Friday, May 31, 2013

#364 passing the gift

Continuing with my vacation theme, another place that we saw in Little Rock was the Heifer International Headquarters.  (Heifer is one of my favorite charities -- giving animals and training to people in need with the proviso that they in turn "pass the gift" and give the animal's offspring to another family in need.)  When they went to build, they were first told no by the Environmental Protection Agency.  The land that they wanted along the Arkansas River was  "too toxic" to use.  Instead of giving up, they removed 75,000 tons of earth and cleaned up the site.  Now, instead of an abandoned railroad yard, the Heifer building is a gorgeous, LEED Platinum facility, surrounded by land that has been transformed into a wetlands area.

The results inspired the Clintons to continue the trend, so next door to the Heifer Headquarters sits the new William J. Clinton Presidential Library, another LEED Platinum facility surrounded by controlled wetlands and trails.  They even reclaimed an abandoned railroad bridge over the river and connected it to 15 miles of walking/biking trails along the shores.  When we went on tour, the guide had us look out over the Little Rock skyline -- and the $2 billion in new construction that has occurred since Heifer first reclaimed its land.

It certainly would have been easier for Heifer to find another location for its headquarters -- either in Little Rock or in another city, but it would have been inconsistent with its mission.  "If we're going to have a lasting impact on ending world hunger, then everything we do must renew the earth and not deplete it," said Jo Luck, Heifer's president and CEO, on the Heifer website.  

Heifer's decision to build this kind of building is totally congruent with its mission.  Clinton's choice to contribute to the revitalization of the downtown Little Rock economy is also in alignment with his lifelong work on behalf of the state.  I believe that both made their building decisions to be authentic with themselves, but wound up having a large external impact as well.

How can you translate your mission into visible, tangible manifestations such as the type of building you occupy or the location where you build it?  Are there other significant ways to practice what you preach?  Even if it isn't the easiest way to do something, it might be the most important.  Choosing the hard road can be the high road for both your organization and its community.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, May 30, 2013

#363 closed doors

The exterior of the state capitol building in Arkansas is not going to make the list as one of the Top Ten Most Beautiful, but it does have impressive doors.  Six 10-feet-tall bronze doors from Tiffany adorn what used to serve as the main entrance.  Now, visitors must go under the portico and enter in a dingy little doorway in the basement so that everyone can be funneled through a narrow corridor and be security scanned.  As a result, these beautiful doors are for show only, and go unused even though they require daily hand-polishing to keep their luster.  These doors have been polished every day since they were purchased in 1910, a seemingly huge waste of money for what Mr. Womack described as a "poor state."

Couldn't the state replace four of the six doors and leave just the middle ones with bronze?  Or leave the interior side to tarnish for a week since rarely anyone sees them?  Perhaps they could reconfigure the security set-up and actually use them if they are to remain?

Does your organization have the equivalent of bronze doors -- something that is a resource drain, but is kept on just for show?  Is it really necessary or are there better uses of your time and assets?

Look around and see if there aren't vestiges of something that made sense at one time, but  has outlived its usefulness.  What once was symbolic with one meaning may serve as even stronger symbol for change if you take steps to replace it.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

#362 southern hospitality

I just got back in town from a vacation my sister and I took to Little Rock, Arkansas.  I fully understand that this is not a destination choice for most people, but my sister is on a quest to see all 50 capitols (this was #43) and most Memorial Day weekends I join her.

The inside of the capitol had the requisite stained glass and marble -- but what was more impressive was one person in particular that we met -- State Representative Richard Womack from District 18.  He saw us when we were trying to peek between the locked doors to get a glimpse of the House chambers.  Instead, he brought us around through the private entrance and took us onto the floor from the inside (even though non-representatives are not allowed there and we're not supposed to tell!)  It is Mr. Womack's first term as representative; he is a carpenter by trade and fosters several children, but decided that he did not agree with the candidate who was running and so he "had" to run himself.  He chatted with us about how much he has learned in his first term, and how he will certainly run again because he thinks he can make a bigger difference now that he has the process figured out.  

