Archive for the ‘Inspiration’ Category

Only you know if you’re REALLY working, working from home

Inspired by a pretty fantastic webisode by one of my favorites, Marie Forleo, about sticking to your schedule when working from home in response to Jade, who wrote in for advice.  Jade was feeling overwhelmed by both household and work tasks during the day, feeling more frazzled than when she was in the office.  She was berating herself because she’s comparing to the years that worked around the inefficiencies of an office and to people who have kids or don’t have a husband as helpful as hers, and was expecting a windfall of free time.

This is a subject very close to my heart, and my uterus, as it were that my days working from home while footloose and fancy-free are numbered down to my first born’s due date.  Nothing like a growing waistline to drive that one home.

I love the schedule that Marie laid out (especially compartmentalizing email!), highlighting some of the areas that are probably taking Jade, and a lot of us, longer than they “should” like getting ready for the day and dishes.  It’s amazing how if you don’t actually have to leave, you can look up at 11:59 and still have your hair in a towel.   I love that she included working out, not only because it’s a nice healthy living nudge, but because exercise makes you less sluggish for the rest of your morning routine so it doesn’t take as long!

7am-8am wake up & work out

8-9 shower, get dressed, eat

9-12:30 work! (no email)

12:30 – 1:30 lunch

1:30 – 3:30 work! (no email)

3:30 – 4:30 break or what I like to call “BS O’Clock”

4:30 – 6:30 work!  Reply to emails and plan for tomorrow

“BS O’Clock” is the 1 hour on my schedule when I take care of annoying errands like going to the post office, meal planning, updating my voter registration.  For me, BS o’clock is at 10am, so I don’t look up at 4:30 and realize I didn’t stop to eat and these little things have magically multiplied to take up my whole day (or that my project tasks have taken the whole day and now I can’t run my errand).

Like Jade, I’ve tried tons of schedules and the real work is sticking to them.  I find that “planning my schedule” was just one more task I did instead of getting my work done.  I needed something to hold me accountable, a carrot to run for or a stick to run from.

Sometimes it helps to do the math: how much real money are you losing by sleeping in / Twitter-instead-of-project time?  Losing on real proposals?  Losing real hourly wages?  Paying someone real money to do what you don’t “have time” to do?  Add it up.  Then, divide the money you’re losing by 1 week or 1 day and that’s the real money you gain or lose when you decide if you will give in to the snooze button or distraction.

I did something like this when my husband was procrastinating on preparing for a credential that would earn him a bonus at work.  We agreed on the amount of money 1 week of studying was worth and I’d write a check to him if he hit his goal, he’d write a check to me if he didn’t.  We share finances, so it didn’t “really” matter whether I gave him money or he gave it to me, but there is an undeniable rush of adrenaline when you receive any reward and an equally strong twist of your gut when you have to hand something over, no matter how small.  This makes for a visceral sensation when your alarm goes off in the morning, like realizing that you’ll miss your flight if hit snooze.

Add to that the social pressure of having someone else know about whether you’re meeting the goal as they are giving you the reward or punishment, and you have some pretty powerful motivation.

I know, I know, there are a lot of reasons to not pull out and keep that amount liquid.  I like to look at the money I’m saving by sticking to my schedule, just to know it.  Then I set my incentive to something nominal.  Some fun incentives:

  • Loyalty card for a movie or milkshake when you stick to the schedule 15 times
  • Physically take $5 out of your wallet and put it in a clear jar or “piggy bank” where you can see it accumulate for each day you stick to the schedule

Disincentives, work better for other people, done if you don’t stick to your schedule

  • Physically take $5 out of your wallet and give it to a friend or put it in a box you can’t unlock
  • Physically take $5 out of your wallet and give it away – donate it or give it to a homeless person or street musician
  • …(some people find that this isn’t enough of a disincentive, they have to give to something they’ll not be happy about later… like donating to the political party they oppose)

I can’t stress enough how important it is to physically give or take the money (or whatever your incentive is) even if you’re just moving it from your wallet to your dresser drawer.  Compared to an office, working from home and working for yourself is so conceptual.  In the office, you have so many signs that you should be working: you’re surrounded by colleagues who are working, your boss or client is asking you for things, you only use this space for work and the work day is bookended by a commute.  None of this is true of working from home, which is why it’s so great and so hard.  If you’re lucky enough to work from home and can’t find the gobs and gobs of extra time that you thought you’d have when pined for it in the office, don’t forget to cut yourself a break.  This is its own challenge, different from everything you mastered in the office and when you master this, you’ll be even more prepared for whatever comes next.

