Monthly Archives: May 2013

Do You Make Checklists?

I used to work with someone who had a great habit of keeping daily checklists in a specific notebook, including starting each new entry with a box to check off once completed.  If I asked her to do something, out would come the notebook and she would start with a box on a new line.  She would repeat back to me exactly what she understood the request to entail.  She would end by asking me if I had a specific time frame or if she could fit it into her active task list and let me know the completion date.


She and I liked to bounce ideas off of each other so not only was her process great, it helped that she would promptly write the request down since we often would start to brainstorm on one thing or another while I was there.


My dad was a premier list maker – fall yard work, spring yard work, things he could tell us that he wanted, and so on.  And when I say things that he wanted, he would include the store or stores, the sale cycle, the color, the catalog number – everything we could possibly need to get that item.


I have found that I have to date my lists and put a list header – projects for the house, blog post ideas, books to read, etc.  I have a bit too much of my mom in me, maybe; or combo of mom’s somewhat haphazard methods and dad’s more precise ones.  Mom was good at jotting down info on whatever was handy at the time and then forgetting where she had put the data when she needed it.  I do manage much better than she at getting the info moved to the correct list.  But I still come across undated random lists that I’ve made upon occasion.


Early on, I wrote about this topic from a different tack, Chaos is a Style.  There are so many details that I am stunned when I meet someone who doesn’t keep lists, doesn’t have someone else to get the details done, and manages to get things done on time.  How about you?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Uninterruptible Tasks

This one comes from discussions that I have had with direct reports on many occasions.  The phone rings, the emails keep coming, people nearby talk to each other or to you and much of this is part and parcel of your actual job.  But while all of this activity can fill your work day, day after day it can also keep you from getting to the meat of your job.


Being a knowledge worker implies by the very label that you think, sometimes think deeply to accomplish projects and tasks.  How can we think with all of this activity, however?  These tasks that take up so very much of our day are quick and endless and interruptible.  But they don’t necessarily require much thought – a far cry from acting thoughtlessly, though.  Responses can be chosen like multiple choice test answers, or cafeteria style – a little of this, a pinch of that and a dollop of the thing over here and you move on.


Some tasks must be put together from scratch, carefully gathering the proper bits and pieces from experiences, from historical data, from others in your company or outside of the company.  They require careful consideration and perhaps a delicate touch to complete effectively.  Interruptions force you to spend precious minutes carefully picking up where you left off and then getting your forward momentum slowly going again.  Read this article to see evidence that we knowledge workers already knew – that a Brain Interrupted is not the most effective or efficient brain.


What is a worker to do?  Talk to your supervisor when you have one or more of these tasks and develop an acceptable plan to unhook from the distractions and successful navigate these uninterruptible tasks.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Writing as a Means to an End

Defining something clearly for yourself helps you to own it – now you finally know why you had to write your vocabulary words in a sentence every week back in elementary school.  When you own something, then you can repurpose it in whatever manner suits your current needs.  A kitchen towel is meant to dry dishes (for the few of us who still do dishes by hand) or your hands but it can be used as a hot pad to set down a dish, an oven mitt in a pinch, a cover for bread when it is still new and pretty, or for a child it can be a superhero cape.


The ability to write clearly and convey your message in a manner suitable for your intended readers is a versatile tool.  And a skill which can be developed, as long as you see the validity of writing’s importance in your work life.


We seem to have somehow convinced ourselves that writing is a talent that we either have or do not have – and there are certainly those for whom writing is a wonderful talent, writing is a skill and therefore learnable by anyone with an interest.


Job Search Writing

You can hire someone to write your resume and cover letter for you in the hope that these professionally written documents will give you an edge.  But in the spirit of teaching a man to fish over giving him a fish, you will do yourself a greater favor if you tackle this task for yourself and show that you have written communication skills which are sought after in many businesses.


While your goal is a new job, it is very important to pay close attention each step in the process – difficulties at any step can end your path to the goal of that particular position.  Sometimes job seekers focus too much on that prize and miss the pitfalls in the many steps between themselves and that job.  Refocusing on the steps and tools in between will help to ensure success.


Fair or not, the personnel responsible for filling the position are looking for reasons to eliminate a candidate.  While you have the job description from the ad, there are many components which are unspoken and possibly not clearly defined on their part.  Telling yourself you will reach the goal of the job when there are these nebulous components between you and this goal makes this achievement more difficult.  Focusing your attention on doing your best with each known component gives you more power to be ultimately successful.


