RITA MEHTA // THE AMERICAN EDIT
Rita founded the website The American Edit — focused on celebrating the best of American Made. She is also a retail and product development strategist.
What does a typical day look like for you?
There is no typical day! Two years after quitting my corporate job, I still struggle with this — but it gets easier as time goes on AND as I institute more consistency into my life. When I’m home, there are days when I feel like I am the queen of GSD and then days when I feel like I’ll never accomplish anything ever again. Those days used to haunt me and make me convinced that I would end up a failure, but I’m slowly learning that they are part of the process and accepting them as they come.
On a good day, I wake up a little before 7am when my husband leaves for work, have some coffee, and take some time to write out my thoughts and ideas for the day before checking email and starting to work on projects or blog posts. Other days, I’ll crawl back under the covers and succumb to the wormhole that is Instagram, Pinterest, and blogs. This can (and occasionally does) quickly turn into an entire day, which is never a good thing.
On a good day, I’ll then head to the gym and then to my shared co-working space, The COMN, or a client meeting. I try to schedule meetings between 10:00am and 3:00pm. I’ve found those are the hours that I’m the most energetic and outgoing and enjoy talking to people. Earlier or later and my introvert tendencies come out and I’m likely to be less enthused about meetings. While I’m working, I do my best to focus on one task at a time (remember when we thought multi-tasking was something to be proud of?!) and have really taken to the idea that there are only 3-4 big things you can get done in a day — Meg’s weekly calendar is great to help you prioritize these 3 things!
On days when Instagram wins and I wind up in bed for far longer than I had planned, I’m less likely to head to my studio or the gym, but lately I’ve been trying to take advantage of the fact that my days are flexible and use what could be not so good days to get personal tasks done. I’ve found that if I go to the grocery store and run some errands in the morning and don’t beat myself up about it, I can usually still become productive in the afternoon. If I beat myself up about my downtime, I get anxious and then never really manage to accomplish anything — it becomes a never-ending spiral.
At night, I typically will make a pizza while my husband cooks himself a paleo dinner. He offers to cook for me, I just really love pizza. It’s terrible. Then we watch some TV or read. I’m constantly trying to not use my phone in bed but am usually not successful! We’re about to move and I think we are going to institute a strict no phones in the bedroom rule — should be interesting and impact my nights AND mornings!
I’ve found that working for yourself is a process in and of itself — in my past career, I was constantly working at managing upward or downward, and now my focus has to be managing inward. I don’t always like that, but the more aware I am of my current mood and mindset, the more likely I am to accomplish my goals. Similarly, the more consistency I bring into my life, the better my mood and mindset, and the more productive I am.
What are some interesting things people probably don’t know behind the scenes of The American Edit (TAE)?
The blog itself isn’t actually my business! My previous work experience is in corporate retail and I actually earn my income consulting for retailers and brands and makers. For the last several months, my primary client has been Wilson & Willy’s — working with the founder to build out the merchandise strategy, purchase the assortment, set up the e-commerce and in-store experience, and activate the marketing strategy. It has been an amazing project that fortunately was so in-line with my goals for TAE and I’ve learned so much throughout the process.
What parts of your work do you love?
I love meeting new people and discovering new things. Whether it is someone or something to feature on TAE, a new opportunity for a client, or something to add to the assortment at Wilson & Willy’s, I’m always looking for new products and ideas. I love this, but it means that reading magazines and blogs and perusing Pinterest and Instagram are legitimately part of my work process, and sometimes it can be easy to get caught up in that and never get anything done. It doesn’t matter how many ideas you have if you never actually write the post/buy the product/make the introduction!
I also really love the idea that I’m making a difference, or at least helping other people make a difference. Focusing on American-made and ethically-made products takes the dirtiness out of retail and helps me to feel good about the work that I’m doing. I’m in no way a saint and I know that at the end of the day, my work boils down to selling stuff, but I love that I get to sell stuff I believe in and care about.
What parts of your work/business do you dislike?
I dislike saying no to brands that don’t make sense for TAE or W&W.
Also, working in Photoshop — I’m so terrible at image collages and I see other people’s beautiful work and then never want to post any of my own!
My business is also a lot less consistent than I’d like — and ultimately the responsibility to change that is entirely on me, which I find either exhilarating or overwhelming depending on the day. I also really miss working with and managing a team — it was one of my favorite parts of my previous jobs and it’s a big goal of mine to get to the point where I can bring on someone else to work on the blog and client projects.
What type of calendar do you keep?