Eyes on the prize

I’m still working out the best way to explain what life coaching is, what I do exactly.  One quip has been in every attempt to explain: it’s helping you get out of your own way.  I’ve heard a lot of coaches spend precious time explaining in detail what they don’t do life coaches don’t solve your problems, they don’t find the answer – the client does. The client is creative, resourceful and whole. Hearing this explanation is what put me off coaching in the beginning – if I have everything I need to solve my own problems doing all the work, why pay a coach?

Coaches help you get out of your own way.

If you think of any mistake you’ve made, it’s easy to see where you got in your own way.  A coach holds your attention to the problem, reorienting you when you get distracted, have self doubt, or try to break the tension (and focus!) with a joke.  A friend can play the devil’s advocate and punch holes in your idea to help you clarify and defend your plans.  A coach holds your focus and your agenda when you want to have a pity party or let inertia take you away from your goals and back to the status quo, instead of making real progress.

This March, I’ve watched myself get in my own way at work.  I noticed, because I’ve watched myself do this in a lot of the jobs I’ve held.  When I lose track of my career path I focus on what I don’t like about the job and start make clumsy mistakes and my managers notice my utter lack of focus and then I really don’t have a career path.  I get in my own way of changing direction within that company or getting on with my next job (and forget about a reference).

The first time was my first “paycheck” job at a pizza joint that I could walk to before I had a license.  I answered phones and took down the pizza order in a short hand that the cooks could quickly read.  The other phone girls got promoted to hot counter, heaping Italian beef into buns and toasting garlic bread.  I wanted to make pizza.  I thought it looked fun tossing the dough and swirling the sauce, and the pizza guys didn’t have to help out with the phones on busy nights.  In the end I didn’t get to, for reasons that I thought were unjust.  I was told I could stay on the phones if I didn’t want the hot counter promotion.  Which was fine, I should’ve put the word “promotion” in quotes since it didn’t pay any more.  But as soon as progressing to what brought me to the company in the first place was off the table, I couldn’t handle the phones. I was late to work, made mistakes on the pizza orders and ultimately got fired.

Tachi Yamada has the right idea on how to reorient yourself to get around this conundrum.  His perspective is of a manager assessing his employees, but it applies to individuals because we are all managers of our own careers.

One of the things I’ve learned is that you can’t go into an organization, fire everybody and bring in everybody you want. You have to work with the people you have. I’ve gone into different organizations in completely different walks of life several times, and you walk into the organization and you realize that some people are very good, some people are average and some people are not so good. And if I spend my time focusing on everything that’s bad, I’ll get nothing done.

Or I could say, what are really the best things about the people I have? What makes them great, and how can I really improve them one or two notches? And if I spend my time on that, then I’ll have a great organization. Everybody has their good points. Everybody has their bad points. If you can bring out the best in everybody, then you can have a great organization. If you bring out the worst in everybody, you’re going to have a bad organization.

Now, to revisit his words, from the perspective of managing one’s own career:

You can’t control every aspect of your work life.  You have to work with the people you have. No matter what my situation is, I’m sure it includes some people who are very good, some people who are average and some people who are not so good. And if I spend my time focusing on everything that’s bad, I’ll get nothing done I’ll alienate myself from the aspects I do like and I’ll make clumsy mistakes.

Or I could say, what are really the best things about my situations here? What makes them great, and how can I really improve them one or two notches? And if I spend my time on that, then I’ll have a great career.

Have a great organization, a great career and a great week, folks.

Fish and Decision Practice

If you don’t know, I’m a huge aquarium fan and a proud member of my local aquarium.  My mom is allergic to most furry pets, so I was only allowed to have fish for a long time growing up.  I don’t get too many chances to use my aquarium membership (or I should say I don’t use the opportunities. I actually could be there every Saturday morning, instead of sleeping, but I haven’t so that’s that). Last night I went to an open house at the Shedd aquarium.  It was fantastic.  I saw behind the exhibits, which sometimes was ABOVE the exhibit on a catwalk.  I really wanted to take a picture but I just imagined dropping my phone in the tank and the stingrays mouthing the touch screen.