Mr. Womack and I may agree on little about the political platforms, but my sister and I were both impressed by his commitment.  He publicly exhibited courage by expressing his beliefs and standing up for what he thought was right.  Instead of complaining about the process, or grumbling about the person who was running, he took action and raised his hand himself.  He is a family man and entrepreneur who is making sacrifices of his time and talent to do what he believes is helping the public good.  It was a live version of Mr. Womack Goes to Little Rock, with the hope and innocence that it entails.  He was inspiring!

Mr. Womack did what appeared to come naturally to him -- extend a generous dose of Southern Hospitality and give two perfect strangers a few minutes of his time.  The personal stories that he shared and the conversation we had with him was one of the highlights of our trip.  

Two lessons to think about today --
1.  If you believe in something, raise your hand and volunteer to take action on its behalf -- don't watch from the sidelines.  Have the courage to take a bold step.
2.  A small gesture of kindness can go a long way in making a lasting impression on the beneficiary of your gift.  Little actions are significant too.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

#361 discard

If you were no longer around and someone had to clean out your house and office, what would they be astonished by?  

I think the answer for everyone falls into two categories:
1.  Something that evokes the question:  "Why on earth did they keep that??!!"
2.  "How can one person have so many of ________?"

I have been involved in several moves/purgings lately, and it causes me to look around at all of the things I have personally accumulated.  To me, everything is organized and of value, but if I were a neutral party and had to empty my home and office, I imagine that the desirability of all contained within would drop significantly.  

There are certainly people who visibly have too much "stuff" in their possession, but I believe that each of us is a secret hoarder of some type.  We find something that we love, and then collect another, and another.

I am reminded of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's 1955 classic Gift from the Sea.  When she first arrives for a retreat at the beach, she instinctively collects pockets full of shells.  After some time in reflection, she realizes that she needs to discard some shells in order to appreciate the few.  "For it is only framed in space that beauty blooms," she wrote.  

As summer approaches, intentionally make the effort to create some space in your life.  Free yourself of some possessions.  Clear away some time on the calendar.  Do some discarding so you can appreciate and be more intentional about what remains.

-- beth triplett

Monday, May 27, 2013

#360 red, white and blue

Memorial Day is considered the official start of summer.  It used also mean that you could now wear white shoes until Labor Day.  Any sooner than that was considered a taboo.

Are there any similar fashion rules that remain in effect?  I think now anyone can wear any color on any day.  And as I have written, why limit yourself to the same color for all 10 nails, or your hair, or your socks or anything else.  The fashion palette has exploded.

But Memorial Day is more than picnics and white shoes.  

As you go out to celebrate on this Memorial Day, dig through that closet of yours and find some red, white and blue to wear.  Take a moment to remember those who died in battle so that we could enjoy our many real freedoms, not just in accessorizing, but in those that truly matter like free speech, the right to assemble and to bear arms.

Most days you dress to express your individualism.  Dress today to commemorate your community as part of this great nation.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, May 26, 2013

#359 checkered flag

Every Sunday night in the summer, I hear the continuous "whir" of stock car racing in the background.  I live several miles from the speedway, but there is an unmistakable noise each week for several hours.

What I find fascinating about stock car racing is that the chassis, suspension and engine on these cars are architecturally identical on all of the vehicles.  It is the origin of the word "stock" car -- the car was procured from the normal stock vs. a custom-designed racing car.  In fact, the technological elements resemble the standard cars in use by regular drivers.*

This leaves all the differentiation to a strict set of allowable changes, but mostly the success is up to the driver.  

Much of the same is true in organizations.  Often, you are providing the same physical product as a competitor and norms require you to remain within standard parameters.  What differentiates you is how you deliver your service and how your people "drive" the organization.  

Invest as much as you can in your drivers.  Even on the county speedway, the checkered flag only waves for one.

-- beth triplett


Saturday, May 25, 2013

#358 power flower

I love the lilacs that are in full bloom these days.  I don't have a bush myself, but I cajole a friend who does enough that he keeps me in good supply during the short blossom season.

I think lilacs are a metaphor for power.  There really are enough lilacs/enough power to go around.  Just because you give some away, doesn't mean that you still don't have plenty left.  You can be very, very generous with your lilacs and still have a robust bush.  What you do give away comes back, often more fully than what you cut.  

Lilacs are abundant and free.  They can be enjoyed by the source of the flower and those who receive the blossoms as a gift.  The scent of the flower permeates beyond the immediate petals -- everyone in their presence is impacted.

