Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Santa and the Wall of Eyeballs

Twenty-five years ago I was Santa Claus at North Hills Mall in Raleigh on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Friday started out as a Perfect Workday…hey…think about it…I’m Santa Claus!!

Smiling kids and parents. Not too many criers (kids or parents). A steady stream from about 9 am until 1pm, then half an hour for lunch…the sign “Santa is Having a Snack” in front of the throne.

After lunch on Friday the mood started to change. More tired kids and parents, more criers, more “I WANT THIS!!”

There was a noticeable deterioration of discipline and simple civility. After a snack for dinner I remember smelling alcohol on the breath of some of the parents as they were putting their kids on my lap.

Saturday was a free-for-all from the get-go. A long line as soon as I walked up to the throne, too many people around mid-day for lunch (and try eating a snack and drinking a Coke through the beard), more teenage girls and grown moms who wanted to sit on Santa’s lap for a photo (OK, some of it wasn’t all that bad). And an increase in beard pulling as the day went on.

The one thing I was conscious of for two solid days was eyes. The eyes of the kids and parents that were locked onto me from the instant they saw that Santa was present.

So, I was very careful not to snap at kids…or parents, not to make sudden movements, not to do anything that might lessen the experience of being around Santa.

I mean, the last thing you want is some kid to grow up and get cornered on the top of the Bank of America building with a high-powered rifle and the last thing he says before the cops take him out is, “All this would have never happened if I hadn’t heard Santa use a cuss word.”

Now, what does all this have to do with having a Perfect Workday?

Would you act or react differently during your day if you knew children were watching? Especially, your children?
The economic news is going to get worse before it gets better. The economy will continue to recede for months before it regains its footing and starts the inevitable climb back up. The stress caused by less “geedus” (money), as my father used to say, will make people act in ways they might not normally act.

If we, they, you and I, act as if we know our children are watching, then I believe we will act in ways that show our young people positive and honorable ways to face challenges.

Showing our young people how to have Perfect Workdays during good times is easy; doing it in tough times is what really matters.
Thursday and Friday are holidays, so I’ll see you on Monday.

Take a moment on Thursday to do two things: Say a prayer for Americans in and out of uniform, around the world, who make it possible for us to have a wonderful, safe holiday. Then, write down three things and/or people for which/whom you have to be thankful.

Have a wonderful Thanksgiving.

And Go Tar Heels! Beat Duke!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

What's Your Business?

I have a small company, The Perfect Workday. I consider the activity that contributes to my livelihood my business. We all have a business.

No matter if you are an employee, whatever the activity is that pays for your beans is, essentially, your business.

The word business is Anglo-Saxon in origin. The original word appears to be bisigian.

Now we come to the interesting part. The original meaning of bisigian was, "to worry, to fatigue, to occupy." Is this what your business does for you?

By 950 A.D., bisigian had evolved into bisignes and then, business. The new pronunciation was an expression of "anxiety, distress, and uneasiness." Again, is this what your business does for you?

Our current definition and use, as a description for "an occupation, profession, or trade," began in the 1400s.

It appears that if your business is something you are concerned about, an activity that worries and fatigues you, it is doing what it's supposed to do according to the way we label it. In fact, your business is giving you the business.

Here's your thought for a Perfect Workday: What if you called your business something else? A calling, fun, play, your mission are all potential labels.

What label do you use?

Monday, November 24, 2008

The Devil's Advocate is a Turkey of a Phrase

Yeah! Thanksgiving Week!

Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday. I know, I know. When it comes to holidays Christmas is probably the big boy on most peoples' lists.

Or, July 4 may take the top slot. You can't beat flags, cookouts, hot weather, cold drinks, and not having to wear a lot of clothes.

But, especially if you are a male, give your consideration to Thanksgiving. All the food you can eat, football, and you don't have to buy presents.

Now, some of you are doing the cynics stroll. I can hear you right now; "Not everyone is male, and females often end up with the brunt of the Thanksgiving work." "But Mike, not everyone has all the food they can eat." "Not everyone likes football." "Some people like buying and receiving presents."

All that stuff comes from that Devil's Advocate state of thinking; the part of us that wants to come up witha Gotcha! kind of comment.

If you want to have more Perfect Workdays, forget The Devil's Advocate. In fact, if anyone ever uses the phrase, stop them, and tell them that you don't believe in The Devil's Advocate. Nothing good ever comes after "The Devil's Advocate."

I'm not saying you shouldn't think ahead and anticipate challenges. But, The Devil's Advocate squashes ideas and makes it less likely that people will open up and tell you what they are really thinking.

So, I'm telling you what I'm really thinking. And I'm thinking that Thanksgiving is great! Look ahead to have a wonderful week.

Friday, November 21, 2008

What If?

I woke to a light dusting of snow. A promise of the winter to come, I guess.

