Monday, December 30, 2013

Pack your Bags...

Whether your business works to an actual 'year' ending in December or not, we all tend to have an internal clock that does.  We can feel the current year ticking off the seconds toward its close, and can sense the New Year lurking around the corner, waiting to begin.
We anticipate the impending end of the year and often look to it for closure; an ending to all those things that did not go 'right' for us this year, an ending to moments that have come and gone, an ending to projects we worked on, activities we accomplished, relationships we moved away from.  Look to the ending of the year as closure on those parts of ourselves and our lives this year that deserve and even, perhaps, need an ending. Let them remain here in this year, without being dragged forward into the next.  This conscious sense of completion is often what we need to prevent us from carrying unwanted luggage with us into everything that is yet to be.  

Before focusing on what is yet to be though, we should always take time to consider what luggage we do want and choose to bring with us into the New Year.  We may have unfinished tasks to continue to work on, we have relationships that provide us with love and strength that move forward with us also, we have accomplishments that instill us with pride that should be packed and brought forward to everything else that we do.  Many people make the mistake of bringing the wrong set of luggage with them into the future.  Don't you be one of them. Pack all of the negativity of the past into the cases clearly marked and labelled as... 'Toss'.  Don't hoard these memories; clear out your mental cupboards for new experiences, emotions, beliefs, relationships and skills.  However, also recognise that there is a set of luggage, labelled 'Keep', that represent all of the positive elements in your Bring Forward pile; the relationships that support and build you, the memories of your 'Wins' and successes, the skills you have developed, the hopes for more and better in your life, the optimism and faith they will happen, the determination to ensure they do, the belief you are deserving.  

Start the New Year by bringing into it the the right baggage, leaving behind any of the baggage that would get in your way, that would prevent you from being and becoming all that is within you.  Pack your bags for the trip you want to take, leaving behind everything that would simply weigh you down.  Take the time now to Pack your Bags for the kind of trip you want the New Year to be, leaving behind all of those articles that don't and won't serve you.  

You get to craft the year you want to have.  Begin now by metaphorically packing for it.  Consider taking pen to paper and creating an actual list of what you want the New Year to look like, and then creating the corresponding shopping list of skills, memories and people that will support those goals.  This is your packing list.  Put them in your bags, pick 'em up and get ready to step into the New Year, armed with what is needed for you to succeed!  

That is my wish for all of you - a truly happy and successful New Year!

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tis the Season - The Body Language of Gift Receiving

As the Holiday Season approaches we may be awaiting, in positive anticipation, the fabulous gifts that we
will be receiving; those gifts, whether large or small, that others have chosen for us with love and care. Certainly, when it is a gift we instantly love our body language leakage will work for us, unconsciously supporting our verbal declaration of... 'I love it'!

However, what about those gifts that don't bring that joyous, uplifting feeling?  What about those gifts from your Aunt Matilda that always fill you with dread and the immediate thought of 'What was she thinking'? (images of Ralphie's pink bunny suit from his Aunt in the movie classic A Christmas Story spring to mind) In these moments it is likely that our body language is not working in our favour, discounting our polite refrain of 'Wow, what a gift, I can't wait to wear/use this' leading to a family feud or snub that ruins the family gathering that year - even gatherings of years to come.

In our family we had a name for these gifts.  We called them 'Oh' gifts because the receiver's first reaction is often to open the gift and say 'Oh', before they recover enough to extend a more polite and politic response. Regardless of anything that followed if the first response was hesitation or Oh, we knew the gift was a miss. To help you to avoid these gaffes and to let peace reign supreme over your holiday feast this year, follow these simple tips to ensure that your 'I love it, can't wait to use/wear it' rings true this year.

  • When you are about to open that dreaded 'Oh' gift from Aunt Matilda, anticipate that it is something you will not want or are ever likely to use.  Mentally play a guessing game with yourself regarding what it might be or even how awful it might be.  When opening it you are then more likely to display leakage of delight and surprise, especially if it doesn't prove to be as bad as you thought!
  • Watch the timing of your Thank You's.  When we are truly grateful for the gift we have just opened, we will tend to thank the person immediately.  When we delay our thanks or hesitate, it appears to be an after-thought or a forced thanks.  Even in gift receiving, timing is everything!
  • When you receive the gift, open it, take it out, look at it.  This shows interest.  Then look at the gifter, lean slightly forward,  make eye contact, smile and offer your thanks.  This will make your thanks seem heart felt and sincere.
  • When opening the gift, pay attention to your chin.  Most people watch intently your first response, that moment when you are opening the gift and first determine just what it is that they have given you. When we don't like the gift, or are even repulsed by it, we will unconsciously pull the chin in toward our neck.  The bigger the retraction of the chin the greater the dislike.  Hold that chin firm and offer up a smile instead!
  • Hold onto the gift for a bit after opening.  Make it appear that it is something you don't want to part from.  All too often we rush through our thanks and gratefully shift the gift off to the side.  The faster we do this the greater our dislike of the gift typically and many times we inadvertently are shifting the gift off to the side even as we are thanking the gifter, giving lie to our words of thanks.  Keeping hold of the package shows possession and places claim over the item, all of which supports your words of thanks.   
And, if you happen to be one of those people that loves all of their gifts but experiences difficulty in receiving - anything - then use the tips above to ensure that others in your life feel appreciated.  They work for this too!

Monday, December 16, 2013

What's Your Misery Index?

Sometimes, in order to become more successful, you have to look beyond the obvious. We all try to do all of the right things. We look at what the successful people do and we try to emulate. However, it can become frustrating when we don't seem to be netting the same results from those efforts. This is where thinking smarter about the way we work, and perhaps even the timing of some of our actions, is required. The right actions done at the wrong time will never net you the same positive impact of the right action at the right time.

For example, consider Campbell's soup. Like any company, they wanted to sell more of their product. Effort was put into the look and taste of the soup, the packaging and labelling of the soup, studies were done to determine the right price point of their soup in the marketplace. All of these were the 'right' and necessary things to do. These are similar to what each of us does (or should do!) in order to market our products or even ourselves. Campbell's ran ads in order to create more sales for their products. However, sometimes the marketing they did was effective, sometimes less so - even if it was the same advertisement.

In looking at their marketing information a little closer, they determined that the purchase of their product was influenced heavily by the weather conditions. Cold, wet, windy days drove more sales. Much of their marketing budget was wasted during bright, sunny days. The challenge, of course, was how to reach their audience primarily during those days and moments when it would be the most effective, when someone was chilled and a bowl of soup was very appealing. In response to this, Campbell's took meteorological data, tracked weather patterns, and created an algorithm - they called the Misery Index - to predict when to best run their ads, for each station/geographical location. Brilliant. The more miserable the weather, the more desirable their product. In making this simple connection they were able to increase the effectiveness of the same marketing programs and dollars.

In thinking about this concept, it occurred to me that we each have our own personal Misery Index. Where we happen to be on our own index, at any given point in time, will drive the effectiveness of our actions, influencing our outcomes. Brilliant. The more miserable we are, the less effective our efforts will be. Imagine then if you began to track and understand your trends, scheduling your work and efforts around your 'peak' times.

Some of our trends will occur seasonally. Some people find that they are much more productive during late spring, early summer and through the fall, experiencing a drop in their productivity during the winter and late summer. Extreme cold and heat can have a definite influence over our energy and focus.

Some of our trends may be driven by the calendar. Some people find that they are more productive during moments in the calendar year that seem to 'speak' to them of renewal: the start of the New Year, springtime, September. Others may find that Holidays have a significant impact on their energy, experiencing a positive or negative swing around these times of the year.