It is sad to see people who operate with a scarcity mentality.  Think of your power like a lilac bush.  There is enough to share.

-- beth triplett

Friday, May 24, 2013

#357 gone fishin'

How do your personal cycles work?  Are you busiest before you can relax?  Do you need to recharge before you can gear up?

I think of how productive my life would be if I was as productive all the time as I am right before I go on vacation!

I feel like I need a vacation by the time I am ready to go.  At home, laundry is done.  Ditto for shopping, errands and packing.  Instructions are ready for my dog sitter.  All the blogs are written and scheduled in advance.

At work, I managed to squeeze in a host of meetings, wrap up several big projects, close out the fiscal year and attend to the regular business at hand.  No time for dawdling or procrastination -- there were things to do before I left.

But once I am gone, I am disengaged from work and fully immersed in the life of leisure.  It will take a day on the back end to get my working brain reoriented.  

For others, they may crawl toward vacation with barely any energy remaining, and come back refreshed and ready to go full steam ahead.  

Pair your energy level and pattern of behavior to make a successful transition over this holiday weekend and future vacation plans.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, May 23, 2013

#356 supplements

I have spent numerous hours in the past few weeks attempting to liquidate some of my mom's financial investments.  I took a morning off work to make a dent in it, knowing full well that I would need more time, but that I would not have the patience to do it any longer. I was right.  

The whole process has been an exercise in frustration.  Everyone needs different forms, supplemental material and documentation.  I mail in something, and hear back from them a week later that they need something else.  Just thinking about what I have done, and, unfortunately, what I have to do, makes me growly.

And then I thought of the parallels that I am sure people feel regarding the entire admission and financial aid process.  A family files the FAFSA and we call saying we need more information for verification.  They send us their transcript and we admit them, but then want an enrollment form and $200.  Every college requires different forms, supplemental material and documentation.  Do families feel about us the way I feel about financial services? (Don't answer that!)

I know that all organizations want it how we want it, but do we need to have it that way?  I recently read an article advocating for a centralized college application clearinghouse process -- one form and process for all colleges together like is done in professional school admissions.  I didn't really like the idea, until I dreamt about one form for investment liquidation.  

Yes, we all need to differentiate our product, but there is far more we can do to simplify and consolidate the process end of transactions.  Sing Kumbaya with your competitors and share the paperwork!

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

#355 knotted

I was at a meeting last week where eight of us attempted to sort out the intricacies of a very interdependent process.  Everyone had experienced some frustration with how things were (weren't) working, but there isn't one "owner" who has the authority to make changes. So we decided to convene and see if we could agree by consensus what the desired changes would be.

We couldn't.  At least not yet.

What did happen was that we all gained considerable understanding on the complexity of the issues.  We had front line staff, middle managers and senior staff -- all with knowledge about varying levels of the process.  We had people who used to work directly in the area, one who currently does and someone will be assuming responsibilities for the position -- all also bringing different perspectives that added to our insight.  We realized that even though eight of us were there, there was one major area missing and they needed to be included in the conversation.

I shared with the group a visual of a tangled mess of fishing line and lures.  It was an accurate representation of where we stand now.  If we had the impression that the problem was equivalent to a kink in just one line, we would respond to it in a very different fashion than knowing it is part of a bigger knot. By having everyone at the meeting and able to hear the competing interests that are at play, it became apparent that we need to pull each aspect of this apart carefully until we get to the root of the issue. 

If you jump in and start pulling on the first problem that arises, you may make the rest of the knot tighter.  Always start with understanding before action.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

#354 opportunities

Our students have been out of school for a week now, and I imagine that many of the graduates used the time to catch their breath and regroup after the stress of finals and leaving.  Good for them, but now it's time to get down to the business of finding a job.

Whether I am speaking to new graduates or experienced staff, my job-seeking advice is the same: find a place that gives you opportunities.  It doesn't so much matter if you start at an entry level position; if you are good, you will be promoted.  If you start in a more senior role, if you are good, you will be promoted.  Look for where you will be given new challenges, projects.  That's what you need your employer to contribute; you can add the rest.

Think about it in your current position.  Are you doing the same thing you were doing when you were first hired?  Are you doing the same thing as others in your same position?  Hopefully the answer is no.  You want an organization and boss that taps you on the shoulder and offers new responsibilities.  If that isn't happening, it's time to assess why not.

