Tuesday, June 30, 2009

When Do You Step Off the Train?

Are you trying to burn the candle at both ends?

Jack Welch, the legendary CEO of General Electric, says that life balance is a myth. He says that if you are of a certain age (working age), have any ambition, and you are living in 21st Century America, that balance is almost impossible to attain.

Having said that…if you are trading health and energy in pursuit of success you will eventually lose. You just can’t keep running wide open and not have it catch up with you sooner or later.

That’s one of the reasons I wish my vacation was a vacation. I catch myself working. In fact, I saw a blip yesterday that noted research with 250 marketing and advertising managers and executives. It showed that over half check emails while on vacation and almost 40% actually work while on vacation.

So, it’s not that I'm out here by myself.

But, the issue is that what they are doing doesn't matter…what I'm doing, or not doing, does.

And it’s almost impossible to be in my office at home without seeing something that has to be done. Admittedly, I can do it at a more leisurely pace.

But, the question is: When do I get to relax?

How about you? Do you have a point at which you relax? Is it some far off point…”One of these days I’ll head to the beach”? Or, when you do go on “vacation” it is such a production that it’s a job you don’t get paid for?

Even in tight times…ya gotta find a moment to step off the train.

Monday, June 29, 2009

1% Solution

How much better could you be by something by the end of this week?

Pick something…anything. And commit to trying to be 1% better each day at it. Just some little something you can do to get better at it.

Here’s mine for the week: Handwriting. My handwriting looks like I should have been a doctor. Terrible. My father had handwriting that looked like those guys who signed the Constitution. Beautiful. And he was missing half of the index finger on his right hand! Still amazes me.

I’m on vacation this week…or at least I’m supposed to be. So, I’m signing a bunch of books before sending them out. And I’m going to slow down and concentrate on the handwriting.

I know, it sounds like something you would do if you were 8 years old. But, I need to do it, and I can slow down and do it 1% better.

See, I’ve gone first.

Now, what’s yours?

Friday, June 26, 2009

Your "Power Spot"

Writer Dorothea Benton Frank has a wonderful article, “Why I Love the Coast,” in Coastal Living magazine this month.

She remembers reading Carlos Castaneda’s book, The Teachings of Don Juan: A Yaqui Way of Knowledge, in the ‘70s and discovering the concept of finding your “power spot.” It’s the place where you can stand in a room, or sit on a porch or at a table, and feel your power. If you expand the idea it becomes a place where you can take a walk, or swim, or just…be…and feel more powerful, or more in tune, or…just…better.

It’s my vacation and I’m going to one of those places tomorrow. There is an area on the edge of the campus at UNC-Chapel Hill that, if I walk there, I feel like I can fly. At dusk in the summer the air can be so humid that it’s almost as if you can see water hanging in the air. The big trees form a green tunnel and even the cars seem to whisper by.

You can use power spots to have a more Perfect Workday. Is there a place (not hiding in a stall in the bathroom) where you might feel more in control, or more at peace, or more energized? If you know the place, pick strategic times to go there. If you can’t go there in person, go there in your mind.

I can think of lots of times that I’ve been stressed and gone to my walking area in my mind and it’s made all the difference between me being able to handle a situation positively, or react negatively.

What is your “power spot?”

Find one this weekend.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Getting More...and More...Done With Less

Futurist Watts Wacker and the folks at FirstMatter.com found that nearly half of workers (47%) have taken additional responsibilities due to layoffs at their companies, and 37% are doing the work of two employees.

If you have to do more than your share, or, if increased responsibilities are your new reality you MUST be more productive.

The way to do get a handle on the new day is to begin using the basic Perfect Workday concepts: Do a To-Do List, Ask More Questions, and use the 30-Second Secret to stay organized.

If you need details on any of those email me (see email address in upper right-hand corner of blog page) and I’ll send you an article I recently wrote for the Association Executives of North Carolina. The article provides a great guide to getting more done and staying sane.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Loss and Lost

Loss is such an important part of change. Simply changing anything means that you are moving away from the way things were.

