Wasting Time Is a Good New Year’s Resolution

When I leave the office, I try to leave it behind. The problem for me, though, is I have just as many activities outside of work that keep my mind in overdrive. It’s always a challenge for me to totally disconnect.

Working out doesn’t do the trick. It does help me in solving problems. In fact, the other day I was on the treadmill and suddenly the idea I needed for a project popped into my mind. Still, I need to shut down and simply be.

People talk about the importance of not wasting time and always doing something constructive. I know people who travel and use all of the time in the air to catch up on correspondence, write emails, finish a report. I like to simply read a good book or stare at the cloud formations.

I think it’s important to enjoy life’s simple pleasures. It’s why in 2013 I photographed something that made me happy every day. I never missed a day. I came to really appreciate life’s simple joys. (More on this topic next week.)

I discovered that jigsaw puzzles are a great way to disconnect. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I discovered that jigsaw puzzles are a great way to disconnect. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I’ve discovered two ways this year that allow me to completely disconnect. The first one is bird watching. Nope, not the kind where you take your binoculars and you hike and keep a list of all the birds you see. Mine is really simple. Put a feeder or two outside a window. Sit in a comfy chair and kick back and watch the birds.

Yes, I sometimes make a mental note of the black-capped chickadee, the dozens of finches, the tufted titmouse or the cardinal. But for the most part, I simply enjoy watching them swoop in and dine. I like looking at their colors and unique markings. I like watching who is the aggressor, who waits his turn, who makes way for others. The next thing I know, an hour has passed.

During the holidays, I found a new pastime – jigsaw puzzles. Growing up I was never a big fan. I was an athlete and didn’t have time to sit still. But it was yucky weather and my sister had given me a 1,000-piece puzzle. Apparently, she thought I was ready for the big leagues.

I started with the border. And then I began filling in the picture, searching for that white piece with just a hint of green in the lower left corner. Hours later, I had made significant progress. More importantly, I had not thought about anything else.

At this time of year, as we all figure out our goals and resolutions, don’t forgot to figure out how you can waste time and find the joy in life.

Say ‘No’ to ‘Reply All’

Anyone who reads my blog knows how I struggle to tame my email. Lots of travel doesn’t help. In the past year, though, I’ve done a fairly good job of reigning in the emails.

One thing that doesn’t help is the “reply all” function. While it is important to send emails to groups of people, it does no one any good if you hit “reply all” to simply send a thank you or a short acknowledgement. Send it to the sender only, not the rest of us in the recipient list. All that you’ve done is clog inboxes.

Sometimes I wish the key could be removed. Or that it would at least come with a warning: “Are you sure you want to do this?” The answer should almost always be no.

Turns out I’m not alone in feeling this way about the function. Microsoft introduced a plug-in option on its Outlook program called NoReplyAll, which allows senders to prevent recipients from replying all to their messages. Sperry Software developed a program that actually asks the warning question, “Are you sure you want to reply to everyone?”

I don’t know if I’ll ever get the feature added at work, but I’m going to make an effort to never “reply all” unless everyone in the distribution truly needs to read my comments.

Professional Development Books Keep Me on Track

One of the ways I know if I’m on track is by checking the number of books I read each year, both for pleasure and for my profession. I don’t have a set number that I have to read, but I do know that if I’ve gone months without reading then I need to realign my priorities.

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Professional development books help with one’s career journey. (Photo by Cynthia Price)

I decided to review the books I had read for my professional development, in part, because the stack that still needs to be read remains quite high. I did finish several and thought I’d pull them together in a list in case you have anyone you’re still shopping for. I included links to the original posts.

Most of try to do too many things at once. All that multi-tasking makes it difficult to focus. A great book about getting yourself set for the day is 18 Minutes. Written by Peter Bregman, it is based upon his weekly Harvard Business Review columns. Step 1 takes 5 minutes and is about setting the plan for the day. Bregman says that before turning on your computer, we should sit with a blank piece of paper and decide what will make this day highly successful. In Step 2, we refocus for one minute every hour. At the end of the day, we review for five minutes. It sounds simple. I’m fairly consistent with Steps 1 and 2. Step 3, not so much.

I’m an introvert, althoughI’ve learned to function in many settings as an extrovert. I even enjoy it. However, at the end of the day, I need to allow for quiet time, which is why at conferences I prefer to room alone and why I build time into the day for a peaceful walk in between meetings. These become my “restorative niches” as described in Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain. It’s a great book for understanding the value of introverts.

In Marshall Goldsmith’s book, What Got You Here Won’t Get You There, he recommends making a list of the 25 people most responsible for your career. But he doesn’t stop there. He then wants us to write a thank you note “to confront the humbling fact that you have not achieved your success alone.”

Most of us need routines and order in our lives. If you’re like me, though, you struggle to do so. It’s about finding “the power of rhythm and routine” at work. That phrase comes from Cheryl Richardson in her book, The Art of Extreme Self Care. Creating routines “creates a sense of order that gives the mind a much-needed rest,” she writes. One of the best routines I’ve developed is printing my daily calendar for the next day before I leave the office at the end of the day. That way I already know if I have to pack a lunch or if I have an early meeting for which I must prepare. If that’s the case, I know to schedule my training session for a different day or only plan on a 30-minute morning workout. I also know what healthy snacks to pack.

