Thursday, April 30, 2009

Go With What You Know

As a trainer, I've noticed something I'll call computer infallibility. In other words, if the computer says it is right, it must be right - regardless of what you might know to the contrary. A student in one of my Microsoft Word classes once tried to tell me that my name was spelled wrong because the spellchecker said so! I assured him that George and Bettye Beach wanted my name spelled that way. Karyn - the 'y' is there for a reason!

The spellchecker can be a great tool but it's not perfect. And, as far as grammar? The grammar check is wrong as much as it is right (if not more). Yet and still, people have become convinced that if the computer says it, it must be true. Too many times, we rely on what a computer, or a professional using a computer says, instead of using our own common sense and logic.

Case in point, when I started looking for a house last year, I went to a mortgage broker to get pre-approved. She approved me for over $200k. WOW! The computer came up with that number, but when I crunched my own numbers, the amount I could afford was a lot less. So, which numbers did I go with?

Mine. When the realtor asked me how much I got approved for, I didn't even bother to tell him. I told him how much I could afford, based on my numbers. The computer might look at my rent and credit history, but it's not looking at the full picture. Had I gone with their numbers, I would have been in foreclosure by January - and I bought the house in September!

Basically, listening to experts and computers can be helpful, but you are your own best expert! Don't turn off your brain and your reasoning ability just because a computer or someone sitting in a suit behind a desk says so. Trust your own logic. Trust your own intuition.

It's easy to be intimidated by technology and experts; but you still have to think - especially if your health, your money or your time is on the line. Do not be afraid to ask questions or ask for clarification. The saying in training is that "there are no stupid questions." If you need to ask, ask.

In fact, you have to think and be assertive. Don't be afraid to say no or say that you need to wait and make a decision later. If you can't afford it, say so. If you don't have the time, make that clear. You are the expert about your situation. You know what is on your schedule. You know how much money is in your account. You know what obligations you have to fulfill. You are the one who will have to face the consequences.

No one will protect you or have your back quite as well as you do.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: Buzzing like a Bee

This is the seventh in a ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

While sitting at your desk, you decide to ‘straighten it up.’ Afterwards, you decide to clean out your inbox and color-code your mail. Then you go to lunch. When you get back from lunch, you realize that you have a stack of documents that need to be filed, so you tackle that. Afterwards, you call your doctor’s office to make an appointment, which reminds you of a question you had about your insurance. You spend a half-hour online trying to get the answer. Now, it’s time for your staff meeting. Returning to your office, you now have a half-hour left as you prepare to work on the presentation that’s due the day after tomorrow. You throw your hands up in frustration as you wonder, where did the time go? Granted, you were ‘busy’ all day. But what did you accomplish?

Busy looks good. Had your boss walked by and seen you filing or researching on your computer, you would have appeared to be working hard. Busy feels good. You are active and you are doing something. And although it’s nice to have a clean inbox and to have your papers filed, when you look at the tasks on your plate, did any of it help?

The answer is to focus. You need to start your day with a purpose and a focus. Today, I plan to _______. By the end of the day, I will have _______. If to-do list or scribbling it on a post-it note helps, do it. Regardless, whether you write it out or just think about it, know what you will focus on and then follow-though. After you’ve accomplished your tasks, then look around for the ‘busy work’. Then and only then, after the important tasks have been accomplished, do you clean your inbox or tackle the filing.

Also, realize the role that procrastination plays in busy work. Often, we chose the easy busywork because we don’t want to do the important work. Breaking down those big important tasks into smaller more manageable ones can help you get started. In fact, you can use some busy work to reward you when you accomplish one of the smaller steps of your project.

If you are procrastinating on your project because you need information or instruction, ask. It's better if you write out or think through the questions you want to ask and then make an effort to ask them early into the project. Don't wait until a day or week before the project is due to ask the basic questions.

