Protecting one’s time: How can wellbeing play into decision-making?
How do you describe how you make decisions in your role? Hannah Thomas, director of learning and innovation at Big Duck, talks with Fatima Jones, senior director of marketing and communications at the Apollo Theater, to discuss how to set up boundaries to protect your time and wellbeing and how to enforce these boundaries in your decision-making process.
Hannah Thomas : Welcome to the Smart Communications Podcast. My name is Hannah Thomas. I’m Director of Learning and Innovation at Big Duck. I’m joined today by Fatima Jones, Senior Director of Marketing and Communications at the Apollo. We’re going to be talking about protecting your time and how wellbeing can play into decision-making. Hey, Fatima, so psyched to chat with you today.
Fatima Jones : Hey, Hannah, this is, like, my favorite topic, talking with some of my favorite folks.
Hannah Thomas : Wonderful, I can’t wait to dig in. Before we do, I just want to share a little bit more of your bio so folks have some good context going into the conversation, and then we’ll jump right in. Fatima is a cultural strategist, marketing, and reputation management leader. As I’ve already shared, she’s currently heading marketing and comms at the Apollo, a nonprofit arts, culture, and economic anchor committed to Black artists and audiences located in Harlem, New York. Fatima is the former Director of Communications for the Brooklyn Museum. Before that, she spent almost a decade at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. We share that; we are alums, together, of BAM.
Fatima Jones : Yes. Bammies!
Hannah Thomas : Yep, exactly! She’s been profiled by Essence, The Public Relations Society of America, in The Network Journal, among other publications. She is a mother, wife, sister, and friend to many. She lives in Brooklyn, New York. Welcome again, Fatima.
Fatima Jones : Thank you, it’s great to be here.
Hannah Thomas : So, just to start, I mean, this is a really, really big picture question. How do you describe how you make decisions in your role?
Fatima Jones : How do I make decisions? I usually start by asking the question “Why?” I ask that question a lot in my personal life before I do most things, and I also ask that question a lot at work. I probably drive my coworkers crazy with that question, but in the arts, I feel like it’s really important to start with the why. Another thing I think about at work is the team impact. So, really thinking about what I’m doing, what my team is doing, and how that will impact our goals, the strategies that we put in place. I also think about if it’s something that I want to do. You know, it’s like why and also, do I want to do that? That’s a question sometimes that, you know, obviously you can’t always do all the things that you want, but I’ve worked in the business for a while, and I have a great team and sometimes I can delegate things that I don’t necessarily want to do. It’s the luxury that I have as a senior member. But yeah, those are the three things where I go first when I have to make a decision.
Hannah Thomas : That’s great. When I hear about why and the impact and then whether it’s something you want to do, I think about those all being potentially, sort of, boundaries or guardrails. I’m wondering if you see it that way and then how you, kind of, enforce those boundaries that you’re setting.
Fatima Jones : You know, I think a lot about efficiency. Sometimes I’m not the right person to do a job. Maybe it’s someone else who knows a little bit more. Sometimes it is me that’s supposed to do it. So I have to, you know, I just think about all of those things when I need to make a decision, but I think about it less as a boundary and more of, just, the process of being efficient. We talk a lot about, people talk about, like, the power of no, and I really think, you know, and this is kind of corny, but when you say no, you’re saying yes to yourself, you’re saying yes to something else, right? You make space for something else. And so I just prefer to look at it from, like, a glass half full perspective. It’s less about boundaries and more about process.
Fatima Jones : The Apollo, it’s a legacy organization, but we really have a lot of rapid growth. We’re moving really fast to try to just keep up with everything, and we have a lot of love and support, but I’m constantly recalibrating my work and my days. So it’s really just about, like, what do I need to do to get the job done? Who can help me? Who do I need to delegate to? I have, like, this thing – the Ds – it’s decide, do, decline or delete, delegate, delay. So really kind of like having that rubric to make decisions and to kind of move quickly. And I’m really good at, I have a lot of phrases for delaying.