-- beth triplett

Monday, May 20, 2013

#353 vulnerability

Over the weekend, I went to the first fine arts festival of the summer.  There will be several of these events in the coming months, and I go to as many as my calendar permits.  I treat it like an outdoor museum, where I can look at all the beautiful art works and admire the extraordinary jewelry.  

Only, it isn't an outdoor museum; it's an outdoor store.  Those artists aren't sitting in their booths to entertain me; this is their livelihood.  I felt that more poignantly at one booth where I spent a fair amount of time on Saturday afternoon.  I loved this artist's work, and was fascinated with how he made it.  But I only made a minor purchase of a $12 pin vs. the $365 wall hanging that I spent the most time admiring.

I thought about the vulnerability that it must take to be on the arts circuit.  To have someone walk by your booth without even entering it.  To not take personally the face-to-face rejection when people leave without a sale.  Or to conceal the disappointment when the little purchase is made instead of the big one.

In the new Oprah magazine, there is an article about vulnerability, in which Dr. Brene Brown writes about vulnerability being "brave enough to show up and let ourselves be seen."  

Even if you're not an artist in the fine arts sense of the word, I think that all of us could practice a bit more vulnerability.  It is easy to hide behind time and distance that separate us from most of our ultimate clients and to create work that becomes generic.  Instead, try to put yourself out there, personalize your work, meet people face-to-face, and be proud enough to pretend you're an artist at the fair.  

-- beth triplett

*O Magazine June 2013 Oprah's Conversation with Brene Brown, p. 136.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

#352 a buck

Last week I read the obituary for Dave Gold.  I had never heard the name before, but rarely a weekend goes by that his work doesn't provide me a few moments of frivolous entertainment.

Gold founded the 99 Cents Only Stores which spawned numerous franchises of similar pricing strategies.  I love the dollar stores.  Where else can you go and know that you absolutely can afford anything in the store?  I can see stickers that remind me of someone and for a buck I can give them a delight.  I can mail window clings to my niece and nephew for every holiday and not go bankrupt.  I can indulge my fetish for office supplies and not feel guilty.  I can buy toys for the pups and not worry when they are shredded that day.  Life is just carefree in the dollar store aisles.

Some people are hesitant to shop there, since the freshness and origin of the goods can be somewhat questionable.  I always follow my sister's mantra:  "nothing in or on."  Meaning buy no food/beverage/consumables that go in your body, nor any lotions/cosmetics/products that go on it.  With that as my guide, I have guiltless shopping where a few bucks buys me untold treasures.

Thanks Dave Gold, for starting a trend that has become ingrained in a strip mall in every city.  You have provided me with untold ways of saying "I'm thinking about you" and given me many hours of shopping fun.  You can't put a price tag on that!

-- beth triplett

Saturday, May 18, 2013

#351 cocoa peach

Earlier this week, I took advantage of an offer to get a free makeup consultation at the Clinique counter.  I didn't really have a need for new cosmetics, but I like to capitalize on the opportunity for a low risk experiment.

The clerk chose a color palette that I would have never, ever selected for myself.  In fact, if you look at the lipstick in the tube, I might have given a bonus sampler away without as much as putting it on.  But I really liked it on my lips!  And the eye shades look like nothing in my makeup bag, but they actually did "make my blue eyes pop."  Who knew?!

I try to make it a practice to take risks when the consequences are low.  Peter Sims calls these "little bets" in his book by the same name.  He advocates for conducting small experiments that don't detract from the core business, but allow you to gain valuable knowledge (of either what worked or what didn't) that can be used to gain more leverage down the road.

It is very easy to get in a rut.  Take advantage of opportunities to be bold and daring on little things that don't really have high stakes.  The confidence and courage you cultivate will serve you well in more meaningful situations in the future.  (And you just might look good while doing it!)

-- beth triplett

Friday, May 17, 2013

#350 amalgamate

Following my own advice, I keep written records of things as I advocated in Blog #344 (May 11th).  So, in preparation for my vacation next week, I pulled out the list of things-to-pack to ensure that I had everything on hand and did not need to go shopping.