In the best change book ever written, Transitions, by William Bridges, the author talks about Endings, the Neutral Zone, and New Beginnings.

When the need for change is recognized, or when life changes without you wanting it to, the old way has ended. When that happens something is lost. We often greet the loss with grief. The phases of grief include surprise, anger, bargaining, and acceptance.

Depending on what we’ve lost the time can be a cleansing one; we needed it. Or, it can be a time when we feel that a part of us has been torn away. In either case, we can’t go through the change without the ending of the old way.

The best thing you can do in times of loss is let yourself feel what you are going to feel and believe, or at least hope, that the New Beginning you see on the horizon will be better than what ended.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Goals or Plans, Who Needs'em?

Yesterday I read an interesting essay that I think is important and it’s taken me 24 hours to digest it.

Here’s the deal: Goals are dreams, plans are action.

Now, that may not sound profound but so much of success literature and positive thought focuses on setting goals.

I realize that you have to have a goal to shoot for, but the point of the essay was that too many of us stop with setting the goal.

When you set a goal you get those wonderful warm and fuzzy, or jacked up and adrenaline-rush, feelings and it’s easy to stop right there…with the feeling. Too few of us put a foundation under the goal by creating plans that will get us from where we are now to where we say we want to be, or where we really need to be.

The great thing about creating a plan is that it is just that…a plan; a step-by-step map to get to the goal. And the first step in the plan can be a small, easy-to-take effort. That first step is a small success, but one you can build on. Then you take the next step. And maybe it doesn’t work and you are back to step one, but because you have a plan you still know what that next step forward is. So you try again.

A Latin motto that is important to my fraternity, Pi Kappa Phi, is, “Ad Astra Per Aspera”… “Through difficulties to the stars.”

The stars are the goal. But, no one launched for the stars as step one. I’m thinking the first step to the stars was when Og the Caveman actually jumped up and tried to touch one. And failed. And then he thought, well, a multi-staged space vehicle manned by three men could…ok, ok…you get the idea.

So, do you have goals? That’s great. But, what plans do you have to get to them. And, as Super Bowl Coach Jimmie Johnson posted on the Dallas Cowboy’s locker room wall, “WHAT WILL YOU DO TODAY THAT WILL GET YOU CLOSER TO WHAT YOU WANT TO ACCOMPLISH AND WHO YOU WANT TO BE?”

Make it happen.

***Note: The essay was in an e-letter I get every Monday morning. Go to Mondaymorningmemo.com and you can subscribe.

Monday, June 22, 2009

On Vacation, Or Not?

Happy Monday!

This is the first day of my vacation....and I'm working. So, by virtue of the fact that I'm working does that automatically mean I'm not on vacation?

I'd like to think that "vacation" is in my mind, that I can go on vacation anytime just by taking my mind somewhere else. If you are at work right now you have my permission to take a 10-minute "work-cation."

The term "staycation," staying at home during vacation, has popped up in the last couple of years as we all try to be more frugal. You can stay home and enjoy local sights, sounds, and diversions that you might have missed. It's an appreciating the trees because you've been concentrating on the forest and trees kind of thing.

Somewhere else does matter, though. Getting away and seeing new things rests and invigorates the mind at the same time. Getting away is escape. Getting away is freedom.

If your dollar doldrums keep you from actually getting away or, if you can't afford to get too far away for whatever reason, try to ask yourself, "How can I get away without going away?"

Here are three suggestions:

Read a book. I know, I know, a novel strategy. But, did you know that only 57% of Americans read a whole book after graduating from high school. Find a book that gets you away and read the whole thing.

Here's an escape I'm currently using. I made a list of many of the movies I saw when I was young. Saturday afternoon at the Carolina or Riverside theaters!! These are movies that I believe have gone a long way in creating the adult I am. I watched The Old Man and Sea with Spencer Tracy last night. Escape, memories and message all rolled into one.

