I’m not going to claim this is the only advice you’ll ever need, ever. (We all know we need to wear sunscreen, right?) But these two bits of wisdom have covered most situations for me for the last 20 years or more.

1. Look under things.  Finding Fairy

I mean this in both the literal and metaphoric sense. A staple of my childhood was my mother saying to me, “Did you look underneath stuff?” The situation: I’d lost something. The answer: no, I hadn’t. Today, I am the person who can find what my husband (really, he has a pathetic short-term memory) has lost. Even if I wasn’t around when he lost it. Even if I’m not there at all. Sometimes all it takes is him announcing to me that he can’t find something to activate the “finding fairy” that directs him to the object. So I mean this advice literally: pick objects up and look underneath them.

But it’s also a good reminder to look deeper than the surface. I have past and present co-workers who are masters of long-term strategy, and I’ve learned patience by watching them. I’m an impatient type by nature: I’d rather change, confront, or discuss something now than wait. But as I’ve (dare I say it?) matured, I’ve come to understand the value of seeing how opinions and approaches evolve in a workplace. I’ve also learned to be careful about who in an office is connected by carpool or Girl Scouts or neighborhood, and to respect the alliances that form in unlikely places (as well as to not complain about someone to the wrong person).

Lesson learned: look beyond what’s on the surface.

2. Break an overwhelming project down into manageable bits.  bridge

I discovered this gem in college when I was faced with the dreaded senior thesis (which I had chosen over the even-more dreaded senior comprehensive exams). I freaked out when faced with a semester-long writing project (if I’d only known what my future held!). My Linguistics advisor said, “Just outline. Then outline some more, and more, until the smallest chunks in your outline are a manageable size.” What do you know? It worked.

The impact of her words has been much longer-lasting than my undergraduate thesis, and I’ve heard echoes of them throughout my life. When I was a beginning fiction writer, my writing teacher cautioned us to focus on the bridge we could cross today (writing today) and not be so worried about the crossing eight bridges later (finding an agent, finding a publisher, selling, writing another one, etc.). When faced with a house or an apartment that needed to be completely gutted and remodeled, my husband and I made lists, broke down the tasks, and put them in priority and functional order.

Lesson learned: cut the task down to size and take one bridge at a time.Tammy Kaehler

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to go find my husband’s good shoes.

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Before trying her hand at fiction, Tammy Kaehler established a career writing marketing materials, feature articles, executive speeches, and technical documentation. A fateful stint in corporate marketing introduced her to the world of automobile racing, which inspired the first Kate Reilly Racing Mystery, Dead Man’s Switch, which will be released tomorrow. Tammy works as a technical writer in the Los Angeles area, where she lives with her husband and many cars.Dead Man's Switch by Tammy Kaehler Find out more at www.tammykaehler.com.