I was struck by how dated the list had become in only a few years:
> camera -- not needed; I have the iPhone
> film -- what is that?!
> extra camera battery -- nope
> clean SIM card for camera -- won't come near capacity on the phone
> MapQuest directions to hotel -- GPS included on phone
> look up locations/directions/hours of favorite stores and attractions in advance -- ask Siri instead!
> alarm clock -- got it covered with the Clock app
> road map from AAA -- not necessary
> calculator for money conversion if out of the country -- there's an app for that too
> boarding pass -- electronic version on phone
> weather forecast -- up to the minute radar available with a swipe
> Sudoku book for plane -- electronic version loaded

As I looked at the list, I also realized that what was included on the iPhone wasn't necessarily brand new; instead it combined in an easy-to-use way things that already existed.  Maybe you can't come up with the next invention that sells 318 million units*, but can you add value to your organization (and glee to your customers) by re-packaging things that currently are disparate?  Can everything you need for college enrollment be all in one place (preferably on a user-friendly app that is available 24/7)?  Is it possible to integrate all the decisions you need to make in building a home into one device or app?  Could you pull together all the tourist information needed by city/by age/by luxury level for the major cities instead of asking your colleague for insider advice?  

Marcel Proust wrote: "The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."  How can your eyes re-imagine new ways to pull things together?

-- beth triplett

*Source: iPhone sales at wikimedia commons, updated 4-18-13

Thursday, May 16, 2013

#349 front lines

Yesterday I lamented about the ice cream manager who was oblivious to the business her clerks were turning away.  The flip side of that is Walt Disney who was known for "strolling" through his theme parks and asking questions.

Former employee Doug Lipp recounted a time when Disney put a teenage ride operator on the spot by asking: "How would you improve this ride?"  The lad had an answer that he could only know from his front line experience: the gondola roofs were too low and guests frequently bumped their heads when entering or exiting the ride.  As you can guess, the height was adjusted and the ride operator was rewarded.*

I try to spend a few moments every day walking through the office areas of my staff, and I invariably hear things that way.  More importantly, I try to foster an environment -- more like encourage or expect a culture -- where people can speak candidly and raise suggestions on a regular basis.  Just yesterday I remained in my office but was asked whether or not the admissions representatives can wear shorts with their official polos on our summer registration and visit days; if we can purchase a Keurig machine to offer families coffee since we discontinued brewing it due to waste, and whether I would support a policy change for our transfer student ACT requirements.  All these are equivalent to: "how would you improve your working conditions?"

If you aren't regularly asked for changes, you should implement strategies to change that fact first.  Get out more.  Hold a retreat where you encourage what Seth Godin calls "poking the box."  Ask more questions like Disney did.  Reward suggestions, including those you can't implement.  Say yes more frequently.  

Your front line people can make your organization great if you let them.

-- beth triplett

*Source:  How Disney produces its 'hi-ho' worker enthusiasm by Claudia Buck of the Sacramento Bee.  Printed in the Dubuque Telegraph Herald 4-28-13

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

#348 no

I had about 35 people serving on a committee for me this year.  In addition to a thank you note, I wanted to give them a "little something" in the envelope as a token of appreciation.  Spring has really just come to our area, so I decided that an ice cream cone would be a nice touch -- the first cone of the season from the local, homemade ice cream parlor.

I knew this was a slightly unusual request as I wanted a gift certificate for a cone (= $3.20) instead of the standard $5 gift card.  So I went in person and nicely asked the clerk if she could accommodate me given that I wanted 35 of them.  Her reply: "no."  That was it.  Never mind that it meant foregoing $112 of sales for this little local business.  "No."

I had my assistant make some calls, and other ice cream places in town were more than willing to accommodate me.  So she called and asked for the original store's manager, and what do you know -- I was able to buy 35 certificates for a free cone!

Why did it have to be that hard?  Even though they made nice certificates, I am still irritated with the process and the (lack of) service there.

Do you train your front line staff to be in the habit of saying "yes" more than they say "no?"  Or at least saying "I don't know; I'll have someone get back to you."  As a manager, do you even have any idea what your staff is saying "no" to?  Have you asked them what requests they have received and what changes they would make to accommodate things?

The teenager at the counter has more to say about how people perceive your business than you do.  Try to instill in him/her maturity beyond their years and the ability to say at least "maybe" instead of instantly giving an outright refusal.

