Friday, September 26, 2008

Live and Learn: Email Madness!

I sent an email to someone and inadvertently caused a lot of drama and, although the recipient will not agree, that was not my intention. What makes my error particularly egregious is that I, of all people, should know better. As a corporate trainer, I instruct people on a regular basis on the costly results of email faux paus. So I’m writing this as a cautionary tale to you and as a refresher to me.

I broke just about all the rules when I wrote the email that lit the fire that ended what was becoming a nice friendship. I was a little bit perturbed when I wrote it and then I wrote it in a sort of tongue-in-cheek tone which ended up as more of a foot-in-the-mouth. I broke the rules and I’m paying for it.
Cardinal Rule #1: Never send an email when you are experiencing a negative emotion (even if it's just a little bit): Save it as a draft, delete it, better yet, right it in Word and then save it. You may say some things that you regret (I know I did).

Cardinal Rule #2: Sarcasm and humor are very hard to interpret in an email. I thought my email was kind of cute, pissy, but kind of cute. However, it came across as anything but cute. In retrospect, I can understand where the problem started. Email has none of the nuance of tone of voice and there is no body language to be interpreted. It’s just your words and, without the tone and body cues to come with it, those words come across as very strongly. Your intention often gets lost in the reader's interpretation.

Cardinal Rule #3: Just like your words come across very loudly in an email, at times those little smileys can make a bad situation worse. If you have to resort to smileys to communicate the ‘tone’ of your email, you are better off picking up the phone and calling. I am 90% sure this person would not have gotten so upset with me if he could have heard my tone of voice. It would have been very clear that I wasn’t angry or hostile.

Cardinal Rule #4: Once you hit send, it’s gone. You can’t get it back (the recall feature in some email applications rarely works). You can’t control who the message is forwarded to or what edits are made to your original email. I cringe as I think of that email being passed around to goodness knows who.

Cardinal Rule #5: Don’t hide behind email. Because there are so many ways your message can be interpreted (or misinterpreted), sometimes it’s better to just have a discussion – face-to-face or over the phone – even if it’s kind of awkward.

The chances of this person reading this email are slim-to-none, but I am truly sorry that an email ended a friendship.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Getting It Together

I'm a Virgo and Virgos are notorious for being organized, efficient and logical. While I’m not always logical, I am nothing if not organized and efficient.

One important facet of living the life of your dreams is getting a hold of your time. We spend too much time on inconsequential time wasters. Time spent looking for lost items, time spent mindlessly in front of the TV, even time you spend on other tasks like cleaning and preparing meals can be put to better use.

So I’ve compiled a list of a few of my favorite time savers and organizational tips. What you will love about this list is that there is nothing on it that is difficult or that will take up more time. And yes, I do do these things.

Never Lost, Always Found: I have a place for the things I use regularly. It’s a place that makes sense. Next to my door, there is a small stand with a single drawer. When I walk into my place, my keys go on top. Inside the drawer is the dog’s leash. Sounds simple, but by putting my keys and the leash in the designated place, I don’t waste precious morning time frantically looking for my keys AND Marty doesn’t spend precious time with his hind legs crossed!

Keep it in the Closet: Get undressed while standing in the closet. Dirty clothes go immediately in the hamper. While you’re in there, hang up anything you can wear again.

Kitchen Economics: Wash as you prepare the meal. Waiting until the end guarantees that you will have a sink full of pots and pans and who wants to do all that work after dinner? Often times, when one part of the meal is done, you can reuse the pot for the next dish.

When possible, store leftovers in reusable microwaveable dishes so you don’t have to reheat in another pot.

Dishwashers make everyone’s life easier, yet, no one likes to empty the darn thing! The worst part for me was sorting through all the silverware. Then I realized the silverware holder comes in sections. So now, I put all the small spoons in one section, larger spoons in the next and so on. Emptying the dishwasher is a lot faster now.

Mail Madness: I open the mail while standing over the trash can. All junk mail goes immediately into the trash. As do envelopes and extra papers I don’t need.

