Defining your personal brand – for you

Sometimes it can be difficult to achieve a goal alone, and if people don’t know anything about you, they can’t really help you. While talking about your personal brand might sound cringe-worthy, it’s just a newer term for something we’ve been doing all along: letting other human beings know what we want them to know about us.

Building my personal brand is the equivalent of wearing my Good Charlotte shirt to school on the day of their show when I was in high school: I was ALREADY a super-cool punk, I wasn’t just buying the shirt at the show that night and everyone could see that. People have been doing this since the beginning of time (shaping their identity through their looks and interests, not wearing Good Charlotte shirts).

I would never claim to be an expert about personal branding. There are countless workshops, videos, courses, articles, and books on the subject. But something as easy as completing a personal brand worksheet and updating your social media bios is a good start. Try googling “personal brand worksheet + ____” and take a glance through them for a few minutes to find one that suits you. The ____ should be based off of your goals.


What is the overarching theme of YOU? For example, I compiled my own worksheet based off of ones that I found searching for “writer” and “development coach”. You can stick with one or cut and paste questions together from a few to make your own. Don’t let it eat up your entire day; poke around for ten or fifteen minutes to find one, put it together, and fill it out. It shouldn’t take that long to complete if you’re answering with your gut reactions. Then make a few tweaks to share your brand with the world.

Just updating my LinkedIn bio with my author info led to a co-worker buying my book. Figuring out a few key Instagram hashtags to add to my development posts led to subscribers to my newsletter. Creating my own mission statement about how I want to spend my days helped me help my boss create a new position at work just for me. These small changes build up and help you achieve your goals. But your personal brand is personal: it’s mostly about you. Having a clear focus will make you more productive.

The building blocks of your brand should still be generosity and community. Wearing my Good Charlotte shirt to school was a way to let cute punk guys know I was cool (yes, I thought this, gimme a break), but a band shirt is also how I met one of my best friends in high school: I saw her wearing a New Found Glory shirt at lunch, I walked up and introduced myself, and it started a friendship that lasted for years. So put your signal out and see what comes back.


The importance of a mid-year check-in

The year is a little more than halfway over! At the end of every month, I check in with my list of goals for the year and see where I’m at. Since I started using a Passion Planner in June, I use that end-of-month check-in as well, but I’m sticking to my goal-specific check-ins for the rest of this year at least.


Usually I set a timer – like spending 10 minutes per goal – otherwise I’ll get lost in the black hole of the internet if I have to look something up. The concept of time works for us and against us. Being late and wasting time are stressful. Sometimes we wish we had more time for good things or that time would move faster when things are boring or tough. But time can also guide us. Having a routine can be healthy and keep us grounded.


Setting time-based goals can keep us on track. Mid-year is an interesting time. Sometimes social media leads us to believe that it’s all BBQs, picnics in the park, and trips to the beach. But it’s also time for us to buckle down and assess everything we’ve done and everything we still have to do.

Here’s my little 10-minute checklist:

1. What is the goal?
2. Have you done anything to achieve this goal?
3. If you have, that’s great! If not, why?
4. If there is something keeping you from working on your goal, what can you do to change that?
5. What is a concrete step you can take in the next week to move closer to achieving your goal?

I go through the checklist for each of my goals and see which ones are suffering from neglect – then I do something about it.

And what else?

I’m a big goal-setter. I like my plans and ambitions to shape my daily activities. But sometimes, things get in the way. If you’re perfectly on track, well-rested, chugging away at your goals with not a glimmer of stress or uncertainty, you can stop reading right now.

Chances are, this is not the case. It isn’t for me. When I looked over my planner notes from the past few weeks, I realized that something was missing: my novel. Technically, this is the most important activity in my life. Being an author is my lifelong dream and ultimate goal. So I asked myself: Why haven’t you been writing? The quick and easy answers came out first: no time, too tired, too busy, something else came up. But sometimes your first answers are not the only (or even right) answers. You have to ask yourself…And what else?

When I asked myself: Why haven’t you worked on your novel so much? My answers were: I have no time. And what else? Well, I’ve been playing sports a lot (as I do every summer) and I don’t want to give them up, so “no time” really means “practice time is not flexible”. I’m too tired. And what else? I’ve been trying to wake up earlier a few times a week and get work done, but l’ve had major cramps all week and haven’t been sleeping well at all. Too busy and something else came up. And what else? I need to get back to saying “no” to some things that aren’t a priority. I can highlight them easily in my planner. Just a few minutes of reflection will help me cut out extraneous activities.