Jason Womak, author of Your Best Just Got Better, warns that we are often forced to sacrifice quality for quantity. Because there is so much information to take in, he says, we’ve become a nation of skimmers. The downside of that, Womak says, is we miss essential details that could “help us improve our productivity, build better relationships and live more gratifying lives.” His book offers several suggestions, several of which I’ve implemented, including carrying a camera.

What books did you read this year that you would add to the list?

All I Want for Christmas

iPadIt’s that time of year for making lists and checking them twice. I thought I’d make a list of communication wishes.

Quiet. I make lots of decisions, but I don’t make them in a vacuum. I have materials to review and individuals to meet with who can provide additional information. Unfortunately, I often don’t have much time to think through the decisions. I’d like more time for quiet reflection, which is something many individuals need but especially introverts.

Accurate information. I embrace the new communications platforms, including blogs, Twitter and Facebook. Citizen journalism has a place in today’s world as newspapers fold and broadcast news becomes more newstainment. However, in the rush to get information out first, not everyone worries about the accuracy of the information they are disseminating. I’d like to see a return to the news value of accuracy.

iPad. Yep, I still don’t own one. I purchased a netbook that still works great so I’m having a difficult time justifying the purchase. If Santa delivered an iPad to my stocking, I’d be delighted.

Jet. I really have been that good. Even better, if I received this gift, I’d share. Why do I want a jet? I want to avoid the TSA lines, the cramped seats on flights, the long layovers and missed flights. I want to get to the next NFPW conference feeling rested and ready for networking, learning and exploring. I’m happy to pick up anyone along the way.

What do you want for Christmas?

 

New Words in 2012

Gangnam StyleOn a recent trip I was introduced to Gangnam Style by PSY. I couldn’t get it out of my head for a few days.

We’ve all had it happen where a song or melody keeps repeating in our mind. Now the word for it, “earworm” has been added to Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary.

According to the dictionary company, when a word reaches a critical mass of citations from a variety of sources, the word is added. This year, about 100 words made the cut, including earworm.

Others that made it include:

Aha Moment: a moment of sudden realization, inspiration, insight, recognition, or comprehension

Bucket List: a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying

Game Changer: a newly introduced element or factor that changes an existing situation or activity in a significant way

Mash-up: something that is created by combining elements from two or more sources

What word do you think should make the dictionary?

PS Don’t click the video link unless you want an earworm!

Answer These 3 Questions; Ace Your Next Job Interview

We all know we’re supposed to prepare for a job interview. So why don’t we? It’s a question I ask because in the past few years I’ve probably served on a dozen interview panels.

Some individuals are quite prepared. It’s obvious they’ve done their homework – from reviewing the company website to researching their future colleagues to connecting their skills and experiences to the mission of the company.

And then there are those who seem surprised by some of the questions. And yet, if you go to any website about interviewing the questions are right there. Here are a few that you should think about in advance and be prepared to answer:

  1. Would you tell us about a weakness? Most individuals think the goal is to turn it into a positive so they mention things like they are perfectionists or they work too hard. That might work when you are first starting out, but as you interview for increasingly complex jobs, what interviewers really want to know is how self-aware you are. More importantly, they want to know how you are addressing the weakness. One candidate I interviewed was asked the question during three separate interviews and never could answer it. It certainly didn’t help the candidate’s cause.
  2. Why do you want to be part of this team or company? Interviewers expect to hear that you believe in the mission of the company and that you’ve heard great things about the team. The interviewers already know that since they work for the company. What they really want to know is “What are you passionate about?” and “What gets you excited to come to work?”
  3. Why should we hire you? This is the softball pitch, meaning that the candidate should be able to hit this one out of the ballpark. And yet, too many candidates stammer when asked this question. Those who have to think about it or stammer their way through it usually have blown the interview. Almost always, I’ve hired the candidate that heard the question and immediately provided a tight synopsis of his strengths and how those strengths would benefit the company.

Are you ready for your next job interview?

3 Tips to Handle Bad News

When your job hands you lemons, how do you make lemonade?

It’s not always easy but recently three individuals who have been handling difficult news each shared a tip for making lemonade from difficult news.

  1. Identify your value proposition. Mary Ellin Arch, spokesperson for Pocahontas 895 toll road in Virginia, shared how nobody likes toll increases. However, when she talks about how a road saves the person time, it lessens the impact of the rate increase news. “It becomes the good news,” she said.
  2. Share your own bad news. Ray Kozakewicz, who formerly worked for Media General, said it’s important to get your own bad news out before others report on it. “It is very important that you don’t sugarcoat your bad news,” he said. In dealing with staff layoffs, Kozakewicz also emphasized the importance of holding special meetings and identifying key message points.
  3. Identify stakeholders and their issues. Once you know the issues, you can build the message points, said Chet Ward of Dominion. Even though Virginia rates are lower compared to others, customers don’t want to hear that, Ward said. “They want to know about reliability. We have to provide reliable information about reliability. We don’t talk about rates, we talk about what you get for your money.”