Monday, December 30, 2013

Pack your Bags...

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 23, 2013

Tis the Season - The Body Language of Gift Receiving

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 16, 2013

What's Your Misery Index?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 9, 2013

Making Time go Further

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 2, 2013

Increase your Creativity - Sit Outside the Box

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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