Hannah Thomas : What are some of those? I would love to hear.
Fatima Jones : Simple stuff like, “Oh, wow, let me get back to you.” Or I have to give props to one of my best friends, a choreographer, Ronald K. Brown. He taught me how to kind of sidestep questions that you don’t really want to answer after a show. Like, if somebody comes up to you and goes, like, “What did you think about the show?” and you’re like, “Hmm…wow!” It’s just a delay tactic, right, to try to figure out what to say. But you know, we’re moving so fast. And honestly, I like to take time to think about things, you know, to dream a little bit, to really think about what I’m doing, and so I push back a little bit on the quick, fast answers that sometimes people want you to give.
Hannah Thomas : You mentioned earlier, when you’re saying no, you’re saying yes to yourself in some way and that idea of, you know, self-care being part of the practice of working at a nonprofit. Can you talk a little bit more about that and some other ways that self-care kind of show up in the context of work and in your role?
Fatima Jones : Yeah, definitely. It’s funny, my coworker, Jane, gave this wonderful presentation yesterday about culture to the senior team at the Apollo. The Apollo is a place that when people come, they feel so much joy and energy that they bring to the theater and we want to make sure that our staff also feels that joy and energy. So we’re really starting to take a hard look at what the culture of our organization is now and what we’re hoping to aspire to. But she mentioned a quote and I’m not sure where she got it, but basically, the number was like, you spend 90,000 hours of your life at work, 90,000 hours. Like, what the heck?
Hannah Thomas : Yeah, you can’t see it, but I’m bugging out over here with that number.
Fatima Jones : Right. Yeah, it’s a little crazy. There’s a saying that says, “The care you give to others starts with the care you give to yourself.” I really only came to truly understand this as a mature woman. When I was younger, I just kind of went and went and went, I go, I go, I go, but now I realize it’s kind of like when you’re driving, if you’re tired, you’re going to not make the best decisions, right? You may fall asleep at the wheel. You may make a wrong turn. I can’t give to others. If I’m tired or if I’m stressed. It’s also not a great way of showing our younger staff how to work because we are really setting the tone for them. In addition to the kind of, like, the thing, “Oh, take your vacations.” Like, of course, yes, try to take your vacations, but I think it’s a daily practice. You have to practice to protect your peace. In this pandemic that we’re in, all the political turmoil, it’s really something you have to really maintain every day, and I’m really dedicated to that because I feel a lot of responsibility to show and to be a leader to my group on how to do this. And as a mother as well, trying to show my daughter what that looks like.
Hannah Thomas : That’s great. When you’re saying about how it’s easy to be on autopilot or the defacto is just go, go, go all the time, I think there can be some sort of, like, dominant nonprofit culture that is very go, go, go. There’s no time for reflection; there’s work that needs to be done. So, do you see yourself sort of shaking up the dominant dynamics at play when you are saying no or when you’re taking space and time for yourself? Or how do you, kind of, picture the relationships at play when you’re protecting your time?
Fatima Jones : Yeah. I feel like people have a lot of respect when, and they’re actually surprised, I think, sometimes when you say like, actually, like for example, I have this thing with my team, and you’ll probably remember this from working at BAM, we work a lot of nights. There’ll be some nights that I’ve been in the theater until one o’clock in the morning, literally. I need to eat. Can someone feed me? So, I’ve decided for my team that if you work after a certain hour, I’m going to help you eat. I’m going either provide food for you, whether it’s ordering in or let you know that you can get reimbursed for what you’ve eaten. But you know, we’re humans, we need to eat. We need to sit sometimes, standing for hours and hours on end. So I mean, those are things I want for myself. So I give that to my staff, right? It’s a very simple thing, but I can tell you that I spent all of my thirties at the theaters for hours, hungry. So it’s simple things like that. But once you, kind of, start to do that, like, I hope that my staff will do that for their teams when they are in my position, right? It’s really simple acts of care. They sound simple, I guess, but maybe they’re not. But it really gives people permission to do the same for others. Change starts with you.