RESUME:  Your resume is a document that is meant to show your past achievements and career progression.  Similar to any financial prospectus that you may have read, it has a disclaimer that all HR and hiring personnel see – past performance does not necessarily indicate future performance.

  • Your resume is not intended to get you the job; it is one tool which is meant to get you the interview.

Your resume has just a few seconds to catch their attention and get you in the yes or maybe piles, so less information – which is tailored to the needs that they expressed in the ad – is more.  If they have to sift through what is to them extraneous information that alone is a reason to put you in the no pile.


COVER LETTER:  Your cover letter is a document that is meant to start the discussion for how you can marry your past performance to the future needs of this particular company.

  • Your cover letter is not intended to get you the job; it is one tool which is meant to get you the interview.

This document is your first opportunity to underline your strengths and to downplay any requirements which could disqualify you.  As an example, I do not have a degree so I highlight points that show that I am a life-long learner.


THANK YOU LETTER:  Your thank you letter is a document that will be the last impression the interviewer has of you while they consider who to call back for the next round or who is the successful candidate.  You want a strong showing.

  • Your thank you letter might not get you the job, but poorly executed, it could be the last straw to eliminate you from the running.  Properly executed it leaves a strong last impression.

Express your sincere appreciation for their time and consideration.  If something came up in the interview that you can expand on, do it here.


It seems as if we are all looking for definitive rules for these documents, as if by following the rules to the letter will be a magic talisman to achieve our goal.  It turns out that it just isn’t that simple, but like Dorothy we have had the solution with us all along.  We learn our power when we are ready.


[A little self-promotion: I am setting myself up as a Business Writing Coach for individuals & companies –]


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Are You a Joiner?

I know that it is a big buzz thing right now to be a collaborator, but I actually really like to collaborate with someone else or in a small group.  I like how the additional mind power can build a better and stronger framework for an idea.  I like how the varied experiences of the group participants can inform the method of implementing the idea and possibly staving off unintended consequences.


I’m not naturally a joiner though.  Put me in a group and I will become part of the group, ask me to find a group and join it and I will find something else to do.  Especially if I have time to think about it.  If I find out about a meeting for something that I can see benefit to and the meeting is that day or the next day, I am much more likely to actually do it.  Give me a longer time frame and I will potentially talk myself out of it.  (This is the introvert in me – I’ve missed out on some interesting experiences.)


Now I do get why more strongly introverted people that don’t see a benefit to collaboration would avoid joining groups unless pressed, but I don’t have a solid answer as to why I duck groups.  Particularly when I join a group and find great, energetic people.  The answer is just because and that isn’t a compelling argument – no matter how you look at it.


So I have to challenge myself to fight this avoidance.  I am in job search which means that in my work aspects I need a new pack to run with and so I have joined not just one (which I did immediately before I had time to object) but two job search groups.  I had to be pressed (gently but firmly) by a new friend into joining the second – why would I need two of the same thing?


And yet, and yet I am so very pleased with this nudge.  Each group has a very different tone and dynamic and I get very different things from each group.  I am not the only person that I know who participates in both groups, yet these groups still meet different needs and come at the same things from different angles.


So I have a challenge for my fellow non-joiners out there – working, job search, what have you – find a new group and join it.  See the world that you know from a different angle and find out what that does for you.  There are so many wonderful people to encounter.


Find a group, take a class – something related to an existing interest.  Sit in the back quietly at first if that make you feel better.  Get a sense of things, pick out one or two people that look approachable; smile at anyone who approaches you and say hi.  Ask them what got them to this group.  Just be open to possibilities.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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We Want Linear, We Get Billy from The Family Circus

Closure, the word that represents the neat little bow on the package that we want as the end stage of all of life’s little problems.  This happened, these suggestions were made, this action was taken and issue was wonderfully and completely resolved, the end.  Put forth in a single hour, 42ish minutes allowing for commercial breaks – wait a minute, that’s a TV drama.

We are complex creatures and we live in a busy, noisy world so it is no wonder that we crave clear cut, simple, straightforward story lines in our lives.  If it did work that way though, we would no doubt get pretty bored.  Even those of us who don’t care for math can respect the beauty that 2+2=4 every single time, regardless of the format – horizontal or vertical – or the font that we use to type it.  Ahhh, beauty in simplicity.

My Timeline

For years we tried to figure out one way or another to create a linear training process in a very complicated business model.  Build a tower with these idea blocks that relate to each other – but wait, we can’t put this next one on until we go off on this tangent and build a bridge to a nearby tower.  Oops, then we need basement access to these underlying theories.  And, bang, the new person’s eyes are starting to glaze over.

