How Tina Fey Gets Things Done

How Tina Fey Gets Things Done image


On the heels of our breakdown of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s writing habits, we’re serving up more writing wisdom from none other than the fabulous Tina Fey! The award-winning comedian-screenwriter-actress-producer-author has spent the past twenty years blazing trails as one of the great comic geniuses of our time.

And just in case you’ve been hiking the Amazon or watching only C-SPAN for the past twenty years, here’s a quick recap of her career . . .

In the early ’90s Fey fell in love with comedy and joined the cult of improv as a player at Chicago’s Second City Theatre. Then in 1997 she made the big leap to Saturday Night Live. Originally hired as a writer, she was promoted to head writer just two years later and went on to join the cast and skyrocket to fame as co-anchor of Weekend Update. In 2005, Fey broke out on her own to produce, write, and star in the hilarious TV comedy 30 Rock.

During the 2008 election, she split our sides (and possibly influenced history) when she returned to SNL to impersonate vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin. Her caustic and insightful autobiography, Bossypants, spent five weeks on the New York Times Best-Seller List. She’s the mastermind behind Netflix’s Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt. Oh, and let’s not forget, she wrote and starred in one of the greatest teen comedies of all time—Mean Girls. (So fetch, amiright?)

Read on to learn how you, too, can achieve your goals and aspire to reach the highest levels of writing like Tina Fey!

Keep Writing: Don’t Get Hung Up On Your Failures


What I learned about “bombing” as an improviser at Second City was that bombing is painful, but it doesn’t kill you. No matter how badly an improv set goes, you will still be physically alive when it’s over.

What I learned about bombing as a writer at “Saturday Night” is that you can’t be too worried about your “permanent record.” Yes, you’re going to write some sketches that you love and are proud of forever—your golden nuggets.

But you’re also going to write some real [bad ones]. And unfortunately, sometimes the [bad ones] will make it onto the air. You can’t worry about it. As long as you know the difference, you can go back to panning for gold on Monday.

Exposing your writing to the public—or even just to friends or coworkers—can be a vulnerable experience.

How will your work be received? Are you on your way to skyrocketing your company’s sales, becoming a thought leader, publishing the next big YA novel? Or will your work be forgotten in obscurity, buried in the digital depths of the Internet?

In reality, this isn’t an “either/or” situation. We all want to be churning out shining gems left and right, but sometimes you’re going to write a piece that doesn’t quite land.

And that’s okay. It’s all part of the process. Maybe you haven’t reached the level you want to be at yet, but you have to start somewhere.

So keep working, keep writing, and don’t let the fear of failure hold you back from going for your dreams.

Deadlines Are Essential: Know When to Put Your Writing Out There


The show doesn’t go on because it’s ready; it goes on because it’s eleven-thirty. This is something Lorne has said often about “Saturday Night Live,” but it’s a great lesson in not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke until the last possible second, but then you have to let it go.

You can’t be that kid standing at the top of the waterslide, overthinking it. You have to go down the chute. . . . You have to let people see what you wrote. It will never be perfect, but perfect is overrated.

Did you hear that? We all want our writing to be perfect and amazing, but at some point we’ve got to let it go!

This can be easier for those of us with deadlines at work or school, where another human is counting on us to deliver something. But letting go can can feel more difficult if you’re working on a novel or personal blog post or any project where the timing is completely up to you.

If you’re struggling to put your writing out there, consider:

  • Setting deadlines for your work (and sticking to them).
  • Having a writing accountability partner (or group) who will hold your feet to the fire and force you to meet deadlines and share your work.
  • Reminding yourself that this is a journey, and you probably won’t reach “perfection” the first or third or twentieth time, which is okay because perfection is overrated anyway!

Be Open to Where Creativity Can Lead You


The thing that always fascinated me about improv is that it’s basically a happy accident that you think you’re initiating. You enter a scene and decide that your character is in a bar, but your partner thinks you’re performing dental surgery.

The combination of those two disparate ideas melds into something that could never have been created on its own. It’s more difficult to do that as a writer, but I’ve found the general philosophy of it to be quite helpful. It reminds me that if I stumble onto something unexpected in my writing, something that I didn’t anticipate or intend, I should be willing to follow it.

The takeaway? Don’t be afraid to try new things with your writing. Keep your inner critic away from your early process.