Some of our trends may be driven by the planets and stars.  Some people are influenced heavily by elements like the waxing and waning of the moon, without even realizing that their energy is being governed by it.

Some of our trends may be driven by our circadian rhythms.  Some people are more energetic and focused in the morning, some are most productive late at night.  Some people are raring to 'go' on a Monday, while others are at their peak mid or late week.

Understanding your Misery Index helps you to plan your work and activities to your peak periods, avoiding taking on a daunting task during your low moments.  However, it also is important to consider where your audience may be on their Misery Index.  If you know your boss is at her lowest in the morning, or hates the snow, you might not want to try pitching your new idea to her first thing in the morning during a snow storm, even if you are an early bird that felt invigorated cross-country skiing to work!

Plan your working schedule around your Index, but your pitching around the likely Index of your audience. The concept of the Misery Index is there to highlight for us the impact of doing the right thing at the wrong time.  Consider investigating further if you find that even doing the right things seems to result in your spinning your wheels.  The right actions, taken at the right time, will net you the right results.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Making Time go Further

The biggest lament from clients is usually that they lack the time needed to implement new ideas, projects and activities.  They know what they 'should' be doing to get ahead, but they lack the time to do it.  In this overloaded world we live in, time is often the most critical resource.  Consider the importance then, of a tip that helps you to reframe your time in such a way that it makes your time go further.  You still have the same 24 hours as everyone else, but rethinking your approach to time can actually allow you to get more done in those 24 hours, if not have a little left over.

The idea I'm speaking about is typically referred to as a 'Multiplier', which is a term applied to the engagement in a single activity that satisfies multiple goals.  Unlike Multi-tasking, which has you engaged in multiple activities in an effort to satisfy multiple goals, a Multiplier is a single activity that allows you to work on multiple goals simultaneously.  The beauty of this, of course, is that the same action moves you forward on multiple dimensions, taking you further, faster.

It requires us to become a little more strategic and thoughtful about the way in which we use our time, looking at our to-do lists to combine various activities, to roll them into one.  For instance, perhaps you have on your list that you need to finally hit that yoga class and you need to catch up with a friend.  Instead of scheduling these two tasks separately, consider calling your friend and getting them to go attend the yoga class with you.  One activity that crosses 2 items from your list and that reduces your time expenditure.

In business, this idea should be used strategically in determining what new projects to volunteer for.  Let's assume that you are looking at two different projects, both of which would heighten your visibility within the organization.  However, you have also been wanting to strengthen your community involvement, perhaps in volunteering for a charity.  One aspect of project number 2 involves a charity fundraiser to heighten the profile of the project within the community.  This project then satisfies two of your goals and should therefore be the one you say 'yes' to.

Think now of the multiplying advantage of a multiplier activity that satisfies not just two of your goals, but perhaps three, or four!  More done in less time, brilliant!  This is what working smarter, not harder, is all about and is a defining characteristic of most highly successful people.  There is a reason they somehow manage to get more done in less time.  It's not because they get more time than the rest of us but, rather, that they consciously use the time they have - differently.

Become time affluent by spending the time you have wisely.  Look for those Multiplier activities that allow you to satisfy more of your goals through one activity, blowing past those multi-taskers.  Grouping your goals into activities that satisfy them all allows you to stretch your time and have it working harder for you.

And that, in the words of Martha Stewart, is a Good Thing!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Increase your Creativity - Sit Outside the Box

We have all experienced times when we want to be more creative with our solutions, perhaps even need to be more creative, but we just can't seem to come up with anything creative.  We push ourselves to focus but seem to continue to draw a blank on a new solution or approach.  As it turns out, new research is indicating that the solution to thinking more creatively may have less to do with focus than it does with location.

In one study, researchers at the University of Michigan and NYU had 102 undergrads complete a task designed to measure innovative thinking.  Some of the participants were randomly assigned to complete the task while sitting in a box (constructed of plastic pipe and cardboard) while the other group of participants worked on the task while sitting outside of (but next to) the box.  The result?  Those sitting outside of the box were significantly more creative in their thinking, arriving at 20% more creative solutions, than those sitting within the box.  

We know from other studies that there is a strong mind-body correlation, a link between what our body feels and what we think.  Problems we face seem larger if we are holding something heavy in our hands than they do when we hold something light.  We feel more positively disposed toward someone when we hold a warm drink in our hand than when holding a cold one.  It seems to make an almost intuitive sense then that our minds would feel less restricted if our bodies were seated in a less restrictive space.  

Even the outline of a box has an influence on our thinking.  In another study, students were given problems to solve and asked to walk while doing so.  One group were asked to walk along the lines on the floor, outlining a large square, while the other group was allowed to walk freely.  As is now to be expected, the group allowed to wander at will while problem solving did significantly better.  

When you look at the popularity of coffee shops around town being used as make-shift office space, perhaps we begin to understand why.  Maybe the patrons are not looking for the perfect latte so much as they are looking for a more open environment, conducive to creating the innovative solution they are searching for.  A study in the Journal of Consumer Research indicates that working in coffee shops, and other moderately noisy places, also boosts creativity. In this UBC study, over 300 participants were asked to work on creative tasks in one of three environments:  nearly silent, moderately loud (about coffee shop loud), and very loud.  The participants in the moderately loud environment did better on the creativity tests. Too much noise proved to create a distraction, while a moderate amount served to create a level of processing difficulty (absent from the silent room) that spurred creativity, by enhancing abstract thinking.

The implications of these studies are quite significant and should be considered when you are looking to tackle your to-do list for the day.  If you are merely processing information and need to think along linear lines, then perhaps sitting at your desk, in your office or cubicle, is sufficient.  When you reach that item on the list that requires more abstract thinking though, you may do well to switch up your environment.  Go for a walk, head out to a coffee shop, wander around the cafeteria, sit outside at a picnic table and work.  Change your environment to suit the work that you are attempting.  

My first book was written primarily at the cottage, on a laptop by the beach.  My second book was written largely in coffee shops, wherever I happened to be, before and between client meetings and sessions.  Each location suited the type of book I was working on, the way I needed to think, and both were written largely out of the office and away from my desk.

What changes might you need to make to the way you expect to get work done?  You may not have control over the office design but you have control over where and how you do your thinking.  Suit the environment to the process and the desired result to improve the quality of your thoughts and solutions.  As it turns out...
Thinking outside of the box is best accomplished by sitting outside of the box

Monday, November 25, 2013

How to Excel to Stand Out

Let's face it, you can use a lot of little gimmicks to stand out and be more memorable.  Sometimes this will work for you, sometimes it won't, depending upon how well you have determined what will appeal to your audience.  However, when it comes to business, there are three clear, proven and sure-fired ways to ensure that you will excel in your chosen profession and stand out from the crowd.

1.  Be Productive.  This may sound trite, but getting 'stuff' done is an important aspect of standing out, and one that many people overlook.  The top people in any field are those that have figured out ways to ensure that they operate at their most productive levels throughout the course of their day.  They simply manage to get more done, in the same time frame, than anyone else.  It doesn't mean they are smarter, or that they work harder, but it does mean that they work smarter.  Take a close look at the way in which you work each day, the systems you have in place to support what needs to get done, and start implementing some changes to help you work smarter.  This might involve some creative strategies that exceed setting up better filing systems or hotter to-do lists.  Three essential ideas...
  • Consider whether there is some of your more menial work that you could farm out to a Virtual Assistant.  The company may not pay for it but it might be the very thing that frees up enough of your time to bang out that project, getting on senior management's radar and getting that promotion. Sometimes it only takes $20/week to get the time you need, in which case consider it an investment in your future. It may be hiring someone to take care of household tasks or chores to free up time (I love my robot-vacuum... known around the house as Rosie).  
  • Work on the one most important item from your to-do list first. Always ensure that the item(s) that is going to have the biggest impact gets done.  Generally this means taking care of it before your day gets away from you.
  • Exercise and eat for the energy you need to maintain your productivity.  I've spoken about this many times and likely will many more to come.  If you want to get things done, you have to have the energy needed to do them.  Productive people know this, use this and live by this.  Become one of them.
 2.  Solve Problems.  Put your time into solving problems - for the company, the customer, your boss.  This is where the money is within any organization.  You increase your value and worth every time that you develop solutions that eliminate issues.  Crush those roadblocks, create work-arounds, find a solution for someone's sleepless night.  Value is added each time, taking your personal stock price higher.

