Kat Reed is a mid-life founder and authority at getting things done. She is the author of Begin Here; helping survivors manage, the first most valuable self-help workbook to guide people navigating the practical matters after a death. Kat is also the CEO and co-founder of EstateGrid.co, the company that helps survivors through the most important job they never wanted. EstateGrid takes the book’s contents and her knowledge gained from hundreds of interviews with survivors to a new level. Kat is a lifelong learner who defiantly skipped college, an empath, and an unwavering advocate and champion for survivors after a death.
Thank you for sharing your story with us. What is your professional background? How did you end up with this career?
Thank you for the opportunity to share it! I help people bring order to their chaos. I spent my professional career vacillating between two poles: Helping businesses achieve consistent results by showing them how to articulate training, process documentation, and messaging; and helping individuals navigate the countless practical details of getting past the death of someone in their lives. Both sets of activity involve extraordinary attention to detail, procedure analysis, writing, editing, and follow-up.
EstateGrid is where all of this comes together. My co-founder and I are building a company in service to people who need help at a critical juncture in their lives, after a death. I wrote Begin Here: helping survivors manage to give survivors resources. We are building EstateGrid to go a step beyond and carry them on the journey in the online world.
How did you begin your remote work journey? Where do you see yourself in the next year? What tips do you have for others who are working remotely?
My remote work journey started in 2007 when I worked for the now defunct Washington Mutual (bank) as a business analyst in Seattle, Washington. My then boyfriend (now husband) and I decided (okay, so I talked him into it) we wanted to mix it up and move to his hometown Stillwater, Minnesota. I really liked my job and my team and was disappointed about having to quit, but we were ready to leave Seattle. It suddenly occurred to me; I can do everything I do at the office remotely. I asked my manager if I could keep my job and work from Minnesota. I had a good reputation as a worker and they didn’t look forward to having to replace me, so they agreed. Mostly ever since I have happily worked remotely in my current state of residence, California. (Pro tip: If you never ask, the answer is always No.)
In the next year – and every year forward – I see myself working remotely and leading an inclusive distributed team.
The numerous tips I have for working remotely are:
- Find a standup desk. It’s a game changer. I also got a treadmill for my desk. Neither need to be fancy or expensive. Sedentary lifestyle is a killer, as we all know.
- Use whatever tools work for you to stay organized. If it’s an app, use it, try different ones if you are not staying focused or organized. If it’s a pad of paper with lists, use that. Whatever works to keep you on track and accomplishing tasks, use it.
- If possible, keep the office space separate from the living space. I use our second bedroom/space as an office because it has been a priority for us to have that for me. I use a space divider to close off my desk so when I walk by, I don’t see my computer (work) staring me in the face, beckoning me! If you don’t have the space, use a bed sheet (or something) to cover your workspace while you are not working, including lunch time.
- Set a timer to do certain tasks that take you down the rabbit hole. If I find myself avoiding a task, or one that I find I get distracted easily, I time myself to do it for ten minutes at a time and it forces me to get through it.
- Consider your workstation as your lifeblood. Keep up with technology (unless you are an employee) in both hardware and software. I have both a mac and a PC in case for some reason I need one or the other and for testing user usability.
- Update your tools and know how to use them; expect to be exposed to a new tool once a week because they change like crazy. Remember when WebEx was the online meeting default? (Okay, maybe some of you don’t!)
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What is your self-care routine and how do you find time to integrate it into your daily life?
In 2009 my doctor told me that my blood pressure was to the point where I needed meds. I didn’t want to take meds and I told her so. She basically said, “Tough, you need to take them.” Not, “Okay, let’s figure out some other ways you can attempt to lower it before we resort to meds.” Just bossily, “You must go on meds.” I have an aversion to being told what to do by anyone when they do it in a bullying fashion. I had been a vegetarian on and off my whole adult life and I decided that I would become a vegan, for my health. I had just read The Kind Diet by Alicia Silverstone and I thought, ah heck, lemme try this. After six months of being a vegan, my blood pressure was normal.
Since then, I have been – and am – 100% vegetarian and 95% vegan (I still can’t seem to get off the cheese completely, and when I travel, it’s much easier to be a veg than a vegan). Let food be thy medicine, and let medicine be thy food, as the adage goes. That is one of the most important ways to practice self-care, by paying attention to what one consumes. I also eat organic whenever possible and have one of those apps that tells you how healthy a food product is which is super cool.
Also, walking every day with my husband outside has been the best part of the pandemic.
I pay attention to my feelings and talk to myself in the mirror when I need to, “Kat, stop it!” or, “Kat, you can do this!” or, “Kat, everything is going to work out, practice patience!” It really helps me, and I tell my friends to do this. (They haven’t told me if it has helped them ;)) Whenever I do it, I end up smiling and laughing at myself and it turns my mood to an elevated level, a much-needed brain shift.