-- beth triplett

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

#347 if

I was talking on the phone to a friend while she was out basking in the sun.  She commented on how she was already (naturally) tan, which is really saying something given the rainy Spring that we've had.  "I can handle anything if I'm tan," she laughed.

I thought about that statement.  Being tan means nothing to me, but being in good shape with new freshmen numbers makes the whole world seem more manageable.  "I can handle anything if deposits are good," I replied.

What is out there that serves as a bellwether of your mood and coping mechanisms?  In other words, how would you fill in the blank of "I can handle anything if ______?"   Then think about what steps you can take to make this anchor a reality.  You don't have to have everything, but it helps to know what it most important for your attention.

-- beth triplett

Monday, May 13, 2013

#346 Houdini

Several of these blogs have dealt with antics of my dogs, and today I will add to that.  On one of the beautiful evenings last week, I left the dogs out in the yard while I went to dinner.  I came home to find my 1-year old sitting in the neighbor's front yard!  I figured that her big sister bullied her (again) and pushed her under the fence (again).  So, I deployed my friend to buy stakes and secure the bottom of fence.  Life was good...

...for about one day, when I let the dogs out after work.  In the time it took me to change clothes, she was outside the fence again.  We checked, and there were no stakes disrupted.  And then, my friend saw her climb the fence and escape on her own.  I did not believe it.  Until, moments later with me standing right next to her, she did it again.  AHHH!

I think this can be a metaphor for how we often solve problems at work.  I was convinced that she was going under the fence.  I took all the precautions to remedy that situation, but it was the wrong problem.  I blamed someone for the problem who really had nothing to do with it.  When someone told me that I was wrong, I didn't believe them.  The evidence of what they were saying was so contrary to what I thought was true -- and even what I thought was possible -- that I denied it.  Until, of course, I saw it with my own eyes and had to confront the truth.  

The next time you have a dilemma, instead of jumping to conclusions and trying to solve it right away, try to ensure that you are fixing the right issue.  Your problem could be climbing the fence.

-- beth triplett

Sunday, May 12, 2013

#345 joy

Yesterday was our graduation, and with only a few exceptions, the happiest people at the ceremony were the mothers.  They are always the saddest at freshmen move-in day, but at commencement they are beaming.  I am sure the majority of them would say that their child's graduation was the best Mother's Day present that they could receive.

A friend told me that the first rule of parenting is that "you can only be as happy as your unhappiest child."  I wonder if this axiom applies in the workplace too.  Can you only be as happy as your unhappiest employee?  

Maybe the reverse is true, and on occasions like graduation, you can find yourself being as happy as your happiest child.

On Mother's Day and in this commencement season, let us wish that you transfer joy to your parents and colleagues and be grateful for the moms that are still with us.

-- beth triplett

Saturday, May 11, 2013

#344 write it down

The final tip that I offer as part of Time Management Week is to keep written records.  So much of life is repeated and cyclical; you can save yourself lots of time if you keep written track of things.

Keeping written records has become so much easier with electronic devices and searchable programs, but whether you use them or good old fashioned paper and pencil, a documentation system will serve you well.

 > Many organizations sponsor annual events.  Instead of starting from scratch each year, keep records of what tasks need to be accomplished and who needs to do them.  As I have written about before, after each big event it helps to do a debriefing "lessons learned" meeting so you can document the nuances that need to be addressed when doing the event in the future.

> After a long winter lapse, you forget what you need to take when you go camping.  Keep a list that you need to throw in the hatchet to chop wood or the clothesline for towels. Ditto for a list of the routine things you need to take on a trip, or when attending the annual conference, etc.

>  My sister is on a quest to see all of the state capitols.  Instead of repeatedly taking the time to figure out which ones are missing, she has a list on her phone of the seven she still needs to see.

> Each year, we do an extensive analysis of enrollment once the fall numbers are finalized.  We keep a list of what reports to run so we don't have to recreate it every year.  Ditto for the quarterly reports we need for our consultant -- and after each visit we add to it so we are more effective next year and don't waste time hunting down the information during meetings.

> Keeping track of car repairs/maintenance serves you well in the long run.  You can easily keep track of when you need an oil change and know how many miles are on those tires.

