Mindfulness and the Smart Phone

photo-2Let’s go back for a minute.  Back to when going up a shoe size was exciting (because you were in competition with your friend, of course) and ice cream had no calories.  Do you remember what morning grass smelled like and how it felt on your toes?  Do you remember looking up at the stars and thinking simultaneously that you were so small and yet had the world at your fingertips?

I remember taking in so much more then and so much less at the same time.  I took in the world around me; whereas now, I take in more “information.”  I read emails, scroll social feeds, read books, and check the news – all on my phone and in between activities.  Our mind doesn’t wait anymore.  As we stand in line to check out at the supermarket, we check our phone.  Traffic light?  Check the phone.  Waiting on the elevator?  You got it.

Now, I like I a smart phone.  It keeps me in touch, informed, and entertained.  Problem is, I’ve noticed I don’t “see” my environment the way I used to.  I used to think it was because I had become and adult and there were just too many things to think about and do.  That’s probably true.  However, I think the majority of the blame could go  to the smart phone.  Shoot, you don’t even get to awkwardly stand on the sidelines until you find a conversation to join at parties or get togethers. You are important, so you’re on your phone.  You have a crutch.

What do we do?  I could tell you to put your phone away, turn it off, etc.  But, if you’re like me, your cell phone is your only phone – you have no landline.  I have a few practical suggestions, but the fact is nothing will change if you don’t want it to.  If you wish you had more time to: read, cook, sleep, play – then cut the information umbilical cord.

  1. Be conscience of what you’re doing!  It’s easy to subconsciously whip out your phone and get lost in the rabbit hole.  But, if you catch yourself on your phone while your kid is playing, put it away and get out your imaginary tea party invitation.
  2. Turn the volume up – and leave it on the counter.  If you get a call, you’ll hear it.  Text messages or push notifications?  Leave it.  I could suggest turning off the notifications, but again, these are practical tips.
  3. Play Candy Land or Go Fish.  Do you remember how much fun “real” games used to be?  Your children may not if they are always playing electronic games.  A little nostalgia is always nice too.  I’ve been to board game parties and they are super fun.  Just ask guests to bring over their favorite game and play a few throughout the evening.
  4. Set expectations.  If it’s work or someone you talk with regularly, let them know that you may not always answer right away, but you will get back to them within a certain amount of time.  We’ve let technology dictate that we are, and should always be, available.  Why is it if you don’t answer a text within a couple of hours you wonder if that person is upset with you?
  5. Go outside.  It’s easy to sit on your duff and play with your phone.  But, outside activities can make your phone vulnerable to the chance of getting smashed.  For such reason, you’ll put your phone away and perhaps enjoy a skinned knee or a mosquito bite.  Takes you back doesn’t it?

All I’m suggesting is we be more mindful in what we’re doing, because in the long run time is all we have.  I want to remember the details, not just a blur of highlights.  Stop and smell the roses, honesysuckles, burnt spaghetti, coffee, dog poop – whatever is around you.  Take a big ,deep breath, and enjoy the day.

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Networking Tips from an Introvert

Welcome to networking for introverts anonymous.  Okay, not really.  But, I wanted to share some insights that I’ve learned from attending networking events.  As an introvert, I’ve not always been great at conversing with new people or people I don’t know well in a networking setting.  It is something that I make a cognizant effort to practice, because it doesn’t come naturally to me.  I wanted to share the below ideas that came out of a work event that I attended not long ago.

Dress Well
And appropriately.  I knew our event was going to be outside and had a “springtime” theme.  So, I dug in my closet for something more colorful than my usual winter black.  Understand the dress code, check the weather, and find out what others plan to wear.  If appropriate, ask the event coordinator.

Make sure you aren’t going to have a “wardrobe malfunction.”  Tugging at your clothes all night, for example, isn’t a good look and it’s going to be at the forefront of your mind.  How are you going to concentrate on strengthening relationships if your fly keeps coming down?  Also, choose something that you look good in and makes you feel good.  If you dress well, you feel good, and that makes you feel confident.  Confidence is a key ingredient of success.

Do Your Research
Have some questions ready for when you’re struggling.  When the conversation goes flat, you will have some ideas on hand to ask.  If you know who will be there, great.  Do you know that Jason just took a trip to Hawaii?  Did Kelly just present an awesome presentation?  Remember those pieces of information and talk to the person about it.  If you don’t know who will be there, get some generic questions ready: How long have you been at the company?  What do you like to do outside of work?  How did you hear about this event or organization?