Fatima Jones : I actually have received a lot of support from the things that I’ve tried to implement. At first, they may seem a little strange because people are just not used to feeling taken care of in the arts, sadly. But once you start, you’re like, “Oh yeah, this is the right thing to do, right? And when people see the right thing, they know. So, I’ve had a lot of support for some of the change that I’ve made, and it feels right for me, so it works.
Hannah Thomas :
Yeah. I love that, and I do love that we have this shared history and understanding of being in some of these arts and cultures spaces, and I certainly remember long nights at BAM early in my career. Some great nights and also some long and dense nights.
Fatima Jones : Yes, yes.
Hannah Thomas : When I think back on those days, I did not really feel empowered to prioritize my self-care, or I didn’t feel like I was in enough of a leadership role to allow myself a break or to get dinner or things like that, and I’m just wondering what advice you might have for folks who may not feel like they have that power or aren’t in a dedicated, official leadership role where there’s that space, sort of, carved out.
Fatima Jones : Yeah, that’s a good question. I mean, I guess the very first thing, and I just shared this information with my daughter – she had an issue at school where she wasn’t in agreement with a procedure that the school had in place. Policy. And I said, “The best way to do is to get allies, to bring other people with you.” I’m a Type A Aries so I don’t usually need an ally to raise my voice, which gets me in trouble over the years. But I would suggest to others, get allies cause a lot of the time the things that you’re seeing or the things that you’re hoping for or looking for from your organization or from your superior are things that other people see as well. It’s easier to kind of blow off one person’s suggestion. It’s harder to do that when there are a number of you saying the same thing. Even if it has to be anonymous, I would say that’s probably the number one place to start. The other thing I can think of – maybe they’re your superiors but they’re not in your department – again, getting an ally or a sympathetic ear to the issue. There’s strength in numbers.
Hannah Thomas : Absolutely. I wanted to talk a little bit more about all these delightful D words that you mentioned earlier.
Fatima Jones : Yes. The D words.
Hannah Thomas : I feel like we went through that too quick, and I want to hear all these again and maybe hear a little bit more about how some of them play out for you.
Fatima Jones : Yeah, yeah, I mean the D words – I use it a lot in email. It’s funny because Outlook has this thing where they give you a weekly insight into your email communications. And so last week it said I was in communication with 75 people in one week, and I’m like, “Oh God, that’s a lot of people.” And that’s because I’m kind of moving quickly. I decide very quickly whether or not I need to do it; whether I need to decline it or delete it. There’s just some things that just don’t need to be responded to. I decide very quickly whether it can be delegated, and I have a really strong team and I know who’s strong at what and who can kind of take it off my plate. Also, really coming up with a procedure with them where I’m just like, “Look, if I forward it to you and I mention your name, then you know to jump into the email. If I forward it to you and I don’t mention your name, then I need to connect you.” You know, we have a way of working that is very fluid.
Fatima Jones : And then also knowing when to delay. Like, not every communication requires an immediate response. In fact, most people are not even expecting immediate response. They’re also into their things. This past year, especially the past two years since COVID, I’ve really been doing a lot of work on removing my ego from decision making. Removing my ego as it pertains to being seen as Fatima, the Senior Director Marketing at the Apollo. Like, the job is great. I’m very excited to work the Apollo, but I’m more than my job. I have other interests. I have other skills. I have other things to offer. So, really removing what I internally feel about my job from my decisions and really kind of looking at the facts; thinking about how that affects others and the organization and not just my personal feelings about it.
Hannah Thomas : I feel like there is so much deep conversation that could be had around the idea of, “I want to prioritize self care and I want to deprioritize my ego,” right? I think that’s real.