So many situations involve things that happen again.  Get in the habit of keeping written records and you will save yourself much hunting down/re-creating/wondering time as you tackle the routine things in the future.  "Champions aren't champions because they do anything extraordinary, but because they do the ordinary better than anyone else."  Chuck Knoll

-- beth triplett

Friday, May 10, 2013

#343 captured

Tip #5 for Time Management Week:  always have a pen with you.  It may sound a bit dated in the era of electronic note taking, but having a pen allows you to capture the ideas, things to remember and "to dos" that occur to you throughout the day.  And night; having a method of capturing things that interrupt your sleep will also save you time by day instead of back tracking because you forgot them!

Almost always, there is something to write on, thus the recommendation to have only a writing instrument.  Napkins, newspapers, receipts, business cards or the back of your hand are readily available to quickly capture your note with barely a pause in what else you were doing.  

Having a method of idea capture allows your work to flow more smoothly.  I keep a pad and pen in the car, in my purse, by my bed, in the kitchen, on my walks and everywhere else that I am.  Throughout the day I am writing notes of things I need to do at home/bring into work, and then at home I am remember things I need to do at work/bring home.  The second it takes to write them down saves me from forgetting in the long run and saves time in scrambling for what I missed.


> Making a note to remember to pick up milk on the way home saves you the extra trip required if you forget it.

> You run into someone in the cafeteria who needs you to send them a piece of information.  By the time lunch is over, most will have forgotten about the task unless it is written, and then time is later spent playing phone tag while the person tracks it down.

> Writing down a task you need to accomplish at work allows you to address it early instead of frantically trying to find/create something at the last minute because you did not do it.

> Jotting reminders of items that you need to discuss with someone or add to a meeting agenda allows you to add those to the itinerary to cover in the scheduled time, rather than requiring a separate meeting to address items you forgot in round one.

There is not a day that goes by where I don't have a note or two to jog my memory or remind me to bring/do/discuss something.  Time management happens by mastering the margins.  Stop those little things from falling through the cracks and eating up time by writing yourself a little note and dealing with them once.

-- beth triplett

Thursday, May 9, 2013

#342 time leadership

Tip #4 for Time Management Week is to USE a calendar.

Most professionals have a calendar, and they probably even rely on it to keep track of appointments.  Tip #4 is to to merge some of your bigger tasks onto your calendar and USE it to schedule time to get them done.  

I recommend that you block out the time you need to tackle the work you have to do.  If your calendar is blank, those perusing Outlook will assume that you are "free", even though quite the contrary is the case.  I have suggested that staff schedule time with "Mable" or some other fictitious character and honor those appointments as they would any other commitment.  (Only instead of meeting with Mable, they are in their office alone accomplishing tasks.) You need to exhibit time leadership and take ownership of your calendar instead of letting others determine your time priorities.   

Beyond scheduling work time, use your calendar as a reminder of when you have to do things.  


> Your calendar may say "Mother's Day" for Sunday, but did you write "shop for Mom" last weekend so you could get something in the mail on time?  Ditto for birthdays and other special occasions.  When do you need to mail the card or order the flowers?  Note that instead of the actual date.

> Say that every month you need to review the budget and check to see if you need any line item adjustments.  Or in January you send out the vacation calendar for the year.  Or a few months before the benefit period ends you remind people of benefit balances.  Put that on your calendar instead of task list.

> Highlight/color-code items that require your advanced prep time, so you can tell at a glance when you need to prepare for a meeting vs. attending one.  Also mark appointments where you are likely to need to know the dates again (as in: "when did we hold that annual meeting last year? or  What time was that annual event?)

Your calendar can become your most valuable tool in maximizing your use of time.  Merge your personal and professional lives; your appointments and your tasks; your reminders and your proactive plans -- and do so with a week-at-a-glance view (or monthly) -- and see if it doesn't help you get a better handle on your commitments.

-- beth triplett

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

#341 make it doable

Time Management Week continues with Tip #3:  Create a To-Do List with Doable Items

People are guilty of putting big projects on their to-do list or bucket list, instead of breaking them down into manageable parts.  My ideal is not to have anything on the list that takes more time to accomplish than the time block I am likely to have free to accomplish the tasks. For the times I don't follow that, I find myself falling behind because I didn't make incremental gains throughout the process.  But when I do break things down, I find that I can check off some of the smaller tasks toward the big goals -- because when I look at the list to see what I can do "in the next 15 minutes before my meeting" there are tasks there that fit that interval.