Putting yourself first is important to your overall wellness. Given this, what are your best holistic wellness tips?
This is so important, putting yourself first, and so many women sometimes willingly do not do it. I learned and lived by the airplane oxygen analogy the first time I heard it, my takeaway version: You must be able to breathe to enable others to breathe.
Because of the pandemic, wellness seemed to fall off the map for so many of us. Most of us have been struggling to get through each day without losing our bleeping minds.
I removed Facebook or LinkedIn apps on my phone, and I only look at them when I am at my computer, which has helped. I unfollowed a bunch of things that depressed and angered me and started following a new strain of content like wildflowers in California, raptors, unique trees, and lots of pages that make me happy and excited about the world. I’m not perfect, of course, and I do have Insta, Twitter, and TikTok on my phone. TikTok is another way I stay well by watching so many cool people educate, enlighten, entertain, and make me laugh so hard I cry sometimes. Most of the people I follow on TikTok are either/or/and Black, LGBTQ, younger, older, and marginalized people in general, we all have so much to learn from each other regardless of our status in life. TikTok has been the (mostly) real equalizer with the glaring exception that it excludes most people who are houseless and/or are extremely poor and don’t have the money and resources (mental and physical) for a smartphone. To be clear, I am aware of its detrimental treatment of women and Black creators, but hopefully they will get that right sooner rather than later. The creators I follow help me follow more of the same with a focus on diversity and positivity.
To keep my brain sharp, or at least not dull, I do the Spelling Bee on the New York Times app nearly every day and I help my husband with the NYT crossword puzzle when the theme focuses on my strengths and not his. I also do Tiles on NYT and I wish they had a timer on it, I would be the fastest at winning, I know it!
What was the toughest challenge you faced during your career?
That is a loaded question. I think for women and marginalized people in any workforce, there are so many tough challenges that it’s hard to pick one.
If I had to pick one, I will pick the one that involved me having to sign an NDA. It was early in my career. An executive at a company where I worked used the n-word about my then boyfriend at a company celebratory event (where everyone in the room was white). I didn’t know what to do so I left in a huff. Later that night, I drafted a resignation letter and gave the reason explaining what happened and copied every exec at the company, one of whom was a Black man.
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A friend at the time helped me draft an additional proposal asking for a few months’ worth of pay and letting me resign with a letter of recommendation for my search for future work because it was their bad behavior that caused me to want to leave, not mine. HR brought me in and agreed to the request – check in hand – but there was one caveat, (along with the requisite victim-blaming item on the agenda we women have been socialized to expect) you guessed it, an NDA so I would never talk about it ever again.
How did you get through that period? What advice for people dealing with similar difficulties?
It was par for the course for again, women and marginalized people. We just get through it and hope for better conditions in our next job, which usually is a futile hope. It’s only a little different now, thanks to the younger generation.
My advice would be to research and learn about people like Ann Lai and Timnit Gebru and Jacquie Abram and see how they dealt with similar situations. They, and countless others, are simply not accepting this misbehavior and mismanagement any longer. They are leading the way to change the old ways businesses have been run for entirely too long. It boggles my mind that white men make up only 31% of our population but they run and own almost everything in this country. Human dignity and basic respect at the workplace should not be a perk, it should be standard for everyone.
Mental health and feeling good are crucial to maximizing performance. How do you prioritize your mental health?
I have suffered from depression since as far back as I can remember and have been suicidal from that time up to my mid-30s. Mental health has been on my mind and in conversations I have with my friends forever. One of my favorite lines from a movie is when someone said, “I’m incapable of small talk.” If you ever meet me, you will quickly understand why.
Prioritizing my mental health means that when I feel the need to get out of a bad space, I find help (again, use tools!). Most recently I have used online therapy spaces which proved extremely helpful to me. Many times, a self-help book can get my mental health back on track. Mental health is like the beginning of the oxygen analogy, if you don’t put the mask on (get help), you will lack the oxygen you need to breathe. (Pro-tip: Download your local library app so you can find books online to loan, I always look at the table of contents and jump to where I need help instead of reading cover to cover.)
I love how people like Taraji P. Henson, Hayden Panettiere, Chris Evans, Naomi Osaka, Simone Biles, Demi Lovato, Michael B. Jordan, Gabrielle Union, Kristen Bell, Kevin Love, Adam Grant, and countless others are using their celebrity to enlighten people to challenge, change, and hopefully completely dismiss the stigma soon. Mental health is whole health, period.
Before the pandemic hit, you may have worked in an office or corporate setting, but what do you foresee happening now? How do you see companies allowing employees to work post-pandemic?