Fatima Jones : It sounds like they’re at odds, but it’s really just a mindset, right? There are a lot of situations that you encounter at work that if it was in your personal life, you would make a different decision but because it’s work, you kind of do what you have to do. When you work in a performing arts center and when you’re working with live arts, like, when I was, like, at the museum, there were some times you work on an exhibition. There isn’t, like, you know, maybe the artist is gone from us, but when you’re working with live people, there’s so much emotion caught up in it and simple things that could just be, like, black and white issues become emotional. And I’m really trying to do a lot of work to remove that when possible. Because it’s just easier for me. Yeah, I mean, I think that they sound at odds but they really are – they work for me. I mean, you know, one is just kind of listening to myself about what I need but also just knowing that what I think is not the end all and be all at work. I hope that makes sense.
Hannah Thomas : I think that it does, and I think they both really tie closely to just listening to what’s going on with your body and your mind and your heart. Like, making me nervous or making me uncomfortable, that might be, like, my ego piece or, like, I’m tired, physically, and that’s self care. So there’s, you know, different feelings. Yeah. I’m picking up what you’re putting down.
Fatima Jones : Thank you. Because I tell you what, I don’t make hard decisions when I’m hungry. Not a good idea, not a good idea. And I’ll say to my staff sometimes I’m like, “Y’all, I’m going to apologize now, I haven’t eaten so if I’m snappy or whatever, please forgive me.” You know, we’re all human. Just giving each other grace is just the beginning. The grace part is the beginning, and I think working in the arts, we’ve been such work horses for so many years, and finally, COVID has kind of given us an opportunity, for better or for worse, to really rethink how we work. To really rethink, I don’t necessarily believe in work-life balance, but really thinking about how we live our lives. Right? That 90,000 hours makes me angry.
Fatima Jones : I guess that’s why we have to encourage people to really, as much as you can, try to do things that you enjoy, and if you can combine those things and work, you know – just being at the theater on Tuesday with our concert, with H.E.R., H.E.R. the singer, I had an opportunity to kind of sink into the audience with everyone else and enjoy the show. I just kept saying to myself, “This is my most favorite thing. My most favorite thing is to be here in this space, listening to amazing music around other people in this great energy. It gives us a couple of hours to just release the cares of the world. This is my favorite place right now at this moment.” That fueled me for another 48 hours basically, right? So, just being present in the space that you’re in, for me, has just given me tremendous insight onto, just, relationships with other people, relationships with myself. I got to shout out, I believe her name is Tricia Hershey from The Nap Ministry. Are you familiar with The Nap Ministry?
Hannah Thomas : I am. Not as familiar, but yeah.
Fatima Jones : Well, just for the listeners, if you get a chance, The Nap Ministry on Instagram, she is someone who has been beating the drum about self-care and, specifically, black people resting. And I really believe that a movement, especially with young people, is catching on about the fact that we need to rest, that we are carrying with us emotional trauma from our ancestors within our bodies. During all of the Black Lives Matter movement, kind of the crucible of it around George Floyd, literally, my stomach was in knots. And I didn’t know why, and I realized that it was because of what was going on in the world, right? I had to start a yoga practice. I started a daily yoga practice around that time and it’s done me so much good, just to be able to deal with what’s going on right now. Over-carrying so much trauma with us. We need to rest. We need to be present.
Hannah Thomas : I think that’s such a good note to close onto the importance of rest and how deep it goes. Like, it’s not just about a nap, it’s about a lot more. Yeah.
Fatima Jones : It’s so deep. It’s scary deep. Like, if you really start to think about it, it’s really, really scary, right? Which is why I feel such deep responsibility for my child, to show her what it looks like to take care of yourself because she is watching me and she knows that I take my rest. I do a dance break. I eat when I’ve got to eat, I have my fun, and also get my work done. There’s a way to do it, and you take your breaks when you need to. You know, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You really can’t. It doesn’t work that way.