While in the bowels of the museum, with HVAC engineer husband the conversation inevitably turned to piping and ventilation.  It would have been rude to walk away when the conversation veered somewhere uninteresting to me, but I did let my mind wander to where exactly did I go wrong, that these people got right, so that I’m not playing with fish all day but they are.  I love fish.

Or, maybe, I did it exactly right that I have enough spare money that I can be a member of this aquarium, and other museums.  I can do the fun part at each museum rather than spending most of my day in their underground offices, only coming out for open house.  I couldn’t ask. It wasn’t in the spirit of the day.

Fortuitously, the section that I read this morning in Nudge, my commuting book, touched on practice and feedback on important decisions. You get loads of practice on unimportant decisions, like grocery shopping.  You can learn your lesson about buying too much produce, when you go on vacation and have to throw out a ton of rotten fruit.  But not so much for the big ones like choosing a career, life partner, saving for retirement, etc. You only get feedback on the path you chose, not on the paths you turned down. You don’t get a do-over when you invest aggressively and lose all your money. Or invest conservatively, and miss a big win.

I find myself pining for a do-over careerwise, but I’m not pulling the trigger on a career change just yet.  I’m just not convinced that if I’d gone a different way I wouldn’t be peering down the market research path, longingly.

November Monthly Goal Meet-Up

At the gentle and not-even-specific-to-me urging of an old college friend, I’m setting goals by month and publishing them on my blog. This might sound a like what 43things.com does, and it is a bit of an overlap. But the kicker is, I’m logging in again in one month to own up, publicly, about whether or not I did it. Yipes.

Without further ado, here is what I’m up to in November –

1. Make a full list of schools that I will apply to. Write down their application deadlines.

2. Make a full list of documents needed to apply.

3. Prepare a timeline and game plan to get each document ready in time.

4. Evaluate my budget (i.e. what I’m actually spending/saving, not what I could be spending/saving), then slim it down. Starting with alcohol.

How could they possibly help someone learn a skill that they themselves can't grasp?

I stumbled on a news story that turn out to be the sweetest I read this year.  These “therapy dogs,” basically dogs that are trained to be focused and calm while somewhere unfamiliar, are sitting with kids while they read.  With the dogs at their feet the kids stay on task, but don’t feel like anyone is nagging them or judging them (because no one is).

How does it work?  It just does.

I love dogs.  Don’t need to be shy about that disclaimer.  What’s amazing about dogs is that their “neutral” is happy.  Waldo, my dog, almost always wears an expression that says “This is awesome. What are we doing next?”

I was at the dog park the other day and a woman was throwing a ball for her yorkshire terrier.  When she stopped for a minute to talk to me, the yorkie would yip at her until she threw it again.  The little dog would run a quick circle no bigger than the length of his tiny body, full speed, while he darted after the ball.  Showing off, like a figure skater.  Watching him bound around was enthralling for me, amusing for her.  She shook her head and said “I wish I was excited about anything as my dog is about this stupid ball.”  While their neutral is happy, our neutral is bored.

Waldo’s not much of a fetch dog, but with little warning he’ll rediscover a chew toy or hone in on a stick on the ground.  He’ll dive for it, then prance around proudly, like this is the best day of his life.  Somewhere in the recesses of my brain, I think I want to be around dogs because I think this will rub off on me.

Maybe it’s working, because I feel like I’m walking a little lighter after finding this sweet article.  This is awesome. What are we doing next?

Bucket List

I just encountered a website that made me smile, http://www.43things.com. I did and read a couple fun, quick things on my lunch break and copied them down for you, but what really tickled me was the tagged / word-clouded list of people’s goals.  “Get a dog” was the first one.  I know, I know – order doesn’t mean it was mentioned the most.  Just a nice reminder that I have checked a few important things off.

The site has some recommended rules for conquering the list, which are quite good, so I’ve copied them for you below.  But I’ve got a few recommendations for getting the most of this site and the community of people checking up on their goals.