Take a hike. It doesn't have to be a March from Bataan walk. But, take advantage of the greenways wherever you are, or, if you walk on a regular basis, go somewhere else and walk.

Vacation is about getting away. And I plan on doing just that.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

It's Too Late

Missing two days of blogs…I’m having withdrawal pains.

It's Saturday morning and I love listening to Kasey Kasem’s Top 40 on radio. Kasey’s so old now that they run the shows from the past. The show today is from June, 1971.

The number one song on June 19, 1971 was “It’s Too Late By Carol King.” The number two song was “Rainy Days and Mondays” by The Carpenters.

I get busted by friends and family for loving that type of music. I’ll confess to loving Barry Manilow, Anita Baker, Hall and Oates, Bread and lots of other artists who perform what might be called “Easy Rock.”

When I listen to that music I slow down. It’s a stress reducer. My last blog noted that stress can be a good thing, it helps us grow. But, too much stress…or a lot of stress over a long period of time, exhausts us.

You need some sort of respite and from its earliest days music has been recognized as a mood changer (up or down).

Is there music that moves you? Is there music that calms you down? It seems to me to be the height of ignorance to know that a tool is available that will improve your life and not use it.

The Temptations are playing “Just My Imagination” right now. Gotta Go.

Have a great weekend.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Stress and Spice

You might not recognize the name Hans Selye, or agree with him, but you can be sure that he has had an effect on your life. Selye said, “Stress is the spice of life”

A Hungarian scientist who lived and worked in Canada for the majority of his career, Selye is considered the father of the concept of biological stress. He created what is called the General Adaptation Syndrome.

In plain language GAS means that your body attempts to adapt to any stress it experiences. GAS is your body’s operating system that leads it to adapt to the variety of stressors that we experience every day. In physical activity, this is the reason you get stronger and, in some cases, your muscles get bigger, when you continue to lift more weight, run more miles, or increase the length of a workout.

The same thing happens emotionally. The philosopher Friedrich Neitzche pointedly said, “Whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.”

While you may not agree with Hans Selye about stress being spice you have to admit that life would be pretty bland without changes. I’ll agree that it can get a little too spicy sometimes, but both Selye and Neitzche understood that, as humans, a little stress encourages…sometimes forces…us to grow.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Anybody Got a Map?

If you had to take a complicated route out of town you would probably write down the directions.

But, most people do not write down a single word of directions regarding their most important journey…their journey through life.

In the short term, you are 37% more likely to get something done if you write it down on a To-Do List.

In the late ‘90s, research showed that people who kept some sort of journal about what they accomplished during the day, or what their aspirations might be, were 32% more likely to feel like they were making progress.

It may feel a little silly to write down some of your goals. They'll point to their head and say, “‘Cause I know what I want and it’s all up here!”

But, you’re really going to feel silly (or regretful) if, down the road, you are stuck in the same rut and living the same life.

Join me right now and write down two goals you want to reach before the end of June.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Today Ain't Kids' Stuff

What skills do kids need to succeed in a chaotic future? According to Sue Shellenbarger's article in last Thursday’s Wall Street Journal: Adaptability, Exploration, and Entrepreneurialism.

As a matter of fact, those are the same skills needed by today’s workers as they face an uncertain future. The problem is that so many people are so tied to old ways of thinking that it’s very hard, if not impossible, for them to change…so they end up as casualties of the change they were trying to escape.

In a survey released Thursday by the non-profit Junior Achievement, more than 60% of 1100 employees and managers said entrepreneurial attitudes are important for workers of all kinds.

Lots of folks mistakenly believe that an entrepreneurial attitude is all about taking risks. Nothing could be further from the truth. Entrepreneurship is about identifying an opportunity, calculating the risks, marshalling the resources (knowledge, skills, and stuff…money, tools, etc.) to take advantage of the opportunity, and then taking action. Entrepreneurs are trying to minimize risk with preparation.

All those steps along the way require skills, knowledge, and courage; exactly the types of resources needed if anyone, younger or older, is going to succeed in today’s volatile environment.