So we decided to tell the story through self-contained tasks that would help the new person to feel valuable right away and also get their feet wet with our process.  This was much more successful, but time consuming and eventually we would get to the tangle of all the interconnected theories and process.  Billy would tramp through and take us on his circuitous route.

Now, I love Billy and I like nothing more than to trace his progress through the neighborhood with my finger, especially in the colored Sunday comics.  But I also know that with a deep understanding of process, I can keep the main theme in mind as I follow the detour.  Because I know the main theme well.

How to communicate this to someone with a different thought and work method, though?  How to do it for a group of people, all with potentially varied work methods and thinking methods?  (Thankfully there are only so many methods and combinations!)

Call out core and ancillary aspects by name, use graphs and charts when you can.  I adore flow charts – which really is a mode of taking Billy’s meanderings and giving them structure.  Don’t get too dry, try to keep at least a hint of Billy’s whimsy.

(My compliments to Bill Keane, creator of Billy and The Family Circus cartoon.  We all learned about flow whether we realized it or not.)

© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Crafting a Beautiful Day to Recharge Yourself

Positive psychology is an important field of study, for as Dr. Martin Seligman has said, “the skills to relieve misery are different than the skills needed to be ‘happy’”.  Plenty of people have wiring that makes it difficult to cope with life.  The rest of us just need a little help to reinforce our good habits, knowledge and understanding to allow for a fulfilling life.


I woke up the other morning to a discussion by the local radio hosts about eating habits – they read a quotation from some guru that talked about savoring just three bites of a loved food and then walking away for 15 minutes to satisfy a craving.  The hosts had much derision on this point, but they had lopped off the most important word as the discussion ensued – savor.


Savoring is very much different than eating and a far cry from gobbling.  Let’s get away from the food focus and apply this thought to our work day.  We are hard wired to give great weight to threats based on our ancestral survival needs – so we can skim over the pleasant, fulfilling things and linger over the dolorous ones.


Tell your brain that your survival needs rest more powerfully on savoring the moments when you get an ‘atta boy/girl’ of any kind and less on dwelling in the land of the gotta do’s.  What did you do right?  What are the good behaviors that you want to repeat?  Learn from the mistakes, but don’t beat yourself up or forget the successes.


Check out this website to learn more about your own happiness status – Authentic Happiness – and learn some clues on how to build on your current state.


One thought presented is to craft a beautiful day for yourself every now and again as a means to reinforce your happiness.  Build in activities that play to your strengths, say curiosity or fitness or gardening or animals.  Taking time to deliberately work on your happiness is beneficial to all around you, and to you.


I don’t know about you, but I’ve been talking for months about doing something like this, but not taking action.  We should make a pact to compare beautiful days by the end of the summer.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Sunshine & Energy, There is Joy to be Found

It is a gray day today, after a gray day, after a rainy day and I am dragging just a bit.  The dandelions (which I broke down and attacked large swaths of with spray) haven’t had the energy to open their yellow faces for half of this week.  I know how they feel, who doesn’t start to lag when the sun is hidden for too long?


We aren’t flowers, but still we will start to wilt without some sun – we are wired to have at least a touch of seasonal affective disorder I suppose.  Even those who get shut up into artificial environments for many hours five or more days per week.  We get energy from the sun, just like solar panels – we need to turn our faces to the sun for just a bit to recharge.  (I’m not talking tanning, here.)


I always work harder to pump cheerfulness into my greetings and interactions on days like this, despite the initial energy drain, in hopes to get a return on my investment through a smile and upbeat response from my counterpart – especially once I entered management because personal energy has great effect on job performance.  Indeed our performance in general.


Joyful events seem so very much more so on sunny days and conversely terrible events seem very much more incongruent on sunny days.  (Think of that perfect fall day on 9/11/2001.)  But sometimes personal tragedy is ever so slightly lessened by the appearance of the sun.

Empress of Elucidation


My mom was having her last adventure, learning to let go of this life as the natural world was shuttering up for its winter dormancy so we had gray days and shades of beige to match our family’s experiences.  Our sunshine, light and bundle of energy was sputtering out.  But determined to make it one more adventure, forced by her body’s inability to overcome its infirmities her mind continued in its quest to savor curiosity.


My siblings and I took turns with the caretaking duties, which mostly involved the same wonderful philosophical discussions that had characterized our adult relationships with this remarkable woman.  Interspersed with learning how to flush a port and other nursing duties.  Mom and I were discussing this very topic, the affect that the sun has on our abilities to cope when I lightheartedly mentioned that perhaps she could make her final journey on a sunny day.  (We have a vein of dark humor running deep in our family.)  She allowed that this would be a worthy goal, neither of us knowing how far into the future this sunny day might be.  But knowing it would not be the 4 more years she had hoped for when we last talked to the doctor about the lack of alternative therapies.


