5 things to do instead of checking email

It’s easy for me to get distracted by emails. When I have a few minutes, I gravitate toward the inbox thinking I’ll clear a few more emails. Most of the time, I simply re-read them and take no action.

Capture_Email iconThat’s why sometimes it’s best to ignore emails, which can easily become a distraction. I would venture that a person could spend all day on email and not accomplish much.

Instead of skimming emails, I set aside time when I can focus on emails and respond appropriately. When I do have a few minutes and need a break, instead of checking email I do the following:

  1. Walk. It’s good to stand up and stretch. I usually do a lap around the office floor.
  2. Drink water. We’re supposed to drink eight glasses a day, and I’m usually short of that. If I need a break, I walk to the water cooler and get another glass.
  3. Read an article. I almost always have a pile of magazines with sticky notes sticking out, indicating there is an article to read. If I need a break, I’ll read one of the articles, which usually provides me with inspiration.
  4. Make a to-do list. When I am feeling overwhelmed, it helps if I list everything I need to do. That keeps me from fretting that I will forget something.
  5. Clean your desk. By week’s end, I like to have the piles put away and the folders filed. Sometimes on a mini break I will dust the desk or sharpen my pencils.

What do you recommend doing instead of checking emails?

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6 ways to learn

Keep growing is a piece of advice Joel Osteen offers in his book, “You Can, You Will.” He notes that we have 86,400 seconds each day, and urges us “Redeem the time.”

One way to do that is to create a personal growth plan. You don’t need to attend a conference to learn new skills or sharpen the ones you have, although if you can, it’s a good way to grow professionally and also network and gain a fresh perspective.

Here are six other ways to help you grow and learn:

Start by signing up for free webinars through companies such as Cision or Ragan Communications. I recently watched a great one about PR pitching by Michael Smart. The catch is that you may receive emails from the companies pitching their products. It’s a small price to pay and, sometimes, you’ll discover that you would benefit from the product or service.

TED Talks also are free and you can view them anytime. I’ll often watch a few while on the treadmill or elliptical. Of course, it’s a challenge when I want to take notes! If you are fortunate to live someplace where TED Talks are being offered, I would encourage you to attend. Not only will you learn about interesting topics, you will discover different presentation styles. Two of my favorites (and that of many others are “The Power of Introverts” with Susan Cain and “Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are” with Amy Cuddy.

Another great way to find speakers is through the business calendar of your local newspaper. The one I read publishes such a calendar each Monday. Organizations provide details about their speakers, and, you can usually attend as a guest for a fee.

If you are looking for tutorials, one of my favorite sites is Lynda.com. This site provides web tutorials on hundreds of topics. You can subscribe for a month or a year. I subscribe for a month when I realize I need to learn about a specific topic. I spend a few hours learning through the site.

Another great resource is your local university or community college. Check their online calendars for guest speakers. Often the lectures are open to the public at no cost. I have heard the author of Berkshire Beyond Buffet, a POW, and a Pulitzer-prize winning journalist. (Full disclosure: I work for a university so I receive notifications automatically.)

One last suggestion is to schedule learning interviews. You can do this with a colleague or through an introduction. It’s a great way to learn more about a person’s position and specific responsibilities. I reach out to the person via email and request a meeting. If I don’t know the person, I may ask for a 20-minute coffee meeting. If I know the person, I might suggest lunch or drinks after work. I always explain that I’m interested in learning more about their work and that I have no hidden agenda. I find the conversations insightful and energizing, and I think the other person does, too.

Handling high visibility environments, aka a crisis

What most people call a crisis, Jim Vance refers to as a “high visibility environment.”

He should know. He was on the DC sniper task force and assisted with Hurricane Katrina. He also was the media & communications specialist and spokesperson for the FBI in Washington, D.C. Today he is a highly sought after media trainer.

Vance told a group of PR practitioners that he focuses on being prepared. Learning by experience, he said, is often brutal.

Some of the common management mistakes that occur during a crisis include:

Hesitation: If one hesitates when speaking to the media, others may perceive it as confusion and incompetence.

Obfuscation: When you attempt to confuse the message, you create a perception of dishonesty and insensitivity.

Revelation: One of the biggest mistakes, Vance said, is the failure to understand that revelation is inevitable. “Your actions will be revealed sooner or later,” he said.

Prevarication: “There is no substitute for the absolute truth,” Vance said.

In preparing for the worst, Vance said to take into account

–Dueling egos

–Political interference

–Media persistence

He offered tips to effectively work with the media and handle a crisis. His tips include:

–Be calm and then speak. The public is expecting leadership, Vance said, so it’s important that the spokesperson is able to speak without emotion and with clarity.

–Acknowledge what you know and don’t know. Vance noted that 90 percent of all first accounts are wrong. “It’s important to say things like, ‘Based on what we know at this time,’” which allows the speaker to update the information later.

–“You can’t have enough resources against the backdrop of bad news,” he said.

In all planning, remember that critics need a target. That leaves you with two crisis options.