I have had to reluctantly resort to working in an office pre-pandemic when I have had lulls in consulting work and before I founded my company, and it was frustrating. All I could think was, “I can do this at home, more efficiently, without distractions, and without a controlling manager toxifying the joint and my mental health.”
I have known for a long time that remote working works. It’s obviously not a one-size-fits-all and some people need to be around people; you know who I’m talking about, the one person on the floor who always wants to take an hour (or two, or three) out of a day to celebrate a birthday, holiday, promotion, <insert the imprudent reason here> once a week! This makes many of us run for the bathroom, or our car, or a conference room to make a personal call for the duration to avoid this excruciating interaction we loathe. I feel bad for those people, I get it, they need people like I need isolation. There is not one solution for everyone.
It may be pollyannish, but I foresee companies asking employees what works for them instead of what works for the management team. I have always felt that physical offices are a huge waste of corporate dollars; especially when organizational changes are so common and involves moving people around to different newly established groups from one cubical/area/floor/department to another (which corporate America does ad-nauseum, from my experience). It has always boggled my mind that execs think this is a beneficial use of money and always have joked to my husband, “Someone on the board owns a lot of stock in <XYZOfficeMovers>.” Meaning, the company who does the moving/logistics of said employees. It falls under the This is the way it’s always been done trope, and we all know how valued that idea is now.
Work results are measurable. If a leader thinks they can gauge someone’s work ability because they can visually see them typing at a computer twenty feet away, that is not a leader, that’s a micromanaging control freak. Also, they clearly need to figure out a way to measure results based on metrics, not a team member’s physical presence. (And they probably need therapy about being such a control freak.)
As Adam Grant tweeted, “The future of work is hybrid.” Some people want to go to an office, some people must go to an office or workplace; many do not, and those who don’t should have a choice.
If you could have lunch with one person in the world, who would it be and why?
This is so difficult. As you may have been able to gather from all the previous names I have mentioned, I have a list of people I would love to meet that would fill an entire year of lunches. I will name the person who brought me to this interview, Reese Witherspoon. All I would do in that lunch is thank her.
In 2018 she had a talk show called Shine On with Reese. I saw it as a recommendation for a long time on my screen and one day decided to watch. Reese interviewed well-known women “for real talk and laughs.” The women were inspirational and after watching the series, I thought to myself, I cannot not do this, I cannot give up! (The “this” meant start a new company that was only an idea from a book I had written ten years prior to that). This show was the tipping point for me.
I had been annoying my friends and former colleagues with yearly emails since I published my book in 2009 asking anyone to help me figure out how to do something more with it. There was an obvious overlooked need that was not being addressed and I wanted to provide the answer. One of my last email updates solicited help again along the lines of, Still trying to figure out how to make this a business, help if you can! The responses I got were, “Yes! This is really needed!” translation, “Figure out how to do it, and go do it! I can’t help you.” Which I really appreciated.
From one of these emails in early 2020, I got a response from one of my friend’s whose father just died. Coincidentally, he knew how to build a business, the pandemic was in its infancy, and we took off from there. He and I had been talking about it since I wrote the book, but with the pandemic happening, the timing was perfect. We figured out together how we can build it and get it ready for investors. This would not have happened without Reese’s show encouraging me to not give up on myself.
What Reese has done with her life in one of the most brutal industries for women, and the active support she shows for women in words and action has quite literally changed the world. Art changes everything and she is at the epicenter of this change.
I would use that lunch to thank her for getting me to this point because of her inspiration and for how much she has done and continues to do for women.
If I could have lunch with any person who is dead, it would be Maya Angelou who has been a huge influence throughout my life. Not only was she the first writer who I postponed finishing her books because I didn’t want them to end, but she was also a civil rights champion, fluent in six languages, the first Black woman to be a San Francisco streetcar conductor, an advocate for love, among so many other accomplishments, and basically had every personality trait I admire in a person.
If you could inspire a movement, what would it be and why?
The movement I have every intention of inspiring is helping survivors with post-death logistics. I have experienced the struggle and we have everything we need to address this arduous task that 3 million people experience every year, that no one wants to do! That’s over 9,000 people every single day. Being forced into a position of discomfort and complete confusion is not desirable for anyone, especially if you were close to the person who died. Giving people the path out is empowering for people, and I want to be the one to empower them.
Every year Americans spend 1.5 billion hours closing accounts, selling property, cleaning out garages, and a mountain of other tasks that are necessary after someone dies. What’s worse is many of these things are bundled in endless red tape. Just finding out what bank and investment accounts someone had can be tricky because banks make survivors jump through myriad hoops before giving up any information. Why should 3 million people reinvent the wheel every single year? I have the solution to this problem, and I hope that we can find investors who get it and want to help survivors like I do. It will change the world.