Don't be busy - be productive.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Curiosity Made the Cat More Interesting (before it killed him)

Yeah, curiosity might have cost the cat his life, but I bet he had a better life because of it. A healthy (as opposed to homicidal) dose of wonder: “Wow!” “Why?” “How does that work?” is a good thing. Curiosity kills cats and boredom.

As kids we are naturally curious. Kids pester parents to death with questions. Kids can take something as mundane as making toast into an adventure. By the time we become adults, “How does that work?” has been replaced by “This is the way we’ve always done it.” “Can I try it?” becomes “Do I really need to do that?”

We want to save time – we never have enough of it. We want to do it quickly and efficiently – and we don’t have the luxury of being able to take our time with things like creativity and curiosity. We want to do it right – curiosity might lead to failure, mistakes or just looking and sounding silly. This is how dreary ruts and dull routines start.

As a busy adult, curiosity manifest itself differently than it does in childhood. Instead of badgering your spouse or coworkers with “Why” and “How Come?” questions, you can show an interest in their interests. If, when discussing her weekend, a co-worker mentioned that she played Bunko with a few of her friends. If you don’t know what Bunko is, ask. Showing interest takes as much energy as faking interest, so why not do it.

Mow, I’m not saying that you have to hang on your partner’s every word. But when it makes sense to you, ask questions and seek additional information.

There are a lot of little ways to indulge your curiosity. At my local grocery store, I found kumquats and star fruits. I’d never had either before so I brought one of each. I’m still new to my area, so one day, I took a few minutes to see where the road near my house went. I watched an interesting special on dogs. Got a question? Take a few minutes and do a quick Internet search to find the answer. You’ll be surprised at what you’ll find.

If you still don’t see the importance of curiosity. A lifelong natural curiosity, helped me win $100,000 on Who Wants to be a Millionaire!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: Loose Lips Sink Ships

This is the sixth in a ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

Let’s be honest. Gossip can be a lot of fun. Talking about who did what to whom and what happened when can really help pass the time, especially on a hum-drum work day. But gossiping can get you in trouble … lots of trouble.

When it comes to idle chitchat, clearly some topics are better than others. Television, movies, and sports, are easy topics. Good news about co-workers and friends is also acceptable conversation.

However, negative comments, rumors and speculation about co-workers is a big no-no. The closer the relation, the more potentially damaging the conversation can be. Basically, if it is someone you can cross in the hall, don’t say it. If it is someone who works for the company but at a different site, it’s still not a good person to make the subject of speculation.

When people around you start talking, it’s best not to say anything. When they ask what you think, a good response is, “I really don’t know what to say about that.” You can also turn it back on them, “You really have some strong feelings about that/him/her,” or “That sounds like a tricky situation.”

Also when trying to stay out of gossip, watch your body language. Your goal is to remain neutral. So watch for things like nodding and smiling which some people could take as agreement. If it gets to be too much, excuse yourself from the group.

Your frustration is also something you need to be careful with. Venting to a friend is a great way to release stress and get things off of your chest. Even still, it’s important to pick to who, where and when you vent. Venting to a chatty co-worker or in ear shot of other employees is a very bad idea.

When I’ve been frustrated at work, I’ve been known to grab my cell phone, go outside and take a break. While I am walking, and away from the building, I phone-a-friend, a friend that doesn’t work with me and I vent to her. This way I get to release the tension without the negative repercussions of having my words come back to bite me.

Remember, once the words are out of your mouth or you hit send on the email, you are no longer in control. You cannot control how your words are interpreted or repeated or where that email goes.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Relationship Autopsy: What the H*ll Just Happened???

It never ceases to amaze me. You hear of a hot A-List couple breaking up and then before the next issue of In Touch goes to print, they have hooked up with another A-Lister. Unbelievable. This phenomenon isn’t reserved for the rich and famous, we all know people who go from partner to partner with nary a break in between.