  1. Clam up
  2. Mess Up, Fess Up, Clean Up

The first scenario guarantees “your side won’t be heard,” Vance said. “Critics are lashing out with unchallenged statements.”

Instead, Vance said to look at crisis situations as powerful communications opportunities – if management is prepared to engage and seize the opportunity.

Newspapers are not dead

Print papers will always exist.

Not surprisingly that statement was made by the publisher of the Richmond Times-Dispatch (Va.).

Tom Silvestri, publisher of the RIchmond Times-Dispatch, says newspapers need to offer relevant content. (Photo by Killeen)

Tom Silvestri, publisher of the RIchmond Times-Dispatch, says newspapers need to offer relevant content. (Photo by Killian McGiboney)

Tom Silvestri provided a compelling argument at a recent talk. He argued that newspapers understand the diehard readers and voters. Further, he said, even millennials are interested in what newspapers offer – news of the community.

The key, Silvestri said, is that newspapers have to find a way to connect with the millennials’ interest in the community.

“Boring is boring. Interesting is interesting. News is news,” Silvestri said. “I know I sound like a cranky old city editor.”

The point he was making is that while some people claim that readers are drawn to shorter pieces on the web, Silvestri said a three-inch web story won’t get read if it’s boring.

To succeed, he said, newspapers must be interesting, relevant and technology savvy. The same holds true for online content.

Silvestri also spoke about the relentless pace of news, and the push to be first, which leads some outlets to publish (including online) before facts have been verified.

“Do you want to be first or do you want to be right?” Silvestri asked. “As a publisher you want to be both.”

He added that integrity as a value is a good thing. “If you are guided by your values you are often going to make the right choice,” he said.

Today there may be newer ways of telling stories, but one thing hasn’t changed. “To be a trusted news source you have to have the facts,” Silvestri said.

He described a newsroom as the “recorder of what is actually happening.”

To remain relevant, Silvestri said, people need to find value in what newspapers do and offer. “You can’t just move from print to online,” he said. “We have to be inventive.”

He shared how the Berkshire Hathaway (the parent company of the Richmond Times-Dispatch) newspaper in Omaha, Neb., capitalizes on the region’s focus on sports by offering online radio coverage.

One way the Richmond Times-Dispatch offers unique content is through its Public Square where a topic is offered and key players are available to discuss the subject with the community. The newspaper has offered more than 50 Public Squares with large and diverse audiences.

Quality and profit are judges of innovation, Silvestri added.

Managing and motivating millennials

Hoopla Sofware recently released a report on how to manage and motivate millennials by its founder and CEO Michael Smalls.

The 5 keys –

  1. Provide strong, involved management
  2. Connect work to a higher purpose
  3. Make recognition impactful
  4. Make work challenging, engaging and fun
  5. Leverage modern technology

I’m not a millennial – far from it, and yet, these concepts resonated with me. Perhaps we should all take a look at the actions and apply them to our situations. And if you want to know more about millennials, read the report for statistics and other findings.

Provide Strong, Involved Managed

While millennials often have no qualms about challenging authority, it doesn’t mean that they don’t want feedback and check-ins. In my role as a supervisor, I provide weekly feedback to everyone on my team. It ranges from an acknowledgement of a job well done to a discussion about how to implement a campaign to brainstorming stories to pitch. This interaction also ensures that we are in agreement on how we define success.

Connect Work to a Higher Purpose

Millennials want to see how the companies they work for are making the world a better place, and how they can contribute to those efforts, says The Intelligence Group’s Jamie Gutfreund, who was quoted in the Hoopla report.

Make Recognitions Impactful

I don’t know of any employee (myself included), who doesn’t like to be told they are doing a good job. However, I once had a boss who praised me for what I considered the basics of the job. Before long, the praise meant nothing. Praising for going the extra mile is more meaningful. It’s also important to provide the recognition when the accomplishment happens. Awards banquets are all well and good, but if the employee has to wait a year until he hears he has “done good,” it’s going to have limited impact. Finally, be sure to follow a piece of advice I was given early in my career, “Praise publicly, criticize privately.”

Make Work Challenging, Engaging and Fun [Photo of Ghostbuster doughnuts]

In working with interns, one of the things I frequently hear is, “I appreciate knowing how my work fits into the bigger picture.” That means taking the time to explain the assignment and the impact of it on the business. When an intern’s media release is picked up by a news outlet, I send a link showing where his work was placed.

doughnutsTeam meetings are important and sometimes it’s important to make them about more than just the work. When Krispy Kreme came out with Ghostbusters doughnuts, I bought a box to enjoy during a meeting. On a nice day, we might hold the meeting outside.

Leverage Modern Technology

Working in communications should mean that we are communicating on relevant platforms, including social sites. Through millennials, though, I’ve learned about apps that help me be more productive. Like them, I often get my news from Twitter and Facebook (I still also read a print newspaper). And I think more about visuals; after all, a picture is worth a thousand words.

Are you ready to work like a millennial?