Hannah Thomas : No, totally, and the fact that, like, this is an ongoing journey, right? You don’t need to have all the tools to know exactly what you need right now. You can try out new things and learn about yourself and learn what it takes. And we did talk about some actionable stuff throughout the conversation that listeners could take with them, but is there anything that we’d want to share that they can take after listening to this podcast? An action step in terms of protecting themselves and practicing self-care in their workplace?
Fatima Jones : Well, I’ll give one practice that I have. I’m just like everyone else. Like, when you love your work, you’re often thinking about it all the time. And so, I don’t know, like, I’ll have water before I go to sleep and I’m like, darn it, in the middle of the night I have to go to the bathroom, right? And then I come back and I can’t go to sleep, and the first thing I start thinking about is all of the stuff that I needed to do for work. So what I do is I write it down. I just get it out of my head. Everything. Sometimes I’ll open up an app and just make lists for myself of all the stuff – call so and so, forward such and such to so and so, remember to look at such and such – all of that stuff I get out of in my head, and usually it helps me to go back to sleep just knowing that, “Okay, I’m not going to forget that stuff because it’s been written down.” So that’s one thing.
Fatima Jones : The other thing that really had a big, was really transformative for me was Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way. It’s a workbook, basically, but it really kind of changed my life. I did it, like, about four years ago. She has something called the daily pages, your daily pages, and it’s really about getting all of that stuff out of your brain onto a page every day. It doesn’t matter how simple it is, how silly it is, and it just helps to remove the clutter. There’s so much clutter we get from social media, from the news, your partner, from your family and from whomever, your own mind, that it just helps to kind of get that out, and that was a great practice that I picked up from doing the exercises from The Artist’s Way. I recommend that to pretty much everybody. It was pretty pivotal for me in changing my ways of just kind of overworking and just not focusing on myself.
Hannah Thomas : Great. We’ll make sure to link out to the things that we’ve been talking about in this discussion so folks can take a look at that, try out the practice for themselves. Fatima, is there anything else you wanted to talk about?
Fatima Jones : Yeah. When I talk about the ego, one thing I will say is that I know for a fact I do this, that sometimes your fear of what people are thinking about you will stop you from making a decision. And oftentimes we’re caught up in what others think of us when that’s not even the case. Like, it’s not even, like, you’re thinking about that and that person has moved on to something else. So really, you know, try to get out of my own way. Try not to focus on what other people are thinking about you. I know that I give my best every day, and I know that other people know that as well and have to kind of believe that even if I make a mistake that they know that I’m doing my best. That relieves a lot of stress.
Hannah Thomas : Yeah, absolutely. I love us actually ending on that note. That we’re all really doing the best we can and we need not worry what others are thinking about us as long as we are doing what we can to put our best self into work and into life.
Fatima Jones : Yes.
Hannah Thomas : So, I appreciate that a lot. Thank you so much, Fatima, for talking about this with me today. We should have a part two down the road cause I feel like there’s plenty to discuss.
Fatima Jones : Yeah, the power of yes! The power of yes next time.
Hannah Thomas : Flip side of the coin, exactly.
Fatima Jones : Yes, yes. Well, thank you for having me and we’d love to see you at the Apollo as soon as you’re able, as soon as you’re ready, we’re here for you. We’ve got a red seat waiting with your name on it.
Hannah Thomas : Oh, my gosh, I couldn’t be more excited. Yes, I can’t wait to get back to the Apollo. And I want to make sure folks who are listening can stay connected to the Apollo and to you, Fatima, and I know you’re on LinkedIn at Fatima Jones. Are there any other channels folks should tune into to keep in touch?
Fatima Jones : Sure! I mean, I’m private on Instagram, but if you’re in the community and you have the correct description in your bio, follow me @lovejonespr. I love to make community with the arts folks.
Hannah Thomas : Awesome. Well, thank you again, Fatima, and have a good rest of your day.
Fatima Jones : Amazing. Thank you so much.