Give your zany, inner creative writer the chance to frolic, explore, and take risks. Scribble away with abandon, then go back later wearing your editor hat and tidy things up. You can’t polish your golden nuggets if you don’t write them in the first place because you’re too afraid to branch out.

In school we’re taught to stay in line, follow the rules, and memorize the right answer. But creativity isn’t about looking for one right answer, it’s about exploring possibilities. So grab your hang glider and your crampons—you’ve got some new horizons to explore!

Choose Your Battles Wisely: Don’t Get Hung Up on the Morons


When faced with sexism or ageism or lookism or even really aggressive Buddhism, ask yourself the following question: “Is this person in between me and what I want to do?” If the answer is no, ignore it and move on. Your energy is better used doing your work and outpacing people that way. Then, when you’re in charge, don’t hire the people who were jerky to you.

Life is full of drama, y’all. There will always be haters on the sidelines telling you that you can’t do what you’re doing.

Maybe you’re like Tina, breaking into a field where you’re underrepresented. Maybe you’re trying to climb the company ladder, or establish yourself as a freelancer. Whatever your reality, remember to choose your battles wisely.

You may feel threatened or hurt by the naysayers, but Tina’s right, if that person is not a real obstacle then it’s up to you to move onwards and upwards. Focus on your goals, and work to become an agent for change. You have a message and a mission that people need to hear, so don’t let the morons and fuddy-duddies trip you up.

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Quiz for Lessons 206 – 210 – Parts of the Sentence – Verbals

Instructions: Find the verbals in these sentences.
1. The rolling hills seemed to go on forever.
2. Having grown sleepy, I finally put down my book.
3. The parcel wrapped in brown paper was thought to be a bomb.
4. Hearing the screeching brakes, I rushed to the window.
5. Swimming is not my favorite sport.
6. To accept defeat well is often hard.
7. To go now would be foolish.
8. Having been invited to attend a party, I hurriedly took a shower.
9. The added figure made the price too high.
10. Is it time to leave yet?
–For answers scroll down.

1. rolling / to go
2. having grown
3. wrapped / to be
4. hearing / screeching
5. swimming
6. to accept
7. to go
8. having been invited / to attend
9. added
10. to leave

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at Our lessons are also available to purchase in an eBook and a Workbook format.
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Lesson 210 – Parts of the Sentence – Verbals

A verbal is a verb form used as some other part of speech. There are three kinds of verbals: gerunds, participles and infinitives.
A gerund always ends in ing and is used as a noun. Example: Eatingis fun.
A participle is used as an adjective and ends various ways. A present participle always ends with ing as does the gerund, but remember that it is an adjective. A past participle ends with ed, n, or irregularly. Examples: played, broken, brought, sung, seeing, having seen, being seen, seen, having been seen.
An infinitive is to plus a verb form. It can be a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Examples: to be, to see, to be seen, to be eaten.
Instructions: Find the verbals in the following sentences.
1. Changing his mind, Fred agreed to play the part.
2. Having been seen at lunch, the man tried to escape.
3. The team winning the final game will win the cup.
4. One way to improve is to work harder.
5. Decayed and crumbling, that old wall is dangerous.
–For answers scroll down.

1. changing / to play
2. having been seen / to escape
3. winning
4. to improve / to work
5. decayed / crumbling

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at Our lessons are also available to purchase in an eBook and a Workbook format.
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Lesson 209 – Parts of the Sentence – Verbals

A verbal is a verb form used as some other part of speech. There are three kinds of verbals: gerunds, participles and infinitives.
A gerund always ends in ing and is used as a noun. Example: Eatingis fun.
A participle is used as an adjective and ends various ways. A present participle always ends with ing as does the gerund, but remember that it is an adjective. A past participle ends with ed, n, or irregularly. Examples: played, broken, brought, sung, seeing, having seen, being seen, seen, having been seen.
An infinitive is to plus a verb form. It can be a noun, an adjective, or an adverb. Examples: to be, to see, to be seen, to be eaten.
Instructions: Find the verbals in the following sentences.
1. Sometimes I need to work more effectively.
2. Surreptitiously slipping the answers to his friend, the boy looked innocently at the ceiling.
3. Why won’t you try to be nicer?
4. I hope we never become too old to learn.
5. Having forgotten her lines, Jena fled from the stage.
–For answers scroll down.