Now is not the time to hunker down. Now is the time to step up, and out.

Friday, June 12, 2009

Book'em Danno!

Today is celebration day!

Yesterday, the folks from Federal Express deposited four boxes on my doorstep. They contain 200 copies of my new book, The Perfect Workday Book.

The amazing thing about a project of this type (2-3 years of writing, cussing, pulling information together, more cussing, finding a publisher/printer, proofing numerous times, spending a reasonable chunk of money, REAL LOUD CUSSING, and finding more mistakes than you thought you could ever make….ok, and some more….well…you know) is that it starts as a little electrical blip between two neurons in your brain and ends up as a real book that you are holding in your hands.

It is beautiful.

Thanks to the folks who kept pushing me to finish it. You know who you are and I appreciate it more than you know.

Thanks to the good folks at RJ Communications in New York. Jacki Lynch, you are a queen! Phil Whitmarsh, my book coach, Roll Big Red! Graphic artist Jonathan Gullery, you have the patience of Job.

Jonathan Hildebrand, the cover design is absolute art!

Wherever you are, and whoever you are, please feel free to imagine me sitting outside in the sun on Friday afternoon with a cold beverage in one hand, a cigar in the other, and the book on a table in front of me.

And no cussing.

Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Dealing With the Sluggoes

I know this seems like two blogs in one day...but, it's late on Wednesday night and I'm tied up on Thursday.

So, consider this Thursday's blog.

My parting point for the previous blog was that this one would focus on the people in your workplace who don't seem to have a conscience.

In fact, they have a name (I think of them as Sluggoes, but we'll talk about that later). Their name according to the Gallup Organization, the people who do the polls during election time, is Actively Disengaged.

According to the largest study ever in the workplace (3,000,000 workers, 80,000 managers), the Gallup folks found that 16% of the workforce are Engaged (into the work), 67% are Disengaged (sometimes you can count on them and sometimes you can't), and 17% are Actively Disengaged. These people are noted for spending more time trying to get out of the work than actually doing the work....worse yet, they are talking about their slackness to their peers. They are a virus in the workplace.

My word, Sluggoes, stands for Slack, Lazy, Unproductive, Gross, Greedy, Obnoxious Energy Sappers. Do you know any Sluggoes?

I'll cut to the chase. The best thing you can do is get rid of them if at all possible. They won't change, and if they could, the energy it would take you to change them is not worth it.

If you can't get rid of them isolate them so they do as little damage as possible.

To return to Richard Branson's point in the previous blog, I'm all for letting peoples' consciences guide them in the workplace. The key is hiring people who have consciences.

Is Praise a Waste of Time?

In the last few days I’ve run across some readings that connect in an unusual way.

In Management Rewired, author Charles S. Jacobs makes the case that feedback, criticism, praise and attaboys are a waste of a manager’s time. He writes that new neuroscience research shows that emotions are such a strong force in determining how we think and make decisions that, in essence, we’re going to think what we’re going to think and all the stroking isn’t really going to change our minds. He says we use logic only to back up the emotions (I’ve been saying this about marketing for 10 years).

Jacobs encourages employers to let employees set their own objectives, critique their own performances, and develop their own improvement strategies.

We’ve heard some of this before, with self-directed work teams, but Jacobs pumps in some research that shows that engaging tasks (more likely if the employee has developed them) stimulate the release of dopamine in the brain. This hormone acts as a neurotransmitter that can deliver the same type of “high” we get from food or nicotine.

OK, so we’re getting high on the job. Not necessarily a bad thing, because it’s due to the job.

The connection I made was to an article in the current issue of Success magazine. A piece about the Virgin Airlines billionaire Richard Branson quoted him as saying, “The hardest taskmaster is a person’s own conscience, so the more responsibility you give them the harder they will work for you.”

Do you see the connection I did? If you let someone determine their future, instead of telling them what to do, they are more likely to take a personal stake in the job and they’ll be more responsible for the results.