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And then I asked myself: and what ELSE else? Reluctantly, I answered: In reality, I wish I didn’t have to go to work on the mornings I wake up early to write. It seems like the second I get into a groove is the second I realize that it’s time to get ready for work. I wish I could go to work late once a week and get a solid chunk of time to write until September when sports are over and I’m back to my more flexible gym schedule and can write at night and more on the weekends.

So I decided to ask my boss if it would be possible for me to come in late once a week so I can write in the morning. I’d still be available online during this time and I’d make up the hours on other days. The worst he can say is “no”. But I wouldn’t have come up with this plan if I didn’t ask myself: And what else? Asking yourself this question helps to get to the root of the problem.

But you have to really ask yourself. This is between you and you. For weeks I have gotten more and more annoyed that my new-found productive mornings have been cut short when the solution is (or might be…we’ll see what the outcome is) a simple ask. But heading to work just a few hours late never seemed like an option until I said it out loud to myself. Instead of answering the same tired questions over and over with the same tired answers, try asking: and what else?

To start networking, try social networking

I talk about networking a lot and I’m going to talk about it again, because it’s so important. Networking isn’t just about getting what you want or being sales-y; it’s about building community. It needs to stem from a place of generosity, otherwise your efforts will seem completely inauthentic. You can’t just wait until you need something to begin networking. Your community-building efforts should start today (if they haven’t started already). If you’re nervous about networking, in terms of going up to someone and talking to their face, why not start on social?

Do what works for you
I have a networking plan that I complete before every literary event I go to (it works before any event, but I go to more literary events than anything else). I find that if I don’t complete this plan beforehand, I get so nervous or distracted while I’m trying to network that nothing gets done. I’m launching a free webinar, How To Plan Your Networking Strategy for a Literary Event in Just 30 Minutes, on June 30th because I know that others feel the same way. It’s my tried and true strategy, which relies on doing research before the event, utilizing social media, and managing your time so you’re not spending more time prepping than actually connecting.

But maybe you don’t go to literary events. Or you don’t go to events because what you do or what you’re interested in doesn’t really have them. That’s the beauty of social media; most things you want to do can be done from the comfort of your couch. You might have to get out there and get face-to-face eventually, but you have to start somewhere (and you always need a plan).
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So figure out your comfort zone and start there (but don’t be afraid to push your boundaries a bit)
If you’re a writer, try Twitter. Photographer, blogger, or artist, try Instagram. Looking for a job, try Linkedin. A quick Google search of “____ + tricks and tips” (people love the phrase “tricks and tips”) will bring up hundreds of articles about how best to use these different platforms. Do not read hundreds of articles. Pick 2-5. Grab a pen and paper or open a notes doc on your computer or print the lists out and highlight them, whatever works best for you. Set a timer for 30 minutes (I’m a big fan of timing tasks otherwise you’ll disappear into the black hole of Google and never return) and write down the tips and tricks you find. More often than not, you’ll realize that a lot of the tips are repeated from blog to blog and article to article. Pick a couple that seem the most relevant and helpful and try them out.
For example, I’m trying to grow my Instagram following. There are thousands of resources out there for how to do this, but I set a 30-minute timer, read only two articles, saw that I needed to be using hashtags more effectively, took a photo, set up a keyboard shortcut on my phone, posted a photo (which became the second-most-liked photo on my account), and got four new followers in a couple of hours. It’s not groundbreaking, but in 30 minutes, I learned something new, implemented a strategy, took action, and reached my goal.

Give it a try and see what goals you can achieve. And if you want some more “tips and tricks” about planning your networking strategy, you can pre-register for my webinar here.

Old friends can be your best connections

This past weekend I saw a friend who I hadn’t seen in eight years. We met while backpacking in London 2007. While we only spent a little time together during that trip, we had some great conversations about art, travel, and our ideas for the future, and it was clear that we were kindred spirits. I stayed with him in Germany a few months later on my trip around the continent. In 2009, he came to New York and stayed with me. We kept in touch sporadically over the years, following one another’s travels and projects. Years often went by when we wouldn’t talk. Then, he messaged me on Facebook saying he was coming to New York on his last stop on a trip around the world before returning to Berlin.

London 2007

Acting on your thoughts
I have a list of people in my head that I rarely (or never) talk to, but should. Sure, there are toxic people who need to be gone from your life, mean people, uninteresting people, or people you just don’t have any real connection with. But if you want to rekindle a friendship – and you think or know other person does as well – what’s stopping you?