3.  Take Risks.  No one ever truly gets ahead by playing it safe.  Playing it safe keeps you firmly ensconced in mediocrity.  If you want to excel then you have to take some risks along the way.  You can't keep doing exactly what you've done, the way you've always done it, if you are expecting bigger, better results.  Take a few risks, try a different approach, switch things up if you want to net greater returns.

Sure, you could go for the snazzy suit or take to wearing hats to stand out or... you could out-work the competition to be remembered.  Quality and content will remain long after the flash and sizzle have faded. Building a reputation on deliverables is a marketable, portable and powerful strategy to excel and get ahead, that works in any industry.  

Monday, November 18, 2013

The Problem with... No Problem

You've all likely said this at some point...  in response to someone thanking you for helping them out or doing them a favour... you've responded to their Thank-You with the phrase... 'No Problem'.

It sounds innocent enough, a couple of words offered often as a way of remaining humble in the face of someone's thanks.  However, sometimes our words can work against us, in ways we don't realize, and this is one of those times.  In fact, I want to categorically state, up front, that my hope is that, after reading this blog, you forever and always strike the phrase 'No Problem' from your vocabulary. Forever!  Truly!

Here's what happens.  Someone asks us to do something.  Typically, it is something that they want and need immediately because they failed to plan properly and are under the gun.  This is their issue, not yours, and yet their request of you now shifts it into being - your problem.  Although you are busy yourself, you succumb to their pleas, tears and Bambi-like eyes and somehow manage to squeeze it into your already overloaded schedule.  That bathroom break you had planned?  Gone!  That quick pop out to actually get some lunch? Not going to happen.  Their work though?  Done!

In the face of their thanks then, why would we ever want to leave them with the impression that fulfilling their request was, in fact, no problem?  It was a big problem!  We didn't eat.  We put our work on hold, some of which we will likely take home with us to get done.  We didn't have time to pee for heaven's sake and yet, we politely inform the other party that fitting their work into our day was... No Problem for us.

Think for a moment of the impact of those seemingly harmless two little words.

  • The other party believes that this was no problem for us and therefore won't hesitate to dump things our way in the future.  We obviously aren't all that busy.
  • The other party is wounded and feels diminished because work that they struggled with caused you no angst.  Hmmm... are they that 'slow' around everything?
  • Your time and efforts have now been de-valued.  The other person needn't be indebted to you because what you did for them was not a big deal.  No favours owed here!
  • When it comes time to recognise those that go over and above in helping others, your name is curiously missing from the list because, after all, everything you had done was no problem and is therefore not remembered.
There are so many other ways to respond to someone else's thanks that don't diminish you, your value or worth... start using them!

  • You're welcome.  (Plain, basic, to the point, but sometimes simple works best!)
  • My pleasure.  (Great to use when it is true!)
  • It was a challenge but I know how important this was for you.  (Good one to use when you know you're going to need to ask a favour of them soon!)
  • I'm pleased that I managed to make it happen!  (Good for highlighting that you weren't sure you could but were willing to go out on a limb for them anyway!)
  • I can't always manage to squeeze more into my days but I'm glad I was able to accommodate you today (great if you want them to think twice about asking in future!)
The above are good starting points and likely are highlighting for you many other, more creative, and more positively impactful ways to respond to someone else's thanks.  And... before you thank me for offering you this lesson today, let me respond upfront with a very heart felt...  It was my pleasure!

Monday, November 11, 2013

The Price of Success

Everything in life comes with a price.  Sometimes it is a small, negligible, barely-even-noticed-it price, which
is easily and often unconsciously paid.  Sometimes it is a bigger price, calling into question... are we willing to pay it?  Everyone focuses on success; what it means to them, how it would change their life, how much they want 'it'.  In focusing only on the desired end result, they then use that to measure where they are at, often berating themselves for not being successful 'yet'.  However, they may not be using an accurate measure for themselves of what they 'truly' want to achieve.

People focus on what they would like to 'have', but fail to focus on what it takes to get there.  If you aren't willing to do what is required to get there, pick a different destination, otherwise you are setting yourself up to fail before you begin.  If you select goals for yourself that you have no intention of EVER doing the work needed to complete it, how could you ever manage to achieve it?

No one has even succeeded without paying a price.  

John Maxwell, (Leadership expert, Author, Pastor, Speaker extraordinaire) tells a story of delivering a speech one day and being approached afterword by a young man who looked at him and said... 'I want to do what you are doing!'  John looked at the young man, smiled and said... 'Of course you do son, but the true question for you is whether you are willing to do everything I have done to get here.'

People don't get great at something overnight.  We all start out bad.  There is a price to getting good at something, at developing your skill.  There are sacrifices and choices 'the great' have made that have allowed them to build their skills to get to great.  Are you willing to make those choices, those sacrifices?

It's easy to get caught up in the dream of success.  But to truly become successful, you must immerse yourself in the actions that are needed to get you there.   You need to be prepared to pay the price that's required for you to get where you want to go.  If you are unwilling, it likely isn't the vision of success that you should hold.  Create another.  Your desire for the success you envision has to be bigger than the price you will need to pay.  If it isn't, then it either isn't the right vision or it isn't big enough.

Opportunities exist around us, doors are there for us to open and walk through.  But those doors stop opening for us when we stop being willing to pay the price that each door requires.  We all hit a point when we are satisfied, when we have created the life we want, the vision we held.  At this point, we likely aren't looking to open too many more doors at any price.

If we aren't there yet though, then we are still building, learning, creating and growing.  We need to be prepared to pay the price for the opportunities we need and want to move forward in our Success Plan.  

What is your definition of Success worth to you?  If it isn't resonating within you, motivating and shaping your days, and you're not where you want to be in life, your definition and vision need a tune-up. Revise them until you have something worth working toward.  The Vision has to be bigger than the Price if you are going to pay the price needed to move forward.  It all comes down to one simple statement...

When we stop paying... we stop playing. 

Monday, November 4, 2013

The Someday Syndrome

The Someday Syndrome is a real phenomenon and, without even knowing specifically 'who' is reading this post, I know you have each suffered from it at some point, if you are not suffering from it now.  It is that pesky thought that...

  • You will write that book... Someday
  • You will take that vacation... Someday
  • You will start that exercise program... Someday
  • You will learn to speak a second language... Someday
  • You will go for that promotion... Someday
We have all heard ourselves say this at one point or another, but it's important to recognise the negative influence that the word 'Someday' has upon our accomplishments, experiences and dreams.  It is a form of procrastination.  While Procrastination is the habit of putting off something that you need to do, but don't want to do, the Someday Syndrome has you putting off something that you want and dream of doing.  Why would we and do we do this to ourselves?