Let’s take it to The Perfect Workday level: if you will take control of your destiny instead of letting someone else drive the bus you are more likely to get where you want to go.

Tomorrow let’s talk about those workplace sluggoes who don’t seem to have consciences.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Doing Well By Doing Good

Dr. Carl Menninger, the founder of the world-famous Menninger Clinic, was once asked what could be done to heal depression. He said, “Lock your door and go to the poorest part of your town and help someone.”

In tight times it’s so easy to increasingly look inward and focus on your own problems to the exclusion of what is going on around us. Doing something good for others takes us out of our shrinking little nest of problems and allows us to reach out…literally and figuratively…into a larger world or other people and of hope.

Also, “service contains it’s own satisfaction” according to writer Ruth Deaton. When we are not getting warm fuzzies from life we can create our own by doing something good for someone else.

You don’t have to write a big check, spend hours at a soup kitchen, or save the world. What you can do is catch someone in a service profession doing something right and praise them, assist someone in a small task (think Boy Scouts helping someone across the street), or contact someone who has helped you in life and thank them. Try this: do something good and don’t let the recipients of the effort know you did it. Simply make someone’s life easier for the sake of the effort.

A Perfect Workday is not just about work. Find one moment in the day to help someone and you get closer to perfect.

Monday, June 8, 2009

Gettin' It Done

The great folks at Dance Retailer News magazine sent me a question. The short piece below is my answer and will appear as an article in a summer issue. Thought you might be able to use it to start your week:

Every morning when I head to work, I think of a number of things I have to do throughout the day. But at the end of the day, I feel like I didn’t get any of it done. I need to find a way to get organized for more productive and efficient results. Can you help?

What a great question! It goes right to the heart of maximizing you time…and your life, especially during a tight business period.

I have two concerns—right off the bat—and they focus on the first two words, Every morning, and last two words, efficient results, of your issue.

If you are thinking about the things you have to do Every morning you’ve waited too late and are already putting yourself in a tight scheduling situation. Everyone should do a Master List of Things To Do once a week. A great time to do this is Sunday afternoon or evening. Put professional and personal things to do on the list. The great idea behind a Master List is that you don’t have to remember everything now that you have it on a list.

Then, at the end of each work day, take 5 minutes to create your To-Do List for the next day. Be careful of having more than 6-8 things on the list. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, frustrated, and stressed by trying to do too much. Use a simple A, B, C, priority system to determine what must be done. Use the 4 D System (Delay, Delegate, Don’t Do It, Do It) to determine the order in which things should be done.

The second phrase, efficient results, is a concern because there is a difference between efficient and effective. Efficient means doing things right, while Effective means doing the right things. It’s more important to be effective than efficient, especially in tight economic times. My suggestion is that any small business owner or professional should rate any task that makes money as an A, and do that thing first; you’ll end up being more effective.

Finally, Suzy Welch’s new book, 10-10-10, pushes readers to ask the question, “How will this situation, decision, idea, affect my life 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, and 10 years from now.” This is the best strategy I’ve seen for big and little priority decisions. If you keep doing what you are doing the way you are doing it (your strategy about time management, for instance), what will be the results 10 minutes, 10 months, and 10 years from now?

Good luck!

Friday, June 5, 2009

The Deadly Chihuahuas

This is the final installment about my talk with the young, new-hires I spoke to earlier this week.

When I asked if anyone in the group owned a Chihuahua a few folks laughed and a few hands went up. I said, "Please take what I'm about to say in the most positive manner meant."

When you prioritize the things you need to do during the day you may use the A, B, C method. A's are the most crucial items on your To-Do List. B's are the things that, if you can find time to do them, they will help with the A's and add to your skill set. 

The C's, however, are Chihuahua kinds of things. They are petty, yapping, annoying kinds of things that eat up time and don't really contribute to your overall accomplishments. Many of them MUST be done eventually (think shaving, or talking to your down-the-hall colleague about why they keep serving warm beer at the company picnic), BUT THEY ARE NOT CRUCIAL TO YOU ACCOMPLISHING THE MAJOR ITEMS ON YOUR LIST.