Like anything, contact sometimes needs a plan
Of course we all have friends we see often (sometimes too often…). But the Fab Five are not your only source of friendship, fun, and inspiration. I moved on from a Bullet Journal to a Passion Planner this week because I want to try out a new productivity/journaling method. My friend, Xandra, swears by her Passion Planner and she is one of the most productive creative entrepreneurs I know, so I figured I’d give it a go. I was super pleased to see a planning space for “People to See” in every monthly planning section. I think my to-do list sometimes trumps my to-see list, so I’m going to stretch myself and reach out to connections that need some TLC.

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My brand new Passion Planner

Take a (little, easy) chance
Make your own to-see list. But don’t reach out with the generic, “Hey, long time no see, how is everything?” message. Tap into the wonders of social media. Ask them about a recent move or a current job. Don’t just wait until you need something either. Sure, my friend wanted to catch up and a place to crash in Brooklyn, but he also asked about my book, and he has made a point to ask about my writing every time we’ve ever caught up. When the (re)connection is meaningful, it’s bound to be stronger, and so will your network.

The effect of generosity on productivity

I’ve been thinking a lot recently about the effect of volunteering, philanthropy, and general do-gooding-ness on my own productivity. Amongst all of the greediness and power struggles of politicians and corporations (and individuals!), little beacons of light still manage to shine.

According to Giving USA, individuals give the most money, followed by foundations, then charitable bequests (usually made through a will), and then finally corporations. In 2015, individuals gave $264.58 billion, foundations gave $58.46 billion, charitable bequests gave $31.76 billion, and corporate giving only gave $18.45 billion. So yay for individuals and boo on corporations.


Independent Sector has reported that the estimated value of volunteer time in 2015 was $23.56 per hour, which is more than three times the current $7.25 federal minimum wage (don’t get me started on the minimum wage). This means your volunteer hours could go even further than your dollars. And there are thousands of ways to volunteer. In New York City, New York Cares has added a middle-person but taken the grunt work out for both organizations seeking volunteers and individuals and groups looking for opportunities.

I feel better when I volunteer and donate money to great causes. Most people do. Whether you do nice things because you’re a saint or you do nice things because it makes you feel good, it doesn’t matter – nice things still get done. When you feel better, you’re more productive, and good karma (if that’s your thing) is like a boomerang – it’s going to come back to you.

Volunteering, donating, and interacting with other nice people can also build your network, which is essential for achieving your goals. Forming solid, two-way connections means that the people you help are going to want to help you. So everyone wins.

Self care for people who aren’t great at self care

It’s spring! And everyone is sick. In your office. On public transportation. On the street. Germs are everywhere. You might be sick right now, reading this. When you don’t have your health, it’s incredibly hard to achieve your goals, be productive, or get out of bed in the morning.

Even when we’re sick, a lot of us continue to push ourselves. But if you think you don’t have time for your mental and physical health, you need to get rid of something else. It is the most important thing. You cannot reach your fullest potential if you’re not at 100%.

Like any practice, it takes consciousness to achieve. How many times are you thirsty or have to pee but instead you read one more email, or organize one more drawer, or make one more call before you simply take care of yourself? I’m literally looking at the post-it on my desk that says, “DRINK WATER & PEE” right now. I’ll neglect these little things in the interest of productivity. But if you’re only running on steam, your work and creativity will suffer for it.

A stroll in the fresh air through the Brooklyn Botanic Garden is one of my favorite ways to clear my head and get my blood pumping. Especially when the cherry blossoms are in bloom!

No money? No problem. I mean, it’s not entirely true. More money – not to mention more affordable care – would make things a lot easier. But there are free or inexpensive resources out there to help you, if you look. Plenty of cities and states even have free mental health services. NYC has a call, chat, and even text option. I haven’t tried it out yet, but it’s a resource on my list should I ever need it. Looking for a way to meditate? There are hundreds, if not thousands, of recordings on Youtube. Yoga? Yoga to the People has free sessions you can download on their site. Head to your local library and check out books for free or just walk outside.

If you’re going to do it, do it right. Take care of yourself, but don’t let self-care be a substitute for action and responsibility. For example, losing your job can be incredibly stressful. But “self-care” of binging The Gilmore Girls on Netflix eight hours a day for a week is not going to get you back on your feet. Make finding a job your full-time job, but eat healthy, take walks outside, read, get drinks with friends, pet cats, etc.

Make your valuable time count for self-care, just like you should for everything else. Don’t drop the ball on doing things that actually refresh and rejuvenate you. If you’re not at 100%, none of your work will be either.