I’m Romel Antoine, and this is how I work.

I’m an avid LifeHacker follower and they’ve recently started a “I’m ________, and this is how I work” series that I’ve fallen in love with. Over the course of the past month or so I’ve read their series and I got to thinking “I should write my own,” so this is my attempt at sharing my work style and norms with you all. LifeHacker typically does this via asking pointed questions and in homage to them, I’ll follow their lead by using the same line of inquiry.

Name: Romel Antoine

Occupation: Associate Director, Impact (basically a Program Director) at City Year Sacramento, an international education-focused non-profit that recruits young people (ages 17-24) to keep students in school and on track.

Location: Sacramento, CA

Current computer: For work I use an HP ProBook 4530 and for personal use I employ a 2009 MacBook (just before the ‘Pro’ switch) juiced up with 4GB of RAM.

Current mobile devices: iPhone 4, Blackberry Bold 9900

I work: Collaboratively

What apps/software tools can’t you live without?

I find myself hopelessly connected to DropBox, TeamBox, and most recently Wiggio. I work across devices throughout a typical day and cannot overstate the amazing-ness that is being able to access all of your files at a moment’s notice. TeamBox and Wiggio fulfill my need to collaborate and engage in continuous learning. Both allow me to see what my colleagues are doing on a continuous basis and keep me accountable to doing the right work at the right time. It also bears mentioning that I’m intermittently addicted to the ‘Stickies’ Mac app – there’s something extensively satisfying about creating ‘to-do’ lists, quotes of the day, etc. and the opening animation while someone is standing over your shoulder is astounding.

What’s your workspace setup like?

Budgeting Romel's Time
My ‘buckets.’

I’ve just gotten my own office for the first time in my professional life. With that said, my work computer (HP 4530) is typically setup alongside my MacBook (mostly because of my Adobe suite,) and my iPad as a third display. I have an inbox and ‘done’box that gives people the space to add more items to my plate. I also have a small silver bucket that I use to signify the major to-do’s/’stuff’ (in the hope of keeping my blog relatively PG-13) that I need to shovel myself out of. This bucket houses the highest priority and most important items that I need to take care of right away/ASAP. Additionally (as if I don’t already have enough systems) I have a flipchart that’s labeled “Budgeting Romel’s Time” because although my job description and supervisor have clearly laid out my major ‘buckets’ of responsibility I’m always afraid I’m not doing the ‘right’ work at the right time. I’ve color-coded my tasks for the week and posted them for me (and the world to see.) This system helps to hold me (and the people asking me to complete tasks outside of my buckets) accountable to the work that I am required to do.

What do you listen to while you work?

I mostly listen to Top-40 while I’m answering emails or creating new documents. If you’re sitting near me (my office doesn’t have walls to the ceiling) you can often hear me belting out whatever’s popular and I’ve found that my singing out loud helps me focus much in the way that many people think out loud. If I’m writing extensively I’m usually listening to a Pandora station featuring Common, Lupe Fiasco, Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and Sade appropriately named “Getting Stuff Done Radio.” This station was specifically born out of an amazing relationship I had during college with someone who used many of these artists to get down to business. My listening to it now just sort of triggers a ‘now it’s time to really work’ vibe that helps me…really get to work. If you’re looking for another option, try Songza. It’s like Pandora for whatever activity you’re completing. It’s a lifesaver.

What’s your best time saving trick?

I’ve started answering emails at the end of the day, here’s why: most of my initial emails to my direct reports elicit questions that continue to come in throughout the day (which I readily welcome) that I used to answer immediately as they’d come in. What I found was that when I continued to answer emails as they made themselves apparent, I’d be answering emails ALL day. I now wait for them to come in and synthesize my responses (to the best of my ability) to the whole team so that even if someone had the same question but didn’t ask it, it’d get answered anyway.

What’s your favorite to-do list manager?

This question requires a two-fold answer and a preface. Here’s the preface: I’m always on the lookout for a new tool to help me get my work done which has meant that I’ve constantly been in the process of implementing something new to help me get my work done. Here’s what I’ve settled on: I have countless meetings. Whether they be 1:1’s, project updates, or conference calls, most of my time is spent talking about the work I have to do (and inherently haven’t had the time to do yet.) In my previous position I learned about ‘Repeat Back’ emails, which holds me accountable to taking notes about what we talked about and what I (and the other person) have committed to doing by the next time we meet. I’ve formatted these notes to look like checkboxes and take them back to my desk, checking off the items as they’re completed. I initially tried to share these notes after every meeting or even getting the folks I’ve met with to send them to me but it didn’t work as well as I thought it would so now I just keep them to myself. I tried doing these on my iPad at first but that failed miserably (dang Facebook updates) and now I use an amazing notebook that I was introduced to in my new role that basically outlines my notes for me. You can find it at Staples. That said, this hasn’t been foolproof but direct reports emailing you saying “I still need _________ from you,” is.

Besides your phone and computer, what gadget can’t you live without?

My iPad and Amazon Kindle Fire. Hands down. Notwithstanding my previous answer, I still use my iPad extensively. I use it to take notes, answer email on the go, and keep connected to my social circle. I use my Kindle to read new books that I find fascinating and for some reason I can’t live without reading these days.

What everyday thing are you better at than everyone else? What’s your secret?

Talking to everyone in my office. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t interact with everyone in the office. I make sure when I get to work in the morning that I talk to everyone who’s there and if they’re not there, I’ll go say “hi” once they get in. I’m not sure if this is necessarily productive for them but I always want to make sure that they know that I care about their presence around me.

What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?

“Use your stories to illustrate the solutions you see to current problems.” I’m young, I know, but I’ve had a fair amount of experiences in (and out) of the workplace. Often times when I hear problems around the office or from the folks I’m responsible for managing I find myself searching my brain for other times I’ve come across this in my own life. It’s not that I think my experiences are superior to anyone else’s but I do think that people tend to listen to advice more when you relate it to a personal experience. Take time to reflect on everything that you’ve encountered and the lessons learned so that you can share that knowledge with others. If they don’t take it, that’s okay but at least you illustrated why the solution you’re offering makes sense.

Is there anything else you’d like to add that might be interesting to readers/fans?

“Keep it cute.” I’ve said this countless times in the last 4 months but it still stands. When you get an email that makes you hot in the face, when encounter a situation that tries your very core, when you run into a seemingly insurmountable roadblock. Keep. It. Cute. No one will respond positively to your emotional reaction, instead they might try to console you or try to manage your crazy which isn’t helpful either. Hold your response for 3 minutes and pick 1-3 articulate ways you want to respond to the situation with which you’re confronted. It’ll make you more approachable.

Do you have questions or comments? Post them in the comments. If you have your own style to highlight I hope that you’ll consider writing your own “I’m ___________, and this is how I work.”

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