Paper Clutter Cure: I went to the drugstore and purchased a few cheap colored two pocket folders. They are labeled: Take Action, File, Bills and Read. Anything that requires me to do something (make a call, complete a form) goes into Take Action. Things like bank statements and insurance info, goes into the File folder. When I thumb through magazines, I tear out the articles I want to read and put them in the Read folder. Every couple of days, I look through the Take Action folder and tackle an item or two in that folder. When the file folder gets thick, that’s when I make use of mindless TV time and file while I watch. If I’m bored over the weekend or going somewhere where I have a wait (doctor's office, oil change), I grab an article out of the Read folder and read it.

What are some of the little things you do to stay organized and on task? I'm always interested in new tips and tricks!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Birthday Blessings and Birthday Blues

Today is a ‘milestone’ birthday for me. I am now 40 years old. It’s definitely a glass half-empty, half-full affair. As I enter my fifth decade, I would have never guessed that I would be never-married and childless (half-empty). At the same time, I am now a home-owner. I am debt-free. I have meaningful work that I love. And, I’m the proud pet parent of Marty, America’s Favorite Pooch (half-full).

I was talking to a friend about the half-empty part. She said to me, “But, you are a life coach!” True, and I realize this is a case of “physician heal thyself.” And I am working on it. Being a coach doesn’t mean that I don’t have issues. We all do. I guess for me being a coach means that I’m a person who continues to seek answers - a person who constantly and consistently seeks opportunities to grow.

In the meantime, I’ll celebrate my health, my friends and all the glass half-full. Focusing on the half-empty part won’t help me get it filled but being grateful for all the blessings that I have definitely will.

Friday, September 12, 2008

You Might Have Just Dodged a Bullet

When I graduated from college, with a degree in journalism, I got a job offer for an entry-level job at a major news agency. Full of youthful ignorance and a healthy dose of arrogance, I turned it down.

As a result, I spent the next year and a half trying to get my foot in the door. When I finally did land at a local AM radio station, I was working for next to nothing. It was humbling to say the least.

Almost 20 years later, my family still talk about how great my life would have been if I had only gone to Atlanta. I’d be a major news anchor. I’d be married. I’d have a great family. And basically, my life would have been one long and magical walk in a beautiful park, on a bright sunny day.

Or would it?

Maybe my arrogance saved me from a worse fate than a year of menial jobs. Maybe I saved myself form an abusive relationship or avoided a terrible accident. I don’t know. I’ll never know. And, that’s okay.

We like to look at the path we didn’t take and romanticize it. “If I had taken that job, my life would be so much better!” Or, “If I had married the other guy, I’d be happier.” We might think to ourselves, “If only I had gotten that scholarship…” or “If I had moved to Los Angeles when I had the chance…”

The truth is that we will never know if things would have been better or worse. But painting that unrealistically rosy picture of the path not taken is a recipe for regret and frustration.

If you believe in God, karma or, even fate then you probably believe that things happen for a reason. Every decision I’ve made has lead me to where I am right now and the same for you. To tease yourself with dreams of what might have been or what you could have, should have or would have done is to perform an unnecessary form of mental torture.

Instead of ruminating over the past, look at where are now and figure out what the next step is. Yesterday is gone; but you can still do some with today and impact tomorrow.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Help Me With My Positive Playlist

I read the book The Secret over a year ago. I've been doing vision boards ever since. And, I have to say, I've seen some of those visions come to pass. I had money on my board. Several months later, I auditioned for Millionaire and two months later, I had taped my episode. I had a vision of a new car. I got that too. I just moved into a new house that was also featured on my vision board.

Now, I'm working on what the book referred to as a Secret Shifter - something that can shift your mood when it's less than productive. I have a few songs, but I can use some help selecting a few more.

Here's what I have so far ... and why.

Magic (Robin Thicke) - This song is about the power of your thoughts and how we all have the ability to create our own 'magic.' All I got is concrete all around me, but I can see the countryside. You can be rich when you’re poor. Poor when you’re rich. It can be raining and I can make the sun shine.

Be Optismistic (Sounds of Blackness): The title says it all. As long as you keep your head to the sky. Be Optimistic!