My first thought was, "Is it time to pull out the winter clothes and get the car winterized?" I was playing What If? in my head in order to anticipate problems, challenges and opportunities.

Yesterday's newspaper included a story about layoffs at a company my son works for. I called and asked if he was one of the unlucky ones; he is not. I then offered some parental advice (appreciated or not). I said, "This weekend, when you are kicking back, drinking a beer, you should take a few minutes and play What If? As in, 'What If the next time they lay people off I'm one of the ones who takes the hit?' "

I have to believe that there are investors in America who are waking every morning and smiling because they saw the sub-prime loan situation, played What If?, and put their money ultra-conservative investments.

Taking some time to ask, "What If?," and anticipate challenges is simple good planning. This weekend might be a good time for you to ask What If? in your life. A lot of folks don't like to think about the bad scenarios because, "If I think about it it might happen." That sort of head-in-the-sand approach to life begs for trouble.

Finally, what if you also looked in the opposite direction. Take a little time on Sunday and ask, "What If?" about good things in life. What if I had exactly the job I wanted? What if I did lose 20 pounds? What if I had the difficult conversation I have been putting off?

How would your life change for the better if those types of What If? came true?

Have a wonderful weekend!

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Fundamental Currency for High Performance

Kinda running on empty. Wild day yesterday and up and at'em this morning.

Unfortunately, too many of us are keeping a schedule like mine all the time. Did you know that 63% of American workers are sleep-deprived at work? And 67% are dehydrated at work.

Understanding the importance of your energy level at work, and in your personal life, is key to having a Perfect Workday.

In The Power of Full Engagement, Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz advise that, "Energy is the fundamental currency for high performance."

If you are concerned, at all, about having better workdays...a better life...start asking yourself, "How can I manage my energy level more effectively?"

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Have a Bad, But Historic, Day

Talk about both ends of the spectrum…

Today is National Have a Bad Day Day. It’s for all those folks who get their drawers in a wad when someone says to them, “Have a nice day.”

I’m as lost on those dopes as I am on the ones who get cranked up when a Southern waitress calls them “honey” or “sweety.”

Help me out on this; someone says something nice…even wonderful…to them and they don’t like it! I heard a guy once say, “Well, they don’t know me.” I replied, “From what I can see, if they did know you they wouldn’t have been so nice to you.”

Moving on…

Now, if you want to talk about a historic day; today is also the anniversary of the Gettysburg Address.

On November 19, 1863, noted orator Edward Everett spoke for two hours. Then, President Abraham Lincoln stood and spoke for five minutes. His address is considered one of the most eloquent in the English language.

North Carolina soldiers advanced farther than any other Confederate warriors at the Battle of Gettysburg. One story says that as a Tar Heel group maneuvered into the face of a Union cannon unit the Union commander ordered his men not to fire. He stepped up on the stone wall in front the cannon and reached out to the closest Tar Heel saying, “Come over to the Lord.” The Carolina soldiers survived the day.

Whatever your thoughts about the Civil War, you have to recognize the moments of heroism and humanity.

War means everybody has a bad day.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

A Toe In the Water

I lift weights like some guys play golf; not that well, but as often as possible. Today was a great day in the gym. I tried some new things, and reveled in some movements that I have been doing for the 42 years I’ve been lifting weights.

It took me a lot of those 42 years to figure out that I can’t just pile a lot of weight on a new movement and then start cranking out repetitions. I’ve done it and was so sore I couldn’t walk the next day. Or, I had to put tootpaste on the brush, lay it on the counter, and rub my teeth back and forth on it 'cause I couldn't raise my arms.

Now, I ease into something new. In and out of the gym, I’ve found that almost every time I’ve jumped into something in life without adequate preparation or testing I made a mistake that I wouldn’t have made if I had taken a little more time.

I certainly understand the logic that you can’t jump a stream in two leaps. But, in so many cases, if you take a little time to steady yourself, and focus on the next small step, you’ll end up being more successful.

Today’s message isn’t about taking more time to make a decision. It’s about trying something new…a…little…at…a…time.

What is something new you would like to try in your life? How could you take baby steps, or touch your toe in the water, or try a pilot program, for a pioneering effort?

Try something new today, a little at a time.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Bring On the Funny!

Ok, ya gotta spot me this one…today is Lorne Michael’s birthday, he’s 64.

Michaels was the brains behind Saturday Night Live and continues to be the producer. If anyone in entertainment ever guessed right it was Lorne Michaels.

Everything I’ve read about him says that he isn’t some “wild and crazy guy.” He has a great sense of humor, an incredible sense of timing and talent, the good sense to surround himself with talented people, and force of personality to make tough decisions and stick to them. You have to appreciate those characteristics.