Google calendar — personal, TAE, and W&W — viewed in iCal. Each calendar has its own color but I can see them all at once. I live by it, but the current iCal bug where everything is showing the incorrect GMT time is making me reconsider my options.
How do you plan out your calendar?
Ideally, I keep certain days for certain project. Mondays are open for me to work on deliverables and catch up from the week before, Tuesdays are for client work, Wednesdays for blog interviews and work, and Thursdays and Fridays are to finish whatever else needs to be done. As my business is client-based, this rarely happens, but I do the best I can.
I also put blocks in my calendar whenever something tentative comes up — a lunch, a meeting, a trip, etc., so that I always know what potential conflicts could be. I recently started to use Assistant.to to schedule lunches and conference calls — it allows you to send whoever you are trying to schedule time with three different time blocks on three different days and has proven to be a game changer in reducing emails about scheduling. Also, when someone suggests coffee or lunch, I try my best to be assertive and respond with a clear time and place option so as to prevent multiple emails.
How do you attack your never-ending email? Do you have a certain strategy you use?
In my corporate career, I got hundreds of emails a day and was able to keep my inbox clear — I have no idea how I managed that other than sheer will and lots of caffeine and sugar.
These days, I only keep emails in my inbox if they are unanswered or need an additional response from me. Unread or read, everything that remains in my inbox necessitates a response. When I read an email, I reply and archive. If I don’t need to reply for a certain amount of time or am waiting for some specific information, I use Boomerang to bring the email back in my inbox when the time comes. This is great, because my inbox very rarely has more than 20-30 emails in it, but terrible, because I often find that the ones I’m the most excited about (such as getting you these interview answers!) are the ones I delay the longest. There is always an easier email to answer and instant gratification from sending a quick response and archiving.
I organize and treat all of my email accounts (personal, TAE specific, TAE general, junk, and W&W) the same way — I used to only organize my work accounts but I realized I had to manage all of them the same way or I’d never adhere to a system.
I’m working to get my emails answered within 5 days and have blocked an hour at the end of my day for email answering — which seems to be helping!
What is your process and/or work strategy? Anything that you have found that works for you?
I realized while in grad school that my process is to procrastinate — I’d never write a paper until the day before it was due but I also never missed a deadline or turned anything in late. So instead of fighting that and adding stress and anxiety to my life (as I’d done my throughout my time as a student), I accepted it and planned accordingly. It is not an ideal process, but I think I spend a lot of time mentally preparing for work and projects and that helps me to be fairly quick in my final execution. In order to accommodate my style but still get shit done now that I’m self-employed, I add clear deadlines to everything I do or promise. If my deadlines pile up, I prioritize — paid work, blog work, personal.
I also ALWAYS buy Internet when I’m on a plane. It may be because I wrote so many of my grad school papers on the plane while traveling for work but I swear I am 100% more productive on a plane than anywhere else. I honestly look forward to long flights when I’m behind — I know I’ll be able to get a lot done!
Do you have any rituals or routines you do?
Lately, I’ve been focused on clearing out the junk: from my life, my wardrobe, my diet (except for pizza!), and my brain. I spent the last few years feeling like I had to be up on all of the news and every single blog post and Instagram and tweet and I never felt like I could think clearly or get anything done. I was constantly frazzled and overwhelmed and my memory was shot. I took twitter and a few other unnecessary apps off of my phone and at the end of the day, I close all of the tabs on my laptop and my phone. If I didn’t make time to read something today, I most likely won’t tomorrow, so I just let it go. I use Pocket when it’s something I need to refer back to! I’ve also re-prioritized working out, which clears my mind and helps me to sleep better.
I’ve realized that I can’t be all of the things, have all of the things, do all of the things, or know all of the things — and that’s ok. No one likes a know-it-all!
How do you GSD at home?
All of our bills and appointments are just automatically set up, paid, and scheduled so we don’t have to think about them. When my husband and I got married, I was finishing up grad school at night and working at my corporate job and he was working crazy hours so we decided to invest in a cleaning service. Honestly, it was an amazing decision we made for our lives and our relationships because it allowed us to enjoy the little time we had to spend together at home rather than constantly being stressed or arguing about whose turn it was to clean. Well worth giving up a date night here or there!