Our use of the word 'someday' becomes an excuse to not take action, serving almost as a 'free pass' of sorts because we are not openly denying that we'll take action, we are simply deferring it to some later point in time.  
Our Somedays then come to represent the collision between our good intentions and ideas, with our excuses.
We are fooling ourselves into believing that we will get to it eventually.  However, every someday lacks a specific 'start' time, resulting in us simply waiting for 'someday' to come around.  Our weeks have a lot of 'days' in them but... none are named 'Some' and we therefore keep waiting for the right day to roll around.  

Instead, we need to shift Someday to This-day.  When is a good time to start, if not now?  Use the following steps and ideas to help you eliminate the Someday Syndrome from your life!
  1. Set a specific start date.  When are you going to start?  If not now... when?  Setting a specific date helps to make the intention firm.
  2. Write it down and tell people of your intention.  If you really want to make this happen, create some accountability.
  3. Create a plan.  Map out the specific action steps you will take to making your ideas and visions a reality.  They don't need to be big steps, but you do need to create a plan detailing 'how' you're going to turn your someday into reality.
  4. Get support.  There is certainly no rule that says we have to do things alone.  Get support for your journey or find someone who is also interested in shifting their Someday to This-day and get them started with you.  Having others who support your intention makes it easier to push on through the difficult moments.
Turn all of those Someday dreams into reality by shifting the way you think about them.  If there is Some-thing you are thinking of doing Some-day then you need Some-one (you!) to step up and take action, shifting Some-day to This-day if not to To-day!

Monday, October 28, 2013

8 Time Management Tips that Boost Productivity

I'm not going to talk about the basics of Time Management here.  We're not talking about creating to-do
lists, or filing, or prioritizing.  You should know that stuff by now or have access to numerous resources to help you understand the fundamentals.  What I do want to share with you are eight great insights into Time and your use of it, all aimed specifically at helping you be more productive.

We all have too much on our plates, and we all struggle with finding ways to get more done in our day. Although that tends to be a given, how we approach all of those tasks and how we manage them is not. Over my years of coaching and working with Managers and Executives from a variety of industries and in a variety of roles, I have had the opportunity to observe and learn from many of the best.  The list that follows are my distillation of their lesser known but absolutely key successful 'Time Management' habits.  I hope they help you to think of and look at time and productivity a little differently.

  1. There is no such thing as Time Management. This term is a misnomer preventing you from understanding that, in order to use your time effectively, you actually need to develop your skills in managing people, managing systems, managing technology, and managing you.  The better you are at managing these elements, the better use you will make of your time.
  2. All of your media has an off switch.  Use it.  Even shutting off from everything for one hour of completely uninterrupted time per day can give you a huge boost to your productivity.  
  3. Schedule time for interruptions.  Think of this as the equivalent of a professor's Office Hours.  The more you are able to create a set routine as to 'when' these times are, the more you, in essence, train others around you to respect them.  Conversely, use a Do Not Disturb sign for those times in which you absolutely will not welcome interruptions.  Fair warning to others around you!
  4. Know your energy cycles and schedule to them.  Plan to face your most difficult or challenging tasks during your Peaks, not when your energy and focus are crashing.  We all have our own unique rhythms.  Know when you are at your productive peak each day and use that time strategically.
  5. Timebox your activities.  This means that you assign a time limit to your activities.  Rather than going into a task with the thought that you will stick with it until it's done, assign an end time to it.  Typically you will find that it is easier to remain focused and you are able to get more done than if all tasks are left open-ended.  Urgency helps to drive focus.  
  6. Turn key tasks into habits. The more that you create automatic systems for your mind to latch onto, the faster you are able to get it in gear and slip into work mode.  I typically write better in the mornings.  When I have office days then, I have a set routine I follow when I first hit my desk that, essentially, tells my brain that it's writing time.  This allows me to slip into the mental space I need in order to write what needs to be written.  Without it, I flounder.  Create the habits you need to get your key tasks flowing faster and more effortlessly.
  7. Chunk and Batch.  Take large tasks and chunk them into smaller activities.  This creates manageable chunks of tasks that are easier to schedule and move through.  Batch similar chunks of activities together to take advantage of your brain grooves.  Different tasks require different types of thinking. Batching similar items together allows you to move through them more quickly because your brain is already in that mental groove.  Switching from one groove to another has a start-up time that you eliminate if you allow your brain to stay in a particular groove.   
  8. Take breaks.  I am a firm believer in the need to take regular, short breaks in order to refresh, recharge and refocus.  No muscle can operate at maximum capacity, without recovery periods, without crashing.  Your brain is no different.  Push it full out, then allow it a little recovery time, then push it again.  Adding in the breaks will make you more productive during the moments of focus, allowing you to get further with breaks than you ever did without.  
Try a couple of these ideas out for size.  In the end, it is really not about managing your time so much as it is about managing your productivity.  Try a couple of the ideas above out and let us know how they worked for you and feel free to also share a couple of your best productivity and time management ideas.

Monday, October 21, 2013

The True Cost of... Sunk Costs

The term Sunk Costs refers to any investment you have made, whether time, money, or effort, that has already been paid and cannot be recovered.  You have sunk that cost into the activity or event and it's gone forever.

Technically, we should be done with this cost and not continue to be influenced by it but, in actuality, this isn't what happens; largely due to the fact that we are hard-wired to feel loss more strongly than gain. Because sunk-costs represent a loss to us, it is difficult for us to separate ourselves from them.  Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his book Thinking Fast and Slow, has this to say about our genetic predisposition to focus on loss...
Organisms that placed more urgency on avoiding threats than they did on maximizing opportunities were more likely to pass on their genes.  So over time, the prospect of losses has become a more powerful motivator on your behavior than the promise of gains.
I was thinking about this concept last night as I recalled a conversation that took place during a Career Planning session I was facilitating that day.  In essence, one of the participants commented that they felt 'trapped' in their existing career because they had spent the past number of years in their current role and, despite the fact they didn't think this was their 'true' dream career, couldn't just walk away and 'start over'. This is the sunk-cost fallacy at work.  This individual would like to consider switching their career but felt that they already had too much invested in their current stream to change.  Rather than shifting to something they would likely enjoy more, they didn't want to 'lose' the investment they had already made.

The biggest impact to us of the fallacy is, of course, that it prevents us from making choices that would serve us best in the future, rather than those negating the feeling of losses from past actions.  The challenge for us is that this fallacy is operating upon us unconsciously, we don't even know that it is creating false logic streams in our decision-making.  Consider...  have you ever gone to the movies only to realize, very early on, that the movie is terrible?  And yet, how often do people get up and leave?  Most stay and watch the movie, complaining bitterly afterward about the wasted money and time.  However, leaving early would have meant they could have mitigated their losses by not investing any more of their time.  Because the ticket was already purchased though, we remain to 'get our money's worth'.  Staying cost us more, but we only fixate on the cost of walking away.

What have you perhaps been holding onto too long simply because of the sunk-costs you have incurred?
  • a relationship that is no longer serving you
  • a career choice that no longer 'fits'
  • a business idea that doesn't work
  • a process or system that doesn't do what it should
  • an advisor or mentor that has run their course
  • an investment that is never going to turn around
The only way to avoid the hidden impact of perceived sunk-costs upon our current decisions is to consciously and openly recognise what they are.  Remind yourself that there is no getting these costs back, they are gone, but that you need not continue to lock your future choices and direction to the decisions of the past.  You have to ensure that you build a bright enough picture of the potential of the future that you will be able to override the pain that the loss represents.  We have to begin working on our rewiring to make future gains so much more appealing.  

Monday, October 14, 2013

Focusing and Single-Tasking

Despite the much lauded concept of 'multi-tasking', we truly don't get anything done without the ability to focus.  The greater our ability to minimize the distractions surrounding us, and concentrate our thoughts and efforts on the task at hand, the more productive we will be.  Unfortunately, today's workplace seems bent on creating more distractions than ever before and in rewarding people for responding to them.  However,  our long term success actually relies upon our ability to ignore those distractions, hone in on one thing... and get it done!  Results, in the long run, are what are going to take us from here, to there.

