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Office tale of Susan Isaacs, Principal and the Head Strategic Focus-izer at Paragon

Office tale of Susan Isaacs, Principal and the Head Strategic Focus-izer at Paragon

Published by Leonardo Calcagno

Who are you :
My name is Susan Isaacs. Not the one who’s written novels. I’m the other one, who is originally from Grenada (in the Caribbean), and who co-founded Paragon Design Group in 2001. I started out with hopes of becoming an architect, but once I’d gotten my M. Arch I decided that my real interest lay in multimedia design and that I was an entrepreneur at heart.

Your current job :
I am a Principal and the Head Strategic Focus-izer at Paragon. I consult with clients and serve as an internal collaborator with my team, my job is primarily running the business. I handle everything from financials to contract negotiations to HR.

In which city are you located?
Savannah, GA.

A word to define what kind of worker you are :

What tools are essential to your life (app, software, etc..)
Google calendar is the only way I know what I am supposed to be doing when. Old school notepads are also important to me. If I don’t have one handy I end up writing on the backs of envelopes. 

What does your office space look like?
Warm and inviting. I spend half of my life in it so it’s got to be a place that makes me happy and where I feel comfortable. My favorite thing in my office is my giant Buddha relief carving. It’s upside down (long story) and I actually love that. There are also 3 Starbucks cups high up above a window that are out of my reach — a goofy prank from one of my employees in retaliation for a dumb one I pulled on him. He works remotely now and those cups make me smile when I see them up there because I miss having him around every day.
My desk unfortunately a bit of a mess because I can never seem to stem the flow of paper. I’ve got note pads, mail, paper swatch books and a cafe cup full of business cards. It’s never too wild though because I can’t focus in overwhelming clutter. 

What kind of music do you listen when you are working ?
I probably only listen to music 10% of the time. Currently whenever I do it’s the soundtrack from Hamilton, the Broadway play.
For me music is helpful if I am doing a repetitive task or something creative, but so much of my job involves communication (writing, emails, calls) that music can be distracting. I can’t listen to someone else’s words playing in the background when I am trying to craft my own.

Do you have a way to organize your day to maximize your work ?
Each day I have certain must-complete tasks that I drop into my schedule, after that I leave blocks of time to deal with incoming tasks. My job is all about communication and I work hard at being very responsive to clients, prospects and to my team when they need my input. That means I have to be available when they need me.

What tips would you give to improve productivity ?
Write stuff down. Everything. If it’s not written down it does not exist. Also, treat your brain well. If you don’t get enough rest you’ll be slower and less creative when problem solving.

You’re better than your colleagues at :
Rambling on. I’ve been long winded since I was a kid. 🙂

I am very good at switching my focus back and forth between the finer details and the bigger picture. That’s a product of being trained as an architect. I find it extremely helpful in making sure we are focused on the right thing at the right time.

What is the best advice anyone has given you ?
Show up. Sometimes the only difference between the people who succeed and those who fail is that some of them keep showing up even when things get tough.

What is your best tip for saving time ?
Plan ahead. Think through a solution before you jump in and start doing stuff. This is why good designers sketch before they open up Photoshop or Illustrator. Also plan ahead for your day. My least favorite days are the ones where I haven’t done enough planning and I feel like I’m figuring it out as I go. More time is lost that way.

What is your routine start and end of the day ?
I get up and stumble onto the treadmill before I do anything else. I’ve trained myself to get dressed for my workout while I’m still mostly asleep. Once my cardio is done I hop into the shower, get dressed then I pack lunch for the day. Breakfast is next and then I try to have a few minutes of quiet time to meditate and then map out key tasks for the day.
On evenings I tend to get home late, but I usually try to spend some time in my garden before dinner. After dinner I might squeeze in a hour to watch a show but I try to be in bed by 10pm at the latest.

Aside from your computer and your phone, what gadget can you not you go without?
I’m not really attached to any gadgets besides my computer and phone. And I try not to spend too much time on those either. I value real experiences and relationships more than stuff.