1. Be public, but be anonymous.  Don’t use your real name and use a different name than you use on social networking sites, especially professional sites.  You don’t want your employer to know you have a long term goal of switching careers or your boyfriend of 2 weeks to know that you want kids, etc. Even if you don’t have a conflict now, don’t create a situation where you’ll need to limit your bucket list to goals that fit your image.

2. Let it all hang out.  It’s natural to want to be private about goal until you’ve made some progress at it. You’re among friends here.  Your anonymity allows you to keep something front of your mind without putting it in front of anyone else in your life.

3. Be general. If your goal is general, you can connect with people who are also pursuing (or have completed!) a similar goal. For instance, I want to teach my dog to fetch his leash so I don’t have to search for it when I take him for a walk.  (Hopefully, I can do the same with my keys).  I could write “Teach Waldo to fetch his leash,” which would be accurate, but I’ll miss out on the support I could get from the site unless Waldo is a more common dog name than I thought.  If I write “teach my dog tricks” my goal will link to anyone else who wrote “teach my dog tricks” on their list, and I can get tips or encouragement.

4. Get specific in the details section. That way, you’ll know when you’ve completed it.  You want to accountable to yourself, don’t you?

5. Don’t be afraid to cut a bad goal loose.   A couple reasons it could be a “bad” goal – it could be in conflict with another, bigger goal; you could find out that it was someone else’s goal all along.  This is better articulated below, but I wanted to point out these 2 scenarios where a goal go bad without repeating what’s been said.

43 Things’ Ten Rules for Creating and Conquering Your Life List

1. Make your list public. Making your goals public solidifies your commitment to them, holds you accountable, and helps you connect with others who share your interests. You’ll discover connections to social and professional networks that you didn’t know you had and gets lots of encouragement from the people who care most about you. So make sure to tell friends, family members, and coworkers about your list and post it on the Internet at 43Things.com.
2. Include serious and fun goals. Vary the scope of your goals and include some wild just-for-fun dreams. Also, don’t be afraid to complete less daunting goals first. Building momentum from these early successes helps you find the courage to tackle larger tasks.
3. Include undefined goals. Avoid overlooking a developing passion or interest by fearlessly adding goals even if you can’t totally articulate them. If you wake up one morning with the desire to create art, add it to the list. Let the idea simmer in your mind until something more specific emerges.
4. Document progress. While reviewing the list, record your progress and determine the next steps. Documenting progress allows you to identify behavior patterns or other obstacles keeping you from accomplishing goals-it can also show you how far you’ve come.
5. Make goals manageable but rewarding. Divide big goals into smaller tasks, but not so small that they become tedious. Taking incremental steps keeps you from getting overwhelmed by a monumental goal. For example, instead of vowing to “get organized” try listing “declutter the garage.”
6. Define the finish line. You’ll find it easier to complete certain tasks and track progress if you determine the duration, results, or final outcome you desire from achieving a specific goal. Revise vague goals such as “give back to my community” by specifying what kind of work you want to do. You may not be able to do this right away-as we said, undefined goals are good, too.
7. Prioritize goals. Arrange your goals to reflect what you want to begin working on right away. You may want to run a marathon and get a promotion at work, but rather than trying to find the time and energy to run thirty miles a week and put in long hours at the office, focus on the goal that’s more important to you.
8. Maintain a manageable list. Somewhere between twenty and forty-three is a sweet spot for many people. Limiting your life list to forty-three goals forces you to make some choices. Fewer than twenty goals doesn’t offer enough variety to keep you moving forward.
9. Review your list weekly. It sharpens your focus, keeps up your momentum, and reminds you of what’s important. As you review the list, ask yourself, “What have I done to achieve a particular goal this week?” If the answer is “nothing,” is this goal important enough to keep on your list?
10. Revise and remove goals. A life list should be constantly evolving-it should reflect what’s important to you right now, not what mattered in the past. Remember, there’s no penalty for changing your mind or tweaking a goal to better reflect your desired outcome or new circumstances. A short-lived passion for making pottery can be reborn as “find a creative outlet,” or ambitions to get straight A’s in chemistry can be tossed because sometimes a passing grade is enough of a victory.