Tuesday, September 30, 2008

OK...So, Things Are Getting Crazy

For the last week or so I've been trying to dance around the fact that the financial markets are roiling and the economy is getting scary.

Unless you are a member of the Congress of the United States or a bigwig with a financial institution you only have two choices: take your money out of your bank and put it in your mattress, or be prudent in your spending and continue to live your life as you have.

I spent part of last weekend paying bills. One of my goals for this fall was to pay off a couple of credit cards and cut them up. I did that this past weekend. I could have saved that money, paid minimum payments and held on to the cards, but that was not my goal.

FDR said about the Depression, "The only thing we have to fear, is fear itself." Last night on TV a financial talking head pointed out that the reason credit markets are drying up is because bankers are afraid of not being paid. While that is certainly prudent we're seeing fear as the main motivator for decision-making. Again, the key is to be prudent but not fearful.

So, here are three things I'm going to do: First, keep my gas tank reasonably full and not sit in a line waiting to get gas because it costs 15 cents less a gallon than at the station across the street. The waiting raises my stress and fear level. Second, keep a few hundred dollars in cash on hand. Third, live.

That's it. To a great degree those three things are the extent of my control over the craziness that is going on right now.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Does Happiness Matter?

Welcome to Monday and another wonderful week!

Seeking happiness in your work and workplace is a relatively new phenomenon. Only in the last forty years, as Baby Boomers raised in the age of “Do your own thing” entered the workforce, has the concept of happiness carried much weight as a work value. Does how you feel about your work matter to you?

In the past a lot of folks had the feeling that if you had a job you were lucky so just do your job and collect your paycheck. In today's wildly volatile financial world that may not be a bad strategy. Some people still have the, “Show up. Do the work. Get paid” attitude and if that works for you, it works for you.

However, most people understand that happiness in work is a good thing. No one wants to trudge to a job they hate every day for 30 years. It seems like a waste of life.

What many people fail to realize, though, is that the concept of happiness is internal; it is based on what we think about the work. Work that might be onerous to one person is a delight to another. I hate painting a house. My neighbor sees it as making art.

I often encounter people who tell me that the external issues of work—money, title, office size or placement, perks—don’t really matter. “What really matters is the work,” they say. Maybe, maybe not. Whatever matters to you, matters to you.

Considering how crazy things have gotten with the financial environment in which we work this might not be a bad time to ask yourself why you work. Is it the money? Using that as a sole reason is getting pretty scary.

What actually gives you the "feeling" of being happy? Does work have anything to do with it or are you just putting in hours?

Good luck this week.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Time and Another Form of Wealth

"An unhurried sense of time is, in itself, a form of wealth." Baltasar Gracian

Gracian was a Spanish writer in the 1600s who, like many good writers, called into question the traditions of the day and the habits of the populace. Trained as a Jesuit, he once read a letter from the pulpit that supposedly had been sent from Hell. I love that. His superiors were not pleased. His most significat work was Criticon, a long novel chronicling two characters journey through life.

Now, what does Gracian have to do with a Pefect Workday?

This week has been incredibly intense, scary, bizarre, and confusing. It has been one of the rough weather periods in our journey. I believe that I am at least a marginally intelligent person but the financial labyrinth that has become our economy is beyond me. My basic question is probably the same as yours, "Am I going to be able to buy a gallon of milk and fill my car with gas?" In some parts of North Carolina they are experiencing gas shortages.

So it could be that we are enterring some rough weather when it comes to life.

Here's what I am going to try to do....calm down. I'm going watch less news on the tube and read fewer stories on the front page of the newspaper. If my money is worthless when I go to buy groceries I'll find out then.

However, I believe that there are lots of folks above my pay grade who are smarter than me and who are paid to worry about this stuff. So let'em. We'll get to decide in a few weeks who gets to solve this mess.

I'm going to take an unhurried view of time this weekend. Relax. Watch some college football. Go for a walk. It will all be here when Monday morning rolls around. And that is when you and I will get together again.

Have an unhurried weekend.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Need a Thought for the Day?