Most of us spend our days on sensory overload.  Our mind actively works on shutting down much of the sensory information we receive in an effort to help us to direct our attention to our more important needs. Consider the feel of the chair you're sitting on, the brush of your clothing on your skin, the weight of your glasses on your nose, the feel of the pen in your hand or the weight of your coffee cup.  These are all seemingly small sensations, but are those that we do not consciously register until or unless we formally direct our attention to them.  Our brain is constantly at work minimizing these distractions so that we can fully focus elsewhere.  The more distractions that exist around us, the more difficult a task this becomes until our brains become overwhelmed and far less effective in keeping those distractions from, well, distracting us!
Concentrate all your thoughts on the task at hand.   - Alexander Graham Bell
I remember when I was a child, the great fun we had playing with a magnifying glass.  Yes, this was before iPads and electronic devices took over.  A magnifying glass, the sun and a piece of wood and you were good to go for hours!  Harnessing the power of the sun and directing it to one focused beam of light created great power.  This is the power of learning to harness the mental ability of your brain and directing it in a single-minded fashion at a task.  It stands to reason then that the more effective we are at managing distractions, the more productive we will find ourselves to be.  Here are a couple of tips to help you get more from your day...
  • Shift your mindset from multi-tasking to single-tasking.  When we think that the goal is to be better at multi-tasking we are inadvertently giving ourselves permission to jump from task to task, thought to thought.  Distractions then seem to be a built-in part of this equation.  If our intent is on single-tasking instead, we do not welcome interruptions and are more consciously aware of the desire to avoid them.Our aim is to work optimally, which requires us to work in unbroken chunks of time.  You may choose to schedule your chunks in small 10 or 15 minutes segments, or in larger 60 minute ones, depending upon your environment, tasks and needs, but start chunking your time to focus on one thing at a time and see how much further it takes you.
  • Cultivate your mindfulness.  You want to be more aware of where your attention should be, and to gently nudge it back if and when you drift or begin getting pulled in another direction.  You need to retrain your brain to recognise that you actually want to remain focused and not be distracted!  Much of the way we live, allowing every electronic ping to take us off course, has told our brain that we welcome such diversion, which is why you are on hyper alert and can't help reaching for the device every time it makes a cough, burp or sputter!
  • Deliberately minimize distractions.  Don't make your brain have to do all of the work to shut distractions out and down.  Actively work to minimize some.  First of all, set your devices so they do not 'ping' you every time someone sends you an email or text.  If you know that you need an hour of uninterrupted time to focus on a project, put a sign up on your office door asking not to be disturbed, book yourself a meeting room away from others to help you concentrate or set up a red light/green light system.  I have a client who introduced this within their office to help people develop their focus.  All employees were given two flip cards, one green, one red, and were instructed when to use each.  In general, green meant they weren't working on anything critical and could be interrupted if needed, while the red card (which was used judiciously) indicated they were in deep-focus time and should not be disturbed.  A novel idea! 
Focus can be developed and strengthened, but it first needs to be recognised as a desired skill.  Our distractions are increasing at an alarming rate, necessitating the development of our ability to block out the extraneous messages.  Developing and strengthening your ability to focus is likely going to prove to be a decisive factor in your continued success.

For more reading on the concept of Focus and how to cultivate it...

Monday, October 7, 2013

Time Famine: the New Workplace Reality

We've all felt the starvation pangs of too little time, and it seems to be getting worse.  We are adding more
and more each day to our to-do lists but we are not gifted with any more time within which to accomplish them.  The Boston Globe called Time Famine the New American Epidemic.  We are all starved for more of this precious resource we call time.

In order to combat this, many of us focus our efforts on becoming more productive.  The thought being that if we learn to do more in less time we will have time 'left over' to devote to other things.  The thinking is sound but the problem is that there is always 'more' on the list to do.  We may get more done within our day, than do others, but we still feel starved for more time within which to get yet 'more' done.

Clearly there is an adjustment that needs to be made to the way that we are approaching the concept of time itself.  We all get 24 hours a day.  This is a finite figure and one which we are unable to impact.  What then needs to happen for us to become more Time Affluent?  We can't hoard our time away, earning interest on the unused portions, so we need to become more discretionary in its use.

If we truly begin to view our time as the precious resource it is, then we begin to become a little more conscious of the need to dole it out more cautiously.  The following are some of my key tips for beginning to manage your use of time differently and, hopefully, better...

  1. Assess the people in your life.  This may not be a typical topic in 'time management' texts but people tend to be the biggest drain of and on our time.  If we view our time as the limited resource that it is, then you need to become more conscious of where you want to spend yours.  Take a look at the people in your life and rate them either a plus, minus or zero, according to the positive value that they bring and add to your life.  This gives you an idea of where your time is netting you a return. Reallocate your time accordingly.  
  2. Do 'IT' each day.  We all have seemingly endless to-do lists.  We start each day knowing there is no possibility of completing everything.  However, it is never truly about crossing the most off of our list, but rather about crossing the right things off the list.  Don't mistake completing quantity as synonymous with quality.  Start your day by highlighting the one thing on your list that adds you the most value, that moves you ahead, that makes a difference to you... and do 'IT".  Do 'IT' first.  Don't compromise on this element for it's the one that does the most for you.  There will be no shortage of people clamouring for your time and attention over the course of the day, but doing 'IT' each day (whatever it happens to be!) will ensure that you spend time every day devoted to moving you forward, to making a difference to your life. 
  3. Stop Waiting.  We are conditioned to stand in lines, waiting patiently for other people's time.  We do it in grocery stores, in banks, at the doctor's office, on the phone waiting for the 'next' customer service rep to become available. This represents down time for you.  Your time is as valuable as theirs so ensure that you plan for these delays.  Save tasks on your to-do lists for these moments.  Anticipate and plan the wait into your day so you aren't frustrated by it but grateful for it.
  4. Their Crisis vs. Yours.  Don't allow a crisis on someone else's part to become a crisis on yours.  Know your schedule, know your needs and know where the person fits on your list from Point One above.  Just because someone is mis-managing their time/day/life doesn't mean that they automatically have the right to manage yours.  I understand that they want your help, they may even be at a point where they truly need it, but it isn't an automatic 'thing'.  Be judicious with your 'yeses'.  They are not a given nor are they an absolute.  Your day, your time, your schedule.  If tomorrow is better for you... say so and, if never is better, say that too.  Other people's mismanagement does not need to become your problem or issue... unless you let it.   
  5. Book 45 minute meetings.  Everyone seems to schedule their meetings in 60 minute intervals.  Even if they begin and end on time it will become impossible to remain on schedule.  Additionally, it does not leave you time to mentally shift gears in between, to 'travel' from one meeting room to the next, to handle that 'one' issue that's pressing.  There is nothing you accomplish in 60 minutes that can't be done in 45.  
  6. Take a Break.  You're not going to get everything done if you don't take a break, but you will likely get more done if you do!  Taking a break (go for a walk, go work out) helps to recharge your batteries, giving you more energy to apply to your tasks when you return.  Also, let's face it, inspiration rarely strikes anyone at their desk!  Getting out and moving will help to light that spark of creativity needed for the problem you left behind.  Plus... you need to build in time for you, keeping you happy and healthy.  Sitting at your desk all day, every day robs you of your health, focus and energy.  Build in 'you' time each day, during the day to replenish, restore and revitalize your body, mind and spirit.  