If you know names but haven’t met them, look them up!  Take a quick look at their LinkedIn profile.  You can usually find some talking points there.  You can find out if they volunteer somewhere you’re familiar with, or if they went to the same school as your brother.  I know it might sound a little weird to creep on social media, but it gives you an advantage – especially if you’re an introvert.  Just try not to advertise you found out about them online.

Be OK with Awkward Silences
I have come to embrace the awkward silences that sometimes pepper my conversations.  I never answer questions with a simple “yes” or “no” and I always try to volley with a question or thought.  But, sometimes the conversation drops – and that’s OK.  A woman I work with is very much an extrovert and her conversations with strangers always seemed so effortless.  One day after talking with someone she’d just met in the office, she turned to me and expressed how nervous she had been.  I asked how that was true since she’d kept the conversation going so well.  She said, “I was nervous so I just kept babbling.  I don’t even know what I was talking about!”  An introvert’s awkward silences are equivalent to the extrovert’s babbling.  Neither are comfortable, but both are natural depending on our personality.

Say Something Within the First Five Minutes
The company I work for coaches women on their executive presence, and part of that is how they show up in meetings.  They are coached to speak within the first five minutes of the meeting – to get their voice in the room.  I would say the same applies for networking.  Say something, anything beyond just your name.  Compliment someone, say “I agree,” or ask where someone is from.  Be genuine.  Get in the conversation and then you will be “in” the circle, instead of on the sidelines waiting for an opening.  It’s kind of like waiting outside of the duck, duck, goose circle to be asked to play.  You just need to jump in and start playing!

How do you handle networking events?  Does being an extrovert or an introvert matter or influence how you conduct conversation?

How Sport Cultivates Leadership

EY Women Athletes Business Network and espnW recently released research findings that sports can help accelerate women’s leadership and career advancement.  Of the 400 executive women surveyed, “74% agree that a background in sport can help accelerate a woman’s leadership and career potential.”

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There is a black belt there!

Although I am not (yet) an executive, playing sports has had a huge impact on my career and life in general.  Among other sports, I played basketball until my senior year of high school and am a second degree black belt in TaeKwonDo.  I learned a lot about teamwork and working for the greater good in basketball.  Martial arts taught me self-respect and to respect others, self-discipline, and how to be a positive role-model.  Both sports have contributed to development of the life skills I have now, and I believe any sport can help facilitate the development of fundamental leadership skills.

Social Skills
In his book, Brain Rules for Baby, John Medina, a developmental molecular biologist, writes how face-to-face interaction develops a baby’s brain more quickly than anything else.  Equally, scientific research has found that social interaction, as opposed to electronics, toys, or other inanimate objects, develop a child’s brain most efficiently.  Sports require social interaction.  Team sports teach communication, teamwork, encouragement, and relying on others.  Even in predominately individual sports like tennis or skiing, the individual make up a greater whole – a team.    The world likes teamwork and the business world is no exception.  The better we can read body language, communicate our needs and desires, show empathy toward others, and respond in culturally acceptable ways, the better we are as leaders and as team members.

Time Management
I don’t mean time management in how to get more things done – you can read my thoughts on that in my previous post here.  I am talking about managing one’s time in order to learn punctuality and efficiency.  In both basketball and TaeKwonDo, if you were late to practice/class, there were consequences.  Sometimes the whole team paid the consequence for your  tardiness.  Isn’t that true in business?  If you are late on a project there is usually a domino affect and it affects everyone.

Responsibility
If you played sports while in school, you had an extra schedule to maintain.  Your academic and sport performance were your responsibility.  I believe there is a balance of responsibility each of us needs; if you have too little or too great responsibility, mistakes get made or things fall through the cracks.  Whether or not things fell too far on either ends of the spectrum, they were relevant in teaching responsibility.

Accountability
You are responsible for you.  Sport can be a great teacher of this.  Each individual is accountable for being present, being focused, and being prepared.  If you weren’t, you let your team down.  In individual sports, you let yourself and those who believe in you down.  Professionals are accountable for the same principles –especially leadership.  Those who don’t hold themselves accountable generally aren’t respected leadership.

Tenacity
The higher you advance in sports, the more tenacity is a key component to success.  The more advanced the level, the more serious the competition and the greater the chance of failing.  This is when tenacity and discipline really develop.  Effective leadership must be tenacious when appropriate – encouraging others to keep persevering and trying new approaches to succeed.  Good leaders don’t back down every time they hear the word “no,”  but they do have good judgement to know when a play isn’t working.