I'm having one of those days in which I need a lighter thought; something to take my mind off what is going on and put it onto something that has nothing to do with the challenges I'm facing.

If, by chance, you're having a day like that, too, here are some of the thoughts I'm using to attack the blues:

1. Do not walk behind me, for I may not lead. Do not walk ahead of me, for I may not follow. Do not walk beside me either. Just pretty much leave me alone.
2. The journey of a thousand miles begins with a broken fan belt and a leaky tire.
3. It's always darkest before the dawn. So if you're going to steal your neighbor's newspaper, that's the time to do it.
4. Don't be irreplaceable. If you can't be replaced, you can't be promoted.
5. Always remember that you're unique. Just like everyone else.
6. Never test the depth of the water with both feet.
7. If you think nobody cares if you're alive, try missing a couple of your car payments.
8. Before you criticize someone, you should walk a mile in their shoes. That way, when you criticize them, you're a mile away and you have their shoes.
9. If at first you don't succeed, skydiving is not for you. 1
0. Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish, and he will sit in a boat and drink beer all day.
11. If you lend someone $20 and never see that person again, it was probably worth it.
12. If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.
13. Some days you're the bug; some days you're the windshield.
14. Everyone seems normal until you get to know them.
15. The quickest way to double your money is to fold it in half and put it back in your pocket.
16. A closed mouth gathers no foot.
17. Duct tape is like "The Force". It has a light side and a dark side, and it holds the universe together.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

That's Profiling, and Profiling Is Just Wrong!!

Let's just go ahead and dive into the politically incorrect waters. I'm going to offer suggestions that anyone with a gender chip on their shoulder will love to take off on. So, let me say that, yes, I know these suggestions are based on stereotypes and the recognition of stereotypes leads to profiling.

And let's make sure, class, that we are all on the same page. "Male" and "Female" have to do with biology. "Men" and "Women" are societal constructs.

But, like Jimmy Buffett says, "Cliches say what they mean and mean what they say." If this stuff weren't true people wouldn't say it.

Current elections on a lot of levels have us asking if there are differences in how men and women do things. Here are six tips for each sex that can make life more tolerable at work:

For Men:
- Do not address or describe women as girls, gals, honey, babe or ladies.
- Describing women as objects; such as commenting about “the wife,” is offensive
- Understand that when women tell a story they are trying to build a connection with you, not waste time.
- Understand that when women are talking about an issue (processing) it is a way to include others and build relationships.
- Ask what you can do to help. It often shows support and is a step to building a positive relationship.
- Strengths associated with women include harmony, teamwork, collaboration and attention to detail.

For Women:
- Men are not mind readers at work or at home. Be specific about what you do or do not want.
- Don’t try to be one of the boys, you aren’t.
- Get down to business. Some men interpret the personal stories you tell as weakness instead of the relationship-building step you intend it to be.
- Don’t try to get men to talk when they are not ready. Men process internally while you often process out loud.
- Understand that offering a man help may be interpreted as questioning his ability to do the job. For some men your offer is a blow to their self-esteem.
- Strengths associated with men are goal orientation, singleness of purpose, problem-solving and responding to a challenge.

Class over. Go and profile no more.

Monday, September 22, 2008

It's Elephant Appreciation Day!

No kidding, today is Elephant Appreciation Day. It is also the first day of National Clean Hands Week, the Anniversary of the Invention of the Ice Cream Cone, and American Business Women's Day.

I love that "Today is _________" stuff. It seems to make each day special. In fact, the more ridiculous the occasion the more I like it.

Due to falling on Sunday we missed a wonderful occasion yesterday. It was the anniversary of some folks not having a perfect workday. On September 21, 1945, Henry Ford I was replaced as chairman of the Ford Motor Company by his son, Henry Ford II. Ford I was so frail he had to be helped to his seat.

Harry Bennett, Ford I's right hand man, the company's service chief, had wanted the job himself and was not happy at the occasion. He stalked out of the meeting after the papers were signed. Later in the day, Ford II sent his executive, John Bugas, former head of the FBI, to fire Bennett who had been burning papers in his office all day.