1. to work
2. slipping
3. to be
4. to learn
5. having forgotten

For your convenience, all of our lessons are available on our website in our lesson archive at Our lessons are also available to purchase in an eBook and a Workbook format.
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How to Best Prioritize Your Work Tasks

How to Best Prioritize Your Work Tasks image

When the first task lands on your desk, you think: “No problem, I can handle it.” The second and third requests cause a little self-doubt. Soon, you don’t even know how many projects you have on your to-do list.

Does this scenario sound familiar? How can you cope when the projects pile up and the time is short? Learn today how to prioritize your work assignments efficiently and keep your cool.

In a typical day, hundreds of responsibilities vie for your attention. However, not all work tasks are equally significant. You need to prioritize them, ASAP. Priorities take precedence because they are the worthiest pursuits among many competing tasks. To give priorities the special attention they deserve, you must first decide what they are. Finishing a project is a goal. Priorities are more all-encompassing than a single undertaking; they are life values that influence your actions and decisions as you strive toward them.

For example, if your priority is punctuality, you will avoid distractions and finish projects on time in pursuit of that value. Before you read on, ask yourself: “What is my true priority for my career?”

How to Decide What You Should Do First

Steven Pressfield, author of The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks & Win Your Inner Creative Battles explains the principle of priority: “(A) You must know the difference between what is urgent and what is important, and (B) you must do what’s important first. Urgent tasks appear on your task list to address a pressing issue or because they require immediate attention or response. For example, imagine a group of IT technicians have a list of five tasks on their agenda for the day—install current anti-virus software on all the computers, find a funny tech meme for the lunchroom bulletin board contest, set up an account for a new employee starting today, order a replacement part for a broken computer, and stop by the office of someone who requested support. To be most efficient, they should first determine whether each item is urgent or important.

You might think that all the tasks are urgent and important.

President Dwight D. Eisenhower, who used the priority principle throughout his military and political career, challenged this belief, “What is important is seldom urgent, and what is urgent is seldom important.” The main difference is that important tasks support our long-term purpose, values, and objectives.

Urgent tasks are extremely time-sensitive, but they may not do anything to help us accomplish our goals. For example, the lunchroom contest poster urges the IT team to “Enter before Friday at noon!” but whether they do or not won’t affect their professional mission. They should eliminate the chore or begin it only when they have done everything else on their to-do list. What urgent tasks can you postpone or scratch off your daily schedule?

Let’s return to the IT team’s other four tasks. If their overall purpose is to keep the office network up and running, they will mark the new employee account and the support request as “important.” The affected employees won’t be able to continue their work which, in turn, could slow down the whole operation. The technicians need to order the part and update the software as soon as possible, but these assignments are of a lower priority than the new account and support request.

You might be looking at your agenda thinking, “I have too many important tasks!” In Stephen Covey’s The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, you will find a matrix to help you sort your crucial duties. First, tackle tasks that are important and urgent. Next, prioritize tasks that are important, but not urgent. After you completed everything important, you can work on some of the urgent but non-essential concerns.

How to Reduce Your Volume of Tasks

Is it possible to limit the urgency of an important task? Absolutely, you can lessen the pressure of a deadline if you plan intelligently. Often, you receive notice of deadlines weeks or months in advance. Don’t wait until the last minute to start working. Chunk your task into its components and schedule them in a logical order.

Things break unexpectedly, but sometimes you can prevent important fixes from becoming urgent by scheduling regular maintenance. For instance, if our imaginary IT team performed weekly checks and educated employees about fixing minor repairs, support requests and broken computers would be less frequent. Can you arrange your schedule to accommodate planning and maintenance?

You have the potential to be extremely efficient. Reading this article proves that you have an interest. The next step is putting its advice into practice.

Decide what your priorities are, and allow them to influence how you act. Focus on important tasks, and put urgent ones in their place. Your stress will decrease in proportion to the pile of work on your desk. And who knows, you might even finish ahead of deadline!

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5 Ways to Stop Having a Bad Day

5 Ways to Stop Having a Bad Day image

Your alarm fails to go off and you wake up twenty minutes late. You take a hasty shower, and for some reason the water temperature will only fluctuate between tepid and truly frigid. Despite those setbacks, you manage to grab a cup of coffee for the ride in, which you promptly spill down the front of your shirt. Then, when you arrive at the office you learn that your partner on a critical project has called in sick. Your deadline? Today. At noon.