The female executives surveyed in the article (full article here) list persistence, ambition and drive, and confidence as the most important contributors to their current career success.  I would agree and add that even as an adult, I continue to develop these with sports and activities.  Have sports helped you in your career?  Do you notice a difference in personal development depending on the different types of sports you’ve played?

Time Management: The Misperception of Your Time

Have you ever been frustrated because you just can’t do what you want to do?  That here’s just not enough time, or it always gets interrupted?  First, congrats.  You are an adult.  Second, consider changing the way you think because the problem is probably you.

My time had always been mine.  As selfish as it was, everything I had spent my time doing was for me: job, exercise, reading, hobbies, friends, etc.  I had no responsibilities except for a cat and a dog.  All of all changed  when I met my husband and it especially changed last year when my then 15-year-old step daughter came to live us.  Suddenly “my” time was out, and family time was in.  Insert whiney voice here: but, how was I going to get my (2 hour) workout in, fix dinner (I’m from the south, y’all), help with homework, spend time with my husband, and blah, blah, blah?  Other women do this stuff, so why was I having such a hard time?  It’s not that I was so selfish (intentionally), but I didn’t know how to change my perception of time since it wasn’t all mine anymore.

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Obvious solution: time management.  Obvious resource:  None.  Have you googled time management itself, tips, or books?   It seems that everyone’s got a need for it and just as many have a solution.  Luckily, I work for a leadership consulting firm and I asked my boss for a resource.  She gave me “The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.”  This oldie goldie proved that said obvious solution is NOT time management.  It’s about living on principles, not a schedule.  There are so many take-aways from this book one couldn’t possibly cover them in one article, but I will tell you what changed my life (too cheesy) perception.

I see many parents, especially mothers with small children, often frustrated in their desire to accomplish a lot because all they seem to do is meet the needs of little children all day.  Remember, frustration is a function of our expectations, and our expectations are often a reflection of the social mirror, rather than our own values and priorities.

The deal is, my role as a wife and step mother currently takes precedence over becoming a gladiator or winning the cleanest house award.  Many decent time management books  will tell you to blend activities like exercise with the kids, which is all well and good.   But a book I’m reading to advance my career comes second to a child on the edge of an emotional breakdown because her English teacher is a witch. In short, when I’m on my deathbed, I won’t remember that book.  I probably won’t remember this isolated event of coaching her off the ledge either, but I will remember building a relationship with her over the years.  And that’s what matters.

The Seven Habits…” goes on to help you explore your values, define what your center is (money, spouse, pleasure, work, etc.), and many other useful exercises and tools.  I’m currently working on how to listen effectively.  Turns out, like most people, I listen to advise rather than to listen to understand.

So if, like me, you are frustrated with how you perceive your time or just feel like you need more of it, I highly recommend this, and other Stephen Covey books.

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Finding Meaning In Your Work When You’re Handed Lemons

Have you ever been handed a project at work that proved difficult to get through?  Did you struggle to finding meaning in it?  Perhaps it was too tedious, overwhelming, or didn’t spark your interest.  Truth is, we all have times like this, at every job level – even business  owners.

I was once assigned gathering statistics on the company’s consultants to include in business proposals.  The assignment was clear and I understood the purpose, but it was certainly different from my usual projects.  I’m usually on the creative end of things and this project was more black and white – exact or inaccurate.  It took a lot of work: creating the survey, distributing and interpreting the data, and presenting the results .  Throughout the process, however, I learned ways to make the project more manageable, effective, and interesting.  So, what do you do when work hands you a big ‘ol lemon?  You make lemonade – and then you sell it.Work purpose

Work Challenges to LemonadeJuice Your Lemons

Get all of the facts; lay out every single detail you can.  You can’t figure out what to do with it if you don’t have a clear picture of what it is.  If you’ve been assigned a project that you’re sure to hate, go ahead and start picking it apart.  The more you break it up, the less it will seem like wrestling it for the infinity of your work life.  Get the specs, know what you’re supposed to accomplish, by when, and all of the other project management basics.  Juice it – get your  lemonade base.

Work Challenges to LemonadeAdd Some Sugar

What on earth can you like about this?  Find it.  I have worked on projects that literally the only sugar about it was the networking opportunity.  Look at it as creating value.  It’s something to keep record of for your yearly review, a promotion opportunity, or your résumé.  Also consider the skills that you are learning, and the “win” that you are bringing for the company.  If you’re doing something that keeps the company afloat, contributing to business development, etc., you have some sugar, my friend.