Gotta Get Up (Jill Scott): If ever there was a Monday morning song, this is it! She wants to stay in bed but she's gotta get up. I'd rather chill at home. I'd rather lay alone. It's true, but I got to work. I don't wanna go. I wanna play today. But what can I say. Bills to pay. I just can't get comfortable doing nothing! That last line is my favorite :)

Make It Happen (Mariah Carey): This is one of her earlier songs and it tells the story of her determination as she tried to make it in the business. Still I had to keep on going, never knowing. If I could take it, if I could make it thorugh the night. I held on to my faith. I struggled and I prayed. And now I've found my way. If you believe in yourself enough and know what you want, you're gonna make it happen.

You Can't Get What You Want (Joe Jackson): Back in the 80's, I was addicted to MTV. Joe Jackson was a cool British singer and sang the truth with this one. You can't get what you want ... til you know what you want.

You Gotta Be (Des'ree): This song is full of good advice. Listen as your day unfolds. Challenge what the future holds. Try and keep your head up to the sky. Lovers, they may cause you

What other songs should I include? I'm open to almost every style of music!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Oh Those Negative Nellies!

It would be great if we could wave a magic wand and get those critical, complaining, never-satisfied Negative Nellies stranded on their own island (a la Lost). Sometimes it’s easy to get rid of that negative influence – especially if they are an acquaintance or a not-so-close friend, but what do you do when you are related to the Negative Nellie or when the Nellie is a co-worker on your team? That’s a little trickier.

Here are some tips for handling the Nellie:

Maintain an Assured Safe Distance: When you are driving, it’s best not to get too close to the car in front of you, if they stop suddenly, you might hit them. Staying a safe distance behind gives you a buffer, in case the driver does something unexpected. Do the same with the Nellie. When you have to be around them fine, but when you don’t, don’t seek out their company.

What You Say Can and Will Be Used Against You: Keep that Nellie on a strict need-to-know basis. If they don’t need to know it, don’t share it. This is especially true for those who are going to be super-critical, nosey or gossipy. Also, keep the friends and acquaintances of the Nellie on a need-to-know basis, as well, since they are usually the ones keeping the Nellie up-to-date on all your activities.

Keep Your Enemies Far Away: Sun-tzu, the ancient Chinese general said “Keep your friends close and your enemies closer.” Maybe that is true in military terms but in real life, that’s just silly. If you can’t trust them, keep them far away. Don’t make it easy for the Nellie to stab you in the back or get ammunition to use against you.

Become a Teflon Don: This one takes some doing, but when the Nellie starts in on you – criticizing you or bringing up past mistakes and old hurts, learn to let it slide right off of you. If you are going to see them, rehearse what you will say and do when they start to bait you. Have a friend or family member on standby that you can turn to for support.

Drink Heavily: Just joking.

Monday, September 1, 2008

Busy Isn't Always Effective

As a trainer, I often send out emails regarding classes and schedules and I know for a fact that a number of my co-workers don’t bother to read them. They say to me with pride, “I don’t have time to read that stuff. I have a job to do.”

It may be a day or two later, but some of these very busy people will contact me, and they will ask questions that I have already addressed and answered in the email that they couldn’t be bothered to read.

Being busy is not the same as being effective. The irony is that these people waste time by trying to save time.

Busy people are devoted to multi-tasking. They write e-mails while on a conference call. They return phone calls while trying to read a report. How effective is it when the calls takes twice as long to make, the email is riddled with typos and time is wasted reading and re-reading the report because they weren’t paying attention?

As my mother would say, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when are you going to find the time to do it again?”

It sounds like heresy but you get more accomplished if you focus on one thing at a time. Take 30 seconds to read the email. When you are on a critical call, be on the call and not doing something else. If you have a document to proofread, proof read it.

Complete your tasks sequentially and don’t waste time by jumping back and forth. Every time you stop one thing and start another, you lose time shifting gears and regaining your focus.

If you must multi-task make sure one of those tasks is very simple: talk on the phone while stuffing envelopes or doing some light filing. I often return phone calls in the early evening while I’m walking my dog. However, if both tasks require your attention, set aside a block of time to complete each one.

Be better than busy, be effective.