Monday, September 30, 2013

When being the Best isn't always the Best thing to be!

We are often told that, if we want to be successful, we should do what successful people do.  It would seem to make sense then to sit down with the expert, the person who is a 'pro' at what you want to do, and find out how they did it.  If you can dissect their actions, then you will be in a position to replicate their process and achieve similar results.  

This, however, is often proven to be better in theory than in actuality.  It seems that those who are great at what they do may not truly understand how they did everything to get them there.  This is as true in business as it is in sports.  In the film clip below, Malcolm Gladwell discusses why a Professional Tennis Player may not be the best person to ask in determining 'how' to become a great tennis player.

As it turns out, the sports Pros may not be positioned well to teach you what they do because they do it instinctively.  It isn't a rational decision they make, it's a reaction or response to stimuli.  What Gladwell doesn't mention in this clip though is that there are people who are positioned to help you improve your game.  Those people are the coaches.  These are the people that have broken the moves down, who have studied what it takes to succeed; which is why they are there coaching the pros.

When you are looking for direction on how to become the best, your time may be better served in learning from those that helped the Best in Class get there, than in questioning those who have made it.  Look to those who have guided the success of others, and not just themselves, for they understand what is necessary and are better positioned to help you find ways that will work for you.  Most pros know what it took for them to get there but are not well-positioned to offer you alternative routes.  

We see this happen in business where, for example, you have a sales rep out in the field who is just killing it.  They are by-far out-selling all others and so, naturally, they get promoted.  The assumption is that they will now teach those reporting to them 'how to do it'.  The organization is hoping to now not just have one person in the field selling like crazy but a whole team of 'em.  But... it just doesn't happen.  Turns out... that sales rep turned manager doesn't know how to describe what they do to create rapport.  They can't truly explain how the 'magic' works.  Sure, they make up stuff to share and to get others working on replicating, but it turns out like that recipe you got from your grandma where it seems to be missing that one ingredient!  Getting there and explaining 'how' to get there are not the same skill.  Sometimes it it better to leave that amazing, exceptional person alone, doing what makes them amazing and exceptional and promote the person who understands the steps to helping others be amazing and exceptional.  

Being the Best is an admirable goal.  But, if you are looking to help grow and develop others, you don't need to be the Best at what you coach in, you just need to be the best coach.  Two different skills.  Make sure that you get what you need from those better positioned to give it to you.


Monday, September 23, 2013

Love the Work you Do

How we feel about virtually anything in our lives is a matter of perspective.  And our perspective is a matter of choice.  Therefore... I choose how I feel.

  • Road Rage?  I chose it.
  • Excitement?  I chose it.
  • Frustration?  I chose it.
  • Happiness?  I chose it.

So now... think about your job.  How do you feel about the work that you do?  If you find that you are frustrated and dreaming about doing something else, if the work that others do sounds infinitely more interesting, more exciting, consider that you are creating your own sense of frustration.  You are choosing to feel this way.

Seth Godin asks... "What if surfing was your job?  Where would you go for vacation?"

A professional surfer has days where they find themselves having to drag their board out into the surf.  It may be cold or overcast, their muscles may be hurting from the day before, they may just not feel like getting wet. But they get out there, because that's their job.  Everything looks glamorous from the outside but every job has elements to it that the doer dislikes.  EVERY job.

However, regardless of the role or task, there is someone out there that enjoys that aspect.  The very piece of your job that has you screaming out in frustration, the task that you find laborious, is something that would truly delight and inspire someone else.  Why not you?  Up until now you have chosen to be frustrated by it, to dread it, to avoid it, to procrastinate until there was no way out.
Your drudgery is another person's delight.  It's only a job if you treat it that way."   Seth Godin
What if, instead, you chose to be delighted by the drudgery?  What if you chose to be so grateful for the work you do that the drudgery associated with it didn't detract from your enjoyment?   What if you determined to Love the work you do?

Our perspective is a matter of choice. The grass always looks greener on the other side of the fence.  What we don't consider is that it's greener because they fertilize.  Start choosing to fertilize on your side of the fence rather than gazing wistfully at the other side and see how that shifts your perspective.

Monday, September 16, 2013

You Don't Have to Come First, Just Finish

We are programmed from an early age to believe that Winning and Losing are our only two options. Indeed, they seem to be the only alternatives that are recognised within any competition.  You either won or.. you lost.  However, this mentality serves to keep many from even getting out onto the field of competition.  If they already believe that they have little chance in 'winning', then what is the point in competing?  This thinking prevents them from participating, learning and growing.  In fact, they could lose far more by not entering and completing a competition than by entering and failing to come first.

There is much to be said about those who enter a competition regardless of not being a first-place contender.  They know this and enter anyway.  In doing so, they are already leap years ahead of those that determine not to enter, not to try, simply because they could not place first.  Those that strive simply to finish, to test themselves in an activity they are not exceptionally skilled or gifted in, are perhaps telling you more about themselves than those that ultimately place.

Recruiters need to start to recognise the value in considering candidates that 'finish', not just simply those that walked away with the trophies and awards.  Think about what it takes to succeed in your organization.  Although I often get the immediate response from clients that they are looking for 'winners', it quickly becomes apparent that the phrase 'winners' simply isn't applied to those that have 'won' a race or competition in the past.  In fact, most organizations would look at defining a 'winner' as someone who demonstrates tenacity, someone who finishes what they start, regardless of the cost.  It is often this stick-to-it-iveness that helps to define those who ultimately achieve the most in life and... those that don't.

Few competitions truly recognise the value in finishing versus only recognising those arriving first, but there are some.  Marathons, for example, provide all who finish the race with a medal.  They honour and recognise the achievement of someone completing 26.2 miles.  Run, walk or crawl they did what those on the sidelines and those back home sitting on the couch did not.  The achievement says a lot about them.  The Iditerod, perhaps one of the most gruelling races of all, is one of the few that recognises the last place finisher with a special trophy, The Red Lantern.  They know that the musher who finishes last showed the grit and determination to complete the race, to cross that finish line without giving up.  It wasn't easy, giving up would surely have been easier, but their commitment and tenacity took them across the line.  Recognition of those qualities is sorely lacking in business, which explains why those qualities are missing from many businesses.  You get what you recognise and reward.

Start with your recruitment processes.  The going in your business is likely not always an easy one.  You want people that will hang with you through the tough times.  Look for those that have done something difficult, something that challenged them and yet... they didn't give up.  That is an ability worth hiring.  It is a skill worth recognising and it is certainly a behaviour deserving of promotion.

Don't mistake winning with winners.  Winning simply means you came first in a race.  Winners are those that continue to drive and push, to make things happen.  They are the people that cross the finish line long after others have quit.  They don't have to come first, but they do have to finish.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Conformity and the Herd

Earlier this week I posted a video on my Titan Training facebook page (go like us to stay in the loop and to check out the video!) that got me thinking.  It was an old candid camera video that was based on some conformity experiments that Solomon Asch had run.  In the video, someone enters an elevator and, as we all do, faces the front.  However, all additional people entering the elevator (all confederates in the experiment) face the back.  It's not long before the poor innocent person conforms and faces the back also.  The confederates then shift position in unison, facing sideways and, you guessed it, the person also shifts to stand sideways.  

Much of Asch's work demonstrated how quickly and readily we conform to the majority of action and of opinion.  In one famous experiment he showed participants the diagram above, asking them to select which of the three lines was the same length as the single line.  Although seemingly a straightforward and relatively obvious choice, many people deliberately gave the 'wrong' answer simply because they believed that the majority of other people had chosen what they viewed to be an 'incorrect' choice.  

