Affiliate links may be used in this post. I may receive a small commission at no extra cost to you if you make a purchase through my affiliate link. Read my full disclosure policy here.
If you work within a busy company, you’re going to want to read this interview. Today’s “How She Actually Does It” guest, Audrey Hoo, shows how foresight and self-awareness can help you thrive and get things done while working in a busy environment where your schedule is impacted by others.
Audrey is a Production Manager at the Tony Award-winning theater, Berkeley Repertory Theater. While the crux of Audrey’s schedule is set by the schedule of shows for the year, Audrey’s ability to manage her time and workload within that schedule and keep a long-term perspective helps her and her team to successfully make progress on their goals. Read on to learn how Audrey balances short-term and long-term goals, why she schedules “bandwidth” appointments in her calendar, and how she optimizes her time around her energy levels.
How often and when do you set goals for yourself?
Pretty frequently. Micro-goals – which I also call tasks, are done constantly and routinely. I would say larger life goals are reassessed annually. Setting goals helps me to stay focused and on track but being flexible about how things unfold helps me enjoy the journey and process a lot more.
…being flexible about how things unfold helps me enjoy the journey and process a lot more.
Talk me through your weekly planning process
I work at a regional theater which means most of my time is defined by the rhythm of my company’s show schedules which is scheduled out for almost a year at a time. This is helpful in that the larger structure and rhythm of my year and weeks are quite defined. My life is planned out in advance based on what’s happening at work (rehearsals, meetings, business trips, etc.) as well as what I need to do week by week to make sure I’m taking care of myself (for e.g. CrossFit, PT, hikes, spending time with my partner, meeting friends, etc.). I update my schedule frequently and I tend to plan things very much in advance so there is no distinct moment for me to plan week by week since I’m constantly looking much further ahead.
What tools do you find indispensable for staying organized?
I currently use Workflowy app to manage my to-do list. My department collectively uses Microsoft To Do app so if there is something I need to assign to my staff, they are “tagged” on the list. They can click it when they are done with it. I typically divide our tasks into long term projects and current tasks that we need to do now. My team also keeps the company Google calendar up to date so typically we have one screen with the calendar up and the other screen with the Microsoft To Do task lists so it’s clear to us how to prioritize our tasks in relation to time.
The last piece is my own weekly schedule which I keep up to date with personal appointments. I also have a shared Google calendar with my partner since she also has a very busy schedule and that’s how we try to coordinate our schedules. One tip I have found helpful is scheduling blocks in my calendar called “bandwidth”. It is scheduled so no one can book a meeting if I’ve booked my own time to focus on tasks that need to get done. I do this especially on days that I have a lot of meetings so that I have a little focused work time during a workday.
One tip I have found helpful is scheduling blocks in my calendar called “bandwidth”.
How do you go about setting long-term goals with your team?
This usually comes up from identifying areas in which we can do something better or where something isn’t working quite right. Often a weakness or hole is identified in real-time when my team or I run into a challenge or bumpy process. Say, budget sheets aren’t great and hard to use, but it’s still ok to use the ones we have right now. So that is identified and goes onto the long-term goal sheet and marked as low priority but something we want to clean up. Or another example is developing a 30-year equipment depreciation plan for an organization. That might come up when we notice we are allowing equipment to fail when they fail instead of planning for them to do so in a systematic way and planning for a budget for that.
So in our weekly meetings, we may talk about what we are doing currently but also we talk about what we can do better. That gets added on the long-term list and then we prioritize their importance. In identifying large goals, I find it really important to break them up into small steps because it can be daunting to try to shift things too quickly. Once it’s broken up into smaller steps, it is very encouraging to see and map the process of how far we have progressed but also it allows for the goal to shift organically.
In identifying large goals, I find it really important to break them up into small steps because it can be daunting to try to shift things too quickly.
How do you structure your workdays?
The broad idea is that I aim to structure my time based on my energy levels. It works best for me when I attack difficult complex tasks when my energy level is at its highest, say in the late mornings. I find it helpful to end the day with updating my task list. That way, the mornings roll along more easily because I know exactly what I need to do that day besides anything that might come up.
I aim to structure my time based on my energy levels.
What do you do when you feel stuck or overwhelmed?
In general, my strategies are:
1. setting a timer on a task so I don’t get bored and burn out, and try to end it with a rewarding fun thing. Like, if I finish unpacking these 4 boxes by 2pm, I can go on a hike.
2. If it’s a complex matter that I need to resolve, I “walk away” from it and let it brew and untangle itself inside of me. I purposefully don’t rush it. Sometimes, it untangles itself, and sometimes I will have a much clearer sense of which path I want to take when I intentionally slow down. If it’s really complicated and I’m stuck, I also like to bounce ideas off of a close circle of trusted friends or colleagues to see what they think of the matter. That can give me different perspectives or show me different paths I can take.
3. If it’s simply a matter of just hitting a wall because of a drop in energy level, then switching gears helps me. Exercise is the thing that helps me the most. I go to CrossFit class when I’ve been staring at the screen for too long. When I can’t leave work for class, just blasting my favorite song and having a fun uplifting moment at work or taking a walk around to visit with my staff is helpful.
What is your favorite productivity book or who is your favorite productivity teacher?
I don’t have one particular book but I’d like to highlight two articles that resonated most with me. First is
Two articles resonate with me:
How has your approach to productivity changed over time?
The older I have become, the more I have moved away from believing that productivity solely defines my worth. It’s still something I wrestle with inside me since it’s a large part of the culture that I grew up in. I now try to put more of my focus on being my best self each day knowing and accepting that energy levels can shift every day. I give more value to making sure that I’m spending my energy to match the priorities and commitments in life.
I give more value to making sure that I’m spending my energy to match the priorities and commitments in life.
Bonus Questions! What is your favorite kind of pen to write with?
In my effort to consume and use less things, I have moved away mostly from paper and mostly into the digital world, so I definitely use a lot less pens! Back in the day, my favorite pen and stationery came from Muji. So Muji gel ink ballpoint pens gets my vote!
More about Audrey!
A lifelong arts maker, Audrey Hoo is the production manager of Tony-award winning Berkeley Repertory Theatre in Berkeley California. Originally from Singapore, Audrey ventured to the United States to seek new experiences. Most recently, she has worked at the American Conservatory Theater, La Jolla Playhouse and the Brooklyn Academy of Music. She has had the pleasure of working with artists across all performing arts genres such as Christopher Ashley, Robert Lepage, William Kentridge, Alex Timbers, Catherine Martin, Sam Mendes, Paul Simon, John Turturro & Elaine Stritch. Outside of work, Audrey strives to be her best self. Always pushing to learn new skills, her main loves include krav maga, CrossFit, triathlons, west coast swing, and country two-step dances. Audrey holds an M.F.A in Technical Direction from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts.