How this policy expert got really good at saying 'no' last year - Generocity Philly


Apr. 20, 2017 11:10 am

How this policy expert got really good at saying ‘no’ last year

Check out city employee Yuan Huang's Work Hacks, which include "task blocking" and prioritizing her free time.

Yuan Huang at her City Hall office.

(Courtesy photo)

What’s it really like to work in City Hall?

To find out, we took a peek into the work day of Yuan Huang, assistant director of policy for the City of Philadelphia. Here are her Work Hacks.


What’s the first thing you do every day before doing any job-related work?

I truly believe that the mind and body are connected and that the food you eat defines your performance and mood for the day. I like to start out my day by drinking a healthy homemade smoothie. When I’m drinking my smoothie (it usually takes me 30 minutes), I usually take a look at my to-do list and prioritize my tasks for the day.

Where do you work? Coffee shops, home office, company office? What’s it like? 

I work in a courtroom that was converted into an open concept office space on the second floor of City Hall. We have walls, but they don’t reach the ceiling (which is 20 feet high) so it doesn’t do much except give me a little visual privacy. There’s not a lot of natural light in my space, so I like to work outside when it’s nice and at the City’s Innovation Lab which looks over Dilworth Park.

What’s your KPI for every day? How do you know it’s been a productive day? 

The number of priorities that I addressed, a productive meeting, or the number of to-do tasks that have been crossed off. I feel strangely satisfied when I physically cross a task off my list.

What’s a time-saving life hack you practice? 

Before delving into my tasks, I usually first schedule time for them. Instead of just letting myself get to tasks whenever I can in between meetings, I look at my to-do list in the morning and then block time on my calendar to complete certain ones.

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Task blocking (I made this term up) also helps me treat my task as equally important as I treat a meeting. It solidifies my focus and holds me accountable to complete that task within that certain time period. I even block out time to eat lunch during especially busy days. When I don’t, I find myself eating lunch at 5 p.m.

The view of City Hall from coworking space Pipeline.

The view of City Hall from The Graham Building. (Photo by Julie Zeglen)

What motivates you about your work? 

The people and our mission. I’m so honored and privileged to be working for a such a diverse and passionate team at the Mayor’s Office of Policy, Legislation, and Intergovernmental Affairs (MOPLIA) and at GovLabPHL, a city-wide project group.

Through GovLabPHL, I’ve met external researchers and experts who bring innovative behavioral, strategic design and trauma-informed care insights to City programs and services. Most of our researchers conduct work in-kind, but are as dedicated as our staff in reaching program goals and improving city services.

I also have an incredible supervisor and close co-worker who make up our ANY team (a combination of our first name initials), where I feel like together, we can do ANYthing. 🙂

When life gets busy, how do you make sure you make time for your personal priorities? 

I’ve learned to say no. I love volunteering, happy hours and planning events for my friends. However, in 2016 — during which I got married, bought a house, and planned a three-week honeymoon — I made myself say no to invitations. And, you know, it wasn’t the worst thing in the world. People didn’t stop being my friend when I said that I needed a day to myself or my family. It’s helped immensely. I have more time with family, and with my adorable cat, Sid!

What tool or practice do you wish existed to help you get it all done?

I wished I had the ability to teleport myself into a meeting space. Teleportation would save me around 15 minutes per meeting.

What’s your preferred workday soundtrack?

I like the sound of silence when I am writing. If I listen to songs with words, lyrics find their way into my emails!


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