My husband and I are about to move into a new house and literally only own one uncomfortable sofa and a bed so decorating is constantly on my mind these days. We’re trying to only purchase furniture that we love and is either made in America, responsibly-made and/or vintage. So we have a lot of conversations about decorating and the house — luckily we have similar taste or this process would be a little less fun! Once we find a piece we want, we make ourselves wait for a week before purchasing — it gives us time to make sure we love the item and that it will work for our home and our lives. Whenever we have a lot of project stuff to do and are feeling stressed out, we sit at the bar at our favorite restaurant and make lists and assign to-dos. We started doing this while wedding planning and while you would think it would make us hate our favorite restaurant, it makes us prioritize and communicate effectively and efficiently so that we can enjoy our meal!
As for relationships, toward the end of 2014 I found myself in the weird place where the people I knew virtually knew more about my life than my real life friends and family who live in other cities and who happen to not check Instagram frequently (if at all). I am so appreciative of the online relationships I’ve built, but it made me realize I needed to reinvest in relationships with my less social media focused friends and family. I’ve been fitting in phone calls and personal email updates whenever I can — Bluetooth in the car is a lifesaver — and it has helped me to feel a lot more connected.
What books, websites, posts and other resources have you found helpful or have changed your life?
So so many! I used to read every book and blog and take every class I could — because it is always easier to learn and plan than it is to actually do. I took 2014 off from business books and classes and focused on actually doing, but some of my favorites include:
The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up — This book is making the rounds on the Internet and, honestly, it should be. I thought I was a fairly minimal person before I read it but it helped me to get rid of so much stuff and create thoughtful organization processes that have made my life much easier. And when your home is neat and clean, your brain is clear. It is really true.
Penelope Trunk Blog — I particularly love Penelope’s posts about personality types.
Ok Real — the interviews are so real and so inspiring – I’m always motivated after reading the weekly newsletter or blog posts.
This GSD column! I always look forward to it and always learn something.
Nuggets of advice you’ve been given that have stuck?
Don’t work past 8pm. I rarely have a productive day following a day of working late. Sometimes it has to happen, but when it does, I try to give myself a break by sleeping in or going to a barre class the next morning so I can ease in to the day.
Culturally, we praise the idea people – but at the end of the day, it is all in the execution. Everyone has a million ideas for the next big thing – but only so many people will actually act on it.
Any other information about how you GSD, please share?
Sometimes, you have to let things go. I used to always tell my team, “this is just retail, we’re not saving babies” (with all due respect to those of you that actually are saving lives!) and now I remind myself of that often. Shit is going to happen, and you can roll with it or fight it — but fighting it won’t get you anywhere you want to be. When I first started working for myself I’d get really worked up when something didn’t go as I’d planned, but now I just accept it and move forward.
Rita’s Favorite Apps, Websites, Programs, Gadgets
Apps: Instagram — for obvious reasons. Afterlight — to make my sub-par images look better. Pinterest — for interior design, wardrobe, and general inspiration. Apple Mail — I’ve tried them all and keep coming back to the generic iPhone app. Todoist — I struggle with this for big, long-term projects but find it really helpful for short, task-oriented lists. Dropbox — I should probably make Dropbox my entire file drive, but for now I just use it for important personal documents and things I need to reference regularly. My husband and I are in the process of buying a house and I don’t know how we could have gotten all of our papers in order without Dropbox! Feedly — for reading all of my favorite blogs! Pocket — for articles that I plan to link to or want to refer back to. Spotify — Embarrassingly, I listen to top 20 lists a lot. Podcasts — to keep track of Design Sponge After the Jump, WTF with Marc Maron, Tim Ferriss’ podcast, and Ann Friedman’s Call Your Girlfriend. Shopify — for W&W tracking and updates. Fly Delta — for keeping track of my travel schedule and on really cold days, desperately searching for a last minute, affordable flight to somewhere tropical (those don’t exist!). Amex & Wells Fargo — for the incredibly important but boring stuff. It’s so nice to be able to check to see if bills are paid from wherever I am.
Websites: Gmail / Boomerang / Feedly / Pinterest / WordPress.com / Tweetdeck / Assistant.to
Programs: Microsoft Office — A throwback to my old job, but I love Excel and frequently make lists and brainstorm within those perfectly spaced cells. Photoshop — I’m still learning but it’s such an incredible program. Taking Blogshop in 2013 was an incredible investment — I’ll never be a designer but it helped make my editing and “design” process far more efficient.
Gadgets: iPhone6 / Macbook Air / Kindle
GSD (get shit done): A weekly column featuring busy business owners, entrepreneurs, bloggers, and CEOs and how they get shit done. Meg also writes articles with helpful ways to get shit done. Tell us how you GSD on twitter by tagging #GSDgetshitdone and @megbiram.