When Bugas appeared at the door Bennett pulled a .45 pistol out of his desk and threatened to shoot the former agent. Bugas calmly pulled his own .38 out of his belt. He said, "Don't make the mistake of pulling the trigger because I will kill you. I won't miss. I'll put one right through your heart, Harry."

Don'tcha love it. Management in action.

Oh yeah, it's also the first day of fall.

Have a great one.

Friday, September 19, 2008

The Bullet Train to Success

This will be quick and easy. If you want to increase production, no matter what you are doing, follow these four tips:
- Do more of the right things you are doing
- Stop doing the wrong things
- Start doing right things you aren’t now doing
- Identify the right things you are doing incorrectly and correct them

No kidding. Concentrate on these four things and you are on a bullet train to the Perfect Workday…and a raise.

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Burned at Both Ends

This is one of those weeks in which I feel like I've been burned at both ends. Presenting two high-energy seminars a day, driving to different locations, sleeping in an unfamiliar bed (ok...don't get your imagination in gear), handling the everyday personal life issues that we all have certainly take their toll.

We all have days, weeks, months, and sometime years like this.

There are a couple of basic keys to working through difficult times. The most important key is to keep moving. Put one foot in front of the other and do the best you can with what you have where you are. Simple time will take care of the rest.

Next, do you have something that takes you up and away from your cares. It could be reading, church, walking, watching some TV, anything positive activity that, in essence, recreates you.

Keepin your energy level out of the red zone is crucial. Drink more water, don't binge on anything, and try to get some exercise.

You may find that reaching out to whatever spiritual source gives you strength is helpful. Most studies about our participation in spiritual activities show positive outcomes.

Try to say positive things to yourself. Whatever messages you keep running through your mind are the messages you believe. Keep'em positive.

Finally, at the end of the day find two things that went right. A University of Miami study showed that people who, at the end of the day, list five things they have to be grateful for tend to have more positive outlooks on life, fewer depressive episodes, and, in come cases, lower blood pressure.

Here are two good things about today: Thursday and Friday....that's how many days we have until the weekend.

Keep movin'.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Good As Gravy

Let me go ahead and confess that I am a gravy addict. Almost any kind of gravy is fine. Chicken, beef, (I have a reflux condition that kicks up if I eat pork gravy, but once in awhile...), seafood, I love'em all. I even see sauces as types of gravies. BBQ, 57, Worstershire, A1, it doesn't matter.

Not long ago my I was at a buffet with some friends. The restaurant had the little plastic cups like you put tartar sauce and cocktail sauce in. I was putting gravy in them because my plate wouldn't hold any more.

When I got to the table I sipped one of the cups to see what kind of gravy it held. Just then one of my buddies walked up. He said, "You are the only person I know who would do shooters of gravy." Busted.

I love gravy and as long as I don't drink it by the coffee cup I don't think any thing is wrong with it. It's all about moderation.

If you want to have a Perfect Workday find something that you think is fun, something you revel in, something that makes your soul sing, and do at least a little of it during the day. You'll appreciate it more. The act will help you really make the day yours, and the enjoyment you get will be worth whatever hassle you had to go through to get some of your personal delight.

I have a friend who loves golf. He tries to stop by a driving range a couple of days a week when he's on his way home. He doesn't stay long; might just hit 10-12 balls. But it completes the day for him.

He asked me to go with him one day. I simply said, "No thank you, but will you pass the gravy."

Monday, September 15, 2008

It's Monday! Now Clean Up Your Act!

In the late ‘80s when I worked at the Kenan-Flagler Business School at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill I had a student intern who worked with me for a semester.

One day, when I could think of nothing else for her to do I asked her to alphabetize my files. You have to understand, until then my filing system consisted of opening the file draw, pushing all the files back and dropping the file in my hand into the front of the stack. Not the most efficient system.

When she completed her task I thought it was Christmas! I could find any of my files and believe it or not I kept those files straight. The project taught me the importance of effective filing.