You’re having an epically bad day. You could choose to wallow in it and be grumpy and miserable, but you (not to mention everyone around you) will be much happier if you can find a way to snap out of it. Science has answers!

What to Do (According to Science) When You’re Having a Bad Day

1 Just breathe.

Negative emotions and stress have physical effects. Our muscles tense. Our heart rate increases. Our breathing gets heavier or too shallow. You might not even notice these stress symptoms in the moment, but if you’ve ever gone home after a difficult day feeling achy and worn out, stress is likely the culprit.

Stop. Take a breath. In fact, take some measured breaths using the 4-7-8 technique, a practice often used in yoga and meditation. (The 4-7-8 technique is essentially a rebranding of pranayamic breathing.)

Find a quiet, comfortable place where you can be alone for a few minutes. Pay attention to your natural breathing for a while and allow yourself to get quiet. Let any distractions in your surroundings fall away. Then, breathe in for a steady count of four, hold the breath for a count of seven, and exhale slowly to a count of eight. Repeat this several times until you’re feeling relaxed.

2 Acknowledge the bad day, and then have a laugh.

When reality doesn’t match our expectations, we pour a lot of our energy into worrying that things should be different. But think about it—have you ever changed an outcome by simply wishing things were better?


Acceptance is the key to happiness. When things go wrong, instead of resisting them, lean into them. Grab lunch with a colleague or friend and regale them with your tale of woe, all while having a good laugh at yourself. When you accept that annoying things happen to everyone, you can shrug them off and move on.

3 Talk yourself out of it.

Do you mentally kick yourself when you’re having a bad day? Many of us do, and it can sound like this:

Ugh! I’m such an idiot.

This stuff always happens to me! What did I do to deserve this?

Why am I so lazy?

You wouldn’t call a friend who was having a rough day a lazy idiot, so why do it to yourself? Instead, practice positive self-talk. When you’re being overly self-critical, stop and reframe things. Be kind! You might refute the negative track playing in your head with positive statements like this:

I’m facing some challenges today, but I’m smart and resilient.

Bad days happen to everyone. I’ll bounce back.

I’m not feeling very motivated lately. I’ll brainstorm some ideas to get myself on track.

4 Write away the stress.

Keeping a journal is a fantastic way to destress. When things go wrong, we tend to ruminate on them. Mulling over unpleasant events can become a destructive cycle that’s hard to break. Our minds run a sort of instant replay on an endless loop without coming to any sort of resolution.

Journaling can help break the cycle of rumination, particularly if you focus on addressing topics that are causing you distress. Instead of hunting for a solution, ask yourself some questions designed to help you understand the issue. If there is a solution, the writing process may help you uncover it. If there isn’t, let journaling guide you toward acceptance.

5 Use your words. Literally.

Your emotional response to bad situations, like running late and spilling your coffee, triggers a reaction in the fight-or-flight part of your brain that causes stress. According to a UCLA study, putting a label on those emotions shifts your thought processing away from the amygdala to the area right behind your forehead and eyes (the right ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, if you want to get technical). This area of the brain is associated with putting emotional experiences into words.

When you put feelings into words, you’re activating this prefrontal region and seeing a reduced response in the amygdala. In the same way you hit the brake when you’re driving when you see a yellow light, when you put feelings into words, you seem to be hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.

—Matthew D. Lieberman, UCLA associate professor of psychology

So, the next time you spill your coffee down the front of your favorite shirt, just put a label on what you’re feeling.

Wow, I’m really angry about this. I’m ashamed to have people see me at work in a stained shirt.

Remember to use labels that represent real emotions. Words like “stressed” label an emotional response, not the emotion itself. Get to the root of the emotion causing the stress.

There’s no such thing as a bad day

What is a day? It’s a twenty-four-hour cycle of daylight and darkness created by the earth turning on its axis. In reality, the only way to have a bad day would be if, say, the earth stopped spinning. That would be a cataclysmically bad day.

But the earth is still rotating, amigos! So, that bad day you’re having? It doesn’t exist in reality, only in your interpretation of it. And you can shape your own reality, so when you think about it, you have phenomenal cosmic power.

See? You’re pretty much crushing it. Now, go get ‘em!

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10 Ways to Be More Confident at Work

How to be confident

Whether a bad day’s got you down, you don’t love speaking up, or you’re constantly playing the comparison game, chances are good that you could use an added dose of confidence at work.