The irony of Michaels’ birthday landing today is that I’m presenting one of my programs, “FUN Is Not a 4-Letter Word!,” today in Tarboro, NC, for the Social Services Department. If anyone needs a laugh in today’s world it’s those folks. So, I’ll get’em cranked up.

Another birthday today, another 64-year old, is Danny DeVito. Now, this guy ain’t Jack Nicholson or Arnold Schwartzenegger; although he has worked with both actors. But, he’s had a successful career being…Danny DeVito.

The older I get the more I understand that if you will scratch your funny-bone on a regular basis there will be people around you who have the same itch. Granted, the more outrageous, esoteric, or scatological your humor, the more people may laugh or scream at you instead of with you…but, the ones laughing with you will be the best.

Bring on the funny!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Loosen Up, Lighten Up!

Today is Loosen Up, Lighten Up Day (no kidding); a day to remind each other of the benefits of joy and laughter.

Answer this: What would you do if you had 2-5 minutes; 5-30 minutes; 30 minutes to half-a-day; or, more than half-a-day to do anything you wanted?

Try this activity: Give yourself two minutes—that’s all—and write down as many activities as possible that you would like to do in the time chunks above. For example, in 2-3 minutes you could play with your pet; in over half-a-day you could go to Hawaii!

See how many you can get. Go.

How many activities did you come up with? 10, 15, 20 or more?

Now, go back and look at your list. How many activities did you list that would take 30-minutes to half-a-day, or half-a-day or more?

Here’s the question: How often do you get chunks of time that large to do anything you would like? Not very often, right?

If you are looking for ways to Loosen Up and Lighten Up you have to look for those short chunks of time during your day to take mini-vacations.

What can you do with 2-5 minutes? Listen to a song, enjoy a cartoon, wash your face, take a walk, or get in touch with a friend and share a smile or a laugh.

Loosening Up and Lightening Up can put more life into your life in the difficult, stressful times of change in which we live.

Remember, no sense in taking all this seriously, you never get out alive anyway.

Have big weekend….and lighten up!

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A Life That Mattered

During challenging times the loss of creative decision-makers is especially troubling. That is why I was saddened to learn of the loss of Claude McKinney, former dean of the NCSU School of Design, champion of the Centennial Campus, and a guiding light for the Research Triangle Park. He died last week.

In the late 1980s I interviewed McKinney in his office at the School of Design. Fashionably attired, he sat behind a spotless desk on which, at the front edge, rested an 18-inch reed, a large marble, a small pyramid, and three seashells.

When I asked about the assortment of items he said, “When I’m confused about how to approach a problem I arrange these things in what I believe is a three-dimensional representation of the problem. It helps me think it through.”

Creativity is not rare, it simply hides. Claude McKinney spent his life coaxing creativity out of himself and helping others find it in themselves.

Truly, a life that mattered.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

What Do You Focus On?

Yesterday I had the pleasure of presenting "I Didn't Sign On for This! Change In the Workplace" for a group of CPAs.

At the end of the program I offered four suggestions for dealing with change; the first two are especially helpful when dealing with the stress caused change.

Here they are:
-Make sure you exercise, but don't overdo it.
-Stay hydrated.
-Minimize your exposure to the media.
-At the end of each day write down 5 things you have appreciate in your life.

The third and fourth suggestions are based on the fact that what we give our attention to persists in our experience.

Media professionals have a saying, "If it bleeds, it leads. Bad news sells." That's why you see, hear, and read all kinds of bad news first on TV and in newpapers. And the more you are exposed to the bad news the more you believe that that is all there is.

The fourth suggestion is based on a study from the University of Miami. Researchers discovered that people who, at the end of the day, wrote down five things they appreciated in their lives experienced fewer depressive episodes, some had lower blood pressure, and almost all the test subjects experienced more positive thoughts.

A disturbing thought is that compelling research shows that over half our thoughts and conversations are negative in some way. You've got to make an effort to focus on positive issues if you want a Positive Workday.

What do you focus on?

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Don't Forget

Today is Veteran's Day. Don't forget that for over 200 years our peace has been bought by other Americans who were willing to step up.

When I think of the sacrifice of veterans I often think of a George Orwell quote that many of us had rather not consider: "People sleep peaceably in their beds at night only because rough men stand ready to do violence on their behalf."

If you know a veteran, call them and say, "Thank you."

If you see someone dressed in a military uniform, shake their hand and thank them for their service.

Thank you veterans, today and in the past, for stepping up.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Can Money Get You Into Heaven?

Today is the anniversary of Martin Luther’s birthday.

Why is this important?

To get to the point: Martin Luther, considered the “Father of Protestantism,” is the guy who made it impossible for us to pay our way into heaven.

In 1517, he wrote “Disputation of Martin Luther on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences.” Indulgences were payments made to the Roman Catholic Church in lieu of doing good works (or, in some cases, living a good life) to receive blessings…and…essentially…to get into heaven.