Try these strategies to get a handle on your files, paper and electronic:
- Stop unnecessary information, paper and email, from coming to you.
- Handle it less by making decisions now
- Move it along. Put it to work or send it to someone else.
- Don’t open junk mail or emails. Trash’em without looking at them.
- File information in Major Categories: Working, Reference, Archives, and Personal. Then break it into specific topics.
- Alphabetize
- Color Code your files. Humans recognize colors before words.
- Keep files where you need them.
- Tailor systems to special needs (projects, recipes, photos).
- Use your computer to cut paper not make it. Scan info, toss paper.
- Cull as you go. If you notice outdated information in a file toss it.
- Use Fridays for clean up and back up days.

The average American workers wastes two weeks every years just looking for stuff. Taking a little time to get your files straight saves lots of time later.

And, I'm not immune...I spent Sunday afternoon cleaning up my files so I'm ready to rock for the fall.

Have a big week!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Friday and Football

I can't resist bragging about my beloved Tar Heels. 44-12 last night on national television. What a wonderful reason to goof off on a Friday. Soooooooo, if you are going to goof off you need an excuse.

Let’s be honest. It’s hard to get through a Perfect Workday without at least one excuse or a good, juicy rationalization.

Here are some wonderful excuses. Feel free to sprinkle them wherever needed

I will if I can get permission from my psychiatrist
Who, me?
I’m not late, I’m punctually challenged
It’s a set up
I’m too cool to care
Sorry, I’ve got a call waiting
I didn’t want to make the others look bad
I couldn’t find a pen
It’s your fault, you were supposed to remind me
My battery is getting weak
I have a hernia
I didn’t know you wanted it NOW!
Would I lie?
I thought you knew.
Not my job, department, specialty, etc.
I don’t make the rules.
I was just following instructions.
We’ve always done it like that.
Oh, you meant this week?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Challenges and September 11

Today is the anniversary of September 11. As we face the challenges brought home by the events of that day I remember a story that zapped around the Internet some time ago. It shows a great way to deal with stress and challenge.

Carrot, Egg and Coffee...

You will never look at a cup of coffee the same way again...

A young woman went to her mother and told her about her life and how things were so hard for her. She did not know how she was going to make it and wanted to give up. She was tired of fighting and struggling. It seemed as one problem was solved, a new one arose. Her mother took her to the kitchen.

She filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Soon the pots came to boil. In the first she placed carrots, in the second she placed eggs, and in the last she placed ground coffee beans.

She let them sit and boil, without saying a word. In about twenty minutes she turned off the burners. She fished the carrots out and placed them in a bowl. She pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. Then she ladled the coffee out and placed it in a bowl.

Turning to her daughter, she asked, "Tell me what you see." "Carrots, eggs, and coffee," she replied.

Her mother brought her closer and asked her to feel the carrots. She did and noted that they were soft. The mother then asked the daughter to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard boiled egg. Finally, the mother asked the daughter to sip the coffee. The daughter smiled as she tasted its rich aroma. The daughter then asked, "What does it mean, mother?"

Her mother explained that each of these objects had faced the same adversity - boiling water. Each reacted differently. The carrot went in strong, hard, and unrelenting. However, after being subjected to the boiling water, it softened and became weak. The egg had been fragile. Its thin outer shell had protected its liquid interior, but after sitting through the boiling water, its inside became hardened. The ground coffee beans were unique, however. After they were in the boiling water, they had changed the water.

"Which are you?" she asked her daughter. "When adversity knocks on your door, how do you respond? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean?"

Think of this: Which am I? Am I the carrot that seems strong, but with pain and adversity do I wilt and become soft and lose my strength?

Am I the egg that starts with a malleable heart, but changes with the heat? Did I have a fluid spirit, but after a death, a breakup, a financial hardship or some other trial, have I become hardened and stiff? Does my shell look the same, but on the inside am I bitter and tough with a stiff spirit and hardened heart?