Work Challenges to LemonadeWater It Down

Your first instinct might be to dive in and get to the finish line, but that is probably the wrong approach.  Take the workload in intervals; try to mix in other items on your to-do list to avoid burnout and ultimately selling crappy lemonade.  You can also focus on different parts of the project to keep perspective.  The objective is to keep from getting so consumed in the work that you can’t see mistakes or bad choices.  Not too much water, not too little.

Work Challenges to LemonadeSell It

Understand that it isn’t all about you.  In your work life you’re just going to have those assignments, or even jobs, that you don’t care for.  Deal with it, and move on.  You’ve done your best (right?). It’s in a pretty, thirst-quenching cup, and now you’ve got to move your lemonade product.  Let your supervisor/manager know what you did, how you did it, and what you liked about it.  Then you can let them know what you found challenging (don’t use “I didn’t like” because frankly that’s irrelevant)  and with  what parts you think you did you’re best.  In my situation, I enjoyed finding a way to summarize the data.  Now my boss knows I like to find creative ways to present information.

If you look hard enough, you’ll find meaning in everything you do.  Worst case, The Rolling Stones had it right with, “You can’t always get what you want…but if you try sometimes, you might find, you get what you need.”

Secrets of the Leadership Industry

Working in a leadership consulting firm has been a great way to learn about how corporations and employees operate.  I’ve learned a lot about time management, leadership development, working with different personalities, etc.  As many tools and experts that leadership companies have, there are still some struggles that no company is immune to.

We get growing pains too
Any growing company is going to have some pains.  Whether it’s staffing, workflow management, or adjusting to new clients, each pain has its own set of challenges.  Being a leadership firm, we are well-equipped with organizational development processes, but at times we have pressed forward with little time to reflect.  As a firm we had to first see the forest and then see trees:  listen, assess, and then act.  This is what leaders do.

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We aren’t perfect at time management
Leadership consultants travel a lot, coach individuals, and facilitate workshops, all while designing new material and staying up to date on current events.  This means sometimes they too get overwhelmed, overbooked, and overworked.   As an assistant, I’ve been instructed to move appointments, block time on their calendar, and check with them before scheduling further appointments.  My boss taking back control, prioritizing her time and energy when things have run away from her.

Work-Life balance is still a challenge
Like I mentioned before, leadership (and consultants in general) consultants are BUSY.  They too struggle with running a successful business (may consultants are self-employed and/or contractual) and finding time for themselves and their families.  Much of time the facilitators I work with will answer emails at all times of the day.  I think everyone falls into this habit at some point; I believe it’s simply caring about your job and what you’re responsible for.  I have seen the same facilitators turn on the auto-reply and totally unplug for vacation.  Everyone has boundaries.

No matter the industry, there are times when we aren’t always on our A-game.  No one is perfect; we all get it wrong sometimes.  They key is to keep learning and growing to perform your best.

Your New Work Year Starts Now

It’s back to school season.  I used to love this time of year!  In fact, still do.  Although past my school years, I’ve always believed THIS time of the year was the new year.  This is when you started over and became the “new” you.  See, back to school wasn’t about waking up on January 1st a new person or countless, impossible resolutions.  No, this time of year was about putting your best foot forward and making a difference – this time.  You’d had your summer, learning (more life lessons I’m guessing) and refreshing, and then it was back to friends you’d hadn’t seen in a while, a new hairdo, and your grades were yet unmarred.

So what does all of this have to do with now?  As an adult?  It means this can be your new year too.  Hear me out.IMG_0822

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Go back to school shopping
Grab some filing folders, new pens, and one of those organizers to put your paper clips and sticky notes.  Get rid of your paper-pile filing system for once.  Do this for both the office and home.  With kids returning to their own schedules and the holidays fast approaching, it’s worth it to get organized now.

Ride a different bus
Take a new route to work (check the traffic first), walk down the street at lunch, meet a new coworker or client.  Do something different!  A new school year meant a new routine, which lends an element of excitement.  The more consistently or dramatically you change your routine, the better.

Write your own syllabus
If you’ve gotten comfortable in your job, chances are there’s room for improvement.  Are there things you could put a little more effort into?  Start each morning writing down your goals for that day and promise to give your best in accomplishing them.  If you always give your best, you can never look back and regret that you didn’t try harder.

Get a new outfit
Again, shopping.  But it can even be in your closet.  The goal is to put together a new outfit or two that you feel good in.  Try wearing a different watch, wearing your hair a different way, or alternate where you put each color of eye shadow.  The most important element of back to school was your first day’s outfit.  Why?  Because this was the new you and this was your year.

Take Life & Career Up A Notch

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