This result has been replicated over and over, using different experiments, different target groups of participants and different environments.  You could say that those that conformed were fully aware of their choice, that they went along with the choice of the majority though they 'knew' better, but what if in choosing outwardly to go along with group-think they inwardly and unconsciously began to revise their own perceptions?  Studies have shown that once we make a choice and make it public, we are more prone to then make decisions and take actions that are in support of that view.  

Certainly social conformity serves some helpful and useful functions, but it can be much more insidious than we may be consciously aware, skewing our views of right and wrong, of what is and is not.  In my work with organizations, I get the opportunity to see this in action.  Most organizations have their own culture.  Typically, new employees struggle to 'fit in' to this culture, feeling on the outside of everything until they finally begin to understand how things get done within this new company, and they follow those processes.  Generally, we think of these as simply being basic process rules, outlining how work gets done.  However, it is far more insidious than we often realize.

Just as couples who have been together for a long time begin to 'look' alike simply because they adapt their non-verbal communication patterns to 'match' those of their partner (they often speak in the same rhythm, use similar phrasing, make similar gestures, etc.) so too does it happen within organizations.  In an effort to fit in, new employees will unconsciously adopt mannerisms and speech patterns that they discern in the group.  For example, in one client organization, a majority of their employees all uptalk.  They certainly don't consciously hire for this speech inflection (where the speaker's inflection continuously goes up, sounding as though they are continuously asking questions), but I'm willing to bet that they do.  For those employees that are hired who are not uptalkers... it is likely only a matter of time until they unconsciously begin to adopt it.  In their efforts to fit in and be liked they adopt that habit as their own so that they too can now sound like one of the group.

Although many of these elements, when taken individually, may sound innocent enough, the greater the number and the greater the prevalence, the more dependent upon the group the individual becomes.  
  • leaving the organization becomes difficult because they can't seem to find anywhere else that they 'fit' in
  • the more you have unconsciously compromised your beliefs and habits to conform to those of others, the more justifications you have developed for doing so.  It proves difficult to break away from these since it requires us to admit that at some point we were 'wrong' in our choice
  • often the organization struggles with the need for independent thinking (for growth, to remain competitive) when systemically they don't reward for it.  Those who are able to remain independent of the group often continue to feel as though they don't fit in and leave to find somewhere that they do
The need and desire of many to be liked by others, to fit in, to feel that they belong can be a strong motivator, leading people to make choices and take actions that they may never have previously considered but that become automatic for them within the framework of the norms of their new group.  Hitler's regime was built upon the premise and strength of conformity.  Our existing military forces do the same (though obviously with different intents!)  Religions rely on the power of conformity as do virtually any formal group. Some are more benign, some more cancerous in their impact.

What is important is to realize the extent to which our desire to belong and be liked can, and does, influence our thinking and actions.  We need to be clear about what we truly believe is right and fair and just and learn to weigh our choices against these beliefs.  The greater our level of clarity, the better able we are to fight against the unconscious pushes we receive to act in ways that do not support these beliefs.  It is only through this clarity that we can hope to avoid compromising those areas that matter, to take a stand against those that would have us simply follow the herd.  

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Net Result of Networking

It's hard not to attend any kind of business conference or function without a speaker or break out session
talking about networking. They may talk about the power of the smile and the handshake, the need to have your cards printed and ready to hand out, they want you to prepare your 'blurb' or 'elevator pitch' so that you can concisely say who you are, what you do... and then move on, do it again. At many networking events I have attended it has seemed that more and more people were there simply to pass out their cards, rather than truly connecting. And... if your goal when you head out is to get your card into as many hands as you can by the end of the evening, then I suppose they are doing a good job.

What many networking gurus don't tell you, and what all too many people don't consider when networking, is that we all leave behind something (other than our card) in every interaction we engage in. This is the advantage of going to 'live' events, of getting a bigger message out about who we are than our website or card can convey, because our prospective audience gets to experience... 'us'. Every interaction with someone is a moment in which we are creating an impression of who we are, what we stand for, what we believe in, what we are committed to, what we would be like to work with... and more. These are the elements that truly go into defining our Brand Experience. What can people come to expect of and from us.

Over the course of an evening networking, you may not remember everything someone shared with you that night, but you will recall how they made you feel and think about them. If that memory is positive, you hang onto the card. If not, then the card is filed in the waste basket to the side of your desk. Add the following suggestions to your networking repertoire to keep your card from being relegated to the trash, ensuring that you become a card worth holding on to.

  • Shift your mindset.  Everyone in that room thinks that 'it' is about them.  They are focused on getting their card out, getting a connection that will help them in business.  Instead, shift your mindset so that you too are thinking it's about them.  When you are meeting someone new ask about what they do.  Show interest - don't just look like you're waiting your turn to talk!  Pay attention.  The more you genuinely care about what they do the more they will come to care about you.  Additionally, the more you know about the business they are in, the better you will come to understand how you might serve them in future.
  • Quality over Quantity.  The success of your evening should not be measured by the size of the stack of cards you collected but by the quality of the connection.  Flip through those cards.  If you cannot speak to each, clearly articulating what they do, what their services are and offering some ideas on how you thought you might help them... you weren't asking, you weren't listening and you weren't following the first point!
  • Focus on Service.  Your focus when meeting others should be on: how can you serve them. Think beyond your business.  Maybe it's a book recommendation, or a referral you can give them, or a connection you can make for them.  Networking is not the same as selling.  Form the connections now that might lead to a future opportunity.  Bear in mind, it may not be with them but with someone they refer to you.  First you need to be someone they would be happy to send someone they know and care about to.  
In every interaction we leave something of ourselves behind - ensure that you leave behind the kind of impression that invites others to want to connect with you again.  That's the true net benefit of networking.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Eyes Have It

Although our eyes may not truly be windows into our soul, there is a significant amount that our eyes do tell and communicate to others.  The following list, all based in research, offers you a few insights into just how much our eyes give away!

  1. Thinking Hard.  The harder that your brain has to work (think) the more your pupils dilate.  The harder the task, the bigger the pupils get.
  2. Thinking Too Hard.  There is an overload point however.  When you hit about 125% of your mind's capacity your pupils constrict (get smaller), indicating your overload.  Likely this is where we describe someone's eyes as glazing over!
  3. Showing Interest.  Your pupils will dilate whenever you are interested in something.  Likely they will dilate at first when confronted by just about anything that is new - what's important is to see if they remain dilated... that shows ongoing interest.
  4. Sign of attraction.  Sexual interest also involves the eyes.  Both men and women's pupils expand when they are sexually interested.  And... an interesting side note... men tend to show interest in naked photos of women (using pupil dilation as the measure - and no... not a big surprise here!) but women do not show the same degree of interest in naked pictures of men.  This difference is hard-wired into our brains and is directly related to our past where the selection of a mate (by a female) was unconsciously based on propogation of the species, ability to feed and protect...  all decisions that needed to be determined and assessed 'live' and not through photos.     
  5. Sign of disgust.  And... the converse holds true.  When you are disgusted with something your pupils will constrict in size.  When shown pictures of injured children, people's pupils will dilate at first because of the shock and then constrict to try to avoid or limit seeing the images.
  6. Maternal Instincts.  Women's pupils tend to dilate when looking at babies.  Live, in pictures... doesn't matter.  This demonstrates their interest and also serves to help the infants bond with them.  Men's pupils do not tend to dilate as much.  This is more of a genetic predisposition based on times when the males were the hunters and were gone for long periods of time.  Women were the caretakers and home with the children.  Therefore it was more important for the infants to bond with the female since she would primarily be responsible for their care.  
  7. Building Trust.  We tend to trust people that spend more time looking at us than looking away from us.  To build trust with others therefore, we need to be able to maintain a certain level of eye contact. As an internal self-defensive move, research has also shown that we unconsciously spend more time working to remember the face of someone that we distrust than those we trusted.  Being memorable may therefore not always be a positive 'thing'!
And... just a note of caution to add to the mix.  Someone's medication can alter their pupil size, as can the lighting of the room.  Too bright a room and the pupils constrict.  Too dark a room and the pupils contract which is, by the way, why romantic dinners are typically held in poorly lit rooms or by candlelight.  The poor lighting makes the pupils open wide, making the other party look more interested/attracted.  This can, though, lead to the wrong signals being sent!  It is better to baseline for the environment you are in and watch for 'changes' from that state, based on the interactions.