Or am I like the coffee bean? The bean actually changes the hot water, the very circumstance that brings the pain. When the water gets hot, it releases the fragrance and flavor. If you are like the bean, when things are at their worst, you get better and change the situation around you. When the hour is the darkest and trials are their greatest, do you elevate yourself to another level?

How do you handle adversity? Are you a carrot, an egg or a coffee bean? May you have enough happiness to make you sweet, enough trials to make you strong, enough sorrow to keep you human and enough hope to make you happy. The happiest of people don't necessarily have the best of everything; they just make the most of everything that comes along their way.

The brightest future will always be based on a forgotten past; you can't go forward in life until you let go of your past failures and heart aches. When you were born, you were crying and everyone around you was smiling. Live your life so at the end, you're the one who is smiling and everyone around you is crying.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Thankful Tuesday

“Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it.” William Arthur Ward

Here’s your assignment for today: Tell someone that you are grateful for them being in your life, or for something they have done. That’s it.

A couple of years ago a University of Miami study showed that people who go home at the end of the day and list 5 things they were grateful for tended to have fewer depressive episodes and felt more positive about their lives.

If you are reading this and maintaining a steady respiration then you have at least two things to be grateful for.

Unfortunately, we often get so bogged down in life (like that fact that it’s Monday, summer is over, and it’s back to real life again) that we forget the people, situations, things, and forces for which we should be grateful.

So, what are you grateful for? Take a moment and appreciate it, and call someone and say, “Thank you.”

Monday, September 8, 2008

Get Lucky On Monday

Why don't you get lucky this week? I mean it...just make your own luck.

Whether you believe it or not Luck is a resource. You have some luck. The problem is that you just don’t know when it’s coming around the corner to help you. The key is making luck work for you.

A smart woman in one of my programs told me that LUCK is actually an acronym; L.U.C.K. It means Laboring Under Correct Knowledge. If you want to be lucky and have more Perfect Workdays then you need some correct knowledge.

The correct knowledge is going to come in three areas. First, you will need Skills that will allow you to create the Perfect Workday. There are three skills you will need to master if you are going to have lots of Perfect Workdays.

The three Skills I want you to focus on are creating a workable To-Do List (a Time Skill), asking better Questions (a People Skill) and using The 30-Second Secret to get more Organized (a Stuff Skill). If you become even a little more accomplished in those three areas you will see a dramatic jump in the number of Perfect Workdays you have.

All that info about LUCK sounds great, but another way to see the challenge is through the eyes of Thomas Jefferson. He said, “Luck is when preparation meets opportunity.” If I can get you to do a little homework, a little preparation, I can assure you that you will have more Perfect Workdays.

Have a great and lucky week!

Friday, September 5, 2008

Cube Farm Frazzlers

It's Friday!!!

I'm talking to a guy yesterday and he says, "I cannot WAIT until Friday!" When I asked why he said, "Bcause I work in a cubicle and I have to put up with the stuff the person in the next cubicle does and the weekend is the only time I'm away from them."

When I asked why he didn't have a chat with his co-worker he mumbled something about "it wouldn't help." So, for all of you cubicle farmers who are working away in your little plot every day and running into challenges with co-workers I offer the info below. You can print it out and lay it on your co-workers desk.

When 2,318 people were surveyed in March 2006 by Harris Interactive and Randstad, 32% said an office loud talker was their biggest pet peeve. Coming in a close second at 30% is using an annoying cellphone ringtone; 22% said speakerphones are their No. 1 peeve.
Here are the top ten rules cube farm rules:
- Check your volume when talking on the phone.
- If you don’t want your personal life to be farm fodder keep a low voice on personal or sensitive calls. Take it outside or into the hall.
- Treat a person’s cubicle as you would their home. Don’t enter without permission. Don’t rummage on their desks or borrow without asking.
- “Prairie-Dogging,” peeking over the tops of cubes is a no-no.
- Don’t yell across the “cube farm”.
- Don’t throw things over the “cube farm.”
- Keep a low volume on anything that plays music, beeps, honks or growls. That includes the email message beep on your computer.
- Set phones and pagers to vibrate.
- Be aware that fragrances such as hot food, perfume and cologne drift.
- Keep your shoes on!