The author, Ernest Hemingway, talked about "activity versus accomplishment." Focusing on C's keeps you active and makes you think you are accomplishing something.

Look for strategies that allow you to knock out some C's without focusing too much time on them.

Beware the deadly Chihuahuas!

Have a perfect weekend!

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Connection Addiction

Ok, Ok, I know, I missed yesterday. Hard to do a blog when you are either talking or driving. I'll do better.

One of the topics I mentioned in my Tuesday program with young people was the addiction to cellphones. I'll cut to the chase: If someone who has grey hair (or it would be grey if they weren't coloring it) is running a meeting, don't be checking emails, texts, and Tweets, in a meeting. The older worker sees younger workers doing this and it appears that the younger folks aren't focused, aren't working.

In fact, my basic message was, if you want to stand out from your peers, stop looking at a cellphone screen all the time. American businesses lose $6 billion in productivity every year just because of the email alert on computers. I think the number is higher for cellphone addiction.

However, a story in the news today says that it's getting OK to Tweet (sending Twitter messages for us older folks) in church. 

I'm moving to Tahiti, or Hawaii, or one of the "i" islands.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Suds, cellphones, and Chihuahuas.

For the next 36 hours I'm in Charlotte for two presentations to new college graduates; new-hires for a large accountiing firm. My message is about how to make the transition from college to the world of work.

Most of the program is essentially The Perfect Workday seminar; lots of tips and strategies about how to be more efficient and effective.

However, there is one short segment at the beginning of the program that usually surprises them. It's called Suds, Cellphones, and Chihuahuas.

Very often, when college-age workers, especially new-hires, come to an orientation program, they believe that it's a vacation. In fact, a lot of the dynamics are the same; away from home, in a hotel that someone else is paying for, nice bar downstairs, and they're surrounded by their peers.

Unfortunately, a small percentage will be overserved, come into the morning program hung-over, and miss opportunities to gain tools that could lead them to success more quickly.

Here's what I tell them: If you are a male don't ever drink more than two beers, or the equivalent, at a function like this. If you are female don't drink more than one. After those quantities judgment is impaired, speech starts slurring and your appearance is not what you want your peers to to remember about you.

But, here's the kicker. If you will maintain control, sooner or later you will hear something or see something, that will advance your career. You will hear someone say something they should not have said, and that bit of business intelligence will serve you well. Or, you will see someone do somenthing that they will remember you having seen, and that will serve you.

General George S. Patton used to throw parties for his officers. He said that you could tell what type of officer a man was by how he drank, and how he smoked a cigars. Fast drinkers and smokers were impetuous, too-slow imbibers where too cautious.

No matter your age, someone, somewhere is always watching. Especially in tough times, in which it seems that everyone's job is at stake, make sure others see the you you want them to see.

Tomorrow we'll talk about cellphones.

Monday, June 1, 2009

Sit Down and Learn Something

June 1…what a great day!

Ok, get ready…today is Marilyn Monroe’s Birthday, also the birthday of Cleavon Little (Sheriff Bart from Blazing Saddles). It is also National Go Barefoot Day, and the anniversary of the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band (6/1/67.)

This is the first day of National Candy Month, National Dairy Month, Rebuild Your Life Month, National Accordion Awareness Month, Fireworks Safety Month, and Effective Communication Month.

However, here are my favorite two…and you couldn’t ask for more irony if you wrote it up like this…June is National Potty Training Awareness Month…and….wait for it….National Bathroom Reading Month!

You can’t beat that sort of connection with a stick…now hang with me on this..some of you will think I’m being a little tactless, butt (oops, sorry)…but, there is a resource that, if you check it out, you’ll be amazed.

Go to amazon.com and look for The Great American Bathroom Book. There are three volumes. The books feature 2-page summaries of everything from the world’s greatest works of literature to synopses of religion, philosophy, business, and art. The accumulation of knowledge is stunning.

Why not start a Perfect Workday with a little education?