The simple art of living smart

The voices of the New York Times’s Smarter Living section spill their biggest game changers

Launched in 2016, the New York Times’s Smarter Living section features very smart people sharing very smart tips on how readers can make improvements—both big and small—in their daily lives. (Sample headlines: “Hacking Your Way to the Best Hotel Rate,” and “What To Do When You’re the Only Woman in the Room.”) Naturally, when the minds behind the popular section came together recently for WeWork Now‘s event “Fix Your Life With The New York Times,” there was a full house. Moderated by founding editor Tim Herrera, the conversation between columnists Jen Doll (a young-adult author and writer of WeWork’s career advice column Work Flow), Kristin Wong (a personal finance expert and author of Get Money: Live the Life You Want, Not Just the Life you Can Afford), and Jolie Kerr (host of the podcast Ask a Clean Person and owner of no fewer than five vacuums) was packed with candor, laughs, and pro tips. Here are some of the best takeaways.

Even overachievers can’t accomplish everything… so focus on what makes you feel accomplished.

Each panelist has mastered their own particular balancing act. In order to manage a multifaceted career, they explain, you have to be realistic about how much you’re able to get done, but also make sure you’re choosing to do the things that get you motivated. Doll referenced a conversation with author Rainbow Rowell on the power of prioritizing. “[Rowell] said, ‘You’ve got to put the big rocks in the jar first, and then you can put the little rocks in,’” said Doll. “‘If you put the little rocks in first, you’re not going to fit in the big rocks.’” And Kerr pointed out that priority lists aren’t necessarily written in ink. “Life is fluid,” she said. “We’re allowed to care about one thing in 2019 and not care about it in 2020.”

Doll (left) explained that we are happier experiencing the journey toward a goal than we are actually achieving it.

Don’t be so fixated on your end goals that you miss out on the joy of the present. 

One of the keys to happiness, the columnists discovered, is understanding that there’s no algorithm for it. “Ambitious people like to define what the finish line is, but I think we enjoy pursuing it more than we enjoy actually reaching it,” Wong explained. “When we get there, we’re like, ‘OK—what’s next?’” Doll explained how a premise that might initially sound disheartening—that the goalposts of fulfillment are always moving—can actually be encouraging. “You achieve so many moments of happiness as you’re trying to accomplish something big—moments that you think you’re never going to get to,” she said. Added Wong, “Somebody asked me recently, ‘What do you want to be doing in five years?’ I was like, ‘I want to be writing, and interviewing cool people, and I’d like to travel.’ And then I was like, ‘Wait—that’s what I’ve been doing!’”

Before you make a request from someone, consider their point of view.

Get out of your own head and consider the perspective of those you work for, network with, or otherwise feel could help you in your career, each panelist urged. For Kerr, one of the most valuable pieces of career advice she ever got came from her first boss. “He said, ‘Jolie, no one is going to care about your career as much as you do,’” she remembered. “If I want certain opportunities, I have to be banging down their door and saying, ‘Give this to me.’ Hopefully nicely!” The same advice applies for negotiating pay, Wong explains. “You want to focus on the value that the other partner is getting,” she said. It’s crucial to quantify the value you represent (“I brought in $10,000 of new business last year, and that’s why I think my rate should be X amount this time”), and Wong also suggests getting ahead of that conversation by proactively seeking feedback. “Three months before you decide to ask for a raise, ask, ‘Is there anything you think I could be doing differently? What am I doing well?’” she recommended. “Get them to give you a really concrete answer. Work on those things for three months, and then go in and ask for the raise.

Don’t sweat the small stuff—but do make time for it.

Kerr is a firm believer in the power of routine. Her top takeaway? “Make your bed every day,” she insisted. “At least try it for 30 days and see how it feels. You don’t have to make it perfectly—it doesn’t have to have hospital corners. But when you do it every day, it’s already something that you’ve accomplished.” For Wong, intention is a daily tone-setter. “Before you get started on all of your tasks, ask yourself, ‘What is the one thing I could do today that’s going to make me feel good about this day?’” she advised. Writing those intentions down, Doll adds, benefits you in the present and the future. “Have a to-do list, put everything on it, and cross that sh*t off!” she said. “You will feel so good about it—even if it’s ‘I did my laundry, or I finally filed that memo.’” 

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