> I have always wanted to write a book, but never have.  Yet, somehow I have managed to write 341 blogs (aka: sections of a book) because I broke down the task.  Writing a book sounds too daunting to begin -- even writing a blog was pretty intimidating for a long time -- and then I put on the list to "test" my ability to publish one blog entry and here we are.

> I need to do 11 staff evaluations this year.  I could put "evaluations" on my list and never get them done.  Instead, I listed all 11 names and wrote "prep, meet, write" by each of them.  I put on the list to schedule the meetings.  To develop and send out my set of prep questions to the four different groups.  Etc. 

> "Christmas shopping" sounds daunting until I make the list and put down some ideas for everyone on it.  Then I can go to Store X and buy one thing, and while I'm on-line I can order a few more things, etc. so pretty soon the presents are ready.

> Students get stuck when writing a term paper because they put "history term paper" on the list.  Instead, it should say to: select topic, research part X, write outline, develop draft, etc.  I am convinced it is why so many doctoral students remain ABD* because "dissertation" is as ominous sounding as it comes, even though it is hundreds of small steps like a giant term paper.

> Doing taxes is another procrastination-prone activity.  But sorting receipts, reviewing deductions, setting an appointment with the accountant, contributing to an IRA -- those are all much more palatable items that are more likely to get accomplished.

Whether at home or at work, breaking down items into to doable steps is a great way to maximize your use of time.  Those 15 minute time blocks [that you identified when you did Tip #1 (-: ] can be put to good use instead of frittered away.

Give your list a once-over today and see if you can make your tasks more user-friendly.

-- beth triplett

*All But Dissertation -- a slang reference for when doctoral students are finished with classes but have yet to complete their paper.  Instead of Ph.D. or Ed.D. people jokingly refer to the letters ABD behind their name instead.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

#340 time tips

It is Finals Week where I work, and with it comes a cadre of stressed out students.  I am seeing bleary-eyed students in the hall after pulling an all-nighter and taking an exam, and I am seeing students staring aimlessly at the same page for an hour.  In this spirit, I declare this Time Management Week and will provide a series of tips that have worked well for me in managing my time throughout the decades.

Tip #1:  Understand Your Use of Time
There are 168 hours in the week.  Pull out a piece of paper and try to account for where you spend them.  If you're like most, you don't have answers for more hours than you expected.

It's a pain to do -- I'll say that right up front -- but I still advocate for keeping a time diary for one week.  Where does your time go?  It's hard to answer that question without some understanding of the answer.  Keep track of the hours you spend on computer games or television; the amount of time it takes for you to get ready in the morning; the time for household chores.  Where are there periods of wasted time (and intentional recreation is not wasted time!); where are there gaps that add up of time that just slips away (do you really wait in line at the coffee shop two hours/week??).  Your task is to figure out what is before you can make any changes.

Tip #2:  Acknowledge Your Energy Level
While we all have peaks and valleys given specific circumstances, on the whole I believe that people have a certain rhythm that works best for them.  Time management task #2 is to figure out when that time is for you and then capitalize on it.  I wrote about this in Blog #118 (September 27, 2012) so won't repeat it here.

We all need to do things when we would prefer not to, but you may be surprised at how much control you have over when you get the tasks accomplished.  Pay attention to your energy levels and see if you can match your task to your corresponding level of pep.  Or another way to look at it: try to be like an environmentally-friendly light bulb and produce the same brightness with less wattage!

More tomorrow!

-- beth triplett

Monday, May 6, 2013

#339 trickle down

At an evaluation meeting with one of my staff members we were discussing her goals.  She came prepared with three wonderful ideas, but they were all independent of the goals she had determined for her staff members.  

I suggested instead that some of the supervisor's goals be the advocacy stage for her staff's goals -- in other words, the staff could do the research to develop a proposal for a major change, but she would need to be the one to sell it and bring it home.

Sometimes as supervisors we forget that almost everything on your staff's plate is somehow on your plate too.  Their balls in the air are also your balls in the air.  As a result, part of your job as an effective supervisor is to help your staff prioritize and focus.  You can sometimes be your best when you help staff decide what NOT to do.

-- beth triplett