Thursday, September 4, 2008

Dead Co-workers

If your co-worker or manager is dead you should probably tell someone.

A couple of years ago at a New York publishing firm, one of the workers, a proofreader, George Turkelbaum, 51, was dead for 5 days before anyone thought to check on him.

His boss said, “George was always the first guy in each morning and the last to leave at night, so no one found it unusual that he was in the same position all the time and didn’t say anything. He was always absorbed in his work and kept much to himself.”

Turklebaum was proofreading medical textbooks when he had a coronary and died.

There are two morals to the story: First, if you don’t see your coworkers moving, nudge them every now and then. Second, don’t work too hard. People may not notice anyway.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Vacation is Over, Time to Start Dealing With Challenges

So Labor Day and Summer '08 is over...I know, I know.

For procrastinators holidays and key dates are important. We (yep, I'm including myself in the group) often say, "I'll start losing weight right after New Year's." or "I'm going to do something about that difficult person in the office when I get back from vacation."

OK, so vacation is over. Fall is here, it's time to do something. Let's look at problem people.

What is the difference between a person being a “problem” and simply being an “annoyance?”

First, it isn’t the person who is the issue. The issue is their behavior, performance of the job or their attendance. I didn’t say that. The United States Supreme Court said that. The court has said that as humans in the workplace we all have our little annoyances; those things we and others say and do that get on each others' nerves.

But, true problems in the workplace are issues that are quantifiable, and behavior, performance and attendance can be quantified. You can document that someone missed five days of work or was late 10 times this month. You can rate their performance on a scale of one to ten. You can document that they were abusive to coworkers.

The best way to determine if someone is a problem is to ask a few simple questions:
- Is what the person is doing affecting their work in a negative way?
- Is what the person is doing affecting the work of others in a negative way?
- Is what the person is doing affecting the image or reputation of the organization in a negative way?

If the answer to any of these questions is, “Yes,” then you have a problem.

Remember, though, that it is the behavior, performance or attendance that is the problem, not the person. That's a difficult distinction for a lot of managers to make. The person is human (you're right, that can be questionable sometimes), they have loved ones just like you, they love Christmas just like you. But, the problem is the issue.

The more you can be Hard on the Problem and Soft on the Person the more effective and compassionate you will be in dealing with the issue. A wonderfully Southern and very effective manager I know starts conversations with problem employees by saying, "I love you, but......"

Be very careful about pointing out that someone has “a bad attitude.” Attitudes can not be quantified. Attitude is something that happens in our minds and the court has essentially said that employers are not supposed to be “messing with people’s heads” as a ‘70’s saying goes.

However, you will probably agree that the behavior, performance and attendance issues are manifestations of an attitude or feeling about work and/or life. If you can discover the source of the attitude or feeling you have probably discovered the source of the problem.

Problem people are like viruses. They will infect the people around them. They will infect YOU. Would you knowingly let a sick person infect you and your team (and if you are not a manager your team is the group you work and/or live with)?

Vacation is over. Time to make some decisions and start to take action.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Run Away!!!!!!!!

The scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail where they band of knights is laying inthe grass outside the castle is one of my favorites. When the French catapult a cow over the wall at the knights Lancelot yells, "Run away!"

OK, OK, it's better when you see it than read it. I gotcha on that one.

But, here's the deal. IT'S LABOR DAY! And if you are reading this (which I do appreciate by the way) you should RUN AWAY! from your computer and do something fun...something non-Labory....get it.

I'm planning on being about as worthless as I can be today. Read, lift, bike, eat, lay around and do nothing, and try not to think about anything work-related. I know it sounds xenophobic, but the Europeans and Latins are great at this. In fact, their ability to goof off is something I admire.

What you've got to do the rest of the week doesn't matter. In fact, if you are using today to plan for the rest of the week it's a signal that you don't do a good enough job of planning the rest of the time. Run Away from work today!

And have a Perfect Workday tomorrow!