they might just prefer the peace of an empty desk in the midst. Whatever it is, your friend should focus on her work and work on her green thumb at home, and you should do the same … but if you want to keep a plant or two at your own desks, so be it.

Illustrations by Alana Peters / The We Company