To each his own, but I’m more at the other extreme, I break up and then it’s a good long while before I find anyone else. Both systems have their drawbacks but whenever a relationship ends, I strongly suggest that you perform a relationship autopsy on your recently demised relationship.

With a real autopsy, the doctor examines the dead body for the cause of death. And, here’s a bit of morbid trivia. In at least one in four autopsies, the doctor finds a previously undiagnosed condition (diabetes, heart disease, cancer).

A relationship autopsy does the same thing. It asks “What killed this relationship?” and if you’re honest, you’ll find disease from both parties contributed to the death. The idea behind the autopsy isn’t to excessively grief the relationship or to throw a lengthy pity party but to find the cause of death so you can prevent it from happening again.

After my last serious relationship ended, I sat down and asked myself why? And I got several answers. I won’t share them all (this is a blog, not a novel) but one thing that came up almost immediately is that I was never first in his life. After four years, I’d never been made a priority.

I am not self-centered enough to expect to be first all of the time or even most of the time, but my needs should come first some of the time. He never went out of his way for me – not on my birthday, not on Christmas, not V-Day or any other time. Everything was based on what was convenient for him. However, I had to admit that I didn’t ask for more. I expected him to make certain changes without ever really letting him know what those changes were.

The takeaway for me was to demand more and state my needs clearly without assuming what a man should or shouldn’t know. There were a lot of other lessons I’ve learned and been able to apply. But I wouldn’t have known any of them if I hadn’t taken the time to really look at what went wrong (as well as what worked).

Monday, April 13, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: The Art of Tooting Your Own Horn

This is the fifth in a ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

Exactly what have you accomplished at work? It’s a hard question to answer because 1) We tend to downplay our successes, so a lot of the small accomplishments are quickly forgotten 2) We accomplish one thing and quickly move on to the next, so it becomes difficult to remember all of the things we’ve done.

Anyone who’s ever had to sit down and prepare for an annual performance evaluation knows what I mean. Wrecking your brain as you try to remember all of the things you’ve done in vivid detail. How can you toot your own horn or tell your bosses what an asset you are when your memory is failing you?

The solution is a simple one. Keep track of all of your accomplishments … as you accomplish them. I have a simple Word document where I list all of the projects and assignments I've been given. As needed, I update that document with exactly what I've done and when.

At the end of the year, it was easy to toot my horn and talk up my successes. And, when it comes time to update my resume, I havean accurate record of exactly what I have done.This success log, doesn’t need to be long. It does not need to be overly detail. Just describe the task at hand, and focus on the numbers.

For example:

Project: Office 2007 Overview
Description: Responsible for giving 200 employees a brief presentation on transitioning from Office 2003 to Office 2007.
Results: Delivered a series of 45 minute presentations to the staff of 225. Located and distributed several quick reference guides to the staff to support the transition. Worked with IT to assist people who were having trouble with the installation and who had questions about the new applications.

The key to making this work is keeping this document current. When you are assigned a new project, open up the document and add the description. When you have a successful result, don’t hesitate to record it immediately while it is fresh in your mind.

Focus on the numbers – how many people did you work with? How many calls on average did you handle a day? How much did you make in sales? How many phone lines did you answer? Did you complete the project under budget or before the deadline?

Nothing says success quite like results!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Out of Chaos...

Yesterday I was featured in an article on Black America Web about getting rid of clutter and the tradition of spring cleaning ( Those who know me know that I love being organized. Let’s put it this way, I moved into my house Saturday morning Labor Day weekend and I took that Tuesday off. By the time, I left for work on Wednesday morning, every box had been unpacked, broken down and disposed of, pictures had been hung, the refrigerator filled.

Astrologers will say that my organization is due to me being born a Virgo. Others just call it crazy. You might never have the urge to color-coordinate your wardrobe or plan a menu a week in advance, but there are some little and easy things you can do to get a little more organized.

My philosophy: Life is too short to spend time looking for keys and glasses and shuffling through a ton of papers.

