Sarah Stein Lubrano is Head of Content at The School of Life (TSOL), a provider of learning programmes that help people develop the emotional skills needed to live more fulfilled lives. Here, she picks the five things she couldn’t do her job without
1 Digital Calendars
I have ADHD and struggle to remember anything on my own. Instead, as I’ve written about in other articles, I assiduously record everything I need to do on my two digital calendars (work and personal), so that every hour is blocked out for pretty much the whole working day. This stops me from forgetting anything big or small. If something doesn’t get done, I just move the little block to the next day so there’s a new reminder and plan for when to do it.
Psychologists refer to this strategy as ‘Time-Boxing’. Behind it is the psychological insight that our brains are very faulty and don’t work like computers, and that their functioning can be much improved through tools and strategies that do the computer-like parts of thinking. We strongly centre our work on this insight at The School of Life, where we create tools to help people think better at work and in life, and particularly to understand their own emotions.
First, I use these to mark-up the books I’m reading. I’m the kind of barbarian who likes to annotate books with a pencil, but post-its have the added advantage of visually leading me back to crucial places in a book.
Second, I use them extensively for design, as they let me write down the components of a product/argument/process and then move them around and play with them. Every good designer probably does something similar. I understand lots of people (including Nabokov) have written whole books with index cards using the same philosophy. There are digital equivalents now, but there’s something about holding a thing in your hand that can never be replaced. And neuroscience suggests we think better when we use our hands.
3 Architect’s Kneeling Chair
I’m only 28, but being a very short person chairs rarely work well for me. I find that I can either rest my back on the chair or keep my feet on the floor – but hardly ever both! I have the worst posture and my back hurts all the time. But this year, at home, I’ve finally installed a beautiful kneeling chair in the centre of the room and feel the most comfortable I’ve felt sitting down in my whole life.
This year, we designed our first virtual workshops for TSOL for Business. It was incredible to bring people from all over the world into our virtual classroom to discuss the challenges they face in their working lives. Zoom, more than any other provider, had lots of helpful features and was incredibly reliable. People especially love the ‘breakout rooms’ function, where they are automatically sorted into groups of two or three to discuss things for short periods. It feels intimate and natural and is no trouble technologically. I’m constantly hearing from participants that they want more time in these groups.
There are some issues, of course. A big one is that some nation states, China especially, have blocked Zoom and similar communications software. But nothing about education is without political challenges!
5 Other people
This is the really crucial one. No matter how much I like to be on my own at times, really interesting and precise thinking happens in groups – discussion, dialogue, criticism, additions. In some ways, it’s remarkable we have books written by individuals at all, as most good ideas happen in conversation with others. This is why so many of the workshops I design involve open-ended discussion; sometimes the most important thing we offer in TSOL workshops is a place and framework for people to communicate and think together about how to do better in their organisations. We need one another to do our best work and, as a political theorist, I think that’s a very good thing.
Founded by philosopher Alain de Botton, The School of Life has been working with individuals and organisations on developing emotional intelligence skills for more than 10 years. Courses include customisable workshops on Decisiveness, Self-Awareness, Adaptability, Charm & Creativity, as well as learning programmes for Management and Keynote Speeches. Individuals can also develop workplace skills in their own time using a series of compact self-help books available in electronic and printed format. The two most recent titles, How to Think More Effectively and How to Get on with Your Colleagues, were published in January and are available online and in bookshops.