You know how you always get so much done on an airplane?
I was thinking about that — and a writer friend of mine who despite having a legendary loft apartment, just like people have in movies about Manhattan, paid for a cubicle in a shared workspace so she would get more done — and considered a number of business ideas, such as one in which I outfit a room somewhere with airplane seats, tell people where to sit, seatbelt them in, and serve them peanuts while I force them to work or at least just sit there, since we are in the air.
I don’t think this is a viable business model, but I do like the idea of using social pressure for good, and working for defined work periods without stopping or being distracted. I wrote in Bullish: Productivity Tips for People With Short Attention Spans about the Pomodoro technique, which involves using a timer to work in 25-minute bursts. (I also wrote about how to stop procrastinating here.)
So, my next idea was a lot better — I invited some of my ambitious, freelancer-type friends (a.k.a. productivity unicorns!) over for a Ladies’ Working Brunch, which is exactly what it sounds like.
It was a smashing success, I must say — you know how sometimes hanging out with a group seems like a lot of work to organize and a lot of energy expended and then most of a day is gone and you’ve accomplished nothing? I support socializing without that feeling. I support socializing in a way that also allows everyone to feel as though they are using their limited time on earth in the best way possible, and also as though their goals and ambitions are supported by like-minded compatriots.
Friends who hike together probably feel that way when they scale Mount Giant-Peak-in-New-England. New York City doesn’t have hiking, but it certainly does have a million ladies trying to get ahead (see Bullish: Maybe Work-Life Balance Means You Should Work MORE).
Thus, this column regards how to hold a Ladies’ Working Brunch.
I warn you that if you have evil roommates or friends who have no ambitious projects outside of their jobs (um, I could think of some links you could send them!), then this probably won’t work. I don’t think doing this in a coffee shop would be the same, and including your nice, lazy cousin who says she’s “just going to read” will probably suck the motivation out of the room.
If you live in a sleepier part of the country (after a near-decade in New York, I really no longer have friends who don’t have a book or a book proposal), maybe creating this as an event on Meetup or some other forum would be a good way to meet bullishly-minded ladies.
That said, here’s how to do it:
1. Figure out how many comfortable workspaces you can offer in the same room. In my Manhattan apartment, I have a desk, a separate standing desk, the couch/coffee table, the chair on the other side of the coffee table, and the dining room table. Keep in mind that people who are working need a lot more personal space than people who are dining or hanging out, so you can probably fit fewer people than you think. My place comfortably accommodates about 8 people for cocktails, and only 4 people for working brunch.
2. Figure out where those people are all going to plug in their laptops. If needed, obtain extension cords.
3. Make a guest list. Be very clear in the invitation what this is about, and invite judiciously (freelancers, novelists, etc.), so you don’t get one “talker” (or “person who makes crafts out of metal”) who ruins it all. Note that not all ambitious people work silently; I described the event well enough that my best friend, an illustrator, declined to attend because she gets bored and “will talk to a wall” while drawing. My invite:
You know how you get so much done on an airplane?
Next Sunday, [DATE], from 11am-4pm, I will be hosting a Ladies’ Working Brunch at my place on Wall St.
Here’s how it works:
Decide what you want to accomplish.
Bring your laptop.
11-12 is social time. Arrive during this hour! There will be food and coffee. Lots of coffee.
Around noon, everyone will say what they plan to accomplish.
From 12-12:40, 1-1:40, and 2-2:40, we will have TOTAL SILENCE. Everybody takes over the world.
After that, we break out the mimosas!
PLEASE RSVP BY WEDNESDAY.
4. Kick everyone you live with out of the house. The whole point is the pressure to get things done when everyone else is. Your husband watching TV the next room over will ruin it all. (Personally, I feel that an all-lady environment really adds something; I can’t imagine everyone would’ve spoken as freely about their incipient projects otherwise.) And if you have roommates, they’d kind of have to be on board. Really on board, not just “people who respond in a Pavlovian manner when the word ‘brunch’ is mentioned.”
5. Coffee. You will need a lot of coffee. I am a big coffee snob and will not drink coffee that has been sitting on a burner, because the continued heat breaks down the molecular structure of the coffee and at that point you might as well be drinking the French vanilla from 7/11 like some kind of long-haul trucker, and seriously, long-haul truckers deserve better, as do my lady friends. So I made coffee in a regular coffeemaker just before everyone arrived and poured it into a thermal carafe, and only had to make coffee one other time during the brunch. Another good idea — make (extra strong) coffee the day before and put it in a pitcher in the fridge. Add ice just before everyone arrives.
6. Make a lot of food that is brunch-like but can sit out for hours and people can munch. I find that at a lot of lady-events, everyone puts out all kinds of sweets even though they themselves would not put that sort of thing into their own bodies. So, no muffins. Muffins are basically cake. Empires are not built on cake. As it turns out, you know what women apparently love? (Call Maxim!) The entire pound of turkey bacon I cooked. My kosher-keeping friend arrived, saw it, and said, “Ohmy god, I smelled bacon from the hallway and hoped it wasn’t real bacon!” The turkey bacon was still delicious hours later — we fueled with protein all afternoon. Also winners: fruit salad, whole-grain rolls, bowl of peeled hard-boiled eggs. Also, I received a jar of bloody-mary dip for Christmas and served it with celery stalks. I didn’t have time to run out and get chocolate-covered espresso beans, but I hereby endorse them.
7. Manage time! When people arrive, they’ll all want to eat and hang out and get acquainted or re-acquainted for an hour or so. Ask everyone what she plans to work on. How interesting! But ultimately there will be a lull in the conversation and everyone will be waiting for you to call this motherfucker to order. You’ll have to say, “Okay, at your stations!” (I found that people just naturally camped down in a working spot as soon as they arrived, so it was a de facto first-come, first-served policy.) I started the timer, supplied everyone with the glass of water they hadn’t yet thought to ask for, and then no one talked for an hour and ten minutes. (I had forgotten to look at the timer for a bit longer than I’d planned.) You’ll have to be the one to break the silence and let everyone know they can socialize and eat and say what they’ve just accomplished.
The way the schedule actually worked out was more or less:
1 hour — Arrive, eat, socialize
1 hour 10 minutes – First work session
15 minutes – Break
50 minutes – Second work session
20 minutes – Break
40 minutes – Third work session
1 hour – Mimosas! Revelry!
The work sessions naturally got shorter and shorter, which I think makes sense, as we are all sadly mortal.
8. At the end of the last work period, have everyone say what she just accomplished. Break out the mimosas! (Mimosas: Put more champagne than orange juice in a glass. Done.)
During my brunch, I edited a math book, and my friends Lilit, Janice, and Amy worked on a book proposal, wrote several pages of a novel, and set up a domain name and website, respectively.
My new motto: “Dine like a dilettante! Labor like a Calvinist!”
I hope this column has given you some ideas in the quest for both success and gentlewomanly living.
Summer is the perfect time to combine work and brunch. Have you held a Ladies’ Working Brunch lately? Tell us how it went in the comments!
originally published on The Gloss