  • Put things like keys, cell phones and glasses in a convenient and logical place. My front door and garage door are next to each other. I found a Marshalls, a cute little tall table ($19.99) with one drawer. I put it right between the doors. When I walk in the house, the keys go in it. I also keep the Marty’s leash there as well.
  • When leaving work, before I pull out of the parking lot, I put my badge from work on the console area just under the radio. Putting my keys in the drawer. These are things that take a few seconds but if you do them consistently can save you a lot of time and even more frustration.
  • Don’t wait. Do it now. When you take your clothes off, take 20 seconds to either put it on a hanger or throw it into the hamper. When you finish with the glass or the plate, put it in the dishwasher. When you let these things build up what could have taken seconds is going to take a lot more time and effort.
  • If you want to undertake a big project – organizing a closet, tackling a desk full of papers – and the feeling hits you, go with it! That feeling doesn’t come too often so when it does take full advantage of it.
  • When you get ready to tackle the closet or other project, you will inevitably come across items you think you might want to get rid of … but you just aren’t sure. You think … “But I might get down to a size 8 again and when I do, I’ll want to wear that dress.” “But, I can’t throw away that hideous painting I got as a housewarming gift. Sure, there is no way in heck I’d ever put it where people could see it, but I can’t throw it away.” “But it cost a lot of money.” “But I’ve had it a long time.” “But it might be a collector’s item one day.”
If you can’t bear to part with it, at least agree to pack it up and put it elsewhere. Get it out of the closet; don’t keep it on your desk. When you are in a less sympathetic mood, go through that old stuff again and you’ll be surprised what you can get rid of.

From a spiritual or metaphysical point of view, getting rid of clutter is a good thing. Feng Shui practitioners believe that clutter holds your vital energy and when you get rid of it that energy is released. This could explain that feeling of relief and burst of energy you feel when you finally eliminate clutter. They also believe that when you get rid of the old, you can make room for the new.
Happy decluttering!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Takin' Care of Business: Leaving Work at Work

This is the fourth in a ten part series called, Takin’ Care of Business – Making Work Work for You.

Last week, I talked about managing stress on the job. However, if you don’t successfully manage it at work, you run the risk of taking it home with you. Not leaving work at work creates all sorts of problems: fighting with the spouse, snapping at the kids, emotional eating, withdrawing from social activities, and losing sleep are just some of the effects of not being able to leave work at work.

I had a co-worker who had recently been promoted to a supervisory position. He would spend 12 hours or more at work tying up loose ends. He told me he was afraid he’d forget something if he didn’t take care of everything right then. I gave him two suggestions. I told him at 5:00 p.m., to make a list of all the things he needed to take care of the next day. Writing out a to-do list would help keep things from falling through the cracks and give him some much needed piece of mind.

Then I told him to use his commuting time to separate from work. Favorite music or books on tape were a start but I also told him to start focusing on his evening. What would he have for dinner? Was anything good coming on TV? What things could he take care of around the house? The point was to stop focusing on work and start focusing on all of the other things he had to do. Work worries need to stay at work.

I ran into him a few days later and I could actually see the relief on his face! He had been using the list and as a result he’d been getting more done and leaving on time. He said using his commute to refocus also helped. By the time he got home, work was a distant memory.

I read about a man who, as he would come home in the evening, imagined putting his work worries on the potted tree outside his door. They would stay there until he picked them up the next morning, on his way to work. He made sure that he didn’t take them into the house with him. I do something similar with the shower. After a particularly bad day, I like to imagine all my worries and troubles washing down the drain with the soap suds. It can be a particularly powerful visualization.

Communication is also key. If you need a moment to refocus when you get home, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Sit in your car for a minute if you need to, or park for a moment around the corner. Work something out with your spouse so that you can have a moment or two to yourself when you get home. It doesn’t have to be an hour, sometimes five minutes can be enough.