Luther believed that only God could declare a sinner righteous. So, he wrote that the Roman Catholic Church did not have the power to grant the ultimate Get Out of Jail card; and if they didn’t have the power in the first place, they sure couldn’t charge for it. He believed that living a life of good works and faith was what gets us into the ether of 24-hour buffets, no worries about money, and the Tar Heels winning EVERY football game by 30 points. Heaven!

Now, what in the name of all that is sacred on Monday does this have to do with having a Perfect Workday?

Here's what I think: There’s got to be a day when all the dopes who got us into the financial mess we are experiencing come to the realization that their golden parachutes won’t get them into the Eternal Easy. And, in their sleep, they will see the faces of all the people whose retirements have been aborted, whose homes have been foreclosed, and whose financial lives have been ruined.

If newspapers, TV stations, and news blogs REALLY want to help during this tough time they will start publishing and airing the names, pictures, and addresses of some of the politicians, bankers, hedgefund managers, and real estate moguls who got us into this mess.

My Perfect Monday Workday would start with Good Morning America on location in Times Square with a lineup of those folks grabbing their ankles and someone the size of Carolina Panther’s Defensive End Julius Peppers standing behind them with a canoe paddle.


Thank you, Sir…may I have another?

Friday, November 7, 2008

The Vacation Hustle

Do you hustle up on Fridays to get some things done before the weekend? What about the Friday before you go on vacation?

You know how we all get super-organized, energized, and efficient just before taking off on vacation?

Here’s the question: Why aren’t you doing that every day?

Imagine what you could get done if you worked at the day-before-vacation pace most of the time.

Here’s an exercise that may not be too flattering for you: Ask yourself this question, “If you could get your week’s work done in four days and have Friday off could you do it?”

If your answer is “Yes” then you are already 20% overpaid.

If you could get your work done in four days and have another day to be productive, why not do it? When you were hired they committed to pay for all of you. Are you giving it?

We’re easing into a time in which resources are going to be incredibly tight and being both efficient and effective will be of paramount importance. I believe that people who can maximize resources and really get the job done will prized…and employed.

If you want to get more, you’d better be willing to give more. Think about this over the weekend, “Where could you be in one year if you consistently worked at day-before-vacation pace?”

Have a great weekend!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

National Men Make Dinner Day

Today is National Men Make Dinner Day…no kidding.

If you think it’s a joke (ok, maybe a little, but these folks are pretty serious about it) go to

Barbecues are not allowed. This is a day for men who do not usually cook to head to the kitchen and whip up some culinary delight.

The thing I like about this is the reversal of roles and the challenging of assumptions.
Nothing like a good assumption to get you in trouble.

Everyone remembers what happens when you assume…right?

Whether or not you are a man, and whether or not you are going to make dinner tonight, today might be a good day to ask yourself what some of your assumptions about life might be. Are they helping you or hurting you?

Here’s the issue: whether you want life to change or not…it does. And if you make assumptions about people, things, or situations, and life changes, you are in for a rude awakening.

Challenge your assumptions.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Are You Mad, Sad, or Glad?

So, after yesterday, are you mad, sad, or glad?

The thought that keeps rolling around in my mind is that millions of people around the world would give anything to have the privilege to vote as our nation just did. In the history of mankind the privilege to vote as we do has been a rare thing.

However, for what it’s worth, one of the smartest people I know, when asked how the election would change America, said, “Not much. There is no real clear-cut majority that would have the power to make significant changes. If one candidate has 48 or 49 percent and the other has 52 or 52 percent, things won’t change that much.”

The tally last night was, Obama...51%, McCain...48%

If you are worried or sad in one direction, that’s a comforting thought.
If you are worried or sad in another direction, it’s not.

Tons of lumber turned into newsprint and zillions of electrons turned into energy for computers and televisions will be used to predict what will happen in the next few months. Let’s wait until this time next year and see what has really changed.

As aviators and astronauts say, “It’s best to maintain an even strain.”

Monday, November 3, 2008

A Porkchop Pants Week

This is one of those classic weeks in which I feel like life is a bear and I have on porkchop pants. Lots of seminars to do, some tough audiences, an important and stressful personal commitment next weekend; it’ll be like game day every day except tomorrow, Election Day, until next week.

Months ago when I was scheduling this fall I purposely kept Election Day open. Not many people want to do seminars on Election Day anyway, but I wanted to be able to try and relax and pay attention to the election results.

I voted last Thursday and got lucky; minimal waiting and out the door.

No matter who you are voting for, you should vote. I keep thinking about the millions of people around the world who would give anything—up to and including their lives—to have the opportunity to vote as we do.

My next thought, and prayer, is for whoever wins the election. If I think it’s a porkchop pants week for me….the next president is going to have a porkchop SUIT for 4 years.

Get out and vote, and have a big week.