It wasn’t but a few days later, maybe a week that the house was waking from a peaceful night to a sunny Friday morning in early December.  The caregiver gave mom a sponge bath and I whispered that we would just get her cleaned up and dressed in fresh pajamas and she whispered back ‘ok’.  She had mostly stopped talking by then, this woman who still had so much to say.


The overnight caregiver left, my sister was off tending to her young ones (life intrudes regardless of the momentousness of occasions), the hospice nurse was due any minute and my brother would be flying back for his shift in a day or two.  I was quietly reading the paper and offhandedly let mom know the day, the date and that the sun was shining.


She accepted the message and left behind this world and her fragile body just as the nurse and my sister arrived.


Now years have passed from that morning and I don’t relate this story to make anyone sad, though I miss her acutely.  I see this as a story now of the energy and potential for new adventure that the sun can bring as it shares its light and warmth with us.  We just have to be open to the possibility and make a point to gather some energy from the sun when it shines.  Having a sunny outlook is a choice.


[Author’s note: About an hour after I wrote this, the sun burned away the clouds, and I went out to enjoy the light.  I like to think mom had a hand in that.]


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations


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Access to Information

Imagine if we didn’t have ready access to all of the information that we needed to perform our jobs and live our lives fully.  Ok, I’m a day late for the actual 80th anniversary of the Nazi book burning, but it is still an important topic for those of us who get paid based on our ability to process knowledge.  Book Burning in History

info access

We may be slowly switching over to books read on screens of various sorts (not me, no I like holding an actual book), but we do still have to fight those who wish to limit overall access to information.  We think that this will not affect the work aspects of our lives, but is this just because we live in an open society with relatively easy access to so much varied information?


Think about all of the information that you have at your fingertips to do your job every day.  Depending on your job, it took a great deal of time and effort to amass all of this knowledge so that you could perform your daily tasks.  And if you work on a computer, think about all the coding etc. that had to go into creating that modern marvel sitting on your desk.  Where would we all be if someone, somewhere along the line had decided to limit the development of the gadgets that ease our ability to work?


Agree with the words inside the pages of banned books or not – that is your right in a free and open society – but thank those who stood up for the rights of those who wrote the books.  They represent us all in one way or another as we toil away at our jobs.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Reinvention Implies Original Invention

If you are one of those people who created a life plan in childhood and have been able to stick to it, then this post doesn’t apply to you.  (Or maybe not, you might want to keep reading.)


I follow Dave Kerpen on LinkedIn, he is one of LI’s ‘influencers’, and he made a comment in a post a few weeks ago that has bubbled back up to my mental surface.  His comment was about reinventing yourself professionally.  I believe that the context was within changing careers.


Inventing something means to create a finite object or complete idea.  The first radio was invented, manufactured, marketed, sold – and has been taken over by all sorts of new inventions.  And so on for all the myriad items that have been invented since the wheel.   These follow up items are reinventions of the radio, rather new inventions that improve upon it or use its invention as a starting point to create something completely different.


If you carry over this idea to a person, then how do you really define when the person is completely ‘invented’?  At the outset of adulthood?  First professional job?  Creation of a family?  Standing on our own two feet financially?


I could keep going, but you get the picture.  Our life is a trajectory with many pauses and course changes but only one point of completion.  I am, then, still in the process of inventing me.  A career change isn’t a reinvention, just a new part of the invention that is me.


What do you think?


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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Hooray for Attractive Comfort!

You aren’t going to see much about style here – it used to be a running joke that I should be nominated for that What Not to Wear show – but I just couldn’t resist a shout out when I saw this article in my Sunday paper (I’m a little behind in my reading):  Rise of the 2-Inch Heel


'Sensible' shoes can still have some flair

‘Sensible’ shoes can still have some flair

I haven’t been interested in wearing the sky-high heels for a long time (I admit to liking the look, to a point), so I avoid shoe stores and shoe shopping as much as possible.  I don’t want to look dowdy, but I want to be comfortable.


Now, I would never pay the prices that are listed in this article, but I do know that this will trickle down to the level of designers/shoe stores that I can afford.  Especially once they realize this is an untapped market.


Nothing much for the fellas today, I suppose your equivalent would be something about ties.


© 2013 Practical Business | Reasonable Expectations

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