In some cases, decision-makers in any job setting put more stock in confidence than competence when they’re making picks for a promotion or filling out a performance review. Don’t get overlooked or undervalued because you’re not projecting your best.

Try these ten bits of advice on how to effectively communicate, counter negativity, and generally how to gain confidence in the office and beyond.

1 Don’t let your case of imposter syndrome go untreated.

You know that nagging sense that you’re not as good as the people around you and you got to where you are through luck or timing? Hopefully you don’t. But if you do, it’s called imposter syndrome and it’s extremely detrimental. It’s especially common for women and minorities in largely male- and white-dominated industries, but no matter who you are, giving in to the feeling that you’re not good enough is a surefire way to hold yourself back.

To nip the terrible disease of imposter syndrome in the bud, catch yourself when you think those damaging thoughts, and counter each one with a compliment to yourself. When people give you praise, accept it politely, and don’t doubt whether you deserve it. Act confident, and be confident.

2 Act like you’re in a good mood, even if you aren’t.

Demonstrating a positive attitude—even if your pet just died—and showing resilience—even if you just got yelled at—are two ways to come across well among people you work with. And here’s a secret: projecting positivity and showing that nothing gets to you are great ways to become more positive and actually not let anything get to you.

3 Pretend you’re a movie and watch yourself act.

Pay attention to how you’re coming across in interactions with coworkers and especially bosses. Try to control your facial expressions, body language, the words you use, even your tone of voice. Some blend of polite, engaged, motivated, willing to help, and interested in the conversation should add up to a strong vibe of confidence.

If you mentally take a step back from time to time and observe your behavior, you can make adjustments to make sure you’re coming across just how you want to.

4 Think about what you say and how you say it.

Speak in a clear and level voice and choose your words deliberately. Company buzzwords are a good bet, but avoid irritating workplace no-nos. Body language is important, too: posture, polite head nods, and other ways of showing you’re engaged.

We think eliminating “like”s and “um”s goes without saying, but there, we just said it. Now you have no excuse.

5 Think assertive, not pushy.

When you’re trying to boost your confidence game, if you take it a step too far, you could wind up in cocky territory. Shades of difference are key here: when you get praise, respond with a humble “thank you; the team worked really hard,” not “I knew my ideas would pay off.” The difference between confidence and arrogance can be a fine line, but once you see someone doing the latter, you’ll know it’s not a good look.

6 Make lists obsessively.

A daily to-do list can help you keep track of what you accomplish on an everyday basis. A list of big projects (and even minor wins) can remind you of those successes—which, incidentally, will also come in handy if you need to update your resume or apply for a new job.

7 Figure out what you’re good at.

If you identify your strengths, it’s harder to get bogged down thinking about your weaknesses. Having an extra dismal day? List the skills you know set you apart (or better yet, make the list on a day when everything’s going your way so you can return to it when things aren’t so bright). After all, even if the project you’re working on seems like it can’t be solved by those abilities, or if you’re in a really low state of mind, reminding yourself of your past accomplishments and top skills should both boost your mindset and get you on track.

8 Figure out what you’re bad at.

Yeah, we just said to focus on your strengths and not get bogged down thinking about your weaknesses. However, if you identify areas for improvement, you can be aware of potential issues and areas where you might need to ask for help. Work to get better in those areas so that you can turn them into strengths.

9 Keep a stash of confidence boosters.

Build on the strengths list from tip No. 7. Use it for a reminder of the big projects you’ve completed. Create a file (some call it a kudos doc”) of emails, performance reviews, and emails or notes from others referring to things you achieved.

Or, create tactics to cheer yourself up, like a favorite song, animal picture, or music video of Christopher Walken dancing like a maniac (and occasionally flying). Hey, he’s not the best dancer, but you can’t deny he’s got confidence. Channel that.

10 Let the little things get to you.

The good little things, that is. If you let a passive aggressive email ruin your day, well, you clearly need to go back and read this from the beginning. But if someone passes you in the hall and says “nice presentation yesterday,” hold onto the good feeling you get from that all day. If you allow the little bits of positive feedback—whether from others or your own sense of a job well done—to grow into something big, then you’ll gain the confidence you deserve bit by bit.

And in the end, the more you act confident, the more you’ll be confident. So go out, paste on a smile, fix your posture, kill any negative thought that pops into your head, and constantly tell yourself that you’ve got this. Try it out: by the end of the day, you’ll realize that you really do.

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