Real-world rules can be applied to real-life

SCARILY, I'm beginning to understand business jargon. "Reporting" means charts and graphs, not journalism. "Metrics" are statistics to control your employees with, not meters and kilograms. And "best practices" don't mean the times I played Chopin without a mistake. "Best practices" are tips I follow because others in my field have already discovered that they get us where we want to go.

You can transfer some best practices across jobs.

For example: Show up on time for work and regularly read magazines or blogs about current events in your industry.

But I've also run across best practices that apply easily to my home life. A few follow:

-Think before you talk, especially if you feel passionate about what you're saying. There is no TiVo back-eight-seconds button for real life.

-Keep up minor acquaintances with people you like. Cool former colleagues and nice neighbors will make your life richer. They will know jokes and recipes and job opportunities that you don't.

Sociologists call this tip "the strength of weak ties." Actively watch for connections to make and heads to hunt. Think of it as being a good hostess in the party that is your life.

-Perfect is the enemy of done. If I hesitate to spend 15 minutes on a project because doing it perfectly would take an hour, then I'll never get my bathroom cleaned or that bug report written.

If you read this and immediately think, "That may be true for you, but MY job requires flawless execution at every turn," take a step back. I am willing to bet a shiny quarter that there are some aspects of your job that respond better to timeliness than to a zero error rate.

We're always making tradeoffs; the trick is to know that and to check that we're making the right ones.

-In a related tip: Regularly shake free of the detail view to ask, "What are my goals? What are the criteria for success here?" Do you really need to spend an hour fiddling with your computer settings right now, or worrying over which Wikipedia link to include in a blog entry? The answer is no.

-If it would take a long time to re-create something, it's important enough to deserve a back-up. Your colleague's expertise, a document, or a prototype might disappear, but if you have a back-up, you won't be doomed.

-Take breaks. Grinding away at a task for hours on end, you'll lose perspective and eyesight. As Lincoln said, if he had to chop down a tree, he'd take breaks to sharpen his ax. I use a free computer program called Workrave ( []) to remind me to look away from the screen and walk around every so often. Just knowing that a nap, a vacation, or a meal is on the horizon can make me more productive and not look for excuses to take little breaks all the time.

-Women: Ask for what you want and deserve! As writer Kevin Drum pointed out, women, even feminists, often hesitate to ask for raises they deserve. Don't just wait for others to recognize how awesome you are and reward you. In life outside school, we don't get A's for just completing the required assignments and being nice. If my husband or sister do something disrespectful to me, I call them on it. If a waiter delivers an inedible meal, I nicely send it back.

And I asked for a one-third raise at a job where I was lowest on the totem pole, and I got it.

-Make a "what I've learned" list when you leave a job or a major chapter of your life ends. When this newspaper column ends someday, I'll include these on my list: "Columns can have two big ideas or eight little ones;" "People send letters about hair styling, religion, marriage and the caste system;" and "Newspaper readers love lists."

Sumana Harihareswara writes for Bay Area Living each week. You can write to her at