The Laptop-Case KO
In North America, the population density is about 22.9 people per square kilometer, which means that when you think about it, each of us humans has only 150 square feet of space to work with. This space feels even smaller when the freelance economy has half of us working remotely and therefore carrying our lives with us like free-WiFi-seeking pack llamas. Which is why it seems like every time you get into an elevator or on a plane or in line at Starbucks, you are bound to be pummeled by a laptop case (or three). Between people's duffel-size handbags, the purse-imitating dog carriers and the rolling suitcase of the business traveler, it's a miracle we get through any day without getting bonked into. Next time you get clocked with the nunchuk-like edge of a MacBook Air, think of all the times you've inadvertently done the same thing to someone else with your own unwieldy bundle. Now, head out into your own allotted 150 square feet of the universe with an awareness of how much space you take up—bag of all earthly possessions included.
Treating the World As Your West Palm Beach Condo
You know how your grandmother's condo in Florida is a sauna, in a way that makes the Everglades feel refreshing? She's 95, so it's okay. If you are not 95, then it is not okay to inflict your preferences in temperature, lighting and air freshener on innocent passersby. Dear always-freezing coworker huddled by a space heater: Look around. Are your cubemates sweating? Could you battle your building's overenthusiastic air-conditioning by wearing a sweater instead? Sensitive-eyeballed shift manager: Maybe you could try tinted glasses rather than turning down all the lights so that your entire staff is afraid they're going to go blind. Yes, we all have our sensitivities and they aren't all the same, so it might be helpful to remember your solution may become someone else's problem.
Forgetting to Attach the "See Attached."
We get it. You're busy. Everyone's
too busy, and as a recent New York Times piece suggests
, we're addicted to the buzz of busy-ness. It's the human condition to think our
busy is busier than anyone else's. Still, even someone who is not nearly as busy as you are is mired in some kind of multitasking life. So when you need to send the spreadsheet, the sales dek or the screenshot that will ensure that the IT department sees exactly what frazzled your laptop at 1 a.m., take one more moment to make sure—double and triple sure—that the spreadsheet, the sales dek or the whodunnit screenshot is actually attached.
"Are You Going to Eat That?"
I admit I have learned this the hard way: It is not a good practice to poach bites off of other people's plates. Even if you are afflicted with the rare but serious Ordering Regret Syndrome. When food mooches and hungry people wielding forks combine, the results are rarely good.
With the multitude of ways to take photos, make them look amazing and share them while waiting breathlessly for instant approval, we've all become veritable Cindy Shermans. Yes, it is possible to make the world envy your beautiful breakfast, your good hair day, your super-biggest most-fun-ever night. But when you're missing the fireworks because you're forcing a friend to take "candid" after "candid" after "candid" of you with your iPhone so that you remember the moment you actually missed while posing for the picture...it might be time to stop clicking. Or—since who can actually do that—try carrying a film camera around. In addition to being an anachronistic conversation piece, it will give you a way to record a moment the way it is (closed eyes, weird shadows and all) and keep going, without editing your life story as you go.
Offering Pretend Lasagna
There are fewer questions less answerable than "What can I do to help?" It's bad enough when lobbed at a harried hostess, but even more unanswerable for someone who's really struggling. The urge to ask is understandable: Chances are, you don't know what someone who has suffered a terrible loss or is struggling with some unthinkable disease has gone through. So you ask the question 47 times, and when the person doesn't have a response, you throw your hands up and think, "Well, I tried..." And here's the thing: You do get friend credit for trying. But you get even more for actually doing. Are they not responding to calls but seem happy to get emails? Are they drop-in averse? Start with a small, concrete way to make the day easier
, whether it's having groceries delivered or coming over to walk her dog, and do it in the least obtrusive manner possible.
The Homework-Assignment Goodbye
You had the nicest time at the dinner party/playdate/poker night, which took three months and an online poll to schedule, and so upon leaving, you exclaim, "We have to get together again soon—maybe even next week. Call me!" What you meant to say is, "How much fun was that?!" or "I so loved seeing you," but without meaning to, you've turned a pleasantry into an obligation. Emphasize in your goodbye what you really felt—the joy part—and if you actually do want to see the person again soon, you can extend a specific invitation...later (e.g., "Would you like to go see the new Artist We Both Enjoy exhibit next Saturday at 3?").
The Inadvertent Conference-Call Radio Show
What does it sound like when you put someone on hold? Do you know? This is not a Zen koan. The answer is...of course not; you've never put yourself on hold.
Us, either. But consider the possibility that when you sneak off a conference call to answer another line, the entire team in Singapore or Cleveland or wherever is being treated to the un-dulcet tones of some Pandora channel or ads from the Egg Board (as we were abashed to learn just last month).
Dancing the Concert-Line Ticket-Searching Two-Step
Waiting in lines is fun for exactly no one. The good news is that as a temporary citizen of a long line, we can make life better for our fellow waiters by thinking one step ahead. Take out the ticket before getting to the concert or movie entry, sort out the change while languishing in line for the tollbooth—and we all can get where we need to be that much faster.
The Smartphone Email Abyss
This may by the most helpful email you'll ever need, so feel free to copy and paste it:
Thanks for your email! I got it and will respond later, when I'm not walking down the street staring at my iPhone like a technologically overfed nincompoop.
Or something along those lines. Here's why we're giving ourselves this reminder: We all thought, when we got our first smartphones, that they would make it so much easier to keep up with our email. Never did we think we would stumble into the smartphone email abyss, wherein one sees a message on one's phone, one thinks that the well-thought-out and non-thumb-typed response will happen later, and then one completely forgets about the email, which no longer shows up as unread. Meanwhile, the sender of the original email thinks you've fallen off the face of the planet. A quick acknowledgement, an even quicker evening scan of the day's emails (mark things as "unread" if you need a reminder that the real response is still due) and we're good.
Next: 9 things your friends wish they could tell you