Having said that though, it is typically very difficult to consciously detect changes in people's pupil sizes, although we are able to unconsciously pick up on those changes.  Just another element that tends to let our 'gut' know what's going on long before we are able to consciously identify it.

(Check out our  Beyond Words:  Your Body Language at Work program for a more in depth study and understanding of what your body language is saying to others and how to read theirs!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

And... the winner is...

A HUGE congratulations to Kris Juhasz, the lucky winner in our first-ever Great Book Giveaway!  I had a lot of fun with this and, judging by the responses, so did you!  You know I am constantly reading something, so look for future Book-Giveaway contests for you to try your luck with!

Monday, August 19, 2013

5 Top Productivity Tips from Start Ups

Those involved in Start Ups know that they have to make every minute count. Learning to be as productivewhen they get to market but even if they get there. Here are 5 top productivity tips that don't just work for start ups... they will help you increase your productivity as well!
as possible with the time available to them can make a significant difference in not just

  1. Outsource the mundane.  For start ups this becomes a necessity.  As they are wearing multiple hats to get things going, it is critical they put their focus on what is important for them to be doing and find others to take care of the daily 'chores' that need to be done but that don't require them to do it.  Certainly this is a key concept highlighted in Timothy Ferriss' The 4-Hour Work Week, but one you need to begin to take to heart.  Regardless of your level within a corporation, you likely could benefit from a part-time Virtual Assistant of some kind, if only to handle some basic clerical work for you.  Don't limit it to work-only activities though.  Consider grocery services, full laundry services, house-cleaning...  All of the activities that need to get done but don't need you - specifically - to do them.  Do the math.  Often these services cost less for you to hire someone to do them for you than they would cost you to do them personally.
  2. Book yourself into meetings - with yourself.  In these days of open calendars, you can get booked into meetings with others until your day has run away from you.  Ensure that you book blocks of time into your calendar that are for you.  Treat them as sacred.  Don't treat them lightly or trade them away too readily.  These are scheduled blocks of uninterrupted time that allow you to fully immerse yourself into a project, allowing your focus to be unbroken and you to surge ahead.  This time doesn't happen unless you make it happen.  Schedule it weeks and months ahead so that it's there waiting for you. 
  3. Don't create MORE mundane work for yourself.  In meetings we have a tendency to promise to send information, make a connection for someone, set up another meeting.  Don't add it to your to-do list...  do it then.  If it is something you are doing for the person you are with they will not resent your sending an email right then and there.  Now it's not an empty promise, it's a done deal... and it never made it onto a to-do list!
  4. Trim your meetings.  We have a habit of booking meetings in 1 hour blocks or, at minimum, in 30 minute increments.  Shave time off your meetings, adding them to your day, by booking what you need.  If you only need 12 minutes - book that!  Trim the excess up front so others know it will be a targeted meeting.  Teach others to be respectful of your time while you are being respectful of theirs.  
  5. Always take the networking meeting.  We all live busy lives with more to do than the time to get it done.  Therefore, we tend to put off networking meetings thinking we will get to when we have more time - which we never have.  Those in start ups know that networking with others is critical to their success.  In today's business environment it is critical to everyone's success.  Nothing is stable.  Building your network, keeping it apprised of what you're doing, helping others within it, are activities that WILL serve you well and is always time that you are investing in your future.  Don't go crazy but don't overlook its value.  Successful entrepreneurs and start ups don't, you shouldn't either!

Monday, August 12, 2013

Your Personal Tipping Point

In his book The Tipping Point, Malcolm Gladwell wrote about the magical moment when an idea crosses
some invisible threshold and goes viral.  It's the point at which this very shift takes place that people want to come to know, understand and replicate.  In business, this is an important and key concept, a way to grow your business astronomically.

There is for each of us as individuals a Personal Tipping Point though too.  We each have a invisible moment in time where the Longing for the life you imagine becomes Regret for the life you've let slip by.  Often, it feels as though this moment occurred in our sleep where, upon waking, we experience the sense that our dreams have passed, that the life we have dreamed of living is not going to happen. For many, tipping over from longing to regret seems uncontrollable and perhaps even inevitable.

The tip into regret changes our perspective on our life.  When we now are regretting the life not lived, the actions not taken, many then presume that the time to 'try' is past, that they have missed their opportunity.  For a few though, the feeling of regret serves to spur them on.  They recognise that this is not a feeling they want to continue to experience and use it as the impetus to get back on course.  Reversing the Tip is always an option, but it often proves a difficult one for many to manage.  Easier by far, is to prevent the Tip from happening in the first place.

There is a trick to managing this Tipping Point, a trick that we can use to prevent the Tip from ever taking place, ensuring that we forestall (forever) the experience of regretting the life we've led.  That trick?  Taking Action! 

As it turns out, regret is typically built upon the actions we failed to take more than on those we did.  Even if the action we took failed to take us in our desired direction, it took us out of the state of inertia and into a state of momentum.  We will always make some wrong moves, but if we're moving we can course correct.  Additionally, many of those 'wrong' first moves enable us to build a stronger plan for moving forward, often reshaping a 'better' future vision for ourselves as a result.

Action is not only the strategy that prevents us from tipping into regret, but the same strategy used to overcome it.  Wallowing in the thought of what never will be creates inertia.  To break from this you need to DO something, take some action, that will shift you from feeling that you have missed the boat to putting you back at the helm.

In this instance, even baby steps count!  One small step forward can be enough to begin to Tip the Scales back in your favour!

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Giveaway - Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work by Chip & Dan Heath

Chip & Dan Heath
At a recent Conference, held here in Toronto, I had the opportunity to hear one of my heroes speak. Yes, Tony Robbins was there and was great as Tony always is, but I have to say I was more excited to hear Chip Heath. Now, the name may not ring as many immediate bells for you as Tony Robbins’ name may, but, together with his brother Dan, Chip Heath is the author of two of my favourite business books – Made to Stick and Switch. It was a pleasure then to hear him speak about their most recent book release – Decisive: How to Make Better Choices in Life and Work.

We are bombarded daily with the need to make a multitude of decisions, ranging from the relatively inconsequential to those of significant import to our lives and careers. As the Heath brothers point out though, our decisions are influenced, typically unconsciously, by an array of biases, irrationalities, emotions, and information all serving to make our decision making process flawed.

The point of the book is, of course, to provide strategies and tools to help us to make better decisions. If this book serves only to help you stop agonizing over your decisions, or to establish better team and group decision-making processes, or assists you in breaking through those difficult personal decisions, it will be worth its price. Given that I am offering you an opportunity to get this book for free… it is beyond worth it!

Simply follow the directions below to get your name entered into the Great Book Giveaway! If you have read the book, I encourage you to leave your thoughts about it in the comments. The contest runs until August 20 when I will select a randomly drawn entrant. If you wanted to tweet the link to this giveaway, or post it to your blog or favourite social networking site, you will receive an additional entry for each. Just post where you have linked us in the comments section.