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Productive Days Start by Making Your Bed (and Other Truths)

Expert on emotional intelligence in the workplace offers secrets to a more fulfilling day in the latest Thrive Questionnaire.

Meghan E. Butler

Meghan E. Butler, a partner and co-founder of Frame + Function, a branding & communications agency, is on a mission to create a more emotionally intelligent workforce by helping people make real time, experiential connections that matter. She is a PR and branding professional and career mentor with close to 20 years of consulting, corporate, and agency experience. She’s written for United Airlines’ Rhapsody Magazine and Austin Lifestyles Magazine, and her workplace articles have been published by Thrive Global, Fast Company, Inc. Magazine and The Muse.

Thrive Global: What’s the first thing you do when you get out of bed?

Meghan E. Butler: Make it. If I finish nothing else in the day (which is rare), I will have at least done that. Generally speaking, doing one productive thing snowballs to other accomplishments. Also, I don’t want my dog in my sheets, so it’s practical.

TG: What’s your secret life hack?

MEB: I make my bed while I’m still in it. (*High five, Dad!*) I pull the linens up to my head, fold them over, smooth them out, and roll out the side. TA-DA! Bed made with almost zero effort. Now that I’ve said it and you try it, I’m confident you’ll wonder why you hadn’t thought of it before. (If you think I’m obsessed with my bed….you’re right. It’s my haven.)

TG: Name books that changed your life?

MEB: The first is Radical Candor: Be a Kickass Boss Without Losing Your Humanity by Kim Scott. She keenly articulates the difference between “rock stars” and “super stars” and how to manage them. She explains the importance of having both on your team, and how you’ll be one or the other at different points in your career. The second is The Code of the Extraordinary Mind: 10 Unconventional Laws to Redefine Your Life and Succeed On Your Own Terms by Vishen Lakihani. It helps you wildly disrupt and refocus your own personal growth by challenging the expectations others hold for you – and those you hold for yourself. Expectations, while necessary, can be destructive if left unchecked. Just ask Shakespeare. He’s often quoted extolling the evils of expectations.

TG: Tell us about your relationship with your phone. Does it sleep with you?

MEB: Yes, but only for my alarm. It’s always on silent and I don’t lose sleep over who may or may not contact me in the middle of the night. The number of alarms I use to wake up in the morning? Now that’s…alarming.

TG: How do you deal with email?

MEB: In my life, everything has a place, and that includes how I file email. I have a personal policy to zero out my inbox by the end of the day. The 4-5 emails in my inbox at any given time supplement my to-do list and remind me of that day’s priorities. I am also intentional about expending my brainpower on decisions that actually matter. That means eliminating opportunities to feel overwhelmed by an inbox of no-thanks notes. Rarely do I end the day sitting on email.

TG: You unexpectedly find 15 minutes in your day, what do you do with it?

MEB: I’m always shocked at how much of my to-do list I can crush in 15 minutes. But sometimes you need to step away from the lists and the inbox to realize the benefits of an unexpected break. If I’m working from my home office, I’ll play with my labradoodle, Harry. We both need the dopamine and adrenaline boost! I’ll also make plans with friends and work peers. Keeping a tight social calendar is critical to the well-being of hardcore introverts who often pass as extroverts. (*Raises hand*) Planning ahead gives me something to anticipate and allows me to engineer recovery time. If I’m out and about with unexpected time on my hands, I’ll do the New York Times crossword. I’m a compulsive crossword-er. It’s a problem.

TG: When was the last time you felt burned out and why?

MEB: It took me years to figure out that serving clients whose business or personal values do not complement my own will stress me out more than the demands of the work itself. Last spring, I found myself with two clients with whom I was fundamentally at odds. They generated an extraordinary amount of stress energy that was mentally and emotionally taxing. I created that situation for myself because I ignored my gut instincts to refer them on. Once they were off my books, it was like my internal light came back on. It was a good reminder to 1) Never take a job for the money and 2) Never take a job out of obligation. A referral elsewhere is always appropriate.

TG: Share a quote that you love and that gives you strength or peace.

MEB: “Sleep solves everything.” Seriously. I know that’s not terribly profound, but it is a quick shot of truth we all need to remember. If you’re stuck, if you’re angry, if you’re sad – grab some quick shuteye to reset. I never thought I’d perfect the 25-minute power nap, but here we are. And I couldn’t be more productive or happier.

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